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.

2022

During August, across the Leith Hill Benefice there is a service at just one of our four churches.  However, Virginia expects to provide us with a weekly homily during the month.

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.

Amen.

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.
Amen.

Kia

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

Amen.

Kia

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.

Amen.

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’?
Amen.

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.