Sunday, 26 April 2015

“little Children let us love not in word or speech but in truth and action” 1John 3.18

In the 3rd chapter of the 1st letter of St  John we read some of the most beautiful language of the Christian Tradition.

The concern of the Evangelist John in his writings is for the love of Christ to be manifest within the life of the early church because already there was division and disunity within the church. Precise dating is not possible but the consensus among scholars is that John was writing his epistles, his letters probably around the year 80 CE, so some 50 years after the crucifixion of Christ.

Sadly this reality of division and actions of Christians that betray the love of god revealed through our Lord Jesus Christ continues throughout our history and is present with us today in the life of the church throughout the world.

"God is love" declares the Evangelist John in another of his epistles and "to live in love is to live in God and is for God to live in us."

Let us love God and those whom he has given us and our neighbours, for this is how our faith should be seen, felt and put in action by us his children.

What we need to learn in life is how to love people and use things instead of using people and loving things.

 Mother Teresa once said
 It is not how much you do, but how much Love you put into the doing that matters.

Our prayers are with the people of Nepal in the aftermath of a devastating earthquake

Prayers for the Nepal earthquake (Christian Aid)
Loving God, 

We pray for the people of Nepal, devastated by an earthquake 
At this time, we know you are present among the suffering 
May your comfort be known by those in that darkest valley
We pray that help will reach all those who need it, 
And lift to you Christian Aid's partners in Nepal, 
As they seek to swiftly respond to those in need
In Jesus' name we pray, 

Congratulations to our newest members of the Church universal

At St Matthias  Scott and Claire had their beautiful daughter Grace baptised,

at St John's Dwaine and Geraldine had their little boy Zachai baptised see below"
Zackai being held by his God father
Fr John holding a bottle of Venezuelan  Diplomatico a very unexpected gift !!
blessing to one and all

Saturday, 18 April 2015

“They were startled and terrified” how to find the Risen Christ

Fear is paralysing, it can be likened to a mental fog that leaves us unable to move forward. There is a discription of fear that speaks of an ocean liner:
If an ocean liner could think and feel, it would never leave its dock; it would be afraid of the thousands of huge waves it would encounter. It would fear all of its dangers at once, even though it had to meet them only one wave at a time.

Fear is not just in the mind, indeed there has been some research done on the connection between heart disease and memory loss, the latter being a sympton of heart problems. so fear affects our hearts and minds.

the disciples hearts were pounding – they were startled
the disiples minds went numb – they were terrified
the disiples were all at sea and it was if they were enveloped in a fog of confusion, terror and fear.

I don’t know the last time you had to drive in fog, but if you have then you will know that it is often advised that one should dip ones headlights, not turn them off completely, but reduce their power in order to see better.

It may sound counter intutitive, it stands to reason that to see better then there needs to be more light,  but with less light it is possible to see better when caught in fog.

There are always time in our life when it is as if we are in the midst of a heavy fog.

People who suffer from depression will know the feeling of the world that seems to fold in on them, wrapping them in a blanket shutting out the light and warmth generated by others leaving them in the darkness of depression, alone and afraid they sink into the dark hole of despair.

Less severe is the experience of confusion and lack of perspective that comes about in our life when we become confused and cannot see clearly. It is an experience that is not dissimilar to that of a person driving in heavy fog. A time when because of grief or uncertainly we cannot see a way out of a particular circumstance. When the familiar landscape is transformed into a world of shadowy figures and half seen dangers. We are left alone searching for the way out, searching for the light to guide us out of the fog of our confusion.

The disciples were in a fog  - more profound than the sort created by the early mist of the morning that will be burnt away by the light and warmth of the sun.

Their Fog was caused by their fear and loss, they were in the grip of despair caused by grief, they were plagued by doubt – how can the dead walk…unless they are a ghost.

It is into this fog of grief and uncertainly that the risen Christ steps and provides the light by which they can leave the fear and uncertainty behind and go out into the world holding the light of Christ to the darkness of the world and offering the reality of their faith before the despair and confusion of the world.

So what are we to learn from this for our selves?

What do you do when you find yourself surrounded by a fog of conflicting demands, a multiplicity of tasks that require your attention
Competing claims for your time?

Do you turn on your headlights to full beam as it were and crash on ahead, or do you turn your headlights down and look for the guiding light of the risen Lord to appear before you so that you can follow that light and leave behind the darkness and embrace the light?

Listen to this poem by Maya Angelou an African American poet – entitled Women’s work. It draws upon her reflections concerning Woman’s work that is never done and how from the beauy of nature, God’s creation, she is able to draw strenght, feel blessings and find her faith that in turn gave her the guidance and strength to continue in the jounry of her extra ordinary life………..

I've got the children to tend
The clothes to mend
The floor to mop
The food to shop
Then the chicken to fry
The baby to dry
I got company to feed
The garden to weed
I've got shirts to press
The tots to dress
The cane to be cut
I gotta clean up this hut
Then see about the sick
And the cotton to pick.

Shine on me, sunshine
Rain on me, rain
Fall softly, dewdrops
And cool my brow again.

Storm, blow me from here
With your fiercest wind
Let me float across the sky
'Til I can rest again.

Fall gently, snowflakes
Cover me with white
Cold icy kisses and
Let me rest tonight.

Sun, rain, curving sky
Mountain, oceans, leaf and stone
Star shine, moon glow
You're all that I can call my own.
Maya Angelou

By turning down the headlights
By slowing the thing down
By stopping and listening
maybe we will find that we are in a better position to see the Lord before us holding out his hands to us, looking upon us and giving us his peace, allowing us to be enfolded in his embrace.

When we are in the fog of our confusion, loss or fear, let us stop and turn away from own restlessness, let go of our endless but futile efforts and let God, yes to let go and let God.

When we stop speaking and start listening we will be far better placed to hear the still small voice of God calling to us – why are you frightened look it is me!
When our own search beam of questions and doubts is dipped we will stand a better chance of seeing the one one true light standing before us and giving us purpose and meaning in our life

When we put down our own hands and bow our head we will be more likely to feel the gentle touch of Jesus Christ as he embraces us offering us forgiveness and healing, offering us his new life.

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Easter Day - Warning do not go any further

I was in St Paul’s cathedral on Thursday morning along with around 400 other priests, it was the Chrism Mass that takes place every Maundy Thursday and at which two important things happen – first the oils that will be used by the church  for the next year are blessed and then taken back to the individual parishes.

The second is that every Deacon, Priest, Bishop and Reader present renews their vows, the vows they took at their ordination and consecration or licencing.

It is a very moving and beautiful service and coming as it does just before the beginning of the Tridium, the three fullest days of he Christian year, it is like taking an exceptionally good glass of wine at the beginning of a wonderful meal.

This lent we have been using the Bob Jackson Course Everybody Welcome to think about how truly welcoming we are as congregations, and churches. It reminded me that a few years ago as I was processing out of the magnificent cathedral past the font with the West doors open and the tourists ready with their cameras, I looked down and saw a sign that read:

Warning do not go any further

The notice was in red ink on a board that was placed on the outer step of the dais that has the magnificent font at its centre.

At first glance I was offended – Warning do not go any further – what a stark and bazaar message to place by a font, the very place where our Christian journey begins.

And then upon reflection I saw that in the light of this mornings celebration maybe it stands as a useful warning.

For this morning as we celebrate the central belief of our faith – that the one crucified Lord is the Risen and glorified saviour, we will renew our own baptism and once again affirm our promise to reject the devil and all rebellion against God, to renounce the deceit and corruption of evil, to repent of the sins that separate us from God and neibghbour and turn, submit and come to Christ the way the truth and the life.

For what is at the centre of our faith is the belief that Jesus has gone further than anyone else in showing the desire and steadfast love of God for his creation and you and me his children.

In the powerful re-enactments of the last supper, the agony of choice in the garden of Gethsemane on Maundy Thursday, the horror of crucifixion on Good Friday, the celebration of Easter on Holy Saturday night, we celebrate the power of God to bring life from death, light into our darkness.

In Jesus we see God refusing to heed the warnings and threats of violence and even the power of death to show his love and the power of that love to transform and bring life to this world and to you and me this morning.

And it is the gift of life that we celebrate – our lives that can with God be lived so differently, can find meaning and purpose because of Gods revelation in Christ Jesus. We celebrate and commit oursleves again to the life of Christ manifest in each one of us who carry on his work and mission in this world of darkness, violence and shame. Jesus crossed that line, that stark warning that divides and separates and in so doing reconciles and gathers in the lost and wounded.

And here is were a warning is appropriate for each one of us who renew our baptismal vows this morning.

For in our baptism,
In the promises that are made again this morning we are becoming one with Christ – one with his life, one with his glory. But, and there is always a catch yes – if we hope to wear the crown of glory then we will first have to wear the crown of thorns, just as Jesus himself did.

Today we are more aware than ever before of the numbers of persecuted Christians around the world. It is now a fact that Christians are the most persecuted faith community in the world with one Chrisitan being killled for their faith in Jesus every 11 minutes – that's two who have died sice we started our service this morning and by the end there will be 6 killed.

We keep in our prayers this morning our brothers and sisters in Kenya who were salughted  on Friday many simply for being Christian, We have and continue to pray for our brothers and sisters in Nigeria who have been vicitms of sectrarian violence, and we have prayed and raised funds for Christians in Iraq, and the list goes on.

The Christian faith into which I was baptised.
into which you were baptised
is not a faith that takes us away from pain and loss,
from despair and betrayal,
form darkness and fear
but one that takes us through this:
To feel the joy of belonging in our true home – the Church  
To find the hope and steadfast love that will not let us go
To embrace the light and life of the risen and glorified Christ in this life and the next.

Alleluia Christ is risen he is risen indeed Alleluia. 

Saturday, 4 April 2015

Friday, 3 April 2015

Good Friday - He takes away our fear

Long haired preachers come out every night
try to tell you what’s wrong and what's right
But when asked how ‘bout something to eat
They will answer in voices so sweet

You will eat, bye and bye
in the glorious land above the sky
work and pray, live on hay
you’ll get pie in the sky when you die
                  Joe Hill 1911

Some years ago Christian Aid came up with the slogan “ I believe in life before death” The allure of pie in the sky when you die has never really done it for me. What the world needs, what I need to day is healing, is reconciliation of all that denies life and fragments life leading to a purposeless life. What I crave for is life before I die.

To have my life restored, healed, mended means that I have to acknowledge that it is broken, I am lost, I am ill at ease.

Good Friday is a day when we have to confront the painful truth that our lives are broken, that we can not live pain free, it is a false illusion to believe that nothing bad will happen to me, or those around me simply because I believe in God.

Good Friday offers at its heart an amnesty not amnesia, hope not pretense.
We have to look upon the cross, we have to behold the cross on which hung the savior of the world if we are going to be able to start the healing in our own lives.

There is so much that distracts us from this demand, that encourages us to avert our eyes or shield ourselves from the glare of this terror – just as a pair of sun glasses protect us from the harsh glare of the sun.

The story of our life will be the story of our life permanently, this is not a dress rehearsal, we only get one life but we do not have a time limited offer on forgiveness, healing or restoration.

Good Friday is God’s statement that is as powerful and eternal as the first word spoken so long ago “let there be light”. The eternal word of God now speaks  “Father forgive”.  These words are not words that seek to deny the reality of life, the brutality of the Romans soldiers who drive nails through flesh, the betray of love that leads to denial and the cry “Crucify” These are not air brushed from history or from our identity and the reality that we live, but the words of Jesus on the cross “Father forgive” ensure that our lives can be healed, restored and reconciled.

God doesn’t take away the kinks and twists or the hurt and humiliation, he does not airbrush out the wrinkles or paper over the crack. What he does through the cross and resurrection is take away from us the guilt and the fear, so that we can start again and life in hope.

Grace is forgiveness we can’t earn. Grace is the weeping father who looks out from his security and home to long and distant road looking for his lost son.

Grace is tragedy accepted with open arms and somehow turned to good.

Grace is what the wasteful death on Golgotha did.

In a moment we will come and kneel, bow, or simply stand at the foot of the cross and draw from this broken bleeding, despised and rejected figure strength and hope for this life, for the journey that is ours, for the decisions we need to make today.

As we stand, kneel or bow, before the Saviour of the world who for us hung upon a cross we find acceptance, forgiveness and healing for all that denies life – our life and the life of those around us.

Most people think
Great God will come from the skies
take away everything
and make everybody feel high
but if you know what life is worth
you will look for yours on earth
and now you will see the light
You stand up for your rights.
   Bob Marley 1973

Thursday, 2 April 2015

Maundy Thursday - Mass of the Lord's Supper

It is often said of the English in particular that they eat to live: compared to their European neighbours and indeed many other cultures of the world who live to eat.

The politics of food are all around us,
Whether it is the fact that we eat so much when so many in the world do not have enough to sustain life.
Whether it is the fact that food has for many become a way in which we deal with the grief or loneliness created by our increasingly technological and demanding urban lifestyles leading to ever increasing ill health.

The results are all too plain to see, although the power of denial means that many of us refuse to recognise the tail tail signs of our dis-ease and expanding waste lines which are often the result of terrible emptiness in our lives, an emptiness that we fill with calories resulting in ever increasing instances of obesity in children and adults alike.

Something has changed about the way in which we view food, no longer are we prepared to put in the time and effort to source and prepare food for ourselves or those around us, in stead we seem content in snatching a solitary meal in our increasingly hectic and unfulfilled lives or sending for a take away that is as indigestible and it is inhospitable.

When we look at the gospels it is no surprise that eating together is a common feature of Jesus life and language about the kingdom. A wedding, a demand to eat at the home of outcast, the kingdom of God described in terms of a food and feasting, the accusation that Jesus is a glutton and a drunkard, the breaking of taboos and laws around food all are part of a recipe for disaster that brings us to the upper room on the night that Jesus was betrayed

You may not know the wonderful story of Babettes feast, but when Babette, who for the last decade has been serving a basic gruel, of boiled fish and rice, to the members of small 19th century Danish protestant religious community, finds herself in possession of £10,000 francs she offers one last and final gift to the community – a meal.

Babettes feast is a wonderfully and lovingly crafted and presented meal which the community at first resolve to endure in silence, this travesty, this disgraceful waste of money they decide is counter to their spirituality and morality and the only way they can endure the experience is by remaining silent as they eat.
 However as the meal progresses they cannot remain silent and in the course of the meal ancient feuds and petty squabbles are healed and at the end of this gastronomic triumph the community, which was facing its own annihilation recovers its first love and purpose and relationship with one another and with God that will ensure its survival for the future, a future of course radically altered by the experience of meal. One might be tempted to think that £10,000 francs is a high price but I am not so sure!

If eating is a spiritual as well as a necessary and material activity then the Christian experience is rather different to that of other faith communities. I have not exhaustively researched this but I expect that Christianity is unique in the way in which its spiritual understanding of sharing food makes it so different.

The Eucharist of course began as a meal. The Jewish roots of the Eucharist are clear, Jesus himself was Jewish, he and his male disciples were doing what all Jews have and continue to do for millennia – meet at the beginning of festival of Pesach / Passover and share a meal that takes them back to the depths of  their history as a people when they were slaves in Egypt.

But what we do tonight and have for two millennia as Christians is more than the gathering every Friday night by Jewish families at the beginning of Shabbat/the Sabbath; different to the Islamic community breaking the fast every night of Ramadan; not to be confused with the sharing of blessed food that every Hindu does when at Temple:

For the Christian understanding of the Eucharist takes us a step nearer, and for religious traditions other than Christian a step too far, towards God.  It is this understanding that helps us understand the significance of this evening, when on the night in which Our lord was betrayed, he took bread and blessed it, broke it and gave it to his disciples.
It was within the first decades of the early church that the understanding of what we share at the Eucharist changed the practice of that early church where Christians gathered week by week and maybe even day by day and shared food together.

If the Eucharist was at first always celebrated as part of a meal, an agape we might call it, it was precisely because those first Christians came to realise that something very different was happening when bread was taken, blessed and broken and when wine was taken, blessed and shared that it was taken out of the context of a family meal. Because of the realisation that this was somehow different, it was taken out of the daily eating habits of Christians and enshrined in a very different context; one we are very familiar and is known as the Mass, the Holy Communion, the Lords Supper

For what we claim as Christians is that we are no longer eating bread and drinking wine, but we are in fact eating the body of Christ and drinking his blood  - whether we understand those terms literally or symbolically.

And so here is the unique experience that Christianity offers the world as a way into the mystery of God – that by partaking of the Eucharist we become one with God.

To understand this mystery some draw upon the famous phrase coined by one Ludwig Feuerbach in 1863  “You are what you eat”. So when it comes to the sacrament, the bread and wine of communion, we share in this and in turn become the body of Christ in the world and our nourishment is supplied directly by God – When Jesus started to speak in this way it became to much for his Jewish listener and we are told that this was the only time in his ministry in Galilee that some could not bear his words and so no longer went about with him – John 6.

Others have called upon our common use of English. When I drink a glass of wine I drink the wine. At first it may appear not to have an effect upon me but in truth it is already beginning to affect my body and perception of reality. By the time I drink my second glass of wine I may find that my mood is altered, I become more animated, better company and expressive in my words and actions.  By the time I have drunk my 3rd  or 4th glass of wine  I may be as one under the influence of that wine, and there comes a point sometime after the  4th or 5th glass of wine when I become drunk. I drink the wine but now I am drunk by the wine in turn.

We have gathered tonight to join in a meal as friends, as a family under God, we gather remembering that night when Jesus shared his last meal with this friends, his family. But as this evening progresses we will come to realise that we gather to share in something far greater than just a meal, we gather to partake of God in a way that is unique and if we allow it life changing.

So to return to the question I began with:

Do you eat to live or live to eat  - the answer for us as Christians is that when we gather for the Eucharist we do so in order that we might find in the food of the Eucharist LIFE.

The altar of repose at St john
The altar of repose at St Matthias