Christ Church

Christ Church - Words and Thoughts

AzaleasOn this page, and sub-pages we present the sermons delivered at Christ Church, as well as the thoughtful and thought provoking homilies Virginia Smith provided us with nearly every week since August 2020.  These 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.



2024

Sunday 14 July, Seventh after Trinity
Text: Ephesians 1:3-14

Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians is a wonderful book for any Christian to spend their devotional time with. It is just six chapters long. It can easily be read in one sitting. And it is filled with important insights on our Christian faith in broad terms, but also very specific teachings on how we are to live out our Christian faith. 
Today’s passage begins right after Paul’s initial greeting and is a wonderful blessing for all that God has done for us. 
It is a blessing that starts in verse 3, and doesn’t conclude until verse 14. In the original Greek, it is one long, run-on sentence. It is almost as if Paul can never say enough when he is praising God!
When Paul blesses God in this passage, or praises God, what is the first thing that he thanks God for? He thanks God for choosing us. 
Blessed be God because “he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world.” Isn’t that amazing? Even before the world was formed, God knew you. God had already planned to create you, and decided to have this amazing relationship with you. You and I have been chosen to be part of God’s family. It is an amazing, freeing, truth, when we really embrace it.
God chose us, in Christ. We can be confident of that. And even when our plans for this life don’t work out, we can fall back on this knowledge – that God has chosen us, and no choice of ours takes this away.
But let’s think a little more about what Paul means by this, because he has a very specific meaning in mind. 
Paul grew up reading the Old Testament. That was his Bible. And a very prominent theme in the Old Testament is that Israel is God’s chosen people. It begins with Abraham, whom God chose to be the father of many nations, and through whom all nations would be blessed. Abraham was chosen and blessed in order to be a blessing to others. That theme continues when Abraham’s descendants are rescued from Egypt. In Deuteronomy 7:6, for example, God’s people are told: “You are a people holy to the LORD your God; the LORD your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on earth to be his people, his treasured possession.” The Israelites were God’s chosen people, and they were chosen for a purpose.
They were chosen to be a light to the nations, and to bless all nations of the world. 
Sometimes we think of being chosen as simply meaning we have a first-class ticket to Heaven, and we get to be at the front of the line. More often, though, when we think of being chosen, we worry about those people that God has not chosen. But that really isn’t what Paul is talking about here. Paul is simply telling us that we are the new Israel; we have been chosen to bless the world. 
The church, the disciples that Jesus has called, have been chosen to be a light to the nations. We have been chosen to do God’s work on this earth – to care for the poor and the sick, to feed the hungry, to bring hope to the hopeless, to strive for justice and peace, and to do all of this in the name of Jesus. That is what we have been chosen for.
We have been chosen in Christ, as Paul puts it, to be holy and blameless before God in love. There’s only one problem with that, and you’ve probably already figured it out. Who among us believes that they are holy and blameless? I’m not holy and blameless, and I’m guessing you’re not, either.
As Paul reminds us elsewhere, none of us are. The nation of Israel wasn’t. The church certainly isn’t. And none of us as individuals are, either. 
And that, of course, is why we need Jesus. We need one who IS holy and blameless. We don’t always get it right. But Jesus does. He is God’s chosen one, who is always holy and blameless. He is God’s beloved, in whom God is well pleased. He is God’s treasured possession. He is the light to the nations. He is the promised descendent of Abraham. He is the one in whom all nations, all peoples, are to be blessed.
And we who place our trust in him, in this chosen one, are adopted into his family. 
We haven’t just been chosen, Paul reminds us: we have been chosen in Christ. And as the next verses go on to remind us, we have been adopted into God’s chosen family through Jesus. God has chosen for us to be part of God’s family; and in case we are tempted to forget it, God has marked us with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit. 
Life gets confusing, and we question our choices at times, and we are hurt by other people’s choices at other times. But in the midst of the confusion and chaos that sometimes swirls around us, there is this wondrous fact: That we have been chosen in Christ. 
One of my heroes in the faith is the Lutheran pastor, theologian, and martyr, Dietrich Bonhoeffer. A remarkable man who resisted the Nazis and was imprisoned and executed just days before the allied forces liberated the concentration camp where he was being held. While in prison, Bonhoeffer had the opportunity to write numerous letters, and even compose some poems. One of his poems always surprises me with its honesty. And it’s a good example of how important it can be to know that we have been chosen by God in Christ. It is called “Who Am I?” Here it is:
Who am I? They often tell me
I step out from my cell
calm and cheerful and poised,
like a squire from his manor.

Who am I? They often tell me
I speak with my guards
freely, friendly and clear,
as though I were the one in charge.

Who am I? They also tell me
I bear days of calamity
serenely, smiling and proud,
like one accustomed to victory.

 Am I really what others say of me?
Or am I only what I know of myself?
Restless, yearning, sick, like a caged bird,
struggling for life breath, as if I were being strangled,
starving for colours, for flowers, for birdsong,
thirsting for kind words, human closeness,
shaking with rage at power lust and pettiest insult,
tossed about, waiting for great things to happen,
helplessly fearing for friends so far away,
too tired and empty to pray, to think, to work,
weary and ready to take my leave of it all?

Who am I? This one or the other?
Am I this one today and tomorrow another?
Am I both at once? Before others a hypocrite
and in my own eyes a pitiful, whimpering weakling?
Or is what remains in me like a defeated army,
Fleeing in disarray from victory already won?

 Who am I? They mock me, these lonely questions of mine.
Whoever I am, thou knowest me; O God, I am thine!

Bonhoeffer struggled with this question of who he was, and don’t we all? We are rarely all that we want to be, and we can get discouraged by that, just as Bonhoeffer did. These lonely questions can mock us and trouble us. But what Bonhoeffer comes back to, at the end of it all, is his faith and conviction that, whoever we are, we are God’s. God has chosen us. What a powerful truth to rest in, and to build our lives on – that we are God’s. No matter who we are. For we have been chosen in Christ. 
We have been chosen to live, as Paul concludes this passage, “to the praise of God’s glory.” What does that mean? Well, Paul will spend a good portion of this letter explaining what that means. This letter is filled with very specific teachings on what it means to live as God’s chosen people in Christ; and how we are to live to the praise of God’s glory.
But first, Paul wants to make sure that we really understand and believe that God has chosen us in Christ. It is no longer just the Israelites who have been chosen by God. It is all of us who set our hope on Christ. It is you and me. Chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world. Every one of us. God’s treasured possession. A light to the nations. Chosen in Christ, before the foundation of the world, to live for the praise of God’s glory. Blessed to be a blessing.
Blessed be the God who has blessed us in Christ, and chosen us to be a blessing to our world.
Amen

Rev'd Kia

Sunday 7 July, Sixth after Trinity
Texts:  2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10, 2 Corinthians 12:2-10

Have you ever been to a dinner party where people are exchanging stories? 
Someone will start to tell of an experience, of something they did, or someone they met and there will always be that one person who has been somewhere better, met someone more famous or been somewhere more exotic.
A one -up-man-ship ensues and after a while you just give up, go silent and let them get on with it!
Well Paul found himself in a similar situation with the Corinthians, but he didn’t let it go – he rolled his sleeves up and got involved – he was never one to sit on the sidelines!
The Corinthians had been bragging about their Spiritual Experiences – how having spiritual gifts put them above others, made them more powerful, more important – more worthy.
So Paul wades in with the best one-up-man-ship there is.
At the end of his previous speech he gives them chapter and verse of his qualifications – ‘Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they descendants of Abraham? So am I’– and he goes on.
But then it takes a twist.
Instead of lauding it over them with his accomplishments – the churches he has planted, the countless people he has influenced – he starts listing all his hardships, all the personal sacrifices he has made to bring them the good news, he has ‘far greater labours, far more imprisonments, with countless floggings, and often near death. Five times I have received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I received a stoning. Three times I was shipwrecked……. In toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, hungry and thirsty, often without food, cold and naked.”
And not only has he suffered physically but mentally too, “And, besides other things, I am under daily pressure because of my anxiety for all the churches.
He has turned the one-up-man-ship on it’s head.
He has not come to them to prove his Spirituality, his holiness or his own power but to impress upon them his weaknesses.
Can you imagine doing that in a dinner party where people are trying to impress one another with their stories of adventure, social climbing or wealth?
If we led with our weaknesses rather than our strengths? If we embraced Jesus’ upside down kingdom?
If we allowed our humanity to show, with all it’s flaws and fragility rather than always presenting what we think is the best version of ourselves, I wonder how God would work in us?
Paul acknowledges his weaknesses because he knows that by doing so he can allow God to work through him more completely.
Paul has a ‘thorn in the flesh’, whether this is metaphorical or actual we don’t know, but he had some sort of affliction that kept him humble and close to God. And he saw it as gift – “three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, but he said to me, “my grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness”.
I have had the privilege of walking alongside recovering alcoholics who epitomise this and demonstrate how this works.
To the outsider being an alcoholic might appear to be horrendous – and indeed it is when the disease is active and they are completely consumed by it. But when in recovery there is a joy and lightness that they exude. They will always be an alcoholic in recovery, they will always have the ‘thorn in the flesh’ but it keeps them close to God, or as the twelve steps of AA puts it ‘a power greater than them’.
They have handed their will and their lives over to a God of their understanding, they have surrendered all of themselves and in doing so they have received life.
Jesus’ upside-down kingdom.
There is power in weakness.
We all have things that we keep hidden that we don’t share; things that bring us shame or guilt, our own ‘thorn in the flesh’ – our weaknesses – but once acknowledged, shared and surrendered to God we can be made whole.
And as Paul so wonderfully puts it, “So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong”.
Amen.

Rev'd Kia

Sunday 30 June, Fifth after Trinity
Text: Mark 5: 21 to the end

Let’s try to imagine we are right in the midst of the scene in the Gospel reading this morning.

Where do we look, who do we notice, which path to follow?  Who do you acknowledge when you are being mobbed?   With no opportunities for proper conversation, people know who Jesus is but haven’t yet met him face to face.  However, Jairus, one of the leaders of the synagogue comes before Jesus.  He falls at Jesus’ feet and begs Jesus to come and lay his hands on his daughter who is dying so that she can be made well and live. 

Jairus puts aside his dignity and pride. He ignores his position. His daughter is dying and all he can do is fall at the feet of Jesus and beg him to come to his house to heal her. Jairus shows faith, believing that if Jesus comes to his house his daughter will be healed and will not die. Without argument or question, Jesus agrees to go with Jairus and just as he is leaving, and still with the crowd pressing and surrounding Jesus, there is an interruption. 

We are told about someone else who is in this crowd. 

Then here is a woman who has had a blood disorder for 12 years. This means that she has been considered unclean for 12 long years.  She has suffered at the hands of doctors, spent all she had, and had grown worse, not better.  She has no money left.  Her health is worse.  People avoid touching her because she is unclean. She is in hopeless despair.  No one can help her. Nothing can be done about her condition.

But there is just one thing left to her. 

She has heard about Jesus.  She thinks that all she needs to do is to touch Jesus’ clothes and she will be made well.  So she comes up behind Jesus and does just that.  Now imagine that. Think about her reaching out to touch Jesus while this crowd is thronging around and pressing into Jesus.  She doesn’t want to disturb anyone so quietly she moves in and moves out again without anyone noticing her.   She touches his clothes and immediately she felt in her body that she was healed. But just as immediately as she felt her disease be healed, Jesus realized that power had gone out of him. Just as she is trying to move away, Jesus turns around in the crowd and asks, “Who touched me?” 

Suddenly we hold our breath in this moment – what will happen now? The story has suddenly stopped. 

The disciples are astonished! “You see the crowd pressing around you, and yet you say, ‘Who touched me?  ’Everyone is touching you! We are being mobbed!”  Can you imagine the trepidation this woman is now experiencing?  She was not supposed to touch Jesus because she is unclean and would have made him unclean. But she had no need to be fearful.   Falling down before Jesus, and she tells him the whole story. 

But listen to Jesus’ response: “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”   Her faith has delivered her. To go in peace is not to be afraid of what she had done but to go in the wholeness and completeness of life.   She believed in the power of Jesus and acted on that faith in what Jesus could do for her.

You may by now have forgotten how this account began. 

Let’s remember Jairus has a dying daughter that Jesus is going to see and while Jesus is talking to the woman whom he healed, people came from Jairus’ house and said, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the Teacher any further?”  These are the worst words any parent could possibly hear at this moment.  But Jesus turns to Jairus and tells him, “Do not fear. Only believe.” 

Only believe. 

You just need to believe in him and that is all. Have faith.  Notice too what else Jesus does. Jesus doesn’t allow anyone to follow him except Peter, James, and John. No more crowds are following and not even his own disciples are following at this moment.  One can imagine the quiet walk that Jairus is taking with Jesus and three of his disciples.  They arrive at Jairus’ house and find there is a crowd of people weeping and wailing loudly. ‘Why are you making a commotion and weeping?’ says, Jesus. ‘The child is not dead but sleeping’.

Here Jesus is making a point about who he is and what he is able to do. Jesus takes the girl by the hand and says to her, “Little girl, I say to you, arise.”  But she has been dead long enough for a messenger to be sent to Jairus and still travel back to his house.  But here we see the power of Jesus.  Immediately the girl gets up and walks around, amazing everyone. And yet again we see that Jesus brings restoration and healing to the afflicted.

And so what is asked of us so that we can enjoy cleansing and life?   What did the woman with the blood disorder need? She only needed faith in the power of Jesus. 

What did Jairus need? He only needed faith in the power of Jesus. 

In fact, this is exactly what Jesus tells the woman.  Look again at verse 34: “Your faith has made you well.” Look at what Jesus tells Jairus in verse 36: “Only believe.” If you will believe you can be made well.   If you will only have faith you can be healed. What we see in this passage is what was only needed was faith.  Jesus’ challenge to all is to simply have great faith in who he is. Both the woman and Jairus were out of options and were desperate. 

We need to see that we have nothing to lose and everything to gain - like the woman and like Jairus.  Faith is acting according to God’s word even when we are afraid. We have faith when we act. This is what we see with the woman and with Jairus. We gain the courage to act in faith in the face of fear by remembering that God is with us.  Faith is not fearlessness. Faith is acting despite one’s fear.  Perhaps we have had the luxury of viewing our faith as an emotional experience and not being tested in a situation where our lives were seriously at risk.

If we listen to his word we will be changed and humbled and be shown how to fulfil his call upon our lives,   If we hold him at the centre of the way we live, our daily lives with all the ups and downs, we can have faith in knowing he is like us and able to empathise with us, able to be with us in the boat as well as to save us.  The Gospel of Mark is giving us what the perspective of life for a disciple must be. 

We will come to Jesus with only our faith in our hands and nothing else because we know we have nothing else to give him. 

Amen.

Rev'd Caroline Lazenby

Sunday 23 June
Texts:  Psalm 107: 1-3, 23-32,  Mark 4: 35-end

Have any of you, like me, been at one time or another frightened by the power of the sea and been fearful for your own safety? The first time I remember being scared when, as a fairly young child, I ventured into a rough and churning Norfolk Sea and found myself bowled over and sucked under by a large wave. I was even more scared when the same thing happened when, considerably older, I was caught unawares and well and truly sucked under by a vast breaking Pacific roller and, for a moment, felt complete panic that I might never breathe fresh air again. And the third time was when I was taken sailing again off the Norfolk Coast and tried hard not to reveal how terrified I was as the boat rose at right angles to the sea.  Fortunately, we were in the hands of an expert sailor who thought such an experience was simply a part of the joy of sailing; I was not convinced!

There is no doubt the sea can be extremely dangerous, and the Sea of Galilee is no exception where, because of the geographical lay-out, sudden violent storms can all too easily erupt and transform placid water into a turbulent nightmare of wildly unrestrained wind and crashing waves. No wonder the disciples, seasoned fishermen though some were, were terrified that their lives could well be in danger as Jesus appeared to be quite oblivious to their peril. 

But reflecting on all this I think that whoever we are we may well have experienced not just actual rough seas but the metaphorical rough seas of distressing fear, of unsolved and pressing dilemmas and problems  and disturbing, stomach churning  worries and, if you are anything like me, these ‘storms’ are of the sort that will leave us awake in the middle of the night doing our own tossing and turning as we try to calm ourselves and make sense of all such emotions. And when this happens to me, which I assure you it does, I have learned that, like those disciples in that little boat, the only way to find that calm is to seek God’s presence, seek to be sheltered under the safety of his protecting love. It’s not easy. Those fears, worries and dilemmas have at that time of night a firm hold but if one is ever to regain soothing restorative sleep, I find, again and again, I have to trust in God with all my heart. Trust that, with him beside, I can wake next morning to discover that those dark hour’s waves will have become, if not completely calm, at least manageable and also quite often seen to be not nearly as bad as in my fertile, overwrought  night time imagination.

And this is where I find today’s psalm such a help and, indeed, a comfort, and it has become one of my favourites with its repeated words of: ‘Then they called to the Lord in their trouble, and he brought them out from their distress.’ And in the verses that were read this morning these words are followed by: ‘he made the storm be still, and the waves of the sea were hushed.’ Words, of course, which compliment those in Mark’s gospel account of that great storm on the sea of Galilee: ‘And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who is this that even the wind and the sea obey him?”  

In a world that at times seems so deeply troubled and where so many are truly experiencing not simply the distress of those wakeful night hours but the dire, at times unspeakable distress caused by war and famine, it strikes me that our need for God’s steady, protective and calming presence is all the more essential in our lives. A presence to reassure us and give us renewed courage to face up to our own troubles and all that distresses us.   A presence to help put our own worries and problems into a right perspective and recognise the truism that there are so many people far worse off than any of us are.  People, both known to us and unknown, who are in need of our help, our comforting and our  protecting once, with God’s help,  we have reassessed and learned how we can best face up to and  deal rationally and calmly with our own problems  

Our second hymn this morning is so appropriate to the theme of my sermon with those wonderful words: ‘Lead us Heav’nly Father lead us o’er the world’s tempestuous sea; guard us, guide us, keep us, feed us, for we have no help but thee; yet possessing ev’ry blessing if our God our Father be.’  Words we might well like to repeat, or even sing, on those storm-tossed wakeful nights or, indeed, whenever we fear being overpowered by the giant breakers of life which are surely common to all of us over a lifetime. So, too, these beautiful words of a Gaelic prayer can also help to reassure us that however fearful, however distressed  we are, God is there with us and will not leave us: ‘As the rain hides the stars, as the Autumn mist hides the hills, as the clouds veil the blue of the sky, so the dark happenings of my lot hide the shining of Thy face from me. Yet if I may hold Thy hand in the darkness it is enough…..Since I know, that though I may stumble in my going, Thou dost not fall.

I pray that not only will we learn always  to call to God  when our courage melts away, when we are seemingly at our wit’s end and discover his eternal power to make the storms be still and the waves hushed but then, once restored to a safe haven, we can, in response to his goodness, his steadfast love, exalt him with the words of today’s last hymn: ‘Now thank we all our God, with hearts and hands and voices, who won’drous things hath done, in  whom this world rejoices; who from our mother’s arms hath blesses us on our way with countless gifts of love and still is ours today.

Psalm 107 by Malcolm Guite
My Judge is still my saviour and my friend,
Time after time he finds and rescues me,
Makes a beginning where I’ve made an end.

I was astray and yet he came to me
And filled my hungry soul with nourishment.
I sat in darkness, bound in misery.

Crushed by depression and discouragement,
He brought me out of darkness, broke the chain,
The complex links of my imprisonment.

When I was sick and wearies and in pain,
Afraid of pestilence in these dark days,
He sent his word and raised me up again.

So I will sing this psalm that sings his praise,
Telling of all the wonders he has done,
Whose loving- kindness keeps me all my days.

Virginia Smith

Sunday 16 June, Fathers Day
Being a third Sunday, we have two services - 9.00am Communion and 6.00pm Evensong - with two sermons, both of which are published here.

9.00am Communion
Texts Genesis 17: 1-7,  Luke 15: 11-24

This week I officiated at a funeral when a truly delightful and heartfelt tribute was given to their dad by his three sons. And listening to it I knew that this had been a very real father, a hands-on dad who had throughout his life loved sharing his interests and passing on his skills to not just his sons but his grandchildren as well. Whether it was teaching them how to mix cement, cook a whole chicken on a barbecue or ensuring that, like him, they became Arsenal supporters, he helped shape their lives. By contrast my own father was of that generation where it was expected that fathers earned the pennies and mothers brought up the children and cared for the home so, in all honesty, as children we did not have a great deal to do with him  However, when I was considered  old enough to go to  London alone, he would invite me to join him for lunch and then to see a film which was a huge treat and made me feel very grown up. Although I was not quite so pleased the day we went to see that epic film Ben Hur and he became bored by its length and insisted we crept out about half-way through and to this day I’ve never seen the ending. But at least my father did not insist, as Eric Newby’s father did, ‘that my bowels should be opened at precisely the same moment every morning’ and  no matter the temperature I should also have a cold bath every morning. Presumably such a regime helped him become the intrepid traveller for which he is famed, though Newby did admit the cold baths did nothing to abate what his father termed as ‘filthy thoughts’ whatever they may be!

So, yes, fathers come in all sorts and sizes just as all God’s children do and in the way of things some embrace the role with true delight, some not so much and some, sadly who never even begin to take on the role of fathering their children and being an integral part of a loving caring family. And with this in mind we should I think be very aware that for some people this day like its companion celebrating mothers can be a difficult, disturbing and emotionally testing time. And even when the father is as good as they get, families may well be made to feel somehow inadequate when there are simply not the finances to buy any of those lavish over-priced gifts which the adverts tell us all fathers deserve,

Our two readings today both tell us about fathers. The first about Abraham and how God told him he was, by virtue of God’s blessing and unbreakable covenant, to become the father of many nations. And this, to m,e paints a wonderful picture of all the nations of the earth as comprising one great  family;  but a  family like all families which is widely diverse and each nation will boast its own characteristics, its own ways of doing things just as we see here in Great Britain with the English, the Scots, the Welsh and the Irish all proud of their unique nationhood but united not simply as the United Kingdom of Britain but  far more importantly with all earth’s countries as the united Kingdom of God.

And our second reading is that wonderful parable Jesus told to illustrate just what Abba, God the Father, is like and of his love for us his children. This father went totally against the customs of the time and acceded to his second son’s request to have his share of the inheritance now while his father was still very much alive and thus enabled his son to have  the freedom to choose his own path in life. Such an act would have caused shock and even outrage to the community at what was not just counter cultural but would have been seen as very unwise one by that father.  From this generous act alone this parable teaches us that God, as a Father, does not dictate to us; does not insist that we follow his example, his plans for our future but are liberated by the gifts he gives to make our own way in life and use those gifts as we. see fit.

And as the story continues, we learn that the second son used that gift, that inheritance he had been given unwisely, making for himself fair weather friends who quickly deserted him when the money ran out. Then we are told of his desolate and parlous state as, impoverished and friendless, he is forced to find work feeing pigs, a task of course which would have been deemed utterly abhorrent to Jesus’ Jewish listeners. And then, in the depths of his despair, the son comes to realise that the only sensible course he can now follow is to return, in abject repentance, to his father not expecting more from him than to be classed no longer as his son but at best as one of his father’s paid workers.

But what does he discover as he approaches his old home, full of fear and trepidation as to just what sort of welcome he will receive? He discovers his father running, yes, running to greet him; again, a completely counter cultural act, a reprehensibly undignified act according to the customs of the time, but this is a father who has his own unique rules of behaviour. Here is his lost son for whom he has prayed and waited and watched out for day after long day, now returning to him and in the joy of that moment he runs! Runs to embrace him in his love, to kiss him with love. This is a love which does not hold back; a love which is not tinged with reproaches, judgement or bitterness, a love which is not bound by any restraints but is wholeheartedly a love of mercy, a love of forgiveness, a love which is to us almost incomprehensible as it is so far removed from our own often very limited efforts to love one another.

What that foolish second son received is what we are all offered when we too stray from our spiritual home and then come to our senses and turn back in sorrow for our misdeeds, our sinning, our foolish notion that we could make our own way in life without God to guide and protect us  and find ourselves embraced in love and hear the words ‘you were lost but now you are found’.

A wonderful and affirming parable I am sure you will agree and a parable that, I pray, teaches us that in God we are all given a father unlike any earthly father, however good that father might be.  A father who will always be there for us; a father who gives us freedom to go our own way, make what we will of our lives but a father, who no matter how badly we have erred and strayed, will be there to run out and welcome us home when we turn back to him in repentance and in faith. And whether our own fathers were or are huggers or not, in our Father God we can experience the wonder, the security of being held within an unrestrained, unparalleled bear hug of love.

I pray you can sing along with the last hymn to be sung at Wotton on Sunday and have complete confidence and trust that whatever our earthly father is or was like in God we do all have a heavenly Father to celebrate with truly  joyful, thankful hearts and voices not just  on Sunday but every day gifted to us  from God our Father; ’Great is thy faithfulness O God our Father. Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth, thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide; strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow, blessings all mine and ten thousand beside.’

Starlight by Philip Levine
My father stands in the warm evening
on the porch of my first house.
I am four years old and growing tired.
I see his head among the stars,
the glow of his cigarette, redder
than the summer moon riding
low over the old neighbourhood. We
are alone, and he asks me if I am happy.
“Are you happy?” I cannot answer
I do not really understand the word,
and the voice, my father’s voice, is not
his voice, but somehow thick and choked,
a voice I have not heard before, but
heard often since. He bends and passes
a thumb beneath each of my eyes.
The cigarette is gone, but I can smell
the tiredness that hangs on his breath.
He has found nothing, and he smiles
and holds my head with both his hands.
Then he lifts me to his shoulder,
and now I too am there among the stars
as tall as he. Are you happy? I say.
He nods in answer, Yes! oh yes! oh yes!
And in that new voice he says nothing
holding my head tight against his head,
his eyes closed up against the starlight,
as though those tiny blinking eyes
Of light might find a tall, gaunt child
holding his child against the promises
of autumn, until the boy slept

never to waken in that world.

Virginia Smith

6.00pm Evensong
Texts: 2 Corinthians 5, 6-10, Mark 4.26-34     

Today’s gospel compares The Kingdom of God to seed, which is why I am asking you to take a seed from the containers that are being passed around and to hold it safely in the palm of your hand as I explore the gospel theme with you. 

Preachers will often point out that, in order to fully appreciate Jesus’ choice of illustrations, we need to remember that his original listeners were rural folk, steeped in the ways of simple agriculture. The choice of a seed to illustrate the Kingdom would therefore have been perfectly understandable. I imagine that in some parts of the country such an illustration might not connect with people’s daily life experiences, but I think that in Coldharbour, we are privileged to be surrounded by product of seeds – I also imagine that many of you – like myself – are also keen gardeners.

My husband, Paddy, and I moved into our house just before Christmas. We inherited a large garden which simply consisted of field grass. Since then, I have spent every free moment creating flower beds and filling them with plants – I am particularly proud of my Sunflowers and Cosmos which I have grown from tiny seeds. Each morning, I go for a walk around the garden and see what the seedlings have done during the night. It is also the perfect opportunity to marvel at God’s creation and to give thanks. 

We also have oak trees over-hanging our garden; so I often find myself removing oak seedlings – of course from a small acorn mighty  oaks will grow – which might not be a good idea in the middle of a flower bed!

I can easily identify with the farmer in the first parable:
Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head.

I need the intervention of the Almighty creator to germinate the seed and realise it’s potential. All I have done is put it in the correct soil or compost.

But of course this Bible passage is not meant to be a Biblical version of Gardener’s World. Instead it is telling us something important about the growth of God’s kingdom. 

To return to the seed I have given you. You may have realised that it is a mustard seed – as mentioned in the second parable. It is so tiny that if you drop it on the floor or pew– you may well struggle to find it again. And yet this tiniest of seeds has the amazing potential to create a plant so large, that birds can sit in it. 

Perhaps we don’t grow many mustard plants in the UK but just think of the acorn creating the mighty oak. Inside that mustard seed – inside the acorn - is a potential which, rationally, is difficult to comprehend. We often take it for granted and yet it is a miracle.

So how might we reflect on this potential miracle?

I would like to suggest three scenarios where the seed of God’s kingdom has potential and – in many cases- has already produced a harvest.

Let me take you back to your childhood. Since it is Father’s Day some of you might be able to envisage your father – and then your mother. I would hazard a guess that without your parents, you would not be sitting in church this morning. 

Christians believe that we are all made in the image of God, but  - just as God often requires human help to plant a seed in the right growing medium – he also requires human help to take the tiny seed of faith and plant it within a child so that it can grow and flourish. 

Thinking of your own childhood , who helped by planting that seed of faith within you? Was it your parents – or your godparents - fulfilling the promises that they made at your christening – was it a Sunday school or a primary school teacher?  Who taught you the stories from the Bible which helped your faith seed to germinate and grow? Who taught you how to pray and worship? Who brought you to church as a young child? Who showed you, by their Christian example, how to imitate Christ?

In a moment of quiet, perhaps we can give thanks for the childhood influences we had which has resulted in our Christian faith of today. Look at that mustard seed in the palm of your hand and thank God for those people.

To return to our gospel reading.
Jesus says he’s using those examples to illustrate the kingdom of God 
Jesus teaches that the kingdom of God is not a place, but a process.
That’s worth repeating the kingdom of God is not a place, but a process.

 Like a tiny seed it has the potential to grow. For his agriculturally experienced listeners, Jesus describes a hugely complex subject in simple terms: the kingdom of God is “as if” someone scatters seed and it grows; it is “like” a small seed that grows into a huge tree.

So, if Jesus is suggesting that the kingdom of God is a process, what kind of process is that? 

The process is the trust God puts in us as individuals. God is trusting us to help grow that kingdom on earth. Like, the mustard seed, we might feel so insignificant in the greater scheme of things, that our efforts are worthless, but our faith and hope in God’s plan for his kingdom is all that is necessary. 

So the second scenario I would like you to reflect on is the opportunities you have taken to help grow the faith seed in others.

If you have been fortunate enough to have children in your life – either your own or someone else’s - have you found opportunities to encourage their faith seeds? Have you had the privilege to see them grow in faith? ( As a caveat, I might add that as parent, we sometimes despair about our children’s apparent lack of faith, but God WILL be at work within them, I can guarantee, even if it might not be within the time frame we would prefer). 

But apart from children, have you taken the opportunities to share your faith with others? To encourage your friends and adult family members? Not all of us find it easy to speak about our faith – but there are many ways in which we can show what a difference our faith makes in our lives – the choices we make about the use of our time – the words and actions we choose to use.

 Our integrity and  compassion can help to grow that tiny seed of faith in others. We may not witness the final outcome, but each time we share God’s love with someone else, that seed has the potential to grow a little bit more..

But the first parable underlines the fact that we need God’s help. We can’t do it on our own. Just as God makes the seed grow in due course, and the farmer “does not know how”, God can help us to do amazing things in the service of the kingdom.

So how can we help the kingdom grow? And how can we allow God to help us in this task? 

Let’s look at our seed and ask God to provide us with opportunities to help others’ faith seeds to grow

My final scenario is to reflect on how God uses us as a community to help the faith seeds of others to grow.

Jesus’ life’s work was to proclaim the coming of God’s Kingdom and, as Christians, it beholds us to do likewise. It is a contradiction in terms to call ourselves a Christian community and yet not proclaim the gospel to the others –  and particularly to the community that we live in – through our Christ like words and actions.

There is another well known Biblical verse: The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.

We only have to consider the number of people in this parish who are unaffected or perhaps even unaware of God’s Kingdom, to see how true this verse is. 

So how can we – as a Christian community-  help the kingdom grow? And how can we allow God to help us in this task? 

I think one of the most important ways in which this community can grow the kingdom of God, is to be radically welcoming. By a radical welcome, I mean going out of our way to welcome everyone who comes through the door, whether we think we might have something in common with them or not. I have to say that one of the reasons Paddy and I chose our current place of worship, our home parish, was the welcome that we received when we first went there. It made such a difference. 

That welcome can be extended to anyone who walks through the church door. You don’t even need to necessarily have a conversation, just a smile in someone’s direction can be so effective. Sometimes people feel uneasy – perhaps they haven’t been to church for a while – or perhaps have never been and this is their first time – perhaps they have children with them (Alleluia!) and they are worried about their child disturbing others – it is privilege to be able to share the love of God and his unconditional welcome to all – and thus the kingdom grows.

Another way of our community growing the kingdom is through the so called 'outreach' events that are open to all – whether they come to church on a Sunday or not. I know that in Coldharbour there are a number of community events where the church plays a significant part.  For some people coming to a service is not where they are on their faith journey, but sharing a community celebration with friendly members of the congregation can have a lasting positive impact on their faith journey. Each opportunity can help to show that Christians can have fun and are ‘normal’!  The list of opportunities are endless.

What we do, as much as what we say, can begin to sow the seeds of faith in those around us.

So for the final time let us look at our seed and pray for all the opportunities we have as a congregation to help God’s kingdom grow in this place. 

So the tiny seed in your palm can provide much ‘food for thought’:As a sign of gratitude to those many people who encouraged your ‘faith seed’ to bring you to where you are today.
As a reminder to look for opportunities to encourage the growth of ‘faith seeds’ in those we come into contact within our daily lives.
And finally, to inspire us as a congregation to provide many opportunities as possible to share God’s love for the community that we serve. 

A final thought from our epistle: For Christ’s love compels us, …………………………… he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again  

Amen

Rev Mandy McVean

Sunday 9 June, The Second after Trinity
Texts: Genesis 3:8-15, Mark 3:20-35

 I remember a gentlemen telling me that his greatest fear is that someday he will be found out. “What do you mean?” I said. “That they will know I’m not who I say I am; that I’m not who I want them to think I am; that I’m not who I want to be” he answered. Beneath his fear he knows there are cracks in his house. He knows that a divided house cannot stand and a divided kingdom will crumble.

From the beginning of his ministry, as told by Mark, Jesus has been dealing with divided houses and kingdoms. He has cast out demons, healed Peter’s mother-in-law, cleansed a leper, and caused a paralytic to walk. The houses and kingdoms of these people are divided. 

The strong man has invaded their homes. Their lives are not their own. They live with inner conflict and turmoil. They have been separated from their community and all that gave them security and identity. Their outer conditions of illness, paralysis, and possession point to the inner conflict; the battle between health and disease, not just physically but, more importantly, spiritually.

That battle and interior conflict has been around since Adam and Eve separated themselves from God and hid amongst the trees of the garden. It is seen in Israel wanting a king so it can be like all the other nations; forgetting that it has a unique calling, that it is to be different from other nations, that it is through Israel, the people of God, that God will act for the benefit of all people.

This division and inner conflict is a reality of today’s world and our lives. A marriage divided is a divorce. A nation divided results in vitriolic politics and in the extreme, civil war. An economy divided yields poverty and injustice. A community divided becomes individualism and tribalism, prejudice and violence. Humanity divided is all these things on a global level. Faith divided is sin.

We all know what it is like to live divided lives. You know those times when your outsides and your insides don’t match up? That’s what it means to be a house divided. You’re one person at work another at home. You act one way with certain people and a different way with other people. Life gets divided into pieces. 

Behaviour, beliefs, and ethics become situational. There is the work life, the family life, the prayer life, the personal life, the social life. Pretty soon we’re left with a bunch of pieces.

It seems that we are forever trying to put the pieces of our lives together. That’s why the crowd has gathered around Jesus. That’s why the religious authorities oppose him. That’s why his family tries to restrain him. In their own way each is trying to put the pieces of their life together but it’s not working. They won’t fit. They have been found out. Their life and their world are neither what they thought they were nor what Jesus knows they could be. One reality has fallen, and a new one is ready to rise.

Jesus always stands before us as the image of unity, wholeness and integration. He is the stronger one. He does for us what we cannot do for ourselves. 

He puts our lives and houses back in order. 

Jesus offers a different image of what life might look like. 

He does so by revealing the division in our lives, the houses that cannot stand, and the crumbling of our kingdoms.

Even when it is for our own good, with the offer of new life, intended for wholeness, that’s a hard place to be. It means that one way or another change of some sort is coming. Most of us don’t like that. It can be frightening.

“He has gone out of his mind,” the people say. The religious authorities accuse him of allegiance to Beelzebul, the ruler of demons. They project onto Jesus their own interior conflict and division. 

They have declared that which is holy, sacred, and beautiful to be unclean, dirty, and bereft of God. Their accusations say more about themselves than Jesus. 

Their accusations reveal the depth of the conflict and division within them. Their accusations are a way of avoiding themselves.

It’s hard to look at the division and inner conflict within our lives. The beginning of wholeness, however, is acknowledging our brokenness. Where is our own house divided? How and to what extent have we created conflict and division within our relationships. In what ways do we live fragmented lives, parcelling out pieces here and there? What is it that shatters your life? Anger and resentment, greed, insecurity, perfectionism, sorrow and loss. Fear. Envy. Guilt. Loneliness.

There are all sorts of forces, things, events, sometimes even people by which our lives are broken and through which we are separated from God, others, and our self. 

Christ is stronger than anything that fragments our lives. He binds the forces that divide, heals the wounds that separate, and refashions pieces into a new whole. There is nothing about your life or my life that cannot be put back together by the love God in Christ.

I am reminded of the Japanese pottery, it's called Kintsugi, literally golden (“kin”) and repair (“tsugi”). Kintsugi is the process of repairing ceramics traditionally with lacquer and gold, leaving a gold seam where the cracks were. The technique consists in joining fragments and giving them a new, more refined aspect.

This is a beautiful picture of the life that Jesus offers us, he offers us liquid gold in the form of forgiveness, wholeness and acceptance and he binds us up and gifts us the possibility of a life beyond our wildest dreams; a life of fulfilment, purpose and peace. A life where we are never alone, never forsaken – a life of hope. All we have to do is accept this gift, this offer of unconditional love into our hearts and we will receive.

Rev'd Kia

Sunday 2 June, The First after Trinity
Texts: Deuteronomy 5:12-15, Mark 2: 23-36

What are your memories of Sundays as a child? Whatever they are I am quite certain they were very different from the sort of Sunday to which today’s children have become accustomed, My most vivid memories were of Sunday lunches always with a roast, be it beef with Yorkshire puddings, lamb with mince sauce and red currant jelly, mutton with onion sauce or pork with wonderful crackling, though not interestingly chicken. Lunches which always included a shot-by-shot account of my Father’s round of golf that morning which, as children, we patiently endured. And then there was church in the evening with its very wheezy organ. And I remember in particular summer evensongs with the light pouring into the church and then how we would always scoot out before the sermon started and often my Mother would then take us through the fields to listen to, or should that be experience, the delights offered by Parson Greensleeves. 

And all this would, I am sure, be almost alien to modern children who will often have spent Sundays pursuing some sport or other and a roast dinner with all the family present sitting around a table and no smart phones a  complete novelty. Although here I am always so delighted that my daughter has always kept the Sunday roast tradition but, sadly, not the church going, although there might just very occasionally be a visit to Parson Greenfields, although I suspect my grandchildren would be quite baffled by such terminology.

So yes, over the years Sunday habits have altered dramatically and maybe some of us of more mature years secretly long to have a quieter less, hectic Sabbath restored and one in which at the very least the churches of a retail persuasion remain firmly shut. But the truth is that this is most unlikely to happen and in light of the gospel reading we must be cautious about judging other people and what they choose to do or not do with their lives.

So I think this morning what we need to consider is just what does the Sabbath or, if you prefer a Sunday, mean for us? Is it simply a question of turning up to church for whichever type of service appeals to you most and then returning home thinking your duty has been done and you can simply spend the rest of the day how you choose? Some might even choose to shop, even if it’s just to a Garden Centre with all its lovely temptations. But, again, it is not for us to judge, remembering that Jesus and his disciples were judged as breaking the Sabbath for using it to enjoy the beauties of nature as they strolled across the fields and, horror of horror, plucking at grain stalks to munch upon.

But back to what we ourselves do on a Sabbath and I doubt if any of us these days sit with just a Bible for reading material and learn by heart the collect for the week which, if I am honest, strikes me as a very arid way of spending hour upon hour once church going is over. But how can we make those hours productive? Here I turn to the words of Hebrews: ‘A sabbath rest still remains for the people of God; for those who enter God’s rest also cease from their labours as God did from his. Let us therefore make every effort to enter that rest.’ (Hebrews 4: 9-11a)

I think this passage reminds us very strongly that we do, all of us, need to incorporate proper rest into our lives and here I admit that this is something I, personally, am not that good at doing as caring friends keep reminding me.  If God needed that rest on the seventh day, then there is no question we do too. We need time to remember and observe the words of William Davies: What is this life if full of care we have no time to stand and stare’.  I think this is some of the wisest advice we can be given in life to take time to literally stop and just drink in the beauty that never fails to be around us if we choose to look with the eyes of God the Creator. Of course, it’s easier out in the open countryside with which we are so blessed living where we do but, even in a crowded city. if we choose. there is beauty to be found. It may be daisies growing in the crack of a pavement, light rays reflecting off a window or quite simply the clouds busily decorating the sky above. Or it may be some architectural feature which some craftsman has created. One of my pleasures is having coffee with a friend in a certain well know super store and while enjoying both the coffee and the company looking out at the delightful and intricate patchwork of roofs laid out in front of the window. 

I think that on each Sabbath, each Sunday. we are called to spend time stopping and staring and, in that stopping and staring, discover both wonder and refreshment at all the blessings with which God has gifted us in this amazing world he has  created. That surely was what God himself did on that seventh day. And, again, I turn to words of Thomas Traherne: ‘You will feed with pleasure upon everything that is His. So that the world shall be a grand Jewel of Delight unto you; a very Paradise and the Gate of Heaven. It is indeed the beautiful frontispiece of Eternity; the Temple of God, and Palace of his children.’  If we can learn to really stop and stare, can we learn that indeed we are in the Temple of God as much outside a church as inside and in that realisation give further heartfelt praise and worship?  I know from the times I have managed to do this I recognise the joy it brings and the much-needed refreshment so that I am empowered in the week to come to be more aware of the grace of God acting both within and without me. Stopping to really look at the intricacies of a flower, the sun’s rays highlighting the leaves of a tree, or the blackbird perched high on a roof-top carolling his own hymn of delight and praise to the creator God.  A hymn in which we can all participate if we only allow ourselves that precious, life restoring time each Sabbath and, for that matter, on any other day too, to stop and stare and thus find God with us.  I think Isaiah understood this need we all have deep within ourselves when he wrote: ’In calm detachment lies your safety; your strength in quiet trust.’ (Isaiah 30:15)

I pray that all of us may find the incomparable blessing which is a Sabbath rest spent in a time of real consciousness of God being in all that we see and all that we do in love in his name.

What is this life if full of care we have no time to stand and stare.  
No time to stand beneath the boughs and stare as long as sheep or cows.
No time to see, when woods we pass, where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.
No time to see in broad daylight, streams full of stars, like skies at night.
No time to turn at Beauty’s glance, and watch her feet how they can dance.
No time to wait till her mouth can enrich that smile her eyes began.
A poor life this is full of care, we have no time to stop and stare.

 Virginia Smith                   

Sunday 26 May, Trinity Sunday
My only thought would be that you firm up in a few places about how this Creator / Lover / Inspirer applied both in New Testament times and now. In other words, I think you could helpfully spell it out a bit more. i.e. God who created the world from nothing and continues to show his creative power on a daily basis, Jesus whose accepting love extended to everyone he met, regardless of what they had done or who they were, and the Holy Spirit who changed 11 frightened and defeated  men into a dedicated and unstoppable force that would change the course of history.  I'd do the same with the wonderful Divan orchestra, spelling out the Creative force, the Love and the Inspiration. I say all that because people can be very vague as to what the Holy Spirit does now and, in particular, creativity and inspiration can often look like the same thing. So, it would be good to clarify the roles a bit more

Other than that, super stuff. On the Holy Spirit, I remember the Bishop of Willesden preaching at our church on Pentecost, urging people to put their hands up if "You've ever felt prompted to write that letter......." "You've ever thought so and so might appreciate a visit" etc., and many people put their hands up in response to these various prompts, whereupon he said quite loudly and enthusiastically "You lot know more about the Holy Spirit than you think you do !". This seemed a simple way of making the Spirit's inspiration more tangible. Not suggesting you do the same, but it highlighted that the role of the Holy Spirit needs to be put down to earth terms sometimes. 

Trinity Sunday, when preachers can so easily tie themselves in knots trying to explain in lucid terms the theology of the Trinity and most probably using shamrocks or triangles to provide some sort of visual image of what it could all mean. Well you will be pleased to know I am not going to go all theological on you as I reckon it’s best left to far more academic minds than mine and if you care to Triunehave an image of a shamrock or an equilateral triangle or indeed what is called a triquetra with three interlocking curly triangles in mind as your aid to understanding a God who is one in three and three in one that’s fine. Or, if you would like a couple of other examples you could imagine an egg which in its entirety consists of a shell, a yolk and the white or, even more simple, think of   water which can exist in a solid, liquid and gaseous state. All these can help but if we are honest with ourselves an understanding of just what truly defines God is knowledge completely beyond our extremely limited human comprehension.

But what I think is relevant for this morning is our appreciation of just how this triune God manifests himself, itself in our midst. Our Romans reading points to St Paul’s understanding of how this happens when he writes of the Spirit of God leading us to understand that we are children of God, the God we are encouraged to call Abba or Father just as Jesus did. Paul, it strikes me, has a very clear understanding that this triune God is, if you like, a partnership where each part acts on behalf of the other in order to make manifest to us a real sense of the divine in our midst however limited that sense may be. Nick Fawcett in a poem suggests that what we all need to understand the Trinity better is 3D glasses which open up new dimensions and perspectives of God.

So, speaking with my personal 3D glasses firmly on my nose what seems to me the best way of understanding our three-in-one God is as Creator, Lover and Inspirer. God, the Father, who created the world from nothing and continues to show that awe inspiring creative power on a daily basis. Jesus, the Son whose accepting love extended to everyone he met regardless of what they had done or who they were and then in that same incomparable love gave his own life for us. And the Holy Spirit who as we know from reading Acts changed a mere eleven frightened and defeated men into an unstoppable force that would change the course of history. The Holy Spirit who continues ceaselessly to act in us if only by that gentle prompting to go and visit someone or simply give them a call and thus help them to know they are cared for and loved. And it is these three qualities that I feel we are all called to imitate as best as we possibly can in our lives.

And here I would like to give an example of just what that imitation can achieve. Twenty-five years ago Daniel Barenboim, a Jew, and Edward Said, a Palestinian, were inspired to create the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra to bring together in their love of music young people from the Arab-Israeli divide. Young people who in their longing to create both beautiful music and love for one another in place of hatred responded to the call to create and promote such an orchestra. Clemency Burton-Hill  was a guest violinist for the tenth anniversary tour  and wrote that the tour changed her life  when she found heroes, inspiration and friends as she came to know something of the lives of the one hundred talented young people determined to ensure Barenboim’s and Said’s vision continued to be realised.  Young people like the Palestinian violinist raised in a refugee camp and the Israeli bassoonist whose tone had her crying on stage mush to her embarrassment. Barenboim himself when questioned how he could remain so positive when Arab-Israeli relations seemed always on a downward spiral replied: ‘In these times, we cannot afford the luxury of pessimism.’  And it is that optimism that has continued within that unique orchestra to reveal the creative power of gifted musicians. Optimism that the world can be a better place by displaying their genuine love, not just of music making but of each other; a love that unites them in their desire to create a greater harmony in the world. Optimism that is always based on inspiration which continues to reveal to a sad and troubled world the unparalleled beauty of combining creativity with love. 

Surely this story speaks with such force of those three qualities which I believe are intrinsic to the Trinitarian God. Qualities we too are urgently called to display in our own lives, especially in the face of so much world news that all too often seems to be so lacking in hope. We are called to be optimists, using our creative gifts in God’s service, loving as Jesus Christ has commanded us to do and always seeking inspiration from the Holy Spirit for ways to display that creativity, that love. Last week at the Coldharbour fete we had a perfect example of what I mean when we saw just how creativity, love and inspiration came together to ensure it truly was a fete which demonstrated without a doubt all that is best in this community.

And this coming together, this unifying of those three qualities, are what we are called to demonstrate  in our churches and in our parishes to dispel the pessimism which can all too easily overtake us in these troublesome times.  Barenboim, Said and all those young people who have played for the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra have never given up as any of you who have the privilege of hearing them at this year’s Proms will realise. Our last hymn today speaks within each verse of those three qualities of creating, loving and inspiring and thus bringing the light that is God into the world’s darkest places. So too may we determine to use the same qualities which I believe without a doubt that we all possess to continue in the face of the world’s darkness to bring the  light  that ensures we play out our lives in harmony  together with each one of us adding in our own way our individual but absolutely necessary  part to a symphony of joy  and  make this church, this community places of unity, peace and blessing.

The 3-D Glasses by Nick Fawcett
They made such a difference,
giving me a sense of being there,
involved in the action-
for they opened up new dimensions,
giving a fresh perspective on all,
what I’d known before in theory
suddenly experienced in practice.

Help me to see you like that, Lord:
in all your glory
rather than a single dimension
I all too easily reduce you to.

Help me to glimpse you as Father -
providing,
guiding,
caring for me each day;
to see you as Son -
sharing my humanity
and walking this earth;
to experience you as Spirit-
alive within,
prompting, comforting,
teaching and equipping.

Give me a fuller picture of who and what you are,
and an awareness that no dimension or measure
can finally contain the wonder of it all. 

Virginia Smith

Sunday 18 May, Pentecost

Being a third Sunday, we have two services - 9.00am Communion and 6.00pm Evensong - with two sermons, both of which are published here.

9.00am Communion

Acts 2:1-21

Texts: John 15: 26-27 & 16: 4-15
The Holy Spirit has been in danger in recent years of becoming the soppy one of the Trinity.
Think about it for a bit – the Holy Spirit doesn’t go off and do uncomfortable and challenging things like getting crucified.
The Holy Spirit gives spectacular gifts that add a distinct touch of excitement to what could otherwise become rather dreary religious lives.
The Holy Spirit can be described as the ‘comforter’, which sounds just lovely.
The Holy Spirit is very politically correct and not all all gender-specific.
The Holy Spirit likes to leave things to the last minute, like some of us, and works best if you stand up unprepared and allow the Spirit to take over.
He/she really hates to be called upon by untrusting people who fussily want to prepare several days in advance. All in all, the Holy Spirit is the acceptable face of the Trinity.
Unfortunately, this picture of the Holy Spirit bears no resemblance at all to the Holy Spirit as depicted in the New Testament.
Today’s reading in Acts does sound, initially, rather exciting. We might feel, a tad wistfully, that if we had had tongues of fire resting on our heads then we might be able to match the sudden boldness of the disciples as they stand up and witness to Jesus.
But when Peter begins to talk, fuelled by the power of the Holy Spirit, what he is led to talk about is judgement.
The coming of the Holy Spirit emphasises the finality and totality of what God has done in Jesus Christ. The way in which people react to Jesus seals their fate just as surely as if the world had indeed come to an end with ‘portants in the heavens above and signs on the earth below’ as we read in verse 19.
And if Peter’s words today ring with excitement and conviction, he is to spend the rest of his days witnessing to this truth he once denied, and he is to pay for it with his life.
The Gospel reading also talks about the Holy Spirit in terms of judgement. With exactly the same theological force as in Acts, John says that work of the Holy Spirit is to point out the consequences of how we respond to Jesus. The Holy Spirit comes to prove conclusively that the world has got most of its judgements skewed.
The world judged Jesus to be mad and dangerous, and it condemned him to death, thereby proving that it didn’t know right from wrong.
The Holy Spirit comes to reverse that judgement, and to turn the tables. Those that convicted Jesus of sin are now shown to be the deluded sinners. The holy Spirit comes to prove that Jesus is the one who knows the truth, and that is because Jesus’ judgements are the same as God’s. The Spirit of truth comes to bear witness to the unity of Father and Son and to empower us to do the same.
The Holy Spirit knows how to interpret the anguish of the world.
The Holy Spirit has seen the image of Jesus forming more and more clearly in so many people that, in the midst of our cries we can hear the words, ‘it’s all right. This is how it is supposed to be. Nothing has gone wrong. Keep hoping, keep working. The end is in sight’.
Hope is one of the hallmarks of the Holy Spirit, according to Romans 8, and this is no mindless self-deceiving hope but the truthful hope of one who knows the will of God.
Our readings this morning suggest that the work of the Holy Spirit is to bear witness to that same truth. Sometimes that will be accompanied by gratifying gifts of power and sometimes it will involve a complete surrender of human power, to the point of death.
But wherever the Holy Spirit witnesses, there is judgement. ‘Do you choose for or against God?’ the Holy Spirit asks, echoing the life and work of Jesus.

Let us pray,
Holy Spirit, we come to you in humility and weakness. We recognise the truth of your power and conviction and ask that you would fill us afresh with hope and boldness so that we may walk in the way and light of Christ.
Amen.

Rev'd Kia

6.00pm Evensong

Today, of course, we celebrate Whit Sunday or as it is now more commonly called Pentecost, but I am sorry that this morning there is most unlikely to be tongues of fire or the rush of a violent wind and definitely not speaking in tongues. Nor will there be any Whit Fairs although that said we did have the wonderful Coldharbour Fair yesterday and I will not be leading you in a Whit Walk around the parish with the Coldharbour Band once again giving an impressive performance returning to consume cherry buns and milk! We will not be appointing a Lord and Lady of the Whit Ale, nor will the local children be dressed in brand new clothes and showing them off to their more affluent relations hoping for a healthy donation towards the cost. Such were some of the customs certainly up until the first half of the last century and particularly up north where these Whit walks were very much an annual event. 

So, although Whit Sunday, Pentecost is one of the major feast days of the Christian year it has become decidedly low key and secularised with the centuries old Whit Monday Bank Holiday being replaced by the prosaic May Bank Holiday Monday. And, for the vast majority of people in this country, it is sad to have to recognise that they have no idea what Whit Sunday. Pentecost, is all about and may well not even recognise either name.  And just for your education in case you didn’t already know the name Whit Sunday is based on two words ‘white’ to indicate holiness and cleanliness and ‘wit’ to indicate understanding.  

So, what does all this mean for us today? Is this an important festival for us or, in truth, is it very much another Sunday albeit we have glorious red hangings, and I can flaunt my red stole? Just how aware are we of the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives? Has it ever prompted us to speak in tongues or does the very idea fill you with a certain horror? And here I admit I have only once heard anyone speak in tongues and it was, I must confess, a very strange almost surreal experience. The sounds made absolutely no sense to me, but it was quite obvious that something extraordinary was happening to the person speaking and I have come to realise that it must be a most wonderfully uplifting experience to be so filled with the Holy Spirit of God in that particular way. 

But, that said, I think each of us, in our own way, can be, at times, filled with the power of the Holy Spirit or find ourselves inspired in some way by that same Spirit. Nearly always I begin a sermon with short prayer asking that the Holy Spirit might be heard in my words and that thus you, the hearers might each, in your own way, find some form of inspiration in them reflecting Jesus’ words to his disciples that: ’When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth.’ No preacher, however lauded, could ever boast that every single one of their sermons was amazing and full of revelation and some could justly be called mundane or even, I fear, down right boring but, and this is the big ‘but’, the Holy Spirit can still work with the mundane, the rather ordinary and yes, even the boring, and transform it into something that truly does reflect the grace of God working in our lives and showing us new ways to live out our faith. I think what we are all seeking is expressed beautifully in the collect for the next six days: ‘O Lord, from whom all good things come; grant to us thy humble servants, that by your holy inspiration we may think those things that are good, and by your merciful guiding may perform the same.’ 

And, of course, we are called to seek that inspiration not just in the sermon but in all our worship and I am sure, like me, often the music can play a significant and uplifting part in discovering that inspiration which is the manifestation surely of the Holy Spirit. Who can sing the words ‘Come down, O Love divine, seek thou this soul of mine, and visit it with thine own ardour glowing; O Comforter draw near, withing my heart appear, and kindle it thy holy flame bestowing’ and not have an inner sense of that indwelling of that Spirit. The Holy Spirit which has been described as ‘the go-between’ God who is ‘the agent at work in our encounters with the divine presence in our daily life.’ In other words, it is the Holy Spirit who kindles the flame of love and longing for God and thus allows us to recognise the truth of where God is in our lives, not just in our worship but in all that we do and where it is he wants to lead us as we continue our earthly journey in his service. It is surely without doubt that it was the Holy Spirit which kindled the hearts of all those disciples on that very first Pentecost, enabling them to reveal both the truth of Jesus the Son and the love of God the Father in sending His Son to us his children. The Holy Spirit that enabled them not just to speak in tongues and in goodness knows how many languages but to commit the rest of their lives to speaking that truth no matter what it might demand of them, what it might cost them.

We may not have tongues of fire; we may not have rushing winds but  through God’s grace can we now, at this moment in time,  like those disciples recognise the Holy Spirit in our midst. The Holy Spirit, the ‘go-between God’ whose purpose is above all to make us aware that God is always calling us, that God always wants us and most significantly that each of us is precious in his sight. 

The ‘go-between God’ who perhaps above all can fill us with a sense of at times sublime joy as that flame of love is brightly kindled  and we know without a shadow of doubt that we are held within God’s presence, God’s love. And in that knowledge know too that we are called as those first disciples were to continue in the power of the Spirit  our God given mission to reveal the truth of his love.

Jeu d’esprit by Ann Lewin
Flame-dancing Spirit, come, sweep us off our feet and dance us through our days. Surprise us with your rhythms, dare us to try new steps, explore new patterns and new partnerships. Release us from old routines, to swing in abandoned joy and fearful adventure. And in the intervals, rest us, in your still centre,

Virginia Smith

Sunday 12 May, Seventh after Easter
Acts 1:15-17, 21 - end

The Sunday after Ascension Day.  The Sunday before Pentecost.  Behind us is the life of Jesus, his death, his mighty resurrection and glorious ascension.  In front of us is the unknown, the very new thing that God will do among his people.
Our reading in Acts is in this in between time, between the Ascension and the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.
How do the disciples feel in this sort of no-man’s land in time?
They don’t know how long they’re going to be there.  All they know is that in his physical form Jesus seems to have finally left them – taken up in the brilliance of the light of heaven – and that he has told them to wait in Jerusalem where God will come to them in a new way.  I wonder how they’re feeling
Just think:  three or four years ago they were living perfectly ordinary lives, like we do, with families, friends, village or neighbourhood communities and day to day routines that they followed almost without thinking just as we do.
Then this man, Jesus, told them to follow him and they did – they just did.  They followed and saw and heard and experienced things they sometimes can still hardly believe.
And they loved him, they still do.  All of them at some point or another all said they’d be willing to die for him yet all of them failed him, some more spectacularly than others.
They lived through the tension, the mounting danger and the terrible execution that ended the life of their Lord in Jerusalem.  They’ve lived with that terrible sense of loss and grief when life had no meaning or purpose, and their hearts were heavy, dreading the bleak future ahead of them.
Then the light of resurrection exploded around them.  Jesus was alive again, talking with them, eating with them, teaching them.  His appearances were unpredictable and sometimes very brief but after the initial shock none of them doubted the reality of his resurrection.
Now he’s left them again and they’re living with a renewed sense of loss.  Not as sharp and bitter as the first but hard to bear all the same.
They don’t know what’s about to happen. They don’t know about the great WWHHOOOOSSHH  of mighty wind which will knock them off their feet. They don’t know about the orange and red crackling flames of fire that will fill them with courage and conviction.
They don’t know about the Holy Spirit who is going to breathe new life into them, transforming them into the fullest being of themselves, alive with God’s life and filled with his awesome, mighty Spirit.
For now they are in a “no-man’s land” of time.
We’ve probably all experienced similar times – times that can be filled with uncertainty and anxiety.
Times when we’ve lost someone or left something behind but aren’t yet ready or able to move on into the unknown.
Times between school or college and the world of work and careers.
Times of waiting … for a birth, ….  or a death or a medical diagnosis; life-changing times and unplanned breaks in our way of life.
Perhaps we’re in one of those times now and don’t know where God is going to lead us next.
There is a book entitled “The Burning Word” by Judith Kunst.  In it she describes the time in her life when she and her husband leave the church community they belong to in New York and move south to Georgia because her husband has a new job.  This is part of her story: When he announced that he’d figured out his office email address, fears about my own new job as full-time mother and homemaker suddenly loomed.  ‘What will my address be?’ I asked, and with a chuckle he said, ‘Judithkunst@nowheresville.com’ ‘Nowheresville’.  It was meant as a joke, but the word ignited all my fears.  I’d been a teacher, the centre of daily attention in a classroom.  I’d been a published poet and the editor of a scholarly journal.  Now I’d be a mom in a town where nobody knew me.  Now I’d be a housecleaner and cook.  In one stroke the cozey life I’d pictured snuggling with my son morphed into a threatening stretch of nothingness populated only by shopping centres and lonely housewivesIn many ways, ‘nowheresville’ turned out to be an accurate address, and the fears it triggered in me were not unwarranted – this new life would be harder than any I’d lived before.  Yet eventually I would come to see that ‘nowheresville’ marked the precise intersection between my loss and as yet unrealized gain, a word that was at once nowhere and now here.
For me it said that we can never be “nowhere”, we are always in “now” and “here”, – the here and now – a positive place where God can work with us to create new realities and where we can begin travelling on the new paths he is showing us.
If we have any sense of being in one of those in-between places today perhaps we could spend this week reflecting on that, thinking about what is “now” and “here” for us; considering what we might be needing to put to rest, what thoughts and attitudes we might be needing to give up within ourselves.
Because experience tells me that very often we cannot move forward until we have put down the past or made a decision that we want or need to move on.  Just as the wind and fire of Pentecost descended only when the disciples knew that Jesus’ time on earth really was over, so God can only lead us forward when we’ve stopped trying to hang on in an unhealthy way to the past.
I believe that if we give ourselves fully to “now” and “here”, whatever that means for us, on the day of Pentecost, whenever that day is for us, we’ll be ready to go forward again, ready to say yes to God’s plan for us.
And we don’t need to be afraid of saying yes to God. God cares for us and protects us.  He will not ask us to do anything he knows we are not yet ready and able to do with his help and guidance.
And God knows about our need for time:  time to grieve; time to summon up courage; time to make big decisions.  And he will allow us that time.
But sometimes he knows we need a bit of a push or a bit of a wake up call to nudge us into action and he’ll do that for us in ways we might least expect!
He may speak in the whoosh of a mighty wind, in the roar of tongues of flame or in the still small voice in the depths of our being.  But he will speak, and when he does it will always be for the fulfilment of his loving purpose for each one of us and it will always lead us deeper into his eternal life.
Amen.
Rev'd Kia

Sunday 5 May, Sixth after Easter
Texts:  Acts 10: 44-end, John 15: 9-17

This is my command Love one another.

Tertullian ‘See how these Christians love one another.

I would like to begin this sermon with part of a love poem entitled Atlas written by U.A. Fanthorpe.
There is a kind of love called maintenance, which stores the WD40 and knows when to use it.
Which checks the insurance, and doesn’t forget the milkman; which remembers when to plant bulbs.
Which answers letters; which knows the way the money goes; which deals with dentists.
And Road Fund Tax and meeting trains, and postcards to the lonely; which upholds the permanently rickety elaborate structures of living; which is Atlas.

The idea of love as ‘maintenance’ is a long cry from the idea of love as some wonderfully romantic walking on air kind of love. A long cry even from all those Valentine cards with their hearts and red roses and protestations that you are the ‘love of my life’. This sort of love is eminently practical and surely is the sort of love that Jesus demonstrated again and again in his ministry. The sort of practical love that turned water to wine when the wedding party threatened to become a disaster. When the crowds who were weak with hunger were fed. And, of course, when so many were healed through that love.

In none of the gospel accounts are we told of Jesus rushing up to people, flinging his arms around them in a huge embracing hug and passionately  declaring  ‘I love you’. To me the only time he really opened wide his arms to embrace people was on the cross when he proved God’s infinite and unchangeable love for us his children.

So, when we read that command in today’s gospel reading ‘to love one another as I have loved you’ I think, although we may well do a fair amount of hugging and even kissing, what we are really called to show is maintenance or practical love towards one another. The sort of love which I receive from my lovely neighbour who, on more than one occasion, has cleaned my car after he has cleaned his and mowed my lawn after mowing his. Totally practical but oh so welcomed and to me a true manifestation of love for one another.  The sort of practical love which means I find a box of home-produced eggs in the vestry whenever I come to Christ Church which ensures a delicious but easily prepared supper after a busy Sunday or a hospital day. The sort of practical love I witnessed in a check out queue  in Lidl when a man stepped forward with his debit card and paid for all the shopping of the Ukrainian mother with whom he had been chatting The sort of practical caring love shown among those first disciples after the death of Jesus when they ‘had all things in common’ and would ‘sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all , as any had need.’ (Acts 2: 44-45)

Sadly, to my way of thinking, we live in a world which seems increasingly self-absorbed, increasingly self-loving and self-protective, where people think it’s their right to have the best for themselves and never mind what the neighbour needs, always assuming they even know who their neighbour is. We also, even more sadly, live in a world which manifests so much bitter and frequently unreasoned hatred resulting in all these student demonstrations that are sweeping campuses both here and even more so in the United Sates and, of course, all the hate fuelled wars which despoil God’s world. It is this hatred, and this self- serving love which we, who call ourselves Christians, are called to combat with deeds of love however small. Deeds of love which are given freely and always in response to the knowledge that God loves us more than we can ever imagine.  Deeds of love which imitate the way Jesus looked at people and had compassionate love for them.

David Adam describes such love like this: ‘True love moves us out of our self-centredness and opens up for us a whole new way of living and looking at the world. Such love is only possible when we reach out to one another with our whole being. It is this sort of love, the outpouring of self, through which God created the world; you were for love and out of love. The very source of your being is love. In our most fragile moments we know that we are of dust and to dust we shall return but in the depth of our being we know there is more. We are not created out of nothing but out of love, so we will not return to nothing: our journey ends in “lovers meeting”’. These words, to me, are a summary of what to me is our Christian faith that  each and every one of us is beloved by God and no matter what  we will always be held within that love  and blessed by  that love and, for our time here on earth, we are surely called to  do our utmost  to reflect that love.

And here is a question for all of us to ponder, just how good are we at showing our love to God and thereby maintaining that amazing relationship between Him and us? A relationship based on our implicit trust, our implicit faith that God’s love is and always will be there for us. And, of course, in part we will show it by reflecting that love to others but also, I think, we are called to simply spend time allowing ourselves to be held quietly, peacefully within his presence just as any loving couple might do. Held securely and warmly within that love and know something of the peace that passes all understanding.

If we have been fortunate, we will have experienced that amazing romantic walking on air form of love but we will also know that it is as described by one write a ‘temporary madness’ to be replaced by that practical maintenance sort of love which brings such security and trust to any relationship.  And here I would like to quote the dream of a couple whose wedding I am blessing on Saturday, and it is so simple and so beautiful namely ‘to grow old together and eat cake'. Nothing grand, nothing wildly extravagant, but just having that love which matures over time as they grow old together and enjoy cake together. And, surely, that is exactly the sort of love we are all called upon to demonstrate with everyone who is dear to us.  The sort of love we are called to emulate here in our churches as we grow old together and eat maybe not cake but surely biscuits together. The sort of love we are called to have with God himself as we grow old and discover more and more joy in just having Him there beside us and within us. And as a final quote this time from a delightful children’s book: ‘love is in the little things, a kiss, a smile, a cup of tea, just you and me sitting quietly'. What better way to maintain our love with each other and most importantly of all with God.

Virginia Smith

Sunday 28 April, Fifth after Easter
Texts: Acts 8:26-end, John 15: 1-8

I am the vine, you are the branches.

I wonder if any of you have taken the animal personality test which apparently matches your characteristics to a given animal so, if you are a lion, you will be assertive, goal-orientated and a natural leader. Whereas if you are a golden retriever, you will so it says be calm, steady and relational.

Whoever we are we will be labelled in some way or another. although not necessarily as an animal. People will talk about us as being, clever or stupid, bossy or pliant, good fun or a bit of misery and so on and so on.  And here I wonder how your own labelling of yourself would compare with that given by others. Would they or wouldn’t they match?

Jesus was great one for giving himself labels and in so doing helped paint such a vivid, understandable picture of the ways of God in relationship with his children. Last Sunday we had Jesus describing himself as the Good Shepherd and today in our gospel reading we have him portraying himself as the true vine. Surely, not a label we would ever give ourselves but one that we can relate to being at least vaguely familiar with the practice of viniculture and I am certain looked at and even closely inspected the acres of vines planted across the fields and hillside at Denbies which is almost on our doorstep.

Today we are called upon to recognise ourselves as part of that true vine, again a label I doubt we would ever express but nonetheless one we can relate to in the same way that we can relate to being part of the body of Christ. But to be fruitful on that vine Jesus reminds us that we do need to be pruned and cut back. Pruning is essential if an abundant crop of grapes is to be achieved.  Pruning removes all dead diseased and damaged growth. Pruning helps reshape the vine.  Pruning removes tangled stems promoting healthier growth. All of you who are gardeners will know only too well the benefits of judicious pruning hence ensuring abundant and fruitful new growth and so too it can be with us. 

Can we see this sort of pruning in our lives, starting with the dead, diseased and damaged growth? We will all have experienced times in our lives where we have encountered difficult and challenging times which can so easily leave us badly scarred and struggling to move forward and rebuild our lives in a fruitful way. And it is only when we allow ourselves to be ‘pruned’ by God, the vine grower, and allow him to cut away all those feelings of hurt, betrayal, bitterness, loss, anger, revenge and despair that we can begin to flourish once more. Holding onto such feelings does us no good in the long run and we will only produce inferior fruit if any at all.  We have to allow that pruning; that letting go of all those hurtful feelings and memories which can all too easily keep us trapped in the past and which can, if untended, act almost like a poison and leave us even more diseased, damaged and indeed in some respects dead.

Here the Bishop of Chelmsford has some very wise words on this subject: of experiencing different forms of pruning in our lives. ‘What is the worst thing that has happened in your life? The loss of a loved one, a painful divorce, the diagnosis of a long-term illness, a job opportunity gone, a relationship broken. An irrevocable mistake…? The extraordinary thing is that so often, in unexpected ways and over time, even the most painful experiences can lead to new life. Profound grief can enable the fresh discovery of the love of friends and family, illness can give new vitality to the ordinary moments in life, the closing of one door can pave the way for new opportunities, a relationship damaged can provide insights into hidden aspects of your personality or the discovery of skills you never knew you had, vulnerability can lead to deep and meaningful connections.’  

The bishop refers to all these as resurrections of a sort or, in other words, wonderful new growth, new fruiting growing out of all that pruning, all those seemingly damaging and painful cuts.  And it is after that pruning, that cutting when we are very tender and vulnerable that we, if we are wise, seek to renew ourselves from all the goodness and rich nourishment of the central rootstock, the vine that will  then pour renewed healthy growth into us  so that we can again bear valuable fruit.

My own experience both of painful divorce and of the death of a dearly, dearly loved second husband has taught me how that seeking for the revitalising goodness of the rootstock enabled me to reshape my life each time and I hope in so doing bear new fruit. I certainly would not be here today as an ordained priest if these tragedies had not severely pruned me to allow me to begin to remake new growth through God’s grace and in the power of the Holy Spirit.

As another example, I read this beautiful story of a very successful man struck down by cancer and in that pruning found the need to reassess his life. That reassessment led him to realise that in all the long years of his marriage he had taken his wife very much for granted and had never in a very long while told her he loved her. With that epiphany he began to rectify the situation and in so doing found his marriage taking on a whole new dimension, a new and wonderful flourishing as truly together he and his wife faced up to his illness and bore fruit together.

And I hope we can all agree that paradoxically the suffering of being pruned can, by the life giving power of the rootstock, turn us into far more empathetic, kinder and compassionate people bearing not the open and much scratched scars of hurt and disillusionment but the fruits of the spirit of which surely the greatest is love for God’s fellow children, especially when they, too, face times of pruning. I began this sermon by asking how we might be labelled and here I think one of the chief purposes of God’s pruning is to help us grow truer to our own unique God given label which can then be recognised by others. Pruning helps us show the very best of the qualities listed on that label; the label by which I think all of us, be we also labelled as a lion or golden retriever , perhaps unconsciously aspire to have namely that of a  beloved  and very precious unique child of God, sharing all the vigour of his divine rootstock,  and thus bearing those unparalleled ripened  fruits  of faith, hope and love.

Virginia Smith

Sunday 21 April, Fourth Sunday after Easter
Being a third Sunday, we have two services - 9.00am Communion and 6.00pm Evensong - with two sermons, both of which are published here.

9.00am Communion

Texts: Acts 4:5-12, John 10: 11-18

For all of us, I suspect the idea of God being a Good Shepherd is one we almost take for granted. We will all be familiar with Psalm 23 and it could well be our favourite psalm. It is certainly one I often recommend for funerals as it speaks with such clarity of the Good Shepherd guiding and caring for us all through the joys and the vicissitudes of life and most importantly of all that he will continue to guide us through death to the life that lies beyond.

Again, I feel certain that all of us here can relate to the idea of being shepherded and what is involved in such care. I, for one, have quite vivid memories of sheep being forced protesting loudly through a sheep dip; a practice no longer used. And on holidays in the Yorkshire Dales, I have seen sheep apparently wandering freely over the hillsides but not so freely that their shepherd does not know in exactly what location to find them and have his amazing sheep dogs to help round them up and move them to new grazing.

If you know your Bible well, you may perhaps have become aware that shepherds and sheep are in a way threaded through both Old and New Testaments, beginning with the story of Cain and Abel when Abel offered to God ‘the firstlings of his flock’ which God was pleased to accept, unlike his brother Cain’s offering. And here it has been suggested that this story points to a change from a largely nomadic society driving their flocks from pasture to pasture to a more settled society who started to till the earth and grow crops for food. Read on from this story and you will find that sheep and shepherds are a recurring them in the history of God’s people. 

And in Jesus Christ many saw in his presence the parallel with King David, always feted as Israel's greatest king, who as just a young boy helped look after his father’s flocks. The young boy who then went on to be a powerful king shepherding his people, God’s people. Jesus Christ, seen as the promised Messiah following in David’s footsteps, who is referred to as both the Good Shepherd and the ‘Lamb of God’. The ‘Lamb of God’ who was sacrificed for us, who laid down his life for us, The Good Shepherd who knows his ‘his own and his own know me’.  

David Adam expresses this relationship so beautifully in these words: ‘Wherever you go, 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 moment 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 to that which is eternal.

But what, if anything, does the knowledge of this divine relationship have for us today? And for me the answer has to be that we, too, are called upon to see ourselves as both being shepherded and acting as shepherds ourselves in imitation of Christ himself and, of course, of Peter who was specifically called upon by the risen Christ to feed God’s lambs, feed God’s sheep..

If we look at the concept of being shepherded first, I personally find in today’s troubled world that my need to trust implicitly in the presence of God, the presence of the Good Shepherd, becomes crucial. The idea that, come what may, I cannot fall for a moment out of those everlasting arms, We cannot begin to  know, or even surmise, what the future holds for us, but if we can trust as we wake each day that we wake within that protective and loving presence then we can surely say as Julian of Norwich did ‘And all shall be well; and all manner of things shall be well.’  And here the words of Ann Lewin are pertinent: ‘The courage that says, “All shall be well’” doesn’t mean feeling no fear, but facing it, trusting God will not let go.’ Having that sort of trust enables us, I believe, to live out our lives very simply day by day and making the very best we can of that day, recognising the many blessings it brings and, in that recognition, giving heartfelt thanks and praise to God.

Recognising too that each new day provides for us an opportunity to do some shepherding ourselves and help feed some of God’s other sheep and lambs.  And here is a question for all of us to consider. As shepherds, have we come so close to members of our own little flocks, our family, our dearest friends, our church family so that they can, with quiet confidence, affirm that no matter what may happen we will not leave them, not abandon them, that we are always there for them? Can they claim that they know without a shadow of doubt that we will be a very immediate presence when they are passing through some of the dark valleys of life and at other times be a quiet background presence when they are content in those lush green pastures of life? Or, if we are honest with ourselves, have we at times been fair weather shepherds and when family or friends are in those dark valleys felt we had more than enough on our own plates to take on their troubles as well? And here I know from my own experience that such feelings do all too easily arise and sometimes we do feel that we have no more strength to enable us to give to others and, yet, in that giving the fact is we may find that  by God’s grace we ourselves are shepherded if only by being helped to gain a new perspective on what we deem our own troubles. The old axiom ‘a trouble shared is a trouble halved’ does carry a real element of truth.  

I would like to end with these words of Malcolm Guite written in response to that threefold command to Peter to ‘feed my lambs feed my sheep, feed my sheep’. “I am assigned a task to share again the care that I’ve been given. To meet another’s needs before they ask and nudge your flock towards the gates of heaven.” I hope like me that you find the idea of our gentle care nudging someone nearer the gates of heaven a truly beautiful and inspiring one and recognise too how other shepherds filled with God’s grace and the power of the Holy Spirit   have done exactly the same for us.

A version of Psalm 23 from Psalms Redux by Carla Grosch-Miller
This I know: 
My life is in Your hands. 
I have nothing to fear.
I stop,
breathe,
listen.
Beneath the whirl of what is
is a deep down quiet place.
You beckon me to tarry there.
This is the place 
where unnamed hungers 
are fed, the place
of clear water,
refreshment.
My senses stilled, 
I drink deeply, 
at home
in timeless territory..
In peril, I remember:
Death’s dark vale holds no menace.
I lean into You;
Your eternal presence comforts me.
I am held tenderly.
In the midst of all that troubles,
that threatens and diminishes,
You set abundance before me.
You lift my head; my vision clears.
The blessing cup overflows.
This I know:
You are my home and my hope,
my strength and my solace, 
and so shall You ever be.

Virginia Smith

6.00pm Evensong
Texts: Acts 4:5-12, John 10:11-18

It’s Good Shepherd Sunday. Every year, the fourth Sunday of Eastertide gives us a reading from the 10th chapter of John’s gospel but this evening I’d like to focus on our reading from the book of Acts - I think you will find Jesus showing up here, too, not only as the Good Shepherd, but also as the Passover Lamb.

It’s the day after Peter and John healed a man who had been crippled since birth. This man, who had never walked a day in his life, has danced and leaped around Solomon’s Porch, praising God. People came running to see what was happening, and Peter – filled with the Holy Spirit – has preached his second sermon. 

The first was at Pentecost, where 3000 people believed and were baptized in the Name of Jesus. This time, even more are moved to repentance and they join the believers. This church is growing and it hasn’t even started calling itself a church yet! But it is making the priests and temple rulers nervous.

The temple officials send Peter and John to jail for the night. They think maybe a night on a cold stone floor will cool down these hotheads. It will also give them time to gather the high priest and other leaders to figure out what to do with these followers of Jesus who keep claiming … the impossible.

But the temple officials haven’t considered how the power of the Holy Spirit can change simple, uneducated fishermen into eloquent witnesses to the resurrection. They still haven’t figured out that this movement isn’t the result of any human effort or design. It’s the work of God, through his Son Jesus Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit.

The next day their rulers, elders, and scribes assembled in Jerusalem, with Annas the high priest, Caiaphas, John, and Alexander, and all who were of the high-priestly family. When they had made the prisoners stand in their midst, they inquired, ‘By what power or by what name did you do this?’ Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, ‘Rulers of the people and elders, if we are questioned today because of a good deed done to someone who was sick and are asked how this man has been healed, let it be known to all of you, and to all the people of Israel, that this man is standing before you in good health by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead.

This Jesus is “the stone that was rejected by you, the builders; it has become the cornerstone.” There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.’ (Acts 4:5-12)

How does something so good cause so much trouble? You would think that bringing health to someone who has been sick his entire life would be cause for rejoicing. The crippled beggar certainly saw it that way. He immediately got up, took a few steps, and started leaping and praising God. He had made eye contact with Peter and John, hoping for a few coins. Instead, he had experienced a life-changing event.

He was whole and well for the first time in his life. He had a new identity, and a totally new perspective. He’d never seen the world from a standing position; his point of view had always been from down on the ground. Now he could walk and dance and leap for joy. Who else but God could have made this possible? Who else but this Jesus that Peter and John were talking about could heal him?

His joy was infectious, spreading to others nearby who had seen the miracle with their own eyes. And their joy and amazement quickly attracted more people … and more people … until there was a crowd running to find out what all the commotion was about. And this is where the trouble starts.

If the healed man had just minded his own business, instead of dancing and whooping all over the place, things would have been fine.

People may or may not have noticed that he wasn’t there the next day, where he’d always been, sitting by the Beautiful Gate asking for a handout.

People may or may not have seen him getting a job and working for a living instead of begging.

People may or may not have connected his new status to God’s work in his life.

But this man has been transformed, and not just his legs.

 He has been changed forever by the power of the Holy Spirit, in the name of Jesus Christ, and he simply won’t be quiet about it.

So a crowd gathers, and the temple rulers have good reason to be concerned. They “know that Romans do not ignore crowds of five thousand agitated Jews.” Peter and John have not only threatened the peace of Jerusalem with their healing and preaching, they have endangered “the Pax Romana, the peace guaranteed by Rome.”

Why should a work of charity create such a stir, and get Peter and John thrown into jail overnight? What’s the problem, exactly?

II a word: Power.

Notice how the question has moved rapidly from “what’s going on here?” to “where did you get the power to do this?” or “who authorized you to say and do these things?”

This amazing healing might have started out as an occasion to rejoice in God’s mercy, but the priests and rulers don’t see it that way. They see this event as a direct attack on their authority, and a challenge to their positions of power.

It doesn’t help that these leaders have already started to worry about the rapid growth of this new faith community. In just a few weeks, it has grown from the original 12 disciples to about 120 believers, then to 3,000 on the day of Pentecost, and now

5,000 more have “heard the word and believed” (4:4).

That’s a significant growth spurt, and the temple leaders might well have seen it as a threat. Rapid growth usually means instability, and that’s scary to leaders whose power depends on maintaining the status quo. Now a bunch of ‘uneducated and ordinary men’ (v.13) have been filled with divine power to instruct people in positions of power about the true source of power.

And this points to another problem the temple rulers had with power. Part of their job was to protect people from the full, unmediated glare of God’s glory. The power of God was so evident in Peter and John that it was frightening to those who had never experienced it in such a raw form. By Old Testament standards, they should have been afraid for their very lives, having seen God’s power so fully displayed.

If power is the problem, Peter has a solution, and it’s one every child in Sunday School knows: the answer as always is … Jesus.

At Pentecost and again in Solomon’s Porch, Peter has confessed the crucified Christ as the source of healing and salvation. Now, he reframes the high priest’s question to focus on a “good deed” – not an act of insurrection – as evidence of the power that comes only from God, and only through his Son, Jesus Christ.

Peter points a finger at the rulers as the ones responsible for Jesus’ crucifixion, and he is fully aware that three more point back at himself. When he speaks of the stone that “you, the builders” have rejected, he knows that his own denial of Jesus puts him in the same category as these priests.

And keep in mind that this event takes place just a few short weeks after Jesus has stood on this very same pavement, before these very same religious rulers, and Peter is quoting the very same verse from Psalm 118 that Jesus used. This is no accident.

It was Tuesday of Holy Week when Jesus spoke about the cornerstone, referring to both Psalm 118 and Isaiah 28. According to Matthew’s gospel, Jesus had just driven out the moneychangers the day before and was teaching in the temple courts. Using parables, he challenged the religious systems of the day, summing up the parable of the wicked tenants with the quote from Psalm 118 that describes a rejected stone becoming the cornerstone.

The people who heard Jesus that day would have been very familiar with Psalm 118. It was a psalm traditionally sung as the Passover lamb was being slaughtered. It also would be sung at the beginning of the meal on the first night of Passover. When Jesus mentioned “the stone that the builders rejected,” his listeners would have heard it in the context of Passover, even though they did not know he was referring to himself as the rejected stone.

What would cause a stonemason to reject a particular stone as a cornerstone? What attributes does a stone need to have in order to become the cornerstone? What is a cornerstone anyway?

The cornerstone is the first stone set in the construction of a masonry foundation. All the other foundation stones are set in reference to this stone, which means that the cornerstone determines the position of the entire structure. For the building to be sound, all the foundation stones must line up with the cornerstone as their reference point.

The other stones may be of various shapes and sizes, but because of its function as a reference point, the cornerstone needs to be of fairly good size, and relatively square. It needs to be a solid chunk of good quality rock, without defects. The whole building is going to rest on this stone, or be lined up with it, so most stones will be rejected for one reason or another.

Jesus had identified the builder who rejects the stone with the Temple rulers, and that shocking comparison would have still been in their memory as these same rulers heard Peter preach about God’s Son, Jesus Christ.

While Jesus might have implied the connection within the context of a parable, Peter is quite clear in his accusation. Instead of “the stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone” Peter makes it personal: “This Jesus is ‘the stone that was rejected by you, the builders; it has become the cornerstone.’” (v.11)

The parable Jesus told and the sermon Peter preaches both ask the same question: How will we respond to the grace God offers in Christ Jesus? Will we align ourselves with the cornerstone, or will we reject the Son of God?

Staying in line with Jesus keeps us in line with God and his purposes for us. God has laid the cornerstone in Jesus, but the foundation and the building of the kingdom of God must be made up of other stones, what Peter will later call “living stone.” In 1 Peter 2:4-6 we read,

“Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it stands in scripture [and here Peter is referencing Isaiah 28]: “See, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”

We are those living stones, when we are arranged in perfect alignment with our cornerstone, Jesus Christ. But how do we do that, exactly? How do we stay in line with Christ?

Of course, we could always fall back on the answers of reading the Bible regularly, and praying without ceasing. We could talk about maintaining fellowship with one another. Those answers are all good, and those activities are certainly part of staying aligned with Christ.

But even more, I think, it requires intentionality on our part. We must desire to be in God’s will. We must make a conscious effort to line up with our cornerstone, Jesus Christ, and give Christ the primary, central place our lives.

The cornerstone isn’t an ornament. It isn’t an add-on or an interesting architectural detail. It’s the very foundation. If Christ is to be our cornerstone, he has to be the central focus of our faith and our lives.

God sent his own Son, who has been rejected by many. God will always seek those who are willing to live in right relationship with him. That relationship depends on our relationship with Jesus Christ. If we will align ourselves with Christ, the cornerstone, we will be in right relation to God the Father. And if we don’t align ourselves with Christ, we stand in opposition to him. The choice is ours.

There is something interesting about the power we find in Christ the Cornerstone. One of my favourite authors, Barbara Brown Taylor writes, “As important as this particular cornerstone is, it is curiously passive. After the builders rejected it, it did not leap into places under its own power. Someone else placed it there. What does this say about the power vested in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth? Is it the muscular power of someone who can make things happen, or the power of one willing to lie wherever God places him, trusting God to use him well? 

Peter trusts that he does not stand in the dock alone. He is filled with the Holy Spirit. While the verb is passive, Peter is passive in the same way that a cornerstone is passive. This rock is willing to be where God places him, trusting that God will use him well”. 

Are you willing to be where God places you, trusting that God will use you well? Have you aligned yourself with Christ as your cornerstone, and made him the centre of your life? Because, “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.’

Rev'd Kia

Sunday 14 April, Third Sunday after Easter
Texts: Acts 3:12-19, Luke 25:36b – 48

I’d like to invite you, if you will, to imagine that you are an old Jewish tradesman in the 1st century in the middle East. You are a puzzled seeker trying to make sense of this Jesus stuff. Your thoughts may go something like this:
I’ve been interested in this Jesus movement for years, but I’m no closer to understanding it now that I’m an old man than I was all those years ago in Jerusalem. It started when my uncle took me on a business trip with him, to give me a chance to see the world, and to see if I’d like to go into the trade with him, since he’d got no sons of his own.
Now I send my sons and grandsons, and just sit at home and reminisce. They tell me I’ve earned that right, after all these years, but I notice they don’t listen to my stories! 
Anyway, that first trip to Jerusalem, I was more interested in seeing the Temple than anything else. We weren’t the most religious family in the world, but we knew that our people are special in God’s eyes, and we did what we had to do to make sure God kept remembering that. So, I pestered my uncle, and that’s how we happened to be in the Temple the afternoon a lame man got healed. My uncle insisted it was a fraud, but he didn’t see the expression on the man’s face. He was shocked, more than anything. 
Of course, everyone came running, hoping for a show, but the two man that healed him acted as though it was the kind of thing that happened every day. They said that if we believed in Jesus, our sins would be forgiven, and we’d be able to do things like that too.
My uncle didn’t want to hang around, wasting valuable trading time, but he let me go out in the evenings and sniff around. I found out quite a lot more about these Jesus people. Their Jesus had been killed by the Romans, though they seemed to blame us for it, saying that if our people had read the scriptures properly, we’d know that Jesus was the Messiah. They were causing quite a stir in the city, with their preaching and healing, and they’d made quite a lot of converts.
I liked them. They seemed kind, and they talked a lot about God loving us and forgiving us, if we believed in Jesus. I thought it would be good to be forgiven.
Us traders are always breaking the law, in little ways. You can’t get a boat to stop on the Sabbath, and you can’t be too choosy about what you eat when you’re sealing a deal. So I’ve got no hope of being righteous anyway.
Even after I went home, I never entirely forgot about the Jesus people, and it wasn’t long before they’d spread to my part of the world. So obviously I wasn’t the only one who thought they were making some kind of sense.
I used to sneak out to their meetings sometimes and try and find out more. The main thing they were saying was that you can only find out about God through this Jesus. They said that Jesus showed us what God is like, and that Jesus came to die to take away our sins, and that he rose from the dead and is alive now.
Apparently, some of the people had met people who’d met Jesus after he rose again, so they knew it was true.
That was all very interesting, but that main question kept niggling me.  What do I have to do to know that I’m right with God? Now that I’m old and I know I can’t live forever, it’s become the most important question in my life.
I haven’t been a bad person, but I haven’t been a good one either. Is it enough just to believe in Jesus? Some of these Christians seem to say that’s all there is. But some of them say that if you do believe, it will change the way you live, and that you will be good and loving.
If so, I can’t say that I’ve seen any proof of it. These Christians are as good at hating each other as anyone else. There are at least two different lots in my town, not speaking to each other.
How can I believe what they are say about us being the children of God, free and forgiven, if they can’t even forgive each other?
They’re good at blaming others, like my people, or the Romans, or some other leader who doesn’t say or do things their way. Perhaps they should try blaming themselves for a change. If they were to say, ‘We crucified Jesus, and we keep doing it, but he still forgives us and trusts us,’ then I might be able to believe that he’ll forgive me too.
There is both comfort and challenge in these words. Comfort voiced by Jesus with his risen first words, ‘Peace be with you’, but also a challenge – how do we faithfully follow the way of Jesus, how do we live this life as followers and disciples?
Do we accept both the comfort and the challenge? Or are we selective followers of The Way? The ‘peace be with you’ may provide immediate comfort. Even if not always material, it can provide ongoing strength to cope with adversity. 
But a challenge has to be accepted, as Jesus himself did on his path to the cross. The post-Jesus-physically-alive accounts in Acts give many examples to the early followers of The Way which they strive to emulate - to be the representative of the living Christ in all aspects of their lives. Success in human terms was never guaranteed and there were disputes and disagreements to be worked through. 
Our contexts are different and varied, generally less dramatic, but still presenting the challenge of being Christ in our personal relationships and in our way of living. Allocating time and money, identifying need, caring, challenging the unjust, responding to external events. We each identify our own.
In the words of the hymn by  Richard Gillard, 
Brother, Sister, let me serve you,
let me be as Christ to you;
Pray that I may have the grace to 
let you be my servant too.
I will hold the Christ-light for you
In the night-time of your fear;
I will hold my hand out to you,
speak the peace you long to hear.’

Let us pray,
Father, we receive you peace and rest in your presence. Reveal to us the ways we have strayed. Give us faith and perseverance and equip us to be Christ to those we meet and in all we do.
In Jesus name we pray,
Amen.

Rev'd Kia

Sunday 7 April, First Sunday after Easter
Texts: Acts 4: 32-35, John 20,:19-end

Today we hear in our readings about two seemingly very different personalities. The first being Thomas, the apostle almost invariably labelled with the epithet ‘doubting’ and then we have Barnabas, whose name we are told means ‘Son of the Encourager’. The name Barnabas is now associated with not just encouragement but also companionship and prophetic qualities. Whereas the name Thomas simply mean the ‘twin’ which begs me to ask the question as to what the other twin was called or were they simply twin one and twin two? But such idle speculation apart, the idea of Thomas as being a twin has come to symbolize his journey from doubt to faith and the constant human struggle to find an equilibrium between reason and belief.

Thomas, the disciple who refused to believe in the reality of the risen Christ unless he could actually see him. Thomas, who was not going to be convinced by the protestations of his fellow disciples, however vehement, that they had seen Jesus, seen the Lord. And let’s be quite honest with ourselves here, would we not have harboured exactly the same doubts as Thomas did? Dead men do not reappear; dead men do not walk through locked doors.  Was this a claim Thomas could really take on trust alone? Was this a claim we would have taken on trust alone back then? Oh, now we do, or we say we do, but we have had the huge advantage of two thousand yeas of continued retelling of the stories of those first few witnesses to the physical appearance of the Lord in their midst, be it in that locked room, on the road to Emmaus or by the seashore. These stories for most of us are almost imbedded in our DNA. Almost every week we proclaim the words of the Creed ‘He suffered and was buried, and the third day he rose again’ Are we so dulled by repetition that we hardly know the sheer enormity of the truth we are professing?  Or are we always properly conscious of repeating with unquestioned conviction the core belief of the Christian faith that yes, ‘Christ is risen. He is risen indeed'?   Can we, with complete honesty, hold to that faith when there are so many now who have no religious belief whatsoever and among those non- believers many who would utterly ridicule and even despise us for pronouncing such a belief, such faith in a God who not only takes on human form but then is unquestionably killed before apparently rising again and making a number of appearances to his devoted followers before,  according to more of their testimony,  ascending to heaven? Put so bluntly, so crudely, even the most devoted Christians just might have pause for thought, for entertaining at least a smidgeon of doubt. Are we completely deluded or, on the other hand, is our faith in a risen Christ completely justified? Is our faith, in effect, a well-worn comfort blanket or does it mean far far more to us? Is our faith truly central to our life and all that we strive to be?

And here I think one of the lessons to be learned from Thomas’ doubting is that we, too, are thereby given permission to express our doubts and then to actively and reflectively work through them and to seek for ourselves the living Christ in our midst as Thomas did. I think his doubting does in a way encourage us to explore our faith and thereby ensure that it truly is a living faith.

To doubt is not a sin; to doubt is something we all do at certain times, and it is then that, surely, we need the encouragement of Barnabas to take time to question our doubts and to look for answers. Doubt can, I believe, be a very powerful tool and a stimulant in helping us to explore and to cement our faith, our belief in the risen Christ. And here I found some wonderfully apt words of, believe it or not, Winnie the Pooh: ‘Sometimes you have to rethink the things you thought you thought through.’ In other words, to re-examine some of our ideas in the light of the gospel, the light of experience and the light of the witness of others plus most importantly of all the light revealed by the presence of the Spirit of God among us.

And from someone a little more erudite perhaps than Winnie the Pooh, the Bishop of Chelmsford has these wise words: ‘God is a God of surprises who, time and again, shatters our expectations, broadens our narrow vision and beckons us towards a whole new way of understanding.’ That is surely what happened to those first disciples who experienced utmost surprise, a shattering of all their previously held expectations as to what Jesus would do for them, a great broadening of their narrow vision as to God’s purposes and a whole new way of understanding just what God had done for us in sending His Son to live and die among us before becoming the risen Christ in whom we are called to have perfect faith, perfect trust. And I think Barnabas would encourage us, firstly, to allow ourselves to be surprised by God for he, surely, is the God of surprises. Secondly to allow our often limited and ego centred expectations as to what God might do for us to be shattered. Thirdly to make a very real effort to broaden our vision of God which, again if we are honest, may not have progressed that far from the childish image of a man with a long white beard sitting on a cloud. And, fourthly, to have a completely new way of understanding of the faith we claim is ours. And if this all sounds a bit daunting and rather too challenging more words of the bishop can surely encourage us: ‘And God is patient and gentle too, giving us time to catch up with divine purposes. Resurrection may have happened in a moment but its realization for the disciples dawned slowly, over time. So it can be for us today.’

So do not be afraid of doubt but use it to learn if nothing else a fraction more understanding, a wider vision of the almost unfathomable mystery that is God and to be surprised by joy in what you learn. And always be ready to both seek encouragement in your faith journey by the example of others and at the same time always be ready to be an encourager yourself.

I pray that for all of us we can in all sincerity of faith re-echo Thomas’s words: ‘My Lord and my God’ and recognise the truth of the words of our second hymn:
Lives again our glorious King; where O death is now thy sting? 
Dying once, he all doth save; where thy victory, O grave?
Soar we now where Christ has led, following our exalted head; made like him, like him we rise; ours the cross, the grave the skies.
Hail the Lord of earth and heaven! Praise to thee by both be given: thee we greet triumphant now; hail, the Resurrection thou .

Lord, we pray that we may learn to have implicit trust in your unfathomed love for us your children revealed by the life, death and resurrection of your Son and to recognise the eternal truth that neither life nor death can ever part us from that love.

Virginia Smith

Sunday 31 March - Easter Day
Texts: Acts 10:34-43, John 20: 1-18

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 a 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 called 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

Wednesday 27 March, Compline (at St James) - Head
O sacred head, surrounded by crown of piercing thorn! O bleeding head, so wounded, so shamed and put to scorn.

This is the head that is now given a kingly crown; only,, now at the time of his death, does Jesus’ head bear the acknowledged symbol of kingship. Surely this is the heaviest crown ever worn, for this crown is encrusted and weighted down with the sins of the world. This is the head from which droplets of blood fall from the wounds inflicted by the biting clasp of needle - sharp thorns. Droplets of blood that point to the ebbing life force of this man who was truly human, truly divine.

This is the head like any head, thick bone encasing the myriad and unfathomable mysterious complexities of the brain within. 

This is Christ’s head whose eyes looked out onto His world, the world His Father had created in all its wonder. Whose eyes saw the intricate beauty and the glory of the lilies of the field; saw the birds, the small creatures and had reverence for them all. These eyes scanned the heavens as he stood to pray in quiet places; scanned the immensity of space and recognised the limitless power of God his Father. These were the eyes that sought out his fellow human beings; who spotted Zacchaeus perched in the sycamore tree and recognised the inner poverty of this little man. These were the eyes that looked down upon Jerusalem and wept for this city that had lost its way; had lost its understanding of the purposes of God.  These were the eyes that wept when he shared the bitter grief of Martha and Mary at the death of Lazarus; wept because he too had loved this man. These were the eyes that looked directly at the sores of the lepers and recognised the needs of Jairus, the needs of the Centurion, the needs of His own Mother as he looked down from the cross and saw her anguish. These were the eyes that read the scriptures, the word of God and interpreted them for those who would listen. These were the eyes through which the light of the world shone out into the darkness.

Think of our eyes and what we have seen as we have lived out our lives. Have we always paused to notice the glory of the flowers of the field at our feet and the awesome canopy of space stretching away to eternity and given praise? Have we seen the needs of others and have we too wept bitter tears not just for our own griefs but the griefs of others? Have we seen in the dirt and the dross of the streets of the world the festering sores and the contagion of disease or have we averted our eyes from sights that affront us and make us fearful?  Have we read with deep perception the scriptures and in them heard the word of God speaking to us?  .

This is Christ’s head whose mouth could speak words of healing and words of wisdom. From this mouth the words of the beatitudes were spoken ‘Blessed are the meek for they will inherit the earth’. ‘Blessed are the merciful for they will obtain mercy.’ ‘Blessed are the pure in heart for they will see God.’ Words that were spoken with divine insight that all who hear them might understand some of the profound truths of the kingdom of heaven. So, too, He spoke the words of the prayer that is shared and reverenced by all who profess the name of Christ. This was the mouth of Christ who told the most wonderful entrancing stories pregnant with inner meaning for those who would listen, and conveyed in parables some of the mysteries of the kingdom of God. This was the mouth that spoke stern words warning about hypocrisy, idolatry, materialism, selfishness and greed. But this, too, was the mouth that spoke tender loving words to those who needed the consolation of his love, the forgiveness of their sins and hope for the future.

Think of our mouths and the countless words we have spoken since we first learned to enunciate, to communicate with others, to express verbally our inmost thoughts and feelings,. Have we spoken words of wisdom, words of encouragement to those seeking the truth of the gospel? Have we spoken up courageously against injustice, corruption and all the evils of the world without prejudice and without dishonesty? Have we spoken words of comfort, words of hope, words that express in their utter simplicity the love of God for all His people and our own love that reflects that divine loving? And when have we used words to abuse, to wound, to criticise and to express hate? When have we failed to guard our tongues and listen for your voice before we speak?

This is the head whose ears were attuned to the voice of God and the voice of His people. These ears listened for the silence in which God spoke ‘This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased.’ These are the ears that heard the spiteful strident cruel voices of those who hated him, those who judged him, those who feared the good news that he brought. And, in hearing them, he responded ‘Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you'. These were the ears that heard the braying of the crowd as his crowned head looked down upon them and prayed ‘Father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.’

Have we listened with ears attuned to the natural rhythms of the world?

Have we sat with quiet stillness to listen to the needs of others, their concerns, their doubts their fears, not interrupting not jumping in with our own opinions, our own judgements, just listening in valued companionship? Have we heard barb wounding words spoken against us that we allow to catch deep within us and fester poisonously in our unconscious? Have we failed to hear God urging us to forgive those who spoken out against us? And have we found the courage to stand in utter silence seeking to hear the still small voice of God, blotting out all the raucous cacophony of the world’s sounds that can so easily prevent our hearing that voice? Have we heard that still small voice speaking the words of forgiveness, of encouragement and love that will restore us and redeem us?

Christ’s head on the pillow of the cross crowned with thorns, eyes seeing the hurt of the world, ears hearing the cries of the world, mouth speaking words of divine forgiveness before proclaiming ‘It is finished.’

You do not have to look for anything,
Just look.
You do not have to listen for 
Specific sounds,
Just listen.
You do not have to accomplish anything,
Just be.

And in the looking
And in the listening
And the being,
Find
Me. 

Virginia Smith

Tuesday 26 March, Compline (at St James) - Feet
Come see his hands and his feet, the scars that speak of sacrifice, hands that flung stars into space to cruel nails surrendered.

See Christ’s feet nailed to the main beam of the cross; nailed with the same brutality as his hands have been pinned. Again see the splintered bones, the torn and shredded sinews as the nails hold him there powerless to move; frozen there in an agony of time. Feet pointing downwards to the earth he had walked upon so freely. His persecutors believe they have ensured that never more will this man, this criminal, this blasphemer roam abroad; that by this act of naked barbarism they have successfully and irrevocably curtailed his movements; stripped him of  his ability to walk abroad unfettered upon the ground of God’s creation.

These were the feet that, like the hands, were once wondered at in their perfection; tiny but like all the wonders of the human body intricately fashioned and designed. Did Mary and Joseph examine each toe, caress the sole and wonder where these feet would one day take him. These were the feet on which he took his first tottering steps; lurching unsteadily as he fought to control his balance; to propel himself forward; to reach the chosen goal. And, as he grew, confident these were the feet on which he learned to run, to jump, to send a stone skittling across the pathway or to tiptoe away to the secret pursuits that entrance small children. 

Think of your own feet; maybe even remove your shoes and wiggle your toes. Reflect upon how these feet have grown over the years; perhaps becoming misshapen and calloused; aching after a long time spent standing or after an over ambitious walk. Think of how they have kicked balls, or danced, or raced to catch a bus or win that hundred metres. Think of the joy of walking barefoot along a sandy beach or new mown grass. Reflect upon all your feet mean to you.

These are the feet that turned back on the journey home and took him, oblivious of the anxiety he would cause by his absence, to His Father’s house.  These are the feet that wandered through the desert places as he wrestled with Satan in preparation for his divine ministry. These are the feet that tramped the hills and countryside of Galilee; mile upon dusty mile covered as he strode to show to those who would listen; those who would learn in the power of the Spirit that he alone was the way; the only true way. 

Think or look at your feet. Where have they travelled in your life’s journey? How many times have they led you to turn aside to worship in some place where you felt the call of God? What wonderful and amazing valleys or mountains have they taken you to; there to gaze overwhelmed with the rapture of the moment and give thanks and praise for some of the glories of creation? When have these feet led you into testing times of temptation; times when you perhaps have found it hard to reverse your route and find again the narrow way; the narrow way where your feet follow dutifully but willingly in the footsteps of Christ? 

These are the feet that were usually dirty; clothed in dust, shod in simple sandals and washed, if custom was observed, when he entered as a guest into a stranger’s home. These are the feet that Mary anointed with expensive perfume; the fragrance filling the house. These are the feet that she dried with her hair. Perfume intended for his burial but now used on living feet; feet that were free from any restricting nails. Feet that had traversed the paths of the weary, the lame, the crippled and the paralysed.

Think or look at your feet and reflect when they have been dirty, dust encrusted and when perhaps someone has, in simple service, bathed them, caressed and massaged them. Into whose homes have these feet taken you and what have you found there? Have you too discovered as Christ did the needs of others and walked in love to embrace them?

These are the feet that strode purposefully into that upper room where his disciples awaited him. These were the feet of the man who, stripped off his clothes, wrapped a towel around himself and knelt, knelt in servility, knelt in humility to wash the feet of those chosen men. Washed away the dirt accumulated during the day, washed away the deeply ingrained dirt, massaged the callouses and the cuts to restore those feet to cleanliness, to comfort, to ease. These are the feet on which he stood firm as a rock purposeful and focused in order to bless bread and wine for his chosen guests.

Think or look at your feet when they have taken you purposefully to unexpected places? When have they taken you to places where you have found the dirty, the unclean, the damaged and the wounded? Have you knelt to wash the feet of such people? Have you humbled yourself, deliberately and in love made yourself as servant to others? Are you being called even now to walk into a situation where you are needed to follow the example of Christ? and will you follow him faithfully through the coming days to the very foot of the cross?

O Jesus thou hast promised to all who follow thee, that where thou art in glory there shall thy servant be; and Jesus, I have promised to serve thee to the end: O give me grace to follow, my Master and my friend.

O let me see thy footsteps and in them plant mine own; my hope to follow duly is in thy strength alone: O guide me call me, draw me, uphold me to the end; and then in heaven receive me, my Saviour and my friend.

Virginia Smith

Monday 25 March, Compline - Hands
Come see his hands and his feet, the scars that speak of sacrifice, hands that flung stars into space to cruel nails surrendered.

Hands pierced by nails, great clumsy pieces of iron hammered in with brutal power, hammered in with thoughtless, uncaring cruelty; each blow struck with deliberate force tearing through flesh, bone and sinew; blood and skin scarring the hands of the executioners. Nails that pinned Christ’ hands to the cross seemingly denying him all freedom as they held him there, fastened in time and space. Nails that rendered him helpless, impotent; nails that made him an object of derision for all those who, as they passed by, could only see a criminal, a trouble-maker, a man who deserved his fate suspended in an eternity of suffering.

These were the hands that Mary and Joseph would have marvelled and wondered over when he was first born. The tiny perfectly formed hands of the new-born infant ready to curl around a finger or clutch the mother’s breast; each finger, each tiny nail perfect and unblemished. The little thumb that maybe he sucked for comfort as he slipped into the dreamless sleep of the new-born.

Look at your hands carefully and think what they mean to you; each individual finger, the thumbs; all ten digits shaped by your life and by all the different things you have asked them to do for you. Look at the palm crisscrossed by lines and the back of the hands where the blue veins show the life bringing blood coursing through. Maybe there are scars from some accident or mischance that you can still recall, remember still your pain, your blood or your shattered bone. Maybe, too, there are the brown blotches speaking of the dignity of age; the years that have passed since your hands were those of the new-born infant. Look at your hands carefully and reflect upon what they mean to you.

These were the hands that began to form wood, shaping it with care, making the yokes that fitted with ease causing no discomfort to the animal upon whose back they were laid.  The hands of a craftsman, agile and skilful, rough workmanlike hands scarred here and there by the slip of a tool or the splintering of wood. Hands that were useful, whose skill was admired by those who understood his trade, but these were not the hands of a king, these hands were never smooth, nails buffed, adorned with jewel studded rings. These hands never knew the luxury of rich ointments being lavishly rubbed into each crack and crevice. These hands were never manicured; these hands only knew the dignity of humble work and the creative power of shaping wood into an object of tactile beauty. These were the hands of a servant; the servant who came in humility to serve the world.

Look at your hands. What things have they created with intricate skill?  A piece of needlework or pottery, a painting, a child’s shawl or a thick sweater.? Think of how you use them day in and day out almost unthinkingly as you carry out well practised routine, the routines of a servant? Use them to wash, to cook, to garden, to clean, to carry, to write, to cut and to shape. Look at your hands and marvel at what they have done for you.  

These were the hands that reached out to touch people, men women and children. These hands reached out to the untouchables; the people that no one else would ever consider making contact with; the lepers with weeping sores, shunned and feared; the beggars, dirty louse infested, stinking; the demoniacs, raving wildly in their mental confusion, terrifying to those who could not enter or understand their distress; the dying and the dead reminding the living of their own mortality. These were hands that held all the mystery, the wonder, the glory of God’s healing; these were the hands that brought comfort, reassurance, a new life, hope for the future; these were the hands that brought healing to body, mind and spirit to those who sought it.

Look at your hands. When have they reached out to heal, to comfort, to support? When have they reached out in selfless love? When have your hands held those of the ill, the vulnerable, the confused, the frail and the dying? Can you think of the warmth of those contacts; the flowing of love between your hands and theirs. And when have you been touched by someone’s hands and felt the enveloping comfort and healing that they bring? Look at your hands and thank God for the healing that has flowed through them.

These were the hands that held small children within their comforting grasp; honouring them as true children of God; showing them the friendship of God, the closeness of God. These were the hands that were lifted in blessing. Hands bringing God’s blessing, God’s peace to the poor, the needy, the frightened, the abused and the sinful.

These were the hands that helped lift brimming fishing nets from the deep waters of the lake; the hands that touched five loaves and two fish that they might become the food of thousands. These were the hands that were lifted again and again in prayer as he sought the source of all life and the power of the Spirit. 

And these were the hands that took bread, blessed it and broke it saying ‘Take this is my body’ So too he took in his hands the cup of wine and gave thanks and gave it to his disciples saying ‘This is my blood of the new covenant which is poured out for many.

Look at your hands and recall how they have been used to help and assist others. Remember the times that they have held small children lovingly safely in their grasp; the times when they have worked in conjunction with the hands of friend or stranger. Look at your hands and recall receiving into them Sunday by Sunday the body of Christ. Look at your hands and know just how they have been blessed by the hands of Christ himself.

A Baby’s hands in Bethlehem were small and softly curled
But held within their dimpled grasp then hopes of half the world A Carpenter’s in Nazareth were skilled with tool and wood:
They laid the beams of simple homes and found their labour good. A healer’s hands in Galilee were stretched to all who came
For him to cleanse the hidden wounds or cure the blind and lame.
Long, long ago the hands of Christ were nailed upon a tree
But still their holy touch redeems the hearts of you and  me.
Leslie Savage Clark

Virginia Smith

Sunday 24 March, Palm Sunday
During this Benefice Palm Sunday service we read the Passion Narrative. There was no traditional sermon.

Sunday 17 March, Fifth in Lent
Being a third Sunday, we have two services - 9.00am Communion and 6.00pm Evensong - with two sermons, both of which are published here.

9.00am Communion
Texts: Jeremiah 31:31-34 John 12:20-33

At last a nice easy covenant. At last, Jeremiah seems to be suggesting, God will give up trying to teach us things and just zap us, changing us so that it becomes natural for us to know God.
We won’t need to be taught, we won’t need to ask others, or experiment or learn about God through rehearsing past history. God will be part of us, written on our hearts.
But I’m sorry to have to tell you that it isn’t that simple.
Although the emotion that is uppermost in this passage is longing – longing for the time when God and his people will be united – there is also anger and despair.
The words that Jeremiah is speaking to his people on behalf of God are very hard to hear.
For one thing, he is saying that the covenant that constituted them as God’s people in the first place has been broken.
The story of the Exodus is a foundational story for the people of God – a story of which we are a part.
They base all their identity and their claims on God on that covenant. But Jeremiah says, very boldly, ‘You broke that covenant. It’s dead and gone’.
He is also implying that the people are actually incapable of faithfulness and love of God.
This new covenant, written on their hearts, may sound wonderful but it is actually a last resort. 
God has to do it this way because his people are incapable of keeping any other kind of covenant.
Only by wiping the slate clean and starting again can God achieve what he set out to do when he first created people.
This is part of the story, the BIG story that guides and informs our walk of faith as Christians.
Both our readings this morning speak into the big picture of the story of faith which can be summarised in five acts:
1. Creation: In the beginning God created everything good.
2. Fall: But things went badly wrong as people went their own way. Our rebellion put humans in conflict with God, each other, and the world around us.
3. Israel: Beginning with Abraham, God chose a particular people through whom to demonstrate his character and redemption plan. We hear through Jeremiah how that is going.
4. Redemption: God’s rescue project for his creation involved coming in person. Jesus, the promised saviour of Israel, lived the life that you and I failed to live, and in his death he mysteriously bore the consequence of all our failures, bringing salvation to the whole world.
5. New Creation: Now each person is invited to step into a future that is defined by the hope of his resurrection and a new world to come.
This is the Christian story of hope, failure, hope again and new life. A story that past generations have lived by, been guided by and have found purpose and meaning in.
A story that perhaps, in recent generations, and especially in current culture has been forgotten and bypassed by instant gratification and self-determination.
A story that has the potential to inspire and ground us as God’s people, one that we perhaps need to lean into a little more.
As we continue to reflect in this season of Lent let us revisit our part in the amazing and life changing narrative. Let us place our feet firmly in the hope and life giving invitation offered to us by God through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.
Amen.
Rev'd Kia

6.00pm Evensong
Texts: Jeremiah 31:31-34, John 12:20-33

Today marks the beginning of what in the Church’s year is known as Passiontide; the last two weeks of the Lenten journey. And, as our erudite organist, has pointed out it is a journey we make this particular year in the good and holy company of no less than three saints, Patrick, Cuthbert and Joseph, together with a martyred Archbishop, Thomas Cranmer. And I thought maybe a short history of each of these four men, and sorry there are no women, might help to inspire us in this Passiontide fortnight and maybe act as our companions on the way.

St Patrick’s day is, of course, today and will certainly be celebrated not just in the Emerald Isle but in all those places around the globe where Irish people have found new homes for themselves and especially in the United States where they really go to town with huge parades. St Patrick was not, in fact, Irish by birth being of Romano-British descent and originally called  Succat which doesn’t seem to have quite  the same ring as Patrick. At the age of sixteen he was captured by raiders and taken from his home near Carlisle to Ireland. After six years he managed to escape to Gaul where he entered a monastery and was ordained deacon. He never, though, forgot those harsh years in Ireland and when he was forty-two was given the opportunity to return and within a year was consecrated as Bishop of Ireland. At this time Druidism was very much alive and kicking in Ireland but armed with the ‘breastplate of Christ’ Patrick successfully turned a largely pagan country into a Christian one and in his time ordained no less than three hundred bishops and three thousand presbyters; such success would surely be the envy of today’s Church of England. He is credited with banning all snakes from Ireland but cynics will tell you they were never there in the first place. He also apparently begged God that Ireland would sink beneath the waves seven years before the day of doom. That we will most probably never see unless tragically global warming increases even further dragging more and more land beneath the waves.

Next up we have St Cuthbert, another famed Celtic saint, born in Scottish border country and while only a young lad out tending sheep, he saw a vison of angels carrying a soul to heaven and, cheerfully abandoning the sheep to their own devices, set off for the monastery at Melrose where he learned the great St Aidan had just died. At which point Cuthbert immediately offered to adopt the religious life vowing to continue Aidan’s work in spreading the gospel throughout Northumbria. He became, in time, Prior of Melrose before deciding he couldn’t be doing with all the wrangles of the time between the Roman and Celtic Churches and retired to the island of Inner Frane where, assisted by a helpful angel, he built himself a hermitage. Here he adopted a lifestyle which involved regular mortifying of the flesh by standing waist deep in the sea to recite psalms which, to me, sounds far more unpleasant than the wrangling. Legend declares that after such an immersion otters would come to warm his frozen legs. After ten years of this austere life he was persuaded to return to Lindisfarne as Bishop but two years later opted once more for the hermit’s life in company, no doubt, with the otters and the Eider ducks, known after Cuthbert as  Cuddy ducks, with whom he apparently liked to chat. We have no record of what their response was to such conversations, but one suspects again that they were somewhat one-sided.

The last of our saintly companions is Joseph about whom in contrast to Patrick and Cuthbert we know virtually nothing bar the facts that, according to Matthew, he has a most impressive genealogy which goes back as far as Abraham and includes both Kings David and Solomon among his forbears. We also know he was a carpenter but there you have it. Although there was a fifteenth century nun who, as a result of a vison, was inspired to write the true biography of Joseph which includes the details that he was aged thirty- three at the time of Jesus’ birth and occasionally ate meat, unlike his wife Mary who was a strict vegetarian.  However, despite eating meat on occasions, he was of a sickly constitution and was persuaded by Mary to take early retirement.  To boost his profile in 1933 the then Pope proclaimed him as ‘Patron of those who combat atheistic communism.’ What Jospeh thought of this responsibility we have simply no idea. He is also, please note, the patron of a happy death so we may all in time find ourselves praying to him to ensure that happens.

Finally, as a possible companion we have Thomas Cranmer who, sadly, cannot boast a halo but only a rather unattractive black cap as seen in his dour faced portraits. From our school history lessons we will no doubt remember he was instrumental in obtaining Henry the Eighth's annulment of marriage from the first of his six wives Catherine of Aragon and of course, most significantly, we are using tonight the Book of Common Prayer, the compilation and editing of which he masterminded during the reign of young Edward. The return of the Roman Catholic Mary to the throne obviously upset the apple cart as far as Cranmer was concerned  as she wanted no truck with any form of Church reformation and, as we also know from our history lessons, it was not at all a good time to be a reformer and her zeal to ensure that England returned to proper decent Catholic ways of worship earned for her the title of ‘Bloody Mary.’  Cranmer was a prime target and, poor man, was, under her orders, burned at the stake. His dying words as the flames licked around him were, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. I see the heavens open and Jesus standing at the right hand of God."  I’m not sure if one could credit St Joseph with providing a happy death for him but maybe that sight of the heavens opening for him helped a little. 

So, these are our particular companions as we are drawn to the cross , three of whom have earned for themselves several pages in the history books and one about whom we can only say with any confidence was a carpenter. But what they had in common was total and unquestioning obedience to the call that God gave to each of them and in answering that call each of them found a particular way to serve him. Whether we would choose them as our travelling companions only you can say but as we continue forward may we all remember the millions upon millions who have made and are making this journey with us The vast majority unsung carpenters with just a few feted bishops thrown in but whoever we are assured that we are loved equally by God our Father. But whether carpenters or bishops, when we reach that cross on Good Friday and see the figure of Christ with arms outstretched to embrace us in his redemptive love and thereby recognise the sheer enormity, then utterly preposterous sacrifice in what God has done for us, his children, is one and all to look up at that cross in true humility and make this prayer:
Just as I am, without one plea but that thy blood was shed for me, and that thou bidst me come to thee, O Lamb of God I come. 

And within that holy presence make this prayer which would surely be echoed by not just our four particular traveling companions but all who tread the path to Calvary:
I pray that God himself will work in me, that through my words and deeds he’ll bless  the world he loves; that I will never shirk the call to lend a little of his grace to all who need it; that I will not shrink from sharing all I have; that I’ll redress, as best I can, the world’s injustice, drink so deeply from the well of life that I may bring all those who thirst back to its brink.   

Virginia Smith

Sunday 10 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 us, let us also give thanks to God – for his unconditional love and faithfulness to us all.
Amen.

Intercessions
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.

Rev'd Kia

Sunday 4 March, Third in Lent
Text: John 2: 13-22

What I wonder makes you angry? Do you fulminate against the Government and all its apparent failures one moment and then turn on the opposition’s responses the next moment? Do you see red when you learn of the lamentable state of the NHS or Social Services? Do you boil over with frustration when you hit another pot hole which the council has failed to deal with or hear of the latest piece of ‘wokery’? Do you get hot under the collar when told for the umpteenth time that ‘your call is important to us’ or when, once again, the traffic into Dorking is all snarled up and we haven’t even mentioned the cyclists yet!

Anger! We’ve all known it, I am quite certain, at one time or another and blown a fuse or two over some issue, often to be honest a very minor one, which has incensed us. And while we’re on the subject do not let’s forget those flashes of anger, the heated anger of uncontrolled shouting and even the swearing or the icy anger of hateful uncommunicative silences that can occur in almost any household however even tempered one may be most of the time. 

Anger which can at times, in certain circumstances, be fully justified and at others is simply unacceptable, self- indulgent behaviour.  And here I confess that when younger I could far too easily explode at some perceived or trivial wrongdoing when counting to ten slowly would have achieved a far more reasoned approach and caused a lot less friction in the family environment. Anger which I hope over the years I have learned serves no useful purpose bar, on rare occasional, as a safety valve to be released in the privacy of my own company. And thinking about all this while my anger has diminished my sorrow at the human failings that bring about such horrors as war, deprivation and injustice has increased exponentially. Sorrow at the anger that is born out of innate hatred and unleashed becomes the cause of the terrible wars raging now in Gaza, the Ukraine and parts of Africa.  Sorrow at the extreme position, be it on the left or the right, adopted by some people in our own country.

In today’s Gospel reading we hear of Jesus’s truly dramatic outburst of anger when he caused absolute havoc in the temple precincts. Reading it one recognises that in a phrase he truly flipped as he forcefully turned over the tables of those traders, scattering their wares.  Jesus, who always recognised the struggles of the poor and the disadvantaged, witnessed in those precincts the ‘ripping off’ of such people  They were being ‘ripped off’ by both those who sold animals for sacrifice at an inflated price of some ten to fifteen percent but, more particularly, by those who exchanged the hard earned Roman coins for the Temple coins, the only legitimate currency in that supposedly holy place. Here it is suggested that the mark-up could easily be as high as twenty-five percent. And, of course, the temple authorities themselves benefited greatly from this inflated commerce, and the historian Josephus described Annas, to whom Jesus was first taken after his arrest, as ‘a great hoarder of money,’ Is it any wonder Jesus was angry at such punitive financial dealings which, just as nowadays, hit the poorest hardest. The poor who were like everyone else required by law to make a pilgrimage to the Temple and there to fulfil the obligation to purchase animals for sacrifice; the poor like Jesus’ own parents Joseph and Mary who, after his birth, could only afford  to give as a sacrifice a  pair of turtle-doves or two young pigeons rather than the far more expensive  lamb. And the true significance of this is seen later when Jesus was himself sacrificed as the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

Thinking about all this it seems to me that in part Jesus’s turning over of the tables was symbolic and represented in a way the turning over the tables of Mammon, of greed and of self-enrichment, of downright corruption at the expense of others. Turning over these tables to replace them with the table of God; the table of God whose priceless wares are those of love, compassion, mercy and forgiveness for all. The table of God at which shortly we will share the gifts of bread and wine, the body and blood of Christ given in the purest, most costly sacrifice for God’s children for us. I think Jesus was all too aware of the potential destructiveness of Mammon, described as the greedy pursuit of gain, which all too often creates a terrible gulf between rich and poor, the advantaged and the disadvantaged. Wasn’t that destructiveness to be seen in the mark-up of goods sold in the Temple precincts? Wasn’t it seen in the increasing wealth of the priests as they took their cut.  The Scribes. too. knew exactly how to add to their bank balance as they charged over the odds for preparing legal documents. widows being particularly vulnerable to their smart practices.  So, too, we know from gospel stories and other evidence that tax collectors served not just the occupying power of the Romans but themselves as well. No wonder Jesus was enraged, just as he would be today at any practices which deny justice to the poor and add to the coffers of the wealthy. How many of our churches' tables would he like to overturn when fund raising and meeting the financial demands of the diocese may at times seem to be prioritised over worship and pastoral care?  How many of our own personal tables would he like to overturn?  Because, whoever we are, we are all guilty of greed and self-interest at times and while we may not, as the Temple traders did, actually exploit the poor, we may very well choose to ignore them.  When we fill our shopping trolleys in Waitrose or Lidl do we stop to ensure that we have also carefully purchased something of real value to add to the Food Bank Collection or do we toss in a tin of baked beans to salve our conscience or are we in truth simply unaware of those collection points?

Here, just to make the point, Waitrose’s turnover was £7.3 billion last year while Lidl’s was £7.3 billion, while the Food Banks in the year April 2022 to March 2023 distributed almost three million emergency food parcels and, on average, each Food Bank had to spend some £1,400 a month to ensure that they had enough supplies to meet demand. What, I wonder, would Jesus make of all this? To be honest I am not sure but there would, if not anger itself, definitely be sorrow that such a dire and unequal situation exists in what is one of the richest countries of the world.

As followers of Christ do we, at this time of Lent, need to take a closer look at which tables we are spending most of our time? Are they the tables which offer material wealth and personal well-being to be hoarded and kept solely for our own good fortune? Or are they the tables where we look to find the generous riches of love, compassion, forgiveness and mercy to share freely and liberally with others and thus bless their good fortune?  Questions I am certain we all need to ask ourselves as we continue our Lenten journey to that cross where the sacrificial lamb gave us the greatest wealth the world has ever known; the wealth that is the eternal love of God in this world and the next.

Virginia Smith                                    

Sunday 25 February, Second Sunday in Lent
Texts: Genesis 17: 1-7, 15&16

Today I would like to take you on a journey, a very personal journey but one I hope that, in some way, accords with your own journeys, your own experiences. I grew up in the south east in a community that was all white and in which most people had their roots. I think the only person I knew at all well from further away was one of my Father’s golfing friends who came from Scotland which to me seemed a truly foreign country. Then, between school and university I worked for a year and fortunately just down the road from where we lived was the world renowned Rothamsted Agricultural Station who gave me my first job and where for the first time I met and worked alongside people from much further away than Scotland and of a different skin colour. But whatever our backgrounds we were there to work as a team and I still remember a wonderful party hosted by two of the Indians where for the first time I was treated to the fabulous taste of a genuine curry.

Later with two small children in tow I lived for four years  in Mexico which culturally was quite different to anything I was used to back in England and if nothing else their idea of time was almost non-existent but oh how they loved parties. There was also a time spent in Brazil where, again, I almost felt myself in an alien land with their crazy driving, their shocking gulf between rich and poor and their cavalier approach to crime which included the advice to ex-pats to carry guns and be ready to use them if one’s home was broken into!

But, if I am honest, while I came to encounter so many more people from around God’s earth my life remained for the most part that of a white woman living in a predominantly white community because even when abroad it was an ex-pat community around which my life centred.

And it was only when I became a chaplain at St Peter’s Hospital that my eyes were at least partially opened to the reality that truly we are one family in God and, if nothing else, this fact is attested to by the  knowledge that daily all around God’s earth people are saying the words Jesus taught us which begin with that amazing acknowledgement that we are indeed praying to God who is Father to all. Should you wish to you can buy a book which contains no less than five hundred versions of this prayer in different languages which is surely confirmation of God’s promise to the newly named Abraham that ‘I have made you the ancestor of a multitude of nations’. Abraham who did indeed fulfil that sacred covenant to become the ‘Father of many’; the ‘Father of many’ among whom we must count ourselves and all our neighbours whoever they may be; neighbours who with us are all equal within that amazing divine family.

But apart from this universal reality which it can be too easy to forget, what I came to be shown more and more, was that while we may have different languages, different customs and different skin colour, and while we may have various ways of worshipping God what we do have are common experiences, common joys and common sorrows, common concerns and common anxieties. Goodness knows how many different nationalities are represented in that hospital and indeed any British hospital, albeit that many are now second or third generation British passport holders. As over time I have come to know at least a fair few of them well I have been privileged to share the experiences, the joys, the sorrows, the concerns and the anxieties. The joy of a new baby, a marriage, the passing of an important exam or a career promotion. The sorrow of the death of a family member often made more poignant by the fact that a sea or even an ocean separates the living and the dying and it is simply not physically possible to share the grief with other family members.  The sorrow of homesickness so acutely felt by those whose loved ones are just so far away and they do not have the financial means to visit.   The concerns about family members or friends that we all experience be it concerns about ageing parents or rebellious teenage children, which are integral to the nature of their work. And the anxieties, again, are the ones we all know be it trying to sell one’s house or anxieties about one’s own health, anxieties about just what the future holds for all of God’s children.

I have in my time at St Peters had the immense privilege of being told so many moving stories. The story of an Indian intensive care consultant who had become acutely stressed both by the demands of his work and  by the concern he had for  his sister’s health back in India. The story of a lonely and homesick doctor from Sri Lanka.  The story of a Polish Play Leader who found herself threatened and verbally abused by ignorant people in the lead up to Brexit. But alongside these the stories illustrated in photos such as those of the Indian doctor dressed in her exquisite wedding sari and wonderful photos of a Portuguese wedding between two staff. And then there are the stories of success, such as two superb doctors, one Syrian one Egyptian doctor, being appointed as consultants and always the stories that come with each new premature baby, each sick child in the paediatric ward and so, so much more. And one last example which meant so much to me was when I was asked to visit an Indian consultant and felt a very real sense of privilege in being welcomed by her and her family into their beautiful new home. An invitation I could never have dreamed of growing up as a child.

I know I have been incredibly blessed in my role as chaplain, but the greatest blessing has been to come to know so many of God’s children from around the world and to come to recognise all we have in common. Our Deanery here in the beauty of the Surrey Hills does not provide quite such a wealth of opportunities as I have been given but take the time and trouble to look beneath the surface and you will find huge and often surprising diversity and, if you are prepared to do so, a wealth of life stories to be listened to; stories to widen your knowledge and inspire a mutual exchange of love and care.  What I do pray is that as the world we live in seems to shrink, as  communities change and we become more multinational we all  learn to genuinely welcome all the opportunities we are given together with the efforts we make to grow in love as the united family of God who is not just ‘our’ Father but the Father of all, the Father to whom all this world’s children are called to make their prayers because surely that is what this world needs more than anything else right now.

I will end with this beautiful poem by Edwina Gateley which expresses so well all I have tried to say.

We share our stories - that’s all. We sat and listened to each other and heard the journeys of each soul. We sat in silence entering each one’s pain and sharing each one’s joy. We heard love’s longing and the lonely reachings - out for love and affirmation. We heard of dreams shattered and visions fled. Of hopes and laughter turned stale and dark. We felt the pain of isolation and the bitterness of death.

But in each brave and lonely story God’s gentle life broke through and we heard music in the darkness and smelt flowers in the void. We felt the budding of creation in the searching of each soul and discerned the beauty of God’s hand in each muddy, twisted path.

And God’s voice sang in each story, God’s life sprang from each death, our sharing became one story of a simple lonely search for life and hope and Oneness in a world which sobs for love. And we knew that in our sharing God’s voice with mighty breath was saying love each other and take each other’s hand.

For you are one though many and in each of you I live. So listen to my story and share my pain and death, Oh, listen to my story and rise and live with me.

Virginia Smith

Sunday 18 February, First Sunday in Lent
Being a third Sunday, we have two services - 9.00am Communion and 6.00pm Evensong - with two sermons, both of which are published here.

9.00am Communion
Texts: Genesis 9: 8-17; 
1 Peter 3:18 – 22
Who was Peter?
Let’s remind ourselves of the highs and lows of his life just briefly before we look at what he wrote.
His original name was Simon. Jesus re-named him Peter, or Cephas in Aramaic, meaning rock.
He was a poor, illiterate Galilean fisherman who Jesus called as his disciple; he jumped out of the boat to walk on water to follow Jesus, which was not altogether successful; he cut off a Roman soldiers ear to defend Jesus; he denied him three times before the crucifixion; he was a church leader and missionary after the resurrection and he was martyred upside down in Rome in the reign of Nero around the year 64.
So that, in a nutshell, was Peter – a rather impetuous, passionate and bull-headed man, a man of action and deep conviction.
And so to his letter. 
This is a pastoral letter to the five provinces in Asia Minor – now current day Turkey.
The Christians in these places were having a bit of a tough time of it. They were seen as a minority sect and as such were marginalised, rejected, misunderstood and verbally berated.
Peter writes to offer realistic encouragement and instruction as they attempt to remain faithful to Christ in these trying circumstances. 
He is trying to point to the higher purpose and calling of their lives as they struggle to maintain their faith.
But he does this in such a way that we might find hard to comprehend.
In our day we spend a lot of our time and money on being comfortable; in our surroundings – our houses, soft furnishings, heating, water, light. Our ease of movement; our cars, travel, good walking shoes. Our entertainment; theatre, internet access, television, concerts, and various forms of technology.
We have so much that distracts us from any sort of discomfort, let alone any suffering.
Industries have been built upon keeping us comfortable and avoiding pain at all costs – because we’re worth it! 
We avoid discomfort and suffering at all costs – I know I do.
Peter in his letter of encouragement and comfort to these marginalised Christians doesn’t once talk about avoidance or distraction – he instructs these men, women and children to lean into it, to accept it.
This is hard for us to understand – why wouldn’t they just want some help and distraction techniques? Some quick fix coping mechanisms?
It is uncomfortable for us perhaps to read that suffering and rejection is the way of Jesus, and as followers of Jesus we walk this path too.
If you look back over your life experiences – the highs and the lows – where do see that you really grew as a person – where did you learn resilience, perseverance and patience? Which parts of your life played a transformation role?
Was it the easy times or was it the hardest parts?
For me, as I track my faith journey, I notice that my greatest leaps came when I was utterly up against it.
Back in 2010 I was miserable. I had leaned way too much on quick fix strategies to change the way I felt, and it had made me thoroughly despondent, isolated and depressed.
So, through this gift of desperation I surrendered to God. He found me in my weakness, met me in my despair and slowly and gently bought me into the light and showed me a new way of being in the world. Through this suffering, admittedly of my own making, God began his work in me – and through my daily surrender to his love and wisdom, he continues to make me new.
Peter is pointing out to these rejected Christians the way of Jesus and the way of the cross – not as a place to dwell in despair and wallow in self-pity – but as a hopeful path to wait and walk in.
Jesus has shown us the way, given us the way to union with God. In completely surrendering to his Fathers will he has given us the blueprint to freedom and forgiveness.
Our lives will all have their ups and downs, their sufferings and their trials no matter how much time, effort and money we pour into them. But it is perhaps through the struggles that we are given the opportunity of growing and transforming the most.
If we lean into God and allow him to work in us, then we are truly following in the footsteps of Jesus.
Amen.
Let us pray:
As we enter into this season of Lent, help us to follow in the footsteps of your Son. Help us to reflect over our lives and see your hand and transforming love and grace as it guides and leads us nearer to you.
For your glory, amen.
Rev'd Kia

6.00pm Evensong

Texts:  Joel 2: 1-2, 12-17, Mark 1: 9-15

We are always called to move forward in our awareness and love of God.’  St Columbanus

 Cleaning my teeth the other day in my bathroom the thought suddenly struck me how different the products around me were compared to when I was a child.  And just for a start there was the fact that each and every day at any time I could turn on the hot tap and know that lovely often very hot water would gush out. Plus, the fact that being someone who loves her bath I could indulge myself every single night. Not so when I grew up. Hot water would depend on the state of the back boiler in the kitchen and baths were strictly regulated to at the most twice a week.  Then, instead of my delightfully  scented soap from shops like Moulton Brown, there would have been either Lux or, if we were lucky, that beautifully honey coloured Pears soap.  This said they may have been considerably cheaper, but they still made the most wonderful soap bubbles. I can’t remember the name of the shampoo for our once a week hair wash, but it would have been the same make with no boastful claims at their ability to make one’s hair silkier, softer or more voluminous and no conditioner to avoid the agony of combing through tangled hair. Similarly there would have been just one sort of toothpaste again making no claims as to just how gleaming white your teeth might be after brushing with it.  And for cleaning the bath it was again simply Gumption and as far as I know no other products available. I could go on, but I am sure you get the picture. There is no doubt that over the years our lives materially have become so much more comfortable and definitely more luxurious than when we were children. Although here I hasten to add that tragically this is not true of all families today in the UK and certainly not around the world. Food and fuel poverty are horribly real and soul destroying for many people.

Over the years we have undoubtedly improved the standard of our lives and become far far more materially centred but how much have we done to improve our relationship and our understanding of God? Has our faith continued to grow and mature or if we are completely honest is it still by and large a rather simple almost basic faith which has barely changed over the years? Have we, according to the words of Ephesians, been gradually but steadily strengthened and enriched in our inner being with power from the Spirit and come to know more and more of the love of Christ that surpasses all knowledge and thus filled with the gladness of God? A question I think we are all called upon to ponder carefully and answer honestly.

We are now in the early days of the season of Lent; a time traditionally given over to fasting, to cutting back, to living without things we really enjoy. Hence the choice of so many to give up on chocolate, cakes or alcohol or, as I have done in previous Lents, cheese which for a ‘cheeseaholic’ is hard.  All this is fine and indeed worthy, but I do wonder, in a sense, how much this helps to bring us closer to Christ as we accompany him on his own last journey to Jerusalem. Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it, which must now bear witness to his own death upon the cross? When we politely decline that proffered chocolate biscuit or glass of wine, do we feel that it has brought us nearer to Christ or does it make us feel smugly virtuous and if truth be told make the person offering feel just a little uncomfortable that they are not being ‘good’ like you?

Thus, I think the question for this evening is are we fasting simply to feel good about ourselves? Are we fasting in order to come to appreciate that it is not all the luxuries and material benefits of modern living that are important, many of which, if we were honest, we could manage without and actually find contentment in so doing. Or are we fasting in order to come closer to God, closer to understanding just what he did for us in sending his Son to live with us and to die for us? A Son who lived with not the riches of material possessions but always with the incomparable richness and blessing of God’s grace. In other words, in our token fasting, are we in effect rending our garments and not our hearts? What is it we really want to achieve this Lent? Is it to wake up on Easter morning and immediately begin an orgy of feasting of all the things from which we have abstained for those forty days and nights or is it to wake on Easter morning stripped of some of the clutter which has accumulated through our enslavement to material wealth and well-being  and, in our minds, go with the disciples, with Mary Magdalene and discover, like them, the now  empty tomb and to know, without a shadow of doubt, that Christ’s journey to Jerusalem ended not in tragedy but in the  accumulation of all the glory, the wonder and the mystery of the resurrection.

So, I would like to end this sermon using slightly modified words from the one I preached on Ash Wednesday. If we want the purpose of our Lenten journey to be truly that of rending our hearts, of finding that contentment in a simpler way of life should we be consciously thinking about the power of God’s love for us which led His Son to that cross, to that tortured death that we might be given life eternal though our flesh and blood bodies are consigned to be ashes, dust and earth? The love that is spoken of in the words ‘God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son that all who believe in him should not perish but have everlasting life'.  Could we, perhaps, write out that sentence and spend maybe just five minutes every day of Lent contemplating just what it means to us, just what it reveals about a Love that is perfection, a love that is everlasting, a love that is non- judgemental, a love that is freely given to each and every one of us. 

I pray that for all of us this Lenten journey may not simply be a journey of abstinence, of simplicity, but in so many ways a journey when in Christ’s company we learn to appreciate and give heartfelt thanks for not only the benefits of our modern way of life but, far more importantly, to build upon and increase the wealth of our wonder and our faith in the glory and the mystery of God’s love  for us and in so doing help us to become a little less like sinners and a little more like saints. 

Now is the time to take his truth to heart and to be glad within the holy place that he himself has made in us, to start each day with him, abiding in his grace.                 
Malcolm Guite

Virginia Smith

Wednesday 14 February, Ash Wednesday, Benefice Service at St Marys Holmbury
Texts: Joel 2: 1-2, 12-17, John 8: 1-11

Like me you just may have wondered when did Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day clash before; the answer is just six years ago in 2018 but before that you have to go back to 1945. And looking ahead this clash will happen again in 2029 and then never again this century. And should you also wonder if Ash Wednesday has ever coincided with  a Leap Day the answer is that this will happen for the first time in the Church’s history in 2096 but I fear none of us will be around for that unique event.

I have advisedly used the word ‘clash’ as really Valentine’s Day celebrating lovers with its hearts, cards with often soppy words, red roses and even champagne are so at odds with the  penitential character of Ash Wednesday with its ashes proclaiming the inevitable return of our bodies to dust and ashes and calling upon us to recognise our sinfulness which over and over again has marred our relationships with others bringing pain and hurt in place of love.

So, what made you come here tonight when certainly for some of you it would have been far more fun to enjoy a candlelit supper and reminisce over shared delights? And even for those of us who are single for whatever reason coming out on a February evening to what must be regarded as a somewhat down-beat service is, in all honesty, not that attractive, but I’ll do my best with these words to help to make you think that coming here wasn’t such a bad choice and it is certainly not all about gloom and doom.

Ashes and hearts! Is there, can there be any connection? I think that  there can be. Recently I have conducted rather a lot of funerals which always contain those words of Committal ‘Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust’ which starkly, brutally almost, paint the picture of the fate of our earthly bodies and this destructive fate we have no alternative to accept, unless of course we choose like the Egyptians or Lenin to be mummified.  But the sentence continues ‘in sure and certain hope to the resurrection to eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ.’ Sure and Certain hope that death is not the end and that God’s love revealed in the life and death and resurrection of Christ prevails over death.  Sure and certain hope that nothing, not even death, can separate us from God’s love.

So, thinking about all this and of how we should use this time of Lenten pilgrimage. Should we just make it simple and opt to fast giving up our favourite treats such as that glass of wine or that chocolate? Or maybe some more serious reading using one of the many Lent books which are available? Or, in the light of this day’s clash of hearts and ashes, try to spend time consciously thinking about the power of God’s love for us which led His Son to that cross, to that tortured death that we might be given life eternal though our flesh and blood bodies are consigned to be ashes, dust and earth. The love that is spoken of in the words ‘God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son that all who believe in him should not perish but have everlasting life'.  Could we perhaps write out that sentence and spend maybe just five minutes every day of Lent contemplating just what it means to us, just what it reveals about a Love that is perfection, a Love that is everlasting, a Love that is non- judgemental, a Love that is freely given to each and every one of us. A Love shown most specifically to those who sin, which of course is every human who has ever been, as testified by the loving forgiveness shown by Jesus to the woman caught in adultery and his words to those who showed no such forgiveness: ‘Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw the stone at her.’  An immaculate love articulated in these words of Samuel Crossman: ‘My song is love unknown, my Saviour’s love for me, love to the loveless shown that they might lovely be. O who am I. that for my sake, my Lord should take frail flesh and die?'

Yes, just who am I, Virginia Smith a flawed and very imperfect person that God should consider it not simply worthwhile but essential to send His own Son to take frail flesh and die for me and for you and for all the millions and millions like us who are such a complex mixture of earthly desires and weaknesses. Absolute Love given to us that we too might become more lovely in our own love for others heeding that commandment given by Jesus to his disciples: ‘This is my commandment that you love one another as I have loved you.’ But most of all the love we try, albeit often far too feebly, to share with God Himself. And in recognising all this maybe we could end our time of quiet contemplation with more of Crossman’s words: ‘Here might I stay and sing, no story so divine; never was love, dear King, never was grief like thine. This is my friend in whose sweet praise I all my days could gladly spend'.

It may be Valentine’s Day but it is also on this Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent; a day to recognise just what perfect love is and what it has done for us so that even as our earthly bodies are committed to become dust and ashes with sure and certain hope we may rise in God’s time to the life eternal.

Virginia Smith

Sunday 11 February, Sixth of Epiphany
Text: Luke 2 22-40

I’d like to begin with a confession.
I am really inpatient.
Mainly with myself. When I was about 5 we were given the opportunity at school of taking up a musical instrument, and much to the delight of my parents, I chose the violin. I persevered for about 6 months – religiously practicing most days – but when it became clear I was not going to get a scholarship with Yehudi Menuhin I gave it up! 
I expected to be brilliant straight away.
This became a bit of a pattern throughout my early life – I’d try a hundred and one things, and if I wasn’t spectacular at them instantly, I’d give up. I learnt resilience later in life! But the root of this was simply impatience.
Our current culture suits my character defect rather well.
Our attention spans have rapidly reduced – if we can’t get what we need on a sound bite, or a ten-minute TED talk we lose interest. Even podcasts don’t help – we probably listen to podcasts when we are multi-tasking – driving, walking the dogs, cleaning or ironing – we rarely give our full, undivided attention to anything – well we wouldn’t want to waste our time would we?
So when I was reflecting on the gospel reading this week, what jumped out at me was the man Simeon, a man not mentioned before or after this encounter. What struck me was his character, his faith, his trust but most of all his patience.
I think I have a lot to learn from him!
It was Verses 25 that stopped me in my tracks,
Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel.”
This was a glass half full chap. He wasn’t lamenting – as quite a lot of biblical characters seem to – he was full of hope, of expectation – of trust. He knew the consolation, the comforting, the restoring, of Israel was on it’s way – it was just a question of when.
It is so easy to fall into the trap of despair. We do today; the world has never been in such a terrible state, the poverty, the pain, the suffering. It can look bleak out there. With this mindset everything looks dark and the light seems to fade. Hope is squeezed out.
A friend of mine shared an acronym for hope with me this week which resonated – Hold On Pain Ends.
But I wonder what Simeon would say to us today? Where is our hope placed? Pain does end and those of us with a faith can trust in a God who has the bigger picture, who offers us glimmers of light in the darkness.
So Simeon was a glass half full guy, full of hope, of trust, of expectation – perhaps because he was righteous – right with God, and devout.
God gave him the strength and the vision to see the world this way. Amidst the chaos and the confusion of what he could see, Simeon waited patiently for God to reveal the Messiah. He waited in the darkness for the light.
We have yearly seasons that speak of this; as we emerge from the cold, long, dark winter nights of winter and begin to see the first signs of spring, but also in our lives. 
We have personal times of darkness and confusion as the world as we knew it stops making sense and we struggle to find our bearings. We may lose loved ones, our jobs, a relationship turns sour, the list goes on.
Simeon gives us hope. We can look at a man, content in his waiting, positive in his outlook, trusting in his God to lead him and guide him by the Spirit.
There is also a contentment and acceptance within him.
And as the Nunc Dimittus shows us Simeon could see the future of Jesus – he glimpsed his destiny – the highs and the lows of his life – and he also knew he would not witness them. It was enough that he had just seen him.
Simeon was content with the part that God had given him to play – he didn’t need to be there at the end. 
There is such humility in this, such acceptance of the fact that he was not in control. He trusted in a God who knows all things, sees all things and has the end worked out from the beginning. 
Simeon's job was just to recognise the Messiah and tell others the good news, not to work out all the details and see it through to its conclusion.
And so to us.
We too are messengers of hope, people to point to the light, to recognise the glimmers that sparkle in the darkness.
There is light and love all around us, perhaps, like Simeon, it is our responsibility to reflect this for others who are surrounded by darkness, hopelessness, and despair. 
We may never see the end game, the bigger picture but if, like Simeon, we are right with God, are in relationship with Jesus and are open to the guiding of the Holy Spirit, we too can be glass half full people; the people of God who can speak of the hope, contentment and expectation that is found in union with each other and with a power greater than us who we call Father.
Let us pray,
Father, help us to be rooted and grounded in you. Hold us firm within our world, give us eyes to see the light of your love in all whom we meet so we can speak with confidence of the hope you have placed within us. Increase our trust and faith in you and give us patience so we can wait on you with hope and expectation.
In Jesus name we pray,
Amen.
Rev'd Kia

Sunday 4 February, Fifth Sunday of Epiphany
Texts: Psalm104: 26-end. John 1: 1-14

Has it, I wonder, ever struck you of the parallels between the first chapter of Genesis and the first chapter of St John’s Gospel which is our lectionary reading for today? A reading most commonly associated with Christmas Day but here on the second Sunday before the start of Lent we have it again.  So back to my question and for me the answer has to be that the connection is   ‘word’ and ‘light’. In Genesis we read that the creation of the world was spoken into being. Each wonderful miraculous stage occurred because God spoke beginning with the ringing command ‘Let there be light; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness.’  God spoke this tiny seemingly insignificant planet into being within the vastness of the universe and each miraculous part has the power to communicate back to us something of the awe and wonder that is God.  God who is The Word, the unparalleled communicator.

Compare the words of Genesis with those which open John’s gospel. ’In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being' 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.’  Jesus comes to us as the embodiment of the Word in order that He might communicate , above all else, the love of God for us and shed the light of that love out into the dark places of our world. Speech and light lie at the heart of all God does. The unfathomable God has the power to show us something of his nature through word and light; words which can create, words and indeed sounds  which can bring a greater understanding of God’s purposes for us and light that can dispel the darkness with which we have marred God’s world.

So, we too as humans have been given the power to communicate not just by word of mouth or by the written word but just as importantly by our body language and our gestures and even at times by the extraordinary power of telepathy.  But we also know, and indeed are becoming increasingly aware, that like us plants and animals can and do have a wide variety of means by which they also can communicate with each other. Plants and animals who like us were spoken into being by God.  Dolphins and sperm whales communicate with each other using clicks, whistles and indeed their own form of body language. Primates use vocalisations, visual cues and tactile gestures just as we do as well apparently olfactory signals, although not, I suspect, the scents of Chanel or Lynx. And one study has suggested that prairie dogs have the most advanced means of communication than any other animal species Trees we now know communicate in a variety of ways including sending electrical signals along their roots; the releasing of chemicals into the air and producing vibrations that can be felt by other trees and we think we are so clever; so far advanced compared to the natural world. 

And now we even have Artificial Intelligence to communicate with us and as I type these words I keep finding that AI is predicting what I want to type next which I find most aggravating. I’m a big girl I can do this by myself thank you AI. And just for interest I asked AI to write a meaningful sentence containing the words ‘Word’ and ‘Light’ and within seconds it came up with: 'The Light of the Word of Truth can illuminate even the darkest of paths’ which frankly rather stunned me. Maybe I should have let this amazingly powerful, seemingly at times omniscient tool, write the rest of this homily.  

But no because at least some of the time I have an even more powerful tool and that is the power of the holy Spirit to direct and guide me together with the hope that same Spirit will enlighten you in some way as you read or hear my words. Words that enlighten are surely what we seek as we struggle to make sense of a world that at times seems to become far darker, far more alien and more frightening. And it is surely then what we need to do, as my AI author wrote, is to look for the Light of the Word of Truth which can illuminate even the darkest of paths.

Where do we find such Light? And surely the answer has to be by looking for God’s word which can only be the Word of Truth. The Word of Truth found in both our reading of the Old and New Testaments but also in what the Celtic people called the Primary Scriptures which they understood to mean God speaking to us through our senses and our hearts. Senses that can read and be enlightened by the wonders of God’s creation spoken into being. Senses that can perhaps be taught to hear something of  the words of animals and plants Just reread today’s psalm and recognise the author using his senses as he speaks of some of the wonders of God’s creation and responds as surely we should with  the words ‘I will sing to the Lord as long as I live; I will sing praises to my God while I have my being.’  So, too, our hearts can be enlightened and even made radiant by our communication with others, be it verbal or nonverbal.  And in such a use of the primary Scriptures we can be shown a fraction more of the Truth that is God. The ultimate, unchangeable Truth that cannot be manipulated by man- made fake news or by AI but which proclaims the unalterable, unfathomable wonder that is God and of His Son who came to reveal the Word of Light to our world.

At our baptisms we were commanded to ‘shine as lights in the world’ and maybe we should remind ourselves of this instruction more often and resolve first to read more of those God revealing Primary Scriptures  that God spoke into being and then to shine the light of Christ’s gospel into all those dark places by sharing the words and gestures of love, of compassion, of consolation and even guidance, the words of truth which are the words that proclaim the reality of the living God who spoke our world into being; spoke His own Son to become the life that is the light of all people.

I would like to end with these words of Dag Hammarskjold:  ‘God does not die on the day when we cease to believe in a personal deity, but we die on the day when our lives cease to be illumined by the steady radiance, renewed daily, of a wonder, the source of which is beyond all reason.’

Virginia Smith

Sunday 28 January Fourth Sunday of Epiphany
Today is a Benefice Service held at St Mary's Holmwood, marking David Grundy's retirement. The sermon is David's.

There was once a vicar who was just retiring from a rural parish and the churchwarden said to him “I’m right sad you’re going, Vicar. It won’t be the same with you gone”. The Vicar….you’ll find somebody else…
“But he won’t be as good as you, Vicar”.  “Nonsense, I’m sure you’ll find someone excellent”
“No, but he won’t be as good as you, I’m sure of that”     “How can you say that ?”
“Because I’ve been churchwarden here under 5 vicars and each one was worse than the one before”

The last few weeks, I’ve realised just how much there is to love in these communities: a wonderful mix of people, some amazing countryside.  
And in these churches too, I’ve worked with some excellent people:
The church officers in these two parishes, churchwardens (Francis, Debbie, James, Rosemary, but also Anne Rodell), also treasurers, you are the most capable and dedicated group of church officers I have ever had the privilege to work with. And you, administrator Becky Brown, are a legend. 
The ministry team I’ve worked with:
- Hugh Skeil, I’ve worked with you a short time, you don’t just have a servant spirit but you also have  a reverence for Scripture that has been a much needed addition to these parishes.
And Kia, most clergy either tend to be more task oriented or more people oriented. You have that balance of task and people better than any other priest I know. 
Martha and Virginia, I’ve worked with for longer. 
Martha, you have a way with words and an ability to think outside the box that make your sermons really quite unique. And you remain humble, self-effacing and ever willing.
Virginia, you have a wonderful heart for people, a great combination of gentleness, kindness and toughness that make you a great friend and pastor to many. 
And Judith, thank you so much for having stepped up to the plate several times and led some wonderful services.  

So,….I chose the reading of the feeding of the 5,000, because it’s played a special role in life. Judith and I used to work in north west London, in an area where we heard either a police siren or an ambulance siren every day; the gents hairdressers 50 yards down the road was the target of a major police drugs raid: the church was a vast, freezing old Victorian building with dwindling reserves. The congregation about 25 lovely West Indian folk, who never wanted leadership roles and invariably turned up late for everything. And after about 3 months, I realised the problem. They just didn’t have the resources: of skills or of money.  Having arrived at this conclusion, I went home that evening and said to Judith, ‘I’ve realised what it is, darling. We just don’t have the resources.’ It became my mantra and I mentioned it to several people. 

The next day, we had a sort of ‘Bishop gathering all his clergy’ day. And he was preaching on the loaves and fishes miracle, and he suddenly stopped, looked over the lectern and said “Don’t any of you ever say – I just don’t have the resources”. He even took the word JUST. I sank lower in my chair, hoped he wouldn’t catch my eye, and had an eerie feeling the good Lord was quietly laughing at me. I’m pleased to say that that church is now in a good place. What a faithless idiot I was ! 

I think there are 2 encouragements in this extraordinary event: incidentally, I do think it happened, not least because it’s recorded in all 4 gospels, and while John in particular has lots of symbolic meaning in his writing, Mark just tells a simple no frills attached story of what he saw. But whether you believe it literally or not, there is timeless meaning. 

The first encouragement is one that we may never have thought of: that is, that Jesus really didn’t really want to be there. He’d gone across the lake with the precise aim of getting away from the crowds, having some down time, and some time with just his close disciples. 

It really didn’t work. Jesus may have gone across in a boat, but the crowds decided that an 8 mile walk round the edge of the lake was perfectly in order. They weren’t going to leave him alone.  Jesus’ plan had gone completely wrong. 

And that is a very good thing to remember for those of us capable folk with control freak tendencies. When we find ourselves in a place that we certainly had not intended to be, and feel highly frustrated by the fact our plans have been derailed, it does not for one moment mean that God has left the stage. It was precisely when Jesus’ plan had gone wrong that this most remarkable of the miracles happened.  

We really didn’t want to be in lockdown. Yet on peak Sundays we had, between Holmbury and Wotton, about 100 people accessing at least parts of the online services. It wasn’t a place we wanted to be, but good things happened. I imagine there will be some people here very much not wanting a vacancy. Jesus didn’t want to have 5,000 people to feed. But it was the derailing of his plans that were the setting for this amazing event.  

Finally, maybe the most important message. I’d like us to imagine a diary entry written that evening by the little boy with the 5 loaves and 2 fishes: 
“When I saw what Mum had packed for my lunch, I was really cross with her. Why does she always put in barley bread ? Everyone knows that only poor people or animals have barley bread. Some of my friends have real wheat bread. But I never do.”

Jesus took not just a paltry amount, but also rather basic food – Judith and I went into a German bakery when staying with our son, a bakery that had won German bakery of the year award, amazing experience and atmosphere; well, 1st century Galilean bread was the other end of the spectrum. It really was the poor man’s bread. Jesus was never overly fussy about the materials or people he worked with. All they had to be was willing. I have no idea whether Jesus winked at the boy and said, do you want to help me feed all these people, because between us we can do it. But I am sure that when we realise that whoever we are, our gifts, paltry or otherwise, can make far more difference than we think, that we’re more willing to give.  To phone the person who’s not in a great place, to give to the Food bank, to have a go at helping out. So don’t hold back. Whether you are barley bread or prize-winning German bakery bread makes little difference to Jesus. All he wants is for you and me, wherever we are,  to be willing to share it. And he has a great knack of making it into something bigger and greater. 

David Gundry
In Rev'd Kia's weekly message to her parishioners she wrote : 
It has been a joy to serve alongside David since my time here; a man full of joy, wit and love for God – we will miss him!

We all wish David and Judith good health and contentment in their retirement, and thank them both for all they have done for David's parishes and for the whole Leith Hill Benefice over the years they have been with us.

Sunday 21 January, Third Sunday of Epiphany
Being a third Sunday, we have two services - 9.00am Communion and 6.00pm Evensong - with two sermons, both of which are published here

9.00am Communion
Texts: Psalm 128, John 2: 1-11
I am sure everyone has a favourite story of when things went wrong at a wedding. My favourite story I’ve heard of is of a bride called Christine who stepped on the hem of her wedding dress at the beginning of the service – and all the fastenings on the back of her dress popped out. To her eternal credit, Christine laughed, the organist kept playing and Christine’s mum came up with safety pins to do a repair job.
Disaster was averted!
When Jesus joined the wedding feast at Cana things were about to go very wrong. 
Now, we should understand that weddings in Jesus’ time were different to such events today. For example, weddings usually lasted a week and everyone in the village would be invited. 
For family reputation and honour it was vital that the host was seen to be a good and generous host. Yet here the wine was running out! This was a socially disastrous! Yet into this situation Jesus steps in and John says this first miracle “revealed his glory”.
But here is a question: Saving people from social embarrassment is compassionate - but how does it show God’s glory? Wouldn’t we prefer the first miracle to be something magnificent that met a basic human need – like raising the dead or feeding the hungry? 
We know that John arranges his Gospel around seven signs (The Greek word is “semeon” – from which we get semaphore.) These signs are signposts in the Gospel indicating that we should look for more than just a surface meaning. In which case, what is that meaning in this miracle? 
I want to suggest three reasons why this miracle reveals God’s glory and I also suggest that these three aspects of Christ’s ministry indicate the way God usually works with us. So what we see in this story is the modus operandi of God – the way God works today. 
1. GLORY IN THE ORDINARY 
Seeds of this idea are seen in the first chapter of John where we are told “In beginning was the Word..” but then (in vs 14) we are told “The word became flesh” (Gk sarx) This is a very coarse, unflattering, earthy, ordinary word.
This phrase the “word became flesh”, in a sense, sums up the Christmas story. John doesn’t have a Birth Narrative as do Matthew and Luke – instead he says “the word became flesh”. 
Yes Jesus was not born in a palace, the usual place of humans with royal blood, he does not have a proverbial “silver spoon” in his mouth. Instead he is born in a stable, his human parents are humble working folk – and there is more of a whiff of shame in that rumour of his illegitimate birth! There is not much glory here!
So this first miracle shows the way God so often works – through the ordinary and unspectacular.
After all, the place, Cana, is an obscure, ordinary village an afternoon’s walk out of Nazareth. 
The circumstance of the miracle is something haphazard and ordinary - that is caused by bad planning. 
Yet in that ordinary place and in that ordinary circumstance Jesus comes and makes a difference. 
That means that Jesus comes in the ordinary every-day aspects of our lives today. He comes in the ordinary joys. Jesus came to the fun and festivity of this wedding in Cana.
He would have drunk the wine and had a dance. So we can say that in our ordinary fun Jesus is there – and that it is right for us to celebrate and know pleasure and joy in our lives. 
C H Spurgeon once wrote: ‘I commend cheerfulness to all who would win souls. More flies are caught by honey than with vinegar'. He tells Christians to cheer up!
But Jesus also comes to us in our ordinary troubles. If Jesus helped in the context of a social gaff when the wine ran out - we can expect him to help in our social and domestic needs. There is nothing too small for him to care about – whether it is health issues, work problems or concerns about bringing up our children.
God is the God of surprises, because so often we meet him in very ordinary things. 
2. GLORY IN THE TRANSFORMATION
This is an obvious theme because, Jesus transformed water into wine. It was a “creative act”: The whole process of wine making (planting, growing, ripening, harvesting, pressing) was squeezed into a moment. It is the ultimate picture of transformation! It is not the work of a magician – but the work of a Creator God.
But that’s just surface meaning. Remember “Signs’ are signposts to a deeper meaning! 
John says the transformation took place within pots used for ceremonial cleaning. The Jews were always washing hands - before a meal and between each course. They washed with their hands down, then with their hands up! Their religion demanded outward rituals which were onerous, tedious and empty. 
So Jesus gives a signal (or sign) of the transformation his ministry will bring. Some things will be made obsolete, some things will be made new. After all, the stone jars can no longer be used for ritual cleaning! They are filled with wine and useless for washing. They are obsolete in Jesus’ kingdom! More than that, the wine was God’s amazing gift of grace – and it has nothing to do with human effort or ritual. It is sign of the kingdom and its newness.
Jesus was therefore demonstrating his glory in transformation reality. We don’t have to “DO”rituals to be Right with God. He does it all for us - it is a gift, just as this wine was a gift. 
All this hints at what God is going to do through Jesus. Through Jesus’ work on the cross we are accepted as righteous; we can’t add our own righteousness or any rituals. Jesus has done it all for us. 
Bill Hybels contrasts 2 approaches to religion: It is either “Do” or “Done”! Some people might think of all the things they must DO to make themselves right with God. But this miracle is a signpost that shows God’s glory – of transforming religion from Do… to Done.
As you take wine this morning say “It’s Done”! Jesus has taken my sin and has given me new life as a gift – rather like that wine!
3. GLORY IN THE ABUNDANCE 
John tells us a minute detail – for a special reason. He tells us that these six stone water jars held 20-30 gallons. So that means there must have been at least 150 gallons of wine! Enough for a wedding but also enough to provide a cellar for “newly-weds; a cellar that would last many anniversaries and many christenings. That is an abundance of wine!
But there is more than that. This wine is not cheap plonk! It is not Tesco or Sainsbury’s “basic” at £3.99! 
This is the best of the best of the best. The steward says, “Everyone brings out the choice wines first and then when the guests have drunk too much he brings out the cheaper wines. But you have saved the best till now”.
Here is quality and quantity! We can see hints of what is called the “Messianic Banquet” of heaven. 
This is a great OT theme, but also a motif that Jesus repeated. 
The Bible says: “Things beyond our seeing, things beyond our imagining, things beyond our hearing … have all been prepared by God for those who love him”. In other words, this life isn’t all we have … The best he has kept for us. When I see the sorrow in this world, I encourage myself by remembering the best is still in store for us.
Here’s a miracle of abundance – and that shows God’s glory. Indeed, it would be right to say that God’s generosity is his most glorious attribute. The great theologian J I Packer comments, “Generosity is the focal point of God’s moral perfection; ALL God’s other excellencies are concentrated in this…”
Paul wants us to see this generous heart of God and so he says God works in ways “above all we can imagine or ask” (Eph 3)… so he prays that we know "the height and length and breadth of the love of Christ”. Jesus himself speaks of our generous God giving to us - "pressed down, shaken together, running over.."
That is Jesus’ picture of a generous God “Pressed down, shaken together, running over”. 150 gallons of wine is mega, mega abundance. It’s a sign of the way God acts. He is generous. He is Gracious. He is glorious.
Unfortunately, it is in our fallen nature to doubt this. The very first sin in Eden was a doubt about the generosity and goodness of God. So some might think, “God can’t work in ordinary me! He can’t transform me. I can’t know abundance. It is all too fantastic!"
I am reminded that when Marco Polo (the 13th Cent Venetian explorer) returned from China – no one believed his fabulous stories. When he lay dying his friends urged him to retract his stories. But he said, “I haven’t told you the half of what I have seen”.
The Bible says, “Things beyond our seeing, things beyond imagining, things beyond our hearing have been prepared by God for those who love him”.
As we start a New Year, in the very ordinary things of life we need to know this is the way God works. God is in the business of taking ordinary things and ordinary people – and transforming them so we can know abundance.
Amen.
Rev'd Kia

6.00pm Evensong
Text : John 2:1-11
           
Hydrogen and Oxygen in their natural state both gases but combine the two together in the correct ratio of two to one and you have water. Two atoms of hydrogen, one of oxygen to form a molecule of water. Life giving water which if we did not have this miracle combination would mean that nothing on this planet would exist. Nothing would be green and grow; this planet, like all the others in our solar system, would be simply dead matter. Water, which is the essence of life, water which has the power to change and transform; to turn the ordinary into the extra-ordinary; to change the plain and simple into the richness which abounds throughout God’s creation. Water, which comprises some sixty per cent of our human bodies. The reading from St John’s gospel gives us the account of Jesus’s first miracle performed at that wedding in Cana but now I would like to give a short meditation on the miracles which we can see for ourselves every day if our sense are open to them.  Senses that will confirm these words of David Adam that ‘all of creation contains mystery if we look deep enough, if we look long enough and within our heart God’s glory is waiting to be found in even the smallest of things.’ Senses that I hope will confirm us as what was once described to me as rainbow people; those people who would actually draw to a halt and stop anything they might be doing just to wonder at the sheer beauty of a rainbow and in that wonder give thanks to the glory of God the Creator, the Master Artist  of all things. 

Think of the wonder of our seas and oceans where sometimes the water is placid. Calmly lapping the shore, reflecting a heavenly blue with shimmering, dancing flecks of sunlight cavorting on the gentle swell of the sea or reflecting in glorious gold the rays of a setting sun. Think of those same masses of water tossed and turbulent, interminably hurling magnificently powered white crested waves to come crashing down upon the shore before noisily retreating across the shingle to garner yet more energy to build up another assault on the battered shore.  

Think too of a tumbling waterfall, an entire translucent sheet of water endlessly cascading  in spumescent foam into the pools below. Think too of pools of tranquillity generously reflecting in their depths a perfect mirror image of all the natural world that surrounds them; pools of tranquillity when, if you simply sit and drink in this gift of beauty, one can also be given the blessing of silence.

Think of puddles not as a nuisance, an impediment to our often too rushed, too thoughtless progress, but somewhere little children, or any of us who remain a child at heart, can delight in; jumping gleefully, making as big a splash as possible and going home happily soaked not just in water but also the innocence of childhood  

Think of the infinitely changing sky as clouds of water vapour draw their own designs on the vastness of the celestial canvas.  Designs not even the most gifted artist could ever aspire to emulate.  Towering clouds of white cotton wool making their stately way across the canvas sometimes at dawn or sunset magnificently rimmed with pink or gold. Wispy featherlike clouds reminding one of quill pens writing their own poetry over that canvas. Sometimes just a skyscape filled with little powder puffs joyfully chasing each other.in a game of cloud tag. And of course, the dark louring rain clouds ready to bring that life giving water down upon the welcoming earth; sometimes in stair rods, sometimes in a gentle drizzle.

Think of the miracle of snowflakes each and every one unique just as we are all unique. Glistening flakes of purest white which need a microscope to reveal the intricate beauty each possesses.  Think too of the entire landscape painted with a delicate blanket of hoar frost outlining every tree, bush and blade of grass. And never forget individual drops of water perhaps caught on a glistening leaf catching the sunlight to be transformed into a perfect  rainbow globe.  

And then there is the water with which we are blessed as it comes pure and cold from our taps; a blessing denied to so many millions in this world. Water to quench our thirst on a hot day; water to be boiled for a refreshing cup of tea; water to bath in, enjoying the sense of warmth, of comfort and of   cleansing our bodies; or the wake-up cold shower revitalising, stimulating slugged sleep filled bodies.

Water that once a week I give the azalea that sits on my bedroom windowsill and in return for that simple refreshment over and over again  rewards me with the purest white of its tissue thin flower petals so that seeing them I can yet again give my morning  thanks to God for His goodness, His glory, all the infinite  wonder of His Creation and of the love in which he holds  both it and us ,

And most important of all the water of baptism which miraculously has the sacramental power to clothe us in the incomparable robes which are the love of Christ and confirms us as God’s very own adopted children, His family. 

One atom of oxygen, two of hydrogen and all these wonders are there for us to reveal something of the glory, the beauty, the awe which is God.

I would like to end with these prayerful words I always use when blessing a baby: ‘Welcome to the blessings of water within you and around you. May the water of life spring up in your soul. and moisten your heart as you green and grow. And so may you be granted of sensing all through your life’s pilgrimage the miracle of water turned by Christ’s grace and love to the richest wine'.

The Gift of Wonder by David Adam 
God, give me the gift of wonder,
That rather than seek for more wonders,
I see the extraordinary,
In that which is called ordinary.
May I be aware of you indwelling in all things
And your presence in every one I meet.
Lord, be a light to my eyes, my mind, my heart,
That I may live in a wonder-full world,
And seek and radiate your glory

Virginia Smith

Sunday 14 January, Iona Service
Text: Matthew 6: 5-8

How do we go about hearing God? Where do we start? What do we need to do? Where do we need to go to? How do I make sure I don’t miss what God is saying or showing me?
Ultimately, how do I find God in my everyday?
Our reading this morning is from Matthew chapter 6, verses 5-8 and then we will explore these questions.
Reflection
I’d like to start by telling you about one women’s experience of finding the sacred in the ordinary.
‘On a lovely sunny day I was ironing – not my favourite chore. I took some clothes to the airing cupboard and, as I re-entered the living room, I suddenly became aware of details I’d been oblivious to before: the sun was streaming in, my three cats were curled up asleep on the sofa. I also became aware of a feeling of very deep peace within the room. The feeling was so strong it felt almost tangible and within my heart leapt with joy. I knew the Lord was here. I savoured this atmosphere of peace and joy for a few minutes as I continued ironing. I’ve often reflected on the unexpected gift of that golden afternoon. Why was I so surprised to meet the Lord in my home whilst doing the ironing? 
The quotes -‘God is in all things’ and ‘the sacrament of the present moment’ trip glibly off my tongue but now I realise I rarely live out those ideals.
I rarely look for the mystery in the mundane, or the sacred in my day-to day life, yet the Lord is as likely to come visiting while I’m washing the dishes or typing as he is while I’m in church or reading a spiritual book.
That golden afternoon taught me how much my spiritual eyes need to be washed clean so I can see into the depths of my ordinary life and see the treasures there.
If I practice greater awareness I might, some day, appreciate in my heart that God is truly all things: I may be able to reverence the sacrament of each moment.
Although regular times of prayer and devotion are hugely important – God will break through and interrupt our everyday if we are open and have eyes to see.
By having regular ‘God time’ in our day our hearts and spiritual eyes are more likely to be receptive to the unexpected arrival of od in our midst.
It’s a discipline and takes effort and commitment to carve out the time – I fail often – but it is so worth persevering with!
Jesus often took himself away to be with his Father – up mountains, in boats, walking in gardens. If he needed to do this – how much more do we?
There are many daily readings, daily reflections and spiritual books out there to help us to pause each day – I have some with me if you would like to see them afterwards – there are many more.
I’d like to share one with you from a book called ‘In the presence of Jesus’. I find it particularly powerful because it is written in the first person – like God is speaking directly to you. I’ll read it, then we will have a few moments of stillness so God has the chance to connect with us, and then end with a prayer.
Today, I want to remind you of your truest story. I want you to remember what it really means to be human.
You see, at the beginning of the world, we walked and talked together during the cool of the day. In the silence of the Garden of Eden, we simply relished each other’s company. And you were beginning to discover the joy of living and to recognise the goodness of the natural world all around you. Everything that was Mine was truly yours, and none of your needs would ever go unmet.
But then, you chose to stop trusting Me to care for you. When I came to talk, you ran away and hid from me. You became consumed with what you thought was best for you, what you needed to own or accomplish, how you needed to look or talk, what you needed to conquer in order to find joy and fulfilment.
And then, as the years went by, you filled your world with just enough noise to distract you from My voice. You created a distance between us that broke My heart.
Let me remind you about the story that is so much greater than your choice to go and hide from Me in your sin and shame.
Since the very moment that you decided on this great estrangement, I began working to bring your heart back to Me. From that day, I set in motion My divine conspiracy to return you to the silence and intimacy of our walks together in Eden.
I have longed for you to once again rest in My love.
It is now time for you to let go of all the things you have used to separate us. I challenge you this day to truly understand that I have already forgiven you for everything. When you ran from My love, I chased after you all the way to the cross. I sacrificed everything so that we could be together again.
Remember my words? “It is finished!”
The only thing that can keep you from My love, is you.
I long for you to rediscover how deeply I want to be with you and once again trust that I am better than anything this world has to offer.
I wasn’t you to remember how we lived in joyful communion in the sanctuary of Eden, before the world of artificial noise and chaos distracted you.
My creation was good.
Your life was good.
You were good.
My deepest desire is to restore that heart to heart connection between us. I want you to intimately experience Me, moment by moment, in the goodness of the Holy now.
And so, My child, come to Me this very moment to rediscover the quiet of the Garden, where your heart is no longer separated from My presence…… where you can once again hear my voice.
Stillness
Prayer
Lord Jesus, walk with me today in the silence of the Garden and help me to hear your voice. Forgive me for not fully trusting you and for disobeying you time and time again. Reassure me of your unconditional love and forgiveness in the moments that I want to hide from you. Help me to find joy and contentment in your presence. Amen.
Rev' Kia

Sunday 7 January, Epiphany
The Three Kings

Texts: Isaiah 60; !-6,  Matthew 2: 1-12

On Christmas Eve I took a Crib service at St Martin’s which like all such services was truly a joy, with a full church and lots of lovely traditional carols to sing as well, of course, a telling of the nativity story with each act of that story adding more figures to the crib scene. However, as we organised ourselves beforehand, we discovered that the figures of the three kings, or magi as the Bible calls them, were missing; they had definitely gone AWOL. It didn’t matter too much as I could easily explain to my audience that they were still on their travels and had not as yet made it as far as Dorking no doubt on account of some form of seasonal  travel disruption be it flooded tunnels, fallen trees or simply a camel jam somewhere on the M25!

The three kings, the magi, intrinsic characters of the nativity story both mysteriously exotic visitors coming from the fabled lands of the east and far more importantly symbolic participants in the nativity story as, indeed, were those other visitors to the manger, the shepherds. The shepherds represented the outcasts of Jewish society; the outcasts who would always find themselves embraced and accepted by Jesus who was more than happy to eat in their houses and to bring his healing touch to such shunned people as lepers. While the magi represented the Gentiles, the non-Jews who were so often despised and also shunned by the Jews themselves, regarded as unclean in matters of ritual and far  more significantly in their eyes, not God’s chosen people.

And yet in that beautiful Isaiah prophesy we hear these wonderful and uplifting words ‘the Lord will rise upon you; and his glory will appear over you. Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn’ It is all part of the mystery and sheer wonder of the incarnation that we learn that we are all chosen people; we are all, be we Jew or Gentile, God’s adopted children and no one is excluded; no one considered unfit; no one considered an outcast or unclean.  And, of course, whoever we are we are all called like the shepherds and the magi to journey to that stable and know the reality of the incarnate Christ, the Light of the World.

Nations shall come to your light’ is, if nothing else, a reminder that since the dawn of civilisation the human race has always shown an almost irresistible urge to travel, sometimes to make new discoveries that are an intrinsic part of  the unlimited  wonder of God’s world, sometimes to escape war, famine or some form of hardship and sometimes like the  three Irishmen who set off in their coracle with no oars and landed up in Cornwall. When asked by no less a personage than King Alfred why they had made such a journey their reply was ‘We stole away because we wanted for the love of God to be on pilgrimage, we cared not where.’  

Even a cursory knowledge of the Bible will confirm that it is full of stories of people travelling, either by their own volition, by force or circumstance or, in some cases, in response to God’s call. Think of Abraham who was commanded by God to leave all he knew and travel hundreds of miles to the unknown land God had chosen for him. The land that now tragically is being torn apart and violated by war leaving literally millions no alternative but to travel they know not where to find some sort of safety, food and shelter.  Then there were the brothers of Joseph who sought relief from the famine that had struck that chosen homeland by travelling to Egypt seeking food and thus were reunited with the brother whom they had so cruelly maltreated. And, as a consequence, they were invited to leave Canaan and settle there with all their family.  Settled until the Egyptians, fearful of their growing numbers, enslaved them before Moses, again responding to God’s command, led them on a new journey to freedom. 

And turning to the New Testament we have an account of the amazing travels of Saint Paul who was called to take the good news of Christ, the Light of Christ, to the Gentiles. A mission that is estimated to have covered over ten thousand miles mostly on foot. Journeys that led to the early beginnings of the newborn Christian faith and which have resulted in the building of this church of Coldharbour and our presence here this morning.

For each and every one of us, our life is a journey; a journey which will include actual miles of travel but also a spiritual journey as, like those shepherds, those magi, we seek the incarnate God. Wyn Beynon writes this ‘Deep in every person there is a restlessness which makes us look beyond the here and now and long for something else, something different, something new. We may not know it, but this is our longing for God, our longing to go home.’ Home to the very presence of God, be it in that stable in Bethlehem, be it as we look up at the cross or within our own homes and hearts. Again, Beynon writes this: ‘For God is not elsewhere but closer to us than we are to ourselves. We are always home, but we cannot believe it.’ So too David Adam writes; ‘Open your mind to that reality that God is within you and about you. God is with you.’

Epiphany meaning a sudden revelation or insight into the nature, essence or meaning of something or put simply to have our eyes divinely opened to the truth of what we are seeing. The magi experienced such an opening of their eyes as they knelt in that poor valueless stable and realised that in front of them was no less than the most valuable and irreplaceable gift ever given. The gift of God’s own Son to this world and to all its people. Their long journey following that star had resulted in a radical understanding of God and His purposes for his children. On our journeys, both actual and spiritual, have we been led to have unforgettable moments when we, too, like the magi have been given, by God’s grace, a moment of Epiphany and our eyes have been opened to the truth of the reality of God, both  with us and within us. And here I note the words of an anonymous author: ‘Every day moments of Epiphany are bestowed on every one.’ Isn’t that just such a wonderful thought to hold onto on our pilgrimages. That and the reality that without a shadow of doubt God is and always will be within us and without us? Have we had moments, too, when we have been given the joy of witnessing something of God’s presence in others and sharing it with them, which is surely a moment of Epiphany? I pray that you have and I pray too that as you continue to live your life’s journey, that search for God that Beynon talks of, you will be blessed by the certain knowledge that it is God alone who is leading y

 Virginia Smith 😊

2023

Sunday 30 December, New Year's Eve
Texts: Psalm 148 Luke 2 verses15-21

The last day of 2023 with a Leap Year to look forward to, or at least I hope you are looking forward to it, as we say good-bye to another year, Will you be seeing the New Year in listening to the bells and raising a toast to the future or will you, like me, be quite content to go to bed and wake in the morning knowing the calendar has turned another page and one must remember to write 2024 and not 2023 on official documents? And will you be making New Year resolutions or has experience taught you that such resolutions are in most instances far too easily abandoned and forgotten?

Time as we measure it is a very human construct and I think certainly in the last century or so has arguably come to rule our lives more and more. Watches themselves have become incredibly sophisticated and apart from details like the actual time, the date and the phases of the moon they can monitor your heart rate, blood pressure and sleep patterns plus, and, as if all this was not enough, can make phone calls and send texts. What a contrast to that coveted first watch I received which had to be wound up and just had two hands pointing to the numerals, not Roman thank goodness, and as children we actually had to learn to tell the time on the basis of where the hands stood.  And who of a certain age can ever forget Play School and its clock with the pointing hands? And if we go back even further to those shepherds at the manger, their only understanding of time was entirely governed by the sun, the moon and the stars. They had no concept of hours and minutes as we do and the ordering of their lives would have been subject to natural phenomena and, it has to be said, the  ever changing wonder of those natural phenomena. How many of us are far too caught up in the general busyness of life to stand in silent awe and watch the unfolding beauty of a dawn or a sunset? How often do we bother to step outside at night and, assuming there is not too much artificial light contamination, allow our gaze to be completely absorbed by a star-studded velvet sky and be humbled by the unimaginably limitless vastness of space? Those shepherds might well be in awe if shown one of our high tech watches and we could so easily be derisory about the simplicity of their lives and grateful for all the comforts of modern life, but I do sometimes wonder which of us has the better balance and the better understanding of all the wonder and inexhaustible and incomparable beauty of God’s created world. Certainly, their Circadian rhythm would be far more natural than we ever allow ours to be.

Hearing our first reading today, were we caught up in the poet’s paeon of praise and recognise that we, too, are called to glorify the Lord and all his works? What did those shepherds do as they returned to their flocks having been chosen witnesses to the power of God breaking through time to send to us His Son, the incarnate Christ? They returned ’glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen’ and always at Christmas time we, too, are urged by readings and carols to join in that joyous glorification, that thanksgiving and praise.  But when we think about it,  surely we are called to make time, to create a sacred space in all that busyness which too easily consumes our time  and to  offer such glory, such thanks, such praise as a sacrosanct part of our day’s routine because there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that there is, in effect, an infinity of things to thank God for every single day of our lives. And if we are to have New Year resolutions without a shadow of a doubt that has to be one of mine. Even on the darkest day to know that, through the mystery of the incarnation of Christ, God’s light does and always will shine in His world and by God’s grace overcome the darkness. And, in simply giving thanks for this very fact, we will surely find some of the darkness that is currently afflicting us and our world lighten and renew our sense of hope in God’s eternal beneficence towards us his Children. And here I hope these wise words of the French poet Apollinaire: will further convince you that making time for God is truly time well spent  ‘Now and then it’s good to pause in our pursuit of happiness and just be happy.’ Happy in that timeless moment when we are caught up into God’s presence and give him the glory.

And for me there has to be a second resolution and that is again to emulate the shepherds and make known what we too have heard and seen of the nature of God revealed first in that new born, utterly helpless, babe held in his Mother’s arms and, ultimately, in that bloodied and again seemingly utterly helpless figure pinned and held to a cross. The nature of God which is eternal and unalterable love which neither time nor the most modern developments can ever change or improve upon. To make all this great and almighty wonder known maybe by words but far far more importantly through love. To share our own experience of kneeling beside the manger and ourselves becoming witnesses to the birth of God’s Son, Emmanuel, God with us. Share it in those beautiful words in the hymn ‘Brother, sister let me serve you’ which speak of holding the Christ-light for others so that they are enabled to be guided through their times of darkness, fear, hopelessness and loneliness.  Christ came not simply as the Light of the World but surely to imbue us with that same light which we are called to shine out into the unlit places of God’s world.

Two resolutions that both demand our time but what better use of that time can there be to glorify and praise God and always to be prepared at a moment’s notice to journey out carrying our own priceless God given Christ-light to those of His children in any sort of need. Tomorrow may mark the beginning of a new year but it is also like every single day a God given day filled with the eternal presence of His incarnated Son and with His blessings and with often undreamed of opportunities to make known what we have seen what we have heard.
Eternal God, the same yesterday, today and for ever: 
As we begin this new year, we ask your help
in forgetting the mistakes of the past,
in facing the challenges of the present,
and in renewing our sense of hope for the future,
as we go forward in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen
Virginia Smith

Christmas Day
Rev'd Kia's Christmas address was an interactive activity, involving members of the congregation.

Sunday 24 December, The Christingle Service
Our beautiful Christingles tell a story. 
It’s an amazing story, the most amazing story of all, and it starts at the very beginning of time, and goes all the way up to right this very minute, and into the future too.  And what’s more, we’re all in it.  Every single one of us is included in this amazing story.  And the Christingles help us to remember and tell the story.
Right back at the very beginning of time, there was nothing.  Nothing at all except God.  And then God created the world, and everything in it. Our orange represents the world.
And God filled the world with all sorts of good things: plants and animals, and mountains and rivers, and the sea and the sun and the moon, and people as well.  And God saw that everything he had made was good. Our sweets represent all the good things of the world.
But it didn’t stay good.  People did things that they shouldn’t do, and bad things started to happen in the world.  And God saw that all was not well with his world, which he loved very much.
 People were doing bad things, and they didn’t look after God’s world, and they didn’t look after each other.  Now, if you’ve done something bad, you might expect to be told off, or punished in some way, mightn’t you? 
But instead of punishing people for the bad things they had done, God chose to give them – to give us – a gift.   God chose to give us his best, most special, most precious, most extravagant gift he could possibly give, better than any Christmas present you could possibly imagine.
That gift was God’s own son, Jesus.  At the very first Christmas, God gave us his one and only precious son, Jesus Christ.  And God didn’t just give that special gift to Mary and Joseph and the Shepherds and Wise Men, he gave it to everyone, forever.  God gave his son to you, and you, and you, and me, and everybody.
Jesus came to be a light to the world, like it says in the bible, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.” Jesus represents the light coming into the world.
Before Jesus came into the world, people were walking in the darkness of all the bad things they were doing, all the bad things that were happening, and most of all the darkness of not knowing God in their lives.
When Jesus came into the world, he was the light that took away that darkness, and helped people to come to know God.
But Jesus wasn’t only a light for the people who were around when he was alive on earth.  He is a light for all of us today.  Jesus is the light which shines in our world, and in our lives and in our hearts, and drives away the darkness of all the bad things in our lives. 
And no matter how bad something might seem, there is never anything too dark for the light of Jesus to overcome.
Jesus Christ came down to earth at the first Christmas, a gift from God our father, and a light to the world forever, but that isn’t the end of the story.  Even as we celebrate Jesus’ birth at Christmas, we are looking ahead to Easter, when he died for us on the cross, and rose again to give us eternal life.  And that’s another chapter in the same story of God’s love for us.
The red ribbon on our oranges represents God’s love for us, and it’s red to remind us of Jesus’ blood, poured out for us on the cross.  To remind us of that great act of love, Jesus Christ, God himself, dying for each one of us.  For you, and for you, and for you, and for me, and for everyone.
That great outpouring of God’s love for us, which encompasses the whole world, the whole of God’s creation.
And so the Christingles we have today represent the whole story of God’s love for us, from the very beginning of the world, right up to this very minute, and on into the future.  And at the centre of it all is Jesus.
Jesus Christ, God’s only son, who came down to earth at Christmas as a tiny baby, out of love for us.
Jesus Christ, the light of the world, a light so big that it lights up the whole world, and everything that’s in it.
A light that chases away the darkness.
Inside each one of us is a little piece of that great light.  Inside you, and you, and you, and me, and everybody.  Each of us carries the light of Christ in our hearts.  Each of us can shine like lights in the darkness.  We shine when we help people, when we’re kind to people, when we love people, like God loves us.  Then we drive the darkness out, and let in the light of God’s love.
When we leave this service today, we will take three things with us.  We will take our Christingles, which will last a little while, until we eat them or the orange goes a bit mouldy.
We will take the memory of the story we’ve shared and the songs we’ve sung, and hopefully that will last a bit longer.  And we’ll take the light of Christ in our hearts, which will last forever, a light that can never be put out.
At the end of our service today, we will blow out the light of the candles in our Christingles.  But nothing can ever blow out the light of Christ within us.
This Christmas, may we remember the story of God’s love for us; may we live out the truth of that story in our own lives; and may we shine as lights in the darkness, to the glory of God.  Amen.
Rev'd Kia

Sunday 17 December, Third Sunday in Advent - Carol Service
The Grinch hated Christmas!
The whole Christmas season! 
Now, please don't ask why. 
No one quite knows the reason. 
It could be his head wasn't screwed on just right 
It could be, perhaps, that his shoes were too tight. 
But I think that the most likely reason of all 
May have been that his heart was two sizes too small.

Our family love Christmas films – we have a whole list of the ones we have to watch – every year! And one that is near the top of the list – nothing knocks Muppets Christmas Carol from the top spot- is ‘How the Grinch stole Christmas’. 

All the best films are based on a book and contained within the rhyming couplets of this book by Dr Seuss is a powerful message. The Grinch was a rather ugly looking character who lived in a cave on a mountain just north of and overlooking the town of Who-ville, which was inhabited by the Whos.

Those of you who have read the book or seen the film will remember that in the story the Grinch tried to stop Christmas from coming. How did he think he could do this?
On Christmas Eve, while the town was asleep, he went all over Who-ville. He loaded up a sleigh with his dog Max dressed up as a reindeer and he went to all of the houses and stole all of the presents in the people's homes. He also stole their trees and decorations and all the lovely food. He thought that if he could take away all the festive trappings, the presents, the ribbons, then Christmas would be unable to come.

But the Grinch was unable to prevent Christmas from coming. 
Try as he might to stop Christmas coming he could not. Even though they had lost their presents and food and all the special Christmassy things, nevertheless the Who's went out and joined hands and shared in singing and celebrating Christmas. The Who's could celebrate Christmas and sing and rejoice together, without 'things.'
Then we are told that all of a sudden something dawned upon the Grinch. I think that the story says it best :- 
And the Grinch, with his grinch-feet ice-cold in the snow, 
Stood puzzling and puzzling: "How could it be so?" 
"It came without ribbons! It came without tags!" 
"It came without packages, boxes or bags!" 
And he puzzled three hours, till his puzzler was sore. 
Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before! 
"Maybe Christmas," he thought, "doesn't come from a store." 
"Maybe Christmas. . . perhaps. . means a little bit more!"
What does Christmas really mean?
It dawned upon the Grinch that Christmas meant so much more than just Christmassy things. Sure, we all enjoy our Christmassy things and we are all looking forward to our presents and special food. But Christmas does mean more.

Different cultures have different Christmas traditions, yet all their differences are bonded together by one aspect--love. 
The Grinch had hated the thought of everybody singing and eating and making the noises of Christmas. He disliked the thought of children playing with their new toys and the Whos gathered around the tree joyfully for Christmas Day. 
After ransacking Who-ville and stealing every bit of Christmas, the Grinch's tender moment happens when he realizes it is not about the noise, or the tree trimmings, or the "roast beast" feast, not even the blissful singing.

Christmas is about love and peace for humankind and sharing it with one another, not only on Christmas Day but everyday. For Christmas is a very special time, it is a season of the heart.

The Grinch hated Christmas because he had a small heart, but when his heart was exposed to the real message of Christmas it grew. In fact in Who-ville they say,  That the Grinch's small heart  grew three sizes that day’. Those of you who know the story will remember the change that took place in the heart of the Grinch. He became a new person and his heart was changed. The result was that he took back to the Whos all of the things which he had taken from them and he shared in the real enjoyment of Christmas.

At Christmas time we enjoy our festive celebrations, but we too are exposed to a message so much more powerful than any ways which we have thought of to celebrate it. The message is that God loves us, and it is visibly and simply expressed in the birth of Jesus at Bethlehem.

The Carol that the Choir have just sung us has some beautiful words that try and capture the moment that a baby became God  - the helpless, vulnerable and dependant baby had ‘magnitude in his meekness’. It is so hard to comprehend that God – the Creator of our Universe – was willing to make himself completely reliant on Mary his Mother, to lie helpless in a manger – all to offer us a glimpse into the heart of God.

As we gather tonight and sing our carols of Christmas, we remind ourselves how fortunate we are that we can tell once more this nativity story of the love of God. A love which we can share with others.  We give thanks because we know that we are really truly blessed by what God does for us. Christ came to earth as the greatest gift of God's love for us and died for our sins.  And so the Who's were right, Christmas is a time to give thanks and celebrate and sing, with or without the presents.

It is not about what we have to buy or get, but about exposing ourselves and others to the love of God. And when we do that our hearts, like the Grinch, will grow an extra few sizes.

Rev' Kia

Sunday 10 December, Second Sunday in  Advent 
Isaiah 
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
Amen

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. 
Amen. 

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.  
Amen. 

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.

Amen.

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
t
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
The
 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?
No?
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
Texts: 
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.
Amen.

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.
Amen.

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.                     
Amen

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.

Amen

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.

AMEN

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?

Amen.

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.

Amen.

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. 

Amen.

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.

Amen.

Intercessions
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 (methodist.org.uk)

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.

Amen

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
Amen.

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