Christ Church

Christ Church - Words and Thoughts

AzaleasVirginia Smith has kindly provided us with a thought full and thought provoking homily nearly every week since August 2020.  They have often been the one she used when taking a service in Christ Church or one of the other Leith Hill Benefice churches.  We were very fortunate that during our 2021-22 inter-regnum she regularly took many of our services.

Now we have Kia Pakenham as our Rector, we have eased the burden on Virginia and are publishing the words of whoever takes our Sunday services. They will be published following the service at which they were delivered.

Virginia’s homilies from August 2020 to May 2002 are still available by clicking here Virginia Smith’s Homilies May 2022 - April 2021 or Virginia Smith’s Homilies March 2021 - August 2020.

Sunday 10 December, Second Sunday in  Advent 
40 verses 1-11,  Mark 1 verses 1-8

Today is the Sunday in Advent when we remember and pay tribute to John the Baptist; John who prepared the way of the Lord and did all in his power to make people ready for his coming. Now, if you are anything like me, you may have slight reservations as to just how you would take to John because from all we read in the Bible he was quite a character and a force to be reckoned with. Just for a start his life- style was decidedly different from that of most people, a real hippie with his long hair, his camel hair coat and his strange diet of locusts and honey. However, it turns out that locusts are an excellent source of protein, zinc and iron and apparently have a taste reminiscent of quail and sunflower seeds plus a hint of shrimp so maybe with the honey as well they did make a healthy nutritious and flavoursome diet, always assuming one can acquire the locusts in the first place.

But appearance and diet aside, John was a force who did not mince his words and was definitely what we would term a hell-fire preacher. He really wanted the people who came to listen to him to turn their lives around and do their utmost to face up to, confess and atone for their sins. Turn their lives around so they could greet the arrival of the son of God, the incarnated Christ, with a clear conscious and a genuine desire to place him at the very centre of their lives and to serve him wholeheartedly.

John who would, in the words of Isaiah’s prophesy, ‘prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill made low…. then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed.’ What an amazing prophesy this is because, apart from anything else, Isaiah could not possibly have known of the Romans amazing engineering feats of building, as far as possible, dead straight roads which surmounted geographical obstacles; roads, of course, famed for leading to the heart of the Empire Rome itself. But now John is acting as the engineer, as it were, to build a straight level road that leads not to Rome but to the glory of God, the glory and the unfathomable wonder that is the birth of Christ. And in Advent we are called to travel that road ourselves; travel in hope and also in penitence as we face up to our many faults, our sinning and seek forgiveness so that we are unburdened and, metaphorically, washed clean. This is not easy for any of us as we are very good at burying the knowledge of our wrong doing, but Advent is the time to have a really good go at some deep cleansing. Deep cleansing when we bring inro the light the jealousies, the resentment, the covetousness, the pride, the anger and the hatred of which we are all  quite capable and which are seeds which can all too easily grow internally and warp us and which are, in reality, the cause of so many of the world’s -manmade tragedies. So, yes, we do need to be honest and admit to all these  failures, these sins, knowing that as we do so we will, as John promised, receive that incredible gift of divine forgiveness and know the reality of having been baptised, not just with water, but with the Holy Spirit.

Penitence and fasting are not easy, and it doesn’t help that for most of the population this is a time of celebration, of feasting, and thoughts of fasting and penitential prayer simply do not enter their heads. Fasting is for after Christmas to try to shed those extra pounds which have been gained by gorging on not just one day but day after day of feasting. And prayer? How many people, I wonder, in this country ever think to say a prayer. Oh yes many of the Muslim faith are very devout in their commitment to regular prayer as are many Jews and Sikhs but as Christians I am not quite sure how well we compare with them in our commitment to regular and repeated daily prayer and then there are literally millions of others who quite possibly have never consciously said a prayer in their life.

But if we are to observe Advent with the same sort of rigour which John urged on all those who flocked to hear him beside the River Jordan, do we not need to attempt some sort of fasting and prayer? And here I would like to suggest that as actual fasting is really hard to achieve, given all the pre- Christmas parties not to mention those delightful carol services when it seems to have become the custom to conclude by being treated to mulled wine and mince pies, there are other ways to fast. Fast by possibly giving up watching your favourite television programme and instead spend time just quietly sitting in the presence of God and allowing the Holy Spirit to feed you with peace and love. Or, in my case, I give up reading my novel while enjoying that first cuppa of the day and instead have a chosen Advent book to read and reflect upon.

And here I would like to quote from my current Advent Book which has this to say: ‘To have a rule of life is to put some structure into your daily walk with God. It isn’t to restrict us, but actually to give some structure for better growth, a bit like the trellis for a garden plant.’ And it continues: ‘A rule prevents us from making excuses; it spurs us to pray at a particular time even when our heart is cold towards God'. Can we have a rule for the remainder of Advent as we continue our journey towards Bethlehem putting aside the obstacles that impede that journey just as those Roman road builders did.

John was specially chosen to prepare the way for Christ’s coming and he can still do so today if we can recognise his call to confession and repentance so that as Christmas Day dawns we can kneel humbly by that manger and know the truth of Isaiah’s promise that we are gathered in love and forgiveness  into the arms of our Good Shepherd born to redeem our fallen world.

Virginia Smith

Sunday 3 December, First Sunday in  Advent

Psalm 25 verses 1-9, Luke 12 verses 35-48

What does Advent mean to you?
Is it a season in it’s own right or just the inevitable pause, the holding of breath before Christmas?
The time when life gathers pace as we prepare for the big day – shopping, planning, Christmas card writing, menu finalising?

Advent is traditionally a time of waiting, of preparation but perhaps not in the way we now culturally use it.
It is similar to the season of lent in that we are given the opportunity to prepare our hearts, to focus on Jesus to linger and ponder, as Mary did, on the enormity of what is about to happen.

So this morning we are going to do just that.
We are going to stop and allow ourselves to breathe, be still and open the door.
I’d like to invite you to use your imagination, to relax and see where God takes you as I walk us through a scene. I appreciate this might be new and possibly a little uncomfortable but I encourage you to try and let go and let God in.
Before we begin, take a few moments and, if you are comfortable to, close your eyes, preparing yourself to listen to what God may be saying to you or what you may see in the picture.

Imagine you are sitting in a small room, in a house that is surrounded by farmland and woods.
You have come here to seek the quiet and the calm.
The busy life of work, family and today’s world have made you feel anxious and unfocused.
You know you need something; you need some time to let your mind be quiet and your heart open.
Quiet and open – those words sound so peaceful and desirable but unreachable.
You’ve bought books to read and a journal to write in, but you can’t seem to do anything but sit on the chair and absorb the silence, even as you feel restless.

As you sit in silence, you hear a faint sound like a knock on the door. Your heart races, Who knows I’m here? I need to be alone, you think.
The knocking becomes louder. As much as you want to stay in the room, something moves you to go to the door.
The knock comes again, but it’s a soft knock.
As you approach the door, you see a light streaming under it.
“Hello? Can I help you?” you say without opening the door.
A gentle voice says, “It’s me. I’ve been looking for you”.
Something deep inside stirs, but you are confused.

“Who are you? Do I know you?” you say.
“Yes. But we have not talked in a while. I’ve missed you,” he says.
You open the door. Standing thee is Jesus. His eyes look at you with such tenderness. He carries a small lantern that gives off a warm, bright light.
You stand there, unable to speak at first, allowing yourself to take in his presence and his light.
You speak to Jesus. What do you say to him?

How does Jesus respond to you?
You invite him into the house. You sit and tell him of the restlessness you feel.
As you talk to Jesus, a wave of peace and calm washes over you, like the warm light streaming from his lantern.
“Rest. Be still. You opened the door. Now let me take care of you,” Jesus says.
You close your eyes and let his words embrace you. 
Your heart is at peace, and your mind is still.
When you open your eyes, Jesus is gone. But sitting beside the chair where he sat, is the lantern, still emitting that warm, bright light.
You smile and rest in the glow of the light.

Advent – waiting. 
Perhaps not just for us, but perhaps for Jesus, too, as he waits for us to open the door.

Let us pray
Dear Lord, as we approach this season of Advent help us to be still enough to hear you knocking. Help us to dwell in the mystery of your incarnation, God made man, as we look forward to your coming again this Christmas time.
In your name we pray

Re'd Kia

Sunday 26 November
Ezekiel 34, verses11-16, 20-24, Matthew 25, verses 31-end 

There are a lot of themes in this morning’s service! 
Across the Church of England we are celebrating Christ the King Sunday which is special for us here as it marks our Church’s Patronal festival. 
It is also ‘Stir-up’ Sunday - an informal term in Catholic and Anglican churches for the last Sunday before the season of Advent. It gets its name from the beginning of the collect for the day in the Book of Common Prayer, which begins with the words, "Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people...", but it has become associated with the custom of making Christmas Pudding – which I’m sure you will all be dashing home to make! 
And our readings today focus on sheep and goats. 
So we have Christ the King, Stir up Sunday and sheep. 
What are we to do with all of that?! 
Well, after much pondering there is a link! 
It begins with Christ the king and sheep. 
Both our readings today in Ezekiel and Matthew look at welfare, compassion and judgement. 
We have a picture in Ezekiel of God chastising the shepherds for neglecting the sheep – the people in their charge. They have used the sheep as objects to satisfy their desires. 
In the preceding verses we read that the shepherds used them for their wool – for clothing, they satisfied their hunger buy eating them – Ezekiel says – “You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fatlings; but you do not feed the sheep. You have not strengthened the weak, you have not healed the sick, you have not bound up the injured, you have not brought back the strayed, you have not sought the lost, but with force and harshness you have ruled them”. 
The shepherds, the leaders of others, have viewed their sheep, their people, as objects. Objects who are simply there to satisfy their needs. They are not seen as people who need care, who need nurturing, guiding – loving. They are viewed as commodities – they are viewed as a means to an end – what can I get out of you. 
Our human history as seen this all to often, and it leads to enslavement, persecution and genocide. 
When we see others in terms of what they can do for us rather than seeing all people as made in the image of God, we can abuse, take advantage of and mistreat our fellow humans – we de-human humanity. 
There are obvious examples in our chequered history but it is something that is insidious; it creeps in when we treat anyone as ‘less than’. The person at the check out till, those employed in manual labour, the homeless– do we treat them differently to the highly paid financier who lives next door, the lawyer, the doctor. All are the same in the Father’s eyes. 
Ezekiel points to a good shepherd – “I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd”. David – the pre-curser to the ultimate shepherd – Jesus. 
We see the same pattern in the story told in Matthew. 
Sheep and shepherd used as a metaphor for the leaders and the people and the compelling narrative that encourages us to treat all humankind with love, compassion and mercy, “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”
Christ the King – also known as the Servant King – turns kingship on its head. Humility in searching for the lost, reaching out to the marginalised and the most vulnerable – this is the DNA of our servant King and of the Father and it is what we are called to as followers of Christ. 
It is a story re-told in a myriad of ways throughout the Old and the New Testament. It is a story we have ignored at our peril, it is a story that we still struggle to take into our hearts and act upon – globally, nationally and personally. 
But it is in our DNA too.  
We also see such goodness and kindness in our world and in our community through all the peacemakers, all the volunteers in shelters, soup kitchens, and here in our church. 
People that care for others who are not as fortunate. 
So be encouraged! We live in a beautiful world with amazing servant leaders of which we are a part, sometimes we just need to be reminded and stirred up a little! 
Which brings us to Stir up Sunday! Not only for Christmas pudding making but originally designed to rouse us into action! After communion the prayer today is – “Stir up, O Lord, the wills of your faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may by you be plenteously rewarded; through Jesus Christ our Lord". 
May it be so. 

The Eucharistic prayer 
It is indeed right, our duty and our joy, always and everywhere to give you thanks, holy Father, almighty and eternal God. 
For with the oil of gladness you have anointed Christ the Lord, your only Son, to be our high priest and king of all creation. 
As priest, he offered himself once for all upon the altar of the cross and redeemed the human race by this perfect sacrifice of peace. As king he claims dominion over all your creatures, that he may bring before your infinite majesty a kingdom of truth and life, a kingdom of holiness and grace, a kingdom of justice, love and peace. 
And so with angels and archangels and all the heavenly host, we proclaim your glory and join in their unending hymn of praise, for ever praising you and singing: 

The Post Communion prayer 
Stir up, O Lord, the wills of your faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may by you be plenteously rewarded; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  

Rev'd Kia

Sunday 19 November - 
Texts: ! Thessalonians 5 verses 1-11,  Matthew 25 verses 14-30

Those of you over a certain age will remember arranging the stones from fruit such as cherries and plums around one’s plate and reciting ‘tinker, tailor, soldier, sailor, rich man, poor man, beggarman, thief’ in order to determine what your future would be. If you landed up with any of the last three you might well ask for an extra helping to ensure against poverty, begging or stealing. I very much doubt if children these days recite such words and even if they do surely in place of tinkers or tailors one might have IT or Human Resources specialists or even hedge fund managers who seem to be in such abundance these days. And of course, we couldn’t possibly allow rich man or poor man let alone beggar man but instead presumably rich person, poor person or quite simply beggar.

When a child is born it is inevitable for the proudly adoring parents and also, most probably, the doting Grandparents to wonder not just at the miracle that is new life but also to wonder and speculate  as to what that child might grow up to be. Just what will this utterly dependent, utterly helpless scrap of humanity become in later life? Will they be academic or more practical in their approach to life? Will they be called to a profession such as medicine or the law, or prefer to become indispensable electricians or plumbers who are so sought after these days?  Will they prove to have inherited some particular family genes and thus follow in the footsteps of generations of that particular family? Just what have they been gifted with in order to make their way in life?

Gifts or talents that each and every one of us possess are  God given and which we are surely called to make use of  in our journey through life. And here I’d like to recount the story of Mary Gallagher, or ‘Tiny’ as she was known, who worked for over fifty years of her life for Rangers Football Club following in the footsteps of her mother and grandmother. She began working in the kitchens and through the years was always on hand to provide teas and coffees as well as something more substantial, but later in her career she became a guide delighting fans with some of the many stories she could relate of the matches played and of the players themselves.  This said, she never apparently watched an entire game always having to hurry back into the innards of the stadium to ensure the kettle was on the boil and the bacon butties being prepared. Mary had no academic qualifications and I doubt if she could boast any footballing skills but simply by using her own God given gifts, her talents she became a legend at the Club and when she died just recently the tributes came pouring in including this from the Chairman: ‘Tiny was a trusted friend and colleague to a host of Rangers legends and a much cherished member of the Rangers family.

Reading that tribute, it was one I thought I would dearly love to earn; the tribute of being recognised as a friend and a colleague and most of all a cherished member of a family. Part of a family where every member is regarded with the same divine love, be they tinker or tailor, rich man or poor man and yes, believe it or not, even if they are beggars or thieves. But while the love may be the same the gifts, the talents will all be unique to each individual. Some may appear to have been blessed with so many gifts, so many talents, while others appear to lack any real gifts or talents as the secular world rates them.  And here I think that it is of such importance to acknowledge that our gifts, our talents are truly God given. We may have been blessed with a beautiful singing voice or the ability to paint, to write or to knit. We may be blessed with physical prowess, or a Mensa rated IQ. I could go on but I hope the point has been made that such gifts were not of our making but are given that we might use and develop them first and foremost to the glory of God

How many of us here can look back and see where we discovered and recognised our true God given gifts and talents and made, like the first two servants in the parable, the very best use we could of them thereby doubling their value in God’s eyes? Or have we, sadly, felt that our gifts, our talents, were of so little value compared to those of others that we have not even bothered to make use of them; hidden them away and looked jealously at those who seemed to have been given, unlike us, an overabundance of all the best things in life? Mary ‘Tiny’ Gallagher could so easily have seen herself as a nobody at Rangers compared to those heroes who could kick a ball with such consummate  ease and amazing skill but that was not her way. Her way was to use what she had been given and, in the giving, found herself indispensable to the welfare of those sporting heroes; the trusted friend and colleague, 'the cherished member of the family.’

And here I think it is so important to remember that each and everyone of our gifts, our talents, however meagre they may appear compared to some are of equal value, are of equal richness to God when used in His purposes to foster the well-being of all his children. Those hot sustaining cups of tea and coffee that Mary made may at times seemed to be worth a great deal more to a cold and dispirited player, no matter how incredibly skilled and well paid he might have been. We are a family and, as such, we need to appreciate the special gifts, the unique talents that we all possess. And we need, too, to encourage those who might see themselves as worthless and be tempted to simply bury the talents they have been given to unearth them and then use them to the very best of their ability and to the good of others, so making themselves what is surely all God wants of any of us to be, trusted friends and colleagues and cherished members of His uncountable family. And for those of us who are nearer the end of our lives than the beginning there is always time and opportunity to dig up that long neglected,  buried talent, polish it up, and discover the true pleasure in making good use of it to the glory of God and as a contribution to the well -being of all the family of God both here in our own parish and the world beyond. 

Virginia Smith

Sunday 12 November - Remembrance Service
Our service to commemorate those who have served their country was held on the common by the War Memorial, with wonderful music by the Village Band and Bronny R, but no sermon. 

Sunday 5 November - All Souls

Readings: My Memory Library by Sarah Blackstone (Included at the end of the sermon text), Psalm 121

Where are you God?

I would be surprised if those of us here today had not wondered this at some point in our lives.

I know I have.

When life feels so hard, you’re exhausted, overwhelmed, and just the thought of getting out of bed feels like a monumental effort, when you utter the words, what’s the point?

Losing someone we love is one of the hardest things we will ever have to face. It can feel like our world has imploded like nothing makes much sense, we can’t get our heads round it – we just don’t understand. 

Our journeys of grief will be similar, but not the same. One of the most helpful things that someone told me when my mother died a few years ago was that although there are stages of grief, it is not linear. You won’t necessarily go through stage 1 nicely on to stage 2 and so on. You might find you double back on yourself and revisit the angry and disbelieving stage.

But that’s ok. All feelings are normal and there to be felt.

We all come here today with our own unique stories and memories of those we love. It may be for us it was years and years ago, for others, more recent – the passage of time somehow doesn’t seem to matter. The feelings, smells and memories can be as fresh as if it was yesterday.

We have all come here today to remember. To pause in our busy lives to give time to honour the memories of those we love. It can be a painful place to revisit, a tough place to go back to. But we come here today to take and give comfort to each other. We mourn the fact they are no longer here with us to share in our lives but we also relive the joys and the laughter – the funny quirks that made them who they were. The Christmas’s, the birthday’s the stories we shared.

We might have felt far from God through our times of grieving, in our loss, in our pain. It might have bought us nearer. Our experiences will be different. I would like suggest that he is closer than we think, closer than we feel and closer than we can possibly imagine.

The very fact that we have chosen to gather together here in church would indicate that we have faith, no matter how small, that we believe there is a God who cares, who loves us, and that it matters to him how we feel.

We have a God who feels. He showed that through his son. We can look at Jesus and see God. Jesus, laughed, Jesus cried, Jesus suffered. Jesus was God on earth. So he knows what it’s like to be human. To have feelings; to be upset, angry, frustrated and sad. The shortest verse, and possibly one of the most powerful in the bible can be found in the gospel of John, chapter 11, verse 35. It simply says ‘Jesus wept’. He wept over the death of his friend Lazarus. He felt grief, like we do,

He also had great compassion. Great compassion for those who suffered. Which is why he so wants us to know that he is always available for us to run to when we feel a little bewildered, frightened and lost. 

It is often only when we get to the end of ourselves that we resort to turning to God. And he is never judgemental over this, just always thrilled to see us, to wrap his arms around us and welcome us home – just think of the prodigal son.

In our capacity to get lost in our own messiness we can forget that God is there – here, now.

This seems to be a bit of a pattern throughout history. Isaiah is talking to Israel when he says ‘Do you not know? Have you not heard?’ They needed reminding not only of where God was, that he was always present, but who he was. The everlasting, the creator, the Alpha and Omega, who never tires, never gets weary – who is never far but closer than we can imagine. 

Each day we have a fresh opportunity to invite God into our lives. We don’t ever have to do life on our own. We are never alone

So where is God?

He is here, here with us now. We might not feel it at times but we trust it is so because he promises that he will never leave us.

So today we come with our sorrow and our joy of having shared our lives with some very special people. We come to draw comfort from each other and to meet with God. Our Father meets us where we are and offers to come close to us, to wipe our tears – to cry with us and laugh with us as we remember together.


Rev'd Kia

My Memory Library by Sarah Blackstone
Imagine if I was given one moment, 
just a single slice of my past. 
I could hold it close forever, 
and that moment would always last.

I’d put the moment in a safe, 
within my heart’s abode. 
I could open it when I wanted, 
and only I would know the code.

I could choose a time of laughing, 
a time of happiness and fun. 
I could choose a time that tried me 
through everything I’ve done.

I sat and thought about what moment 
would always make me smile. 
One that would always push me 
to walk that extra mile.

f I’m feeling sad and low, 
if I’m struggling with what to do, 
I can go and open my little safe 
and watch my moment through.

There are moments I can think of
hat would lift my spirits every time. 
The moments when you picked me up, 
when the road was hard to climb.

For me to only pick one moment 
to cherish, save and keep 
is proving really difficult, 
as I’ve gathered up a heap!

I’ve dug deep inside my heart, 
found the safe and looked inside 
There was room for lots of moments; 
in fact, hundreds if I tried.

I’m building my own little library, 
embedded in my heart, 
for all the moments spent with you 
before you had to part.

I can open it up whenever I like, 
pick a moment and watch it through, 
My little library acts as a promise 
I’ll never ever forget you.

Sunday 29 October - Celebrating All Saints Day                                                     

Texts:  Leviticus 19 verses 1-2, 15-18, Matthew 22 verses 34-end

You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbour as yourself: I am the Lord     Leviticus 19: 18

Having begun last week’s sermon in a somewhat dramatic manner I did wonder on this All Saint’s Celebration if, maybe ,I should start off with a gory and graphic description of the excruciatingly painful death of one of the martyred saints such as Saint Sebastian, with all those arrows piercing him, or St Catherine spinning on her wheel but felt it might all be too much for your sensitivities this early in the day and so instead I am going to begin with St Wulfstan who was a Bishop of Worcester and the only bishop to retain his title for any length of time after the success of the Norman Conquest. Apparently, early on in life, he was distracted in his devotions by the aroma of a goose being cooked and was so mortified by this failure that he vowed from then on never to consume any meat, thus he must rate as one of the first ever vegetarians and which is why he is the patron saint of vegetarians and dieters, so he may be of some use to any of us who embark on an Advent fast.

But what Wulfstan was most admired for was not a string of miracles but for his down to earth pastoral work caring for the poor and trying to do all in his power to alleviate their poverty and he also was instrumental, together with Archbishop Lanfranc, in stopping the slave trade from Bristol. And since we better gave a bit of horror today here is a description by the chronicler William of Malmesbury of that time  They (the merchants of Bristol) would purchase people from all over England and sell them off to Ireland in the hope of profit; and put up for sale maidservants after toying with them in bed and making them pregnant. You would have groaned to see the files of the wretches of people roped together, young people of both sexes, whose youth and beauty would have aroused the pity of barbarians, being put up for sale every day. How interesting that Bristol’s notoriety as a centre for slave traders has existed over so many centuries.

But back to Wulfstan and the fact that his death occurred at what must then have been a very advanced age of eighty-seven as he washed the feet of some of his parishioners is itself testimony to the Godliness of this man. So, it is no wonder that the words of the collect for St Wulfstan’s Day, on the anniversary of that death on January 19th 1095, are ‘Lord God, having raised up Wulfstan to be a bishop among your people and a leader of your Church, help us, after his example, to live simply, to work diligently and to make your kingdom known'.

And it is this collet that I turn to again and again as it seems to me a perfect recipe for all of us should do our best to follow each and every day of our lives. No, it is almost certain that any of us will ever be recognised in the hagiography of saints but I hope we can recognise the truth of these words of Saint Paul ‘you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.’ (Ephesians 2: 19-22) in other words we can all be ‘little’ saints doing our best to make a reality of those two great commandments given by Jesus in our gospel reading. Because that surely is what Wulfstan did and what all the great saints did who now in the wonderful words of our first hymn rightly rest from their labours. But our labours continue and Wulfstan gives us an example of how to do them with simplicity, with diligence and with an overwhelming desire to share in whatever way we can our own knowledge and experience of being part of the kingdom, that is the family of God.

Our reading from Leviticus also points the way as to how we should conduct our lives, as do the examples of many of the lives of the saints though I would caution against the regime of St Petroc, a Cornish saint who each day from cockcrow until dawn stood to his neck in a cold sea reciting psalms and for seven years of his life survived on a single fish a day.

Such abstemiousness is not, I think, for us, however hard we pray to St Wulfstan, but there is so much we can do to make our lives simpler, ridding ourselves of a lot of the encumbrances that we all too easily collect; material encumbrances and also mental ones when we become too self-centred rather than making that essential room to be God centred. So, too, there are, I’m sure, plenty of opportunities to be more diligent and while we may not, like Wulfstan, be required to wash people’s feet there remains so much we can do in this often very troubled world to really demonstrate compassionate, caring love to our neighbours, sharing the riches of our God given blessings with others just as St Martin is famed for  sharing  half his military cloak with a beggar.  But here it would, I think, be wise if we truly wish to emulate the example of the saints to take note of these words; ‘To be good demands a strong will and constant practice. To be holy is to know that you can easily still be bad, and to leave the transformation to God. Holiness may creep up in you unawares; it is always a gift.’  Words which, I am sure, all the saints would agree with having the honesty to recognise their many failures. Also, these words or Wyn Beynon are I find helpful in my attempts to love my neighbour; ‘there is a great deal of doing, but it is mostly the doing of simply being there, attending to the moment and its needs, manifested in the joys and wounds of our neighbour.’ Just being there that is what is required and in that being surely we do help to make God’s kingdom known.

Simplicity, diligence and a constant wish to make the kingdom of God known to others, these were surely the hallmarks not just of Wulfstan but all the saints, and they are hallmarks we too can aspire to earn however faint remembering the words of Sam Wells: ‘A saint is a small character in a story that is fundamentally about God.’

Virginia Smith

Sunday 22 October, 19th after Trinity
 175 Anniversary of the Dedication of Christ Church              

Texts: 2 Chronicles 6 verses 18-21, 40,  Luke 4 verses 14-20

Now, O my God, let your eyes be open and your ears attentive to the prayers from this place
2 Chronicles 6:40

Shocking! Quite shocking! Disgraceful! Appalling! These are the words that I think might be heard on the lips of those first worshippers in this church one hundred and seventy-five years ago should they walk into Christ Church this morning. To start with, where are the gentlemen’s tailcoats, waistcoats and cravats and their hats, not to mention shoes polished to the nth degree? And as for the women, the ladies! Words fail completely as knees and ankles are either shockingly revealed or horror of horror encased in trousers. Trousers and not a hat to be seen! Quick where are the smelling salts.  And then where is the familiar Matins from our beloved Book of Common Prayer and why all these hymns instead of psalms and little or no signs of kneeling when every decent person knows it’s only the Methodists who favour such jangling tunes and never bother with hassocks? And a communion service almost every Sunday; surely the Church of England hasn’t gone back to Rome? And as for all the talk and chatter beforehand; is this some sort of party instead of a solemn and decorous act of worship? And, oh my goodness, pass the smelling salts again there are, can you believe it, women priests!  What in heaven’s name are they doing here?  Forget the Methodists and the Roman Catholics perhaps this is some sort of bizarre, outlandish witch’s coven? And somehow, I rather suspect that at this point those first worshippers might well leave the building in utter disgust and over dinner vociferously discuss what may well have seemed to them the demise of all decent standards of religion, dress and behaviour possibly predicting the last days  of the civilised world. 

Yes, since 1848 there have been seismic changes in our practice of worship, not just within the Church of England, it has to be said,  within society itself. Changes which would both shock and astound but also invite, I might suggest, a degree of envy. No figure restricting corsets for ladies of fashion designed to obtain what was described as a ‘demure appearance, constrained by an unforgiving silhouette’ (sounds like some form of torture doesn’t it?) and for both sexes deliciously comfy trainers which don’t need  a daily  polish and oh for those with creaky knees no longer the imperative to meekly kneel upon your knees. Bliss sheer bliss!

But how today could we persuade our Coldharbour forefathers to remain in this beautiful church who on the day of its consecration heard a petition presented which declared ‘it is completely finished, decently ornamented and furnished with every necessary for celebration of Divine Worship’? At least I’m sure all who have ever worshipped here in Christ Church since that day could happily agree with that description and I hope would further agree that over the intervening years even more improvements have been added including the Annabel Room and also my goodness what joy a Public Waiting Room as public lavatories were then euphemistically called at that time. Mind you, I did note that in 1848 such amenities were only available for members of the male sex.

But, of course a church is far far more than a building however beautiful, however well equipped.  It is an awareness of the presence of God that makes it truly a place of worship, a consecrated place, a hallowed place. The presence of God to be praised  and thanked as we have this morning with glorious music and words; the presence of God to whom  we come, seeking his grace of forgiveness for all our wrongdoings; the presence of God to whom our prayers and intercessions for all God’s family are directed, confident, as Solomon was, that they would be heard.  Praise, confession, thanksgiving and prayer which has filled this church for no less than one hundred and seventy-five years. Praise, confession, thanksgiving and prayer which may have involved no less than the two hundred and ninety people for whom seating was provided by the architect  Benjamin Ferrey or simply the two people who came  a few evenings ago to find God here in the silence of  a Julien Meeting.  No, we can no longer boast an attendance of one hundred and twenty people including sixty Sunday scholars at Matins and another one hundred and forty at the afternoon service again including fifty Sunday scholars as revealed in the census taken in March 1851. Such figures speak to me of a very determined three-line whip!  But to me that is not what matters. To me it is the fact that almost every Sunday since that initial dedication worship has been and continues to be held here. Sundays when the horrors of the two World Wars unfolded resulting in those sombre Sundays of Remembrance as we recall those who gave their lives for our freedom to worship here today. Sundays when we came in prayer as a sovereign was laid to rest; Sundays when we welcomed in the reign of a new sovereign and other Sundays when we gathered in response to some critical need or catastrophic event within God’s world. Sundays when we have rejoiced in the blessings of harvest, of Mothering Sunday with its posies of spring flowers  and of course Easter Sunday itself when we join not those physically around us but  with all the company of heaven to greet the risen Christ,

And then there have been all the rites of passage, the welcoming of a new member of God’s family in baptism, the joy as two people are joined in Holy Matrimony and the shared sorrow as members of the community have been commended into the eternal care of God.

All this and so so much more has happened in this church, a continuum of unbroken worship whatever form it may take  and while the future may at times seem bleak for small churches like this one, we have to have, we must have, the confidence and trust in God’s purposes, and continue to offer our worship as our forebears have done of praise, thanksgiving, confession and prayer, believing that all we do will be witnessed by God and used to his purposes. Purposes we are called to be a part of as having been richly blessed by our time of worship we go out into the world to serve our neighbours within the community as Jesus did with love and compassion bringing, in our own individual ways, good news to the poor, release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, to free the oppressed and to proclaim always the goodness of God poured out upon all his children. Would those first worshippers approve of this heartfelt ongoing worship to the Lord our God despite all the changes? I pray they would.

I would like to end with this beautiful Cornish prayer and I hope it speaks to you as it always does to me even if, unlike that first congregation gathered in this church filled with God’s presence, we do not actually kneel, and I should explain that the word ‘robin’ is a form of Cornish endearment. 'Touch the stones, my handsome, they’re steeped in all our prayers. Touch then with your softness, feel the laughter and the tears. Kneel in quiet, my robin, kneel and add your prayers. The church is full of memories, granite soaked for years. Kneel in quiet, my robin, kneel for God is here.

May our gracious Lord grant that these walls will continue to be steeped in our prayers laid reverently beside all those who have worshipped here in the past one hundred and seventy five years confident hat they were heard always by God himself.

Virginia Smith

Sunday 15 October, 18th after Trinity
With a 9.00 am Holy Communion and a 6.00pm Congregational Evensong, we have two sermons.

Holy Communion 9.00am
Text: Isaiah 25 verses 1-9

You have made the city a heap of rubble, the fortified town a ruin, the foreigner’s stronghold a city no more; it will never be rebuilt.

Reading the words of Isaiah I am sure like me you are reminded of the horrific destruction and slaughter that is happening right now in Israel and in the benighted and beleagured Gaza Strip.  Pictures of homes reduced to rubble, bodies rotting out in the open and the cries of the desperate, the despairing, the bereaved, the injured and the homeless.  Again, if you are anything like me, seeing the pictures, hearing the accounts of the victims of this appalling use of modern weaponry, inhumane reprisals  and barbarous atrocities you feel both helpless and hopeless. Just how can an end be brought to this bloodshed? Just how can peace be restored? Just how can these people learn not to be enemies, not to live in innate fear and hate of each other but to live in peace and mutual co-operation to the well-being of all?

Again, the words of Isaiah remind us that for millennia that part of the Middle East has been a hotbed of warfare. Be it the Israelites and the Philistines or the Jews and the Palestinians the inbred enmity continues to warp and twist people’s hearts so that it becomes all but impossible to view each other as fellow children of God. And for the Jewish people this sense of isolation and persecution has been their bitter heritage, not just since recent history but for millennia. Be it when they were taken into captivity in Babylon and their temple destroyed, be it when we here in Britain expelled them from our shores in the Middle Ages and included a few massacres while we were at it, or most tragically of all when they were subjected to the ultimate horror of the holocaust with the aim of removing all of Jewish blood from the face of the earth. And still, we do not learn from all this and we hear, for instance, of antisemitism in the Labour party and I’m quite many other places too. The chosen people have, over the centuries, become again and again the persecuted people, the pariahs of society and here it is important to remember that Jesus himself was a Jew. He was not a Christian. 

At the end of the second world war when the horrors inflicted upon the Jewish race were comprehensively revealed, the victorious countries felt an act of reparation had to be made to those of Jewish blood and hence the State of Israel was carved out for them approximately where the Israelites first dwelt in the Promised Land. But, of course, this was land that had now belonged to others for centuries and to have it cavalierly taken away from the then residents did not exactly go down well. Just as we have been hearing this week about the abandonment of the further extension of HS2 and the bitterness of all those who have had their homes and lands compulsorily purchased. Drawing new lines on a map, creating a modern Israel did not, in reality, contribute to the future peace and stability of the Middle East.

And in their completely understandable anxiety to remain safe from the threat of their neighbours, the State of Israel has done its best to extend its borders and annex more land for itself and hence the tragedy of the Gaza strip where so many displaced people live in the misery, the poverty, the degradation of refugee camps. Is it any wonder that this part of God’s world is a simmering pot of hatred, mistrust and a deep-seated desire for revenge. A pot that spilled over just over a week ago into brutal and inhumane attacks by ruthless Hammas militia upon Israel in which innocent people were killed and others taken as hostages.   A pot that now seems almost out of control as the Israeli army retaliates and we can only weep with the victims and despair of the cruelty inflicted by humans upon their fellow human beings, fellow children of God. 

There is so very very little we can do except perhaps to donate to appeals for aid to be sent to the suffering victims of both sides but we can and surely should continue to pray that somewhere there are people of peace, people of God who can find a way to halt the violence; halt the senseless destruction not just in the Middle East but in Ukraine, in the Yemen, in Sudan, in all those parts of the world where the often inbred hatred of neighbours has led to the picking up of weapons.

And there is one more thing we are surely called to do and that is to resolve to live in love and peace with all our own neighbours. And here is a question which I think we all need to answer and that is ‘do we actually know our neighbours?’ Do we know who is living next door and do we seek, if nothing else, to ensure we greet them with friendship and take proper notice of their possible needs? Or have we classified them as not really people like us and simply ignore them, keeping our friendship groups tightly exclusive?  Do we recognize the people in the check-out queue as our neighbours?  Or what about all those cyclists who love to come to race up and down the Surrey Hills, particularly it would seem on Sundays? Are they in truth our neighbours or if we are being honest with ourselves people to curse every time that we  are stuck behind them   be it in the supermarket or on the Surrey lanes and they impede our desire for progress?  The truth is that we are called by the example of Jesus Christ himself to see all, and I stress all, people as our neighbours and although we may not always cross the road to help them, we can, if nothing else, wait patiently behind them as we travel the same God given road. And here I must add that I believe that Benefice Services are so important because they give us the opportunity to meet with our neighbours across the parish boundaries and discover that really they are simply people like us and all children of God with whom it is an absolute joy to share worship and to rejoice and be glad in God’s salvation, God’s saving grace.

And in sharing neighbourliness, sharing friendship, sharing worship can we find peace within ourselves and without and be able to know the reality of the peace of God which passes all understanding? Let us pray that we can and that throughout our troubled world others too may search for and find that same peace and that in the fulness of time all artificial boundaries will cede to the limitless kingdom that is God’s.

I would like to end with these beautiful and profound words by Wyn Beynon: ‘Wrath has nothing to do with an angry God wanting to punish us. Human wrath is about anger and violent vengeance. God’s vengeance is the outworking of divine love.’ 

May God in his graciousness help us to be a part of that outworking of divine love. Amen

Wrath and amity are inherently opposed. And since God relieves and takes away our anger, by which he humbles and tames us, he himself must surely be loving, humble and gentle. And so, God’s response is quite the opposite of angry. We shall not be safe and blessed until we abide in peace and love. This is what salvation means. And I beheld God a sour genuine peace.
Words based on the writings of Dame  Julian of Norwich

Virginia Smith

Congregational Evensong, 6.00pm
Texts: Philippians 4 verses 1-9,  Matthew 22 verses 1-14

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be known to God. And the peace of God which passes all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  Philippians 4 verses 4-7

This evening’s gospel reading is a perfect example of just how Jesus used parables to provide brilliant, witty, carefully crafted illustrations that always carried a deep inner message for his listeners.

In this parable he is having a real dig at the priests, the scribes, the Pharisees who saw themselves as the elite of society, the arbitrators of religious practices and paragons of virtue set well apart from the hoi polloi. They and their like-minded ancestors are in Jesus’s eyes the invited guests who not only deliberately shunned the invitation but abused and even killed the slaves who had brought those stiff white invitation cards with the gold lettering. It did not take a genius for the implication of Jesus’s words to be understood as he pointed back to all those times over the course of Jewish history when prophets have appeared on the scene warning the people to change their ways, to rebuild the broken covenant with God and humbly and penitently return to Him. Prophets who were scorned, prophets who were mistreated, prophets who were killed even for their temerity in suggesting that the chosen people had taken the wrong path and been badly led astray. Think of poor Jeremiah who suffered the indignity of being placed in the stocks and, worse, was thrown down a well from which he was fortunately rescued because of his temerity in urging the people to mend their ways.  Jeremiah who tried so desperately for no less than twenty-three years to change the hearts and minds of the people. Think of Elijah who had to continually dodge the wrath of King Ahab and his wife Jezebel, at times fleeing for his very life again because of his outspoken comments about the failure of God’s people to keep that sacred Covenant and instead had turned to the worship of idols. Failure that had led in the past to the destruction of Jerusalem, the destruction of the Temple and the transportation of the people into long years of captivity and exile in Babylon.

Oh yes, this was indeed  a parable that hit home and those who heard Jesus that day knew it, and their anger and also fear of this outspoken Galilean nobody intensified still more for they recognised that he was also pointing the finger fairly and squarely at them as they refused to acknowledge his authority and the wedding invitations he was extending. Invitations which were so gratefully accepted by the ordinary people out in the streets, which included the lepers, the tax collectors, the prostitutes and, God forbid, even foreigners, who did recognize at least in some part the amazing God given divine authority of this man. How dare this upstart, this itinerant preacher insult those priests, scribes and Pharisees in so brazen a manner? Just who did he think he was?

And then we have the last strange part of this parable detailing the fate of the guest who appeared at that wedding feast without the correct dress. Surely, he was not alone in not possessing a tailcoat or at least a very smart suit given that so many who had been invited were too poor to possess or even hire such garments. No, my guess is that this was a quite deliberate slight on the part of this guest. The sort of slight that was perceived when in 1981 Michael Foot, the Leader of the Labour Party, appeared at the Service of Remembrance at the Cenotaph to lay his wreath wearing a donkey jacket and then seventeen years later Jeremy Corbyn appeared at the same ceremony in an anorak looking ‘scruffy and disrespectful’. And thinking of these two examples I think we can all understand what lay behind the condemnation of that badly dressed guest. It was his flagrant disregard, his contempt for the dignity, the solemnity and the purpose of that extraordinary wedding banquet. He was in a phrase ‘cocking a snook’ at his host and all the other guests by his unbelievable arrogance in seeing himself as somehow above everyone else present including his host exempt from the usual social norms. No wonder he was summarily thrown out for his failure to show due honour to his host, his son and indeed all present.

So, what do we learn from all this? And I would hope that first and foremost we have recognised that we too have been extended an invitation by none other than God himself to that wedding and I pray that in accepting it we are truly awed and deeply humbled that we have indeed been included in the guest list, despite our undeniably low status.   And secondly, that  we are making quite sure that when the day itself comes we will have our wedding clothes beautifully prepared. And what are those clothes you may ask and here I turn to our Philippians reading which urges us first of all to don the clothing of rejoicing. Day in day out let us rejoice at all the blessings God has bestowed upon us and give him thanks. Secondly the clothing of gentleness where to be gentle implies that we are courteous and honourable in all our doings with others Thirdly, the garments of prayer; prayer not just on Sundays but on every day as we make our supplications for others and our thanks made known to God. And to finish our wedding wardrobe the garment of peace; the garment of peace woven by God himself. Should we be considering ejecting which of these garments is, if we being quite honest, looking decidedly shabby, tired and decidedly dated, in favour of something brand new that enables us to enter that reception confident that we have made a real effort to look the very best that we can. And how do we go about renewing that priceless wedding finery? Surely it is by giving and devoting our lives in thankful, gentle prayerful and peaceful service to God and to all his children.

Virginia Smith

Sunday 1 October - Harvest Festival at St James Abinger
I’m going to need some help for this.Picture for Kias harvest sermon 2023

Can you fill this jar with sand please?
And now with marbles.
And now with rocks.
Won’t fit?
OK, start again.
How about, marbles first, then sand then rocks?
Let’s see if it fits with rocks first, then marbles then rocks.

This is our life.

The rocks signify what’s important in our life – family, relationships, our world – creation, God. 

The marbles are those things we need to do – shopping, gardening, clearing out the drains, washing – the tasks of life.

The sand is the stuff of life that we often do first but is probably meaningless, or at the very least distracting – scrolling through our social media feeds – facebook, insta, tik tok – ask a teenager! Binge watching that Netflix series. 

Priorities. What are our priorities in life? What do you fill up your life with? The big stuff or the small stuff that gets between your toes and is quite frankly a little annoying?

Our man in the story this morning was concerned with wealth; the accumulation, acquisition and storage of wealth. It consumed him, took over his life to the detriment of his ability to enjoy anything else. He thought it was a big rock and that everything else should fit in around it. But his priorities were skewed.

This jar signifies our life. The rocks are the truly important things, such as God, family, health and relationships. If all else was lost and only the rocks remained, your life would still be meaningful. 

The marbles are the other things that matter in our life, such as work or school, and the tasks we need to do.  The sand signifies the remaining “small stuff” and material possessions. 

If you put sand into the jar first, there is no room for the rocks or the pebbles. The same can be applied to our lives. 

If we spend all our time and energy on the small stuff, we will never have room for the things that are truly important. 

We need to pay attention to the things in life that are critical to our happiness and well-being. Take time with the creator of the universe, look around with gratitude and wonder, play with your children and grandchildren, go for a walk or a run, write your grandmother a letter. There will always be time to go to work, clean the house, or unblock the drains. Take care of the rocks first – things that really matter.  The rest is just marbles and sand.

Today is a good opportunity as we come together in worship to thank our creator God for all that he has abundantly provided, for us to pause, maybe take stock of our rocks, marbles and sand in the light of God’s grace, and to perhaps re-evaluate our jars a little.

Rev'd Kia

Sunday 24 September, 16th after Trinity

Texts: Exodus 16 verses 2-15, Matthew 20 verses 1-16

The parable of the Labourers in the vineyard is a little like cod liver oil: you know Jesus is right, you know it must be good for you, but that does not make it any easier to swallow.

Along with the parable of the Prodigal Son, today’s parable is one of those stories of forgiveness so radical that it offends, because it seems to reward those who have done the least while it sends those who have worked the hardest to the end of the line.

So the last will be first and the first last,” says Jesus, scrambling up the usual order of things, challenging the sacred assumption by which most of us live our lives, namely, that the front of the line is the place to be, that the way to win God’s attention is to be the best person, the hardest worker, the first one into the vineyard in the morning and the last one to leave at night.

Only, according to today’s reading, where that will get you is exactly nowhere. According to the parable of the Labourers in the Vineyard, those at the end of the line will not only be paid as much as those at the front; they will also be paid first.

It's just not fair.

One thing that often helps me to understand hard stories like this one is to see where they fit. At what point in his life does Jesus tell this story? Where and what is he doing? To whom is he talking? What has just happened and what happens next?

If you turn to the 19th chapter of Matthew, for instance, to the paragraph just before this parable, you find out that Peter has just asked Jesus what he and the other disciples can expect in the way of reward for their loyalty to Jesus.

They have given up everything to follow him, Peter points out. What will he give them in return? Jesus promises them 12 thrones in the world to come. “But many that are first will be last,” he says, “and the last first”. Then he tells the parable of the Labourers in the Vineyard.

That is what happens before the story. What happens after it is that James and John’s mother comes up to Jesus and makes a special case for her two sons, asking Jesus to give them the best thrones in the kingdom, one on his left and one on his right.

Politely but firmly, Jesus lets her know that she doesn’t know what she is talking about, because his throne will not be made out of jewels and gold but out of wood and nails, in the shape of a cross.

It helps to know where the parable fits, that both before and after Jesus tells it, his own disciples are jockeying for position, wanting good seats in the kingdom, competing for the best seats, each of them trying to be first in line when the doors are propped open and they file in.

We love a queue in this country. What was the longest queue you have ever been in?

Maybe you waited in line to pay your respects to our late Queen. I didn’t, but I know many who did. My stepfather, Noel did. He waited 8 hours as he gradually made his way round London, snaking over the Thames, umbrella in hand, portable shooting stick in tow. Hours and hours of waiting and queuing. Feet aching, back hurting.

And when he eventually reached the front I’m sure there would have been nothing more disheartening than if the guards had come out, made their way to the back of the line, reversed the order, and let those at the back go in first. 

Those at the front had earned the right to enter first. On what grounds would anyone dare reverse the order?

According to today’s story, the manager just feels like being generous. Those are his grounds. He can do whatever he wants to do in his own vineyard, and what he wants is to let the last be first and first be last. 

Everyone will be paid; no one will go home empty handed. He simply wants to reverse the order and pay all the workers the same thing, regardless of how long they have stood in the sun.

Some of them have been there since dawn mind you. Early that morning the householder went to the marketplace, to the corner where those without steady jobs hung out, and he hired a handful of them to work in his vineyard for the day.

He offered them a denarius – a fair day’s wage – and they agreed, but by 9 in the morning it was clear there was more work than they could do. So, the householder went back to the corner again, and again at noon, and again at 3 in the afternoon, bringing more workers back with him each time after promising to pay them whatever was right.

Finally, at 5 in the afternoon, with only one hour left before dark, he goes back to the corner and finds a few men still standing idle. Rounding them up, he takes them back to the vineyard, where they help the others finish up the day’s work.

Then comes the moment they have all been waiting for. The blazing sun goes down, a cool breeze stirs the dusk, and the householder calls his steward to give them all their pay.

Beginning with the last to be hired, he presses a denarius into each of their hands. When they gasp out loud, the others strain to see, and a murmur goes through the crowd.

The householder has turned out to be a very generous man! If he pays the latecomers a whole denarius for just one hour’s work, then those who arrived at dawn are about to be rich!

But before they can all do the mental arithmetic, the steward has paid them all – one denarius. Whether they came at dawn and slaved all day or showed up at 5 to work the last hour, their pay is the same, and the murmurs at the front of the line quickly turn to grumbling.

These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us”, say the first to be hired, their faces all sunburned and their clothes sweated through. “You have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat”.

That is when the householder reminds them that he had kept his part of the bargain, that he has paid them exactly what they agreed to be paid, and what business is it of theirs what he pays the others? The vineyard is his, the money is his. Isn’t he allowed to do what he wants with what belongs to him? “Or do you,” he says, “begrudge my generosity?”

You bet they do! Like most human beings, they have an innate sense of what is fair and what is not. Equal pay for equal work is fair; equal pay for unequal work is not fair. Rewarding those who do the most work is fair; rewarding those who do the least is not fair. Treating everyone the same is fair; treating everyone the same when they are not the same is not fair.

Life is so often not fair. I’m sure we all have stories of when we didn’t get what we thought we were owed – either in a work context, in our families or in our relationships with our friends.

Life is not fair, which is why it seems all that much more important that God should be.

God should be the one authority on whom we can count on to reward people according to their efforts, who keeps track of how long you have worked and how hard you have worked and who does not let people jump the queue in front of you. God should be the one person who polices the line, walking up and down to make sure everyone stays where he or she belongs, so that the first remain first and the last wait their turn at the end of the line. Life may not be fair, but God should be.

But it is not so, according to our parable this morning. In every case the pay is the same – a fair day’s wage – but how it is received depends entirely on what each man believes he deserves. 

The most curious thing about this parable for me is where we locate ourselves in the line.

The story sounds quite different from the end of the line than it does from the front. But isn’t it interesting that 99% of us hear it from front of the line? We are the ones who have got the short end of the stick; we are the ones who have been cheated. We are the ones who have got up early, worked hard, stayed late and all for what? So that some backward householder can come along and start at the wrong end of the queue, treating us like layabouts who do not even get dressed until midday?!

That is how many of us hear this parable, but it is entirely possible that we are mistaken about where we are in the line. It is entirely possible that, as far as God is concerned, we are halfway round the block, that there are all sorts of people ahead of us in the line, people who have more stars in their crowns than we will ever have.

They are at the front of the line, and we are near the back, for all sorts of reasons. No one told us about it for one thing.

We did not even know there was a line until late in the day. But even if we had, we might not have done much about it. We know all kinds of things we do not do much about. There are so many things we mean to do that we never get round to doing, and there are so many things we mean not to do that we end up doing anyway.

Even when we manage to do our best, things get in the way: people get sick, businesses fail, relationships go down the drain. There are lot of reasons why people end up at the end of the line, and only God can sort them out.

But imagine that it is you at the back of the line, waiting to pay your respects to the queen. That you have trudged up to London, braved the crowds, the weather, your feet are aching, your back is hurting when all of a sudden, the guards rush up to you and usher you to the very front – in a matter of moments you will be in. “We‘re starting at this end today” he says. And everyone at the back of the queue begins to cheer, there is much back slapping, laughter and gratitude.

God is not fair. For reasons we may never know, God seems to love us indiscriminately, and seems also to enjoy reversing the systems we set up to explain why God should love some of us more than others. 

By starting at the end of our lines, with the last and the least, God lets us know this his ways are not our ways, and that if we want to see things his way we might question our own notions of what is fair, and why we get so upset when our lines do not work.

God is not fair; God is generous, and when we begrudge that generosity it is only because we have forgotten where we stand.

On any given day of our lives, when the sun goes down and a cool breeze stirs the dusk, when the work is done and the steward heads towards the end of the line to hand out the pay, there is a very good chance that the cheers and back slapping, the laughter and the gratitude with which he is greeted will turn out to be our own.

Rev'd Kia

Sunday 17 September, Fifteenth after Trinity
Being the third Sunday, there are two Christ Church services - our said 9.00am Holy Communion and our 6.00pm Congregational Evensong

Holy Communion
Exodus 14 verses 19-end, Matthew 18 verses 21-35

Our passage in Matthew today is entitled ‘The forgiving servant’.

When I think of forgiveness there are a few people who immediately spring to mind – Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu and Corrie ten Boom. All have had to forgive and come to terms with much more than I can ever possibly imagine.

This well known quote from Nelson Mandela for me rings deep and true, “Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.” “Forgiveness liberates the soul, it removes fear. That’s why it’s such a powerful weapon.

And this from Desmond Tutu, ““Forgiveness does not relieve someone of responsibility for what they have done. Forgiveness does not erase accountability. It is not about turning a blind eye or even turning the other cheek. It is not about letting someone off the hook or saying it is okay to do something monstrous. Forgiveness is simply about understanding that every one of us is both inherently good and inherently flawed. Within every hopeless situation and every seemingly hopeless person lies the possibility of transformation.”

Forgiveness is not the easy road, it is often the path least travelled. It is easier to harbour resentments, turn things over and over in our mind, replay situations and conversations so we come out as the victors or the one with the killer retort.

It might feel easier in the short term, but it can fester and become bitterness that affects our whole outlook on life.

In the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant, the disciple Peter came to Jesus asking the question, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me?  Up to seven times?”  Part of the Rabbinical teaching was that people should forgive those who offended them- but only three times.  So, Peter, trying to be more generous than the Rabbis, maybe trying to impress Jesus, asked the Lord if seven, being the perfect number, was enough times to forgive someone.

But Jesus’ response to Peter surprised Peter and it might surprise many of us, because the Lord’s response was seventy times seven, meaning we should forgive a person as often as they are in need of being forgiven, and show some sincerity for their wrongs, no matter how many times they ask.  True Forgiveness doesn’t keep records, according to Jesus.  And to help Peter and the other disciples understand what true forgiveness entails, Jesus tells this Parable of the Unforgiving Servant.

The Kingdom says Jesus, is like a king who wanted to settle his accounts.  As he began the settlement, one of his debtors who owed him 10,000 talents, which some suggest would be equal to about 12million by today’s precious metal standards of gold, or silver; was brought to him and not able to pay, this servant begged for mercy, at the threat of his entire family being sold into slavery to repay the debt.  Which was a common practice in the days of Jesus.

Because this servant begged for mercy and seemed sincere about it, the king gave him pardon exemplified in forgiving him of the debt he owed.  But when the servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denari, far less than what he had owed the king, he grabbed him, and began to choke him, demanding he pay back the money he owed him.  Like he had done before the king, this fellow servant begged the unforgiving servant to be patient with him, promising he would pay him back in time, but the unforgiving servant refused.

When the other servants saw how he had mistreated a fellow servant while himself having been forgiven by the king for a much larger debt, went and told the king, and as you can imagine, the king became furious, called the unforgiving servant in, turned him over to the jailers to be tortured until he should pay back all he owed. 

One of the interesting notes about this parable is that being thrown into prison until one paid back a debt was next to impossible unless the person sold off their landholdings, or their relatives to pay off the debt.

Given the fact that this unforgiving servant couldn’t repay what he owed the king, and the king had initially forgiven him, because of his refusal to forgive another servant, he now found himself in a far worse condition than when he started.  

The king in this parable is obviously God, the one who has been offended by a sinful humanity and who initiates and offers forgiveness to his unjust servants, us.  And like the unforgiving servant we have sinned against God more than others have sinned against us, David declared in the 51st Psalm, “Against you only have I sinned and done this great wrong.”

David recognized that while he did sin against Uriah, in taking his wife and having him killed, ultimately, his sin was against God.  And since God offers His forgiveness to us regardless of our offenses, He expects us to do the same.  If the servant had been transformed by the grace and mercy of his king, he would have been sympathetic to his fellow servant who owed him money and forgiven him as he had been forgiven by the king.

So Jesus is trying to tell us in this parable that forgiveness is closely linked to transformation.

When we can accept the forgiveness of God, through Jesus, when we feel freed from our guilt and shame we experience a lightness, a new life, a freeness of spirit.

Having experienced the forgiveness of God, we are to live from this space of grace and offer our forgiveness to others.

I’d like to close with a story about Corrie Ten Boom. Cornelia Arnolda Johanna “Corrie” ten Boom is a treasured example of the power of forgiveness in the face of unspeakable evil. The Dutch Christian worked as a watchmaker with her father Casper ten Boom and would work with her sister Betsie ten Boom and other family members to help Jews escape Nazi persecution during the Holocaust in World War II. Corrie would later chronicle parts of her experience in the famous book, “The Hiding Place.” Although bravery, sacrifice and unshakable faith in God marked Corrie’s life, perhaps most astonishing was her ability to forgive. In an article from 1972, Corrie recalled how she came face to face with one of the concentration camp guards where her sister died. She says; It was in a church in Munich that I saw him, a balding heavyset man in a grey overcoat, a brown felt hat clutched between his hands. People were filing out of the basement room where I had just spoken, moving along the rows of wooden chairs to the door at the rear,” she wrote. “It was 1947 and I had come from Holland to defeated Germany with the message that God forgives".

It was the truth they needed most to hear in that bitter, bombed-out land, and I gave them my favourite mental picture. Maybe because the sea is never far from a Hollander’s mind, I liked to think that that’s where forgiven sins were thrown, when we confess our sins,’ I said, ‘God casts them into the deepest ocean, gone forever.'”

Corrie remembered that her audiences, often groups of German, left her talks in silence.

The solemn faces stared back at me, not quite daring to believe. There were never questions after a talk in Germany in 1947. People stood up in silence, in silence collected their wraps, in silence left the room,” she explained. “And that’s when I saw him, working his way forward against the others. One moment I saw the overcoat and the brown hat; the next, a blue uniform and a visored cap with its skull and crossbones.
It came back with a rush: the huge room with its harsh overhead lights, the pathetic pile of dresses and shoes in the centre of the floor, the shame of walking naked past this man. I could see my sister’s frail form ahead of me, ribs sharp beneath the parchment skin. Betsie, how thin you were!” she continued. “Betsie and I had been arrested for concealing Jews in our home during the Nazi occupation of Holland; this man had been a guard at Ravensbrück concentration camp where we were sent.”

Corrie recalled her shock when her previous captor approached her and asked for her forgiveness.
I remembered him and the leather crop swinging from his belt. It was the first time since my release that I had been face to face with one of my captors and my blood seemed to freeze,” she said. “‘You mentioned Ravensbrück in your talk,’ he was saying. ‘I was a guard in there.’ No, he did not remember me. ‘But since that time,’ he went on, ‘I have become a Christian. I know that God has forgiven me for the cruel things I did there, but I would like to hear it from your lips as well. Fräulein’–again the hand came out–’will you forgive me?
“I stood there–I whose sins had every day to be forgiven–and could not. Betsie had died in that place–could he erase her slow terrible death simply for the asking?” she added. “It could not have been many seconds that he stood there, hand held out, but to me, it seemed hours as I wrestled with the most difficult thing I had ever had to do".
For I had to do it–I knew that. The message that God forgives has a prior condition: that we forgive those who have injured us. ‘If you do not forgive men their trespasses,’ Jesus says, ‘neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses.'”

Since the end of the war, Corrie had started a home in Holland for victims of Nazi brutality.
Those who were able to forgive their former enemies were able also to return to the outside world and rebuild their lives, no matter what the physical scars. Those who nursed their bitterness remained invalids. It was as simple and as horrible as that,” she recalled of those in the home".
“Still I stood there with the coldness clutching my heart. But forgiveness is not an emotion–I knew that too. Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart,” she wrote.

In her pain, Corrie turned to prayer.
‘Jesus, help me!’ I prayed silently. ‘I can lift my hand. I can do that much. You supply the feeling,'” she said.

She recalled of the following interaction:
"And so woodenly, mechanically, I thrust my hand into the one stretched out to me. And as I did, an incredible thing took place. The current started in my shoulder, raced down my arm, sprang into our joined hands. And then this healing warmth seemed to flood my whole being, bringing tears to my eyes".
I forgive you, brother!” I cried. “With all my heart!
"For a long moment, we grasped each other’s hands, the former guard and the former prisoner. I had never known God’s love so intensely as I did then".

Let us pray

Father, we sit here today as forgiven people. Unearth any resentment or bitterness that we hide, help us to bring it to you so that we may be open to your free flowing love and forgiveness not only for ourselves but for others. For your glory.

Rev' Kia

Congregational Evensong

Texts: Genesis 50 verses  15-21, Matthew 18 verses 21-35

Sin! Thinking about this word it struck me that it is one we really do not hear very much these days not even, I realised, to describe eating a very large piece of delicious but calory filled cake as being ‘sinful.’ By contrast the Book of Common Prayer pulls no punches when it comes to sin and after that first hymn we of course began the service with the invitation to confession of our sins and then joined together to make that confession. The first words of the invitation are uncompromising: ‘The Scripture moveth us in sundry places to acknowledge and confess out manifold sins and wickedness.’ Manifold sins and wickedness! My goodness are we really that bad? And here I remember as a schoolgirl undergoing preparation for confirmation and being urged to make a daily confession of my ‘manifold sins and wickedness.’ Which I found really hard. No I do not pretend for one moment that I was a perfect child, far from it, but I really couldn’t quite summon up a vast list which would satisfy the description of that word ‘manifold’.

And then, having urged all of you to ‘accompany me with a pure heart and humble voice’ we have together duly admitted those manifold failings and that we are indeed  ‘miserable offenders’ Words that to me summon up the thoughts of sackcloth and ashes to truly designate ourselves as sinners.  

And of course, the concept of sin is also closely connected in some people’s minds with that of hell. Hell with its fiery flames, its multitude of devils all waiting with glee to inflict eternal punishment for our sins. And this is a concept I personally cannot believe in or accept, as it makes no sense to me especially as I read these beautiful words written in John’s first letter that God ‘sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him'. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Hell to me is of our own making and not God’s

And reflecting on all this I became very conscious that over and over again God used sinners for his divine purposes. Just a few examples but we can start with Cain whose extreme jealousy of his brother Abel led him to murder.  Next take Abraham who lied and claimed his wife Sarah to be his sister so the Egyptians would not kill him and then cravenly agreed with Sarah’s request to throw out of his household the servant girl and her son whom Abraham had fathered. Move onto Jacob who, with his mother’s help, impersonated his elder brother and brazenly tricked his aged father into giving him his blessing thus in effect giving him all the rights of the first-born son. And, as a last example of some very definite sinning, think of David who first took advantage of another man’s wife and then when she turned out to be pregnant tried first to make it look as if the husband had fathered the child and, when this ploy failed completely, arranged to have the husband killed. Oh yes, the great King David so revered by the Jewish people was certainly no saint!

But back to Joseph’s brothers and their concern that now their father Jacob is dead their brother might now exact just retribution for their wrong doing so many years ago. Wrongdoing which included the idea of actually murdering him but then of selling him off as a slave and pocketing the money while presenting their father with Joseph’s deliberately blood- stained coat as evidence that a wild animal had killed him. All this because of their jealousy which, if you think about it, is the cause of an awful lot of this world’s sins. But the fears of his brothers were unrealised as Joseph recognised both the hand of God in all that had happened to him and also showed the same merciful forgiveness that God extends to us.

Forgiveness is something we all need and is also, just as importantly, something we are called upon to give when we have been wronged. Why else do we pray ‘forgive us our trespasses as we forgive them who trespass against us’?  Knowing the sins that we have committed and not allowing God’s gracious mercy to give us his forgiveness and welcome us back into the safety of his eternal love will leave us scarred and, like Joseph’s brothers, living in uneasy fear that we might rightly be condemned and punished for those sins. But if we allow ourselves to really hear those words of forgiveness ‘Almighty God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who desireth not the death of a sinner but rather that he may turn from his wickedness and live…. He pardoneth and absolveth all them that truly repent’ we will, surely, like the Joseph’s brothers, like the Prodigal son, know ourselves forgiven, know ourselves pardoned and held securely in love once again resolved to try to do better and that ‘the rest of our life hereafter maybe pure and holy.’ And if it is to be truly pure and holy then we too must be ready to forgive not merely seven time or even seventy- seven times but always.   I would like to end with  these beautiful words of Malcolm Guite; ‘we must invite God here, to make his peace within us and between us, that forgiven, we may release forgiveness here on earth, working and spreading like a holy leaven.’ Forgiveness for sins, forgiveness for trespasses spreading like a holy leaven across God’s world and helping turn us sinners into instruments of his purposes as he did with  Cain, with Abraham, with Jacob, with Joseph and his brothers, with David and so many countless others through the ages. Amen

Virginia Smith

Sunday 10 September, Fourteenth after Trinity
Gifts and Talents

Test: 1 Corinthians 12 verses12-26

Who are you? A wife, mother, sister, daughter, husband, father, brother, son?

A home maker, secretary, executive, gardener, teacher?

Who are you really? When you take off your various hats and step aside from being purely defined by your relationships or your roles. When you pray, when you kneel before Jesus, who are you really? Who has God made you to be?

This is a searching question that demands more than a pithy answer – it probably takes a lifetime to work out in fact.

It took Paul quite a while. He started off on completely the wrong track. 

God had gifted him with passion, perseverance and tunnel vision but in the early part of his life he had used these talents to persecute Christians – going to any lengths to find and destroy.

Then, famously, he had his Damascus road experience – when the scales fell from his eyes – when he woke up and literally saw the light.

God then re-purposed his life and he went on to use his considerable passion and zeal to reach out to all, crossing the boundaries of Jews and gentiles and preaching that the Good News was available for all.

Our passage this morning is perhaps well known – how Paul uses the analogy of the body to illustrate how we all need each other to work together – how no one part of the body is inferior to the other – without one part working and functioning properly then the whole system fails.

We, the church, God’s people are this body.

We all have our unique gifts and talents – no one more or less important than the other, no one more or less valuable or worthy than the other.

Just because I stand up here definitely doesn’t make me more important than those who care and clean for our church or hall, or serve our coffee, or arrange our flowers. 

We are all needed and special and important.

We have a role model in Paul that is fallible, flawed, and mis-directed and who made massive mistakes in his live. But in his core, in his essence he had talents and gifts that he eventually discovered and used for God’s glory.

When I put this board up some people took one look at it and went – well I don’t have any of those!

I beg to differ! Over my last 17 months here I have witnessed and been the recipient of so many of your gifts and talents.

God has blessed us uniquely with our own special talents – whether that’s baking, organising or mending. It might be hospitality, listening to others. We might be good with figures or creative with our hands. God has blessed us abundantly. 

I might speak for myself in this, but we are quite good at looking at others and marvelling at their talents and thinking ‘I couldn’t possibly do that’!

I know I do. I look at people like Patsy and wish I was more creative. But that’s not my talent.

I look at Guy and wish I enjoyed cooking – but that’s not my talent.

We are so good at spotting what others are good at and less so at appreciating our own. Over coffee, can I encourage you to tell someone what you think their talents are – you may surprise them!

We are all part of God’s plan, just as much Paul was part of God’s plan. And he has plans for your talents in building his kingdom here.

Do take a moment to read through this board, it has some helpful tips on how to recognise your gifts and talents, but most importantly remember God created you out of love – to receive love and to give love.

And more important than our talents are our gifts. We may have only a few talents, but we have many gifts. Our gifts are the many ways in which we express our humanity. They are part of who we are: friendship, kindness, patience, joy, peace, forgiveness, gentleness, love, hope, trust, and many others. These are the true gifts we have to offer to each other. 

There is an old Jewish proverb that goes like this – before his death, Rabbi Zusya said, ‘in the coming world, they will not ask me: ‘Why were you not Moses, or Paul?’ They will ask me: ‘Why were you not Zusya?’” Why was I not Kia, why were you not ……...

God has a plan for our life that is as unique as we are.

As Francis of Assisi lay dying he said ‘I have done what is mine; may Christ teach you what is yours’.

As we sit together quietly, let us take a moment of stillness and think about our talents, what we love to do, what we are good at. And then let us offer them to God and ask him how we can best serve him with what he has given us.

Let us pray.
Father God, thank you so much for making us all unique. Thank you so much for all you have given us. Help us to recognise that all I have and all that I am comes from you. Would you speak to me now and show me how I can use my talents and all that I am to serve you and to show your love.

Rev'd Lia

Bible Reading: 1 Corinthians 12:12-26 - Living Bible
12 Our bodies have many parts, but the many parts make up only one body when they are all put together. So it is with the “body” of Christ.
13 Each of us is a part of the one body of Christ. Some of us are Jews, some are Gentiles, some are slaves, and some are free. But the Holy Spirit has fitted us all together into one body. We have been baptized into Christ’s body by the one Spirit, and have all been given that same Holy Spirit.
14 Yes, the body has many parts, not just one part.
15 If the foot says, “I am not a part of the body because I am not a hand,” that does not make it any less a part of the body.
16 And what would you think if you heard an ear say, “I am not part of the body because I am only an ear and not an eye”? Would that make it any less a part of the body?
17 Suppose the whole body were an eye—then how would you hear? Or if your whole body were just one big ear, how could you smell anything?
18 But that isn’t the way God has made us. He has made many parts for our bodies and has put each part just where he wants it.
19 What a strange thing a body would be if it had only one part!
20 So he has made many parts, but still there is only one body.
21 The eye can never say to the hand, “I don’t need you.” The head can’t say to the feet, “I don’t need you.”
22 And some of the parts that seem weakest and least important are really the most necessary.
23 Yes, we are especially glad to have some parts that seem rather odd! And we carefully protect from the eyes of others those parts that should not be seen,
24 while of course the parts that may be seen do not require this special care. So God has put the body together in such a way that extra honour and care are given to those parts that might otherwise seem less important.
25 This makes for happiness among the parts, so that the parts have the same care for each other that they do for themselves.
26 If one part suffers, all parts suffer with it, and if one part is honoured, all the parts are glad.

Sunday 3 September, Thirteenth after Trinity

Texts: Romans 12 verses 9-end, Matthew 16 verses 21-end

Unless we are psychopaths or have a very warped view on life, the idea of someone suffering is at best distressing and at worst abhorrent to our sensibilities. Thus. I think we can all completely understand and sympathise with Peter’s vehement cry of protestation when Jesus informs his disciples that he must undergo great suffering. We all know that suffering is intrinsic to life and here it is interesting to note that it was the suffering of labour pangs that brought each and every one of us into the world. None of us would exist if our mothers had not endured that suffering, that pain.

Peter, we know had, just prior to the giving of this warning about the suffering of Jesus, also been given the revelation that Jesus was indeed the Messiah, the beloved Son of God come to bring salvation to God’s people. So how could God’s Son, the people’s Messiah, possibly be destined to suffer himself? And I am quite sure at this point in time not one of the disciples had the least idea as to just what was required of Jesus to bring about the reality of that salvation. Maybe they had visions of his being like David, the Giant Killer, who had then become Israel’s greatest King, ruling a nation of which his people could be proud. Yes, Jesus would be a Giant Killer, a Saviour in that he would kill once and for all the hold of sin that rules over God’s people but in order to do this he must himself suffer and die.  Not what Peter dreamed of in a million years. His dream, and surely that of so many at that time, was of some sort of militant Messiah who would oust the Romans from the land and restore the kingdom of Israel in all its might, its freedom from foreign oppressors. But God’s plans were entirely at odds with such dreams. God’s plans were of an entirely different scale in that, not just the people of Israel, but all his children would through His Son’s suffering and death be given their freedom from the enslavement of sin. 

So, it is no wonder that Peter was rebuked and made to understand that he could not and would not be allowed to be in the way of God’s plans. He had to accept that he was powerless to prevent such suffering and must accept it as we all must to be the richest most priceless gift that has ever been given to God’s children. The parallel, on a infinitely smaller scale, is the suffering that brings each of us into the world liberated from the dark of the womb into the light and glory of God’s created world.

Peter, as we know when it came to the crunch, could not stand up and courageously stand by his Lord, our Lord in his hour of need. He denied knowing him not once but three times in that frenetic courtyard as Jesus was brought before the High Priest and the infliction of physical suffering was begun. Physical suffering which became more and more acute, more and more deplorably and monstrously cruel until the mercy of death finally brought the agony to its end. Peter, too ashamed and too traumatised by his abject failure in that courtyard, could not bear to watch the process of that death and it was only John, the beloved disciple, and a few courageous women who stood by the cross mutely watching the last horrific hours of Jesus, the man which would give birth to the knowledge that here, indeed, was Christ the Messiah, the Saviour of the World.

Would we have stood by that cross? I am sure I could not have done; the infliction of any sort of gratuitous hurt making me shut my eyes tightly. Maybe some of you are far braver than I am and of course here we must acknowledge that we really do not know what we are capable of until it comes to the crunch. We may , when it comes to it, be capable of watching wide eyed at the foot of someone’s cross but never forget we may also, in certain circumstances, be capable of inflicting suffering, adding to the torment of others. Peter did this by adding to Jesus’s mental suffering when he denied all knowledge of him; a denial that led to his own mental suffering at he recognised the depths of his betrayal, his cowardice.

So what do we learn from all this? For me there are two answers. The first revealed in our Old Testament reading is that God, our God, our Father, always has compassion for us in our hour of suffering. His words to Moses are quite plain:  'I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their suffering and I have come down to deliver them….’ Search the psalms and again and again you will find reference to God being aware of our human condition, our suffering and having compassion for us. God does not, and will not, abandon us in our times of suffering but be there, the Good Shepherd to lead us through those dark valleys of pain, misery and fear.

And secondly. I believe that we are called to show courage, stoicism even and always be prepared to stand beside those who are held on their own cross of suffering. And I know this is far from easy and can, in its powerlessness, be in a way more difficult to contend with than to contend with our own suffering. For John and those few women at the foot of Christ’s cross, their sense of agonising powerlessness must have been overwhelming but they knew they could not turn aside; could not, like Peter and the other disciples, hide themselves away. I am sure each and every one of us has at one time or another walked with a suffering loved one and known the utter impotence of not being able to work some magic and instantaneous cure for that pain, that suffering.  But it is our presence that matters, often a quiet unspeaking presence that is shared also by Christ’s compassionate and consoling presence. A time of prayer, a time perhaps of holding hands, a time that can be blessed by a divine healing bringing the priceless gifts of hope and of peace.  A time sometimes when we will see our loved ones dying at peace held as Christ was and is in the eternal hands of God’s love for his own Son and for us his adopted children.

May Cod’s Holy Spirit bless us with both the knowledge that in all our times of suffering God is with us and also with the courage to walk with those who suffer with gentle and understanding compassion and in qui confident  trust in Christ’s saving grace.                     

During August, we had a service in just one of the four Leith Hill Benefice churches. We publish here the sermon delivered at whichever church the service was held.

Sunday 27 August, Twelfth after Trinity
St James, Abinger
Texts: Romans 12 verses 1-8, Matthew 16 verses 13-20

Quite recently I did a baptism and afterwards needed to take down the details for the Baptism Register which include the occupations of the parents. The father told me to write down ‘retired’ which I knew was only true in part. Yes, he had retired from a truly prestigious and incredibly demanding job in a very large and successful firm with a world -wide reputation and was now content to be a visiting professor at one of the London universities while at the same time building up his own company.  But, for him, that day as his daughter was baptised what the outside world knew him to be was of no consequence; this baptism was not about him it was about his daughter.

For some people who they are, the position they have attained, the size of the hat they wear, and who they are conceived to be by others are all hugely important. In this very ego centred world, fame and fortune can become overwhelming goals; humility is not, it would seem, a greatly prized virtue. And I think if we are honest most of us have a secret pride in at least some aspect of our lives although at the same time we may actually, unlike so many others, be able to boast the humility which ensures that our secret pride does not become generally known except to God himself.

Today’s gospel reading is all about who exactly Jesus is. What would go down as his occupation on any official form. And, being Jesus, he does not choose to answer the question himself as to who he  is but looks for an answer from his disciples. ‘But who do you say I am?’  Already the disciples have told him what others think but it is their response he is truly interested in; what have they learned from being his chosen and closest companions about his true nature. And it is Peter, dear old impetuous and innately flawed Peter who recognises the truth and blurts out: ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’ Wow! What a moment that must have been as all the disciples, but most especially I think Peter himself, take in this astounding revelation which has been given to Peter. This Jesus who to others might just appear to be just another member of the human race albeit a very special, very gifted member is so much more than this. Just as the father at that baptism was so much more than merely ‘retired’ so Jesus is infinitely more than just a man. Jesus is, indeed, the Son of God, The Messiah, the Beloved, sent to redeem and save God’s children; sent to redeem and save each one of us and reveal the infinite love that God has for each one of us.

Today, of course, there are plenty who would dispute this claim and question that Jesus could not possibly be the Son of God. A prophet, a healer, a preacher, a role model, yes, but the Son of God, no.  But with Peter’s testimony and with our own acquired faith we will shortly be declaring our belief that Jesus is also the Christ, the Saviour, the Son of God. We can’t prove it as scientists prove or disprove theories but does that matter? To me it’s having the faith and having the confidence given by the power of the Holy Spirit to echo Peter’s words: ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’

But, having proclaimed that faith, is more required of us as it was of Peter?  Peter’s resounding declaration led to his becoming the rock on which Christ’s church was built. The rock which has stood firm through two millennia. I don’t suppose for a minute that at that moment when given this responsibility Peter had a clue what might be involved but what we do know is that after the death and glorious resurrection of Christ Peter did indeed do all in his power to feed Christ’s sheep, feed Christ’s lambs with the incomparable sustenance of the gospel, the good news of God’s redeeming work realised through the life and death of Jesus Christ his Son.

What are we going to write as our occupation when maybe we make our application for a place in God’s kingdom. And I am sure, like me, you could think of a number of occupations that you have done or indeed still do to write in that blank space, but which one does God really want to see written there? Some I suggest might think that the word ‘Sinner’ should be the one written shamefacedly but although this would be a true description of all of us I personally am sure this is not the one God wants to see. No, the one I think he would most like to see is Child of God. Child of God where we recognise with all humility the amazing truth that God has indeed adopted each and every one of us as his beloved child. And as his beloved children, united as one body, we are called to respond to that loving presence in our lives with love. Love for God, our Father, love for all God’s other children. We are called as Peter himself writes to ‘have unity of spirit, sympathy, love for one another, a tender heart and a humble mind.’  And in addition to these, our Romans reading urges us to have, among other attributes, generosity, compassion and cheerfulness, Unity of Spirit, sympathy, love, a tender heart, a humble mind, generosity, compassion and cheerfulness not qualifications which today’s ambitious and ego centred world would even begin to consider but ones which we are certainly called to have if we can designate ourselves Children of God.

If we were asked who we were I doubt if any of us would have the courage to proudly announce we are indeed Children of God partly through humility at making such a boast but also fearing the disbelief and ridicule such a reply might well elicit. But that is what we are and even if we are unwilling to personally proclaim this let us pray that by our actions, by our way of living and  by our acts of love others might be called to realise the truth  and write the words for us.

Virginia Smith

Sunday 20 August, Eleventh after Trinity
St Johns, Wotton

Lightbulb Moments

TextsIsaiah 56 verses 1 and 6-8, Matthew 15 verses 21-28

Dorothy Sayer’s radio-play The Man born to be King presents the life of Christ in contemporary language.   When it was first broadcast on the BBC in 1971, it caused considerable controversy, with some members of the public complaining that it was vulgar and irreverent.  One person specifically objected to Herod telling members of his court to “keep your mouths shut”, saying that such language was “jarring on the lips of anyone so closely connected with our Lord”.  It seems that such sensitive souls were not closely connected with their Bibles.

Witness today’s gospel story.  This story is, for me, one of the best proofs that the Gospels are true records of events in the life of Jesus.  It’s not the sort of thing that anyone would have made up, for it shows Jesus displaying his full humanity.  He’s irritable, harsh and downright rude, as he refuses to help a desperate woman who comes to him seeking help for her demon-possessed daughter.  First, refuses to even acknowledge her. Then he says that his mission is “only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel”, and finally he tells her that food for the children should not be thrown to the dogs – meaning non-Israelites such as herself.  Well!

The issue is that this woman is a Canaanite, one of the great unwashed from beyond the borders of Palestine where people worshipped idols and did not adhere to the ritual laws of cleanliness.  In other words she is a Gentile, not a Jew, and as such is both an outsider and untouchable.

This is not the first time Jesus has shown prejudice.  Earlier in Matthew’s gospel he instructed his disciples to steer clear of Gentiles, but to attend only to the lost sheep of Israel.  After all, there’s only so much he and his small band of followers can mange.  Isn’t there?  

Not long before this event, Jesus has left Nazareth, his home-town, where his friends and family questioned his authority and rejected his teaching.  He has recently heard that his cousin, John the Baptist, has lost his head to a dancing girl at Herod’s birthday party.  At that point he tried to withdraw from the crowds, but they followed him, so he fed them with five loaves and two fishes.  Everywhere he turns he finds people in need and wanting whatever he can do for them, but who remain blind to who he is.  He is worn out, discouraged and in sore need of time to rest.

So he goes away, hoping to find some peace and quiet.  But then along comes this Canaanite woman who crosses the boundaries of gender, tribe, and religion as she pleads with him to heal her daughter.  But Jesus refuses to identify with her and her kind.  He draws a line between Canaanites and Israelites.  Which raises the question: does the Kingdom of God have boundaries?  Does God draw lines?

If we are asked if there are limits to God’s compassion and love, we know instinctively that the answer is a resounding NO.  There are no boundaries in the Kingdom of God.  But that is not the only instinct that we have.  Within each one of us is a tribal instinct.  Our loyalties are to our family, our community, our country, our faith – fill in the blank.  We cannot engage with everyone, particularly those who look or think differently from ourselves.  Nor can we help everyone who is homeless, or hungry, or in some other kind of distress.  And so, as Jesus did, we put limits on our obligations.  We draw a line between ourselves and others.

But the Canaanite woman will not go away.  She stands before us as she stood before Jesus, on the other side of the religious line, wondering if we will reach across it - daring us to reach across.  Aware of the differences between herself and Jesus she ignores the line that he has drawn between Jews and Gentiles, children and dogs.  Instead, she asserts their common humanity.  Even if it is crumbs from the table it is shared hunger and shared food.  Even if we are different, even if we do not like each other we can still love and care for a sick child.  The Canaanite woman may stand beyond our instincts and what we see as our obligations, but her very existence is a challenge to those tribal instincts.  

Who is the Canaanite woman?  The homeless man selling The Big Issue on street corners; the inept shop assistant, the pushy cold caller with a foreign accent, the persistent do-gooder, the constant complainer.  For people in this country, the Canaanite woman might be the migrants and asylum seekers who just keep coming; people in places beset by droughts, floods or earthquakes; or the ones who literally or figuratively don’t speak our language.  Some are as far away as the next news item, some as close as the house next door.  But they are there – the Canaanites, the others, the odd ones out; those who stand on the other side of the line; those whom we would like to ignore – but we can’t.

Nor can Jesus.  For him, the compelling presence of this unnamed foreigner serves as a wake up call.  This is the stuff of which history is made.  You can just imagine the light bulb flashing above his head as he comes to the realisation that God’s purpose for him is bigger than he had imagined, that there is enough of him to go around.  The old boundaries no longer stand.  He must widen them to include this woman today and who knows how many others tomorrow.

Astronauts who have travelled to space often comment that when they look down on earth, what they see is one world with oceans and continents, mountains and deserts.  What they do not see is lines or boundaries.  It is we humans who have created boundaries in an effort to maintain our sense of identity and security.  Our tribal instincts draw lines between those who belong and those who do not, us and them, in and out, children and dogs.  Lines define us nationally, politically, religiously and socially.  But God, who never seems to leave well enough alone, keeps interrupting our tribal ceremonies with Canaanite women who burst on the scenes and assert our common humanity. 

Just as Jesus came to discover the full extent of his mission, we also find that God is constantly redrawing the boundaries of his creation, challenging us to cross the lines that we are always drawing around our families and friends, our churches, our communities and our beliefs.  We may resist.  We may even lose our tempers, but God’s call is insistent, as insistent as that of the Canaanite woman calling us, daring us to reach out to a stranger, give up playing safe, step over those lines, and discover a whole new world on the other side.


Martha Taft Golden

Sunday 13 August, Tenth after Trinity
Christ Church, Coldharbour

The Lord’s Prayer, Luke 11 verses 1 – 4 and 9 -13

I must admit that I have not always been very faithful in private prayer and strive to do better. However, the last few months have convinced me how important and effective prayer can be.

During Colin’s illness, many people have told us that they have been praying for him and we are so grateful. I was very aware of being supported by those prayers during difficult times: sitting in A&E being told that several crash teams were working on Colin to get him breathing again, waiting in the Intensive Care Unit being told that he may not survive if they take him off the ventilator and then, when he did survive, being told that he would need a tracheostomy which would mean that he wouldn’t be able to speak! I thank God that those prayers were answered and he is still with us and still in fine voice! Now I know that not all prayers are answered in the way that we hope, but I certainly believe that they help us through when we are struggling.

The Lord’s Prayer is recorded twice in the Bible - in Matthew’s Gospel it follows a warning not to ‘pray like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men.’ Also not to use ‘vain repetitions’ as the heathen do.

The question the disciples ask in Luke’s Gospel is not should we pray, that is taken for granted, but how should we pray. Prayer is fundamental in building our relationship with God – how can we expect to know someone if we don’t talk to them regularly? There are many references in the Bible to Jesus praying – he is constantly in contact with his heavenly Father.

One of the amazing things that I have begun to understand in my walk with God, is that he wants to work with and through us, fallible and weak as we are – what a huge privilege and responsibility! If we don’t pray and listen to him, how will we know what he has in store for us to do as his disciples?

When Kia asked me if I would preach on the Lord’s Prayer this week, I began to feel that one short sermon is not enough time to explore this precious gift of a prayer that Jesus gave us. We really could spend weeks looking into the details. However, I hope to give you a taster session, a few bullet points, which perhaps will provoke us to think more and pray more with Jesus’ words as a starting point.

We start with:
Our Father – we are privileged to have a relationship with the Creator of the Universe – not just any relationship, but a close one – Father and child. The word Jesus uses for Father is the Aramaic term Abba which was in the early times of the New Testament the word normally used by sons and daughters when they spoke to their father. So in the same way we would use Dad or Papa – a familiar name. God wants to welcome us into a loving relationship with him.

Who art in heaven – He is with us, even though we can’t see Him, we can know his presence.

Hallowed be thy name - But we must remember that as well as being our Father, he is also Holy and not to be taken for granted.

Thy Kingdom come – what do we mean when we say this? Not just looking forward to Jesus 2nd Coming when his kingdom will fully come, although this is something that we are encouraged to look forward to and pray for, but we are to pray for little glimpses of his kingdom every day.

Thy will be done – What is God’s will? For the world to be restored to His Kingdom where, as Revelation tells us ‘There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain.’ For us to be a part of that by following Jesus and doing as he would do.

On earth as it is in heaven – another reference to the world to come where there is no war, no sickness or suffering, for us to do what we can to make the world a better place.

Give us this day our daily bread – This reminds me of the children of Israel in the wilderness, being sent manna from heaven - they were totally reliant on God and he provided for them every day of their journey. He will provide all we need each day. Not just food, but our daily needs – spiritual sustenance, strength for our everyday struggles.

Forgive us our trespasses or sins as we forgive those who trespass against us - The Greek text more literally asks for release from our “debts,” again materially and spiritually – we must be generous if we expect generosity from God. The term “forgive” also means “release.” When we ask for forgiveness for ourselves, we are released from the burden of guilt, when we forgive others, we are released from the burden of resentments and grievances – it benefits us as well as those we forgive. There can only be peace in the world when we all forgive our neighbour. We need to be a forgiving people.

Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil - We ask God to help us stay away from areas of temptation – things that are harmful to us and to guard us when we are in danger. We ask God to protect us. It doesn’t mean that we don’t have to face difficult or painful situations but that he will take us through it – he will deliver us from it. He will be with us when we do go through those bad times – those forces of evil that come into our lives in the form of sickness or other ways we are harmed, by others or by circumstance.

For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, for ever and ever – Acknowledging that God is sovereign over our world and over our lives, if we let him. He is the all-powerful, the glorious Lord of Creation, who created us and wants us to be part of his kingdom. To come before him as his children to a loving Father, who wants the best for us.

Perhaps as we pray the Lord’s Prayer, when we settle down to sleep at night, or when we wake in the morning, we can think about each phrase and what it means to us before moving on to the next one. Give space to really reflect on the meaning for us in the context of our day ahead or the day just gone.

Interestingly, the prayer does not mention I or my – always our and us – the community, the church – faith is a shared experience not an isolated one. Even when we pray it on our own, we join with a community of believers across the world and across the ages.

The Lord’s Prayer guides us and helps us to focus on who God is and who we are in his sight. It directs us how to ask and what to ask for. From there we can begin to understand the calling that God has for us and learn to be who he created us to be – his servants, his friends and his children.


Hilary Swift

Sunday 6 August, The Transfiguration
St Marys Holmbury

Text: Luke 9 verses 28-36

 I first started going to church by my own volition when I was 23.

I was newly married and pregnant with our first daughter and realised that I wanted to bring her up within a Christian church family. Although I wouldn’t have used those words at the time – I just knew that I wanted to be that family that went to church and believed in God.

So I started going to Wonersh church.

I remember going in, full of nerves, unsure of what to expect, finding an empty pew – halfway down on the right – sitting down, head bowed, hoping no one would notice me.

As I sat there, full of trepidation, the sun suddenly burst through the stained glass window on my right and I was bathed in a shaft of sunlight.

That warm glow permeated through the slight damp and chill of that church in early February as it rested on me.

I felt warmth. Not only physically but the warmth pushed through my nerves and sense of unease and I felt welcomed, loved and that I could belong here.

My small ember of faith had been fanned into a tiny flame and my journey began.

Our faith can be a fragile thing, especially when we first start on the road of discipleship. We need encouragement, friendship, a wise guide and loads of patience and love along the way.

It has ever been so; Jesus knew this for his first followers and he knows it for us too.

It's impossible to appreciate what's going on with the Transfiguration unless you consciously factor in the reality that that remarkable scene takes place just a few days after Jesus had, for the very first time, told his disciples He was going to die. 

And when He told His disciples, in Matthew 16: 21, that He was going to die, they were offended and scandalized. 

Peter, speaking for the group, grabbed Jesus and said, "far be it from you [to die], it can't happen." Jesus was, of course, upset with Peter and told him, "You savour the things of man and not of God.

The Transfiguration is about three years into a three-and-a-half-year ministry. Only three years into the ‘training’ or ‘discipleship’ of his followers. But over those three years, these disciples had followed Jesus, they had seen his miracles, they had done miracles in His name. They knew something palpably and objectively about the power and the reality of who Jesus was, and yet when He began to talk about dying it was staggering to the disciples, and they began to wonder if He really was the Messiah. 

So, for that reason, Jesus took three, Peter, James and John, into a high mountain apart, away from the other apostles. 

Jesus takes them into a very secluded place and He begins to pray. He asked the disciples to pray, and they fall asleep – a sign of things to come! Then, as they wake up, they see Jesus standing before them with an indescribable manifestation of light and glory, which will be His when he reigns as King in days to come. 

He had laid aside that external glory for the past three years, and for just a few minutes as they watched, they see him transfigured (metamorphized is the Greek word). 

The point is that the caterpillar had become a butterfly. The one who had so carefully veiled his physical glory took it to himself for a brief moment. The whole purpose of that experience was to reinforce the wavering faith of those apostles. 

That's exactly what Peter gets out of it when he remembers it and says we did not bring you cunningly devised fables. We made known to you the power of Jesus because we were with Him in the holy mountain. We know He is the Messiah and will reign as Messiah because we saw His physical glory. 

The point of the Transfiguration was to reinforce the wavering faith of the apostles. As Jesus, Peter, James, and John return from the mountain, they find the other apostles trying to drive a demon out of a man and unable to do so. When they ask why the exorcism won't work, Jesus says it is because of their lack of faith. 

In the context, why are they doubting their faith? It was Jesus' message that He is going to die that had planted doubt in their minds and that is exactly what the Transfiguration is all about. In such an interesting and compelling way, the Transfiguration illustrates what a careful, sensitive, creative and resourceful teacher Jesus is. 

He had been trying to get His impending death across to the disciples and sees how desperately crippled they are by the announcement. So He is sensitive enough, some days later, to provide a rather startling lesson, where God gives him that physical glory just to reinforce their faith.

We all doubt, we all have questions that go unanswered. Without doubt, without questions, without searching, arguably our faith becomes static, mundane, even boring.

As followers, learners, disciples of Jesus our path is not linear, 2 +2 doesn’t always equal 4. Our journey can be confusing, disorientating and disheartening at times. St. John of the cross didn’t have his dark night of the soul out of choice, but because God was teaching him to see in the dark.

But God doesn’t leave us in the dark, in the confusion. Like those first disciples we too need times when our faith is affirmed, when we catch glimpses of the Divine.

And there are more opportunities than we think.

We might not have the transfiguration happening on a daily basis in the Surrey hills – could be a tad alarming if that were the case – but we can cultivate our awareness of those God given moments – we can learn to see God in our everyday; those moments when God touches our hearts and warms our soul. And God knows, Jesus knows that we need them.

I continued to go back to the church in Wonersh, and in those first few weeks, it seemed that wherever I chose to sit God would shine his light on me. 

Where in your life is God shining his light on you? When, during your everyday do you catch a glimpse of the Divine and feel the warmth of his love for you; through music, nature, the laughter of good friends, our animals?

God is present all around us, waiting to re-affirm our faith, to re-awaken our spiritual senses – to offer us hope, joy and love in the here and now.

So as we go through our week let us try to be intentionally open to God in our everyday lives; invite him to show us his presence and to give thanks for his unfailing patience and love for us as our faith is affirmed and encouraged.

Let us pray,
Father God, we so often go through our lives on autopilot, rushing from one important task to the next. Help us to slow down this week, to pause and to search for you in our everyday. Surprise us with your presence, encourage us with your love and may our faith grow and deepen for your glory, Amen.

Rev'd Kia

Sunday 30 July, Eighth after Trinity
Being the fifth Sunday in July, this was a Benefice service, which was held in St Johns Wotton

Text: Romans 8 verses 26 – 39

We are surrounded by beautiful hills. Quite often, early in the morning, I run up Holmbury Hill or Leith hill – very slowly! When it’s foggy or drizzling, it can be a long hard slog. But sometimes when I get to the top I am greeted by sunlight above the fog, and a beautiful vista is spread out before me.

Romans is a bit like that. Chapters 1-7 are hard work. Paul says that the human race is enslaved to sin, but argues we can be declared innocent through Christ. In chapter 7 he talks about a great struggle going on in our lives, and says we are prisoners of the law of sin and in desperate need of rescue.

Then we come to the glorious 8th chapter. It begins with the words, Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who in Christ Jesus. Paul says that all charges against us have been dropped.

Romans Chapter 8 overflows with reassurance and hope. Power, peace and purpose. It takes us higher and higher, finally reaching the peak in today’s reading, which is all about the absolute security of the Children of God – God is on our side, we are no longer guilty, nothing can separate us from God’s love.

It is summed up in verse v. 32. If God is for us, then who can be against us?

This verse reminds me of a scene in one of the Avenger movies. For those of you who aren’t familiar with these, a varied bunch of superheroes are pitted against untold forces of evil. Among them is Dr Bruce Banner, a man who transforms into an indestructible green monster called the Incredible Hulk when he gets angry. In this scene, the evil Norse god Loki is planning to over-run the earth. He is talking with Tony Stark (also known as Iron Man), who tells him he won’t succeed, because the Avengers won’t allow it. Loki sneers at this and says, “I’ve got an army”. Tony Stark replies, “We’ve got a hulk”.

Even the Hulk has his weaknesses and can be beaten. But not God. He is the ultimate power behind everything. If God is on our side, then we are totally secure, in this life and the next.

Almost every verse in this chapter deserves a sermon to itself, but I’d like to quickly take you through our passage in three sections.
1.     We are called by God for a purpose
2.     With God on our side, we are more than conquerors
3.     We are held fast eternally by God’s indestructible love.

Called for a purpose, vv28-30
Beautiful as they are, I am skipping over verses 26 and 27.

Verse 28 is one of the most comforting verses in Scripture. And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

No matter what happens to us, and however dark things get, God remains in control, and more than that, God is always working for the good of those who love him, those whom he has called.

That is a theme running through the Bible. Take for example the story of Joseph, who endured great injustice and hardships, but at the end could say to his brothers, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good, to accomplish the saving of many lives.”

But what is this purpose for which God has called us? Paul tells us clearly in verse 29, For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. When it says God foreknew, it really means fore-loved. Those he has known and loved before the beginning of time. God’s purpose is that these people – all of us who love him – should become like Jesus. Right through the Bible and throughout history, God is working to create a family – many brothers and sisters – all having the character and beauty of Jesus.

More than conquerors, vv31-37
In verses 31 to 37, Paul poses 5 rhetorical questions
1   If God is for us, who can be against us? We may have many foes and factors ranged against us, both in the physical and spiritual realms – including the devil himself. But with God on our side, no one and nothing can stand against us.
2   He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? If God loved us so much that he sent His own Son Jesus, surely he is not about to abandon us now. Surely he will provide whatever we need.
3   Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Satan is described as the accuser of the brethren. He loves to point out the failures and faithlessness of Christians. But, says Paul, God has justified us. It is a legal term, it means that we have been declared “Not guilty”. We may still remember our wrongdoings, but God doesn’t. Our slate has been wiped clean, and our record of evil totally expunged. Whatever Satan or anyone throws at us will not stick.  
4   Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Jesus has been appointed to judge the living and the dead. He is the one with the right and the duty and the power to condemn. But he does not condemn us. Because of his death and resurrection, we ourselves are now clothed in his righteousness. Instead of condemning us, Jesus is interceding for us at the right hand of God, the seat of power and authority.
5   Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Paul lists seven things that could easily make us feel unwanted, unloved, hated, isolated and miserable. Trouble, hardship and persecution – suffered for the sake of Jesus. Physical needs for food and clothing. War and violence, death itself. But, if God is for us, none of these things can shake us or destroy us. Instead, we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.

Held fast by love, vv 38-39
Paul is adamant and definite, “I am convinced,” he says “that nothing will ever be able to separate us from the love of God. He throws out another comprehensive list, which covers every imaginable force or power that could sever the cords of love in which we are held.
·      Whether we live or die – God’s steadfast love never ceases.
·      Angels and demons, spiritual forces, whether good or evil, cannot stand between us and this relentless, all-surrounding, shield of love.
·      Nothing in time, neither things we face today, nor things that terrify us about tomorrow – can interrupt the river of God’s love flowing into us.
·      There is no place – not the highest heights nor the lowest depths – where God’s love does not follow us and continue to hold us.
·      No earthly power or authority, whether political or military can ever trump the love of God or forbid it.
·      Just in case he has missed anything, Paul adds, “nor anything else in all creation can ever separate us from God’s love”.

There is a great old hymn, “I’ve found a friend” by James Small based on this passage. It ends with these lines,
        From Him who loves me now so well
        What power my soul shall sever?
        Shall life or death, shall earth or hell?
        No! I am his forever.

Conclusion & application
In conclusion, let us return to the picture of me running up a hill. Recently I tripped on a rock and fell flat on my face. I picked myself up and carried on, but about 100 yards later the same thing happened, and I was down in the dirt again. I took that to be a sign and headed home! But imagine for a moment you’re out for a hike and you trip on something. Nursing your bruises you assume that it is a tree root, but just then a shaft of sunlight comes through the clouds and something glints in the mud. You take a closer look, and realise that there is something yellow and shiny sticking up. Hang on – you rub it – could it be gold? Poking around with a stick you find something else, a coin. Covered in mud, but not your average 2p piece. Gradually it dawns on you that you have stumbled on a treasure trove.

What do you do? Well, if you were an honest first century Palestinian you wouldn’t come back at night with spade and swag bag and dig it up. You would sell your home, and your possessions, to raise all the money you could, then go and buy that bit of land. When you owned the field the treasure in it would be yours.

Romans 8 is a hoard of priceless treasure. It speaks of the wonderful assurance and security that is available to everyone who trusts in Jesus Christ. Here are just some of these treasures:
·      There is now no condemnation, our slate wiped clean
·      God has adopted us as his children forevermore
·      Jesus is interceding for us, the Spirit is also praying in us
·      God’s purpose runs through our lives, working everything together for our good
·      God’s Spirit is at work in us, making us daily more like Jesus.
·      God is on our side through everything that comes our way – we are more the conquerors
·      We’re held fast by God’s indestructible cords of love

In a life full of uncertainties, we all crave security. Here is the ultimate security – if God is for us, who can be against us? If God is on our side Nothing can separate us from his love. This is the wonderful treasure of knowing Christ, of putting our faith in him. Do you already possess this treasure? Would you like to? It will cost you everything you have but possessing it will far outweigh any sacrifice.

Lord, Thank you for your purpose for us, that we might become more like Jesus and part of your family. Thank you that, with you on our side, no one can stand against us. Thank you for your indestructible, eternal love for us. Help us all to recognise that amazing treasure, and make it ours by trusting in the Lord Jesus, your Son. Amen

Hugh Skeil

Sunday 23 July, Seventh after Trinity
Texts: Romans 8 verses 12-25,  Matthew 13 verses 24-30, 36-43

When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing  witness with our Spirit that we are children of God, and if children the heirs, heirs  of God and joint heirs with Christ-if in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified for him.’ Romans 8 verses 15b-17

The idea of calling God ‘Father’ has it seemed become somewhat of a contentious issue with even the Archbishop of York stepping into the fray suggesting that the word ‘Father’ may be problematic for those whose earthly fathers may have abused them. Well, yes, but then so could all sorts of similar words. mother, sister, brother, uncle aunt. As flawed human beings we are all capable of abusing others in one way or another be it simply a cruel and unkind remark, a deliberately pointed barb of a criticism to far more serious types of abuse, some of which will, if the perpetrators are brought to justice, end in a prolonged prison sentence.  My own father was not an easy man, and his outbursts of temper were legendary and as children we quickly learned there were times when, if at all possible, it was best to make ourselves scarce, assuming we were not that day’s unfortunate victims of his wrath. But beneath that fiery temper was genuine love and deep sentimentality which I learned later he had never been properly taught to express as a child himself.  Definitely not a perfect role model but even so he gave me tangible proof of the sort of love with which I firmly believe that God the Father embraces us his children.

God was first referred to as Father in Deuteronomy when the question was asked ‘Is he not your father who created you, who made you and established you?’ Then, in Psalm sixty-eight we read these words: ‘Sing to God, sing praises to his name….. his name is the Lord-be exultant before him. Father of orphans and protector if widows is God in his holy habitation. God gives the desolate a home to live in: he leads out the prisoners to prosperity.

Thus, from early on in the evolvement of first the Jewish faith which then led into our own Christian faith, we have this image of God as father, a father who cares and protects, a father who is compassionate and loving, a father who wants to share the blessings and joys of life with us.  And, in all his teaching, Jesus encouraged his followers to see God as the supreme father, the father who held in his care all people, all children.

But those who know their Bible might well point to examples where God seemed far from such a loving father and was more than happy to do a lot of bloodthirsty smiting of his people’s enemies in order to protect them. And, even now, there are people who conceive of God as an angry, vengeful God who will condemn sinners or those who are not of their particular religion or sect to all the gleefully imagined torments and agonies of hell fire. But this is not my image of God, my image of the God who is our Creator, our Father, and I am one hundred percent certain that it is not the image that Jesus wanted us to have of him. Jesus wanted us to love the Lord our God with all of our being, heart, soul, strength and mind, and how could we possibly show love like that unless we met in God not a mere reciprocal love but a love that is both infinite and eternal. A love that we can only catch the smallest glimpse of but, at the same time, a love we can absolutely trust; a love that will never waver, never change according to circumstances. The love spoken of is psalm seventy-three: ‘For I am always with you: you hold me by my right hand. Lord, you will guide me with your counsel and afterwards receive me with glory.’

For me to call God ‘Father’ is simply a way into trying to discern more of the nature of God. God is not a fallible and mortal human; he is not a man with a long white beard; he is not some cruel and abusive tyrant; he is  not even a ‘he’  or a ‘she’  or an ‘it’ but we simply do not have the words nor the depth of imagination to know and accurately describe the reality of God. The reality that he  is also she and neither of these; the reality that he is both father and mother and neither of these; the reality that quite literally whatever God is, the God who described himself as ‘I am what I am’ is beyond our comprehension and yet a God whom I am certain loves each and every one of us despite  our faults, our failings, our sins which, of course, include that of being abusive to one another.  The God who in love will separate out those tares, those faults, failings and sins at the time of our harvest leaving the good fruit of that harvest which, above all, is surely the love we have shown in response to the divine love with which, if only we could properly realise it, has clothed us throughout our lives. And here let us remember the words said after baptism: ‘You have been clothed in Christ’ words that are repeated over any couple married in church. Words which for me paint such a beautiful and tender image of Christ who is the Son of God and is one with God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit

For me, and indeed for the Archbishop of York and I hope for you too, you will find nothing strange or contentious in praying  the words ‘Our Father’ and in so doing will know the truth of some of these  words taken from Psalms which give  some small idea of the complexity and the awe and the  wonder  that is God, that is Abba,  the Father , the incomprehensibly perfect role model for us his children: the God who, in his overwhelming love, deliberately chose to create a familial relationship with us ‘The Lord is my rock and my fortress, my stronghold and my deliverer. The Lord is my light and my salvation. Great is the Lord….. his greatness is unsearchable. The Lord is faithful in all his words, and gracious in all his deeds. He will cover you with his pinions and under his wings you will find shelter.  The Lord upholds all who are falling and raises up all who are bowed down. The Lord is just in all his ways, and kind in all his doings. The Lord is near to all who call on him,……he hears their cry and saves them. The Lord watches over all who love him.’

May God our Father watch over all of us and in his love hold us by our right hand and in times of trouble compassionately shelter us under his pinions throughout our pilgrim journey. 

Virginia Smith

Sunday 16 July, Sixth after Trinity
In a recent survey by the Good Faith Partnership members of the public from the backgrounds of Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Sikhism, humanism and no religion were asked to select, from a list of twenty four, the six virtues that they considered most important for their faith. The virtues included, among others, charity, compassion, critical thinking, devotion, gratitude, honesty, resilience, teamwork and wisdom.  Of these, honesty was the only virtue in the top six across all belief strands but all religious groups had at least three virtues in common. To my considerable surprise none of the major faith groups had compassion in their top six. The Christians questioned had charity, honesty, devotion, civility, citizenship and community as their top six; no hint of compassion being regarded as a supreme virtue. And yet, to me, compassion appears the one virtue that I personally think we should emulate above all others, just as Jesus did again and again to those in need of his healing touch, his healing word, his healing love. According to my Concordance there are five separate instances when we read that Jesus showed his compassion be it to the hungry crowds, described by Jesus so movingly as the sheep without a shepherd, whom he then fed, or on the widow of Nain whose only son had just died; a death which would have left her without any means of support if Jesus had not restored him to life. And he not only showed his compassion practically but talked about it in his parables. Think of the parable of the Lost Son when his Father, seeing him return, was filled with compassion and ran to embrace his errant son. Think of the parable of the Good Samaritan when it was not the priest or the Levite who showed compassion to the badly wounded man but the Samaritan who tended to his hurts and took him to safety.  I’m not at all sure that Jesus would have recognised either civility or citizenship  as we understand them as important values but what he would, surely, have looked for in others was a show of compassion when people were in distress, in need, in trouble or in fear.

So too we find in the psalm we heard Terry read we have that beautiful verse: ‘The Lord is good to all, and his compassion is over all that he has made.’ And it goes on to illustrate just how God shows that compassion by upholding those who are falling, raising up those who are bowed down, who is near to all who call to him. God cares; he cares with a love filled with compassion and with understanding for our hurts and our need for healing.

And knowing this and having the example of our Lord Jesus Christ, are we, as professed Christians, not expected to show compassion in our lives? Show compassion to all God’s children whoever they may be if only by sitting quietly and allowing them to tell their story, knowing that you really are listening to them not with irritation, not with boredom, not with exasperation, not even with a certain disbelief but with sincere compassion. Michael Mayne writes this: ‘Every Christian is called to a ministry of compassion- and especially- to those wounded and often pretty unattractive individuals who can be greatly supported and upheld if one person is prepared to give them attention and see them not just as they are but as they might be. Sometimes we may feel our attempt to love individuals like this to be so small and trivial and unimportant compared with the huge issues, the massive disasters, of our world. But always remember this: Jesus devoted himself to the small successes and failures of individual men and women. Jesus gave his attention to the woman of Samaria, to the blind beggar, to Martha and Mary, to Zacchaeus and the woman taken in adultery - for the key to the Christian understanding of the many is the value and unique worth of each one.’ Such wise words; words which for me help emphasise my belief that the core Christian value is loving compassion and all the rest  of that list of twenty-four values come some distance behind.

I would like to end with this beautiful prayer poem by Pat Robson: ‘I see my Lord in your sad eyes, I see him on his knees; ‘O let this cup be gone from me’ I hear his frightened pleas. With all my failings all my faults, your helpmeet I would be. If I see Christ in you my friend, can you see him in me.

I pray that in our showing of compassion others may indeed see something of the love that is Christ in each one of us.

Virginia Smith

Sunday 9 July, Fifth after Trinity

Texts:  Isaiah verses 55:6-11, Matthew 11 verses 16-19, 25-end

Almighty and everlasting God, by whose Spirit the whole body of the Church is governed and sanctified; hear our prayer which we offer for all your faithful people, that in their vocation and ministry they may serve you in holiness and truth to the glory of your name; (part of the collect for this Sunday 9th July, the  5th Sunday after Trinity)

Just how outspokenly critical are you? Or do you simply harbour a number of often highly critical thoughts perhaps to be shared with just one or two people whom you can trust to agree with you? Indulging in voicing criticism is for the most part a very negative pursuit designed not so much to encourage as to demean and denigrate. Yes, of course, there is constructive criticism and the very adjective constructive implies that it is intended to be of value, to help bring about improvements and build confidence but it is far more rarely used I find than plain unconstructive and ill considered criticism.

At the  start of certain church services it would be all too easy to voice the criticism that there is a very poor attendance which would set absolutely the wrong tone for the worship to follow. By contrast, a warm welcome, be it to either just a handful of people or a full church can, I hope, begin the service with a sense of joy, of uplift in the warmth of our togetherness with God.

In our gospel reading today we discover just how easy it is to criticise. Criticise those people like John the Baptist whose faith makes them seem, in a way, rather 'holier than thou' with all their fasting and general abstemiousness. Criticise Jesus and his followers for their open enjoyment of the good things of life and for the company with which they were happy to mix.

And surely it is just the same in the life of churches today where people are far too quick to offer criticism at the way things are done rather than learn to rejoice in the very act of genuine worship, no matter how it is conducted. Of course, it should be conducted in a reverent manner but surely sincerity is more important than ritual. Love of worshipping together has to be of more importance than what words are actually used or how the choreography of the service is carried out.  I always remember one Christmas because of a family tragedy our incumbent could not be there and the then Bishop of Dorking, Ian Brackley, very kindly stepped into the breach. Now, Bishop Ian was known as an absolute stickler as to the manner in which a eucharistic service should be conducted and more than one member of the clergy had felt the sting of his criticism when he felt they had failed to adhere to his very highly pedantic and exact standards. So, as Church Warden that day, I felt distinctly nervous as little Wotton has never been a great place for rigid by the book practices of worship and liturgy. However, my mind was put immediately at rest when the first thing Bishop Ian said ‘Don’t worry about me just do everything your way.’ No criticism but just affirmation and of course a wonderful service to welcome Christ, the babe in the manger. My goodness wouldn’t the health professionals and the health and safety brigade have an absolute field day criticising such an unhygienic place of birth and, quite possibly, decided he was at risk and should be sent into foster care immediately! 

But you may say didn’t Jesus do quite a lot of criticising in his ministry, particularly aimed at the practices of the Pharisees and Scribes and yes, he did. But his criticism was very much in response, first of all, to their hugely critical condemnation of anyone who did not adhere to their incredibly nit- picking interpretation of the law. My goodness, they would have had no difficulty in putting Bishop Ian in the shade as regards how things should or should not be done. This concentration on the law in Jesus’ eyes made people fearful and uncertain and took away all the joy that should surely be inherent in worship.  Secondly, his criticism was made in response to the Pharisees strict code of who in effect was ‘in’ and who was ‘out’ in what they regarded as decent society. Tax Collectors. prostitutes, lepers, Gentiles, in fact anyone those Pharisees and Scribes  deemed and labelled a sinner, was definitely ‘Out’ But it was just these people who were the ones Jesus told them he had come to save. Yes, in the eyes of the Pharisees and the Scribes, the elite of Jewish society, they may have been beyond the pale but to Jesus they were simply like everyone else on this planet, children of God. Sinners indeed as we all are but sinners to be forgiven, redeemed and, above all, shown the power of God’s love. Not sinners to be eternally damned because they did not fit the imposed ideals and social criteria  of the Jewish hierarchy.

So yes, Jesus did criticise, but it was criticism with a very real purpose. A purpose to help people understand that the practice of religion should not be confined within narrow boundaries but should be a practice wide open to all and above all else open to the power of the Holy Spirit so that it was alive and vibrant with praise and wonder, thanksgiving and joy in response to God’s love and all the blessings he pours out upon his children day by day. Alive and vibrant so as to allow God’s word to ‘accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.’ (Isaiah 55:11) 

And it is that sort of worship we surely are called upon to give ourselves, recognising that there are an infinite number of ways of so doing. The liturgies may be different, the choreography may be different, the hymns and music may be different. There may be good sermons and not so good ones; they may be a great deal of formality and there will be times when there is distinct informality. Being human we will all have our own preferences for the manner in which we most like to worship but, and this is the big but, I believe that it is essential for us to be open to the ways of the Holy Spirit and recognize that that same Holy Spirit can bring the power to transform each and every act of worship however conducted with that praise, that awe, that wonder I have spoken of and, above all, to make known the very presence of God  and the fulfilment of his Word in the very heart of that worship.

So yes, criticize if it means that people recognize the wisdom of what we are saying and are then prepared to rethink their attitudes towards others and to acknowledge and repent of  their prejudices and personal foibles and, at the same time, I pray we may all have the humility to recognize that some of that criticism might justly be directed at us, just as Christ’s was towards those Pharisees and Scribes.

Virginia Smith

Sunday 2 July, Fourth Sunday after Trinity

Texts: Jeremiah 28: 5-9, Matthew 10: 40-end

Our passages this morning both speak of hospitality and welcome.

In recent decades, hospitality has jumped to the top of the “favourite Christian virtues” list in many mainline churches. 

We boast of our open doors. We build wheelchair ramps and install listening systems. Some hang rainbow banners, informative electronic signs, and “refugees welcome” placards in half a dozen languages. We encourage each other to pounce on visitors (in the kindest and least-threatening way, of course).

In some big city churches name tags are provided, fair-trade coffee offered, and a seat on the faith formation committee.

And so, a brief Gospel excerpt like this one in Matthew may at first seem merely to reinforce this. “Be welcoming!” Jesus says. We are tempted to nod and respond, “Ok, we’ve got that one covered, Lord. What’s next?”

But a closer look suggests a greater challenge still awaits us. “Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward,” Jesus says. 

And prophets, as the Jeremiah reading reminds us, can be tricky people to welcome. Our passage drops us in the middle of a prophets’ quarrel. Hananiah, is a slick young preacher and he shares an encouraging message. 

The exile will soon come to an end, he promises: the temple and the monarchy will be restored. His hearers feel good. 

Jeremiah, on the other hand, baffles his listeners. He preaches desolation in joyful times and investing in building houses in the middle of war. He is prone to episodes of doubt and despair. He pioneers performance art: just prior to this passage, he dons a yoke of straps and bars to symbolize the captivity of Judah in Babylon.

When Hananiah promises that Judah’s time in bondage is soon coming to an end, Jeremiah is dubious. “Amen!” he replies sarcastically. “May the Lord do this.” But what’s more likely, he adds, is a future in line with the prophets of old, those who preached war, pestilence, and famine. 

The real world is hard, Jeremiah says, and no amount of smooth preaching can make it less so.

Hananiah, enraged, breaks Jeremiah’s yoke from his neck. It takes Jeremiah a little while to come up with the right retort, but when he does it is chilling: not only does he replace his broken wooden yoke with a brand-new iron one, but he also announces that the Lord will strike down Hananiah, because he “made this people trust in a lie.” And sure enough: within the year, the false prophet dies.

Welcome a prophet as a prophet, Jesus tells us. Jesus knows his Bible, and so surely he has characters like Jeremiah in mind. He knows that welcoming a prophet is not as simple as marking the church entrance clearly from the car park. Instead, we will need to recognize the holy in odd behaviour and provocative symbolic fashion choices. We’ll need to discern the difference between feel-good platitudes and holy hard truths. We’ll need to accept what is right, instead of settling for what is easy.

This kind of hospitality is a hard and holy challenge. But if we can heed this calling, Jesus promises, then we will receive a prophet’s reward: a glimpse of what is real in an era of falsehood, and the unshakable assurance that our own unclean lips can speak the very word of God.

In Matthew it’s that very first phrase, “whoever welcomes you welcomes me,” that when I reflect on it makes me uncomfortable.  I have always read this passage as an exhortation for me to see the face of Christ in other people, particularly “the little ones.”  What does it mean?

Jesus says these words to his disciples - his particular group of disciples in the first century and, possibly, us. I think that I skipped right over the phrase the first time because, truthfully, I don’t think of myself as being welcomed so much as being the one who welcomes.

I’m the one standing in the door to the church, after all, welcoming the visitors to worship. I’m the one in the centre of things. 

I was welcomed both here and at Abinger with generosity and love and immediately felt ‘part of’; accepted and very much in the centre of things. 

In our villages our churches are very much part of the fabric of our communities – a place where people turn for baptisms, weddings and funerals – even those who have little or no faith. Although church isn’t at the centre of most peoples lives in the way it once was, it is still part of the backdrop of village life and treasured as such.

But Jesus doesn’t imagine it this way. He doesn’t imagine that any of his disciples is in the centre of society. They would not be so much extending hospitality as they would be receiving it. 

Jesus imagines his disciples on the edges of society, holding this great treasure, but also needing welcome: a cup of water, a square meal, a roof over their heads. Perhaps we are getting back to the original mileu.

But still, Jesus’ words make me distinctly uncomfortable. They make me realize that I have a privilege his early disciples did not have. I have power. I have the power to welcome others—or to turn my back. This is true not just in church, but in my community and country, where we cannot decide whether we are going to receive refugees or not.

I think that Jesus’ words here apply to those refugees more than they apply to me. I don’t need to be welcomed like they do.

Jesus’ words also make me uncomfortable because I realize the distance between those disciples and me. Maybe Jesus never meant us to be that powerful. Maybe he meant for us to be the refugees, the ones needing assistance. Maybe from these places we can give a more powerful witness to the power of God’s love - from the places of vulnerability. Perhaps with the way the church is thought of in our current culture we are actually more aligned with the early disciples than we might at first think.

Jesus never meant us to be powerful. Jesus never meant us to hold all of the cards - just this one card, this ace in the hole, the Good News.

We are to go out without weapons but with hands that heal like Jesus’ hands, with words that cut and cure like his. That’s it.

If we are not in the position of having all the goods, of being able to welcome people, who are we? If we are not in the position of power - if we are not rich and in the centre, where everyone looks for meaning - who are we? 

How does it feel to be the one who needs to be welcomed, who needs to be accepted rather than the one who is always the welcomer?

I think we are a welcoming bunch of people, and I have experienced this first hand. But when was the last time you went somewhere where you felt like the outsider, when you were the one who needed the hospitality of another?

This is the context into which Jesus is speaking to his disciples as he prepares to send them off into the unknown.

We are comfortable in being the welcomer, in being in a position to offer hospitality, but are we as comfortable on being the outsider, the one in need? Do we have the humility to ask for help and to show our vulnerability?


Rev'd Kia

Sunday 25 June, Third Sunday after Trinity

Texts:  Psalm 86 verses 1-10 & 16 – end; Romans 6 verses 1b – 11

A common misconception that a lot of us have or had, is that when we became Christians the Good News was all about the future: eternal life after I die.

But for me, as I have studied the bible over the years, and in particular the teachings of Jesus and Paul, I’ve discovered that the gospel has power to help me in the present and even in my past: eternal life right now.

Paul’s letter to the Romans is a stunning, complex explanation of the gospel. In chapter 6, as we heard read today, he explains how the power of the gospel helps us in the present.

Paul shows us how to access this good news moment by moment and why dying to self is such a freeing way to live.

Paul explains what was lost on me for a long time in my early walk with Jesus: that is, we can simultaneously be free from the power of sin, yet still struggle with sin.

A word on sin. Sin is a word and a concept that has changed meaning over the centuries. In our current culture it is a word that’s meaning is often misunderstood.

We perhaps think of the 7 deadly sins or the big stuff like murder but when I speak of sin I speak of those things that get in the way of our relationship with God – those thoughts and activities that lead us down a self-interested, self-determined path – away from the love of God.

So Christ’s death has conquered sin’s power, but somehow sin still invites us in.

When Paul talks about sin in Romans, he is almost always talking about a noun, not a verb. In Romans, Paul describes sin as a condition you are in, not something you do.

There are two Greek words for sin: the noun hamartia, and the verb hamartano. In Romans, Paul uses the noun 46 times and the verb twice.

So for Paul, being set free from sin is more about a condition you are in rather than things you do. It is about being infected and then healed rather than doing wrong things.

In fact, in Romans 1, the “bad things” we do are a symptom of the condition of sin, rather than the sin itself.

Why do I still sin when I have been set free from sin – I hear you ask?

Paul explains that it all comes down to where we offer our energy and our time. Paul is implying that sin gains power over us the more we engage in it.

But so does God, so it all comes down to where we give our energy and time.

I think Paul’s principle states: where we put our attention defines our spiritual growth.

If we make a habit of offering ourselves to sin, then sin becomes our master – it gains power and control over our lives – but if we habitually offer ourselves to God, his power takes over and frees us from sin’s grip.

Whatever we give ourselves to is what has our attention and devotion.

I think this is why Paul said we can either be a slave to sin or a slave to God. Some might say, “If my only two choices involve being a slave to something, then forget it!”. But these thinkers fundamentally misunderstand the way the world works. 

We are all a slave to something or someone.

As a result, whatever we give ourselves to becomes our master.

Some of our favourite stories show this to be true.

Take Gollum in the Lord of the Rings for example. He is slowly consumed by what he reaches for until he becomes less and less human.

Paul said we ought to proceed with extreme caution when offering ourselves to something or someone that does not have our best interests at heart – primarily, anything that isn’t God. As Paul puts rather bluntly later in the chapter in verse 23 “the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life”. Sin kills. God gives life.

I think for too many years we have mistakenly taught that God kills and God gives life. But that’s not what Paul taught.

Paul wasn’t saying that God punishes us when we sin, he was saying the sin punishes us when we sin.

The reason to not live in sin isn’t so much about disappointing God or angering God; the reason to avoid sin is to avoid sin’s price, which is always death.

Sometimes this can be literal but more often than not it destroys something we love – a relationship, our integrity, our ability to look someone in the eyes.

God is in the life-giving business; sin is always on the prowl to destroy and deceive.

Part of my human condition is that I need approval and acceptance. These are not bad things in and of themselves, but they can be if I go after them in the wrong places. However, if I step over this need to have them met in others and put myself in the arms of God, I find that in him they are already met.

My identity, my need to be okay, is found in the grace of Christ. I am freed from hunting for my worth outside the arms of God.

This is a daily dying to self. A surrender to God to meet my needs rather than looking for them in the people I serve and the people I love – none of whom can fully meet my need for approval or acceptance.

I see Romans 6 as a fork in the road, and every day I get to choose which path I will take. Before, I blindly sought others for approval, validation and acceptance, now, by God’s grace he has shown me a better, more life-giving path.

Whatever we offer ourselves to will consume us. 

The miracle of salvation isn’t that Jesus stops us from sinning or being tempted by sin, it is that Jesus changes what our hearts want and by grace we know where to go to find it.

Let us pray

Father God, we all search for meaning, validation and a sense of purpose. Help us to search in the right places. Lead us into your presence where all our needs are met. Lead us into the freedom and peace of a real relationship with you.

In Jesus name we pray.


Rev'd Kia

Sunday 18 June, Second Sunday after Trinity

Texts: Romans 5 verses 1-8, Matthew 9 verses 35- 10: 8

What does the word discipline conjure up for you. To me it presents images of those terrible Victorian schools where the inflicting of punishment to ensure ‘discipline’ counted for far more than trying to inculcate any actual education. Think of Dicken’s frightful Dotheboys Hall with the appalling Mr Squeers forever wielding his cane to inflict the maximum pain on his poor wretched pupils. Or who, having read Jane Eyre, can ever forget poor ten year old Jane’s terribly humiliating and traumatic experience of being stood on a stool there to remain for over half an hour and not to be spoken to by anyone for the remainder of the day for accidentally breaking her slate? Or perhaps the word made you think of our armed forces where the practice of the strictest discipline and obedience to orders is paramount. And here I must add the bizarre  example of some of the early Celtic saints such as St Petroc  who made it a part of their discipline, their mortification of the flesh, to stand for hours up to their necks in the sea while reciting Psalms.  A discipline from which I am sure we would all shrink. But generally, I would like to suggest we don’t hear a lot about discipline nowadays although it well may be that those of an older generation do wonder at times if maybe a trifle more regulated discipline where boundaries are clearly marked might be good for today’s children who can, at times, strike us as decidedly unruly. 

But whatever mental thoughts or ideas the word discipline conjures up, we need to take on board that discipline really means to teach, not to punish. In the words of Dan Siegel ‘A disciple is a student, not a recipient of behavioural consequences’ Instead of asking what subject someone is studying at University or what sport they pursue it would possibly be more appropriate to enquire as to what discipline they are following. The words disciple and discipline come of course derive from the same Latin word ‘discere’ which means to learn. And this, of course, was the role of Jesus’s disciples  who were called upon to learn from him and to emulate him. To learn to see the need in others for a shepherd to guide and protect them, not with unfeeling disciplinary authority, but with true compassion. Compassion, another word deriving from the Latin, meaning to suffer with or perhaps to suffer alongside. I always read that word in the Bible with such respect and, indeed with wonder, as I sense that it expresses Jesus’s true understanding of suffering and of people’s need for help that is given, not mechanically, but with compassion. We, as Christian disciples ourselves, worship a God whose understanding of suffering is revealed through the horrendous death inflicted upon Jesus. A death that was bodily, mentally and spiritually brutal so that we can never claim that God cannot understand suffering but instead, in whatever plight we find ourselves, know and recognize his overwhelmingly compassionate love for us. St Paul understood this so well when he wrote these words in his letter to the Romans: ‘but God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.’ 

If we want truly to be Christ’s disciples and follow in his footsteps we are called upon to discipline ourselves so that we are prepared to continue in our quest to learn more and more about his ways of doing things; his often revolutionary and challenging teaching; above all his ability in all circumstances to show compassion, to suffer with others, alongside others. It does not matter what age we are if we are prepared to discipline ourselves, the capacity to continue to learn is always there and above all the capacity to learn more about the nature of God’s love. 

This does not mean we have to embrace that extraordinary discipline of those Celtic saints of standing for hours in freezing sea water or even lie prone on a literally stone- cold church floor for the length of a night as crusaders to the Holy Land did before they set out. Nor does it mean that we will be subjected to any sort of harsh disciplinary measures if we cannot always manage it.  But it does mean the discipline of reading, of prayer and to be prepared, like those first disciples, to be ready to leave the comfort of our homes and seek out the harassed and helpless sheep and show them compassion as Jesus never failed to do. The discipline we are called upon to make a part of our lives is inherent in the beautifully expressed words of Saint Richard of Chichester ‘O most merciful Redeemer, Friend and Brother, may I know thee more clearly, love thee more dearly and follow thee more nearly day by day.’ May God grant that we will always see ourselves as disciples seeking to learn more about the wonder, the awe and the glory that is God and to put that learning to good use as we do our best to put into practice the words from today’s post communion prayer that ‘we may serve you here on earth until our joy is complete in heaven.’

Virginia Smith

Sunday 11 June, First Sunday after Trinity, Barnabas The Apostle

Did you have a best friend at school or through University? A friend that has stood by you through thick and thin? Maybe you have that friend that although you don’t see them regularly, when you do meet them you just pick up where you left off?

Friends and friendships are precious things. 

Mandie and I have known each other since we were 8 when we met doing drama together, and although we only see each other once, maybe twice a year, when we meet it’s as if it was yesterday.

We are designed for relationship, as we have been exploring over the last couple of weeks by looking at the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and the Trinity last week.

God is found in relationship – it is his blueprint -Father, Son and Holy Spirit - and as we are made in his image, we too are made for relationship.

I read once in a survival book that we can only last 1 week without water, 3 weeks without food and 3 months without companionship. We need people, we need friends.

But what constitutes a good friend?

Today we celebrate Barnabas, his name meaning Son of Encouragement. May I suggest that we all need a Barnabas in our lives?

But what was it about Barnabas that made him such a good friend?

What does a Barnabas-type friendship look like? Here are six attributes that Barnabas modelled for a ministry friendship.

A Barnabas Will Be Supportive

Barnabas was a Jewish priest from Cyprus, whose real name was Joseph. The Apostles preferred to use his nickname, which is translated Son of Encouragement (Acts 4:36).

We all need a Barnabas who will speak words of encouragement, and sometimes rebuke, into our lives. 

When his nephew John Mark “wimped out” on his first mission trip, Paul wanted to permanently kick him off the team. Barnabas chose instead to mentor Mark, who got back on his feet and became a contributing author to the best-selling book in history. Mark would also become an invaluable partner to Peter, and yes, even Paul (2 Timothy 4:11).

A Barnabas Will Be Unselfish

We read in Acts 4 that, Barnabas sold a field he owned, brought the money, and laid it at the apostles’ feet (Acts 4:36-37).

We have enough takers in our world. A Barnabas is the type of friend who will think of your needs as more important than his own (Philippians 2:3).

A Barnabas Will Be Loyal

When the Jerusalem church leaders sent Barnabas to Antioch to preach, he took along a risky new convert named Saul, also known as Paul. Paul had a reputation for persecuting Christians before his conversion, and few assumed Paul was really a Christian. However, the Apostles trusted Barnabas, and Barnabas trusted Paul. Otherwise, Paul may not have got his first ministry opportunity (Acts 11:22-30).

A Barnabas Will Be Mature

When the church at Antioch began to grow exponentially through the conversion of Gentiles, the leaders in Jerusalem got a little nervous. They sent Barnabas to check it out, “For he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith” (Acts 11:24).

We all need a confidant to share victories and defeats with—someone to talk us off the cliff when we are on the verge of giving up.

A Barnabas Will Be Humble

Paul was a good writer and speaker, yet there was no evidence of Barnabas doing either. Most Christians are not called or gifted to take up the pen or microphone, so we may be tempted to assume that our gifts are inferior to those up front.

Somewhere along the way, “Barnabas and Paul” became “Paul and Barnabas.” A change that Luke subtly, but intentionally, makes in the book of Acts.

A Barnabas Will Be Bold

Barnabas was more than just a nice guy. He didn’t back down to Paul when they had a sharp disagreement about John Mark (Acts 15:36-39). Sons and daughters of encouragement don’t look casually beyond our weaknesses, they walk through those challenges with us.

Some lead best from the stage, while others, like Barnabas, lead best from the shadows. While Barnabas is not credited with having written a word of the New Testament, through his impact on the lives of the Apostle Paul and John Mark and their subsequent influence on other writers, it is possible to say that Barnabas had a significant role in sixty percent of the New Testament. That would make him truly an “unsung hero” of the New Testament, a background guy who shunned the spotlight.

So Barnabas was a supportive, unselfish, loyal, mature, humble and bold friend. Qualities to look for in a friend and qualities to aspire to in our friendships.

But it has deeper connotations.

Jesus calls us friends, in John 15: ‘you are my friends, if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I call you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my father’.

So we are offered friendship with Christ. A mutual, sharing relationship, one that gives equally to each other. We may think that Jesus is supportive, unselfish, loyal, mature, humble and bold as a friend to us. But do we ever reflect on what our friendship looks like to him? Friendship is a two way process.

These are qualities of a church too. How wonderful if our church was thought of as supportive, unselfish, loyal, mature, humble and bold. Our church is made up people, ordinary people with an extraordinary calling. A calling to live and walk the way of Jesus. A gently trod, humble and loving path.

My former principal of the local Ministry programme, Steve Summers, thought that friendship, as discovered through the bible, was a subject often overlooked, with far reaching consequences. For his doctorate he wrote a book on it. He acknowledges the struggle of the church in modern society and bewails the fact that church leaders are fixated on new programmes for growing numbers. He brings us back to the simple but costly act of friendship and its role in hospitality. 

He has the brain the size of a planet so some of it is a little academic, but I’d like to close with a paraphrase of his final passage;

Being ‘church’ is relational. The church is called to be friends of Christ and thus friends with each other. Historically, friendship is attractive, even if the best sort of friendship is rare, and a community willing to take the risk of hospitality and befriend the ‘other’ is in a position to offer something unusual if not unique’.

So let us live out our faith, both within and outside our buildings so that we, like Barnabas, can be sons and daughters of encouragement for one another and our communities. 


Rev'd Kia

Sunday 4 June, Trinity Sunday

Texts: 2 Corinthians 13 verses 11-end, Matthew 28 verses16-end

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember I am with you always to the end of the age.  Matthew 28: 19-20

It is, I think, a cause for wonder to recognize that each and every person who has been baptised into the Christian faith has had the same trinitarian words, albeit spoken in hundreds of  different  languages, said over them ‘I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit’ as they were either sprinkled with  or in some cases immersed into water. The very words that Christ himself ordered the disciples to use as they brought new people to faith, to discipleship through baptism. 

Today of course is Trinity Sunday and no doubt all of you have had inflicted on you goodness knows how many sermons on the complex theology of  the subject  wherein we profess to believe in a God who is both one God and three persons. I am no theologian and personally I am more than happy to go along with the simple idea that God reveals to us, his children, at least something of the unfathomable mystery that he is in three quite distinct ways. Thus, we have the creator God who in Isaiah’s words is ‘the everlasting God, the creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable.’  (Isaiah 40 verse 28) Words which express so vividly the fact that however clever or intelligent we may think we are, however developed in our knowledge, we can never grasp the absolute truth of the mystery that is God. Then we have the incarnated God, our Lord Jesus Christ, who is the living Word sent to reveal the divine nature of God’s love for us. And thirdly we have the Holy Spirit of God to sustain and support us and ‘who will teach you everything and remind you of all that I have said to you.’ (John 14 verse 21)

To be faithful witnesses to our belief in a Trinitarian God I think we need first to embrace the absolute wonder of the Creator God in all that we see around us and in every aspect of our lives. Secondly, we need to recognize the unfathomable depth of love revealed to us through the incarnated God and thirdly we need to have a very real sense of the Spirit of God directing and inspiring all that we do in his name.

 As disciples of Christ, for that is surely what we profess to be, we must be conscious of the ‘grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion (or fellowship) of the Holy Spirit’ without and within all of us. St Paul’s final words to the Corinthians which have been used uncountable times as a grace ever since they were written. Words which should be at the heart of all we do within and without our churches. We are all, of course, individuals but we need to work as one body, just as God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are one: one body displaying those same qualities of creativity, love and inspiration. 

We need to use our individual God given creative gifts and talents for the flourishing of our churches and their mission beyond its walls to make the gospel of Christ known and relevant to others. We need to appreciate and give thanks for these gifts and talents and always be ready to encourage others in developing theirs. God’s creation is an intricate delicately balanced affair as we are beginning to realise more and more, with each intricate part interconnected and contributing to the well-being of the whole and this is how the body of the Church should be; each person playing their unique part for the same flourishing of the whole. Just turning up on a Sunday morning is surely not and cannot be enough.

So, too, we are called to show genuine love for one another, the love that we are called upon to share in order to reveal the reality of God’s love within each of us. Genuine love which strives always to reflect the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5 verse 22). Genuine love which selflessly responds to the needs of others as Christ himself never failed to do and perhaps most importantly of all  love that endeavours  to live in peace, with all God’s children

And thirdly we are to recognise we are in communion, in fellowship, with the Holy Spirit, and it is in that communion, that fellowship, that we are, I believe, shown new ways to be effective disciples. No, we may not be enabled as those first disciples were to speak in a multitude of different languages or indeed gabble away in tongues, but we may well be inspired to initiate new ways of expressing our belief in worship and of how we do things.  The Book of Common Prayer is very beautiful, and I know how much so many people continue to prize it but worship to be genuine must be alive with the power of the Holy Spirit and that means there are an infinite number of ways to give praise, to give glory and to honour the presence of the Trinitarian God in our lives and in our churches. Just think of that amazing Ascension Choir singing the words of Psalm forty-seven ‘Alleluia, Alleluia! O sing praises, sing praises unto our king’ at the coronation of King Charles. No, it wouldn’t be right for a quiet contemplative service but there could well be a time when a choir might attempt something similar. And wouldn’t we all in fellowship be uplifted by such joyous singing?

God the Creator, God the Lover, God the Inspirer and so so much more. I pray that here in each of our churches we may see within each other the same God given Trinitarian gifts of creativity, love and inspiration and thus continue to grow in both our personal discipleship and in our discipleship united as one in the body of Christ.

Father of all creation
Maker of the world
Holy and Strong One
Encircling all there is
Around me by day and by night.

Christ, Saviour of us all
Redeemer of the world
Holy and Loving One
Encircling all there is
Around me by day and by night.

Spirit, breath of life
Inspiring and guiding
Holy and Strong One
Encircling all there is
Around me by day and by night.

Holy and blessed Three
Glorious trinity
Three persons in unity
Encircling all there is
Around me by day and by night
David Adam (adapted)

Virginia Smith

Sunday 28 May - Pentecost, a Joint Abinger and Coldharbour Service at Christ Church

Pentecost – the day we remember and celebrate the giving of the Holy Spirit – also celebrated as the birth of the church.

But what or more accurately, who, is the Holy Spirit?

The Holy Spirit—one of the persons of the Trinity, referred to as “God” in Acts 5:3-4—has many other names and titles. Most of them indicate an aspect of His function in, or ministry through, the Christian’s life. The Spirit’s names and titles are useful in helping us understand His many manifestations—all that He does for us, and His magnificent role in the Trinity.

In order to get a better grasp on him let’s explore a few of them.
1. He is “the Spirit.”
“The Spirit” and “Holy Spirit” are the most commonly used names for the Spirit of God. People sometimes use the word “it” in reference to the Spirit; but when we do we depersonalize Him. The Spirit is not simply an influence or force. As a person, He can be resisted (Acts 7:51), quenched (1 Thessalonians 5:19), and grieved (Ephesians 4:30).

One with the Father and the Son, the Spirit was present as an agent of creation (see Genesis 1:1-2). The word used in Genesis is ruach or “breath.” The Spirit’s power breathed out creation. A similar phrase is “the Breath of the Almighty” in Job 33:4. The Spirit also “breathed out” the record of the Scriptures (2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:21).

Before we received him in the New Testament, His presence was given for special purposes as we see in (Psalm 51:11; 1 Samuel 16:13-14), but now believers are secure in the Spirit – we are promised that he will never leave us(Ephesians 1:13; 4:30).

2. He is the “Good Spirit.”
Believers receive wonderful gifts through the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23; 1 Corinthians 12:1-11). Luke says, “If you then, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!” The Spirit distributes gifts “just as he determines” (1 Corinthians 12:11).

He not only gives good gifts, He is God’s good gift. Nehemiah says the “good Spirit” was given to instruct God’s people (9:20). David prayed, “Show me your ways, LORD, teach me your paths” (Psalm 25:4). The Holy Spirit can teach us the Father’s will and ways.

A helpful prayer for us to pray when we seek to follow God’s path is, “Teach me to do your will, for you are my God; may your good Spirit lead me on level ground” (Psalm 143:10

3. He is "the Eternal Spirit."
Some people believe the Spirit of God suddenly came into being after Jesus’ resurrection (John 14:16); but that ignores other scriptural teaching. The Spirit was always present in the Holy Trinity.

Hebrews 9:14 speaks of “the eternal Spirit.” He hovered over the face of the waters during creation (Genesis 1:1-2) and was present in man’s creation (Genesis 1:26). We are “sealed” in Him (Ephesians 1:13-14; 4:30; 2 Corinthians 1:22)—He’s the guarantee of our spiritual inheritance – meaning that when we fall short in our walk with God, when we create distance between us and the divine – when we struggle to feel connected, it is us that has fallen away not Him - we are promised that He will not withdraw His presence.

4. He is “the Lord.”
Christians call Jesus “Lord” and worship the “Lord God,” but the Holy Spirit is also called “Lord” in 2 Corinthians 3:17: “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.”

The Nicene Creed states, “We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son. Who with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified."

The Father, Son and Holy Spirit are all rightly called “Lord”—there’s no competition in the Godhead. To say the Holy Spirit is “Lord” is to affirm His personhood and divinity in the Trinity. He is worthy of worship, just like the Father and Son (John 4:23-24).

5. He is the Paraclete.
The Greek word translated as “helper” in reference to the Spirit is parakletos. There are two main ways believers experience the parakletos.

The more formal or technical form of parakletos is a legal concept—the Spirit is our advocate or parakleton. An advocate pleads a case before a righteous judge. Scripture teaches Jesus is our advocate before the Father (1 John 2:1), because His sacrifice on the cross enables Him to plead our case. He understands our case, having been tempted—yet without sin—so He can represent us experientially.

But Jesus said the Holy Spirit is also our advocate (John 14:16, 26; 16:26; 16:7). Jesus called the Holy Spirit alongside to help us resist sin after we are declared “not guilty.” So in a wider context, the parakletos is the “Helper” Jesus promised.
- He intercedes for us and guides our prayers (Romans 8:26-27)
- Counsels us according to truth—just as Jesus, the “Wonderful Counsellor” does (Isaiah 11:2; 9:6),
- Comforts us (John 14:26)
- Convicts of sin (John 16:8-11)
- Makes us holy (1 Corinthians 6:11; 2 Corinthians 3:18)
- Teaches and directs us (John 14:26; 16:7; 1 John 2:27; 1 Corinthians 12:10),
- Empowers us (Acts 1:8; Romans 15:13) and much more.

6. He is the “Spirit of ….” 
Many of the Holy Spirit’s names or titles begin with the words, “Spirit of.” Some of these designations are forms of His personhood in the Trinity.

He is:
- The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord (Isaiah 61:1)
- The Spirit of the Lord (Isaiah 11:2; Acts 5:9)
- The Spirit of God (Genesis 1:2; 1 Corinthians 2:11; Job 33:4)
- The Spirit of the living God (2 Corinthians 3:3)
- The “Spirit of your Father” (Matthew 10:20)
- The Spirit of Christ and the Spirit of his Son (Romans 8:9; 1 Peter 1:11; Galatians 4:6)

He is also called:
- The Spirit of life (Romans 8:2)
- The Spirit of grace (Hebrews 10:29)
- The Spirit of prophecy (Revelation 19:10)
- The Spirit of truth (John 14:17; 15:26)
- The Spirit of holiness (Romans 1:4)
- The Spirit of wisdom and revelation (Ephesians 1:17)
- The Spirit of justice or judgment (Isaiah 28:6)
- The Spirit of fire or burning (Isaiah 4:4)
- The Spirit of glory (1 Peter 4:14)

The Spirit’s names and titles are useful in helping us understand His many manifestations—all that He does for us, and His magnificent role in the Trinity.

So that’s the head knowledge.

But what of the heart?

How do we experience the Holy Spirit?

Knowledge only turns to wisdom when it sinks from here, to here, to here.

We have to invite him in – he won’t bash the door down. 

Have we invited the Holy spirit into our lives? Do we do so on a daily basis? Are we ready for the transforming work he is calling us to?

This is our life’s work – to be open, daily, to the leading, nudging and prompting of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Are our lives just too busy, too noisy to hear him?

Can we be brave enough to slow down, give him time to talk to us and show us the hidden depths of our being?

Can we rest in him, trust in him to show us a better way?

What would this look like in our life?

Let us take a moment now to slow down, invite him in and surrender to his presence.

We will take a moment of stillness then I will pray.

Holy Spirt, we pray with David, “Show me your ways, LORD, teach me your paths”.

We open ourselves up to your leading, your loving and your way. Help us to surrender to your will in our lives so that we can glorify you and make your way known among our friends, family and communities.

We are yours, move among us we pray.

In Jesus name we pray, Amen.

Rev' Kia

Sunday 21 May, Ascension Sunday

 Texts: Acts 1 verses 6-14,  Luke 24 verses 44-end

While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshipped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and they were continually in the temple blessing God.    Luke 24 versess 50-52

Thursday was Ascension Day and for the majority of people that fact would have entirely escaped their notice and, indeed, it may even be that one or two of you had quite forgotten the significance of the day. Years and years ago, back in the dark ages when I was young, Ascension Day was a half holiday at school which was a cause of much delight but to, as it were, earn it we would certainly have had a longer service in chapel that morning before being joyfully released from our studies. Now Ascension Day is far more likely to be marked as we do this morning three days later on the following Sunday because so much has changed in society that churches have mostly decided to cut their losses and concentrate on Sunday worship. Be that as it may, today we have the opportunity to celebrate the Ascension of Christ forty days after his glorious resurrection from the dead; a fact we will bear witness to when we recite the Creed with the words ‘he ascended into heaven.’

But what if anything do we understand by ‘heaven’? Just what is it that Christ withdrew into and indeed where is heaven? I think for most of us the answer would be to point to the skies and suggest heaven lies out there within limitless space. And yet all my reading suggests that heaven is far far closer than that. There is a lovely story told of a woman from Kerry whom when asked where she thought heaven was, thought long and hard and then replied: ‘heaven is about one foot six inches above us.’ And these words really resonated with me as I recognised that so often when I’m in church my eyes are drawn upwards and in that looking up I know so often I am given a real sense of God’s presence and, if that is true, then surely the presence of God himself must denote the presence of heaven itself. And surely that is why on the first Ascension Day, as Christ withdrew from them, they were filled with all that joy as they were able to recognise Christ in heaven; a heaven that was a mere one foot six inches above them. 

It is the looking up that I am sure is crucial to our recognition that we really are in touch with heaven and indeed heaven with us. Elizabeth Barret Browning wrote ; ‘Earth’s crammed with heaven, and ev’ry common bush afire with God; but only he who sees it, takes off his shoes. The rest sit round and pluck blackberries.’  Do we see that bush alight with fire and metaphorically take off our shoes, or do we merely sit around plucking blackberries oblivious to the fact that  heaven is within sight if we did but open our spiritual eyes?

Ascension Day does not mark Christ’s absence from us but simply a new way of seeing him. Jesus, the man, no longer walks the rough roads and stony paths around Galilee and the surrounding districts and the crowded bustling streets of Jerusalem but the resurrected and ascended Christ still walks beside us wherever we are on our life’s journey. We just need to look, look upwards away from the dirt and dust of the roads of secular society to the light strewn paths of heaven; of paradise. And here it is interesting to note that the Persian concept of a Paradise Garden was that of a walled-in garden apparently untouched by the severity of the desert landscape outside those protective walls.  A garden surely into which we can withdraw at times from all the troubles of this world and just sit in all the wonder and the glory of the presence of God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit and then know without a shadow of doubt that we are indeed in heaven.

When those disciples who had witnessed Christ withdrawing returned with such joy to Jerusalem the dangers they faced from the Jewish authorities remained just the same; life would, from now on, test all their strength,  their courage, their commitment to  follow in the footsteps of Jesus himself spreading the gospel, the good news of Christ’s life, death resurrection and ascension, but they surely knew at the same time that Christ was with them, God was with them and if that was so then heaven too was within their sight.  Christ had not. and would not. leave them; he was for ever present to them now and for all eternity. No wonder their daily worship was joy filled as they, in turn, made themselves utterly present to Christ with them and within them.

Can we, like those disciples, find the time each and every day, not just Sundays to be utterly present to the reality of the presence of God, of Christ, of the Holy Spirit in our lives and in our world and in so doing know that we too have in some way ascended into that heaven that is a mere one foot six inches above us.

God who created me, calls me to awaken to his presence around and within me. His abiding presence is within all creation: in every blade of grass, in the sun that shines, in the winds that blow, in the dust of the earth, in all forms of life, in every single human being. He is in all. He fills all.    David Adam

Your enjoyment of the world is never right, till every morning you awake in Heaven; see yourself in your Father’s palace; and look upon the skies, the earth, and the air as celestial joys.’    Thomas Traherne

Virginia Smith

Sunday 14 May, Sixth after Easter

As we do not have the text of the sermon delivered in Christ Church, this is the sermon Virginia Smith delivered at Holy Trinity, Westcott

Texts:  Acts 17 verses 22-31, John 14 verses  15-21

From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him—though he is indeed   not far from each one of us.’   Acts 17 verses 26-27

Today’s reading from Acts has really resonated with me as in my chaplaincy work I have very recently been involved with two families, in the neonatal unit in St Peter’s Hospital, one Sikh the other Muslim. Two families who have suffered the tragic loss of their baby daughters and, in both cases, after a prolonged stay in the Unit. Families for whom I prayed each evening, lighting a candle for each of their little daughters. Families who asked me to pray with them when those precious baby daughters died. The Muslim family even had one of my prayer cards placed above the incubator. The Sikh family invited me to their baby’s funeral held in one of their temples and I know I could have gone to the Muslim funeral, but other commitments prevented my attending. I shared hugs again and again with parents and grandparents as did other members of staff.  We may all have had our own ways of giving worship to God but I think we all knew that whoever we were we were united as the one family of God sharing the pain of these tragically shortened lives together. 

The Sikh funeral was completely alien to me and of course apart from anything else I could not understand a word and yet in what to me was the strangest of places I knew God was present with us as we committed that little baby into his care. And when we completed the rites at the crematorium I was graciously asked to contribute to that service. 

So is it any wonder that the Acts reading resonates with me? In a sense, whoever we are, we worship an unknown God, for we have such limited understanding of God, his powers and his might; his eternal and yet timeless presence; his transcendence and his immanence. In our ways of worshipping God we are blessed, not always but certainly at times, with a very real glimpse of that God just as I was in that Sikh temple but it is just a glimpse for how could it be more?

Long ago I was taught that we are all seeking the presence of God in our lives; we are all climbing a mountain at whose pinnacle we will discover all the true wonder and glory, the overwhelmingly majestic  awe that is God. But we all climb that mountain from different directions, different angles, and we are given different glimpses of the summit and different ways to enable us to keep on climbing upwards and hold to the steepness and difficulties presented by the path we each tread. I will always want to worship in the way in which I have been brought up; sometimes with the beautifully poetic words of the Book of Common Prayer and, more often than not, with all the glories of the choral music which is so deeply embedded in Anglican worship. I am happy, too ,to worship using the simple beauty of worship in the Iona style and in the deep silence of a Julien Meeting and so much else. The opportunities of finding new ways to worship God are not surprisingly infinite as I discovered in that Sikh temple the other week.

One of the most striking aspects of the Coronation service was, to me, King Charles’ own prayer: ‘God of compassion and mercy whose Son was sent not to be served but to serve, give grace that I may find in thy service perfect freedom and in that freedom knowledge of thy truth. Grant that I may be a blessing to all thy children, of every faith and belief, that together we may discover the ways of gentleness and be led into the paths of peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen'.

Was I a blessing of some sort to that Sikh family, to that Muslim family? I don’t know, but I pray that in some way I and all those who cared for them were for them a blessing, a comfort and, above all, a reassurance that we are, indeed, all God’s children, loved without prejudice, without discrimination; loved exactly as we are.

Our Christian faith has taught us about the infinite, unchangeable power of that love revealed in the life, death and glorious resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ. 

May God grant to each of us through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ the blessing of love to share wholeheartedly and unreservedly with all whom we meet on that mountain ascent. Amen

Revealed in Love by David Adam
Lord, you are beyond all images,
How can I know you, but through love?
Without your love for us,
We could not reach you.
Unless you love us,
We cannot approach you.
But that you come to us,
We could never find you.
It is in knowing that you love us
That we can dare to love you.
Because your love is 
For all your creation,
When we love the world,
We share in your love for it
And we are one with you.

When we love our neighbour,
With acceptance and forgiveness,
You reveal your love in us.
You are not far from any of us.
And when we love ourselves,
With the love you have for us,
Then we can say we know you,
Even though you are beyond us
For you are in our midst.

Rev'd Virginia Smith

Sunday 7 May, Fifth after Easter, in celebration of the Coronation of King Charles III

Texts: I Kings 3 verse 5-15 Matthew 20 verses 20-28

Reading through yesterday’s Coronation Service prior to that magnificent and moving occasion I was struck again and again by the underlying message of service which the King was being asked to embrace and to give witness to as our anointed Sovereign Lord. Almost the first words spoken were those of Charles himself declaring ‘I come to serve not to be served.’ And his own personal prayer later in the service continued that theme ‘God of compassion and mercy whose Son was sent not to be served but to serve give grace that I may find in thy service perfect freedom and in that freedom knowledge of thy truth. Grant that I may be a blessing to all thy children of every faith and conviction, that together we may discover the ways of gentleness and be led into the paths of peace.’

Yes, during his reign King Charles will undoubtedly never be asked to sit anywhere but in the very highest, most prestigious position at any dinner he may attend but I am also sure that he possesses the humility to recognise that in God’s kingdom he may well sit at the very foot of the table or even. quite possibly, to be called upon to serve the other guests. When his Mother, our late dearly loved and admired Queen Elizabeth, died the tributes paid to her again and again spoke of her long life of service and of duty and in the King’s first address to his subjects he himself spoke at length of his Mother’s ‘life of devoted service’ and then went on to pledge ‘to serve you with loyalty, respect and love’.

In the long years of waiting to ascend to the throne King Charles had the opportunities to speak freely and at times outspokenly about his passions, his concerns for not just our nation but for all God’s world, all God’s people. Now, as King, he must be more circumspect in what he says and more restricted in what he can and cannot do, but I am quite sure that his desire to serve will not in any way be diminished or modified.  Service that is not just to his subjects but far more importantly to God himself . And in so doing he will surely, like King Solomon, be praying for the gift of wisdom and here it interesting to note that  he was handed the Armills with these words: ‘these are the bracelets of sincerity and wisdom, tokens of God’s protection embracing you on every side.’ So too the sceptre and rod were presented as symbols of authority with wisdom.

King Charles does not lack the trappings of kingship, the palaces, the jewels, the constant presence of those who serve him in one way or another, but these are just that, trappings. To gain the respect and confidence of those whom he has pledged to serve he will need considerable wisdom and clear judgement and we have begun to see that already in his modified plans for the coronation. Plans which recognised that when so many people now sadly live in very straitened circumstances the ceremonial had to be less pretentious, far less costly compared to the coronation of his Mother with its five mile procession and some eight thousand guests, not to mention the balcony appearance crammed with waving royals. In contrast, the procession route was a meagrely mile, only some two thousand people received that, oh so coveted, invitation to the Abbey itself and the balcony appearance was limited to what we have come to know as ‘working royals’. But, what was in no way diminished was the enthusiasm of the crowds, the flag waving and the general rejoicing that we have again been blessed with a sovereign who has come to serve and not to be served.

So too wisdom was surely shown in his wish to have people of other faiths there while at the same time the service itself embraced wholeheartedly the liturgy of the Church of England of which he is now sacramentally anointed as the Supreme Governor. And yet, within that service, he pledged to foster an environment in which people of all faiths and beliefs may live freely. No chopping off of heads with this King if we do not observe and proclaim solely the Anglican way of acting out faith in God; no royal crusades to deal mercilessly with the so-called infidel.

This coronation has given us a King who will surely serve; a King who has been urged to ‘hold authority with gentleness and grace, trusting not in your own authority but in the mercy of God who has chosen you.’ Being a monarch is I am sure a role that only the most arrogant megalomaniac, the most super-egotistical would wish to embrace. Oh, the trappings might be good but the call to serve tirelessly and selflessly not just for a limited period but for the rest of one’s earthly life is one that I am sure most of us would baulk at. And yet of course we too are called to serve as we heard yesterday first these words relating to our sovereign: ‘he is set apart and consecrated for the service of his people’ followed by this injunction: ‘let us dedicate ourselves alike, in body, mind and spirit.’ For the flourishing of Charles’ kingdom and more importantly the Kingdom of God we need not just a king who serves but, in response to his exampl, subjects who will also devote their lives to service and the good of all people.

Whoever we are; whatever we do, we are called, like Charles, to serve the God who rules over all; the God who sent his own Son not to be served but to serve. We cannot assume any place at the table in God’s kingdom but we can pray that with God’s abiding grace we will earn that commendation: ‘well done, good and faithful servant… enter into the joy of your master.’ One, I am absolutely sure, will be given in time to our new servant King.

Eternal God and Father, you create and redeem us by the power of your love; guide and strengthen us by your Spirit, that we together with King Charles may give ourselves in, love and service to one another and to you; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

Virginia Smith

Sunday 30 April, Fourth after Easter, Benefice Service

In 2008 an 18 year old man in Chicago entered a bank, pointed his gun at the cashier and said ‘I’ve got a gun’. Which she’d probably worked out by then anyway. He demanded that she open the safe. She calmly replied that it was bank policy that none of them knew the code for the safe apart from the bank manager and that he wasn’t there at the moment. 

When’s the manager going to be back ?” / “Probably some time this afternoon, but none of us know when” / “Right,” he said “I’m going to give you my phone number, and you call me the moment the manager’s back”. Which she obligingly did. Only by that time, she’d also called the police and the rest we can guess. 

I tell you that because today’s passage is about theft, particularly sheep theft, or sheep rustling as it’s commonly known. This was not just an ancient problem. Each year in the UK, sheep to the value of about £2.5 million pounds are stolen, sold for meat on the black market. 

Sheep rustlers nowadays tend to go through the gate: they can then do their shady work on a far larger scale, sometimes taking over 100 sheep at a time. 

Anyone who has the right equipment can cut through the toughest of chains or padlocks, so getting through a gate is usually possible.  Which gets us a bit nearer to what Jesus was trying to teach us when he said: I am the gate.

As you may well already know,  in 1st century Israel, a sheepfold in the countryside was usually a small enclosure of stones, and once the sheep were safely in for the night, the shepherd would simply lie down across the narrow entrance, which was just a gap in the wall. Sheep couldn’t get out, and no wolf could get in without alerting the shepherd. In other words, the shepherd WAS the gate. 

I am the gate to the sheepfold, Jesus said. By contrast, anyone who climbs into the sheepfold over the walls is a thief, and the word used for thief has the idea of deception.  

There are still plenty of thieves and deceivers in the spiritual or religious world: 

You may have recently about this ghastly discovery of bodies from a sect in Kenya. Some charismatic leader had somehow persuaded people to starve themselves to death as an immediate passport into Jesus’ presence. Those people were robbed of the rest of their lives. 

A spirituality that says, you only have to discover your true self to find happiness can, at its worst, lead to people becoming self-absorbed and selfish. A selfish person is robbing those around him or her of goodness and love all the time. 

A brand of Christianity that promises material wealth, a handsome husband and physical healing as long as you have enough faith will end up disappointing people and robbing people of genuine Christian faith, because Jesus himself doesn’t promise those things.  

Incidentally, Jesus said ‘I am the gate’ just after the religious leaders of the day had rejected a man whom Jesus had just healed of blindness. They simply got angry with him because he gave the credit to Jesus, and they barred him from the synagogue, robbing him of his membership and fellowship.  Those were the particular thieves Jesus was referring to here.  

Any belief system,  religious or otherwise, that removes peace or hope, or people’s grip on reality is theft. 

In fact, theft is a pretty good description of sin of any sort.  When we sin, we are robbing ourselves and usually others as well. 

In contrast to the thieves and robbers, Jesus places himself: “But I have come that they might have life, and have it more abundantly”. The thieves are ultimately life reducing or life sapping. Jesus made it clear that he came to enhance and to increase life.  

Jesus doesn’t promise permanent health and a handsome husband, but does offer us something altogether richer, his very presence alongside us and within our communities and within our individual lives.

And that life is supremely personal in form. Because like any good 1st century shepherd, he calls us by name.  Our names are on his lips. 

In the bigger sheepfold in the towns, sometimes three or even four different flocks who had been grazing nearby came to spend the night. And during the night, the sheep all mingled with each other. So in the morning, the shepherds, coming to take their sheep back out, would simply stand outside and call for their sheep, who recognised their own shepherd’s voice and went to him. They didn’t just recognise his voice, he also called out their names.  Just as he said Mary’s name as she stood outside the tomb; just as he said Simon Peter’s name as they met by the lake after the resurrection; or Zacchaeus’ name as he looked up at the tree. 

Part of Jesus being life-giving is that he calls us by name, knows our particular quirks and strengths (and still quite likes us) and even uses us in some small way to help build the kingdom of God. 

I have come that they may have life, and have it more abundantly” 

I leave us with two questions: 
In your own journey, how have we found Christian faith to be life-giving, life-enhancingAnd, maybe, have the courage to ask: is your experience of church at least sometimes life-giving? 
And secondly, can you imagine Jesus, the good shepherd, actually calling you by name ? Because that’s precisely what he does. 

David Grundy

Sunday 23 April, Third after Easter

Texts: Acts 2 verses 14a, 36-41, Luke 24 verses 13-35

I imagine that all of you are familiar with the phrase ‘finally the penny’s dropped’ although nowadays I think a ‘lightbulb’ moment might be a more familiar phrase to describe that moment when suddenly there is a flash of real understanding. A flash of understanding, of comprehension as to exactly what is going on or what someone is talking about, or even about something one is reading which for us could well be a passage in the Bible. A passage you may have read or heard goodness knows how many times before and suddenly, out of the blue, a wonderful new, deeper insight into its inner meaning or purpose is given to you.

Certainly, it was a flash of understanding, of comprehension that was given to those two despairing travellers who had walked along the Emmaus Road in the company of no less a person than the risen Christ and whose true identity was startlingly revealed as, with his scarred hands, he broke the bread at the meal they were sharing.  Of course, before that light bulb moment I am certain that they had listened intently and with growing interest, indeed burning interest, as he had revealed and interpreted the scriptures to them; the scriptures that pointed now with such clarity to his birth, death and glorious resurrection. But, despite the clarity of his exposition, it remained just that an exposition. It was not until they were gathered around that table, and he broke the bread, that their eyes were opened to the realisation that here, indeed, sitting with them was truly the risen Christ himself. It was that oh so intimate yet familiar everyday action which was needed to reveal the truth; to ensure that finally the penny dropped.

And it strikes me that so many of Christ’s resurrection appearances were like this as suddenly the reality of his presence was made known. Think of Mary Magdalene in the garden mistakenly believing that he must be the gardener until he spoke her name, one tiny intimate moment of time when that oh so well-known beloved voice spoke her name, that all was revealed. So too when those fishermen returning demoralised from a fruitless night of fishing were told by the perceived stranger on the shore to cast their nets again it was John who, as they hauled in that miraculously filled net of squirming fish, had his eyes opened to the reality that this was no stranger on the shore but,to his overwhelming joy, he could resoundingly proclaim ‘It is the Lord!’

In all these revelations it was the actions of Christ that opened the eyes of his disciples; that caused that penny to drop, and I am sure that this is true of us. Something said or done by someone else, something we witness, opens our eyes to the presence of the living God. And here I’d like to tell you of an experience I have been privileged to watch just recently and that is of parents in the neonatal unit oh so tenderly washing the little body of their baby who ultimately we all know must die. As they wiped and caressed each little limb with such gentleness, such an outpouring of almost tangible love I knew in their actions that surely here was the presence of God beside us; a God moment experienced in the same way that those travellers experienced one.

And I think there is another common strand in these stories and that is that Christ appeared each time to people in anguish. Mary deeply deeply distressed at the death of her beloved and revered master who had literally turned her life around. Cleopas and his companion dejectedly making their way to Emmaus facing what they imagined to be a bleak and hopeless future without their master. Those fishermen also grieving and now all the more dispirited by their failure to catch any fish with which to feed and support their families. And reading the gospels we read again and again how Jesus was just there for those in some form of distress to bring his healing love to them, and that is surely where we too may encounter his presence and have the penny drop that he is present with us too, to uphold, strengthen, comfort and console. Of course, Christ will be with us in the green pastures of life but it is in the dark valleys of death that I am convinced that we will meet with him. Not just actual death but the death of hopes and ambitions, of good health and bodily strength, of companionship and relationships. I am sure most, if not all of you, are familiar with the beautiful story of the footprints in the sand where someone newly arrived in heaven looks back at the evidence of their life ‘s journey in the footprints they left behind. For much of the journey there are two sets of footprints but for other parts only one set. When questioned about this Christ’s reply was that the second set were his. 'Then why did you abandon me at the times of greatest trial and tribulation?’ petulantly demanded the new arrival. ‘Oh no’ replied Christ, ‘I did not leave you, I never left you; it was at those times that I carried you.

Can we look back at those hard periods in our lives and have the penny drop that truly at such times we did experience what I have chosen to call a God moment. A sense that we were not alone and God in the figure of the scarred   Christ was there not simply beside us but carrying us.

And there may well have been too for some of us, those amazing almost out of body experiences when we have encountered all the overwhelming wonder of being in God’s presence in one of those places that we term liminal where truly earth and heaven meet, and we are just enveloped in all the overwhelming wonder of his presence.

We cannot ever command that presence but, that said, I pray like me that you can trust that come what may God is always with us and indeed within us and that all through our lives there may be times when  we see or hear something quite possibly small and intimate  and the penny drops, and we know the incomparable  joy-filled reality of that trust.

Living God, your Son made himself know to his disciples by the breaking of bread; open the eyes of our faith, that we may see him in all his redeeming work; who is alive and reigns, now and for ever. Amen

Reach Out by Ian Adams
Life has an internal dimension,
Only you can know what it is to be you.
To know what it is to exist you have to go inwards.
The inner path requires your commitment.

But an invitation comes to reach out.
To experience the sacrament of life
In engagement with whatever and whoever is around you.
To make the outer journey.

To touch the beautiful and  broken body of the world
And there to discover the Christ
In all and for all.

So reach out.

Virginia Smith

Sunday 16 April, Low Sunday

Texts: Acts 2 verses 14a, 22-32  John 20 verses19-end

I think it is rather a shame that this second Sunday of Easter is commonly known as Low Sunday simply because after all the glorious exuberant celebrations of Easter Sunday it may seem to come as some sort of anti-climax and, in many people’s opinions, not worth going to church for but not, I hope, for you.  But of course, it is nothing of the sort and our two wonderful readings this morning confirm that fact as they both continue to bear witness to the reality and the incomparable mystery of the risen Christ.

The witness of John is, I find, so human, so touching and is one, I am sure, none of us can have any difficulty in empathising with as we hear of the disciples’ abject fear and the doubting of Thomas. My goodness, wouldn’t we have tremblingly huddled in that locked room with the disciples fearful of our own lives. We know all too well how people can be hunted down and who have been made acutely aware of what that ferocious knocking at the door often at night can mean.  If the Jewish authorities had no qualms about killing Jesus, they would surely not hesitate for a minute to round up his professed disciples and, at the very least, incarcerate them for a considerable time, thus hoping to put an end to all what appears to them as a quite inconceivable and utterly nonsensical belief in the resurrected life of the promised Messiah, the promised  Saviour.

This sort of repression is still very much alive today and similar stories can be found again and again, be it most recently in Russia, in Iran, and now Kenya, but also a fact of life in so many other repressive regimes around the world where the authorities perceive a challenge and a threat to their corrupt and often evil power.  So yes, the disciples were naturally fearful and who could blame them? And then to their utter amazement Jesus, yes Jesus himself, appeared in that locked room and spoke those wonderful words ‘Peace be with you.’ Words we echo in so many of our Communion services. The peace that defies understanding; the peace that truly can calm our fears and give us the strength and the courage we need to face the future, however hard it may be.

And next we have Doubting Thomas, as he has come to be known, and again we can surely understand his doubts, his uncertainty as to exactly what it is his fellow disciples are attesting. Wouldn’t we too be doubtful, incredulous, sceptical even, when presented with such claims no matter how convincingly put?   I think we would if only because what they were describing appeared so implausible, in a sense so literally beyond belief. And I think in the telling of this story John is wanting us to know that it is all right to have doubts and to express them if only because in such doubting we can, like Thomas, be led to new revelations of Christ’s  eternally resurrected  presence with us.

Two little vignettes which speak to us of human frailty, human weakness but, more importantly, of the ability of the risen Christ to stand alongside us at such times and bring us both his peace and the certainty of that comforting strengthening presence. Just as Jesus held out his scarred hands to Thomas, so he holds them out to us, asking us to trust in him and know he will be there to lead us through all the dark valleys of fear and doubt.

And then in our Acts’ reading we hear how Paul, who had become the scourge of those holding this new belief in a resurrected Messiah, has now met with the reality of that belief and is himself now proclaiming the good news to all who will listen. His words are emphatic ringing, down the centuries since they were first spoken; ‘this man, handed over to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law. But God raised him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power.’

Both readings are there to strengthen, to lift us up and inspire us this morning. Inspire us in the words used in Kia's Easter sermon last Sunday to be Easter people. Easter people who may well at times share the fear of those locked in disciples; Easter people who may at times have doubts just as Thomas did, but Easter people who nonetheless share Paul’s newfound and emphatic faith that Christ is risen. The risen Christ is with us, just as he was with the disciples. The risen Christ is with us, just as he was with Paul. He is with us now as we give our worship and praise. He will be with us as we step into the outside world again. He will be with us when we are fearful  and will  bring us the peace of his presence. He will be with us in or doubting,  holding his scarred hands towards us so we might believe and be blessed. Blessed to be Easter people carrying the spirit of resurrection and the light of the gospel into all the dark places of the world to be beside the fearful and the doubters and bring them peace, bring them hope, bring the  incomparable blessing of belief that Christ our Saviour, our Redeemer is with them too.  Low Sunday! I don’t think so.

Rev'd Virginia

Sunday 9 April, Easter Day

Texts: Acts 10 verses 34-43, John 20 verses1-18

Are we Easter people or Holy Saturday people?

What do I mean by this?

Are we lost in the darkness and confusion of Holy Saturday and in some ways content in wallowing in our inadequacies - in the ways we fall short, mess up and don’t measure up? Are we stuck in the ‘I’m never good enough’ camp? 

Holy week is a tough week to get through, it has a lot of ups – Palm Sunday and the victorious entry into Jerusalem is a definite up - but then it all turns rather sour and upsetting and violent, culminating in Good Friday and the despair of Holy Saturday. 

If we stayed on Holy Saturday we might well be left wrestling with despair and ‘what’s the point’ questions. We may well look about us and see the misery, the failure and the confusion.

But if we are honest, if I am honest, I can get stuck on the Holy Saturday vibe.

Life out there looks a bit grim at times. I feel a bit grim sometimes. I fail, I forget, I am a bit rubbish.

But I am forgetting about Easter day. The resurrection, the hope the new way of life that was made possible by Jesus.

Today is day to remember that we are Easter people. That we live with the promise of new beginnings – freedom from guilt and shame – freedom to embrace the hope of eternal life. Freedom of a life lived in the forgiving and loving arms of our Father God.

All this made possible because of Jesus’ resurrection.

It’s so fantastical we struggle to believe it, to embrace it. But if we dare to believe it, a life beyond our wildest dreams is possible.

Imagine a life where all our mistakes, all our shameful secrets are erased from history. Imagine the freedom we would feel.

All that there is is a love to fall into – no condemnation, no guilt trip – just love and an acceptance that actually we are ok. We are loveable, we are worthwhile, we have a purpose.

We are forgiven.

All this is made possible because of the cross.

The cross is an eternal mystery.

How and what happened when Jesus died on the cross – what’s called Atonement – is something that many theologians have spent centuries debating and exploring - and their answers? 

Well, a bunch of theories. Nothing conclusive. Nothing universally accepted.

It's hard to explain experience.

The experience of forgiveness, the experience of hope, the experience of having our relationship with God restored, the experience of living a life fully alive.

It’s a mystery we have to learn to live with.

All I know is that before I believed I lived on Holy Saturday – a bit confused, relying on my own coping mechanisms and not doing a terribly good job of life. But once I accepted Jesus in my life, once I surrendered to the mystery of the cross my life began again.

We are not Holy Saturday people – lost, bewildered and despairing – we are Easter people with a new life offered to us through faith, through trust and a belief that although we might not understand it completely, we are loved beyond measure. So much so that our Father gave his only Son to prove it.

So let us live into this offering – the offer of a life lived in all it’s fullness, a life of forgiveness, a life of freedom and a life of hope. If not now, what are we waiting for?

Let us pray,

Father God, we don’t pretend to understand the gift you offer us, so we ask for your help. Grant us the gift of faith so we can live into the people you have made us to be. We echo the words in the Gospel of Mark ‘I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief’.

And we thank you for this Easter day, the promise of new beginnings, fresh starts and new life. We give ourselves to you for your glory, Amen.

Rev'd Kia

Sunday 2 April, Palm Sunday

Text: Matthew 21 verses 1-11

Unless we are complete media phobics we cannot be unaware that at this present time elaborate and expensive preparations are being made for the coronation of our new King, Charles the Third. Not only will there be the actual coronation service in Westminster Abbey with all its pomp and ritual but also an entire three days of general celebrations throughout his kingdoms, including goodness knows how many street parties and, for that matter, special church services on the Sunday following the King’s ceremonial anointing and crowning.

How very different in every respect were the ‘coronation’ festivities of our Lord Jesus Christ. Festivities which actually took place before the crowning itself which happened almost a week later. A crowning which took place not in some vast and imposing religious building but in the dismal and forbidding surrounds of Golgotha, the place of the skull, Jerusalem’s rubbish heap. A crowning which saw a crown not bejewelled with precious stones but only bejewelled with the scarlet drops of  the King’s own lifeblood. A crowning which did not have an ornate and gilded throne but a throne roughly constructed of two planks of wood.

But back to that ‘coronation procession’ which we celebrate today Palm Sunday. Yes, there was a procession and yes, there were cheering and excited crowds as there will undoubtedly be on May the sixth. But in that procession there were no immaculately dressed military personnel marching in perfect time to lead the way; no sound of brass bands for the crowds to applaud; no decorated streets; no beautiful carriages drawn by impeccably groomed horses; no obeisance by the great and the good of the land, the leaders of both church and state; and no rich coronation robes. In fact barely anything that we would regard as the proper ceremonial for the crowning of a  monarch.

One donkey, borrowed from a friend, a pile of people’s well- worn coats to sit upon, and instead of a plush red carpet a carpet of palm leaves torn down from the trees and of course lining the route, the cheering crowds waving not flags but more palm leaves. The only thing these processions will really have in common are the crowds. Crowds which can be so fickle, cheering one moment booing the next, but for this Palm Sunday and we pray for May 6th all we hear is cheers.

But as they cheered what was it those crowds were dreaming of as their ‘king’ rode by on his donkey? A king who, if truth be told, made a quite ridiculous figure, almost a caricature of a king and yet in truth we know he was and always will be a king, our King. The King to whom Charles the Third himself will make obeisance. The crowds that day outside Jerusalem dreamed of a Messiah who would free them from Roman rule and bring back the now mythical glory days of King David; a dream they were to see apparently cruelly shattered in a very small space of time and hence those enthusiastic joyful cheers switching to the cruel and callous booing and jeers of Good Friday.

So the question for us this Palm Sunday as we join the crowds watching our King ride by, is what do we dream of; what do we want to be seen as the crowning achievement of His reign? Or should we be turning that question on its head and be asking what does our King want of us? What does He dream we will do to make His reign unlike any other? What does He long for us to do in is service to make his Kingdom known? 

And possibly the answer is for us to recognise that the crowning achievement of His reign was His death upon the cross on that black Good Friday. The day He gave up His very life for us that we might be redeemed from our sins and find all the wonder of forgiveness within the mystery of  His embracing love. The day He was crowned with thorns; the day He was anointed with the scars of crucifixion; the day He spoke those words of infinite blessing ‘Father forgive them for they do not know not what they are doing.’ Our King’s  crowning achievement was the defeat of the powers of  sin and death realised by His sacrificial giving of His own life.

Do we recognize just how beyond amazing and truly wonderful such an achievement was by our servant King, or do we, being honest, take it too much for granted? Is this a story that we have maybe grown a little too familiar with; a little too dismissive, even as we hear it repeated year after year both at Passiontide and also, of course, in the creeds we recite? Do we, I wonder, ever stop to kneel, actually kneel, and bow our heads in total submission and obedience as Jesus Himself did on the cross whenever we think of such an achievement?  I know I don’t and yet surely I should, just as his peers will come to bow and swear their allegiance to their liege Lord. King Charles on coronation day.

And what is the service our King would like us to give him? Not a service demanded of us it must be emphasised, but a service freely given, and here I am reminded of the words of Micah: ‘He has shown you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.’  And similar words are contained in the collect for St Wulfstan: ‘Help me to live simply, work diligently and make your kingdom known.’ All words remind us that Christ our King reigns not by force and the  power of armies, not by unchallenged authoritarian rule and the  laws of the land, or by the accumulation of  riches acquired at the expense of others but by the power of love alone. Love simply and mercifully shown to all God’s children. A love we, too, are called to give unstintingly and unjudgementally so that the grace of our Lord and Master Jesus Christ becomes an ever growing blessing throughout his Kingdom.

Christ who is our King grant that this Holy Week we may see your arrival among us , reshaping the landscape with wounded hands, walking the hard streets with bare feet, calling our church to live out the sort of sacrificial love, for the sake of helping to build a good city, not just a prosperous or a busy one. Based on words of Lucy Winkett

Virginia Smith

Sunday 26 March, The Fifth of Lent

Texts: Ezekiel 37 verses 1-14, John 11 verses 1-45

The passages of scripture that we have heard this morning paint emotive and very vivid scenes.

Dry bones coming to life – the heartfelt death and rising of Lazarus.

We have heard a lot of words. But I wonder if we have really listened to what they are saying.

I’d like us to immerse ourselves in the story of Lazarus. And rather than me tell you what I think Jesus might be telling us through these verses I’d like you to have that conversation yourself.

So we are going to try something a little different this morning.

I’m going to lead us through the story again but we are going to imagine that we are there. Either as a bystander, one of the disciples or one of the main characters – it doesn’t matter which.

I realise that not all of us have great imaginations and that this might feel a little strange at first but can I just encourage you to be open to what Jesus might want to say to you.

If you are happy to, please close your eyes and just let yourself be led through this story again.

There will be moments of stillness and quiet as we pause in places.

VISUALISATION: John 11 verses 1-45, Jesus and Lazarus 

Picture yourself with Jesus and some of his followers resting after a full day’s walk, just outside the village of Bethany near Jerusalem. You have come here because, several days ago, whilst on the other side of the river Jordan, a message had arrived saying that Jesus’s friend in Bethany – Lazarus - was ill.

Jesus had initially said, “The sickness will not end in death. This has happened to bring glory to God, and so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” Then, two days later he had told everyone that he now knew that Lazarus had died and that he was going to ‘wake him up!’ so that his followers might believe!? 

Someone had responded, “Teacher, only days ago, the people of Jerusalem tried to kill you – do you really want to go there again?” Jesus had then responded, “Let me put it plainly – Lazarus has died. And for your sakes, I’m glad I wasn’t there, for now you will really believe. Let us go to him.

 As people hesitate, the disciple Thomas, ‘the twin,’ says, “Come on, let’s go with Jesus – that we may die with him!” 

That was a few days ago and now, outside Bethany, everyone rests, while someone goes into the village to tell Lazarus’s sisters, Martha and Mary, that Jesus has arrived.

It is not long before Martha arrives. She looks distraught and yet is clearly pleased to see Jesus. “Lord!” she sighs, “I’m sure that if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will do whatever you ask!” 

Jesus replies, “Your brother will rise again.”

 Martha answers, “Yes, he will rise again on the last day, when all the dead are raised.”

 Jesus says to her, “I am the resurrection and the life! Whoever believes in me will live, even though they die - and whoever lives believing in me, shall never die! Do you believe this?

 “Yes Lord” she replies, “I believe you are the Christ, the Son of God who was to come into the world!” 

There is a pause, and Jesus asks, “How is Mary?” Martha responds, “I’ll go and tell her that you are here and that you are asking for her.” 

With that she turns and heads back to the house. 

In just a few minutes she returns with Mary, followed by all those who had come to comfort the family. 

Mary is in tears as she walks up to Jesus. She kneels at his feet and says, “Lord if you had been here, my brother wouldn’t have died"

Many of those with Mary are also crying and as you watch, Jesus weeps too. 

He asks, “Where have you - laid him?” Mary and Martha lead the way to the tomb and everyone follows. 

Jesus is still deeply moved as you arrive at the tomb, which is a cave with a stone placed across its entrance. He says, “Roll away the stone!” Martha replies, “But Lord, he has been dead for four days, the smell will be awful!” 

Jesus responds, “Didn’t I tell you that if you believe, you will see God’s glory!” 

As they roll away the stone Jesus cries out, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me, I say this so that those standing here now may believe that you sent me.” 

Then Jesus calls out loudly, “ Lazarus, come out!” Everyone stares at the open tomb as the figure of Lazarus, bound in grave clothes, with his face wrapped in a headcloth, struggles towards the opening.

Jesus calls, “Unwrap him, release him!” All those gathered at the tomb believe in Jesus. 

As Lazarus is reunited with his sisters and the others who have known and loved him, everyone heads back to Mary and Martha’s home to celebrate. The sun is getting low over the distant hills as people leave together. 

But Jesus calls you to walk with him to the top of the hill. 

Picture him sitting beside you, looking out at the surrounding hill country as he invites you to share whatever is on your mind, whatever is in your heart. 

Just take this opportunity now. 

[pause 60 seconds] 

And now listen as Jesus responds to what you have shared with him.

Just be open to his response, whether it be in actions, or as a feeling, or an image, or in words. Hear him speak your name [pause 3 seconds] and wait for his response.

 [pause 30 seconds] 

Hold on to anything that Jesus has shared with you, hold on to your feelings - and EITHER be still in God’s presence, resting in the warmth of His love, gently bringing yourself back to that place of peace each time you notice your mind has wandered, OR  return to the story and ask yourself who you might be, how that might feel and what is God showing you through that experience. So, either rest in God’s presence or return to the story.

Let us pray, father we thank you for meeting us here this morning, help us to hear your words with the ears of our heart that we may be transformed for your glory.

In Jesus name we pray, Amen.

Rev'd Kia

Sunday 19 March - Mothering Sunday

We’ve come here this morning to say thank you. Thank you to our mothers for all that they are and all that they do for us. 

And for some of us we have come here to remember. To remember our mothers who are no longer here to say thank you to – but we remember their words, their actions and the way in which they loved us.

As I was remembering my mother this week, who died nearly 6 years ago, I was trying to recall any pearls of wisdom, any words of advice that she left me with. But actually what I remember most was the way she made me feel.

Loved, secure, safe and valued. Which made me feel brave and indestructible in the world.

Unconditional love can make you feel that way. Unconditional love is the greatest gift we can give to each other and the greatest gift that God gives each one of us.

And loving never stops.

A 102 year old lady was asked if she had any worries. Her reply, 'No not now I have got my youngest son in an old people's home'.

I guess parents never stop worrying about their children.

However, sometimes it's the children that worry about their parents and the things they do.

As a 10 year old once said: 'When your mum is mad at your dad, don't let her brush your hair!'

And a 13 year old also learnt one of life's lessons: 'When you get bad marks at school, show it to your Mum when she's on the phone'

Today is 'Mothering Sunday' and our traditional festival dates back to the 16th century, when there were very few holidays, and children as young as 10 were at work away from home.

They would be given the day off on this mid-Lent Sunday to visit their mothers and family.

Girls who were 'in service' would bake a cake to show their mothers their new skills - a 'Simnel Cake'.

What's more, as they walked home across the country, they would gather violets and other wild flowers to give to their mums as a gift, and also to take to church. Later in our service we, too, will come and gather these beautiful posies to give to our mothers.

Today has become a day to give thanks for the care of the Church, and to reflect on God's loving nature.

It is also a time to express thanks to our mothers, and celebrate motherhood.

It's natural for us to remember the happy times of childhood and those happy memories of our parents.

For those of us who are parents, I wonder if we can remember wondering what our child would grow up to be and do. That little bundle of potential lying in our arms. Would those temper tantrums serve little Johnny well in the board room? Does the fact he spends hours taking apart, and sometimes putting back together, his toy car mean he’s going to be an engineer? When our middle child tries to appease the ferocious arguments between her siblings mean she’s going to get a job in the United Nations? Who knows what the future holds?!

As time goes by we discover that being a parent is a mixture of highs and lows, joys and sorrows.

Surely whenever anyone truly loves, they experience moments of pure joy, and times of pain and heartache.

Human relationships are never easy and being a mother, or father, is never simple. To love is hard work.

It means making ourselves vulnerable in self-giving - emotionally sharing in the lives of others but it also the most rewarding thing we do.

I wonder if God feels this too?

He loves us as a Father and a Mother – hiding us under his wing, protecting us, sheltering us – loving us through thick and thin.

So as we come together to give thanks for Mothers and those that have nurtured as, let us also give thanks to God – for his unconditional love and faithfulness to us all.


Let us pray.

Heavenly Father we bring to you in our prayers today all whom we love, our family, our friends and our neighbours.

Help us all to live so that we may strengthen and enrich the life of the family, help us to build with you the kind of family which welcomes the stranger, the lonely and the needy.
On this special day we remember that all through our lives we have reason to be thankful for our mothers and care givers.
We thank you heavenly father for all they have done for us and pray that the love they show for us may be reflected in the way that we show our love for others and in the way we each strive to live our lives according to your will.

Lord in your mercy
Hear our prayer

Father God, we thank you for our children here in this parish. It is a tough world to navigate so we ask for your help and guidance as we try and raise them the best we can. Help us love, protect and steer them in accordance with your will so they can live lives to the full and flourish and thrive.

Lord in your mercy
Hear our prayer

Heavenly Father we remember that whilst we celebrate Mothers Day today there are those who do not feel happy, those who are sick, those who are sad, lonely, or away from their families, those families where there is conflict, Father we place each of them in your gentle hands that they may know the comfort, reconciliation and peace which your love brings.

Lord in your mercy
Hear our prayer

Merciful father Accept these prayers for the sake of you son our Saviour Jesus Christ.

Sunday 12 March, The Third of Lent

Texts: Romans 4 verses 1-5 and & 13-17

What does it mean to be faithful?
What does it mean to live by grace and not by works?
Can the ungodly be righteous?

In our bible reading today, Paul addresses all this and more. Our Romans passage is not easy to understand and at first reading is rather confusing – so lets delve into it a little and see if we can’t get a handle on the main points.

The epistle that Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome was a letter he intended to be sent, not to one, but to a number of church communities scattered throughout the city. Therefore, he knew that he was writing to diverse audiences that did not always agree with one another. He also knew that he was, if you will, coming in on the middle of a conversation. These Christians were not blank slates. They had been living their lives in a variety of cultures both political and religious. Some had been raised as Roman citizens, required to sacrifice to the empire’s gods. Others had been raised in the synagogue, telling the stories of Moses and the children of Israel, following a prescribed set of laws.

How do you think that these people, Gentiles or Jews, reacted when told by Paul that none of what they had done would make them right with God? It is not easy to give up old habits.

An important part of the Lenten journey is learning to reject old patterns and old ways of being that keep us from accepting God’s gift of grace and new life.  But before we reflect on one such challenge, Paul’s challenge to the law, let us first think about how difficult and challenging it is to change something more mundane; something like crossing the street. If one was raised in Britain one learned, as a child, to cross the street looking first to the right, and then to the left. Why? In Britain cars, by law, drive on the left hand side of the road. So, when we travel to the United States, something that is second nature to us — crossing the road, can become dangerous and life threatening. When stepping off the curb we must first look to our left lest we are hit by oncoming traffic. In England we have become wise to this, and recognize this is a major problem for foreign visitors. If you look down while standing at a crossroads you will often see stenciled, in large white letters, the admonition “LOOK RIGHT.”

The old way of thinking about Abraham, Paul tells us, is to think that Abraham was honoured and praised by God by his works. Paul wanted people to look in a different direction. Look not to the works of the law, but look to faith.

Abraham was claimed as the father of the children  of Israel. However, there was always a problem with Abraham. He had lived before the giving of the Torah, the law, to Moses. How, then, could they say that Abraham had been honoured by God for observing the law?

For the author of Ecclesiasticus, Sirach, it was not a problem. He simply ignored this reality and declared “Abraham was the great father of a multitude of nations, and no one has been found like him in glory. He kept the law of the Most High” (Sirach 44:20).

Likewise, for Paul, this was not a problem. He saw in Abraham a father, but not a father in the law but rather a father in the faith. It was crucial for Paul that he recast Abraham and challenge Christians to see, in Abraham, a model of a faithful servant of God.

Here is Paul telling them that Abraham was not justified by his works. What’s more, he declares that the law brings wrath. How can this be? Likewise, how can Gentile Christians claim Abraham as their father?

Abraham was the father of many nations; but Abraham was righteous in the eyes of God, not because he had followed the law (which of course had not been given), nor because he had earned that righteousness (that, after all, is impossible.) No Abraham, Paul observes, was made right with God through God’s gracious gift and because Abraham believed God. We are justified by grace through faith.

Paul had experienced God’s amazing, unbelievable, overflowing love and forgiveness. How could God, in Jesus Christ, have forgiven him for all the evil that he had done? How could God accept the one who had sought to murder the disciples of Jesus? Because that is who our God is. For Paul, justification by grace was a theological concept only after it had been a life changing, throw-you-to-the- ground, awe-filled experience. God had offered him new life, and he had believed.

Paul, as Saul, had been raised to think that if he worked hard enough and followed the law, he would find himself right before God. In his letter to the church in Philippi, he records that he had every reason to boast. I was “circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to seal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless” (Philippians 3:5-6). Paul came to understand that he had viewed all of this as “wages.” With God as his master, he was working to earn salvation.  

But when he met Jesus on that Damascus road he saw that God is not that kind of master. We do not earn our salvation. Rather, salvation is a gift. “Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ” (Philippians 3:7).

In Abraham Paul saw the story of another person who had met God on the road; someone who had had those throw-you-to-the-ground, awe-filled experiences. God told Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make you a great nation” (Genesis 12:1-2a). And Abram went. Paul knew, Abraham knew that they believed in a God who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist” (Romans 4:17b).

So, what does it mean to be faithful to God? 
It means allowing God to work in our lives.
How do we do that?
By surrendering to his will and his love.
How do we do that?
By cultivating a relationship with him.
How do we do that?

Well, lent is a good time to take stock of our relationship with him.  How is it going? How much time do we consciously spend in his presence? If we desire a deeper relationship with God we need to make an investment of our time.

Think about all the relationships that matter to you – your spouse, your children, your friends. We make time to be with them, because we love them and want to nurture our relationship with them. 

suppose the real question is – how important is our relationship with God to us? Do we desire a deeper, more meaningful relationship with him? We need to be honest with ourselves and bring it before God. Not in a ‘I’m rubbish, self-pitying" way, but in a vulnerable, open way. 

We will never be perfect but we are perfect in the eyes of our loving father.

We don’t need to change to let God love us, but by allowing ourselves to be loved we will be changed.

Let us pray, Father God, grace is such a difficult concept to understand. The idea that we cannot earn your love and acceptance is so alien. Help us to receive your grace by faith; increase our faith we pray, develop in us a desire to know you better, and so to open ourselves up to the gifts you long to give each one of us. In Jesus name we pray, Amen.

Sunday 5 March, The Second of Lent

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Hebrews 11 verse 1

Faith is not a matter of belief in God but rather relationship with God. Faith is knowing that God loves us and cares for us whatever the circumstances                                            

Texts: Genesis 12 verses 1-4a, John 3 verses 1-17

What exactly is faith? Perhaps not the sort of question you want to be asked right now  or indeed at any time. Trying to answer it is not easy and a vast number of books have been written on the subject. One of the images I like to use to attempt to explain faith is that of the game my children loved to play when very young, namely that of  launching themselves off say the back of the sofa and having absolute faith that I would catch them and not for one moment leave them to tumble helplessly to the floor. To have done so would have completely destroyed their trust in me.

In our first reading we have another example of absolute faith when Abraham set off with his family into the unknown leaving all that was familiar and safe behind him. He had absolutely no idea where this land was that God wished him to go to; he had no map of the journey he was to make, no sat nav bar the  sat nav that was the voice of God leading him on, giving him the directions as to when to turn, when to proceed and maybe even when to retrace his steps if he had not been paying close enough attention to the instructions. Can you imagine any of us doing that today? Just setting off into the completely unknown on the say so of God? Surely we would demand a lot more information as to where exactly we were meant to go and what precisely we could expect when we did arrive, or would we have faith like Abraham that if this was what God wanted for us we would simply pack up and go?  A question to ponder later perhaps.

In our gospel reading we have a very different story as we read of Nicodemus, so unsure of Jesus and so afraid of his own reputation that he visits Jesus by night hoping to avoid detection from his fellow Pharisees. He has heard so much about Jesus but who exactly is he? Is he just another in the long line of Jewish prophets or is he something far more?  And instead of giving Nicodemus straight answers Jesus completely mystifies him by telling him he must be born again from above; born of the Spirit.  What exactly does this mean to be born again? How can one be born again?  Is it any wonder Nicodemus was puzzled and confused?

Two thousand years later we may well think we understand the answers to these questions having had the testimony not just of the life of Christ as Nicodemus had witnessed but also his death and resurrection, about which Nicodemus at the time of his meeting knew nothing. And, of course, we now know that Nicodemus must surely have, in reality, been born again as he together with Joseph of Arimathea took Jesus’s body from the cross and, wrapping it in spices, laid it in the tomb. A huge act of courage shown by both men but also surely now showing that they have faith in those words of Jesus; ‘For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life.’ 

Being born again may have rather an evangelical ring to it but, reflecting on the idea, it seemed to me, that in a sense if we are to be true followers of the Christian journey of faith we need to allow that faith to be continually reborn, refreshed on a very regular basis even day by day. The words of the hymn surely confirm that idea ‘New eve’ry morning is the love, our wak’ning and uprising prove; through sleep and darkness safely brought , restored to life and pow’r and thought.’ Each and every day it is in faith that we wake to that love and in knowing that we are called, like Abraham, to lead our day’s journey in that  faith  believing that whatever we do, wherever we go we will be guided and protected by God and we can learn to have complete  trust in the Spirit which blows where it will.

As I grow older I find that I have more questions than answers about God which I recognise have to remain unanswered and yet, at the same time, I like to think that my faith is refreshed and continues to grow if only infinitesimally as I sense more of the reality of God’s loving purposes and presence  in his world.  And, also,  I think it is really important to recognise that having doubts is perfectly natural and that  wrestling through such doubts may very well have the effect of helping faith grow. And to back up  this assertion I would like to quote first the German theologian Helmut Hess who said: ‘Faith  and doubt go hand in hand, they are complementaries. One who never doubts will never truly believe’  and secondly another very well know theologian Paul Tillich who wrote: ‘Doubt is not the opposite of faith; it is one element of it.

I would like to end with these words of David Adam which resonate so deeply with me and help confirm my faith. The faith of Abraham, the faith of Nicodemus, the faith of countless millions both living and dead. The faith that if God tells us to jump off the back of that sofa he will catch us; he will not let us fall.

Wherever you go, whatever you do, whatever is done to you, God loves you and will never leave. You are under his care. No matter where you stray or where life takes you, he is always there. You cannot fall for a minute out of the everlasting arms. We do not know what lies ahead but we know who goes with us and is there to meet us. Our journey is from the temporal to the eternal; from that which is passing and perishable to that which is imperishable and lasting'.  

I pray that we will never take our faith for granted; that the safety of our lives lived out in this blessedly quiet corner of God’s world will never dull us to the wonder, the divine mystery of being God’s children and to all the countless blessings that are ours by following in faith Christ who is and ever will be the Way, the Truth and the Life.

All shall be Amen and Alleluia. We shall rest and we shall see, we shall see and we shall know, we shall know and we shall love; we shall love and we shall praise. Behold our end which is no end.

Virginia Smith

Sunday 26 February, The First of Lent

Texts:  Genesis 2 verses 15-17, 3 verses 1-7 Matthew 4 verses 1-11

I can resist everything but temptation’ is the well- known witticism made by Oscar Wilde and ever since Eve took that first bite of that forbidden apple we humans have been proving just how right Oscar Wilde was. And here we should note that the first part of that quotation which is not so well known is ‘The only way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it.’ And let’s be honest with ourselves isn’t that what we so often do? We may not want to, but the insidious nature of temptation is that it keeps eating away at us however hard we may want to say ‘No, I am going to resist; I am not going to give in.’ We are not told how long it was before Eve gave into the serpent’s wiles, but my guess is that, like us, she did try to resist at first but oh the temptation to try a bite of that apple; that forbidden fruit. I mean why had God put it there in the first place if it was not to be eaten? Why create such a luscious looking fruit just to be looked at and admired but never tasted? Never mind that there was  every other conceivable fruit to enjoy in that garden, it was the image of this one forbidden fruit that grew and grew in Eve’s mind as the serpent kept on urging her to ignore God’s wishes and try it for herself.  Could there really be such harm in taking just one bite?

And having finally capitulated she, of course, then tempted Adam to follow her example because after all he didn’t want to be the one left out of sampling such a treat did he? If Eve had gained this amazing knowledge that the serpent had assured her would make them like God, in no way was he going to miss out and be somehow inferior to his wife or, indeed, to God.

I think we can all recognise in the story of Adam and Eve just how temptation works and just how hard it is to steadfastly resist and also how, by our own failure to do so, we may very easily draw others into following our example.  But when we look at our second reading we are told a very different story; a story that tells us that temptation can be resisted not just by an iron will but by having complete trust in keeping to the purposes of God’s will for us. Alone in the barren empty wilderness and silence of the desert, is it any wonder Jesus was tempted by Satan just as we are?   He was so hungry his stomach was growling, and the picture the devil conjured up of turning stones into  mouth wateringly wonderful warm nutritious bread must have been so real, so very tempting. But, in refusing, Jesus knew that to succumb would and, could not be, the end of the story; the next time he was hungry why not turn the stones into not just bread but a deliciously filled burger and the time after that it might as well be a three course meal. Oh yes Jesus knew all too well how temptation can grow like a cancer within one eating away at one’s self-control, one’s moral fibre.  And, of course, he also knew that it is the spiritual food which is the word of God which we need just as much as any actual food and it is this food that can, and will, help us overcome temptation when it strikes as it did Jesus himself.

So too with the second temptation; once he had experienced the giddy sensation of defying natural law and allowing the angels to catch him, what could he attempt next to have everyone gasping in astonishment and seeing him as superhuman with his ability to do things that others could not achieve? But as Jesus knew, we cannot put God to the test in this way; we cannot expect to do bargains with him, although I know that personally when tragedy has struck I admit I have been tempted to bargain with him for at least a couple of supporting angels rather than simply allowing my trust in his purposes for me and those I love  to hold rock solid as Jesus so resolutely did. 

And the third of Jesus’ temptations was of course the ultimate one, the big one; namely to fall down and worship not the Lord God but Satan himself. Worship all his powers of materialism, secularism, manipulation and self-gratification and so much more which are the root causes of the evil we find in today’s world. The powers that we are told will give us dominion over all the kingdoms of the world.  Those deluded powers that still tempt all of us today, which draw us away from God and his powers of forgiveness, mercy, redemption and love; draw us away from the divine powers that establish his will alone. Isn’t this exactly the temptation that Putin has fallen prey to as he uses the massed power of his armed forces and all their weapons of destruction to fulfil his personal dream of worldly glory by recreating and ruling over a Russia whose rule extends, once again, over an area that is one sixth of the earth’s surface area. But, as Jesus knew, it is God alone whom we are called to worship and serve; God who is the ultimate ruler over earth and heaven who alone  brings to his people the incomparable  blessings of justice, peace, mercy and love.

We will be tempted  this Lent, we will  undoubtedly at times yield to these temptations, we may lead others to follow our example but I pray that despite such  failings we will persevere and allow God in his mercy to pick us up and set us once more on the right path which leads to the ultimate triumph of goodness over evil when we come to worship  together in the glorious light of Easter Day.

Virginia Smith

Ash Wednesday, 22 February
Homily for Benefice Service at St Mary's Holmbury

Text: John 8 verses 1-11

Let’s be completely honest, don’t we enjoy at times picking over and expostulating at other people’s perceived sins?  Doesn’t the media love a juicy story about some well- known figure’s misdeeds such as Nadhim Zahawi’s manipulation of his tax affairs when we were all urged, if not to throw actual stones, to say ‘tut tut’ or worse in a thoroughly disapproving and censorious manner. Oh never let it be said that we might ever do such a thing, never accept the wrong change mistakenly given to us, never accept or pay cash in hand, never up our expense claims because it’s only what we deserve and the firm can afford it, never seek help to cleverly arrange our tax affairs so we pay as little tax as possible.  Oh no we simply don’t compare with Zahawi in any respect, do we?

And looking at the one paper I buy a week it is full of disparaging and critical stories about individuals and their apparent wrong- doing including the ‘sin’ of promoting the wrong ideas. The current renewed debate over the Northern Ireland protocol being just one instance of the different sides pointing the finger and often revealing their innate and damaging bigotry. And of course, the dear old Church of England is as culpable as any secular organisation as we have seen over the heated debate over gay marriage. 

Whereas in contrast today’s Gospel reading is just brimful of merciful and compassionate love and mercy shown to that poor woman in front of her rabid accusers. The sort of confrontation we can sadly see far too often in the media, such as the naked hostility shown towards immigrants recently by far right, being an asylum seeker is obviously anathema to some people. 

Let us be perfectly honest with ourselves, we have all thrown stones. metaphorically at least, we have all pointed the finger; we have all been guilty of displaying a false piety and undeserved self- righteousness towards others whom we have categorised as the true sinners; the ones, who thank God, are not at all like us. And with this very much in mind we come to the start of Lent and the opportunity to take time to face up to our sinning, to admit it and see it for what it is. We could well heed this Sufi saying: ‘I should mind my inner encounter with God rather than judging other people.’ Can this Lent provide the opportunity for minding that inner encounter with God and in the light of His presence face up to and admit to the truth of our wrongdoing and our sinning? The sinning and wrongdoing through which we have all contributed to the death of Jesus; can we come to accept that we are as guilty of hammering in those nails as the Roman soldiers who actually performed the deed? The sinning and wrong-doing through which we have contributed to the hurt of others, the rejection, demeaning  and ostracism of others.

The woman caught in adultery knew only too well she had sinned; Jesus knew she had sinned but, unlike her accusers who only longed to inflict punishment, Jesus wanted to give the priceless and redemptive gift of forgiveness. What a life-giving gift to this woman who had probably for most of her life been the object of the sexual lusts of men and was now facing their blood lust.  A woman who quite probably had had any self respect she might have once have possessed stripped from her, and yet here is this man speaking to her not with scathing derision, contempt and  brutal condemnation but with true and deeply compassionate love. We can only guess at what his words meant to her and of how those words ‘Go your way, and from now on do not sin again’ had the power to change her life and help her to stand straight knowing not  the self-loathing of the past but self- respect for her future  because she had been shown through the Lord’s words that  she was worthy of it. 

Again and again in the gospels we read of the merciful forgiveness with which Jesus blessed the sinners of this world; the merciful forgiveness extended even to those who tortured and crucified him. Hence our Christian faith that our sins will be forgiven and redeemed, but we do have to recognize that in order to achieve such forgiveness we need to face up with complete honesty to our wrongdoing, our sinning; face up to the plank in our eye and not try to dodge this responsibility by pointing at the specks in the eyes of others

This year the Church of England is promoting a Lent Journey of faith, failure and forgiveness which some of you may intend to follow. In the Introduction by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York they have written these words: ‘This Lent we are all invited to explore how we can live well with the mess of everyday life.  Failure is human, universal and inevitable. The question is what we do with it and, even more importantly, what God does with it in partnership with us. …… But the Christian story is ultimately a story of failings redeemed and of sins forgiven.

I pray that this Lent we can all learn to make an inner encounter with God acknowledging our failures so that we too may be assured that, as we come to worship and glorify the risen Christ on Easter morning that we, like that woman, are not condemned but are re-clothed in all the wonder and mystery of God’s saving love.

Virginia Smith

This is a prayer used at the Benefice Ash Wednesday service by Rev David Grundy
Lord, meet us in the silence
Give us strength and hear our prayer

We pray to the Lord for courage to give up other things and give ourselves to him this Lent:
Give your world the courage to give up war, bitterness and hatred.
Lord, meet us in the silence
Give us strength and hear our prayer
Give your church the courage to give up her preoccupation with herself and to give more time to your mission in the world
Lord, meet us in the silence
Give us strength and hear our prayer
Give us the courage to give up quarrels, strife and jealousy in our families, our communities, even our churches
Lord, meet us in the silence
Give us strength and hear our prayer
Give us the courage to give up our selfishness and to live for others.
Lord, meet us in the silence
Give us strength and hear our prayer

Give us the courage to give up our fear of death and to rejoice with those who have died in faith.
Lord, meet us in the silence
Give us strength and hear our prayer

Sunday 19 February, The Last before Lent
With two services  - a 9.00am Parish Communion and a 6.00pm Evensong - we have two sermons, the first delivered by Kia and the second by Virginia. Both are published here.

Texts: Exodus 24 verses12-end, Matthew 17 verses1-9

Our readings this morning have obvious parallels – both involve mountains, and both involve supernatural experiences.

Living where we do, I wonder if we have had any mountain top experiences that have stayed with us – that have stuck in our memories?

As a newbie here, to these views, to these surroundings, my breath is regularly taken away by the sheer beauty of this place. I’m sure you have had those moments too.

A ‘Mountain top experience’ is a phrase coined not only by the church but generally, I think, for those inexplicable feelings we get when we become aware of something that is beyond us – a spectacle too great that it has to be by design not by accident.

In spiritual terms a Mountain top experience is one where we feel the transcendence of God; we somehow, mysteriously sense his presence – perhaps we are given a picture, some words or maybe a feeling of the reality of a God who is closer to us than we thought.

Maybe a sense of that peace that the world cannot give comes over us and no matter what we are dealing with in the world, we know that it will all be all right.

I experienced this when my mother was dying of cancer. It was horrible – I was visiting her at home when she was going through chemo – and it was grim – as chemo can be. So I took myself off for a walk through the village and found myself down by our village church which was next to a field. 

I stopped and looked across it. It was a sunny spring day, and I was overcome by God’s peace. In the awful situation I was in, being faced with the suffering of my mother, the inevitability of her death, the knowing of what was to come – God met me in my darkness and flooded me with his peace and hope. That somehow it would be all right. He would be with me through it all.

It wasn’t a literal mountain top experience – more a flat field experience – but it sustained my hope and increased my faith.

In our reading from Matthew about the transfiguration of Jesus – he is showing his three disciples – Peter, James and John – a glimpse of the future. A glimpse into heaven, a glimpse of his resurrection as he meets Moses – the giver of the law, and Elijah – the greatest of the Old Testament prophets. The old meets the new – the Old Covenant meets the New Covenant. 

Peter, of course, being impulsive and always getting the wrong end of the stick immediately wants to set up camp to keep them all there.

His understanding is flawed. He wants to hold onto this spiritual mountain top experience. However, this experience is a foretaste of the future, of resurrection, an experience that is supposed to change them, encourage them – to increase their trust and faith.

Whenever we experience the grace of God in these moments, whether it’s on top of Leith Hill or when we are doing the washing up, these gifts are designed to build us up and affirm us for the journey ahead.

For me, it gave me courage to step back into the darkness and walk with mummy on her last days and to be there when she died. 

For the disciples, Jesus led them back down the mountain to resume their mission – which would ultimately lead to Calvary.

So whenever we experience a touch of God’s love, a touch of his peace, receive it as gift, treasure it in your hearts. Be affirmed and let it change and encourage you.

Rev'd Kia

Collect: Almighty Father, whose Son was revealed in majesty before he suffered death upon the cross; give us grace to perceive his glory, that we may be strengthened to suffer with him and be changed into his likeness from glory to glory; who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God now and for ever.

Texts Matthew 17 verses 1-9, Exodus 24 verses 12 -end

Today is the last Sunday before the start of Lent which of course begins next Wednesday, Ash Wednesday as it is known. And reading today’s gospel I was struck by an  image of leaving the light and entering into what is quite a long tunnel before emerging into the glorious light of Easter Sunday. The long tunnel of Lent when we make a journey of acknowledgement and repentance for the darkness of our sins which have marred God’s world and his image in us. How we make this journey is up to us and I doubt if any of us will be clothing ourselves in sackcloth and ashes for the duration but we may choose to ‘mortify’ the flesh a little by some form of fasting. 

But that journey has not quite started and today we read of the transfiguration of Christ on the mountain; a transfiguration when those three chosen disciples were witness to, in effect, the true glory that is God, just as Moses had been witness to it so many years previously on Mount Sinai. In that account in Exodus the glory of the Lord is described as a devouring fire whereas what the disciples witnessed was a shining of the face of Jesus like the sun and the dazzling whiteness of his clothing. Truly, in both instances, these extra-ordinary manifestations of divine glory were unlike anything any of them had seen or could have imagined beforehand. Modern washing powders may boast of their capacity to ensure the brilliant whiteness of our washing but I am sure the whiteness of Jesus’ clothing completely out shone any limited powers they might have as the glory of the Lord was revealed. The divine glory that was confirmed by the testimony that here, indeed, was God’s own Son, the Beloved. No wonder the disciples were overcome by fear and fell with their faces to the ground.  

But then we have, as it were, the other face of God, the human face as Jesus came up to them and spoke those words of such comfort and reassurance which he used so often ‘Do not be afraid.’ The human face which I am sure most of us find in many ways easier to understand than the divine face which is the  glory which is truly beyond our understanding.  But today, as we approach the tunnel that is Lent, I want to concentrate on glory and how we, too, might be treated to glimpses of God’s glory. David Adam recounts how when as a student he was asked to write an essay on the subject of ‘The Glory of God’ he looked up the word ‘glory’ in his theological word book and it simply said ‘see God’ which of course was referring him to another page. But Adam realised in that moment that  in his words ‘if you want to know glory, see God! See God in all that you do. See his presence in in the world. See him in the other person who comes to you. See and know that God never leaves you. All this seeing is done with the eyes of the heart.’

So having reread this I thought I might try looking up glory quotes for myself and discovered, interestingly, that the majority were about overcoming obstacles and picking oneself up again after a fall such as this one from  the notable theologian William Barclay: ‘Endurance is not just the ability to bear a hard thing but to turn it into glory.’ And this surely is what our Lord Jesus Christ did as he turned all the endurance of human suffering into the unsurpassable glory that was the resurrected Christ. This is surely what the first disciples did as they preached that resurrection in the face of opposition, ridicule and even death.  This is surely what St Paul did, and countless Christians down the ages have continued to do.  This is surely what we are asking for ourselves in the words of today’s collect: ‘give us grace to perceive his glory, that we may be strengthened to suffer with him (Christ) and be changed into his likeness from glory to glory.’  But to do so I believe that like those three disciples who were witness to the glory of the transfiguration it was the reality of their glimpses of God’s glory in the world around; the seeing of God which David Adam talks about which enabled them to endure and to make their Christian pilgrimage despite all the dangers and the obstacles. A pilgrimage that they believed would ultimately join them with the angels in their song of everlasting praise glorifying God in the highest.

All this has led me to think that as I enter that metaphorical tunnel of Lent I should make far more time to heed these words ‘Look at everything as though you were seeing it for the first time or the last time. Then your time on earth will be filled with glory.’  We will not be privy to the awe and  wonder of the transfiguration but my goodness what an absolute wealth of other things and people  we will have to look and cause us to wonder at the love of God who sent us his beloved Son to show us the light in the darkness; the light that can transform  sinners after a fall from grace, setting them on their way again and bring them to glory. May all our journeys this Lent be enlightened by the wonder that is the glory of  God in all we see and help us to give glory to him for such a blessing. 

Virginia Smith

Sunday 12 February, The Second before Lent

Texts: Luke 18 verses 9-14 Romans 8 verses 31-39

I don’t know if you’re familiar with the story of Dr Faustus. I studied it as part of my Philosophy degree and absolutely loved it. However, when I first read it, I had no idea of the ending. If you don’t know the story, spoiler alert!  …. Dr Faustus, the excessively ambitious hero, denounces God, blasphemes the Trinity and Christian doctrines and sells his soul to the Devil to gain supernatural powers and to live a life full of voluptuousness for twenty four years. 

Towards the end of the play, the full horror of his crime and the impending consequences dawn upon him. He is in torment as he struggles with fear of Satan and an eternity in Hell and a belief that he is beyond forgiveness and ultimate salvation. I remember reading it and urging him to say sorry, to repent of his foolishness and accept the forgiveness that was on offer and accept God’s grace, but he never did …. uttering his final words “Come not, Lucifer! I'll burn my books—ah, Mephistopheles!” before being dragged down to Hell. 

Now, in case you’re worried you are about to be on the receiving end of a “Hell & Damnation Sermon”, I can reassure you that you’re definitely not, in fact, quite the reverse. What I was thinking as I read the final pages of Dr Faustus was the words from the second reading we have just heard, Romans 8, V38 “nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love”.

I know it’s fiction, but it still saddens me that Dr Faustus never found salvation.

But I think we also need to know this truth, to feel this, to embrace this, let it work in us, in our lives… Why do we find it so difficult, why do we struggle with accepting God’s Grace? Forgiveness and love when we feel we don’t deserve it.

I wonder, are you good at taking advice? To be able to willingly learn from other people’s experiences and words of wisdom. 

Advice, it seems to me, has two parts. The first is to receive it intellectually ….  do I agree with it and believe that it is correct? The second is, will I act on it, allow it to take root in my behaviours and thinking?

I get up very early on most days to go to Dorking Station and the other morning I jumped in the car and it was -6 outside. I turned on the radio and caught the end of the weather forecast. Needless to say, the forecaster was saying “please take care and drive extra slowly as the roads are extremely icy”. I got to the brow of Donkey Lane and then skidded all the way to the bottom narrowly avoiding crashing into the bank on the other side of the lane. I heard the advice, I respected the advice, I believed it was good advice and then promptly ignored the advice.

 However, after my narrow escape, I drove at about 10 miles per hour, totally validating the old adage “a good scare is worth more to a person than good advice

Why is it that we fail to take on board what is good for us? 

Following the Parable of the Sower In Matthew 13 verse15, it says “For this people's heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them."

It is not enough to hear and intellectually digest the Good News of Jesus and God’s Grace, if we understand with our hearts it will transform us. 

Moving from plays to the world of Film, you may have seen an excellent one called Good Will Hunting with Robin Williams and Matt Damon. There is a pivotal scene in the film when the Professor, Sean Maguire, played by Robin Williams, produces the personal file of the troubled adolescent, Will Hunting. In it, is the evidence of a childhood of being physically bruised and emotionally battered, the reason why Will is so self-sufficient, hard hearted and uncontrollable. 

Robin Williams looks at the file and then looks at him and says, “it’s not your fault”, Will says “I know”, and again the Professor says “it’s not your fault” and again Will responds with “I know”, again he says “it’s not your fault”, and again the response “I know”, the Professor then says “no you don’t, it’s not your fault”.

10 times he says this to Will as he gets closer and closer until eventually Will reacts angrily then bursts into floods of tears as the advice, the wisdom goes from his head to his heart and so begins the healing and reconciliation process. Jesus is constantly telling us that we are unconditionally loved, through his undeserved Grace, but we have to take it into our hearts 

The essence of Grace, is the fact that it is given because it is not deserved or earnt.

It has often struck me that as a society perhaps the personal quality most adored is humility and one least liked is arrogance. Proud and arrogant people are vilified, and we delight when they are brought down to earth with a bump ……  we also delight, perhaps even more so, in the humble being raised up and extolled. Take the winner of Strictly Come Dancing 2022, Hamza Yassin, who, despite being a great dancer, won over the public with his endearing humility with headlines such as “humble Hamza is a National treasure.”

So, with this in mind, let’s look at our first reading from Luke (webmaster's note: elements of this text are included at the foot of this homily). We have a wonderful example of humility and pride. It is very easy to detest the Pharisee and love the tax collector. You’re probably thinking that I’m going to say that we are more like the Pharisee and not the tax collector, and that may well be right, but what I would like us to consider is how would Jesus have wanted the tax collector to have felt after his visit to the synagogue, or indeed any of us who humbly seek His forgiveness. To put this question in context, here are some translations of what Jesus says in verse 14

Let me tell you, he was the one who went back to his house vindicated by God, not the other.”

Listen, it’s the tax collector who walks home clean before God, and not the Pharisee.

I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God.”

The tax collector, and not the Pharisee, was in the right with God when he went home”.

I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home forgiven!

Vindicated, clean, justified, right and forgiven – wow, the tax collector or anyone so right with God must be on top of the world – the happiest a man could ever be. However, if we don’t accept God’s Grace, if we don’t accept that when we say sorry, we are totally and utterly forgiven, then we miss whole reason Jesus came. If we don’t believe that there is “nothing we can do that will separate us from God’s love”, then are we destined to remain with our eyes down, beating ourselves up rather than living life to the full certain of God’s love and favour, not because we will ever deserve it, but simply because we are His beloved.

Dr Faustus in the story never got this, he was never able to raise his eyes above his own sin. Whilst, we often fall into the trap of being the judgemental Pharisee, I think we can also fall into the trap of pursuing admirable humility and missing the best bit …. allowing ourselves to experience God’s Grace and forgiveness. If we humbly beat ourselves up and deny God’s Grace, we deny ourselves the opportunity to experience the joy and freedom of being right with God.

I would like to finish but quoting Romans 3 verses 23-24, thankful that we have these words of comfort. 
"For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus." - Amen

Guy Pakenham

Luke 18 verses 9-14
The Pharisee and the tax collector

9 Then Jesus spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, while holding others in contempt. 10 Two men went up to the Temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 

11 The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: ‘O God, I thank You that I am not like other people—thieving, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and tithe on all that I get.’

13 But the tax collector, standing some distance away, wouldn’t even lift his eyes toward heaven, but beat his chest, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner!’

14 I tell you, this man, rather than the other, went down to his home declared righteous. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Romans 8 verses 31-39
Nothing Can Separate Us from God’s Love

35 Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? 36 (As the Scriptures say, “For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.”[a]) 37 No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.

38 And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,[b] neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. 39 No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Sunday 5 February, Candlemas
With two services today - a 9.00am Parish Communion and a 6.00pm Iona Service - we were fortunate to have two sermons, the first delivered by Virginia and the second by Kia. Both are published here.

Parish Communion 9.00am
Texts: Isaiah 58 verses 1-9a,  Matthew 5 verses 13-20

Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.  Colossians 4:6

‘Not all of us can do great things but we can do small things with great love.’ Mother Teresa

Listening to the sermon preached at the Benefice Service last Sunday (Editor's note: its reproduced below) I think we were all staggered to learn that Jesus turned no less than between one hundred and twenty and one hundred and eighty gallons of water into wine which is an awful lot of wine; one which I have calculated to be over seven thousand bottles. There can be no doubt that that wedding in Cana was quite unlike any other and yet another example of the unfathomable depth of Gods’ generous love for us revealed in the life and death of Christ

But this week we are not talking about astronomical amounts but very tiny ones, tiny pinches of salt which we are told in our recipe books to add to almost everything we cook. Mind you, although Mary Berry always adds a pinch of salt to her cake recipes I never do, and they seem to still be very tasty. Pinches of salt which have been used in cookery for some eight thousand years. Coincidentally evidence of this fact was found both in Romania and in China and, for all we know, many other places too. Pinches of salt which enhance the flavour and bring added enjoyment to the pleasure of eating a good, nourishing meal, be it a bowl of porridge or a gargantuan feast. 

And as an example of just how effective the use of grains of salt can be in our actions I want to tell you about a charity I happen to support of which you may have heard namely Mary’s Meals, whose aim is to provide one nourishing and sustaining meal a day to school children across the globe. The charity’s Scottish founder was inspired when he went to Malawi during a time of famine in 2002. There he  spoke to a young boy whose mother was dying of aids who said that his one wish was to have enough food to eat and to go to school one day. And that was the pinch of salt needed to begin a charitable cause which initially, in 2002, fed a mere two hundred children and now feeds nearly two and a half million children a day. And the cost of such an amazing feat is the almost unbelievably low figure of  nineteen pounds and fifteen pence a year! Or put another way just over five pence a day; one small grain of salt, one child’s life changed.

Our gospel reading commands us to be, in effect, bearers of salt but with the proviso of it being pure, uncontaminated salt, full of the flavours of love, generosity, comfort and compassion. The flavours which are so needed in today’s world just as they were in Isaiah’s time. The oppressed, the hungry, the homeless, and the naked are still very much with us. We can hear their stories every day on the news but we must take care not to be blunted and become hardened by such stories so that either we fail to see, or choose not to see, the need to always be bearers of salt, bearers of light in order to promote the well-being of God’s kingdom here on earth. And here it is interesting to note that in Biblical times salt was considered a covenantal symbol of friendship and loyalty and, even today, in some Middle Eastern countries it is regarded in the same light; to eat salt together seals that covenant.

Are we properly aware of our Christian role to be metaphorically small grains of salt which we are called to disperse in our lives, in our actions, and perhaps most importantly of all in our relationships. That smile, that cheerful greeting, those consoling words, that hug, even can be the salt that adds a new zest, a new flavour, a new uplifting to someone’s enjoyment of the day.  Leo Buscaglia, who was an American Motivational Speaker known delightfully as Dr Love said this: ‘Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.’ In the same vein Mother Teresa said: ‘Not all of us can do great things but we can do small things with great love.’ Small, even tiny, actions, small grains of salt which used well can produce if not seven thousand bottles of vintage wine but maybe just one bottle of perfectly acceptable wine to lift someone’s spirits and bring a very real sense of joy into their lives.

I believe as professed Christians we are all capable of adding pinches of salt to the lives of those we meet and in so doing may, more often than not, receive a pinch of salt in return to give flavour to our lives, establishing bonds of friendship and even loyalty and thus  increase the joy we take in living a life for Christ.

When we end our fasting, it is so that we can go out and share what we have with others. Our destiny lies together, because we are all equally dear to God. We cannot allow ourselves to be satisfied with having just  our own needs met  Jane Williams.

Virginia Smith

Iona Service 6.00pm
Texts: Malachi verses:1-5, Luke 2 verses 22-40

Have you ever made sandcastles on the beach? I remember as a child trying to dig a massive hole in the sand in an attempt to get to Australia. If I just dig deep enough and long enough I will eventually emerge upside down in Oz. With my childlike understanding I thought that if I did dig to Australia, when I got there it would be a topsy turvey world where everything would be on it’s head. Well, it is the other side of the world – made complete sense at the time!

Spiritually speaking, however, we are all called to live in an upside down, topsy turvey world.

After all, as Acts of the Apostles chapter 17 reminds us, like other early Christians, Paul and Silas were accused of ‘turning the world upside down’. 

It remains part of our Christian calling and sits well with the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple, otherwise known as the feast of Candlemas, which we mark today.  Wherever, or whoever, we are in the world, we are all called to ‘live upside down’ in spiritual terms.

 The Methodist Church in Scotland put this calling to ‘live upside down’ in this way:
Things are topsy-turvy in your kingdom, God.
The poor bear gifts of great worth, the dead rise, the meek inherit the earth.
Teach us how to live in an upside down world
where we are called to welcome the outcast,
prepare a feast for the ragged, and forgive those who offend us.
So how are we doing with that?

Those words were included in a study resource, entitled Living Upside Down. It’s series of four small group discussions, which can also be used by individuals, offering us one fruitful source for reflection as we journey through this in-between time before Lent.  

Speaking of Lent, you may have seen, in the Parish News, some suggested ways in which we can come together to journey through lent. There is a book club – on the book ‘Failure’ by Emma Ineson – the new Bishop of Kensington. And a Taketime course. Do ask me about these afterwards if you are interested.

The Living upside down resource was purposely designed to address a gap in our journeying through the Christian year: namely this season after Christmas, and before Lent, which we call Epiphany. That in between time, the now and not yet time that we spend much of our day to day life in.

The author Richard Rohr uses these words to describe this space - 
‘liminal space’, or threshold space, is a very good phrase for those special times, events, and places that open us up to the sacred. It seems we need special (sacred) days to open us up to all days being special and sacred.

In the Living Upside Down resources we are invited to reclaim Epiphany as a time in which to renew our lives at the beginning of a new year, by pondering the question ‘If God’s light now shines in the world because of the birth of Jesus at Christmas, what difference will that make to our lives?’ 

‘If God’s light now shines in the world because of the birth of Jesus at Christmas, what difference will that make to our lives?’  That question flows out of the story of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple which we reflect upon today, and connects to many Christian traditions in what became known as ‘Candlemas’ in many parts of the Church over the centuries. 

It is a question which is, however, as much about what is to be as what has been – just as retelling the story of the Presentation of Jesus is not so much about learning about the responses of Simeon and Anna, as prompting us to our own responses. 

In other words, as Richard Rohr encourages us, it is about re-dedicating ourselves, and our world, to the ‘fullness of time’, his phrase for the time we are living in.

At this time in the year, we are at what can be called a ‘hinge’ moment.  In terms of nature, in England, we mark the mid-point, between the winter solstice and the spring equinox.  In the Southern hemisphere, it is of course the other way up; between the spring solstice and the winter equinox.  In Gaelic, the word for this time is ‘imbolc’ – which means ‘in the belly of the Mother’, because the seeds of a new season are beginning to spring in the depths of Mother Earth. Indeed, perhaps, as a ‘hinge’, Candlemas works equally well, but differently, in both hemispheres.  For here we mark the beginning of a new year and the starting, or re-starting, of many things.   So, as in our liturgy today, we are invited to consecrate both this movement of time and the changes of our world with the light of Christ.

Light – this is the pre-eminent symbol of this season, and of Epiphany as a whole.  For, in the Christian calendar, the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple represents the ‘hinge’ between Christmas and Lent - as we turn from the astonishing light of Christmas towards the amazing light of Easter.  It reminds us of how all things can be transformed into the fullness of time by the light of God’s grace. 

This has always been at the heart of Christian witness during the season of Epiphany.  The early Church writing known as the Acts of Peter captured in almost surreal terms the idea of seeing the world in a different way, encouraging us to see that: Unless you make what is right, left, and what is left, right, what is above into what is below, and what is behind into what is in front, you will not learn to  know the Kingdom.

Such is the character of ‘living upside down’ and the transformative power of the light of Christ.

In some ways, the original traditions around the story of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple are quite alien to us.  Not least in relation to ideas of purification around birth.  Except in some places, we have mercifully left behind the idea that a mother needs to be ‘purified’ after childbirth.  However we are still so far from truly honouring and consecrating life-bearing processes in healthy ways, particularly where they involve the bodies of women and the vulnerable.  

The Presentation of Jesus in the Temple is a call for us to see, share, and shine light in such places, through ‘living upside down.’  It’s striking, isn’t it, how the vulnerable and the marginal are at the centre of this story: on the one hand, the very old, Anna and Simeon; on the other, the very young and tender, Jesus and Mary.   Long held, almost extinguished, hopes and dreams meet new, but so fragile, seeds and stirrings.  It is in such, as the song of Simeon proclaims, that salvation, transformation, and Richard Rohr’s fullness of time, is to be found.  Tired, aged, eyes meet the newly born.  In this, the light of revelation, true Epiphany, is found. 

Such light – what Orthodox Christians call divine ‘uncreated’ light – does not always come easily to us, as Simeon goes on to say, in those heart-rending prophetic words to 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—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.

At Candlemas, we therefore turn from Christmas towards the Passion.  Yet, in this, and beyond, lies Resurrection, the ultimate light of transformation, the true fullness of time.  In this lies the grace and power of ‘living upside down’.

Another aspect of today’s central biblical story which can seem far from us is also the sacrifice of two birds which we are told was made to satisfy the religious Law.  Well we live in different times with different outlooks.  Yet, if the idea of killing other creatures as part of holiness seems troublesome to most modern minds, the call to ‘sacrifice’-  in the sense of ‘making holy’ - is still relevant.  The derivation of the word ‘sacrifice’ is after all exactly that – from the Latin words sacer (holy) and facere (to make).  ‘Living upside down’ – or following the way of Christ – is our more modern Christian expression. Living lives made Holy is only possible by recognising and embracing the light of Christ within us. 

Not always easy but like Anna and Simeon, when our eyes dim, or our prayers and efforts seem futile, let us always recall that the light is still with us, if often hidden by shadow and in silence.

So where is the light calling you, calling me, calling us?

In the ancient world, the light of Christ, the light of grace, the ‘uncreated’ light of divine love, lit up the temple, and the eyes and hearts and lives of those who were open to see and receive.  Today the light of Christ is once more presented in the temple.  This temple is however the temple of our own lives and world.  God’s Love is offered to us, inviting us to see and receive, that, like Jesus, we too may live upside down - welcoming the outcast, preparing a feast for the ragged, and forgiving those who offend us.

So may the light of Christ truly shine in us and shine through us in the days ahead.  Amen

Rev'd Kia

Resource link to ‘Living Upside down’: V1 (

Sunday 29 January, Fourth in Epiphany
Being a fifth Sunday, this Sunday's service was a Benefice service, held in St Mary's Holmbury

Jesus’ Joy
Texts: 1 Corinthians 1 verses 18-31, John 2 verses 1-11

A recent obituary for Pope Benedict commented on his conviction that the essence of Christianity is pure joy, like the song of the lark which he heard singing from the altar at his ordination in 1951. His first encyclical, Deus Caritus Est, was all about the joy of God’s love, and he once remarked that perhaps humans, like angels, could fly a bit, if they didn’t take themselves too seriously (The Economist, January 7th-13th, 2023).

Life, Benedict said is to be celebrated. Jesus demonstrates this from the beginning of his ministry when he joins in the celebration of life at a wedding, turning what could have been a disaster into sheer joy, creating the best wine that anyone could have imagined. We know that Jesus enjoyed a good party, and some have suggested that he and his friends could have been the reason the wine gave out. It’s a good line, but that is not John’s point.

When we consider this and other stories about Jesus’ transformational power, the first question people tend to ask is “Did they really happen”? The best answer to that is that it is the wrong question. A better question is, What is the truth in these stories and what do they tell us about God and about ourselves”?

In today’s story Jesus does something quite outrageous. We don’t know how many guests there were at the wedding, but we learn that there were six jars, each holding 20 or 30 gallons. That’s somewhere between 120 and 180 gallons of wine, not counting the original amount provided by the groom. This suggests that Jesus had a healthy disrespect for respectability. He wanted the guests, as he often wanted the Pharisees, to loosen up on virtue and celebrate a joyous occasion. So, we may ask ourselves which is the greater miracle: turning water into wine, or turning gloomy people into joyful people?

Whether or not Jesus literally turned water into wine, it is surely sinful for us to turn the wine of life into water. Life is to be celebrated. In all its God given wholeness, it is to be enjoyed.

Jesus first visits people not in their sorrow but in their joy. This may come as news to those who think of Jesus as “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3). Yes, there were times of sorrow, but the truth is there is also a great deal of joy and, yes, humour in Jesus’ life and ministry.

When we think of aspects of Jesus’ personality, some of the words that come to mind are kind, thoughtful, passionate. We don’t usually think of him as amusing, but look again. Jesus had a sharp wit and often displayed a lively sense of the absurd. He was a genius at using unforgettable images to convey his messages: “It is easier for a Rolls Royce to get through a revolving door than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven”. And he loved poking fun at the Pharisees: “You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel”. This is particularly funny as wordplay in Aramaic: “You filter out a galma, but gulp down a gamla". One can imagine his listeners laughing with each other and going home to tell their families, “Jesus was in great form today. Have you heard the one about straining a galma and swallowing a gamla”?

He loved telling stories, particularly those that left his listeners shaking their heads; God is like the man who, when his friend comes knocking at midnight says, “Go away. You’ll wake up the children”, and only when the friend continues banging on the door does he finally stagger down stairs with his hair awry and his dressing gown on backwards, and gives the friend what he wants just to get rid of him. Or God is the crooked judge who is too busy writing his memoirs to be bothered with the woman who is being sued by the gas board, but finally gives in just to get some peace. Does God answer our prayers? “If your ten year old asks for a goldfish, do you give him a scorpion? If he asks for an ice cream do you give him a black eye”? It’s almost as if he is saying, “Ask a foolish question and you’ll get a foolish answer."

Paul was the first one who dared express this aspect of Jesus and his ministry when he wrote to the Corinthians about the folly of the Gospel. “Has not God not made foolish the wisdom of the world”? He writes. "Does Jesus not make foolish the pious fixations of the Scribes and Pharisees"?

And there were times when Jesus himself understood the sometimes tragic comedy of his own life. He was born in a stable, alongside cows and chickens. The people of Nazareth, whom he had grown up with, worked and played with, drove him out of town, intending to throw him off a cliff. Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, 'Physician, heal yourself'”, he said, recognising the absurdity of a carpenter’s son presenting himself as God’s Son, the Christ (Luke:4:23).

And then there was the seeming absurdity of some of the things said to the crowds: “I have come to bring good news to the poor”, when he himself was a poor as a church mouse. “Blessed are the meek”; you know, those people who daren’t say boo to a goose. “Love your enemies”; “Turn the other cheek”. Why? So that you can be walloped all over again? “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up”. What on earth is he talking about? He’s a carpenter’s son, not an ecclesiastical architect. “And blessed is the one who takes no offence at me” (Matthew. 11:5-6), which most of those in authority certainly did.

“The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing. but to those of us who are being saved it is the power of God”. Even at the end, as he sat down for his last meal with his friends, while showing a serious and occasionally melancholy side, Jesus refused to be overcome with sadness or despair: “Be of good cheer; I have overcome the world”, he said, as Pilates’s soldiers lay in wait for him outside.

“I have said these things … that your joy may be complete”. Jesus came into the world to bring healing, redemption and joy to this sad and sinful world – the great physician who makes the wounded whole, by his own wounds. He, who at the beginning of his ministry turned water into wine for guests at a wedding, turns his own blood into wine for the salvation of us all – the best for the end. “This is my blood of the new covenant, which is shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins”.

So, with joyful hearts, let us drink and be thankful.


Martha Taft Golden

While Martha preached at  the Benefice service, which was led by  Virginia Smith, Virginia has shared a homily she wrote. 

If you are anything like me, you are not feeling your brightest and best right now after a January which has provided both a considerable amount of rain and some decidedly Arctic temperatures. Of course, we have to accept that it is no more than we should expect for deep winter but even so the weather can so very easily be dispiriting  and the very dark mornings at the start of the month were also unlikely to make you leap from your warm bed with both anticipation and energetic enthusiasm for the coming day.

Add to these factors for lowering the spirits are the post- Christmas blues engendered by over tiredness after all the rushing around, overindulgence in all the oh so tempting festive fare and the diminished state of one’s finances. And throw into this mix the almost constant diet of depressing national and international news and any sense of joie de vivre may sink to an almost infinitesimal level. No, all in all January is not a good month for most people, to be endured rather than enjoyed.  And endurance I think tends, along with other emotions, to drain one of energy both physical and mental and hence provides a metaphorical parallel with the gospel reading when, at that wedding feast, disaster of disaster the wine ran out.  January can have the effect of making one feel there is nothing in the tank and energy levels are severely depleted. And here perhaps we can sympathise with Jacinda Ardern who after five years at the helm as Prime minister of New Zealand has opted to step down on the basis she had no more in her tank to continue with her onerous responsibilities. It may not be vintage wine that we are seeking but we may well need something to lift our spirits and restore our sense of energy, well- being and zest for this God given life.  

When we imagine those wedding guests aware that their glasses are no longer being filled becoming decidedly restive and disgruntled do we see a parallel with our own January blues?  Are we inwardly restive, disliking the sense of lethargy which can so easily embrace us at this time of year? Are we disgruntled because life seems lacking in any real joy but instead presents an unremitting daily slog to somehow be got through? Do we long to have our glasses refilled with not just sunshine and warmth, but  a very real sense of renewed spirits, renewed energy levels, renewed delight in simply living each day, not as a slog but as a real joy as we are made  aware of all the blessings it brings to us?  

And here we should recognize that such low spiritedness, such lack of energy  can happen to even saints. This week we celebrated Saints Timothy and Titus and one of the readings for the day was from the letter to Timothy from Paul gently, but urgently, reminding him to ‘rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; for God did not give us a spirit off cowardice, but rather a spirit of power, and of love and of self- discipline.’ Do these words jolt us into an awareness that we too need to rekindle our God given gifts and use them as best we can for the purposes of his kingdom. Can this awareness act as the new wine which will rekindle not just a sense of purpose but one of joy in our lives?

And reflecting on this I think it is so important to remember that it was plain ordinary well water that Jesus turned into that vintage wine for the delight of the wedding guests. And it is surely in taking note of the simple everyday aspects of life and recognising them as part of the  awe and wonder of  God’s created world that we too will be enabled  to taste that wine. Can we learn to spend time recognizing in our own glasses of water run straight from the tap a blessing that so many millions in God’s world do not have.? Can we see  as much beauty in a daisy or a snowdrop as in any expensive bunch of bought flowers?  Can we listen to the song of the birds and hear music to accompany the heavenly choirs? Can we, above all, see reflected in someone’s smile the love of God for all his children?  Surely it is in learning to seek out the intrinsic beauty and wonder in such seemingly simple undervalued things that we can find ourselves being given the reinvigoration of new wine. 

Added to all these maybe to read the verses of today’s Psalm each morning before we start our day may encourage us and feel that we have truly  been lifted up by drinking from the river of God’s delights.

How precious is your steadfast love. O God! All people may take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
They feast on the abundance of your house, and you give them drink from the river of your delights.
For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light.
O continue your steadfast love to those who know you, and your salvation to the upright of heart.

Coupled with these are these beautiful words of Thomas Traherne which I turn to again and again when the wine of my own life seems in short supply.
Your enjoyment of the world is never right, till every morning you awake in Heaven; see yourself in your Father’s palaces; and look upon the skies, the earth, and the air as Celestial joys; having such a revered esteem of all, as if you were among the angels………
Yet further, you never enjoy the world aright, till you so love the beauty of enjoying it, that you are covetous and earnest to persuade others to enjoy it.

May God in his infinite love provide us with the joys of his world, the new wine, to strengthen and reinvigorate  us to share those same joys, that same wine, with all whom we meet.

Virginia Smith

Sunday 22 January, Third in Epiphany

Texts: Isaiah 9 verses 1-4 Matthew 4 verses 12-23

The Bible is a complex and fascinating book – I do not profess to be an expert, despite some years studying it at theological college. Just when you think you know a little bit about it – you discover more depth, more intrigue and deeper wisdom – it really is a book that just keeps on giving. 

For example early this week, when I read Matthew 4:14. In the New Revised Standard version, it says “He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali.” The He is Jesus. First, there are 4 places named here. I recognized the names because I’ve read the Bible on other occasions, but I don’t know why they are significant or where they are in relationship to each other. So, I made a note to look them up.

But before I could do that, I read a translation note about the verb – the verb that said “Jesus left.” Jesus left Nazareth and went somewhere else. Well, that seemed pretty straightforward. Does that verb “left” imply anything to you about Jesus’ mood or his attitude? To me it just means that he moves from place to another. He might be happy or sad, angry or scared or excited. The word “left” doesn’t tell me anything. 

But then I read this note which said “left is too mild a translation. It means something closer to abandoned.” So, then I looked it up in a Greek dictionary and discovered it means to leave behind, to desert, forsake, abandon. Now, if I had read “Jesus abandoned Nazareth, he forsook Nazareth, he deserted Nazareth” the first time through, I would have taken notice.

I was a little bit irked that the translators chose such a mild way to express what must have been a decisive action.

By this point I was wondering what happened before this, what did I miss by jumping into the story right here? I’ll spare you the rest of the play-by-play on my personal Bible study and just tell you what I learned.

In the lectionary a couple of weeks ago, the reading was from Matthew 3, with people going out to John to be baptized in the Jordan River. Jesus went from Galilee to be baptized. The story ended when Jesus came up out of the water and the voice proclaimed him God’s Beloved. 

Between that story and this one, Jesus spent forty days in the Judean wilderness where he was tempted by the devil. Then, today, we pick up with verse 13 which says, “Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee.”

Again, with the verbs – what does it mean that he withdrew to Galilee?” The Greek word there is often translated “to go back, to return, to depart”. It can also mean “to leave with the sense of taking refuge from danger.” So, what does it mean here? Is Jesus simply returning to Galilee? That’s where he was before being baptized, before going into the wilderness. It would kind of make sense for him to go home sometime, wouldn’t it? And if he is, in fact, withdrawing in the sense of fleeing from danger – what danger is there where he is?

He is in Judea, possibly near Jerusalem, which is a centre of political and religious power. Perhaps the implication is that he is in danger because of that power. Before Matthew’s story is over, Jesus will be crucified from Jerusalem. But that doesn’t quite make sense here, because it says “when Jesus heard that John had been arrested.” 

You see John the Baptist was arrested by Herod Antipas. And Matthew’s readers would know that Herod Antipas was also going to execute John. So, the danger in the story right now seems to be Herod Antipas. And guess what? Herod Antipas is not the ruler in Judea. Herod Antipas is the ruler in Galilee.

So, if the translators chose the word “withdrew” to suggest that Jesus is moving to a safer place, well that isn’t really borne out by the context. If anything, Jesus seems to be moving into a place of more danger. But now we see that Jesus doesn’t actually go home, because we’ve arrived at verse 14, where we began, which says “He abandoned Nazareth”.

Nazareth is Jesus’ hometown. To say that Jesus is abandoning Nazareth is to say that he is forsaking his childhood home, his mother, his family.

When he heard that John had been imprisoned, Jesus abandoned Nazareth and set up a new home in Capernaum. Matthew adds, “in Capernaum, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali”. We heard those place names in the reading from Isaiah earlier. They are old names.

Now my geography is pretty rubbish – I am constantly surprised about how little I know about the country of my birth and frequently come across places I don’t recognise! And throughout our history names of places have evolved and changed as different tribes and peoples have inhabited them.

What Matthew is doing is similar to that. 

He is using the names of the land as it was divided into territories for the twelve tribes of Israel. Centuries ago, this area was assigned by Joshua to the tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali.

Seven hundred years earlier, Isaiah had also written about Zebulun and Naphtali. They were among the first tribes from the northern kingdom carried away into captivity by the Assyrians. The names of these tribes and territories were lost to conscious memory. No one uses these place names in Jesus’ time. Except for Matthew.

“Galilee of the Gentiles” had been ruled by the Assyrian Empire. In Jesus’ day, it is under the thumb of the Roman Empire. Matthew links those who are currently living under Roman domination with those who had seen the devastation of the Assyrian conquest. Matthew is locating Jesus in the ancient promised land, the land over which God has sovereignty, although it appears that Rome is in control.

So Jesus returns to Galilee, abandons Nazareth and makes a new home in a small fishing village called Capernaum. Under the rule of Antipas, life has become very hard here. After extracting everything he could from the fertile agricultural areas, Antipas turned his attention to the inland lake, called the Sea of Galilee, commercializing it for maximum profit and export.

The peasant fishermen could no longer cast their nets freely from the shore. They could no longer own a boat or beach a catch without being taxed. They probably had to sell what they caught to Antipas’ factories. The cost of getting a fishing license, the taxes they would have to pay, and the rates that they would be paid for their fish, would all be determined by sources higher up than they. This is a system where the rich get richer and the poor become more and more impoverished.

This is the place where Jesus goes after he abandons Nazareth. He locates himself among the marginal, with the ruled, not the rulers, with the powerless and exploited not the powerful.

This is where he proclaims the same thing that John had “Repent, for the Basileia of heaven has come near.” Basileia is the Greek word we translate as heaven - we usually read that as “kingdom of heaven” and by now, for many of us that’s just a churchy word. But Basileia can also be translated as reign or empire, so what if we recognized that Jesus is saying “The Empire of Heaven has come near.” “God’s Empire is here.”

That is what Jesus is saying. After hearing that John has been arrested, Jesus does not withdraw to safety. Instead, he moves to a place of greater danger. He does not return to Nazareth and his family. He abandons that familiar security. Instead, he locates himself with those who are bearing the brunt of imperial greed.

 In the face of the bad news of the Roman empire, he announces the arrival of God’s empire. This is the picture of a person on a mission, acting with the full courage of his convictions. I so did not get that on my first reading earlier this week.

Finally, I see Jesus’ courageous determination, and then almost immediately I see his vulnerable side. Having forsaken all that was known and familiar in Nazareth, he sets out to create a new community. For his mission to succeed, other people will have to be involved, but also, I think the human Jesus needs companions. He needs others to join him on a personal level.

He finds Simon and Andrew on the shore. They leave their nets to follow him. He finds James and John in their boat. They leave their father and the family business to follow him. Just like Jesus left Nazareth, they leave their familiar lives behind. The Greek verb is not the same as the one for leaving Nazareth. But the meaning is. They release their nets, they forsake their father, they lay aside their former lives to follow Jesus. I am struck that what Jesus asks of them is what he has already done—the abandoning of something precious to take on this mission.

This mission -- the mission to proclaim good news in the face of bad news. To announce the empire of God in the midst of the empire of Rome. To speak up and speak out when empire is bringing its power to silence you. To live deeply and boldly despite the threat of violence and death. To live out the good news while surrounded by bad news.

Jesus calls us to that very same mission. We still live under empire. We are still surrounded by bad news. Our calling is to abandon, to release, to forsake whatever keeps us from fulfilling this mission -- to live out the good news, deeply and boldly, to speak up and speak out, to proclaim and embody the good news in the midst of bad.

The Talmud is a collection of teachings of ancient rabbis. It tells of a rabbi who was asked what questions a Jewish person would have to answer at the Last Judgment. What would God ask? First, the rabbi thought of the obvious things: Were you honest in business? Did you seek wisdom? Did you keep the commandments? Then a question about the Messiah came into his mind that surprised the rabbi. God will ask “Did you hope for my Messiah?”

Today I wonder, is that not the question Christians will be asked? “Did you hope for Jesus? Did you long for the empire of heaven Christ proclaimed? Did you put your faith in Christ, even when you thought about giving up? Did you live in Christ’s light?

Challenging questions to ask ourselves on this Sunday morning but questions worth pondering as we begin another week.

May we proclaim and embody the good news in the midst of bad news. May we be God’s people believing in God’s power to bring light into the darkness. 

Let us pray,
Father, we need you. We need your help to embody the good news of Christ. Fill us afresh with your Holy Spirit today as we seek to bring your light into our dark world. Open our eyes and our hearts to your living hope and give to us fresh courage and perseverance as we try and live into your calling,
In Jesus name we pray, Amen.

Rve'd Kia

Sunday 15 January, Second in Epiphany

With a 9.00am Holy Communion service, taken by Kia, and a 6.00pm Evensong, taken by Virginia, we are fortunate to have two homilies.  

First, Kia's for the 9.00am Holy Communion.

Texts: Isaiah 49 verses1-7, 1 Corinthians 1 verses1-9

Waiting and transformation. 

Waiting is a common theme in the bible and it is all about transformation. 

We have just finished a season of waiting in Advent and in our bible readings this morning both the author of Isaiah and Paul, writing to the people in Corinth are talking of waiting. Waiting and transformation.

Firstly let us look at Isaiah.

In order to understand our reading we need to find some context. Isaiah is a complex book – commonly split into three parts – 1st Isaiah, 2nd Isaiah and 3rd Isaiah – conveniently.

1st Isaiah is all about the pre-exilic period, before the people of God were overthrown and taken into exile and so the prophet speaks a warning. A warning about what will happen if they don’t turn back to God, if they don’t obey the covenant.

The covenant was a promise made to the people of Israel by God that if they obey his laws they would live in peace and prosperity and he would be their God.

God wants them to be a guiding light – an example for other nations to follow but Israel strayed – again and again and so they find themselves in exile. Lost, seemingly abandoned – without a Temple – where they believed God dwelt – without their own land or possessions.

So 1st Isaiah is quite gloomy and depressing.

Our reading comes from second Isaiah where the people of God are now in exile; confused, disorientated and bewildered. 

They need hope. So  the author is trying re-orientate them and re-focus them on the bigger picture of God’s sovereignty – the fact he hasn’t deserted them but is still with them – working out his purposes despite their disobedience and behaviour.

In the book of Isaiah when we read the word ‘Servant’ it normally pertains to the people of God – Israel, but interestingly in verse 4 the servant becomes personal and he is voicing his frustration.

The prophet feels he has laboured in vain, at the beginning of verse 4 he says ‘I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity’. 

The prophet, who was formed in the womb to be a servant of the Lord, is fed up with God’s people.

They don’t listen, they rebel and now think God is not big enough to get them out of the mess they have made – they are ungrateful and undeserving.

So much for being a light to the nations.

It must have been so tough to be a prophet.

You hardly ever had good news to give – it was mainly warnings of impending doom and the ratifications of bad behaviour – not the most popular of vocations.

But I suppose God did warn him, in Isaiah chapter 6 after he is called to this ministry God tells him -“Tell the people to listen, but they aren't going to listen. You will break your heart; you will turn your mind inside out; you will pour upon their indifference the priceless ingredients of your spirit: the only thing that I can offer you,” says Yahweh, “is a deep, profound, ever-circling frustration. That’s all. Tell them that they are going to be destroyed, every town burned up, all the people taken into captivity … ” and on and on and on God spells out this doom.

In a very small way I wonder if this resonates with us?

Israel were called to be the people of God in the Old Testament – to light the way for generations to come – in the New Testament who are God’s people? Who are God’s people now? Anyone who has answered the call in their heart to follow Jesus – so we are God’s people, God’s hope on earth.

If we let that sink in for a bit that’s a mighty call.

And yet, as we look around us, at the beginning of a New Year, at our world – does it feel that different to the Israelites when they were in exile?

Our call is to bring the Good News of Jesus – forgiveness, acceptance, unconditional love – to those we know.

Do they have ears to ear, are they in the slightest bit interested? Do we feel unworthy, incapable, not qualified, scared, frustrated?

Perhaps we have more in common with the prophet than we think!

So the author is waiting for the people of God to realise that God is God; The maker of the universe, the sustainer of all life, the Alpha and the Omega. He points to the bigger picture – God is not just the God of their particularity, their God in their space and time but a God of the cosmos – before, now, and future. There is a longer game afoot.

In 1 Corinthians, Paul too is pointing to the future – the long game, in verse 7 he reminds them to stand firm in the faith as they ‘wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus’. A time of waiting and transformation.

It can be easy as we look out at the world to become disillusioned by what we see – the wars, the poverty, the injustice and then disheartened by what difference we can make. This can lead to that most dangerous of conditions – apathy and hopelessness.

But these passages give us hope. 

Hope that there is a God who is in it for the long haul – from Isaiah to Paul to us to beyond – we are part of the bigger story. 

Hope that we too have a part to play. It may be small but it is vital.

In our day to day we can offer glimmers of hope to those around us – it doesn’t have to make the headlines – the smile, the ‘thank you’s', letting someone go in front of us in the queue. Our actions can have far reaching consequences – eternal consequences.

We may not all be called to be prophets, or outspoken evangelists but we can all make a difference in our world. While we wait we can bring transformation – firstly by allowing ourselves to be transformed and then by doing those small things that can make all the difference in the world.

I’d like to finish by telling you a story of one such thing.

A black mother and a child were walking down the street in South Africa in the time of Apartheid. As they walked along the path they moved into the road to let a white man pass as was the accepted custom. They carried on a little further until they saw another white man approaching – as they moved to step onto the road to let him pass, he moved out of their way, onto the road to let them pass.
The little boy was astonished.
‘Why did he do that mother?’ He asked.
‘That man is a Priest’, she replied.
‘Well, that is what I want to be when I grow up’.
That man became Desmund Tutu.

Let us pray, Father, it is sometimes hard to find hope and stay positive in our world. Help us to keep our eyes fixed on you, increase our trust and faith in you that we may be a light to our friends, family, community and beyond. And give us confidence to believe that small acts of kindness really can make a difference and with your grace can change the world.
In Jesus name we pray

Rev'd Kia

Now, Virginia's for the 6.00pm Evensong.

Texts: Jeremiah 1 verse 4-10, Mark 1 verses 14-20.

You will forgive me if I’ve mentioned this before, but I do at times find it both frustrating and to some extent bewildering that as far as I know God has never spoken to me directly. It was fine for Jeremiah to whom God spoke quite distinctly and with some force, over-ruling all his objections, as to why he should not be a prophet. Mind you I don’t blame Jeremiah as I’m sure when he was discussing future careers that of prophet never entered his mind. But, as so many of our Bible readings tell us, once God has chosen someone for a particular role in his service there is no gainsaying him. 

And then in our gospel passage we have Jesus speaking directly to those four fishermen whom he had picked out to be his first disciples. Four seasoned fishermen who seemingly, unlike Jeremiah, did not hesitate to leave all that they knew, all they were familiar with, and respond immediately to that call.

And I am sure all of you here could cite other examples of God in some way or other speaking directly to people, be it Moses or Samuel, Jonah or Paul. All of them knew, without a shadow of doubt, that they were being spoken to by God and it was his authentic voice that they were hearing. So, this brings me back to my question as to why apparently, I haven’t encountered a burning bush on my walks from which God spoke to me or been interrupted, say in my baking, and called by God to throw off my apron and follow him. And it may well be that many of you here have the same question; the same doubt as to why it would appear that  God has never called you up personally and given you a specific role in his service

But of course, what we need to appreciate is that while a few privileged individuals, such as Jeremiah and those four fishermen, have been spoken to directly by God he has chosen a multitude of other voices to call us; to speak to us. There cannot be any doubt that I would not be here, that you would not be here unless in some way God had spoken to us and called us to follow him and to worship him.  I think very  often God chooses to  speak to us through other people and here we need to remember the words of John that ‘if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us'. So, believing this to be true means that so often the words spoken to us in love by others are indeed the authentic voice of God we long to hear and within those words we may discern a calling from God. Some sort of clear  directive as to the path we should take on our life pilgrimage. 

And I think that we may also, as it were, hear God’s voice as we take time to really take in some of the infinite number of wonders that this world contains. A walk for me can so often generate a sense of the divine; the sense that I am truly in his presence and the words I hear in my heart are the words of beauty and of awe at the mystery of creation. Beauty and awe which it could be I am being called to reflect in some way in my interactions with others.

Will we hear God speaking to us this evening? I think it is more than probable that, in ways which defy logical reasoning, we will hear him. Hear him, be it in the beauty of the words we have spoken and heard read, words spoken in faith and in trust for centuries or in the beauty of the music and all that we sing. Maybe simply in the silences we will detect that unspoken communication with God. That unspoken communication which can, if properly listened, to help us to know God’s purposes for us just as Jeremiah did; just as those four fishermen did.

I think for all of us what we have to be prepared to do is more listening and a lot less talking and discover in that listening the authentic voice of God speaking to us and calling us. Listen as voiced in these words by Anne Long.

All listening begins and ends in God, The God who listens in infinite compassion is the God who creates in each of us the desire to listen to him, to his world, to each other, to ourselves so that, filled with his Spirit, we might continue his work here on earth.

Teach me to listen, Lord
  to those nearest me,
  my family, my friends, my co-workers.

Help me to be aware that
  no matter what words I hear, the message is,
  ‘Accept the person I am. Listen to me.’

Teach me to listen, lord,
  to those far from me-
  the whisper of the hopeless,
  the plea of the forgotten,
  the cry of the anguished.

Teach me to listen, Lord,
  to myself.
  Help me to be less afraid,
  to trust the voice inside-
  in the deepest part of me.

Teach me to listen, Lord,
  for your voice-
  in busyness and in boredom,
  in certainty and in  doubt,
  in noise and in  silence

Teach me to listen, Lord.                  Anne Long

Virginia Smith

Sunday 8 January, Epiphany

Text: Matthew 2 verses 1-12  (Isaiah 60 verses 1-7)

Now before anything else I want to make it quite clear that never, never again am I going to ride a camel. Ships of the desert they may be but my goodness they provide a very perilous and decidedly uncomfortable ride over those shifting sands, added to which I make bold to claim that they really are some of the most unpleasant of God’s creatures I’ve ever encountered. All that spitting and the way in which they always seem to be looking contemptuously down their noses at you. So no! Come what may I am determined that all contact with these unholy beasts is forever terminated.

But enough of that gripe as now to my real purpose, namely to tell you what possessed three learned academics renowned, I am happy to boast, for both their encyclopaedic knowledge and exceptional   wisdom, to embark on a journey following a star. Madness you might well say. We who had been perfectly content, absorbed in our books, enjoying the cut and thrust of a good scholastic debate with one another and again, I am happy to assert, in our own small way, pushing back the frontiers of knowledge. I think none of us had actually travelled more than a few miles, although in our imaginations we had, of course, travelled thousands of miles. Until that is, that never to be forgotten day, well night actually, when our eyes were drawn seemingly simultaneously to the sight of a new extraordinarily bright star in the sky.  And it really was extra-ordinary as its light was so brilliant, more like a sun than a star. Of course, we rushed to our books frantically searching to find any possible reference to such an occurrence but all we could find of any relevance was in one of those rather obscure prophetic books of the Jewish people, Isaiah, I think it was, which spoke of a light coming and of what it described as the glory of the Lord rising. Did this refer to what we came to call ‘our star’? And in the same book we found reference to the birth of a special child who would establish the throne of David and would bring justice and righteousness for evermore. We had some heated argument over all this I can tell you but, as we tried in vain to make sense of it all, that star, that light seemed to keep insistently beckoning to us and, it slowly dawned on us, that all the books in the world were not going to solve the riddle. We had to go in search of the answer ourselves.  We had to find for ourselves this child, this king whose reign would be established for evermore as if such a reign could ever be possible. 

Well, I can tell you that was not just a revelation but a challenge which none of us were sure we could rise to let alone attain But, and I still don’t really know how, we did hire those wretched camels; we did pack necessities for the journey and strangest of all we remembered more words of Isaiah and bought gold and frankincense, though if you’d asked us why at the time we would have had no logical answer.. And Melchior we later discovered had also added some myrrh but when questioned he, too, had no logical explanation for such a very strange seeming purchase.

And so, full of trepidation we set off and I won’t bore you with all the frustrations and difficulties of that long journey, the appalling fast food just to keep us going and the grasping locals and, even now, I do wonder that we never just gave up, called it a day, and returned to the peace of our books and scrolls. But no, that light kept leading us on, a bit like some magnetic force to which we were forcibly tethered. And after what seemed an eternity, we came to Jerusalem and knowing the local puppet King’s palace was there made the completely wrong assumption, even magi can be in error sometimes, that this was the natural place to find the child. How mistaken we were and how anxious we became to escape from that palace, that king, that tyrant who seemed to generate a darkness, a real and terrifying sense of evil while outside that miraculous light was still beckoning to us.

And so, we journeyed on and found ourselves in the scruffy decidedly non-regal town of Bethlehem of which we had never even heard before and there,  as we looked up, we saw that our guiding star had stopped moving and its light was all the more focused on one small insignificant house. It was then we dismounted and with a very real sense of trepidation coupled with, I admit, intense curiosity at what we would find within, we cautiously entered and there, there was this child with his mother and, seeing him, all three of us were miraculously, wondrously and surely enlightened by what I suppose one would call divine wisdom that here indeed was the king whose reign would be for all eternity. The king who was indeed Isaiah’s   Mighty God, the Prince of Peace, the King who would be the saviour of his people and, in that astonishing, literally mind-blowing revelation, we fell to our knees and gave him homage as our hearts almost burst open as we were overwhelmed with joy. And it was then that we were suddenly realised the significance of those gifts we had brought, the gold for a king, the frankincense for a god, and the myrrh for a death. A death that would change the world for ever. And yes, we Gentiles, as the Jews called us, were witness to this miracle, this incarnation, this act of God’s overwhelming love for all his people, his children, Jew and Gentile, learned and unschooled,  wise and foolish, rich and poor,  No book taught us this but, in his infinite wisdom, God had mysteriously chosen us to bear this witness, as I now do, and to make known to all the world that the star had led us without a shadow of doubt to the one and only King of kings.  The incomparable, transforming joy off that day has never left us to which I must be add the joy of knowing I will never ride another camel

In my prayers on Sunday I am going to read this poem by Ian Adams and thought you might all like it too.
This is the moment, this is the day. 
You need to commit yourselves to a future with no certainties. 
To step out into a road unknown. 
Trusting only the goodness of God, 
in the benevolence of the earth beneath your feet,
in the gifts that have come your way, 
and in the calling that you sense is yours. 

And if on this pilgrimage
you are no more than a sigh pointing towards the Love,
this will be enough. 
Step out. 

Lord of Light and Love, give us the courage like the wise men to step out and be led by you to  become witness to your love for all people. Amen

Virginia Smith

Sunday 1 January
We celebrated this, the first Sunday, indeed the first day, in the New Year, with a Benefice morning service in St James' Abinger, led by Rev'd Virginia Smith.

The top boy’s  names for 2022, according to Nameberry: Arlo, Theodore, Soren, Atticus, Felix, Milo, Silas ,Kai, Rowan, Finn, Ezra, Oscar, Jude, Theo, Jasper, August, Hugo, Atlas, Oliver, Asher, Cassius, Otto. 

And the top girl’s names: Maeve, Luna, Aurelia, Ottilie, Eloise, Ophelia, Isla, Iris, Freya, Alice, Hazel, Aurora, Eleanor, Violet, Clara, Elodie, Ivy, Genevieve, Esme, Charlotte, Mabel .

She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sin. Matthew 1 verse 2.

Texts: Isaiah 63 verses 7-9, Luke 2 verses 15-21

Our names are very important and, probably in ways we don’t even properly understand, help to define who we are. Many of us have what I would call fairly ‘normal’ names but then there are the ones which can leave us wondering at just what parents were thinking when they opt for names such a ‘Ace’, Phoenix, or Apollo. Will Ace always be regarded in that light when he turns into a stroppy teenager; will Phoenix really have to face the challenge of rising from the ashes and will Apollo always have to be prepared to be launched into space? And so that I should not appear in any way sexist we also have names like ‘Precious’ for a girl which I personally think could at certain times prove a very  unwise choice and as for Fairroleigh, well that is just unkind and as the owner of this name said to me was a complete nightmare for her as she struggled to learn to spell and write a name with no less than eleven letters let alone try to teach everyone how to pronounce it properly.

Today of course we celebrate the naming and circumcision of Christ, although to be honest whether the latter can strictly be thought of as a cause for celebration I couldn’t possibly comment. But the naming is of real importance and while Isaiah might have advocated that his names should be ‘Wonderful Councillor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace’, fortunately I think for him the simple, easily spelt name of Jesus was chosen. In Hebrew the name would originally be pronounced as Yeh-Ho-shoo-ah but over time this was shortened to the slightly easier Yeh-Shoo-ah.

So, what does the name mean? The easiest answer is given in the angel’s words to Joseph ‘you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.’ Jesus, the Lord who is our salvation, Jesus who is our help, our deliverer, our rescuer. All these are implicit in the Hebrew name. If names like Ace, Apollo and Precious are a challenge to those who bear them, how infinitely greater is the challenge when one is called Jesus. Can this helpless utterly dependent child born in obscurity truly be the one to bring salvation to God’s people; truly be the one to deliver and rescue us from the darkness of sin which so corrupts God’s world? 

I don’t suppose, as a small boy, Jesus gave the meaning any real thought; after all Jesus was not an uncommon name at the time and, indeed, in quite a few countries it is still very much in use. But as we know, Mary pondered all these things in her heart and she must have gone on all through that childhood wondered just what was to be  her son’s destiny.

Jesus our Saviour, our Helper, our Lord and so so much more. And I suppose as we begin another year it would perhaps help all of us to spend time recognizing just what it is Jesus, Yeh-Ho shoo-ah, does mean to us and just what part he plays in our lives. Is he simply the person we inundate with our personal prayers for help, or does His presence in our lives really make a difference as to how we live those  lives?  What exactly is implicit when we claim the name Christian for ourselves? At the beginning of a new year when we are all perhaps given to at least a few moments of introspection, what is it that we might change or develop in our lives that we can truly be said to be leading a Christian life? A life where we fulfil that baptism charge to shine as a light in the world? A life where we, perhaps above all else, attempt to obey St Paul’s words of instruction to the Colossians  ‘As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other, just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts and be thankful.’

Now there are some resolutions contained in those words which would surely, if kept, make a significant difference to our lives and the lives of others. Resolutions to give up chocolates or alcohol or resolving to do a minimum of half an hour’s exercise may be fine in themselves but let’s be honest they are very self-centred. But to resolve to take the name of Christian with total sincerity, that is altogether another matter. Can we always show compassion, kindness, patience? Can we learn to forgive wholeheartedly and most important of all, if we are to bear that name Christian, to love? The answer, if we are honest, is a resounding ‘No’, we will not always succeed and far too often fail, but it is then we can recall the wonderfully comforting words from the Isaiah reading; ‘He became their saviour in all their distress, …. In his love and in his pity he redeemed them; he lifted them up and carried them.’  We will fail, this we must humbly accept, but Jesus will pick us up again and again, redeem us and set us  back on that narrow  way to try once more to bear the name Christian.

Tragically God’s world just now is, in far too many places, full of darkness and evil and while we, as individuals, cannot be expected to resolve the appalling conflict in Ukraine or the oppression of women in Afghanistan and Iran, let alone relieve the scourge of famine in the Horn of Africa we can, as  people bearing the name Christian, resolve to do our very best to make our own very, very small corner of the world a place where we bear witness to Jesus who is our Salvation, our helper, our rescuer, and bring the saving grace of His love to all  whom we meet in this coming year. 

Shine as a Light in the World.

A Very Happy New Year to all of you and may it be one full of all the wonder and grace of God’s blessings to us, His children.

Virginia Smith


Christmas Day - Sunday 25 December

As Kia's Christmas Day sermon made great use of a number of props - chocolate and biscuits! - to illustrate her messages, the text is not really suited to being read 'bare'.  So, we are publishing Virginia Smith's Christmas Day sermon which she delivered at St John's Wotton.

Texts: Isaiah 52 verses 7-10, John 1 verses 1-14

Kept in my handbag is a very small torch just over two inches long and the light it gives when switched on would be completely outshone by that of any of the wonderful Christmas lights with which so many homes and gardens have been so beautifully decorated. But it gives me sufficient light to make my way on a dark night, making sure I don’t fall over some obstruction or place my foot in some pothole, and thus ensure I do not fall victim to any accidents on my journey; I have no wish to join the queues in our overwhelmed A and E departments. Its beam is so small that it doesn’t allow me to wave it around and see what might lie ahead or even to the left or right but that doesn’t matter, its guiding light is to ensure that like those wise men I can arrive safely and thankfully at my destination. A celestial star would be much more of a miracle but, being realistic, I am happy to make do with my small black functioning torch. 

Now, back in the time of the birth of Jesus my small torch would have seemed almost like a miracle to anyone who saw it. For some two thousand years ago there was no electricity to provide glittering festive displays, no gas light, no candles even but simply small clay vessels often with a spout into which olive oil or some other oil was poured and the linen wick then lit to provide what must have been a very small amount of light. If you were rich you could afford to leave such a lamp burning all night and could even boast a lampstand on which to hang it but for the majority, their little lamps would be placed on an upturned bushel basket and hence Jesus’s reference to not hiding your light under a bushel. How incredibly dark the winter nights must have seemed to the people then and it is hard for us to imagine just how constrained their lives must have by this lack of light whereas, with a flick of a switch, we can dismiss the night, the blackness and the shadows. 

Christmas is the season of light and in that wonderful reading from John we hear the words ‘What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.’ For all of us who believe in the wonder and mystery of the incarnation these are words resonant with meaning and most especially with hope. Hope that the light that the Christ Child has brought into our sad and sorry world can, and will, transform it. Can help, in the beautiful, joyous  words of Isaiah,   to ensure that ‘the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; the lame leap like a hart and the tongue of the dumb sing for joy.’

Christ’s light is the light of love and if we let it will show us how to transform and live our lives so we too can bear some very tiny part of that light. Can we, in our imagination, humbly kneel today at that manger just as those shepherds did; just as the magi did? Can we sense the depth of darkness of that enclosed space, but as we focus on that crude manger can we truly be blessed to see in the miracle that is every new-born baby and even more glorious and unfathomable miracle? The miracle that is God incarnate. the light beyond all light that has come to our world and will dispel the darkness of sin, the darkness of sorrow and grief, the darkness of pain and suffering, the darkness of hopelessness and in their place bring the glorious overpowering light of God’s love made manifest here on earth. And may we then, by God’s grace, be given our own small lamp of light to carry which like my small black torch will be more than sufficient to show us the way of Christ; the way of light, on which to make our life’s journey. And as we do so can we also recognize that together our small lamps can and will form a great pool of light to dispel at least some of the darkness of our world and in its place bring to others the great, wondrous and incomparable blessings of Christmas; the blessings of hope, of peace, of joy and of love.

Born in You by Ian Adams
Into this world, brutal and brilliant, comes the holy child.
Now let the child trusting and wonderful
be born in you-
flooding you with light
so that in the company of countless others
you may ignite
an aurora of rippling light,
a dance of earth and heaven
that will never be extinguished.
May the holy child be born in you today.

Virginia Smith

The Carol Service - Monday 19 December

What’s your favourite thing about Christmas?  The presents? The food? Family games?  For me I know that Christmas has started when we go and choose our tree.

 If you’re anything like my family this can turn into a military operation. First you have to decide on the right size – a 5ft one and put it on a table so the presents fit underneath or a 6ft one and cut some of the branches off? The shape is of vital importance. It can’t be too bushy, too straight or too crooked but it has to have character. You have to hold it in a certain way and look at it from every single angle to make sure there aren’t any funny sticky out branches or bare bits.

And when you get it home, who decorates it? Children, do your parents give you free reign? Do all the wonderful, sentimental, handmade decorations get pride of place – the amazing creations you made when you were 2 – the 5 legged reindeer, the robin that looks more like a Christmas pudding and that suspicious looking snowman? Maybe it starts out like that but, miraculously, the following morning it has turned into something resembling the front cover of the Christmas edition of vogue.

Another of my favourite parts of Christmas is watching the Nativity play. Always full of surprises. But maybe not as surprising as the first ever nativity.

The first account of the nativity scene as we would recognise was in 1223 – over 1000 years after the birth of Jesus, when St Francis of Assisi asked the Pope if he could stage a nativity scene in an Italian cave with an Ox and a donkey.

All the information, or should I say, what little information we have about the first Christmas, can be found in the Gospels of Luke and Matthew.

Firstly we have no idea how Mary got to Bethlehem, no donkeys are mentioned. 

We don’t know where Mary and Joseph stayed, no Innkeepers are mentioned or any stables. We do know that Jesus was laid in a manger which leads us to think that there were animals there. No. no mention of any oxen, sheep, cows, chickens or lobsters.

An Angel did appear to the shepherds on the hillside to tell them of Jesus’ birth, but it doesn’t say that he sang.

We know that some shepherds came and some Kings. Well, actually, no, not Kings. Magi. Magi were wise men, probably astrologers. And there were three, right? Well, we don’t know. They bought three gifts but there could have been 5, 6 or 20 of them.

But surely we know when all this took place. Well, the latest on that is that, err, no, not really. Most scholars now put Jesus’ birthday as sometime from 7BC-2BC.

So once we strip it all back what are left with? Mary and Joseph somehow got to Bethlehem. It was busy as there was a census and they stayed somewhere with a manger. She had a baby. Shepherds came and wise men with 3 gifts.

So no donkey, no Innkeeper, no stable, no animals, no kings. Bit of a let-down really.

Or maybe we’re missing the point?

The biggest, life changing, revolutionary and most surprising birth in history had just happened. God had come to earth in the form of a vulnerable, helpless baby. Not born into royalty, in a palace to a King and a Queen but to an unmarried teenager and her boyfriend in a small run down town. 

God chose to enter our world in this way to show us the love on offer to each one of us through his son. Simple really. We can dress it up all we want with donkeys, wise men, angels, stables and Innkeepers but the message remains the same 1000’s of years later. God came as one of us to show us the way to live and the way to love.

So this Christmas maybe it’s time to strip it back. Maybe it doesn’t matter if it’s a 5 ft or a 6 ft tree, maybe it doesn’t matter that the Angel is a bit skew whiff on the top. And maybe Vogue will have to find another tree for their front cover.

Let us pray
Father, we thank you for all you have given us and most of all we thank you for your son Jesus Christ. We ask that you would help us to hold him in our hearts this Christmas and let the love you have for us overflow to our friends, families and neighbours.

Rev'd Kia

Sunday 18 December - The  Fourth of Advent

Texts: Isaiah 7 verses 10-16, Matthew 1 verses 18-end

Emmanuel! God with us. What do those words mean to you or are they, to be honest, just another part of the complex  jigsaw puzzle which is Christmas? We have all sung quite lustily I’m sure,  O come, O come Emmanuel, but how far have we allowed  those words to penetrate  into our inner conscience and thus, at least in part, reveal  the immense  depth of their meaning, or do they simply remain an unconsidered  part of the Advent, Christmas tradition. God with us! God here in this church this morning; God back in our homes; God in our villages and towns; God in the farthest flung parts of the globe. Can we affirm that this is what we truly believe or are we paying lip service to the idea that God truly, truly is ever present, ever with us? Now? This minute, tomorrow and all the days ahead and beyond this life to the life that lies beyond

If we go back to the times both before and at that of the birth of Emmanuel who is Jesus Christ our Lord God was regarded as truly awesome figure, the Holy of Holies kept hidden away from God’s children only to be approached once a year by the current High Priest. A God who was seen, I am sur, by most people of the time as utterly remote and as far removed from the ordinariness of their lives as it was possible to be. God was very much the province of the elite of society who provided others with a plethora of rules which must be adhered to if they were to worship God in the correct manner. Rules that, in effect, far too often prevented them from even beginning to come close to God.

And then we have Isaiah and, indeed, other prophets forecasting the actual physical coming of the Lord, the coming of Emmanuel, the coming of God into the very lives of ordinary people to walk and talk and eat with them, to share in their joys and more importantly their sorrows. What a concept! What an amazing concept far too hard, I think, for any to properly comprehend and even after Jesus was born people, including his own cousin John, queried again and again if he truly was the Messiah. Could this perfectly ordinary man be seen as being God with us?  If we had been alive then what would we have thought? Would we in all honesty have been able, like Peter, to say with utter conviction ‘You are the Messiah.’  I think I would have struggled, especially given the times and the way God was thought of then. We have had over two thousand years to assimilate the facts and to believe that Mary’s son whose name was to be Jesus was the one to whom Isaiah was referring and who would save us from our sins, would redeem fallen Israel, fallen Britain, fallen Coldharbour. Even now the concept if properly thought about is beyond our rational processes.

At the beginning of this talk I asked if we could recognise the presence of God in this church, in our homes, in our world, but now I ask can we recognize that presence actually within us or is that asking too much? When we sing those words from O little town of Bethlehem do we know what it is we are asking? ‘O holy child of Bethlehem, descend to us we pray; cast out our sin, and enter in, be born in us today. We hear the Christmas angels the great glad tidings tell; O come to us abide with us, our Lord Emmanuel.’ Will we know that Holy child descending right here into our parish of Coldharbour, our own  homes to redeem and save us in his infinite grace from all those sins that come between us and the utter purity that is God? 

In Old Testament times God was presumed to be kept separate and hidden away in the inner sanctuary of the Holy of Holies but now if we mean the words we sing we are recognizing that each and everyone of us provides an inner sanctuary for the presence of God, Emmanuel? We too, like Mary, can be enabled by the power of the Holy Spirit to give birth to that holy child.  Can we pray  these words of St Patrick and know their incarnational truth: Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ in me, Christ beneath me,  Christ above me, Christ on my right, Christ on my left, Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit, Christ when I stand, Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me, Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,  Christ in every eye that sees me, Christ in every ear that hears me.

Just a week until we go with the shepherds to see that thing which has come to pass, to hear the song of the angels glorifying God in the highest and in the lowest and, as we kneel in wonder and awe at the mystery that is the incarnation of Emmanuel with us, the  life that  is the light of all people that has come to our fallen world, pray that the Christ Child will also be born in us and that we may  bear a glimmer of the light that is God’s love to all whom we meet and in that meeting see the responding glimmer of the love within them.

Virginia Smith

Sunday 11 December - The Third of Advent

Kia's homily for today is in two parts - each focussing on our readings

Reading: Luke 1 verses 26-38

The angel Gabriel is sent with an extraordinary message to Nazareth, to an unmarried girl called Mary. She will miraculously bear a child who will be the Son of the Most High, the promised Messiah who will sit on the throne of David and will rule over Israel for ever in a kingdom that will never end.

Familiarity with the Christmas story often makes us overlook the details.

First, in this culture, as in the rural middle East today – a woman had to belong to someone, and her sexual purity was enormously valued. So at a relatively young age – anything from 12-14 – a marriage would be arranged with someone suitable.

There would then follow a legally binding engagement – the pledged to be marry part – in which the girl stayed with her parents under supervision. Only after this did the formal wedding occur; after which, she moved to her husband’s house. 

These traditions are important in understanding what happens with Mary, who is in the ‘in-between stage’ of the marriage process: still with her parents but legally bound to Joseph.

What happens is remarkable…

Consider the time.

At least 400 years have passed since the last book of the Old Testament was written. Silence has fallen on God’s people.

Consider the place.

Nazareth was as far as you could get from the Temple in Jerusalem and there were longstanding suspicions that here the Jewish faith – and the Jewish people – had become polluted by the non-Jews. ‘Galilee of the Gentiles’ is the term used in Isaiah 9. It is not a promising place.

Consider the person.

Given Mary’s youth, the status of women and that nothing is said to her parents, we may presume that she was, in effect, of no significance. That is reinforced after Jesus is born and she and Joseph give offerings for the infant Jesus: they give the sacrifices expected of poor people.

A nobody girl in a nowhere town at a time when Jewish history appears to be going nowhere.

There is an encouragement here – we may sometimes think that we can’t make much of a difference – a bit of a nobody, in an out of the way place with nothing much going on. But you never know – we may well be in for a heavenly surprise!

Let’s carry on with the story with our second reading.

Reading: Luke 1 verses 46-55

The announcement that Gabriel makes to Mary is probably one of the most extraordinary statements ever made to anybody. It’s not just that she will have a son from a miraculous conception but that in him all the prophecies of the Old Testament will be fulfilled. The promises she is given are utterly overwhelming and, as she heard them, I wonder if Mary wrestled with three emotions.

Mary must have been afraid.

We perceive angels as harmless, but from what we learn in the Bible, angels are holy and powerful, even wise and saintly people are reduced to quivering wrecks. How would we feel if one was to approach us?!

Mary must have puzzled. – perhaps a slight understatement!

The promises are so extensive and extraordinary that even to try and take them in must have been demanding – if not, near impossible. You can imagine half a dozen questions surfacing in her mind. Who? What? Why? When? And of course – Why me?

Mary must have faced doubt.

What is promised seems to go beyond everything remotely believable. She must have felt that the angel had got the wrong village, the wrong house,  the wrong Mary. Indeed, Mary feels obliged to point out to the angel the basic facts of biology: as a virgin she is going to find producing a baby a little difficult!

Yet Mary’s final response is mindblowing and worthy of praise.

‘I am the Lord’s servant; may it be to me according to your word’. And the Magnificat we have just heard expands on this acceptance and utter confidence in the truth of the angels’ words.

There is a contrast here that shouldn’t be overlooked: Zechariah the priest, old in years and full of knowledge, dithers over the angels’ words; Mary, a teenager, simply says, ‘May it happen as you have said’.

There are at least two things we can learn from this.

First, don’t let inexperience, lack of knowledge or youth make you think that God can’t use you. Christianity has had two thousand years of the church as a professional organisation, full of educated people, yet, as he did with Mary, God often makes a detour around so called ‘professionals’ and instead uses people who do not meet the usual criteria.

Second, when you feel God nudging you to do something, just say yes. But, as Mary’s example demonstrates, even when fear, puzzlement and doubt are in the air, obedience to God is the best policy.

As Francis of Assis said – ‘Start by doing what is necessary; then do what is possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible’.

So let us take a moment and consider what saying yes to God in our own lives would look like.

Has something been nagging at you, has God been encouraging you to get in touch with someone, to build bridges, to step out of your comfort zone? To go deeper with him in your discipleship? 

But life isn’t as straight forward as just saying yes and then we follow a straight path. It’s a great start but then the journey just begins.

We can often find ourselves echoing Mary’s words – in some translations it says ‘She was much perplexed’.

Life throws us a curve ball – we are led out of our familiar spiritual territory and into Holy bewilderment as we spend a lifetime of pondering, wondering, questioning and wrestling. This is necessary if we want to grow in our life as disciples.

And we are in good company.

Our Yes to God is our first consent to a lifetime of adventure as we learn what it looks like to live life to the full. But it is not without its confusions as we try and live our lives within the constructs of this world with all the paradoxes surrounding us.

This is of course what Mary has to do in the aftermath of Gabriel’s announcement. She has to consent to evolve. To wonder. To stretch. She has to learn that faith and doubt are not opposites – that beyond all the easy platitudes and pieties of religion, we serve a God who dwells in Mystery.

If we agree to embark on a journey with this God, we will face periods of bewilderment.

But this frightens us, so we compartmentalise our spiritual lives, trying to hold our relationships with God at a sanitized distance, removed from our actual circumstances. We don’t realise that such efforts leave us with a faith that’s rigid, inflexible, and stale.

In his wise and beautiful memoir, My Bright Abyss, Poet Christian Wiman writes,
Life is not an error, even when it is. That is to say, whatever faith you emerge with at the end of your life is going to be not simply affected by that life but intimately dependant upon it, for faith in God is, in the deepest sense, faith in life – which means that even the staunchest life of faith is a life of great change. It follows that if you believe at 50 what you believed at 15, then you have not really lived – or have denied the reality of your life.

In other words, it’s when our inherited beliefs collide with the messy circumstances of our lives that we go from a two-dimensional faith to one that is vibrant and textured.

So, can we say Yes with Mary? Yes, to a God we can never fully comprehend, but trust in the bigger better plan. Can we trust that God is in charge. And are we ready to have our conception of that God change as we journey through our lives?

Big questions for Advent as we wait. Wait for the baby, wait for the man and wait for God to birth something new in each one of us.

Rev'd Kia

Sunday 4 December - The Second of Advent

Texts: Isaiah 11 verses 1-10,  Matthew 3 verses 1-12

This is the Sunday in Advent when we remember the part that John the Baptist played in the coming of our Lord. John the Baptist who came to fulfil the prophesy of Isaiah of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.

And as I was thinking about writing this homily I was struck by the idea that in John the Baptist and Jesus we have a ‘bad cop’, ‘good cop’ scenario. Two men who outwardly, at least, appear completely different, be it in their clothing, their life- style or their teaching and preaching.  John, the lonely fiery preacher whose austere life style was one of genuine abstemiousness with his camel hair clothing and eating what was surely a very strange and minimal diet. Compare him to Jesus, who was far more of a bon viveur whose clothing included a rather upmarket seamless robe and who really relished and enjoyed a convivial meal with good food and drink. John who spoke with distaste to the people who flocked to hear him calling them vipers and warning them in no uncertain terms of the wrath to come if they did not repent and change their ways. Jesus who spoke words of love, healing the sick, feeding the hungry. Could there be such a marked contrast? Yet, surely, at heart they were the same in wanting people to turn away from all the temptations of the material world and the evils that such temptation lead to and find, instead, the straight path that leads to God.

And here it is interesting that Isaiah spoke of the straight paths in his prophesy for by the time John was born the Romans were in power and, as we all know, they were dab hands at building remarkably straight paths. Straight paths which we can still travel on today and wonder just how straight they are compared to the ‘rolling English road.’ So, surely, when John told the people he was the one to make straight the path for the Lord they would immediately have understood the metaphor. The Romans built their roads to lead to the centre of imperial power; the Lord’s roads which John began building lead to the seat of divine power.

And to make these paths straight for the Lord meant that people had to sort out the tangle of all the diversion in their lives, reverse the wrong directions they had allowed themselves to be led into and generally straighten themselves out.  

The sort of preaching which John engaged in is no longer popular today; we do not have hell fire sermons, or at least I haven’t heard any of late. But, that said, we do need to be aware that we may need considerable straightening ourselves if we are to travel on that divine road without being diverted by signs that direct us to the temptations and frivolities of the material world. Signs to byways that can look so alluring compared to the seemingly monotonous direction of what at times may appear the endless straight road.

And this season of Advent is, of course, intended to become that time of preparation for the coming of the Lord and once it really was a penitential season where there was no suggestion of the riches that accompany Christmas but, in its place, fasting and prayer; a contemplative time, a holy time.  But now some two thousand years since all the miraculous wonder and awe of the coming of the Lord, might I suggest that fasting has given way to a plethora of pre- Christmas parties where we are tempted by so much festive food,  with not a locust in sight, and in place of prayer a general frantic bustling as we try to create that perfect Christmas that the advertisers are so expert at portraying and tempting us to emulate, regardless of cost.  Quite what John would make of it all I dread to think but I suspect that he would, if nothing else,, be saddened that so many seem to be travelling on roads which are far from straight and which draw us away from that divine road. What I do know is that any mortifying of the flesh will come after Christmas as you hope to remove both those extra pounds of body weight and of increased  debt after all the eating and spending.

This is not a hell fire sermon, and I doubt if I could give one however hard I tried, but that said I do seriously think that we do need to reflect upon just what road we are attempting to travel upon to reach Bethlehem. Is the road we are on so off the beaten track of true Advent preparation and so full of twists and turns demanded by those tempting sign posts that point to the delights of material stopping places that, assuming we do arrive at that humblest of birth places, we are too exhausted, too drained to take in what we are seeing or hearing? Glitter and sparkle detract from that one brilliant Christmas star ablaze in the darkness of the night sky; Christmas jingles and raucous jollity drown out the singing of the angels; demands of others take us away from the imperative to worship in complete humility alongside the shepherds; the shepherds who had indeed left everything of previous importance in their lives to race down the straight road to Bethlehem.

I pray that all of us can accept that we may well need to readjust our Satnavs to ensure that we, too, like John are making the path straight for our Lord and that travelling on this path, the way of peace, we may like the shepherds be guided to the very heart of Christmas, to be enfolded within the love of God revealed within the Christchild.

Virginia Smith

Sunday 27 November - The First of Advent

Texts: Isaiah 2 verses1-5, Romans 13 verses11-end

I’d like to start by telling you a story. It’s from a book called ‘The Orthodox Heretic’ by Peter Rollins. It’s called awaiting the Messiah.

‘There is an ancient story that speaks of a second coming of the Messiah. It is said that he arrived anonymously one dull Monday morning at the gates of a great city to go about his Father’s business.

There was much for him to do. While many years had passed since his last visit, the same suffering was present all around. Still there were the poor, the sick, and the oppressed. Still there were the outcasts, and still there were the righteous who pitied them, and the authorities who exploited them.

For a long time no-one took any notice of this desert wanderer with his weather-beaten face and ragged, dusty clothes – this quiet man who spent his time living among the sick and unwanted. The great city laboured on like a mammoth beast, ignorant of the one who dwelt within its bowels.

The story goes that the Messiah eventually decided to reveal his identity to a chosen few who had remained faithful to his teachings. These people met together in a tiny, unknown church on the outskirts of the city to pray and to serve the poor.

As the Messiah entered the modest sanctuary one Sunday morning, his eyes fell upon the tiny group huddled in the corner, each one praying and weeping for the day of the Lord. As they prayed, those who had gathered in the church slowly began to feel the gaze of Christ penetrate their souls. Silence began to descend withing the circle as they realised who had entered their sacred home.

For a time no-one dared speak. Then the leader of the group gathered her courage, approached Christ, fell at his feet, and cried, “We have waited so long for your return. For so many years we have waited patiently for you to come. Today, as with every other day, we prayed passionately for your arrival.

Then she stood up and looked at Christ in the eyes:
Now that you are with us we have but one question.

Christ listened, knowing already what it would be.
“Tell us, Christ, when will you arrive?”

The Messiah did not answer but simply smiled. Then he joined the others in their prayers and tears.

He remains there still, to this very day, waiting, watching, and serving in that tiny, unknown church on the outskirts of the city.

In our Bible readings we have heard from the prophet Isaiah who is pointing to a time of peace and communion with God, and in Romans, Paul is urging his listeners to awake and be ready for the return of Christ. Both speak of a time to come, a time in the future but with a need to be ready and alert for what is to come.
A time of waiting.
A time to prepare.
A time to wake up.

Advent is a time rich in symbolism. Darkness to light. Asleep to awake.

But these things don’t just happen. There is a transition period from dark to light, asleep to awake. A transformation occurs.

The darkness gradually recedes and gives way to the dawn and if you’re anything like me it takes a little while to come to, out of a deep slumber to fully functioning.

For most of us it is the same in our walk with God. There may have been a road to Damascus experience when our scales fell away from our eyes and suddenly we saw the world clearly for the first time or, more likely, we have had to rub our eyes quite vigorously at times as we blink in the strong sunlit reality of God’s world.

We live in the now and not yet times. We have had the incarnational mystery of Jesus showing us how to live life in all it’s fullness, but we operate within the twilight of our fallen world where it is not easy to shine brightly 24/7; where it is easy to confuse the morals of the world with its success driven, materialistic culture with our own success in life.

The story I read at the beginning is challenging. Would we recognise Jesus when he comes again, or would we be so caught up with our own troubles and woes that although he stood before us we could not see him? Would we know what we were even looking for?

We have a great gift to help us to navigate in this world, to help us to recognise Jesus, to guide us, renew us, encourage us and affirm us. God knew these times would be tricky so he gave us the Holy Spirit. We have the capacity within us to live in the light, to wake up to God’s reality and to be signposts for others who are searching.

How bright is our light shining today? How can we ensure we stay close to God, to stay awake, to thrive and flourish now in the waiting?

By being church is one way. And what I mean by that is by supporting each other in our Christian faith, praying together, loving each other, allowing God to use us by sharing the fruits and gifts of the Holy Spirit with each other and those we meet – demonstrating love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

These are attractive qualities and will attract attention in our self-centred society, and, if we allow it, will point to Jesus.

This Advent as we wait we can lean into and glean strength from God with us, Emmanuel, and the Holy Spirit shining his light before us, around us and within us as we share the love of Jesus. We have a great gift to offer the world but so often we hide it. Let us uncover our light this advent and not be ashamed to tell others what gives us hope, what gives us strength and what gives us the power to love others as God loves us.

Let us pray,
Father, help us to surrender to your love and your will in our lives. May we shine brightly for you this Advent season and may others see something of you in us we pray. Amen.

Rev'd Kia Pakenham

Sunday 20 November, Feast of Christ the King

Texts: Jeremiah 23 verses 1-6, John 18 verses 33-37

Just a short time ago a prince stood by the bed of his dying Mother and as she drew her last breath on this earth he transformed not from a frog to a prince but from a prince to a king. To effect this transition nothing more was required of him; his lifetime destiny was fulfilled without any effort on his part, it just happened in the space of a moment as that last breath of his Mother the Queen was expended. Nothing outwardly had changed and yet for him everything had changed as he was acknowledged as King Charles the Third and we all learned to sing God save the King after all those years of singing God save the Queen.

How different was our Lord’s assumption of his true sovereignty for it could only be realised through intense and agonising pain both physical and mental and it was with his own last gasping breath that the crown was truly his. No longer a mockery of a crown made of piercing thorns but the crown of heaven which established him as ruler over all. Not just a ruler of Israel or some other single nation but ruler of all the kingdoms of this earth. The notice pinned above his head proclaiming him to be King of the Jews was made in jest but that dying breath revealed it was, in fact, no jest but the realisation of God’s will that His Son should come and give his life for us, his adopted children, that we might know the truth of a divine monarch reigning over all his children , his subjects.

Today we celebrate that kingship and I always regard this festival as one of the really joyous ones with its regal red colourings and such wonderful hymns as we are enjoying this evening which glorify the majesty of Christ. And, of course, for us in Coldharbour it is also our patronal festival to give us all the more reason to celebrate with joyful thanksgiving. To celebrate having a King who is so unlike any other monarch that has ever been. To celebrate a king whose rule is a complete paradox compared to that of earthly rulers, which is why Pilate had such difficulty in comprehending the sovereignty of Jesus; a sovereignty which is completely real and yet not of this world.

This is a King who is often referred to as a servant king; a servant king who washes the feet of his subjects; a servant king who touches the leprous and the sick; a servant king who feeds his people; a servant king who ultimately makes the supreme sacrifice that of giving his life for us. There can be no comparison between Christ the King and our earthly rulers although, at times, we can see in the lives of exceptional monarchs like our late lamented Queen a true sense of a commitment to lifelong duty and service.

King Charles, whatever his personal inclinations may be, must, as Head of State, reflect the aspirations of this nation to be of far more importance than its size would indicate and hence the need for royal palaces and royal gardens and for sumptuous state occasions, full of pomp and ceremony. Whereas Christ the King has no such trappings; Christ the King reflects the aspirations of His Kingdom by simple acts of love and care, acts of compassion and respect for all. Simple acts which are clothed, not in regal purple, but in all the majesty and wonder of God’s love for us.  Simple acts which we, as his subjects, are called to emulate and make central to our lives if we are to truly serve him. Four lines of our last hymn this evening say it all: ‘As thou Lord has loved for others, so may we for others live. Grant, O grant our hope’s fruition: here on earth thy will be done,

Christ our King and Saviour grant that by the power of the Holy Spirit  we may be inspired to serve you; that filled with breath anew we may love what thou dost love and do what thou wouldst do. Amen

The Kingdom by R S Thomas
It’s a long way off but inside it
There are quite different things going on;
Festivals at which the poor man
Is king and the consumptive is
Healed; mirrors in which the blind look
At themselves and love looks at them
Back; and industry is for mending
The bent bones and the minds fractured
By life. It’s a long way off, but to get
There takes no time and admission 
Is free, if you will purge yourself
Of desire, and present yourself with
Your need only and the simple offering
Of your faith, green as a leaf. 

Virginia Smith

Sunday 13 November, Remembrance Sunday

Rembrance Sunday image22

Why are they selling poppies Mummy?         
Selling poppies in town today
‘The poppies, child, are flowers of love
For the men who marched away.’
‘But why have they chosen a poppy, Mummy,
Why are the poppies so red?’ 
‘Red is the colour of blood, my child                      ,     
The blood our soldiers shed.’

‘The heart of the poppy is black, Mummy,
Why does it have to be black?’
‘Black, my child, is the symbol of grief
For the men who never came back.’
‘But why, Mummy, are you crying so?
Your tears are giving you pain.’
‘My tears are my fears for you, my child,
For the world is-FORGETTING AGAIN.’

Lord grant that we may never forget and learn to live in trust and in love for all your people.

There were those who believed that they were giving themselves to build a world for us. They died for the future, for an ideal world that we could live in, an earth at peace. Now it is our turn to strive for peace on earth. War is not only made by statesmen. It is made by us, ordinary people who strive to achieve our own selfish ends, quarrelling and hating as we pursue our petty, sordid, self-seeking quest. We can make peace, with God’s help, if we have faith, and hope, and love for one another. We are responsible for peace. Let us begin here, to build what the dead of the wars left unfinished. Perhaps we were not worth dying for; but without their sacrifice we would not be alive today.
Let us thank God for them and let us honour them.                    Michael Davis

And as the war in Ukraine continues, a war which is almost on our doorsteps and which has left such destruction and grief in its wake  it is perhaps time to pray again the prayer written  at the beginning of this terrible conflict back in February by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York.

God of peace and justice, we pray for the people of Ukraine today. We pray for peace and the laying down of weapons.  We pray for all those who fear for tomorrow, that your Spirit of comfort would draw near to them. We pray for those with power over war or peace, for wisdom, discernment and compassion to guide their decisions. Above all, we pray for all your precious children, at risk and in fear, that you would hold and protect them. We pray in the name of Jesus, the Prince of Peace. Amen

Virginia Smith

Sunday 6 November, All Souls

Only a few weeks ago I am sure most of us here were glued to the television to watch what has to rate as one of the most impressive funerals ever staged with its mixture of ceremonial pomp and heartfelt, incredibly moving and quite beautiful worship. The funeral of our beloved Queen Elizabeth the Second was one that I am sure none of us will forget. But I wonder if, like me, you found the tears simply would not stop coming and I seemed to have a permanent lump in my throat for most of that day and indeed also when  the following day I read the newspaper reports of that long, long  funeral day? 

I have never met the Queen; she was neither a slight acquaintance nor a close and much loved friend but, in a way, I did know her,  just as all her subjects did both here and in the Commonwealth. She had been a part of my life, from the time when I remember I had a much treasured book about the two little princesses to that last final farewell. And reflecting afterwards as to why I was so moved, why the tears would come, I felt the answer lay in the fact that in some way I could not begin to explain her funeral represented, in part, the funerals of so many in which I had attended whether as a member of the congregation or as the officiant.  So many funerals and yet at the majority I held back the tears, even when it was a baby funeral but now, suddenly, this extraordinary State Funeral let loose tears not just for the Queen and her grief stricken family but for all those I’d known who have been commended and committed into the eternal love of God.

You are all here today to remember with love and, quite probably, with tears those whom you have witnessed travelling from your longing to God’s care and, if you are like me, those memories were also tugging at your heart strings on the day of that State funeral. But I do pray that all those memories are deeply precious to you and that each one in some way reflects the love, the affection, the fun and also the sorrows that you shared. Cherished, wonderful memories that are stored in your very own Memory Library where each and every one is, I am sure, truly well thumbed. Simple memories such as of hearing one’s name called to come in for supper or of the hand sewn blanket made by a beloved Grandmother. Some memories will be yours alone and others you will happily share, maybe with someone who has that same incident in their Memory Library or else in the course of a conversation where it seems appropriate to bring it out and show it to others. I know, with my clerical collar on, I will, when appropriate, share the memories of my children’s illnesses with parents at the beside of a sick child, or my own personal experiences of grief with those who need the reassurance that they are not going mad and that grief can be the cruellest taskmaster.  But, as I do this, I never forget that these memories are superseded by the wealth of good memories, of magical memories, of thankful memories and that all these memories are tinged with my Christian faith that our earthly deaths are not and cannot be the end. A faith that Her Majesty held and bore testimony to throughout her life as she continued, no matter what, to serve this nation with fortitude, courage and dignity until God called home such a long serving and truly faithful servant.

And there is, I think, one other memory, or rather memories, in our box that we may not even be properly aware of and that is the memory of all those times when we were made so acutely aware of God’s presence in our lives and the lives of those we loved. The God to whom we lift our eyes; the God who never sleeps but watches over us and always cares for us; the God who upholds us when grief strikes us down;  the God with whom, ultimately, we will dwell for ever in the home his Son Jesus Christ has prepared for us, When we are struggling with those tear laden memories let us look for those possibly dusty memories and bring them  from the box and feel again the wonderful uplifting reassurance of hope in God’s infinitely compassionate and caring love for each of us his children. A love which will never desert us in this earthly life and beyond. I would like to end this reflection with the words of part of a poem by Malcolm Guite.

Lines which  so cleverly contrasts  the act of remembering with that of being re-membered, that is  made whole again through his love. 

The night withdrew and joy came in the morning, when I remembered that I was remembered. That even through the bitter tears of mourning I was sustained. The darkest powers were hindered in their insidious work within my soul. And I was held together and remembered by your unceasing love.

They are not dead who leave us this great heritage of remembering joy. 
They still live in our hearts, in the happiness we knew, in the dreams we shared. 
They still breathe, in the lingering fragrance, wind blown, from their favourite flowers.
They still smile in the moonlight’s silver, and laugh in the sunlight’s gold. 
They still speak in the echoes of the words we’ve heard them say again and again.
They are not dead; their memory is warm in our hearts, comfort in our sorrow.
They are not apart from us but part of us.
For love is eternal, and those we love shall be with us throughout all eternity

Being a fifth Sunday, when we have a Benefice service, there was no service in Christ Church on Sunday 30 October

Sunday 23 October

Celebrating the 150th Anniversary of the Birth of Ralph Vaughan Williams

Texts: Psalm 104, Luke 15 verses 1-11

Vaughan WilliamsHaving a compliment paid to one can be a very pleasing experience although we also recognize that sometimes they can convey a hidden message such as ‘You are looking well.’ being code for ‘Oh my goodness you have put on weight!’, so I wonder what Dr Ralph Vaughan Williams would have made of this tribute paid to him by a lady admirer: ‘I liked it when Mr Vaughan Williams played the organ sometimes. I admired him immensely because he was tall and nice and played so beautifully.’  Being tall and nice being given preference over his musical abilities and what about that word ‘sometimes’ which certainly allows for two very different interpretations. But maybe I am being unjust to the lady in question as she did go on to say ‘he seemed to make the organ speak.’ Mind you Vaughan Williams could also provide a slightly mixed compliment as on the occasion he wrote of Miss Ault, once organist here in Christchurch, as a ‘most efficient player’, and who, at a recital, played pieces which were ‘simple and mostly of the very best.’ Mostly of the best?!

If you are, as I am a listener to Radio 3, you cannot but have been made aware that they were determined to celebrate the one hundredth and fiftieth anniversary of Vaughan Williams’ birth in a big way and we had programme after programme devoted to his vast catalogue of  musical opuses and to discussion of individual works as well as his private life. Vaughan Williams, our own local composer, who of course founded the Leith Hill festival which continues to this day and which he himself conducted for fifty years. His opus includes so much but what we will perhaps mostly remember today is his magnificent compilation of the English hymnal which contain hymns such as all those we are singing today set to some of his glorious melodies. 

Vaughan Williams, having had a spell as a proclaimed atheist when younger (over exposure to school chapel going can have that effect) then softened this hard line stance and became, in the description of one biographer, a ‘cheerful agnostic’. He loved the Authorised Version of the Bible, and a biographer again tells us that its beauty remained one of his essential companions throughout his life. And it was surely influenced by the beauty of the words, the beauty of the poetry that inspired him to write such often transcendental music to reflect, interpret, magnify and enhance that beauty. Music in which he wanted, perhaps more than anything else, to carry on and keep alight the great English tradition of choral church music down through the ages from Thomas Tallis to his idol Hubert Parry, who taught him to play the organ. Music which brings to worship a whole new dimension of uplifting and sacred beauty 

Just a ‘Cheerful agnostic’? Or was he in reality far more than that as he bore a lifetime of the most excellent and diverse musical fruit. Who, listening to the music we are hearing and singing today, will not have some experience of the sublime, which is the song of angels, the music of the spheres, the very presence of the wonder, magnificence  and the  mystery which is God Himself.  Perhaps, as we participate in the glories of this service, we will even be  blessed with a very real sense of transcendence. So, too, a piece like The Lark Ascending will surely lift our thoughts, our hearts heavenwards and it is no wonder to me that it is a piece so often heard at a funeral. And again, at Christmas as we sing O Little Town of Bethlehem the words and the tune so perfectly complimenting and enhancing each other do you, like me, have a frisson of sheer delight and joy as we celebrate once again the birth of the Christ Child with that carol? I wonder if Vaughan Williams would have possibly agreed though, maybe, not in the same words with the words of Hildegarde of Bingen ‘My new song must float like a feather on the breath of God.’ Isn’t that a wonderful image and isn’t it true of some of the music we are hearing today. 

Malcolm Guite wrote these words ‘We wait to hear the whole creation sing, but even here today, we start the song, begin the praise of heaven’s Lord and King.’ Thanks to all the delights and richness of the fruits that Vaughan Williams has left us, whether we are, in truth, contented agnostics or fully fledged, contented believers, we are given the means to open our ears, open our mouths, open our hearts and join in the harmonies of earth and heaven; to sing together with the angels  as surely Vaughan Williams intended us  to do in voicing our praise to the  glory of God  the Highest.’ And thus in such praise be filled with contented joy.

Virginia Smith

Sunday 16 October

Texts: 1 Kings 8 verses 22-30, Ephesians 4 verses 1-7, 11-16

We are just three days short of the original date in 1848 when this church was consecrated by the then Bishop of Winchester initially as the delightfully termed ‘Chapel of Ease’ and then, two years later, as a parish church in its own right. So we are just a year away from its one hundred and seventy fifth anniversary and I wonder how many people through the years have come to worship here; to be baptised, married or buried here. No doubt the registers could tell us but for us this evening it is the very fact that this beautiful church designed in part to reflect the beauty of holiness is still active and central to the community of Coldharbour. Reading the excellent potted history of the church on the website it makes clear that since its consecration there have been considerable changes to the structure including the cross beans which were inserted to ensure the walls didn’t bulge outwards and the roof to sag. Not something anyone would have wanted to happen. And, of course, in more recent years there has been the making of the Annabel room and the new lighting to list just two improvements of which I am sure the original architect Benjamin Ferry would have approved of, or at least I do hope he would.

But of course any church is, in effect, far far more than the building, for it is the people who come and worship that bring it alive and ensure that the space, within which was built to reflect the glory of God,  is filled with worship and praise to really bring that glory to reality. As we heard in our second reading we are all part of that church, the body of Christ, each of us bringing our own gifts to be used in building up and maintaining that body as healthy and hence promoting, as Paul writes, ‘the body’s growth in the building up in love.’  And just as the building itself has been altered and improved over its lifetime, so the worshipping body has altered and, I hope would agree with me, improved in some ways. For faith has to be a living faith, a vibrant faith and reflect the spirit of the times. Just as the new lighting has helped those with poor eyesight to see better and lit up even more effectively the beauty of the church’s features so, in our worship, we should surely look for new ways of worship to shed even greater light so that we can rejoice that we are given increased insight into the glory that is the gospel of Christ. Greater insight and understanding into the mystery that is God our Father both for those who count themselves cradle Christians and those who are new to the church or on the fringes of faith.  This does not, of course, mean dispensing with all the old ways, such as this beautiful service of Evensong with all the wonderful poetry of its much loved words, but this is not, and cannot be, for everyone. If we stuck simply to the Book of Common Prayer how quickly would the walls bulge outwards and the roof sag.  We need the crossbeams of more modern worship and imaginative and easily accessible liturgy and music to ensure the wellbeing of the structure of the Body of Christ here in this parish of Coldharbour. Just as none of us ladies here would like to be encased in the whale bone corsets of those Victorian ladies who first attended this church, so we need to think if we are still tending to keep our worship within similar corsets, making worship for some restrictive and uncomfortable. All of us, I believe, need to feel free to use all our many gifts in the power of the Holy Spirit with imagination and with an innate sense of what makes worship come alive, and fill this church with wonder and delight at being together as one body in the presence of God.

Whether Christ Church will celebrate another one hundred and seventy four years of its consecration is not for us to worry about but guided by the hand of God let us endeavour to use all our gifts as one body to ensure we celebrate its two hundredth with worship which continues to keep alive the beauty of holiness and the glory of wonder expressed in word and music in this sacred space

Virginia Smith

Sunday 9 October

Text: Luke 17 verses11-19

Just how good are you at saying Thank You? Are you unfailingly polite or maybe let’s be honest a tiny bit casual with your ‘thank you’s’, your expressions of gratitude? And here I can admit to what makes me really explode with some decidedly unflattering language and that is when I have oh so generously made space for another car to pull out in front of me and not a suggestion of a thank you. Grrrr! I’m quite sure this does NOT apply to any of you. Likewise, my daughter was also expressing herself forcibly as to the failure of a nephew to acknowledge the present she had sent for his birthday. 

In today’s age, writing thank you letters is probably a pretty rare occurrence among the so-called Generation Z and Millennials; in other words those aged between seven and forty- one, but they can of course express their thanks by texting, e-mail, Whats App Groups and using their mobile phones to actually voice their thanks. Whereas those of us who feature at the other end of the Generation Scale may at the very least still write a pretty notelet to express our gratitude for a gift or being treated to some delicious meal. 

But, given that customs chang,e does saying ‘Thank You’ matter or is it a form of etiquette which is a bit old fashioned? And thinking about this I am reminded of that amazing queue of people who wanted to witness the lying-in-state of our late lamented Queen Elizabeth and in so doing express their thanks for her incredible example of life-long service and duty to this nation and its people. So no! I am sure thanks are still very much a part of life but maybe our sense of gratitude has, in some instances, been replaced by a sense of entitlement. And here I note how many more complaints our hospitals receive from aggrieved patients and families than genuine thanks for their completely free treatment and for staff who, although not perfect, (and who is?,) work extraordinary hours to try to effect the healing of those in their care. Is this a perfect modern-day example of the nine who never offered Jesus, the supreme healer, a word of thanks, and the one who turned back and showed true gratitude for the miracle of his cure from the dreaded disease of leprosy? Have we all been unwittingly feeding our sense of entitlement, be it to medical care with not a waiting list in sight, education, clean water, well stocked supermarket shelves or indeed our assumed place on our roads?

Have we forgotten just how incredibly blessed we are in this country even when the media is trying to intimate that everything is a disaster and we are living in a time of crisis which is robbing us of our presumed entitlement to cheap energy, cheap food cheap interest rates etcetera, etcetera.  Which is why the poem so beautifully read by John (See below) is so relevant this morning as it recognises that everything in our lives, and I mean everything, is bound up with other people from all around God’s world. How often, if ever, do we say Grace before meals or just start right in as soon as the food is placed in front of us again with that unrecognised innate sense of entitlement to good nourishing food?

God’s world! A world which is crammed full with blessings and the greatest blessing of all surely being that of being counted a child of God, loved and cherished by him even when we sin including the sin of ingratitude when we forget to stop and give him our heartfelt praise and thanks. Again, let us think of those nine lepers who took their healing for granted and recognize, too, how much we simply take for granted and never give a proper thought as to the need to thank God, thank others both known and unknown.

There is a special slot on Radio 4’s Saturday Live programme when individuals express their belated thanks to someone nameless who has in some form of emergency helped them and, because of the circumstances of that event, never properly thanked them. It is a beautiful slot as it reminds us of just how selfless, kind and good perfect strangers can be to those in need and it is touching that the memory has never been allowed to fade and belatedly the thanks are expressed. I recommend a listen one Saturday morning or of course hear it on BBC i player or Catch-up! 

And again, reflecting on all this how often do we properly give thanks for this beautiful church and for the opportunity to worship here week by week with your very own Rector to shepherd and guide you. My brother in the Isle of Wight has not had an incumbent at the church he goes to for over three years, and they have only one Communion service a month taken almost always by retired clergy with Permission to Officiate. Think closer to home of St Mary Magdalene South Holmwood, whose future now they are no longer permitted an incumbent of their very own remains in doubt. For you to have your own Rector albeit shared with Abinger and one as gifted and pastorally sensitive as Kia is I consider a most wonderful blessing and yet I know that like all clergy she will, from time to time, be the butt of complaints and moans, some of which will result as yet again a sense of entitlement as to what you can expect from her forgetting she is but one human being and as such not  and cannot be super human

Gratitude is I strongly believe meant to be an intrinsic part of our Christian faith and thanks and praise should surely be a part of all our prayers. If we are to be like the one leper who returned to give thanks nothing must be assumed, nothing taken for granted but instead we need by the inward working of the holy Spirit to recognize all the blessings of life we encounter day after day all through our lives and give over and over again our wholehearted thanks to a God whose generosity towards us his beloved children knows no bounds. 

I awaken before dawn, go into the kitchen and fix a cup of tea
I light the candle and sit in its glow on the meditation cushion.
Taking my cup in both hands, I lift it to my Lord and give thanks.
The feel of the cup against my palms brings the potter to mind
and I offer a blessing for his hands.

I give thanks for the clay, the glaze and the kiln.
I take a sip and follow the warmth into my body.
I offer a blessing for those who brought electricity to my home,
who dug the ditches for the lines,
who built my home and put in the wires,
who made my tea kettle and brought me water to fill it.

I take a sip and bless the people in India or China who grew the tea,
cultivated it, picked and dried the leaves, took it to market,
handled it through the many transactions to bring it to my home.
I take a sip and bless those people in Florida, California or Central America
who grew the tree that blossomed into flowers.

I give thanks for the warmth of the sun and the rain which turned the blossoms into lemons,
and I bless the hands that picked the fruit, sorted it, touched it as it travelled from the orchard to my table.
I take another sip and bless the hands of those who provided the sugar
which sweetened the tea, harvested the cane, processed it,
bagged it and sent it on its way to me.
I take another sip and lift my cup in gratitude as I feel the interconnection of my body now with theirs,
my blood now with theirs,
my bones now with theirs,
and my heart fills with love for all of creation.
I give thanks.                         Helen Moore

Virginia Smith

Sunday 2 October - Harvest Festival for Abinger and Coldharbour inChrist Church

Harvest Prayers
Led by Lucy Pakenham, assisted by Kia

As we pray my assistant is going to help us – so you may need to keep your eyes open!

Let us pray:

Father God, we come to you this morning to give thanks for your world, to pray for those in need and to ask that your kingdom will come.

See this farmhouse loaf.
It is a large loaf, enough to feed many.  It  reminds us of God’s bounty and provision.
We give thanks for the earth, it’s beauty and abundance and ask forgiveness for the times we have wasted it’s resources and not cared for the environment as we should.
May we always remember to be thankful for all that we have been given and for those who produce our food.

See this wrap.
It has been rolled and stretched thin.
It reminds us of those occasions when we feel stretched and stressed and feel we cannot take or do any more without breaking.
We pray for all who feel they are at breaking point because they have too much to do or because they are in pain.
Help us to recognise our limits, to rest and seek your peace.

See this bagel.
It has a hole.
It reminds us of those holes in our lives where we feel something or someone is missing.
We pray for all who feel lost or lonely, for those who slip through the holes in society.  Help us to be aware of your love and to share that love with others.

See this bread roll.
It is a smaller version of a loaf, similar and yet different.
It reminds us of children.
We pray for all children everywhere, especially those who struggle to be children because poverty or lack of family forces them to be like adults.
Help us to support the children and families in this area.

See this pitta bread.
It is plain and dry.
It reminds us of the places in our world which are dry, where crops do not grow easily, and where just having enough to eat, however plain, is a luxury.
We pray for people everywhere who are hungry and give thanks for aid workers and foodbanks.
Help us to support them however we can, through our prayers and our giving.

See this “best of both” bread.
It uses a mixture of white and wholemeal flour.
It reminds us that difference does not always need to lead to conflict.
We pray for the parts of our world where there is fighting.
Give wisdom and courage to all those with influence and bring your peace.

The earth is fruitful , may we be generous.
The earth is fragile, may we be gentle.
The earth is fractured, may we be just.
Creating God, harvest in us joy and generosity as we together share in thanks and giving.

Kia's Homily

We’re going to start with a little quiz.
I’m going to give you a line from a book or a film and you’re going to tell me where they’re from.

Start with an easy one.
‘Please sir, can I have some more?’

‘Now he wasn’t hungry any more- and he wasn’t a little caterpillar any more.’

My mama always said, ‘Life is (was) like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.'

“As God is my witness, I’ll never be hungry again.” 

“A census taker once tried to test me. I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti.” 

“Fish are friends, not food.”

‘Just one more wafer thin mint’ 

“I’ll get you for this, (Wonka) if it’s the last thing I’ll ever do! I’ve got a blueberry for a daughter.”

Food is one of life’s great pleasures – but as Augustus gloop found, you can have too much of a good thing!
What can you eat just one more of?
For me I can never say no to chocolate, for Guy it’s just one more prawn – what might it be for you? What have you always got room for?
The thing with food is even when you’re full to bursting, eventually you get hungry again.

Our reading this morning follows on from the feeding of the five thousand where, despite there only being five loaves and two fish, Jesus performs a miracle and all the thousands of people eat their fill with baskets left over. 

Their food was scarce, yet Jesus made it plentiful – extravagantly so with leftovers. What does this tell us about God? Partly it speaks of God’s abundance – it speaks of his demonstrative love in wanting to shower us with good things. But, as Jesus goes on to explain in our passage this morning – it is pointing to a deeper meaning.

All our appetites are insatiable – we are always left wanting more of this worlds limited resources, whether that be food, clothes, popularity or money. We are all addicted to the drug of ‘more’.

Jesus offers us an alternative.

‘You see what I did on the mountain with the bread and the fish - I gave you more than you need, more than you could eat. I want to do this with your life.

Come to me and I will satisfy your needs – I will more than satisfy your desires’.

When the disciples demanded more miracles like Moses in the desert Jesus redirects them to God.

It was not Moses but God who provided the manna. It is God, through Jesus that provided for the hungry on the hill. It is our belief and faith in God that quenches our demand for more. 

In relationship with Jesus we can find the contentment and the peace we are so desperately seeking.

We can look all we want, search for satisfaction in the temporal things of life and eventually and when we discover that they can’t ultimately satisfy our cravings for more, we can stop, pause and maybe try a different way.

Jesus says to us ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty’.

Who doesn’t want that?!

So today we celebrate the season of Harvest. We give thanks to God for his ample provision, his extravagant abundance and perhaps most of all we thank him for the living bread we have in Jesus.


An early Harvest Festival used to be celebrated at the beginning of the Harvest season on 1 August and was called Lammas, meaning 'loaf Mass'. Farmers made loaves of bread from the fresh wheat crop. These were given to the local church as the Communion bread during a special service thanking God for the harvest.

So it is very apt that this morning we are celebrating communion together with fresh bread and have a wonderful display from our very own master baker Mr Neville Trussler!

Sunday 25 September, 15th After Trinity

Texts: Psalm 91 verses1-6, 14 – end; 1 Timothy 6 verses 6-19

How often have we heard the saying ‘the love of money is the root of all evil’, or even ‘money is the root of all evil’?

As is so often the case with the bible this has been misquoted and misinterpreted by those who would rather use the bible as a stick to beat with than by a tool of love to inspire with.

What Paul actually wrote was ‘for the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pieced themselves with many pains’.

The important words, it seems to me are the small ones – a, kinds and some.

The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. And some have wandered away from the faith.

Money in and of itself is not evil with a capitol E but can lead to distorted values and consequences if our hearts are not first and foremost devoted to God.

Money can be a contentious topic to talk about and a fiercely private one. We tend to keep our finances pretty close to our chests.

I wonder why this is?

Do we feel guilty for having money? If so is it because we have echoes of this passage reverberating in our heads – voices telling us that having money is basically a bad and selfish thing?

Well, fundamentally this is not what these verses are telling us.

Paul is instructing his dear loyal child Timothy in all that is wise and true about the faith so that he can pass on these teachings to his disciples.

Paul is concerned about the motivations and the intentions of Christs’ followers.

This letter presents a vision of household ethics that brings together instructions on Christian godliness, outlines some potential pitfalls and reminds Timothy and the hearers of their public commitment and confession of faith.

So we too can hear it as such.

I’m focussing here on the passage concerning money and being rich, as it is the one most often misheard and the one we perhaps shy away from but within this letter the overriding message is for us to keep firm in the faith; not to be swayed by cultural or materialistic transitory comforts and to know, really know with our whole hearts that a life lived in all it’s fullness depends on us surrendering to God and his way of life.

There is no illusion that this will be easy. Paul recognises this as he uses battle speak to drive home his point – ‘fight the good fight of the faith’.

We will be blown, swayed and tempted but we must stay true to our own good confession made at our Baptism and Confirmation and in the creed we recite each week; that our foundation is in Christ Jesus and our hope and salvation rest in him and not in the temporal things of this world.

For those of us who are rich – and we here represent the top 1% of the world – so all are rich – we have added responsibility.

Money affords us freedom and choice and with freedom and choice comes temptation and harmful desires.

In our marriage we have had periods of wealth and periods of poverty; periods of spontaneous frivolity and periods of being sensible.

We haven’t always been good stewards of our money but mercifully we have a forgiving and compassionate God who delights in our goodness and desire to do his will, even though we stumble and fail.

Money can be a burden if held too tightly if we have a mindset of entitlement. 

So often we hear statements like ‘well, I’ve earnt it, I’ve worked hard for this, it’s mine’, and we build walls around it, become over protective and want to defend it at all costs.

But what if we were to acknowledge that all is gift; the talents with which I earnt my money are a gift from God, my health which enables me to continue earning, is a gift from God. Then perhaps we wouldn’t hold onto our riches so possessively.

Our response to our riches would be gratitude, thanksgiving, and a desire to share with the have nots.

A few years ago Guy and I had a similar vision – that the next chapter of our life would be do something in Ministry together.

Guy has enabled this; through his gifts and talents in business I have had the freedom to offer my services here unpaid. God’s grace has given us the freedom to choose, our financial stability has given us the freedom to choose this way of life, to put God first, to hold riches lightly and to recognise that all is gift, all is grace and through that God has granted us a life in all it’s fullness. **

Don’t get me wrong, I can be as materialistic as the next person – I have a weakness for cars and clothes and the nice things in life and I have to keep this in check daily. It’s a choice and I often choose badly, but I am trying!

Paul is reminding us through Timothy that riches are just a means to an end, part of the tool box in helping build God’s kingdom – in sharing, with humility with those that are less financially fortunate.

The accumulation of wealth is not the goal, the goal is to pursue righteousness – that is being right with God – godliness – what would love do – faith, love, endurance – don’t give up – and gentleness.

Money is not bad but as Paul reminds us in this passage ‘we are commanded not to be haughty, or to set our hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but rather on God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. We are to do good works, be generous and ready to share, thus storing up for ourselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that we may take hold of the life that really is life.’

Money and the pursuit of wealth must not detract us from this, but held lightly, with gratitude, responsibility and humility we can demonstrate one of Jesus’ final commands stated in Johns gospel, ‘By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another’.


Kia Pakenham

Sunday 18 September - Commemorating the Life of Queen Elizabeth the Second

Readings:  1 Corinthians 15 verses 20-26, 35-38, 42-44a, and 53-end, Revelation 21

To begin I would like to share with you five little snapshots, as it were, of our late lamented Queen Elizabeth the Second. The first is one which must be known by millions of people not just in this country but around the world and that is Her Majesty having tea at Buckingham Palace with Paddington Bear and producing that marmalade sandwich from her handbag. The second, which is really two together, is of Her Majesty receiving both the outgoing Prime Minister and his incoming replacement just two days before her death when she was clearly very unwell but still immaculately dressed and as always so gracious. The third is that heartrending one of the  lone veiled figure attending the funeral of her beloved husband Philip. The fourth are the pictures of the Queen and Prince Philip at her Diamond Jubilee travelling down the Thames in a cavalcade of boats stalwartly standing for no less than four hours with little protection from the cold wind and the rain. . And the last again is a montage of photos of the Queen all in black attending the annual Service of Remembrance and in which at least one she can be seen to wiping away a tear.

To me, the Paddington vignette I consider the equivalent of the decoration on the cake that is made up of all the quite extraordinary and remarkable ingredients of the Queen’s life.  And I have to say that I find it in some way a little sad that for so many people this could be their lasting memory of the Queen rather than so many others which are the true substance of that cake. Of course that sketch was great fun as was her role as a ‘Bond Girl’ ten years previously Sketches we all loved and which did show quite brilliantly a Queen who could unbend from all the demands and duties of her constitutional role  and who had  a truly lovely sense of humour and a ready wit to which all those close to her have readily testified.

But it is my other memories that point to the true character of the Queen and her unique sense of unparalleled duty and devotion to service which I do not consider any other world leader could, or would claim, to match. Each of the other four vignettes I have chosen to describe point to a woman who never once shirked her duty; never once took advantage of her supreme position; never once put herself before the needs of the people to whom she had promised a lifetime of service. And also, it has to be recognised, a woman who throughout her monarchy had so often , in effect, had to walk alone. Walk alone as the Head of State, our Queen, our Defender of the Faith who outranked all with whom she associated.  Yes, she may have had a Private household to help and advise her; she certainly had the unconditional support and love of her liege Lord Prince Philip but at the same time she must at times surely have felt the loneliness of her position, the loneliness resulting from her supreme rank.

And, thinking and reflecting on this, it was surely at such times that it was from  her lifetime of  faith that she derived  the support, the guidance and the comfort that only God can give.; the teachings of that faith that provided  for her ‘a  framework in which I try to live my life.’  And it was in her Christmas broadcasts, especially those of latter years, where she spoke so naturally and confidently of the faith that lay at the centre of her life and inspired all that she did. To quote from just three of them In 2008 her words were: ‘I hope that, like me, you will be comforted by the example of Jesus of Nazareth who, often in circumstances of great adversity, managed to live an outgoing, unselfish and sacrificial life … He makes it clear that genuine human happiness and satisfaction lie more in giving than receiving; more in serving than in being served.’

In her 2014 Christmas broadcast the Queen said: ‘For me, the life of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, whose birth we celebrate today, is an inspiration and an anchor in my life. A role-model of reconciliation and forgiveness, he stretched out his hands in love, acceptance and healing. Christ’s example has taught me to seek to respect and value all people of whatever faith or none'. And finally, in 2020 the Queen said: This is the time of year when we remember that God sent his only son “to serve, not to be served”. He restored love and service to the centre of our lives in the person of Jesus Christ. It is my prayer this Christmas Day that his example and teaching will continue to bring people together to give the best of themselves in the service of others'.

Sacrificial service, accountability and a genuine and caring respect for all people; surely these were the qualities which, inspired by her faith, above all provided the hallmarks of the late Queen’s reign and which we too are called to emulate in our own lives. 

A faith which I feel must surely have led her to have implicit trust in the words of both our Bible readings today which point with complete certainty to a life beyond this one. ‘When this perishable body puts on imperishability and this mortal body puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will be fulfilled; “Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where O death is your victory? Where, O death is your sting?” and, in the words of Revelation, ‘Death will be no more'.

As each of us have our own little  and memories  of the life of the Queen; that often lonely life graced only by the presence of God in her life; may we too share her faith and in that faith try to live out her legacy by emulating her example of duty, of service and of kindness all graced with good humour and a smile for all whom we meet and share, if not our marmalade sandwiches at the very least the blessings which life has given us with others.

 ‘We continue to be inspired by the kindness of strangers and draw comfort that - even on the darkest nights - there is hope in the new dawn'. 

Virginia Smith

Sunday 11 September - Remembering Queen Elizabeth the Second

Theme Thoughts

This morning we are going to hear a parable for our reading.

Parables are a wisdom genre. They belong to mashal, the Jewish branch of the universal tradition of sacred poetry, stories, proverbs, riddles, and dialogues through which wisdom is conveyed. 

We can see the razor edge of Jesus’ brilliance as he takes the familiar world of mashal far beyond the safety zone of conventional morality into a world of radical reversal and paradox. 

He is transforming proverbs into parables—and a parable, incidentally, is not the same thing as an aphorism or a moral lesson, it’s more like a paradox. 

Their job is not to confirm but to uproot. You can imagine the effect that had on his audience! Throughout the gospels we hear people saying again and again, “What is this he’s teaching? No one has ever said anything like this before. Where did he get this? Where did he come from?” 

Stories were Jesus’ stock-in-trade, the main medium by which he conveyed his message. The parables occupy 35 percent of the first three Gospels. But one of their most surprising features is that they are not about God. They are about weddings and banquets, family tensions, muggings, farmers sowing and reaping, and shrewd business dealings. God is mentioned in only one or two.  Jesus obviously wanted us to look closely at this world, not some other one. It is here and now—all around us in the most ordinary things—that we find the divine presence. 

 While some stories aim at changing one’s perception of the world, Jesus wanted people to see that the world itself was changing, and that therefore, they had better change the way they looked at it. He invited them, in effect, to become part of the change.

Time after time he said, “They that have eyes to see, let them see, and they that have ears, let them hear.” He simply wanted people to pay attention to what was going on around them and to discern a reality that was just under their noses. To describe this change he used a term that his listeners would have found familiar, though they might have been startled by the way he used it. He called it the coming of the “reign of God.” What he meant was that something was happening, not just in the consciousness of the listener, but also in the world itself. Something new and unprecedented was happening, and they could be a part of it. 

The Reflection

I started worrying about what kind of ground I was on with God. I started worrying about how many birds were in my field, how many rocks, how many thorns. I started worrying about how I could clean them all up, how I could turn myself into a well-tilled, well-weeded, well-fertilized field for the sowing of God’s word. 

I started worrying about how the odds were three to one against me—those are the odds in the parable, after all—and I began thinking about how I could beat the odds . . . by cleaning up my act.

That is my usual response to this parable. I hear it as a challenge to be different, as a call to improve my life, so that if the same parable were ever told about me it would have a happier ending, with all of the seed falling on rich, fertile soil. 

But there is something wrong with that reading of the parable, because if that is what it is about, then it should be called the parable of the different kinds of ground.

Instead, it has been known for centuries as the parable of the Sower, which means there is a chance, just a chance, that we have got it all backwards. We hear the story and think it is a story about us, but what if we are wrong? What if it is not about us at all but about the sower? 

What if it is not about our own successes and failures and birds and rocks and thorns but about the extravagance of a sower who does not seem to be fazed by such concerns, who flings seed everywhere, wastes it with holy abandon, who feeds the birds, whistles at the rocks, picks his way through the thorns, shouts hallelujah at the good soil and just keeps on sowing, confident that there is enough seed to go around, that there is plenty, and that when the harvest comes at last it will fill every barn in the neighborhood to the rafters?

If this is really the parable of the Sower and not the parable of the different kinds of ground, then it begins to sound quite new. The focus is not on us and our shortfalls but on the generosity of our maker, the prolific sower who does not obsess about the condition of the fields, who is not stingy with the seed but who casts it everywhere, on good soil and bad, who is not cautious or judgmental or even very practical, but who seems willing to keep reaching into his seed bag for all eternity, covering the whole creation with the fertile seed of his truth.

Our Queen knew the generosity of the Sower in her life through the good times and the bad. Her sense of duty and of service was empowered by her love of God and of his Son Jesus Christ who was her strength and her constant companion.

May we too know this extravagance of love in our lives and may it be our guiding light in times of joy and in times of trial.

Let us pray

Father, it is hard for us to comprehend the extravagance of your love for us and for all your children. As we sit here this morning would you touch us afresh with your Holy Spirit, open our eyes, our ears and our hearts to receive the truth you have for us – that we are loved extravagantly and unconditionally and accepted by you.


Kia Pakenham

Sunday 4 September, 12th after Trinity

Texts: Psalm 139 verses 1-7, Luke 14 verses 25-33

The news at the moment is full of tales of collapse and point to a failure to build properly; to build for the future and not just for the present. With the energy crisis coupled with climate change we begin to realise we are woefully unprepared, not having invested nearly enough in renewable energy or in better and improved water supplies.

We have relied upon outside interests to provide much of what we need and now find those interests do not coincide with ours and again we are gravely unprepared, akin perhaps to the example in our gospel reading of finding we have not enough resources to equip or sustain us, or at least negotiate with our enemy.

So much of what is done both by governments, businesses and indeed individuals is short term and often done for immediate profit and not for long- term prosperity and the well- being of all. 

Look back at say Victorian times when they invested in both the provision of mains water for everyone and a railway system that served even the smallest village and recognise that there is no such forward thinking or similar investment today. Quick fixes which are all too prevalent are not the answer.

And thinking of ourselves as individuals, maybe we can recognise that we have built some pretty shaky structures ourselves which are not strong enough for present times. Humanity has built on ever more comfortable, even luxurious living and are now discovering we cannot afford to maintain that standard.

I’m sure some of us here remember waking up to ice on the inside of the windows and the horror of chilblains – and we certainly don’t want to return to those times but I think there maybe a need now to think far more carefully as to just what heating I can afford and how to use our resources more wisely and cost effectively – indeed this is now surely a necessity. 

So too with food; do we really need all the expensive imported food or can we learn to live more simply and still be nourished just as we were in the last war despite rationing?

And here I must emphasise that the last thing I want to see in this country are people who are cold, hungry and in the utter despondency and hopelessness caused by mounting debt but I do feel that we have somehow allowed, and perhaps become complicit, in the building of a very unequal structure which is causing so many to despair.

And in line with Jesus’s words in the gospel I think maybe we have to seriously reassess whether we have been building beyond our means and without adequate resources  and how we can make sacrifices as a nation to rebuild something which we can afford and which will prove of long standing worth to future generations.

Sacrifice is not a word I’ve ever heard our politicians bandy around but maybe it is time they did. Just as in wartime people knew that in order to win that war  they were called upon to make sacrifices common to all.

As Christians the idea of sacrifice is well understood but might I suggest that it is something more people need to recognize for the good of all and indeed for the good of our threatened planet? Is it time for us to say we have become too materially rich and have built luxurious but fragile structures for ourselves which now look decidedly shaky in the light of all that is happening in today’s world? 

Again and again our Lord preached the gospel of humility and of poverty. The one shirt, the one pair of shoes, the lack of a healthy bank balance and a wallet full of credit cards and which of us could claim that this is now true of our way of life? Have we allowed ourselves to become too soft, too comfortable, too unprepared even and hence incapable of standing up to the enemies that now beset us?

And it is not just sacrifice that I feel we are called upon to enact now but even more importantly trust in the Lord our God. The Lord our God who as it says in the opening words of psalm one hundred and thirty nine knows us infinitely better than we know ourselves. Had we heard more of that psalm we would have read these words ‘If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light around me become night”, even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you.’ 

The media daily paints a picture of darkness and of dismal negativity, and we are continually treated to stories of misery and unhappiness filled with complaints and whinges, and yet surely as Christians we are called to build solid and wonderful structures of hope, of positivity, of gratitude for the countless blessings of life based on the bricks and mortar of our faith. We are called to go out armed with the unconquerable power of the gospel which speaks of God’s incomprehensible love for all his children to defeat the enemies of despair, hopelessness and victimhood and help rebuild a society where our reliance is on mutual love, selflessness and generosity and not on an accumulation of wealth and an unhealthy seeking after ever more comfort, ever more ease of living. Think of the example of Job who was stripped of all his wealth, stripped of his family, stripped of his health and still retained his faith in God. What an example for us to follow as we try to rebuild, restructure a better way of life for all God’s children. 

I’m aware this talk has been a little heavy, so I’d like to end on a positive note! As you know Virginia writes a poem weekly for her colleagues’ at the hospital – so this is a little reminder that although times can be tough, there is always joy to be discovered.

The news is so bad it can make you quite
Blue but here are a few more fun things to do.
Soak in a bath and forget all your troubles
As you puff out your cheeks to blow perfect soap
bubbles. Or simply go out and buy some to blow,
they’ll surely make your happiness grow.
Watch a glorious sunset illumine the sky,
It’s a painting of genius no money can buy.
Or try skimming stones across a lake or the sea
I’ve never scored more than a miserly three.
Or sneak to a playground when no one’s about,
Swing as high as you can and then give a shout.
It’s a brilliant way to work off frustration,
And leave you with such a joyous sensation.
Try sucking a Polo Mint so it doesn’t crack,
To meet with success requires quite a knack.
All simple things but they make you more cheerful,
And stop you thinking of things which are tearful.
And once again I do urge you ‘share smiles’,
They really can lift up your hearts for a while.
And sharing a bear hug is quite the best thing to do
Guaranteed to banish all those thoughts that are blue!


Kia Pakenham

Sunday 28 August, 11th after Trinity

Text: Hebrews 13 verses 1-5

My husband Colin has many talents, but sadly DIY is not one of them! If anything in the house needs to be fixed, he will just say, ‘We’ll have to get a man in.’ This is fuel to the fire in my feminist soul and so I immediately (and rather rashly) start looking for instructions as to how to fix said problem – the internet, old DIY manuals, etc and do my best to solve the problem. Unfortunately, the instructions are not always enough and we still have to get a man – or woman – in!

The Bible as a whole is our instruction manual for life and shows us how we can have a relationship with God. He has also sent us a man – Jesus to fix the problem of sin and show us in person how this manual works.

The letter to the Hebrews was written by an unknown author between 50 and 70AD as a specific instruction manual for Jewish Christians living in a society, like ours today, which doesn’t always conform to the morals of Christianity. It’s theme is the importance of Jesus – his one perfect sacrifice of himself replaces the old animal sacrifices which the Jews had to make for forgiveness of sins.

Our reading from the final chapter of Hebrews sums up these instructions with 5 marks of Christian living: Hospitality, Compassion, Faithfulness, Contentment and Worship

The first instruction is to be hospitable both to those we know and to those we don’t.

The Greek word used in verse one ‘Let mutual love continue’ is ‘Philadelphia’ which, if you remember one of Kia’s sermons where she talked of the 4 words for Love in Greek, means ‘brotherly love’. We are to care for our brothers and sisters in the church family. 

Verse 2 goes on to tell us to extend that care to strangers and prisoners – perhaps not as easy as caring for those we know – to be compassionate. 

By showing hospitality to strangers, we may even ‘entertain angels’. There are stories in the Old Testament of Abraham, Gideon and Manoah doing just that, but what about now? Well, the word ‘angel’ in Greek means messenger and I wonder if I met such an angel once. Some years ago, I met an amazing young woman called Nicky, whose life was directed by Jesus’ command to the disciples in Matthew 10 to travel the country and preach the Gospel. She obeyed this command, only carrying a Bible, no money and not even a change of clothes, relying on the hospitality of people she met, sleeping in church porches if there was nowhere else. We spent a day talking about faith and praying together and she then moved on, refusing to take any money but trusting in God for her next appointment! As I said – amazing! I was certainly blessed by my encounter with that stranger!

As Christians we are asked to care for prisoners as though we suffer with them – we may not all be able to visit prisoners, but there are many charities we could support that help those in prison and their families in different ways. In David’s sermon last week, he reminded us of Mother Teresa’s hospital where each poor and starving patient was treated as if they were Christ himself – this is what Jesus taught us when he said “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” (Matthew 25:40)

The next couple of verses talk about the sanctity of marriage and the danger of loving money – both attitudes are as counter-cultural now as they were 2,000 years ago. 

If we are faithful and trust in God, he will provide all we need – we can be contented not covetous, always wanting someone else or something more. The American financier Bernard Baruch was asked, ‘How much money does it take for a rich man to be satisfied?’ He replied, ‘Just a million more than he has.’ In this country, we are so much better off than the majority of the world who struggle just to survive and yet we all strive to have a better house, a smarter car or even (in my case anyway) yet another pair of shoes! Contentment comes from being happy with who we are and what we have, not from always wanting more.

Jesus said ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you’: This promise is the foundation for contentment. We can’t count on material things, but we can always depend on God. He is always there for us.

This lovely passage written so many years ago and yet still so relevant to us, contains practical instructions and wonderful promises – 

So, we are commanded to be Hospitable, Compassionate, Faithful and Contented and lastly to worship and praise God, in thanks for all he has given us.

We can’t earn his favour and we no longer need to make sacrifices of animals to gain forgiveness of our sins. We’re not all expected to travel the country preaching the Gospel like Nicky, but we are asked to not only worship God by praising him and praying to him but also by living according to his instruction manual. In fact, Jesus condensed these instructions still further so that even those who don’t like long instructions can follow – “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the greatest and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.”

And as verse 16 in the reading from Hebrews says, ‘Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have.’ 

The Message version of the Bible expresses it like this: Make sure you don’t take things for granted and go slack in working for the common good: share what you have with others. God takes particular pleasure in acts of worship – a different kind of ‘sacrifice’ that takes place in the kitchen and workplace and on the streets.

May God give us all the grace to live well, wherever we are – as he has instructed. 


Hilary Swift

Sunday 21 August, 10th after Trinity

Texts: Psalm 103 verses 1-8, Luke 13 verses 10-17

If any of you have known someone with scoliosis you will know just what a disability it is, with some sufferers bent almost at a right angle from the waist and, like all back ailments, it can, but not always, cause considerable and grindingly relentless pain.  Can you imagine not being able to walk upright?  Can you imagine always needing a stick or maybe two sticks and know, too, that with each year the curvature of the spine will most probably worsen? Can you imagine always having to lift your head if you need to look at anything other than the ground and know that there simply is no cure? So, imagining such a scenario we can fully understand I hope just what life was like for that woman who had suffered for no less than eighteen years; her back bent, possibly in considerable pain, and whose vision for the most part had to be restricted to the ground beneath her if only to ensure she did not trip over any obstacle and cause more damage. No wonder she wanted to approach Jesus although such an approach by a woman to a man would have been regarded with horror by a good many of the onlookers as it broke with the taboos within the customs of society at that time. But, in her desperation she simply did not care about taboos and what others thought of her. From all she had heard about Jesus her one and only hope of being cured was through his healing powers; only he could work the miracle which could release her from her bondage, her life sentence of disability.

And this is what he did with those simple but liberating words which must have seemed to her beyond price: ‘Woman, you are set free from your ailment.’ And instantaneously she found herself able to stand upright; to be a recognisable healthy woman rather than a bent and twisted cripple. Stand upright and be able to look around her; to look properly at this man Jesus and others present in that synagogue. Look, without the struggle of lifting her head, at the scenes all around her; look up to the heavens and marvel at such freedom to absorb all the wonder of God’s creation as she stood proudly upright once more. What an almost incredible transformation that must have been for her; what a life restoring moment; what a sense of utter joy must have radiated from her.

And, thinking about all this, I did wonder if maybe spiritually we are sometimes bent over with a form of spiritual scoliosis with our eyes on the ground and not lifted to heaven and all that is around us. Bent over by the worries and pains of our suffering world. Bent over by our own little, unsatisfied egos.  Bent over, perhaps, by ingrained tradition and over familiarity, leading to staleness with our forms of worship. In our Common Worship Communion service we begin the consecration of the bread and wine with the words ‘Lift up your hearts’ eliciting the response ‘’We lift them up to the Lord.’ But are these just over familiar words or do we, indeed, truly lift our hearts and feel that we are seeing, somehow, something of the wonder and the mystery that is inherent in that celebration and sharing of communion? Or are we keeping ourselves bent over in our own private world of seemingly solemn ritual and unaware of the joy that comes from truly lifting our hearts as one to our amazing, wonderful, omnipotent and almighty God? 

Long ago I recall preaching along the same lines and saying how so many seem to think that Communion is such a serious ritual that we leave the communion table with heads bowed instead of raised to acknowledge and share the joy of the occasion with others. Sharing a sumptuous meal in a restaurant or home, we would all be exclaiming over the richness of the food and the pleasure we took in the company with smiles and laughter. So why do we not do the same when we share all the riches of the incomparable feast Christ has given us? Why are our hearts not lifted up and our eyes too? Didn’t Jesus himself say ‘And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.’ 

Are we too bent over to lift our eyes to that figure on the cross and recognize there the supreme sacrifice made by God to reveal his love and his forgiveness of us, his children? And are we too bent over to lift our eyes to that second lifting up when the resurrected Christ was taken up into heaven to fulfil his promise that he would go and prepare a place for us that where he is we may be also? For me, both such lifting ups fill me with awe and with wonder at the mystery that is our God. The God who loves us so much, the God to whom our hearts should surely be raised time upon time.

We are the only species of God’s amazing and wondrously diverse creation who walk upright and surely it should not be only our physical bodies that walk erect but our spiritual bodies too.  Do we heed these words of David Steindel-Rast?  ‘We look with the eyes of our heart, are overawed by the wonders we see, and celebrate that vision by a gesture that taps the very source of life.’ In the same vein, Gregory of Nyssa wrote: ‘Who, surveying the whole scheme of things, is so childish as not to believe that there is divinity in everything, clothed in it, embracing it, residing in it? For everything that is depends on Him-who-is.’

That unnamed woman was, after eighteen years of suffering, of being bent over eyes focused on the ground, released from her bondage and able once more to stand straight and marvel at the vista before her. God grant that we too may be freed  by Christ’s healing words ‘you are set free from your from your ailment’; set free from any scoliosis of the spirit and be enabled to  stand spiritually erect and look up, look up to the hills, look up to the cross, look up to the reality of the risen Christ, look up to all the divinity that is in everything. And in that looking up feel the joy of freedom which will enable us to truly worship the Lord our God with hearts and hands and voices.

Look for the Christ by Ian Adams
This is an invitation to seek the Christ.

To look for signs of his presence.
To move from vague awareness
to the more intentional possibility
of presence

The seeking is not for proof, or for your own satisfaction.
But rather that in the seeking you will open yourself up
to a presence that is always present 
if often ignored.

And the tradition is clear-
this presence has both a personal 
and a cosmic-all nature.

The risen Christ will be with us- with you- always.

He is close.
Look for the Christ

Virginia Smith

Sunday 14 August, 9th after Trinity

Gratitude is not only the posture of praise but it is also the basic element of real belief in God  Joan Chittister 

The aim of spiritual life is to awaken a joyful freedom, a benevolent and compassionate heart in spite of everything.    Jack Kornfield                                            

When I looked up the lectionary gospel reading appointed for this Sunday my heart sank. Did we really want a dire warning of the end times with all its dire threat of fire and division between families? Haven’t we had to endure enough bad news lately? Bad news that is unrelenting and ceaseless it would appear, be it war, economic hardship, drought which incidentally has led to some horrendous fires, or the parlous state of the NHS just for starters.

And I thought no, that is not what we want just now but instead we need to boost our spirits, boost our sagging morale and remember that, come what may, we have the greatest gift of all that can never be taken from us and that is God’s love for us, His children. And in that recreated awareness give our praise and our thanks and, in so doing, will surely know that, come what may, we have a God in whom we can trust; a God who has promised his covenantal care for us now and for all eternity. The words of Catherine of Siena are so apposite here: ‘If you choose me as your companion you will not be alone, my love will be always with you. You will never fear anyone or anything, for you will find your security in me. With me as your companion you will live in the light of faith with hope and fortitude, with true patience and perseverance all the days of your life.’

These words are, I find, incredibly affirming and really help to remind me that however grim the news we should not fear, for, indeed, our security lies first and foremost in our trust in that ceaseless and unchanging love of God. And in acknowledging that affirmation we are surely then called to respond with praise and with thanks. Praise and thanks which are always so positive and indeed life enhancing and in giving them they surely help us to have a sense of the goodness of God, the joy of God surrounding us as we lift our hearts and maybe our voices as well to give him the glory.  Malcolm Guite expresses it with such poetic perfection in his version of Psalm 96 entitled Cantate Domino       Our Saviour, King and Shepherd calls us home
And on our homeward journey bids us sing,
To join that all- renewing song to him.

Which all creation sings. The valleys ring
With praises and the mountaintops rejoice;
The greenwood trees and meadow flowers bring

Their silent praise and call on us to voice
It for them in our songs, to worship him
In awe, in beauty, and in holiness.

It is not for ourselves alone we hymn
The great creator, for we lift our song
To voice creation’s praise. The drowsy hum

Of honey laden bees, the lovely, long
And lapsing sigh of waves along the shore,
And our own joy, must all make up the song. 

As Guite makes clear, our songs of praise and thanksgiving are integral to the praise we sense in all God’s miraculous creation and reminds us that, whatever airs we may give ourselves, whatever superiority we may assume, we cannot exist outside that creation. True joy comes from recognising that we are part of that wonderful amazing creation which God has gifted to us. And the words of Thomas Traherne confirm that belief: ‘It is an inestimable joy that I was raised out of nothing to see and enjoy this glorious world: it is a Sacred Gift whereby the children of men are made my treasures, but O Thou who are fairer than the children of men, how great and unconceivable is the joy of your love.’

And if you think I’m advocating escapism form the woes and worries which are current in today’s dysfunctional world, I’m not. I am not suggesting for one moment that, like ostriches, we should stick our heads in the sand and try to pretend none of this is happening. But I do think to always make praise and thankfulness central to our lives will help give us the trust, the confidence and the hope that we can weather the storms and God will bring us through them as history tells us he has done so many times in the past.

And as two examples of thi,s let us remember that at the end of the Last Supper Jesus and his disciples sang a hymn before going out into the darkness of that fateful night. What did they sing? The answer, albeit a guess, is that they would have followed the Passover tradition of singing what were known as the Hallel psalms; the psalms of praise which were psalms 113 to 118 inclusive. Psalm 117 epitomizes this sequence with just two verses filled with jubilant praise: ‘Praise the Lord all you nations! Extol him, all you peoples! For great is his steadfast love towards us, and the faithfulness of the Lord endures for ever. Praise the Lord.’ And somehow reading these words I can imagine Jesus singing his heart out to give himself the courage, the strength and above all the trust that he could face and would overcome all that lay in front of him.

And my second example is that of Maximilian Kolbe, a Polish priest who along with nine other concentration camp inmates were deliberately starved to death in retaliation for the escape of a prisoner. Kolbe who stepped forward to take the place of another man and who then led those men in prayer and hymn singing until one by one they succumbed to death. Kolbe who was the last one to die and in fact not from starvation but from a lethal injection since the guards wanted the underground bunker in which the victims had been incarcerated for other purposes.

It is surely such incredible examples which should inspire us to voice   our praise and our thanks for all God’s blessings which he gives us with such abundance.  And I am certain that having done that we will be strengthened and inspired  to go out and play our small but essential part in bringing the joy of loving and selfless  care to those in need in a suffering world.

Virginia Smith

Sunday 7 August, 8th after Trinity 

Text: Luke 12 verses 32-40

Are you always ready to receive the unexpected visitor or are there times when you just pray no one will drop in and be witness to the fact that neither you nor your home is as presentable as you would like them to be? I am fully aware of my habit of abandoning my Henry vacuum cleaner in the middle of a room or on the top or bottom of the stairs when I’ve had enough of that particular chore and there the poor creature can well sit for a day or two before I realise that perhaps I should finish the task I started. The other day I popped around to my neighbours and was invited in, much to the horror of the man of the house who having completed a rum was sitting drinking a much needed beer in just his shorts and socks. I couldn’t have cared less that he was bare chested, but he was mortified and rushed off to find a clean, sweat unstained top.

So, what are our thoughts when we read the gospel for this Sunday? Are we expected to lead our lives in a constant state of high alert in case Jesus comes knocking at our door with both our homes and ourselves looking immaculate? Somehow, I don’t think this is exactly what Jesus was getting at and, indeed, I am sure he would not look at all askance at a dusty surface top or indeed a bare chest.

And the more I thought and reflected upon these questions, the more it seemed to me that what we are really called to do is not to wait in nervous apprehension for Jesus to come calling but to embrace him in the here and now as a part of our lives. To make him central to all that we do so that he is not a stranger but always a welcome integral and, indeed, essential part of our lives. And perhaps, most of all, we are called to be in the words of the gospel ‘dressed for action’ and with our lamps lit. Not dressed in the actual sense of wearing our best outfits to receive and honoured guest but dressed in the sense that we are always prepared to go to anyone who needs us and in whom we will surely find Christ himself if our lamps are well lit and able to reveal the Christ that is within all of us.

So, to me the answer to all this is make sure you begin the day with prayer if only to remind yourself that you have woken again to the blessing of being in God’s presence and just enjoy that time of quiet reflective peace to prepare you to make the best possible use of the gift of another day. And, of course, make sure you’ve washed and cleaned your teeth, made the bed and even done the washing up so you are at least able to answer the door to anyone who may come knocking without a hint of embarrassment, well apart from that abandoned vacuum cleaner! And surely, then you can have confidence that the time of prayer has helped recharge the battery of your lamp and you are literally dressed and ready to meet however unexpectedly the Christ who is to be found in others. 

And I think there is one other factor to be taken on board and that is that the waiting for Christ to come is not like the waiting for someone, anyone to answer the phone while declaiming ‘your call is important to us’, or the waiting in the lengthy checkout queue in the supermarket where everyone seems to have been buying for the next six months rather than merely the next few days. In both these and similar scenarios you are impotent to expedite the wait but just have to accept it, preferably with martyr like patience and only the slightest of mutterings under your breath at the time it is all taking. No, the waiting for Christ is, I think, far more proactive and, like Jesus and his disciples, it involves not sitting still and wondering to oneself when on earth it might happen but going about God’s business and being always alert to what you can be doing in His service. And I’ve already emphasised to be most of all alert to His presence in others whom we meet.

The coming of Christ will always remain a mystery but that does not mean as our reading emphasises that we can just ignore the possibility of its happening relegating it to some unknown and unforeseen future but instead take to heart the core message of this gospel passage to expect the unexpected and be ready always to respond with alacrity and willingness not simply to serve the Lord our God but far more importantly to meet with him.

Look for the Christ by Ian Adams
This is an invitation to seek the Christ.

To look for signs of his presence.

To move from vague awareness
to the more intentional possibility
of presence.

The seeking is not for proof, or for your own satisfaction.
But rather in the seeking you will open yourselves up
to a presence that is always present,
if often ignored.

And the tradition is clear-
this presence has both a personal
and a cosmic -all nature.

The risen Christ will be with us-with you-always.

He is close.

Look for the Christ

Virginia Smith

Sunday 31July, 7th after Trinity

Text Luke 12 verses 13-21

My children cannot but be aware that unless I decide to spend the rest of my life on round the world super luxury cruises or change my will to the benefit of either assorted stray dogs, cats, hamsters and the odd pangolin or maybe a weird religious cult they will in time inherit at least a penny or two. They will also, I fear, inherit, unless I manage to be incredibly proactive and ruthless which honesty dictates is highly doubtful, a house stuffed to the gunnels with the accumulated possessions of most of a lifetime, much of which will be of little value and will end up, quite probably, in a skip. At least they can console themselves that it is only a relatively small house and not two large barns.

But money and, maybe, the odd memento of Mum apart what else might I be leaving them? That of course is impossible for me to answer and I must leave it to them to decide what my non material legacies might or might not be. 

And all these thoughts have been engendered in part because of today’s gospel reading and in part because just recently I have been privileged to officiate at two funerals where the tributes were just so heartfelt and spoke not so much of actual achievements or of highly successful careers, but of the love, the friendship, the warm-hearted affection that had bound the family together. A love, affection and friendship that had rippled out far beyond the family and accounted for the fact that in both instances the churches were full. And here. it has to be said. that a church funeral somehow gives so much more scope for such tributes than a crematorium service where both time and atmosphere mitigate against providing any true sense of the spiritual however hard one may try.

In both instances the deceased had not been a regular church goer but church had not been absent from their lives, even if it was simply to observe the long held tradition of going to a Christmas service and, for the families, church was to them the only place in which they wished to make their farewells and pay tribute to their loved one.

So, I think for all of us the question has to be what would we most want our legacy to be? And here it must first be recognised that for the majority of people it will not be two barns full of grain whose price keeps on escalating. Yes, I’m sure the benefactors of our wills, and I do hope you’ve made one, might find a bit of extra wealth to be extremely helpful, if only to pay off a mortgage, get that first foot on the property ladder, pay off their student loan or quite simply to indulge in a new washing machine or a state of the art barbecue.. But, unless they are entirely mercenary and cannot wait for us to pop our clogs, what else would we like to feel we have bequeathed to them? What, if anything, have we garnered into our spiritual barns that will be treasured and in itself perhaps bring spiritual feeding?  Have we, indeed, been rich towards God? Difficult questions I know and ones, in a way, it is not for us to answer because so often we are completely unaware of the seeds we have sown which have then born fruit.

But if Jesus was warning his listeners of paying far too much attention to the material riches of life and harbouring ambitions to be able to simply sit back, relax, eat, drink and be merry in our old age, he was also very clear that it is incumbent upon us to be ‘rich towards God’. We may all have different ideas as to what is meant by this; some may argue for a life of prayer, others for an exhaustive study of the scriptures and others for good and selfless needs towards the poor, the captives, the blind and the oppressed. And here I think it is important to recognize that we are certainly blessed with different gifts and, as such, will use them, I hope, to the full in the service of God and thereby find our lives   enriched  as well as, one hopes, the lives of others.

Rich towards God? What can that really mean and how does it help make others see us? And here I am struck by words about St Francis that I read this week: ‘As anxious as Francis was to leave this world which he saw as a temporary place of exile, he saw in it not just a place of potential danger but a shining image of its Creator’s goodness. He saw the Artist in the art. He saw the Maker in all that he made. He rejoiced in the works of the Lord and looked through them to see the source of their being and their life. in everything beautiful, he saw Beauty itself. In all things he recognized and followed the footsteps of their Creator-his beloved. From all things he made a ladder on which to approach the King of Kings. In all things he found God and he begged these things to join him in praise of their Creator.’

I love the idea that from all the riches, all the blessings with which God fills our lives  we are enabled to build a ladder to approach the wonder, the majesty, the supreme being that is the King of Kings and in so doing find ourselves all the more enriched with our hearts full of praise.. Yes, our barns, our houses may be full of the accretions of a lifetime but our true riches surely come in knowing the presence of God in all we see, all we hear and perhaps most of all within the people we meet. The people who maybe unknowingly reveal to us all the richness which is the love of God and, in that revealing, call us to respond to others with the same overwhelming desire to share that love with others and thus ourselves find ourselves ‘rich towards God.’ 

I do not know if this is how our children will see us, but let us pray that in some way they are able to know and to recognize that our lives were, at least in part, engaged in that construction of a ladder reaching upwards towards our King of Kings from which we can sing our praises and somehow be enriched themselves to build their own ladders of love and trust in God’s bountiful goodness and care.

Receive, O Lord, all my liberty. Take my memory, my understanding, and my entire will.  Whatsoever I have or hold, you have given me; I give it all back to you and surrender it wholly to be governed by your will. Give me only your love and your grace, with these I will be rich enough, and ask for nothing more.  St Ignatius of Loyola

Virginia Smith

Sunday 24 July, 6th after Trinity

Texts: Psalm 85 Luke 11 verses 1-13

Just how many prayers have you said this week and what have you been asking God for? My guess is that between us we’ve racked up a great many prayers of almost every description from the seemingly trivial ‘please help to find me a parking place or my glasses’ to the deadly serious ‘please heal my loved one from cancer’ or ‘please bring peace in Ukraine.’ And then I am also sure that as well as these there have been silent prayers where you’ve just sought the peace, the comfort and the reassurance of God’s presence with you.

We are all, I’m sure, familiar with the saying ‘If you don’t ask you don’t get’ and this is exactly what Jesus seems to be teaching in our gospel reading but, given that so many of our prayers do not seem to be answered as we would like them to be, how can Jesus claim ‘Ask and it will be given to you’? ‘No it hasn’t’ I hear you say. My loved one has not been healed from cancer, the war in Ukraine is as bad as ever but then, if you’re honest, you did find that parking place or those elusive glasses. And here it is perhaps wise to consider just why the seemingly trivial prayers are answered and not the great big seriously important ones. And maybe the answer is that actually we don’t, in all honesty, need God for those trivial ones; one way or another there will be a parking place, even if not in the exact spot we’d like it, and those glasses will turn up, as I discovered for myself last week after they’d been missing for a week

But, in accepting this we are left with the problem of the big unanswered prayers and that is when we have to learn to accept the truth of the words of the Lord’s prayer which we heard at the beginning of the gospel reading. And, to begin, we have to learn to accept that it is God’s kingdom, not some imagined kingdom of our own making, that we want realised; that kingdom where there will be no more death, mourning, crying or pain, but is not, and cannot be realised, in all its wonder and mystery yet. Death and disease are intrinsic to our earthly life and although modern medicine means that many diseases can now be effectively treated and some even eradicated, not all can, and that, however hard, we may try to prevent it and seek ways to prolong life, death is inevitable until God’s kingdom is realised in its entirety. So, although we will always pray, often agonisingly, for those who are suffering, those whose earthly life draws to an end, we have to have the wisdom to sometimes simply put our complete and unquestioning trust in God and his purposes for our loved ones and for us. And perhaps that is when we most need those times of silent prayer when we just place ourselves and those for whom we have prayed into God’s care and simply allow God’s grace to enfold us in its calming and reassuring peace. Put ourselves into his hands and find the truth of the words of today’s psalm: ‘Let me hear what God the Lord will speak, for he will speak peace to his people, to his faithful, to those who turn to him in their hearts.’

Luke’s version of the Lord’s prayer does not include the words ‘your will be done’ but in a sense that is implicit in praying for the kingdom to come. Again, we need to have that complete trust that God knows exactly what he is doing and proved it by allowing his own Son to be put on trial and put to death in the cruellest manner possible. And we remember Jesus’s own words in the Garden of Gethsemane ‘Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done.’ Perhaps these are words we might well adopt when we are praying desperately for something to be radically different for our loved ones, for ourselves; ‘not my will but yours be done.’ And in the same way heed the words of today’s collect: collect and pray that ‘loving you in and above all things may obtain your promises which exceed all we can desire.’ Your promises of covenantal care and love for each of us in all circumstances and all times which supersede any longings and desires of our own.

And the last point I would like to make this morning is to look at the final words of today’s gospel reading; ‘If you then who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him.’ First of all, it strikes me forcibly that in these words Jesus is seeking to remind us that we are all his Father’s children and, as such, endowed by him with a plenitude of good gifts and blessings, but the greatest of these is the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives. The Holy Spirit who will be there with us as we pray and, if we allow him, guide and inspire the words of our prayers so that while they will always include prayers for individuals and for the burning issues of the day such as the restoration of peace in war torn countries and for genuine efforts towards climate change they also accept the reality that it is God’s will, his grace which must prevail if this kingdom is to be seen not just in the future but now. And in such acceptance, know the truth of these words from today’s psalm: ‘Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will kiss each other. Faithfulness will spring up from the ground and righteousness will look down from the sky. The Lord will give what is good, righteousness will go before him, and will make a path for his steps'. A path, I pray ,that we can all follow in complete trust and confidence that thereby God’s will is done.

A modern version of the Lord’s Prayer by Bill Wallace
O most compassionate life-giver, may we honour and praise you; may we work with you to establish your new order of justice, peace and love. Give us what we need for growth, and help us, through forgiving others, to accept forgiveness. Strengthen us in the time of testing, that we may resist all evil. For all the tenderness, strength and love are yours, now and for ever. Amen

Prepared by Virginia but delivered by Kia as Virginia was suffering from Covid.

Sunday 17 July, 5th after Trinity

Texts: 1Peter 3 verses 8- 15a  Luke 5: verses 1-11

Why choose uneducated most probably illiterate fishermen to be your especial disciples? Why, on earth, not seek out educated and widely experienced people to be part of your team if you really want to make a success of things? What if anything was special about four roughly spoken Galilean fishermen? And the answer in many respects has to be nothing at all, or at least not in the terms by which the world likes to make its judgements on such matters.

But when you look more carefully at the life of a fisherman at the time of Jesus, it is quickly apparent that these men did have attributes which helped make them the perfect choice for Jesus. Fishing at the time was a flourishing business thanks in part to the money invested in it by no less a person than King Herod himself and it is estimated that there were as many as two hundred and thirty boats working on the Sea of Galilee. These boats were sturdy affairs as they needed to be on such an unpredictable stretch of water, some twenty-three feet long and seven wide and could carry as many as eleven passengers: just the right number for Jesus and his chosen twelve. Fishing was done at night with a crew of five; four to row and one to steer and supervise, and boats would work alongside each other so they could spread the net between them to haul in their catch and, if successful, would maybe land as much as half a ton of fish from a night’s endeavours.

Such endeavours demanded not only considerable physical strength but also the ability to work as a team and alongside these qualities the philosophical outlook that not every night could result in a good catch; and the last quality required was an acceptance that this was dangerous work and that lives could be, and were, lost in the dramatically sudden storms that would arise over the lake.

Thus, recognising that those four men called by Jesus on that morning by the lakeside had such qualities it makes a great deal more sense as to why Jesus chose them. Physically tough to withstand the rigours of an itinerant and uncertain life; team players who knew what it meant to support and encourage one another and the realisation that they were involved in a way of life which would bring its own threats and dangers. As with all that Jesus did, he knew exactly what he was doing when he called them to become fishers of men. I think it is clear that Simon Peter, Andrew,  James and John could, were they so inclined, boast that they fully complied with those words written by Peter himself: ‘Finally, all of you have unity of spirit, sympathy, love for one another, a tender heart and a humble mind.

Thinking about all this I am, once again, aware of how the call to follow Christ, to make him part of our lives, is never based on a plethora of academic degrees or of being part of the elite of society, of the so- called establishment. This call is made on completely different principles to those we are now witnessing as the Conservative Party seeks to appoint a new leader. The call to follow Christ, to be fishers of men, I would like to suggest, goes to very ordinary people  who will never gain a place in our history books but, nevertheless, people blessed with a multitude of different gifts such as those of the four fishermen which he can use in his service. And here I would like to give two examples of the breadth of choice shown by God as he calls people to follow in the footsteps of his Son. My first example is that of Her Majesty the Queen who, although definitely a part of the establishment, was not particularly gifted academically but whose humble and certain faith has been such a shining example to all of us. Of how many other world leaders can one make such a claim? And my second example is of the lovely helper whom  I met when I took Holy Communion at Bramley House Care Home this week. She was constantly alert to the needs of those present, continually leaping from her seat to point to which part of the service we were on with such patience, such care and, indeed, with such compassionate love, and who later told me how important these little services were to her personally. It is just such people who spread their nets wide and bring others to faith. And again and again I am blessed by meeting such people, wonderful ordinary people and I do not mean to flatter when I say people like all of you whose faith is central to their lives and in ways you may never know bring others to faith.

I pray that all of you here may recognise the many many gifts with which you have been blessed, never thinking of them as worthless in any way, and in faith use them as those four first disciples did to be yourselves fishers of men and of course women too.

Become a Gift to those around you.
Sometimes you slip into preoccupation with yourself.
With your life, your direction, your losses and your findings.
The invitation here is to look outwards. 
To become a gift to those around you.
And you will become a gift by becoming truly  the person you  are.
By living the life that has always been waiting for you.
Your life aligned to the true North
Will be a life that offers hope for others.
Love for god and love for neighbour will become as one.
And quietly you will become a gift to all around you.

Virginia Smith

Sunday 10 July, Sea Sunday (see the Note at the foot of Virginia's homily)

Texts: Luke 10 verses 25-37

This homily has been written in response to two conversations in which I have been part of recently and which I have to say have greatly perturbed me and left me feeling so sad that some people are still what might be termed tribal or even ‘little Englanders’. The first was when in a conversation about how many shops had now closed in Dorking one of the people present erupted into an outraged diatribe that in Dorking, of all places, we should have a shop that sold Indian saris. The second was with two members of the St Peter’s Hospital Play Team one of whom is Polish and has lived and worked in this country for over seventeen years. Yet ever since Brexit she told us she has been subject to questioning as to just why she was still living in this country and even told that it was no longer a place where she was welcome. She said she was becoming increasingly uncomfortable living here which struck me as quite shocking Hence the following homily which is based on the lectionary reading for today and thus to my mind yet another gift from the Holy Spirit:

I confess I’m still feeling hopping mad after my brush with that man Jesus and frankly if I never see or hear of him again that will be fine by me. Of course, even before that day I had heard about him and had been told by several people all about his disparaging and quite unfounded criticisms of Pharisees and lawyers, such as having the temerity to refer to them as whited sepulchres, and had come to realise he was trouble; which was why I thought as a much respected lawyer it was incumbent on me to test him and try to uncover what he really was. Was he just a poorly educated carpenter’s son or, as people seemed to think, some sort of prophet or, as some were daring to suggest, the promised Messiah? Or was he as so many of us more intelligent people had begun to suspect simply a troublemaker, a rabble rouser, who needed to be put firmly in his place?

I knew he was always on about how people should lead their lives and it had not gone unnoticed that he was more than happy to break the religious laws if it suited his purpose and so I came up with my question as to what I must do to inherit eternal life; the answer to which naturally I knew but wanted his take on it. But instead of giving me an answer he countered it with two of his own; ‘What is written in the law? What do you read there?’ Well, if he thought he could trick me he was seriously mistaken as if there is one thing I do know about it’s the law in all its forms. So of course, I was quick with my answers as to loving God and loving one’s neighbour and of course he could do nothing but approve my answer. But then he has the temerity to tell me to ‘do this’ and that I would then live. As if I as a leading member of the establishment would do anything else. After all everyone knows I, as one of God’s chosen people, lead an upright, God fearing life and observe all the stipulated religious practices so what more did he expect of me? Which is why I challenged him again with what I thought was a really clever, astute question namely ‘And who is my neighbour?’ And with that he launches into this story about a man attacked and left badly wounded on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho which we all know is a dangerous place to travel especially on your own. And he’s good, I give you that, and he really made his story come alive with all sorts of brilliant touches and again I admit he had us spellbound. When he talked about the priest coming along and walking by on the other side you could see the people around me chuckling because, let’s be honest, some of the priests are just so high and mighty always preaching as to what we should or shouldn’t do but in reality they’re mostly a bunch of hypocrites always looking out for themselves and toadying up to the Roman authorities. So, we could all imagine that priest hastily crossing to the other side and probably muttering some prayer for his own protection.

And, after this, Jesus has this Levite coming along and doing exactly the same thing which again the majority of his listeners loved because again these Levites do like to think of themselves as somehow special in God’s eyes and a cut above the rest of us even if they are subordinate to the priests themselves.

So yes, up to this point it was a great story but then Jesus introduced this third character a Samaritan of all people. You could even hear the intake of breath from the crowd as he mentioned the very word Samaritan. You must be joking I thought as he describes how this outsider, this foreigner stopped and actually helped the victim! I mean come on a Samaritan doing something like that is just not conceivable because, in all honesty, they’re a despicable, untrustworthy lot believe me. You must know the sort of person I mean; those people who are not like us; foreigners who have different ways and customs, different beliefs too. And here again if we’re being strictly honest let’s face up to the fact that there are just some people who don’t belong in our society and to suggest that they can is simply a load of twaddle. As long as they stay in their own country that’s fine, but we don’t want them here and I’m confident that there are plenty of people who think like I do. There were certainly some in that crowd whom I could see were not at all happy with the way the story was going and there was quite a bit of muttering and words like ‘disgraceful’ and ‘unbelievable’.

So, what on earth was that man Jesus doing suggesting that a Samaritan could be good and would go and help a Jew in the way he described? Good! Samaritan!; it’s a contradiction in terms! And, more to the point, how could he suggest that I might like to do the same; did he really think that I would go out of my way and as in the story in effect cross the road and go and help some wretched Samaritan in distress? Did he honestly think I’d entertain the idea of a Samaritan as my neighbour? And at the end when he asked me who the neighbour was in the story well I couldn’t even bring myself to say the word ‘Samaritan’ and just muttered something to the effect ‘the one who helped him’.

Is it any wonder I’m seething and I tell you if this man goes on in this way I’m confident he’ll come to a bad end and good riddance to him. A Samaritan my neighbour? Forget it!

And I know that the Spirit of God is the brother of my own, and I know that all the men ever born are also my brothers, and the women my sisters and lovers, and that a kelson* of creation is love. Walt Whitman

*Kelson in shipbuilding is a beam used to stiffen and strengthen the keel structure.

Virginia Smith

Note: John Venus, Vicar of Coldharbour 1983-1993, had previously been a Chaplain in the Royal Navy and we always celebrated Sea Sunday, with the Dorking branch of the Royal Navy Association, whose standard rests in the Christ Church balcony

Sunday 3 July Festival of Thomas the Apostle
Published here a little late.

Habakkuk 2:1-4 John 20:24-29

Doubt, confusion, misunderstandings and disbelief are all common themes throughout the bible – from the beginning to the end we have wrestled and misinterpreted God’s word over centuries.  It starts with disobedience and thinking we know better and ends with a rag tag bunch of illiterate fisherman who consistently fall short of understanding who Jesus is.

We are in good company if the world, our God and our faith don’t seem to make much sense at times.

Our readings today both have an element of confusion and frustration about them. Habakkuk – a minor prophet from the 7th Century is bewailing God at the injustice of the brutality of the Babylonians. He can’t understand how a God of Love can just stand by and watch all the carnage and destruction that he sees around him as the Temple in Jerusalem is plundered and pillaged to the ground and the vast majority of God’s people are carted off to exile.

Thomas can’t believe that Jesus, the man to bring salvation and redemption to the Jews, who was going to be such a promising leader in overthrowing the Romans, has been killed, let alone bought back to life.

Confusion and disbelief.

What do we struggle believing about our Christian faith and what we can we learn from these two mens’ battles and frustrations with God? 

Two things sprung to mind as I read and meditated on these passages –

The first was a quote that came to me from Isaiah when God says to him ‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts’ And the second is that Faith is a gift from God. As a precursor to explaining this I want to take a moment to acknowledge something; Don’t you just hate it when some well meaning person quotes some pithy portion of scripture when you are up against it? When the issue of real suffering raises it’s ugly head and you are fobbed off with a quote similar to the one I’ve just used in Isaiah?

Holding that aside I do believe the quote is a valuable one. 

Which one of us here can claim to know the inner workings of the mind of God?

I have been studying, praying and contemplating God for a lot of my life and yet I am so aware of how little I understand or know him.  He was once described to me as a diamond. A multi- faceted stone that as you gazed at it you glimpsed all the different sides – all the different ways of seeing, all the myriad reflections and mirroring. 

And the more I learn the less I know. ‘His thoughts are not my thoughts’. Or in the words of a great Hymn - Who can know the mind of our creator, who can speak of wonders yet unseen, who can each the height of understanding, to play the notes of wisdoms melody?

In Habakkuk and Thomas we find men not afraid to voice their confusion and disbelief and neither should we. 

We need to ask the questions, voice our fears and our doubts – God can take it. We may not get a clear and unequivocal answer – it may be, that like Habakkuk we need to wait, we need to trust in God’s power even when not apparent. We need to lean into his promises that he will never leave or forsake us and that he is with us in the suffering and the darkness.

Or he may help us like he did with Thomas – he may reveal himself in our need of him.

When we ask for more faith to believe, when we are down on our knees, wanting to trust, yearning to meet with him, we may, in that moment, encounter his grace and mercy and with Thomas respond – My Lord and my God’. 

So ask the difficult questions, have patience and trust with a power that is greater than ourselves that we will never comprehend – and have faith – have faith that we have a God who is infinite love, never- ending grace and will meet us where we are in our searching and are longing.


Kia Pakenham

Sunday 26 June - Second after Trinity

Texts: Galatians 5: verse 1 and 13-25; Luke 9 verses 51-end

Making excuses! My goodness don’t we all do it and not just the one about the dog eating our homework. And here I found a delightful variation on this one which was ‘the cat ate it knowing I would blame the dog’! Making excuses! Yes, we all do it don’t we? And I fear that, like the homework one, not all of them adhere to the strictest veracity. ‘I’m sorry I can’t come; I’m seeing someone else.’ may have a ring of truth but actually the other meeting is not at the same time, and you have made such an excuse simply on the basis that you just can’t face two meetings on the same morning. And of course there are those sorts of procrastination, excuses one makes to oneself of which I am most definitely guilty. Making a start on washing the kitchen floor, a much loathed chore, can always be delayed by finding the excuse of some other more preferable task or even let it be acknowledged the excuse that I really do need a quiet sit down with a cup of coffee.

When we study our gospel reading, we see a couple of excuses being made to Jesus as to why people can’t follow him there and then. The first about having to go to bury a father does not even have the smack of truth as by Jewish law bodies had to be buried within eight hours of death, so what on earth was this man doing not observing the   ritual preparation of the body or sitting sharing the grieving with everyone else in the family? Had he been unable to face that preparation and all the wailing and breast beating and made another excuse to slip out for a while? We will never know, but I am sure Jesus did and maybe in that seemingly harsh response ‘Let the dead bury their dead’ he just might have been suggesting that, in a sense, this man was spiritually dead.

Then we have the person who wants to go and say farewell to those at home and no doubt while there spend time deciding just what to pack and ensuring everyone knows his forwarding address and, oh yes, maybe having a last prolonged meal with his family because who knew when he might be home again and while he’s at it he might as well have a last sleep in his own bed!  Again, Jesus’ response sounds so harsh, but here we must remember that Jesus, as was the custom at the time, used hyperbole to get his point across.  

As we read these excuses, it’s good to remind ourselves of Jesus’ call to the four fishermen, Simon Peter, Andrew, James and John, who in Luke’s words, ‘after they brought their boats to the shore, they left everything and followed him’ Or even Marks’ words which are all the more emphatic ‘immediately they left their nets and followed him.’ Absolutely no excuses here but instead what must be seen as an extraordinary response to that call. And we really do have to ask ourselves if it had been us would we have acted as those four fishermen did, or would we have concocted some sort of excuse as to just why it was not possible immediately? I rather expect I might well have done, if only to weigh up and consider just what was being asked of me

So, what do we learn from all this and just what is expected of us? As always with such questions there are simply no easy answers and, once again, we have to take on board that following Christ is not and never will be an easy option. It does demand so much from us and we are not always prepared to meet these demands, instead finding excuses for ourselves as to why we simply can’t carry them out. Thomas Merton lists these demands as ‘the total renunciation of the business, ambitions, honours, activities of the world - a bare minimum of concern with temporal necessities.’ My goodness, that really is huge. Can he really mean that? Is this really what God wants from us if we are to be seen as true followers of Christ? Can he really expect us just to have the bare minimum of concern for temporal necessities; the essentials, as we see it, of what makes up our everyday life?

And the answer has to be ‘Yes’; it is in the sense that to be true followers of Christ our entire life has to be centred around him, and him alone. Everything else, business, ambitions, honours, activities, have to be, must be peripheral. And here we could well take note of the wisdom of Meister Eckhart who said that the spiritual life has far more to do with subtraction than it does with addition. To be true followers we are, I think, called to recognize that Christ cannot be other than central to our lives and, as a consequence, this means Christ is in all that we do. He is in our business and how we conduct it; what our moral and ethical principles are that determine how we conduct that business; those works of the flesh listed in our epistle reading must not play a part in how we enact our lives.  Any ambitions we may have should, again, be centred on Christ and to be recognized by others as his followers ready to reach out to all whom we meet. Should we be fortunate to receive honours, and this includes, I think, people showing their gratitude for something we have done to help them, then Christ must be given all the true credit and humbly acknowledged as the inspiration that has led us to be accorded such honours.

 And finally, to be true followers all our activities, however mundane, however humble, should be carried out  in the sense of those hymn words of George Herbert’s ‘Teach me my God and King in all things thee to see; that what I do in anything to do it as for thee.’ To be true followers we cannot compartmentalize our lives and make wonderful and often implausible excuses as to why some parts are none of God’s business. Everything is God’s business.

I would like to end with a few lines of poetry written by Malcolm Guite.
You call us all to live, and see good days,
Centre in Christ and enter in his peace, 
To seek his Way amidst our many ways,
Find blessedness in blessing, peace in praise,
To clear and keep for Love a sacred space 
That we might be beginners in God’s grace

Virginia Smith

Sunday 19 June - First after Trinity

Texts: Galatians 3 verses 23- end; Luke 8 verses 26-39

 Virginia Homily 19June22There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female; for all of you are one in Christ.

The other day I listened to an excellent radio play about the events revolving around the nationalisation of the Iranian oil industry in 1951. And listening to it I was able to appreciate that in approximately seventy years our attitudes have changed quite dramatically but still not enough. Then the British were in charge of the whole operation known then as the Anglo Persian Oil Company and were deeply scathing of the locals even when they were just as well or even better qualified than the Brits were. Social mixing between the Brits and Iranians was almost unheard of and there was a very real sense that the Brits were superior in every way and had an unassailable right to lord it over the local workers. The entire history of the British Empire echoed such a mind-set but with the demise of that once great Empire and ever expanding globalisation we have shown, often reluctantly, that we need to rethink how we relate to others; how we see others.   Do we categorise everyone into Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female or do we see that, at heart, each and everyone of us as a child of God?

And thinking and reflecting on this question I was drawn to our gospel story today. of the man who had demons in him and when asked his name by Jesus replied: ‘Legion’ because he felt many demons had entered into him. And it struck me that. in a sense. we are the same because within each of us are all the ‘demons’ of our carefully structured ego; the ‘demons’ of our upbringing and nurturing; the ‘demons’ that we have allowed to shape us and which control how we regard others.  I have, over time, come to recognise and acknowledge that personally I walk through life with an innate confidence simply because I am both white and British. I do not mean to be superior or. heaven forbid, racist. But I have become increasingly aware that I have this confidence and I have no idea whatsoever what it must be like to be in a minority group where their skin is not white, and they cannot boast a British ancestry going back generations. It was not until I began work after leaving school that I was first introduced to and spoke to non-white, non-British people and then at university I encountered a few more but back in the early sixties that was the norm. Now. of course. it is all very different and I and others like me must learn to name and release that ‘demon’ of assumed privilege; of inherent rights simply because we were born here. as were generations of our families. I love the fact that my granddaughter has a best friend who is not white skinned, and whose ancestors came from far away shores and it never occurs to her that it is in the least odd as it would have done if it had been me and would, I know, have appalled my parents.  We must grow to accept and to give our heartfelt thanks and indeed, our praise that God’s children come in a glorious and quite beautiful mix of skin colour. 

And linked to this is the ‘demon’ of nationality which we see at such evil work in Ukraine as Putin pursues his dream to build up, once more, the great Rus Empire and reclaim the land over which Russia once ruled.  He sees the Ukrainians not as a separate nation but people who must be restored to his autocratic rule. We may not ever dream as going to such lengths as to wage war but, we all have our ‘demons’ of nationality when it comes to it. Should you press me I would declare myself English through and through and I admit, in making that claim, I am making a clear distinction, a proud admission even, that I am not Scots, or Welsh or Irish, although I suspect that if I did a gene test I might well discover how very wrong my assumption has been. And in the same way we southerners may well compare ourselves with those funny northerners and again show signs of prejudice or disparagement because they speak in what we regard as a strange accent or eat mushy peas and deep -fried Mars bars.  Do we categorise everyone as to where they have come from or, again, do we give thanks and praise that we are all so diverse, speaking in strange tongues and accents and with fascinating traditions and history for us to explore and tha,t despite all the differences, they are at heart, like us, simply children of God?

And one last ‘demon’ to explore today and that of course is the male, female one and here I know I’m skating on thin ice given the current heated debate on the whole question of sexuality. But for me I am happy to define myself as a woman but in so doing I recognise that I think as a woman, act as a woman and am happy to let that particular little ‘demon’ suggest that while I can cheerfully and expertly multi- task men can only do one task at a time! Just as I can’t know what it is like to be non-white I cannot know what it is to be male or indeed anyone from the LGBT community. I can try to imagine but I can never truly know and that is just how it is.  But can we see beyond and beneath the defining labels of male and female or of LGBT and find just another vulnerable, needy child of God who longs for the comfort of the pure unchanging love that only God can give? 

There are of course so many more ‘little demons’ I could explore, education, body image, politics, religion etcetera, etcetera but I hope you can grasp the point that I am trying to make. Whoever we are, we do have ‘demons’ of definition and characterisation which have shaped who we think we are, who we have made ourselves and our egos, and that these intrude in any relationship we have with others. Whereas if we look at the example of Jesus there was never any sort of barrier of definition or characterisation in his approach to people.  He met with Jew and Greek, with those who were free and those who were slaves; he met with men and with women and all this in direct contrast to the norms and practices of the time. For Jesus, each and every person, even a raving demonic, was at heart a child of God, an adopted child of Abba, His Father, and as such he showed them all the same open hearted and utterly gracious love and that is what he now calls us to do in his name that we might truly be one in Christ. 

There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.

Virginia Smith

Sunday 12 June - Trinity Sunday

Abrahams Hospitality: Genesis 18 verse1-8

The idea, the concept of the Trinity often has us tied up in knots.

We are not alone – for centuries us humans have struggled to comprehend this mystery. Theologians with their massive intellects, with brains far bigger than ours, have wrestled with it and written great tombs about it in efforts to try and explain and pin it down.

Words have their limits. There are spaces between words and it is in those spaces that the mystery exists.

It is in the space in between the words that can be the vehicle of grace; that somehow can reach us, touch us and then the incomprehensible can suddenly, inexplicably begin to make sense.

Pictures, paintings, and images speak into our hearts in ways that just words can’t. Images fill in the gaps.

Like when you see a beautiful sunrise – you can try describing it but it doesn’t quite capture it in the same way a picture can. Like when you try and take a photo of fireworks at night – when you look back at the picture the next day it is just a small flash of light in the sky- rather disappointing – it doesn’t look the same as when you were actually there looking up at it in person.

So it is with the Trinity. Words can’t capture a dynamic flow, a cosmic dance of three divine beings, an energy – a movement.

So we are going to look at three different ways of imaging the Trinity.

One is a painting, one is a fidget spinner and one I will describe and you will need to employ your imagination!

So first is this image. Do you know what this is called?

Trinity Sunday 12June22

Abrahams Hospitality created by Russian iconographer Andrei Rublev in the fifteenth century which was based on the reading from Genesis that we’ve just heard.

In this icon there are three primary colours which illustrate facets of the triune God.

He used Gold to depict the Father – illustrating perfection, fullness, wholeness – the ultimate source. He considered blue the colour of the human – both sea and sky mirroring one another and therefore God in Christ taking on the world – taking on humanity. So Christ is in blue and he is displaying his two fingers to tell us that he has put matter and Spirit, divinity and humanity together within himself. And then there’s green representing the Spirit – a quality of divine aliveness that makes everything blossom and bloom, grow and thrive – a transforming presence.

The Holy one in the form of three, eating and drinking in infinite hospitality and utter enjoyment between themselves.

If we take the depiction of God in the Trinity seriously, we have to say ‘in the beginning was the relationship’.

Every part of it was obviously mediated on with great care: the gaze between the three, the deep respect between them as they all share from a common bowl. And notice the hand of the Spirit pointing towards the open and fourth place at the table.

Is the Holy Spirit inviting, offering, and clearing a space? If so, for what? For whom? If you look at the front there seems to be a little rectangular hole painted there. Some historians say that that there was glue there – perhaps for a mirror. So as you stood and gazed upon this picture you yourself would have transported into the scene – a table laid, waiting for you to join in, to participate in this divine flow.

Lets move to the next image. You will need to use your imagination for this so can I invite you to close your eyes.

The Franciscan philosopher/theologian Bonaventure (1221–1274) described the Trinity as a fountain fullness of Love. Picture three buckets on a moving waterwheel.

Each bucket fills and empties out, then swings back to be filled again. The Father empties into the Son, nothing held back. The Son empties into the Spirit, nothing held back. The Spirit empties into the Father, nothing held back. The reason they can empty themselves out is they know they will be filled again. They know that the centre of the universe is infinite love.

But if you don’t believe that infinite love is the centre of the universe, you live in a scarcity model where there’s never enough—food, money, security, mercy—to go around. You can’t risk letting go because you’re not sure you’ll be refilled. If you’re protecting yourself, if you’re securing your own image and identity, then you’re still holding on.

The Three all live as an eternal and generous self-emptying, the Greek word being kenosis.

Your ego remains full of itself, which is the opposite of kenosis. This is the nature of almost all human institutions and systems created by the egoic mind.

This third way of looking at the Trinity involves this fidget spinner.

When still, a fidget spinner clearly has three different lobes; however, when it spins we lose sight of the distinct wings and simply see unbroken movement or flow. Even more significant than the qualities of the individual members of the Trinity is the flow between them. At the Trinitarian level, God is a verb more than a noun, God is a flow more than a substance, God is an experience more than a deity sitting on a throne. And we live naturally inside that flow of love—if we do not resist it.

Infinite love is planted within humans and all of creation. Everything is attracted to everything: life is attracted to life; love is attracted to love; God in you is attracted to

God in everyone and everything else. This is what it means for everything to be created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27). God placed this alluring attraction of life toward life in everything that God created. Thus, we might say the Trinity is the soul of creation.

So these are three different ways of describing the Trinity.

But as we said at the beginning, words can’t do it justice and, in many ways, miss the point. This flow, this divine dance between Father, Son and Holy Spirit is something to be experienced, to be felt, to be embraced; something to be joined in with.

Poetry can sometimes fill the space between the words too, so I’d like to finish with this poem of the Trinity by Malcom Guite. You may like to close your eyes.
In the Beginning, not in time or space,
But in the quick before both space and time,
In Life, in Love, in co-inherent Grace,
In three in one and one in three, in rhyme,
In music, in the whole creation story,
In His own image, His imagination,
The Triune Poet makes us for His glory,
And makes us each the other’s inspiration.
He calls us out of darkness, chaos, chance,
To improvise a music of our own,
To sing the chord that calls us to the dance,
Three notes resounding from a single tone,
To sing the End in whom we all begin;
Our God beyond, beside us and within.


Sunday 5 June, Pentecost

Genesis 11 verses 1-9,  Acts 2 verses1-21

When our children were small they were fiercely independent – especially our youngest – Lucy.

Perhaps because she was the youngest of three and wanted to do what her older siblings did she often thought she was more able than she actually was. 

Her favourite phrase that echoed round the house, at increasing levels of frustration, when either trying to tie her shoe laces or button her coat, as we scrambled to leave the for the school run, was MY DO IT!

The United nations diplomatic core has nothing on the skills of a frazzled parent!

But we too have traits of ‘My do it’! Guy in particular is not great at accepting help – his grown up version of ‘My do it’ is ‘I’ll do this’! From carrying boxes in our move – to unloading the shopping – he is not great at accepting help!

On first reading our passage in Genesis might appear a little baffling.

Why wouldn’t God want all the people to speak the same language? Surely it would have alleviated a lot of issues and misunderstandings throughout the world?

What was wrong with building a huge tower to reach God in the sky? Because that’s where he is – right?

One of the key verses and what I believe God had a problem with was this in verse 4 ‘Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves”. ‘Let us make a name for ourselves.

My do it. I’ll do this.

Self sufficiency can be a necessary and important thing but in the context of a relationship with God it is one our major problems.

Where is there room for God if we think we can do it all?

My walk with God began in earnest when in November 2010 I fell to my knees and surrendered to God as I understood him; when I let him have control of my life – what bought me to this decision is not really important, what is of the upmost importance is that I got there.

When we admit that we are not in control, when we relinquish the illusion that we have control, then God can begin to work in our lives. 

He can take our lives, he can transform our minds, he can pour his grace and his life-giving Spirit into us and we can really start to live our lives to the fullest.

We don’t all have to speak the same earthly language to be able to communicate effectively – the language of God is encountered by his Spirit. 

The eleven apostles had surrendered to God’s will in their lives and were waiting on the day of Pentecost for something to happen. 

Through the Spirit all were united, all heard from God in their own native tongues – this was God given unity – not “man-made tower of Babel unity” but a cosmic event that would echo through history. Not just a one-time event for those present in the upper room but a gift available to all; then and now.

When we get to that point of surrender, when we realise and accept our need of God in our lives – when we stop saying ‘My do it’ or ‘I’ll do this’ then we really are on the journey of faith and the Spirit of God can work wonders in us, through us and with us.

Let us pray.

Father, forgive us our self will when it runs riot. Draw us back into your way – your way of self-sacrifice, your way of loving service, your way of self giving. Fill us with your Holy Spirit and help us surrender to your will in our lives.

In Jesus name we pray



Sunday 29 May

This sermon was delivered by David Grundy at a Benefice Holy Communion service in Christ Church, marking the start of the week celebrating the Queen's Platinum Jubilee; a service with real content and wonderful music.

Over this coming week, as people celebrate the Platinum Jubilee, I’m sure there will be many references to the Queen’s dedication to service, her faith, her dignity, and her sense of humour – I gather she is a great mimic. But what I want to think of today, is another quality. One of the main roles of the monarch as Head of State is (and I quote the royal website) to be ‘a focus for national identity, unity and pride’. She is tasked with helping to strengthen national unity and stability. 

And she has done this over the years. In 2020, she addressed the nation during Covid’s peak: people wanted to hear from her. She voiced everyone’s appreciation of front-line workers, and thanked everyone for playing their part. She said Together we are tackling this disease, and I want to reassure you that if we remain united and resolute, then we will overcome it.  Queen Elizabeth regularly refers to the strength of people coming together

Over 70 years, she has shown quite incredible restraint in terms of staying politically neutral. I really don’t know how she’s done it. The temptation for a caring and intelligent person to speak out must have been so strong. But she refuses to do anything seen as divisive. 

Instead, while Brexit was dividing the nation, in her Christmas speech of 2018, she just said: Even with the most deeply held differences, treating the other person with respect and as a fellow human being is always a good first step towards greater understanding.

The Queen has been and remains a force for unity in a divided world and often fragmented nation. And for that, we should thank God and be grateful to her for having stuck to those principles.

Maybe her majesty has discovered the truth behind the surprising direction of Jesus’ prayer for us the night before he died. When he prayed for his followers of the future, Jesus prayed not that we would be happy, not even that we would be a force for good in the world, but simply that  ‘we would be one’. 

And his reason was 'that the world may believe'. Unity, real unity, is a powerful persuader. Let’s be clear: we do lots of things to make the church as attractive as possible. We aim for good music, good publicity, a host of other things. Jesus however, highlighted only one thing:  when our love for one another stands out, then the world will believe.

Unity is a great idea. We just love the idea. We preach it. 

But unity is not just about being nice people. Unity that is compelling and that draws people requires sacrifice: I give three examples.

Unity is when we go out of our way to show love to people with whom we profoundly disagree

On holiday, I read a story from one of my favourite writers, a Lutheran pastor of a church in America, whose church is a complete mix of people who don’t really fit in to normal society or mainstream churches. She has quite a high public profile, and once, people who normally were very supportive of her, took offence at something she had said in all conscience and there was a spate of social media criticism from, as she put it, ‘her own tribe’

During that, a man who had on many occasions publicly expressed his disapproval of many of her values and opinions, texted her and said ‘It’s looking pretty rough out there for you. How are you doing ?’  She answered ‘Not great’. He immediately phoned, they chatted for a whole hour. He too knew what it was like to have people turn on you. They chatted, he listened, and near the end, he said “I love you and I’ll be praying for you”. In the middle of a media onslaught, her ‘rival’ on many issues was the first to show real compassion. 

Unity is when we go out of our way to show love to people with whom we profoundly disagree. 
Real unity also involves saying sorry and admitting we’re wrong.
This week, Kia and I both apologised to each other. We’d both slightly blundered and miscommunicated. Did we respect each other less for apologising ? No, I think we respected each other more. 

Showing our fallibility is powerful. Because it also gives other people the permission to not be perfect, and yet be loved

And finally, unity involves helping people to know they really are not alone and that it isn’t every man for himself.  I heard of a man who was making good money for a firm in the city, but was being required to turn a blind eye to certain rather sharp practices. So, in spite of the fact that he had a young family, he chose – after asking for advice from church members - to stand down from his job, at a time when the employment market was not great. In the next six months, the support from his church was so strong, that he actually had slightly more money coming in from people supporting him than he would have made at the company. Sacrifice will go the extra mile and beyond to help people feel that they belong and that they are not alone.  

This world is painfully fragmented. The Queen has over the years done more for national unity than I suspect people appreciate. Her faith has played a massive role in sustaining her. 

True unity is remarkably attractive. Have you ever seen a couple having a bit of a hug and a child comes and wants to just stand right there in the middle. Not to grab attention, but to be part of the unity. The church is the same. When we really move to a sacrificial love that truly honours each other, then Jesus’ prayer that we may be brought to complete unity is starting to be answered.

Sunday 22 May

Readings: Ezekiel 37 verses 1-14; John 5 verses 1-9

This is Kia's sermon delivered at our 10.00am Holy Communion service, reflecting on the reading from Ezekiel

Our words, how we speak, what we speak, the tone of our voice, our body language have a profound effect on those around us.

I’m a prolific reader – I like nothing more than being challenged by a good read. My bookshelves are littered with, I have to confess, many spiritual authors – Richard Rohr, Pete Greig, C. S Lewis, Barbara Brown Taylor and Mark Oakley, to name but a few.

Reading and savouring the words of these men and women have given me life, have stretched my understanding and have increased and challenged my faith.

Words are powerful. The spoken word especially so.

In church we hear the bible being read out loud – perhaps unusual in our society, although until relatively recently in historical terms, this was the only way of encountering the bible. 

Unless you go regularly to ‘Spoken word’ performances or are into audio books, we don’t often hear books being read to us. When you read the bible do you read it out loud to yourself? Perhaps next time give it a go – the experience is so different to just hearing the words in your head. Sentences or phrases that may have washed over you can suddenly hit you full in the face!

In our passage from Ezekiel today we hear some very powerful words being spoken.

God has given Ezekiel a prophesy – words to be relayed to the people in exile – words of promise and hope – that one day they will be re-established back in their homeland.

God paints a vivid and disturbing picture for Ezekiel. A valley full of dry bones. These are old, decaying bones. Shocking because they are visible – the bones lay on the surface of the valley, like the remains of corpses denied a proper burial and left for scavenging buzzards. As an Israelite, and especially as a priest, Ezekiel knew how important was the proper treatment of human corpses.

The fact they were dry also had implications to the hearers – this was a metaphor for a downcast spirit. 

So, not only were they dead physically, but they were also dead spiritually. 

Why has God shown Ezekiel this picture? 

The exiles have lost all hope. They have lost their faith, their belief that they are the chosen people. They believe their God has forsaken them and that they are lost – physically and spiritually.

They need a new hope, they need a new life – they need resurrecting from their despair and their total sense of abandonment.

So God breathes new life.

God, through Ezekiel, speaks words of hope and transformation. Slowly he rebuilds the dry bones, the people of Israel.

Words are indeed powerful tools of rebirth.

And it starts with Ruah. The Hebrew word for breath, spirit, wind. Ruah.

This is the beginning for all of us. Do you notice the echoes of Genesis here?

All life is God breathed. And it happens in stages. We are transformed in stages, in steps, brick by brick we are re-built.

Verses 5 through 6 are book marked by Ruah. The first breath animates and enables the sinews, then the flesh, then the skin forms – stage by stage, step by step until there is a body – alive, yes, but not fully alive.

On reflection I think this is how I spent the first half of my life. A functioning human being, employing all the tools at my disposal to survive in the world. Sometimes effectively and at other times failing miserably. Alive, but not fully alive.

I hadn’t received and surrendered to verse 6. Verse 5 says ‘I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live’. But verse 6 adds on a rather crucial and life giving bit; after the body is formed God breathes again and says, ‘and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the Lord’.

It is this acceptance of God, this surrender to the Father, this outpouring of his Spirit that once we recognise it and embrace it then enables us to become fully alive.

St Irenaeus of Lyons is reported to have famously said “The Glory of God is man fully alive”. When we live, move and have our being from within the love and grace of God and recognise and accept his Spirit within us, guiding, teaching and encouraging us in our lives – then we will be able to live our life to the fullest – to flourish and thrive – because we have our hope in the right place. Then we will see transformation in our lives and in the world around us. It starts with us.

Both passages this morning speak of resurrection and transformation – spoken into being by God, through Ezekiel and through Jesus.

Dry bones, and exiled people bought into life by the  words and power of God. A crippled man restored to fullness of life by the power of the spoken word through Jesus.

We too are offered a fullness of life through the word of God – through his Son – and in the power of the Holy Spirit. This is our hope and our purpose. And through us Gods glory can be made visible to all who we meet, all who we talk to and all who we love.

Let us pray.

Father, we thank you for your life-giving Spirit. We pray this morning that you would fill us afresh, breathe on us breath of God and renew our minds, our hearts and our lives so that as transformed people we can bring life to others.

For your glory we pray.


Sunday 15 May

This is Kia's Reflection on Genesis  22 verses 1-18 and John 13 verses 31-35
Delivered at our 9.15am Communion service

These passages speak to me of trust, obedience, and love.

Abraham and Isaac had such trust – Abraham in God and Isaac in his father. God calls to Abraham – his response ‘Here I am’. Abraham calls to Isaac – his reply the same – ‘Here I am’. Here I am, to do your will. No questions asked, no plans shared of the outcome – no future mapping or planning.

This challenges me.

How often do I wish to know the end at the beginning? How much does this speak into my need of control?

Yes, we need to plan ahead but when God calls do I, do we, simply say ‘Here I am’? and then trust in him to guide our steps even though we may not know the destination?

For me this speaks into the plans and dreams I have for Coldharbour and Abinger.

My longing to see God’s kingdom come in these places.

What does this look like?

And I am reminded that God is already at work among us, already placing desire into our hearts. He has placed a love of this place into all our hearts, a love for each other, a desire to see our friends and family flourish.

Can we see exactly how he plans to use us in his plan to see his kingdom thrive here?

Probably not. But simply to have this desire, this love, this passion I think is enough. God will provide the rest. We have to be attentive, we have to listen to the still small voice and trust, then obey and then step out in faith.

Jesus says as much in John.

The disciples could not go where Jesus was going. They were left behind without a step-by-step plan of what to do next. All they were told – all we are told – is to love as he loved. The greatest and deceptively easiest commandment there is.

People will know God through our demonstration of love for one another.

This is the plan. God’s plan he left for us.
The beginning and the end – to love.
Trust, obedience and love.
God calls us – and dare we say – ‘Here I am’?

Virginia Smith’s Homily for Sunday 8 May
Delivered at Christ Church
Text: Luke 24 verses 36-49

At a guess, most of us are familiar with the Scottish prayer ‘From Ghoulies and Ghosties and Long-Legged Beasties and Things that Go Bump in the Night, Good Lord, deliver us!’ but whether any of us believe in ghoulies and ghosties is another matter. Personally, I am sceptical but, that said, my Father absolutely swore that when, at the beginning of the Second World War, he was billeted in a very old manor house he witnessed a ghost passing through the wall of the room he was in. And I know there are countless others who would be only too ready to testify to such an experience. Interestingly, according to my concordance of the Bible, the only references to the word ‘ghost’ are in the sense of giving up the spirit at the time of death so, as an example, in the King James version we have ‘And when Jacob had made an end of commanding his sons, he gathered up his feet into the bed, and yielded up the ghost, and was gathered unto his people.’  Whereas, interestingly, that same translation renders the initial verses of today’s gospel reading as: ‘And as they thus spake, Jesus himself stood in the midst of them, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you.  But they were terrified and affrighted, and supposed that they had seen a spirit.

So be it ghosts, ghoulies or spirits, I think most people would admit that they have an innate and primitive fear of meeting them although, of course, ghost stories to be read around a single candle provide another sort of tremulous thrill  to be replaced with a big sigh of relief when the lights are turned back on and we can laugh at our heightened fears aroused by a cleverly written spooky story.

So, with all this in mind, it is no wonder that the episode related by Luke relays with such clarity the intense fear of those disciples gathered together in that room in Jerusalem. The two disciples who had met Jesus on the Emmaus Road had just returned and were, I’m sure, relating with feverish excitement all that had happened on that, oh so eventful, journey and now here was Jesus again in the very same room as all of  them. Was it Jesus? Or was it just his ghost, his spirit? Whatever this apparition was it terrified the life out of them and no wonder. Who is the Jesus who can suddenly appear and disappear in their midst? Who is this Jesus whom they all knew, without a shadow of doubt, had died upon that cross just days before? Who is this Jesus who comes to them and shows them the reality of the marks, the terrible scars of the wounds inflicted upon him? Try to imagine just what it might have been like for those disciples; just what we would have felt if we were in their place. Do not let familiarity with the resurrection accounts dim the power of our imaginations to wonder with awe, with wonder and, indeed, with fear as Jesus whose lifeless body was taken down form that cross appears before us. Would we not have queried what we were seeing? Of course, we would. Would we have been filled with unanswerable questions as to just how this was possible? Of course, we would.  Would we have been profoundly disturbed by that life filled figure before us? Of course, we would. Would we have been rendered speechless and incapable of rational thought? Of course, we would.

But then, as those bewildered disciples stood, quite possibly open mouthed, experiencing a heady mixture of fear and growing joy at what they were seeing or thought they were seeing, the risen Christ asks them if they have something for him to eat. And being given a piece of broiled fish, calmly ate it in their presence. Now ghosts may walk through walls, they may even appear carrying their own heads or clanking chains  but what they certainly never do is calmly eat a piece of broiled fish or indeed any other sort of food. No, this was no ghost, no ghoulie but the living Christ, the risen Christ. 

This was the risen Christ whom those witnesses to the post resurrection appearances then began to proclaim to any who would listen. Nothing now would stop them as they faced ridicule, contempt and disbelief together with threats, imprisonment, torture and even death. This was the risen Christ that all God’s children must know about; the risen Christ whose life, death and glorious resurrection revealed all the inexpressible wonder and the unfathomable mystery that is God’s love for his children.

For me, it is this utter determination of those simple men and indeed women who bore witness to the truth of the risen Christ that entirely convinces me of the truth of the resurrection. And I hope and pray that it is the same for you; Christ has risen; he is not a ghost, a ghoulie or indeed a long- legged beastie but a living Christ who partakes of broiled fish with his beloved disciples.

And in that truth, I am also convinced that we, too, are called to look for the very real presence of Christ with us in our lives. The presence that may well be revealed through the love of another child of God being shown to us for the risen Christ can be encountered anywhere, everywhere and in anyone.

Whenever we celebrate Holy Communion we share not broiled fish but the bread and wine which are the symbols of the body and blood of Christ. We share them in the very presence of Christ and in unity, as the first disciples shared food with him. And, in that feeding, I pray that we will be strengthened and inspired, as those disciples were, to go and proclaim the gospel of the living Christ. The living Christ who is the Way, the Truth and the Life. The living Christ who calls us to do our very best to copy the radical nature of the gospel which preaches, mercy, justice and peace for all. In today’s tragically broken world that need is greater than ever. Will we like those first few simple men and women clothed with the power of the Holy Spirit do our utmost to proclaim that gospel as they did in the strength of the reality of the risen Christ, the living Christ? I pray that we will.