Virginia Smith has kindly provided us with a thought full and thought provoking homily nearly every week since August 2020. They have often been the one she used when taking a service in Christ Church or one of the other Leith Hill Benefice churches. We were very fortunate that during our 2021-22 inter-regnum she regularly took our morning services.
Now we have Kia Pakenham as our Rector, we have eased the burden on Virginia and will be publishing the words of whoever takes our Sunday morning services. They will be published following the service at which they were delivered.
Virginia’s homilies from August 2020 to May 2002 are still available by clicking here Virginia Smith’s Homilies May 2022 - April 2021 or Virginia Smith’s Homilies March 2021 - August 2020.
Sunday 22 May
Readings: Ezekiel 37 verses 1-14; John 5 verses 1-9
This is Kia's sermon delivered at our 10.00am Holy Communion service, reflecting on the reading from Ezekiel
Our words, how we speak, what we speak, the tone of our voice, our body language have a profound effect on those around us.
I’m a prolific reader – I like nothing more than being challenged by a good read. My bookshelves are littered with, I have to confess, many spiritual authors – Richard Rohr, Pete Greig, C. S Lewis, Barbara Brown Taylor and Mark Oakley, to name but a few.
Reading and savouring the words of these men and women have given me life, have stretched my understanding and have increased and challenged my faith.
Words are powerful. The spoken word especially so.
In church we hear the bible being read out loud – perhaps unusual in our society, although until relatively recently in historical terms, this was the only way of encountering the bible.
Unless you go regularly to ‘Spoken word’ performances or are into audio books, we don’t often hear books being read to us. When you read the bible do you read it out loud to yourself? Perhaps next time give it a go – the experience is so different to just hearing the words in your head. Sentences or phrases that may have washed over you can suddenly hit you full in the face!
In our passage from Ezekiel today we hear some very powerful words being spoken.
God has given Ezekiel a prophesy – words to be relayed to the people in exile – words of promise and hope – that one day they will be re-established back in their homeland.
God paints a vivid and disturbing picture for Ezekiel. A valley full of dry bones. These are old, decaying bones. Shocking because they are visible – the bones lay on the surface of the valley, like the remains of corpses denied a proper burial and left for scavenging buzzards. As an Israelite, and especially as a priest, Ezekiel knew how important was the proper treatment of human corpses.
The fact they were dry also had implications to the hearers – this was a metaphor for a downcast spirit.
So, not only were they dead physically, but they were also dead spiritually.
Why has God shown Ezekiel this picture?
The exiles have lost all hope. They have lost their faith, their belief that they are the chosen people. They believe their God has forsaken them and that they are lost – physically and spiritually.
They need a new hope, they need a new life – they need resurrecting from their despair and their total sense of abandonment.
So God breathes new life.
God, through Ezekiel, speaks words of hope and transformation. Slowly he rebuilds the dry bones, the people of Israel.
Words are indeed powerful tools of rebirth.
And it starts with Ruah. The Hebrew word for breath, spirit, wind. Ruah.
This is the beginning for all of us. Do you notice the echoes of Genesis here?
All life is God breathed. And it happens in stages. We are transformed in stages, in steps, brick by brick we are re-built.
Verses 5 through 6 are book marked by Ruah. The first breath animates and enables the sinews, then the flesh, then the skin forms – stage by stage, step by step until there is a body – alive, yes, but not fully alive.
On reflection I think this is how I spent the first half of my life. A functioning human being, employing all the tools at my disposal to survive in the world. Sometimes effectively and at other times failing miserably. Alive, but not fully alive.
I hadn’t received and surrendered to verse 6. Verse 5 says ‘I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live’. But verse 6 adds on a rather crucial and life giving bit; after the body is formed God breathes again and says, ‘and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the Lord’.
It is this acceptance of God, this surrender to the Father, this outpouring of his Spirit that once we recognise it and embrace it then enables us to become fully alive.
St Irenaeus of Lyons is reported to have famously said “The Glory of God is man fully alive”. When we live, move and have our being from within the love and grace of God and recognise and accept his Spirit within us, guiding, teaching and encouraging us in our lives – then we will be able to live our life to the fullest – to flourish and thrive – because we have our hope in the right place. Then we will see transformation in our lives and in the world around us. It starts with us.
Both passages this morning speak of resurrection and transformation – spoken into being by God, through Ezekiel and through Jesus.
Dry bones, and exiled people bought into life by the words and power of God. A crippled man restored to fullness of life by the power of the spoken word through Jesus.
We too are offered a fullness of life through the word of God – through his Son – and in the power of the Holy Spirit. This is our hope and our purpose. And through us Gods glory can be made visible to all who we meet, all who we talk to and all who we love.
Let us pray.
Father, we thank you for your life-giving Spirit. We pray this morning that you would fill us afresh, breathe on us breath of God and renew our minds, our hearts and our lives so that as transformed people we can bring life to others.
For your glory we pray.
Sunday 15 May
This is Kia's Reflection on Genesis 22 verses 1-18 and John 13 verses 31-35
Delivered at our 9.15am Communion service
These passages speak to me of trust, obedience, and love.
Abraham and Isaac had such trust – Abraham in God and Isaac in his father. God calls to Abraham – his response ‘Here I am’. Abraham calls to Isaac – his reply the same – ‘Here I am’. Here I am, to do your will. No questions asked, no plans shared of the outcome – no future mapping or planning.
This challenges me.
How often do I wish to know the end at the beginning? How much does this speak into my need of control?
Yes, we need to plan ahead but when God calls do I, do we, simply say ‘Here I am’? and then trust in him to guide our steps even though we may not know the destination?
For me this speaks into the plans and dreams I have for Coldharbour and Abinger.
My longing to see God’s kingdom come in these places.
What does this look like?
And I am reminded that God is already at work among us, already placing desire into our hearts. He has placed a love of this place into all our hearts, a love for each other, a desire to see our friends and family flourish.
Can we see exactly how he plans to use us in his plan to see his kingdom thrive here?
Probably not. But simply to have this desire, this love, this passion I think is enough. God will provide the rest. We have to be attentive, we have to listen to the still small voice and trust, then obey and then step out in faith.
Jesus says as much in John.
The disciples could not go where Jesus was going. They were left behind without a step-by-step plan of what to do next. All they were told – all we are told – is to love as he loved. The greatest and deceptively easiest commandment there is.
People will know God through our demonstration of love for one another.
This is the plan. God’s plan he left for us.
The beginning and the end – to love.
Trust, obedience and love.
God calls us – and dare we say – ‘Here I am’?
Virginia Smith’s Homily for Sunday 8 May
Delivered at Christ Church
Text: Luke 24 verses 36-49
At a guess, most of us are familiar with the Scottish prayer ‘From Ghoulies and Ghosties and Long-Legged Beasties and Things that Go Bump in the Night, Good Lord, deliver us!’ but whether any of us believe in ghoulies and ghosties is another matter. Personally, I am sceptical but, that said, my Father absolutely swore that when, at the beginning of the Second World War, he was billeted in a very old manor house he witnessed a ghost passing through the wall of the room he was in. And I know there are countless others who would be only too ready to testify to such an experience. Interestingly, according to my concordance of the Bible, the only references to the word ‘ghost’ are in the sense of giving up the spirit at the time of death so, as an example, in the King James version we have ‘And when Jacob had made an end of commanding his sons, he gathered up his feet into the bed, and yielded up the ghost, and was gathered unto his people.’ Whereas, interestingly, that same translation renders the initial verses of today’s gospel reading as: ‘And as they thus spake, Jesus himself stood in the midst of them, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you. But they were terrified and affrighted, and supposed that they had seen a spirit.’
So be it ghosts, ghoulies or spirits, I think most people would admit that they have an innate and primitive fear of meeting them although, of course, ghost stories to be read around a single candle provide another sort of tremulous thrill to be replaced with a big sigh of relief when the lights are turned back on and we can laugh at our heightened fears aroused by a cleverly written spooky story.
So, with all this in mind, it is no wonder that the episode related by Luke relays with such clarity the intense fear of those disciples gathered together in that room in Jerusalem. The two disciples who had met Jesus on the Emmaus Road had just returned and were, I’m sure, relating with feverish excitement all that had happened on that, oh so eventful, journey and now here was Jesus again in the very same room as all of them. Was it Jesus? Or was it just his ghost, his spirit? Whatever this apparition was it terrified the life out of them and no wonder. Who is the Jesus who can suddenly appear and disappear in their midst? Who is this Jesus whom they all knew, without a shadow of doubt, had died upon that cross just days before? Who is this Jesus who comes to them and shows them the reality of the marks, the terrible scars of the wounds inflicted upon him? Try to imagine just what it might have been like for those disciples; just what we would have felt if we were in their place. Do not let familiarity with the resurrection accounts dim the power of our imaginations to wonder with awe, with wonder and, indeed, with fear as Jesus whose lifeless body was taken down form that cross appears before us. Would we not have queried what we were seeing? Of course, we would. Would we have been filled with unanswerable questions as to just how this was possible? Of course, we would. Would we have been profoundly disturbed by that life filled figure before us? Of course, we would. Would we have been rendered speechless and incapable of rational thought? Of course, we would.
But then, as those bewildered disciples stood, quite possibly open mouthed, experiencing a heady mixture of fear and growing joy at what they were seeing or thought they were seeing, the risen Christ asks them if they have something for him to eat. And being given a piece of broiled fish, calmly ate it in their presence. Now ghosts may walk through walls, they may even appear carrying their own heads or clanking chains but what they certainly never do is calmly eat a piece of broiled fish or indeed any other sort of food. No, this was no ghost, no ghoulie but the living Christ, the risen Christ.
This was the risen Christ whom those witnesses to the post resurrection appearances then began to proclaim to any who would listen. Nothing now would stop them as they faced ridicule, contempt and disbelief together with threats, imprisonment, torture and even death. This was the risen Christ that all God’s children must know about; the risen Christ whose life, death and glorious resurrection revealed all the inexpressible wonder and the unfathomable mystery that is God’s love for his children.
For me, it is this utter determination of those simple men and indeed women who bore witness to the truth of the risen Christ that entirely convinces me of the truth of the resurrection. And I hope and pray that it is the same for you; Christ has risen; he is not a ghost, a ghoulie or indeed a long- legged beastie but a living Christ who partakes of broiled fish with his beloved disciples.
And in that truth, I am also convinced that we, too, are called to look for the very real presence of Christ with us in our lives. The presence that may well be revealed through the love of another child of God being shown to us for the risen Christ can be encountered anywhere, everywhere and in anyone.
Whenever we celebrate Holy Communion we share not broiled fish but the bread and wine which are the symbols of the body and blood of Christ. We share them in the very presence of Christ and in unity, as the first disciples shared food with him. And, in that feeding, I pray that we will be strengthened and inspired, as those disciples were, to go and proclaim the gospel of the living Christ. The living Christ who is the Way, the Truth and the Life. The living Christ who calls us to do our very best to copy the radical nature of the gospel which preaches, mercy, justice and peace for all. In today’s tragically broken world that need is greater than ever. Will we like those first few simple men and women clothed with the power of the Holy Spirit do our utmost to proclaim that gospel as they did in the strength of the reality of the risen Christ, the living Christ? I pray that we will.