Sunday, 30 November 2014

Advent Begins - 25 days of shopping left!

I am not sure of the number of complaints that have been raised in response to the Christmas adverts this year all telling us Christmas is coming, that we need to prepare for the day, with the help of John Lewis, Morrisons, Lidle, Aldi, Sainsbury, Tesco or M&S, all who hold out the promise that with them it will be a magical and special day.

Preparations for Christmas are certainly now under full steam. The first advert I saw was back in September in Jamaica – to be fair it was not a Jamaican advert it was an American advert that was trying to be clever by saying it was not really an advert for Christmas but Christmas is coming none the less…

On Friday I woke up to news of crowds, fights and even the hospitalisation of shoppers caught up in another American import that it seems we will have to get used to “Black Friday” or maybe it should be called Riot Friday, or Fools Friday. I was one of countless hundreds or maybe it was thousands who travelled to Bicester village to get a long list of presents for family and on the whole I am glad to report it was incident free – queues Oh yes plenty of them, my wife and playing like a tag team to cut down the waiting time – but no stampede or anger just resigned patience that in my case was nearer to despair most of the time.

Certainly there was an air of surreal irony with a beautifully attired choir put on by the retail village serenading the shoppers with the carol In a bleak mid winter “What shall I give him, Poor as I am ” standing outside a Alexander MQueen’s shop where his frocks begin at £1K (and that discounted remember)
But let me return to the Adverts for Christmas this year. John Lewis appeared to be leading the saccharin stakes last week, but Monty the Penguin has been eclipsed by Sainsbury’s mighty campaign harking back to World War 1 according to the article in the independent yesterday.

Certainly the Sainsbury’s advert has caused the most controversy, the ASA (Advertising Standards Authority) have received 250 complaints compared with one person being offended by John Lewis’ exploitation of penguins.

However on the plus side of the Sainsbury Advert, celebrating 20 year of support of the Royal British Legion is selling 500 bars of chocolate every minute so raising considerable funds for the legion’s work.

The extra ordinary events around the first Christmas of the 1st world war of course do give us something to think about in the days of preparation for our celebration of Christmas 100 years on.

What is it that touches you most when you see the 3 minute film and when you reflect on the events leading to Christmas day1914 on the Western Front?

Is it the motivation of those men who dared to leave their trenches and enter no mans land in the days before Christmas in 1914? It was sadly never repeated and maybe it was the final gasp of Christian influence in Europe that has over the last 100 years since that Christmas waxed and waned.

Is it the testimony to the risk involved of putting away the business of war for a moment and acknowledge the shared interest and identity, yes common humanity  through football, a handshake, a picture of a girl back home.

High on my list is the demonstration of our humanity that for a moment shone in the silent night when the stars were allowed to guide the human heart to God and there be released from the thrall of those in the halls of power that were locked in a desperate and futile struggle for dominance and earthly empire.

The Christmas story, when rescued from the saccharin and nonsense of the consumer driven exploitation, is one of humanity; one that touches our humanity in a unique way; of God who for a moment chose to become one of us, a child born of a woman. For our Christmas celebration that we now look to in these four precious weeks holds out the truth that God became a human being and in this daring and risky venture leads us to change the way we live not just for one day but the whole of our lives.

The Christmas story that we now try and prepare for against a backdrop of shopping frenzy, parties and excess is one that reminds us that because of God’s decision to become a human being every human life is precious to him and should be to us.

So the question remains for you and me today as we embark on the season of Advent : what will be the ways in which we seek to put aside all that entrenches our lives and seek out that which will encourage us to leave behind the old or even secure certainties and reach out to share the love of God that we have in our hearts with those around us?

Advent is a time when we cry out “O Come O Come Emmanuel,” a time when we look for the return of our Saviour Jesus Christ’s return, a time when we acknowledge our own frail humanity and our need for God to come and “disperse the gloomy  clouds of night and deaths dark shadows put to flight.”

Congratulations to iara who was baptised today at St. John's 

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Christ the King

The bible is full of stories about Kings and their kingdoms  - there are two books called the book of King’s. But a quick look at the drama’s of these kings is to see a list of men with feet of clay and whose antics turn many away from religion and feed on the myth that religion is the cause of war.

Although it is only on the cross that Jesus is referred to as a King – and that was clearly indented to be an insult by one Kingdom, Rome, to another the Jewish nation, the fact is that Jesus does use the image of kings and Kingdoms on a number of occasions in his parables.

There are good kings – David
There are wise kings – Solomon
there are Bad kings – Ahab
and there is a Mad king – Nebuchadnezzar

But to day we remember a different kind of king – Jesus
who had no standing armies to enforce his will
who was not born in a palace but a manger
who never rode a horse into battle – but did ride a donkey in to Jerusalem
who was not the leader of a nation or empire but a motley crew of 12 men, and some women who defied convention.

Of course I am a priest of a particular generation who has never had to sing the anthem God Save the King and who has only sworn oaths to a Queen, whose head has adorned the currency and stamps of my lifetime

Looking at the experience of monarchy in the 21st century west is utterly unlike that which we would have encountered at the time of Christ.
Our monarchs are essentially powerless figure-heads, whereas there was nothing nominal about royal power then, and the character of the king was so integral to the ethos of the kingdom that it was almost as if his DNA was written, into the fabric of his realm.
His word was law – and a great deal more besides, so that the everyday life of his subjects was affected, for good or ill, by the royal priorities, the royal agenda. What the king says, goes.

So does the idea of celebrating Christ the King have a place in our modern lives?
Is this the kind of King we celebrate today?
is Christ the King some powerless figure head or despotic leader of a corrupt ideology?

There is another version of King and Kingdom that we find in the bible and in ancient Israel – shepherd and sheep. It is an image that even God himself uses of himself. A very contrasting image to that of the war lord and all powerful figure in charge of millions of human beings.

The prophet Ezekiel underlines this as he proclaims God's promise to search for the wounded and the straggler – as much as to judge between sheep of his charge.

However we must not make the mistake and think that because we can think of God as a shepherd that he is only the gentle leader, cuddly and woolly as the sheep he leads.

No the shepherd when searching for the lost or wayward sheep will of course also be an agent of justice and judgment. Yes God like a good Shepherd will love his sheep but sometimes there will be the need for tough love, When called upon he will wrestle with those forces that seek to destroy his flock even to the point of giving his own life. If we are to survive and if we fail to listen to the voice of the one who loves us there will be judgment as surely as there are consequences for our actions.

To look at Christ as king can be perilous. There is a danger that this celebration of Christ as king will distract us or lead us on another path that will never bring us near to the one we seek.

Think of the Magi, eyes fixed on the star, dazzled by its brightness into calling at the obvious place – the royal palace of Herod – while the king they seek, like a subversive character from pantomime, waits in the least likely shelter....

Think of the Palm Sunday crowds who seem to speak prophetic truth as they shout “Hosanna to the Son of David” but whose expectations of uprising and messianic triumph are disappointed by the events of Good Friday.

Then think of the ways in which Jesus chooses to explain the kingdom – a mustard seed, a hidden treasure, some leaven mixed with dough – Power yes but not the sort we associate with Kings ands Kingdoms

Christ the king is not a matter of bright lights and Power and majesty after all....but of recognising the king where he is always to be found – with those on the edge.
Suddenly the question of judgement and choices comes close to we realise that it is our judgements, our choices, that will make all the difference.
And those judgements, those choices, will be governed by our allegiance – to Christ the king or to other rulers, other ways.

To love our King is to love what he has made...children, men and women, happy, broken, hopeful or despairing...
To love our neighbours is to love the One in whose image they and we, are made...and to recognise the divine image not on stamps or coins but in their faces, wherever we encounter them.

Saturday, 22 November 2014

CHRISTMAS Bazaar 2014

IIIIOur Christmas Bazaar is all ready - just need some customers.....

We are here till 3.00 pm. If you cannot join us you can send a donation using the donate button on the blog!!

Friday, 21 November 2014

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Interfaith week celebrated at SMSJ

At lunchtime students from SMSJ will get the opportunity to put their questions to a panel of religious leaders as part of interfaith week. 

This prayer tree carries some of the hopes and prayers of our students in years 5,6 & 7 for a greater understanding and respecting of the faith communities here in the UK and the world and how together we can build a society of peace.  

Monday, 17 November 2014

2nd Sunday before Advent

In the gospel reading we are given a valuable guideline for better living. The story of the talents is a tale of warning to those who would miss the opportunity of living a fulfilled life.

What is fulfilment? One of the easiest ways of answering this is to say what it is not!

Fulfilment is not to be confused with business. For many of us life seems too busy. It is not just a dynamic of living in a world city, we are so keen to get somewhere that we miss the opportunities of meeting people along the way, have taking in the scenery as we speed dangerously towards our destination.

Often our business is an attempt to hide our insecurity, a failing relationship is never acknowledged because we keep busy so never spending any quality time with our partner. We drift apart until one day we suddenly realize it is stranger who is lying beside us.

Fulfilment is not to be confused with material possessions. As a nation we have become more prosperous, we have a higher standard of living than many, not just in the world but in comparison with our parents generation, albeit that we are now living with consequences of living beyond our means.
We spend more and more time shopping, but are we really fulfilled in this pursuit. There will always be another handbag, another pair of shoes.  There will always be a newer model of car on the market, a faster and brighter computer.

Being fulfilled is not to be confused with success either. A brief look at the lives of the rich and famous the successful celebrity shows that success has not necessarily brought happiness or fulfilment to their life. The search for fame and success can result in the terrible disfigurement of the human spirit and body.

So what is fulfilment then?
It is the process of allowing God to take a lead in our lives; it is our spiritual journey to wards God with its unlimited possibilities. It is not the finishing line that is important it is the race that leads to that line.

Fulfilment can best be described as a feeling of well-being and joy that comes from a realization that we are living creative people, whether that is defined by our job or a hobby or from acknowledging that we are, each one of us made in God’s image.  This sense of well-being that is real fulfilment is found when we are fully engaged in developing our potential as his children made in God's image.

What we learn from the parable of the talents is that we are best fulfilled when we are living to the best of our ability; when we are doing the best we can with who we are and what we have.

This past week saw the nation remember the fallen of 100 years of war. The questions is what do we remember and how does that memory inform us and change us?

If what we remember is our talent, our capacity to wage war more effectively than others then this memory serves to encourage us to remain ahead – be it in the arms race or the race to be on the winning side of every conflict.

If on the other hand what we remember is the terrible loss of life, the tragic cost of war, the burial of hope in the grave of every fallen solider and civilian caught up in the reality of war then our desire to use force to solve the problems of the world will be diminished and the we can develop our talents in different ways to resolve conflicts.

The gospel challenges us live fulfilled lives. It encourages us to be actively engaged in developing our spiritual and material life. And it is both, after all what is the use of me being such a spiritual person that I am of no early use to my family or friends? It shows that to accept mere survival or second best or when we fail to take advantage of the opportunities in front of us we will be consequences.