Monday, 30 March 2015

Holy Week

It is often said that “a week is along time in politics”, attributed by some to a former British Prime minster Harold Wilson.
The psalmist tells us that “A thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night.” (Ps90.4)

The events of this holy week cover the last days of Jesus’ life on earth. Sunday saw his entry into Jerusalem and we are told that crowds met him with wild anticipation, hope and joy. They threw their cloths down on the road to create a 1st century red carpet for the man of the moment. They cut down branches to provide shade from the hot sun for the son of God to make his way to one of the wonders of his world, the temple at the heart of this ancient city.

It is a week that touches our humanity at its deepest level, it is a week in which the ancient faults of our humanity are exposed; betrayal, jealousy, the use of power to control and shape our destiny and as these powerful emotions spiral out of control we see the all too familiar consequences of anger, violence and death.

A week may be a long time in politics, the cheering crowd of Palm Sunday become the jeering crowd of Good Friday, a day that will change the thousands before and all the many thousand since. A week in politics is always relative and with the perspective of history may loose its power and significance for all but those for whom this was their time.  This holy week is our time and it changes for ever our destiny and yet it can pass so quickly and without us pausing in the business of our lives. There are plenty of added opportunities to join us in prayer and indeed in church.

Thursday 2nd of April 8.00pm we gather with Jesus and his disciples in the upper room and recall how the Son of God took a towel and washed his disciples feet. We then remain in church until midnight keeping watch with Peter and his friends until Judas appears and with a kiss betrays the Son of God.

Friday 3rd of April 2.00pm we gather again in church and re-enact the final hours of Jesus’ life, as we too stand at the foot of the cross and behold the wood of the cross on which hung the saviour of the world.

Saturday 4th of April at 7.30pm as the sun sets on this holy week we light a fire and from its flames light the paschal candle that symbolizes the Risen Christ and keep vigil until the moment when  we once again declare “Alleluia Christ is Risen” and our Easter celebration begins.

Saturday, 21 March 2015

Passion Sunday - We want to see Jesus (Jn12.21)

A child whispered, “God, speak to me”
And a meadowlark sang. The child did not hear.

So the child yelled, “God, speak to me!”
And the thunder rolled across the sky
but the child did not listen.

The child looked around and said, “God, let me see you”
and a star shone brightly.
but the child did not notice.

And the child shouted, “God, show me a miracle!”
And a life was born but the child did not know.

So the child cried out in despair,
“Touch me, God, and let me know you are here!”
Whereupon God reached down
and touched the child.
But the child brushed the butterfly away
and walked away unknowingly.

(Old Hindu poem by Ravindra Kumar Karnani)

“20 Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. 21They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, ‘Sir, we wish to see Jesus’ ”

In the preceding passage Jesus has raised his friend Lazarus from the dead. After raising Lazarus from the dead the Pharisees and chief priests wanted to kill Jesus because many of the Jews who had witnessed the miracle were beginning to follow him. The verse immediately preceding the passage of scripture we read as our gospel this morning records the Pharisees saying:

“Look the world has gone after him”

Then we read that some Greeks went who up to worship at the Temple came to Philip and said “We want to see Jesus”.

The Greeks, representing the whole world; the world beyond the Jewish communities of which Jesus and his disciples were a part,  make a request to Jesus’ followers because they believed Philip and the others would lead them to Jesus.

It is significant that unlike many others who met with Jesus in the days of his ministry in Galilee they did not choose to go directly to Jesus but turned to one of his disciples Philip and asked him.

The approach of the Greeks is very different to that of the sick and possessed who seek out Jesus or where brought into his presence to receive from him a touch or a word that would transform them, heal them, restore them to a community that was content to ignore and banish them.

There is no explicit indication from our Text that they ever met with Jesus, nor is any detail given of how their lives were changed, their horizons expanded and their knowledge of God enriched. Well not directly but if course Jesus’ response recorded in the next verse is for the Greeks, then it is for the world for which they are representative, and it is for us this morning – “Jesus answered The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified” v23.

Today we begin, in the Anglican church, Passiontide and our focus  this week and Holy week that follows is on the Son of Man who is glorified through his passion for the world, through his love of this world that leads him to accept his cross. It is in his passion, his suffering and terrible death that we see him endure out of love for this world and in his endurance become a new light and hope that is the Son of Man glorified.

“Sir we wish to see Jesus” declare the Greeks to Philip and we see in this encounter the reality of our own lives and faith. That people will encounter Jesus when we stand beside them on the 89 bus, as we elbow ourselves onto a packed tube at Liverpool street, as we push our shopping trolley round Sainsbury, when we pummel the horn of our car at an inconsiderate driver!

In the search for Jesus that many in this world are embarked upon they will naturally turn to his followers in order to find the healing and meaning in life that Jesus holds out to those who seek him. However the sadness is that when many do they are greeted with something falling short of the welcome that Jesus offered to those around him when he trod this earth.  Will they find in us something of the passion we see in Jesus in the last week of his life? A passion that broke the rules, that showed the world that nothing is impossible for God and for those who place their lives in his hands?

This lent, using Bob Jackson’s Everybody welcome course, we have been looking together at the quality of our welcome as congregations at St John and St Matthias and last Sunday some of us gathered to look at the quality of our worship and I am glad to say that for both congregations those who took part expressed their belief that our worship scores highly when it comes to answering the question: does our church service make you feel spiritually alive as you encounter God together? And the question would a newcomer always be shown the relevance of Jesus to their lives?

What has become clear in the conversations of the last three weeks is that we need to do more to enable, by the quality of our welcome, those in our community, and those we call friends, to enter our church building when we are here, that there is still more that can be done to enable those who come in to our lives to experience the life changing encounter with Jesus.

Tonight is the last session and we will be asked look the factors that enable those who enter our building to become part of the church community and experience the opportunity of belonging to a Christian community who are engaged in the search for Jesus.

Returning for a moment to the encounter between the Greeks and Philip, this points us to the need for us to continue to build our relationship with Jesus, as we ourselves look to see Jesus, so that others who want to see God can see God through us, through our very being, through our daily actions, and the way we live our lives. There are many people around us who have given up on the church. Some of them are hurt and angry while others are kind and pleading, and they look to us to see Jesus.

Maybe all of us tonight, whether or not you able to come back to church at 5.00pm can ask of yourselves before you go to sleep tonight: how are we going to show them Jesus tomorrow?
You and I come to church because we want to see Jesus. We are seeking Jesus and I think the best way for any of us to see Him, is to see him in those around us. Notice, that the Greeks were not saying, "We would like to see the beautiful temple," or "We would like to have an audience with the high priest, Caiaphas."
I hope you don't come to church just to see a beautiful building or look at stained glass windows or the works of art. There are many beautiful cathedrals, especially in Europe, but many of them, even though they are beautiful, are empty of people. I hope you came here, saying, as the Greeks did, "Sir, we would see Jesus."

These Greeks were begging to see Jesus. In the Greek language the verb means to beg continually, not just a one-time action. These Greeks were begging Philip with the same intensity as the Greek woman whose daughter was demonized begged to see Jesus.
Philip might have been too preoccupied, to busy, to caught up in his own concerns or his own encounter for that matter to have heard the cry of the Greeks. But he did hear them and he went with them, possibly because he did not have the answer himself, and found Andrew and together they went and told Jesus.

If we open our ears we will hear the cry from those around us. There are people everywhere who want to see Jesus just as these Greeks did. They are here in this city and in every city in the world. They are in our neighborhoods, our offices, our schools, and our households. Have you heard them begging and crying, "We want to see Jesus"?

Why do these people want to see Jesus? Because they know that Jesus alone can help them. Money cannot help them. Designer clothes cannot help them. Computers cannot help them. Their work cannot help them. Only Jesus can save them.

There are Greeks in our time crying out, "We would like to meet with Jesus, the friend of sinners and publicans." They are crying to us, are we listening?

Saturday, 14 March 2015

Mothering Sunday - The love we are called to have for one another

Our house is full of daffodils which is rather lovely, and like everyone in church this Sunday we will leave church with a bunch of the pretty flowers that are synonymous with Spring.  I do not remember in previous years the celebration of international women’s day, which was held last weekend but our potential son in law from Lithuania turned up last Sunday with a large bunch for my wife.

With the memory of women’s world day of prayer, and international women’s day fresh in our minds I think it appropriate to reflect a little today on women in the bible and what all of us, men women and children can take away from their stories this years Mothering Sunday, along with a bunch of daffodils and the hope of a special lunch.

When looking for the stories of women in the bible we meet with a diverse and forthright group.

Eve of course is the first woman, and although there is much written about her disobedience and sinfulness what is sometimes forgotten is the anguish this mother must have felt when she looked upon the dead body of her second born son, Able and the shame she that must have been hers when she realized that he had been killed by his brother Cain. Eve was the first but by no means the last mother who has had to carry that sword of pain to her grave, a son lost to violence.

Moses and Jochebed by Pedro Américo,
The story of the Exodus is a powerful one that speaks of God responding to the cry of his people who are enslaved in Egypt. It is through the prophet and leader Moses that God is able to bring his people to freedom, through the Red Sea and into the wilderness where they are give the 10 commandments but for their disobedience denied in his life time the promised land. None of this would have been possible without the cunning determination of a desperate and protective mother. Moses’ mother, Jochebed, defies the powerful Pharaoh and so ensures the survival of her son in the very house of her greatest enemy. And so many a mother has with cunning determination ensured that their child is allowed to live in the face of those who would harm or even seek to destroy their very life.

The pages of the bible tell of many women who show courage, compassion, political astuteness along side the more commonly identified characteristic associated with childbearing and nurturing. Think of  Sarah, Rachel, Ruth and Hannah, Deborah and Rahab and alongside those form the Hebrew scriptures we have in our own scriptures Mary and Elizabeth, The nameless Syrophoenician woman who refused to take no for an answer and the woman who anointed the body of Jesus with costly oil and gained the promise that what she had done would never be forgotten in memory of her.  Then in the pale dawn as the sun was rising There is Mary Magdalene and the women greeting the risen Lord.

Today is a day to remember those women, but also to remember that all of us are called to bear the word of God to this world, just as Mary bore the child Jesus, the word of God.

Today is a day to remember the courage of many of whose women we find in the pages of scripture but so to for each one of us to have the courage of our convictions in our daily lives and with compassion and confidence proclaim the gospel afresh to this generation

Today is a day to remember the pain of loss, to acknowledge the sword that pieces our heart,  and so draw strength and inspiration from their experiences and stories

We might think about our own lives – our experiences of mothering or of being mothered; remembering with thanksgiving the people who have care for us and love us.  And perhaps we might also think of times when we have been failed by those who were supposed to care for us, or those times when we ourselves have failed.

If mothering were only done my mothers, it would be very hard indeed to ensure that everyone received the nurturing, the protection, the love, the sacrifice, the guidance and love that we need to become the people we are meant to be. 

As a church community, we are called into a role of mothering that sometimes might need to be just as desperate, fierce, loyal, and filled with pain as the mothers we read of in the bible.  If we, as a church, truly love the community in which we are situated, just as God loves it, and if we are to be God’s holy people for God’s needy world, then we will feel the pain of the world’s suffering, and we will be willing to sacrifice something of ourselves in order to bring to birth God’s purposes for the world.

On the cross, God’s love is nailed firmly to the world so as never to let it go – is our love for the world so firmly fixed as this?    Are we this passionate about nurturing the world into becoming the place that God created it to be? 

A truly parental love is one that would give anything and everything for the child.  This is the love of God that we see on the cross, but this is also the love that we are called to have for one another and for all of God’s creation.  When we love like that, we make God visible in the world.

Saturday, 7 March 2015

“Stop making my Father’s house a market place” John 2:16

Since the financial crisis of 2008 the market place has come under increasing scrutiny and criticism as the place where the dreams and hope as well as the jobs and economic security of our country and indeed the world is fashioned.

Examples of greed, corruption and the unregulated perusal of profit have left billions in our world individually worse off, nations bankrupt, remember Iceland, or on the edge of insolvency, Greece and Spain and for our own nation a massive deficit that is still affecting the quality of life of all most every citizen in our country.

I say almost every citizen because last week saw the much talked about release of a book called the “Flat White Economy” by leading economist Douglas McWilliams.

It seems that according to McWilliams since the financial collapse of 2008 what he terms as “The Flat White Economy” has spawned four times more jobs than the City lost in the crisis. London is now growing one and a half times faster than Hong Kong as a result, a driving force behind this triumph of lifestyle and economics, being immigration.

The problem is that this growth is not necessarily felt in such positive terms in the rest of the country or even London.

We can certainly see here in West Hendon and Colindale the effects of the growth of London – the appearance of a myriad of tower blocks and small boxes in which human beings will strive to live, but without much thought to the infrastructure that is needed to support and enhance the quality of our life, roads, sewers, GP surgeries and schools.

It may be that the City’s champagne and supercars lifestyle has been swapped for bicycles and bohemian flats, the other side to this tremendous growth is the cost of living, and the reality of poverty both of which seem to be inextricably rising.

Last week secure tenants of the London Borough of Barnet in West Hendon were informed of the increased rent and service charges that they will now have to cover in their new flats. It is a very worrying time for many households in our parish and could for 90% of them put the dream and hope of living in this community to and end. It is hard to know how hard working and retired residents of West Hendon, some of whom have lived here almost all their life can afford these massive increases in their rent and service charges. The fear is that they will be driven out of this community by the staggering rises in the cost of living on West Hendon as a result of “Regeneration”.
So what has this all to do with Jesus entering the Temple with a cord of whips and driving out the money changers, the sellers of pigeons, sheep and cattle?

St John, from whose gospel we take the account of this episode in the life of Jesus, places the cleansing of the temple at the outset of Jesus' ministry, immediately after the changing of water into wine at the wedding of Cana.

By linking these two events together, St John the Evangelist is keen to show that in Jesus the old order is being replaced. The Jewish Cleansing ritual of his day, in the water that is changed into wine and the demise of the temple worship, with its associated belief that animal sacrifice can make us right with God, are signs that God is making a new beginning in Jesus.

This may well be true but what is equally the case is that Jesus enters the Temple and turns over the tables of the money changers because they are corrupt. They are using the system to line their own pockets, in this case animal sacrifice that is at the heart of Temple worship in the 1st Century and the desire of the people to live a better life, to find righteousness with God, who come to the Temple.

Of the two it is not clear which is the more obnoxious to Jesus who behaves so out of character, or certainly the characteristic that we are most comfortable with namely the Jesus gentle and mild and the faith that should be kept personal and not be spoken of in public.

To take advantage of people at the very point when they are holding on to their dreams and hopes is cruel, as cruel as is the plight of many of our children and grandchildren who cannot afford to live in the community they were born due to the escalating costs of that living.

But we cannot simply put this action of Jesus down to a symbolic act, a demonstration against the corrupt market place of his day. For the Temple is also the worshipping heart of the Jewish community of which Jesus is part. Social Justice and Worship of God are linked together.

“Stop making my Father’s house a market place” cries out Jesus over the noise of curses, bleeting sheep and distraught cattle. According to Matthew, Mark and Luke Jesus also says  “My house should be a house of prayer”

The cleaning of the temple is certainly about social justice, in the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke it is this event that precipitates the political intervention of the Roman empire and the crucifixion. But it is also about the quality of  worship being offered to the people. 

In this mornings reading from the Hebrew scriptures we recall God giving Moses the 10 commandments in Chapter 20 of the book of Exodus.

Notice how the 10 commandments begins with God's self-announcement and the requirement of worship in the first five commandments verses 3, 4, 5, 7 and 8. The remaining 5 commandments are about the consequences of the worshiping  relationship with God; the positives and the negatives, or another way of saying it the social and moral consequences of right worship of God.

Last week in our lent course “Everybody Welcome” we started to look at how we make our worship, our church building and our program of activities throughout the year more accessible and visible to those around us. 
We explored the impact of our worship on the community, and one measure is the number of those who attend. It is not surprising that our most attended services are Easter and Christmas, the challenge before us is to make our worship throughout the whole year meaningful and transformative, and yes see those of our parish more than twice a year!

This evening we look at “our Temple” the church and ask how we make it more inviting? what are the very practical things that we need to do so that we indeed keep the church as the house of prayer and not allow it just to become another market place.
We meet for an hour at 5.00pm – come and join in the debate.