Sunday, 26 July 2015

transforming life through generosity - Feeding of the multitude

In the story of the feeding of the multitude we read of how in spite of the rational, understandable doubt expressed by the disciples the impossible is made possible. From small beginnings Jesus is able to manifest his glory, a little faith goes a long way just as a few loaves and fishes feed the multitude.

Despite these small beginnings, the hungry are fed,
and there are leftovers - indeed in the story involving Jesus there is an abundance of leftovers - there is more than when the feast first began.

The feeding of the multitude, as John calls it, is the only miracle that
Jesus did that is described in all four gospels.  For this reason, if no
other, we need to pay close attention to it.  We need to ask ourselves - why
is this so?  What is it about this miracle - unlike all the other miracles
performed by Jesus - that so catches the attention of all the gospel writers.

I think it has to do with at least three separate things.

The first is the fact that this story tells us that Jesus is used by God -
he has God's blessings, remember at his baptism the voice of God is heard declaring to the world that here is God’s son the beloved in whom he is pleased, and is able to feed the hungry - much as
the people of Israel were fed by God in the wilderness with Manna.

In fact John goes on after the telling of this story to speak of Jesus as the
bread of heaven come down to earth - the one who is not only able to satisfy
the physical hunger of his people - but their spiritual hunger as well.

Jesus has, and is able to use, the power of God to feed the hungry.

The second thing is that the story shows us not only God's power at work in
Jesus, but also God's care for us.  God reaches out through Jesus to meet the needs of those who are following him.

Jesus cares for those who seek him out.  He wants to meet their needs, and he
instructed his disciples, and so he instructs you and I his church, to work together to ensure that the needs of those around us, the multitude are met.

The third thing is that the story shows us is that Jesus is able to take what
is offered to him and to multiply it - so that where there first seemed not
enough it ends up by being more than enough.

There is a story of a man named Paul.

   Paul had received a special pre-Christmas gift from his brother.  It
   was a beautiful new car - fully loaded and ready to go.  On Christmas
   Eve, when Paul came out of his office, a street kid was walking around
   the shiny new car, admiring it.  "Is this your car, mister?", the kid
   asked.  When he replied that it was., and that his brother had given
   it to him for Christmas, the boy said, "You mean your brother gave it
   to you, and it didn't cost you anything?  Free?  For Nothing?  Gosh,
   I wish..."

   The boy hesitated, and Paul knew what he was about to say.  He had
   heard it many times over the past few days.  He was going to wish he
   had a brother like that.  But what the boy said shocked Paul.

   "I wish", the boy said, "I wish I could be a brother like that."

We can be a brother like that.  Or a sister like that.
All it takes is that we offer ourselves and what we have to God.
All it takes is that we cease to worry about how little we have
and begin instead to think about what it is that we can offer.

Praise be to God who multiplies that which is given to him,
day by day.  Amen.

Sunday, 12 July 2015

senseless violence is given meaning in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ

Another meaningless murder. Another life destroyed. A massacre of holiday makers in Tunisia; Escalating violence in Iraq and talk of ground troop’s in Syria, A fresh bunch of flowers appears on the road side. A family, a community  broken by a sudden and unforeseen death.

This is the world of this past few weeks, it is our world just as much as it is the world of Mark’s gospel. John the Baptist’s beheading wasn’t necessarily a unique event during the Roman occupation of Palestine—and, you could say, it’s hard to see how it wouldn’t fit in our world today, especially when we witness the barbaric actions of terrorists in the Arab world.

For the sake of the stability of Palestine, Herod and others in the Roman administration had to douse the wild-fires of revolution spreading across the countryside by silencing protesting voices—and sometimes, as in the case of Jesus’ cousin, John, the best way to quiet the tongue, to silence a protest, was to cut off a head.

But we don’t remember this story in Mark 6 as just another example of the violence Empire’s, and corrupt regimes thinks is necessary to stay afloat in a sea of anarchic terror.

For some reason Mark thinks this murder is an important piece in the story of Jesus. But the funny thing about this episode in the drama is that Mark doesn’t really explain why we should think it’s important;

Mark begins his gospel with this enigmatic figure appearing in the wilderness baptising. After Jesus, it is the person of John the Baptist to whom Mark dedicates the most verses of his gospel – more than Mary or Peter or any other character within his compact edition of the life of Jesus.

Mark doesn’t tell us why John’s death is significant. He doesn’t explain why this bit of information fits in the story of Jesus of Nazareth.

Right after the story of John’s beheading, Mark returns to the disciples’ adventures as if the past 16 verses—the ones we just heard this morning—didn’t even happen. Except that he just spent all that time telling us about it. What’s Mark up to?

Why is this detailed story important?

We walk away from the text very curious. And here’s the question I think Mark forces us to think about: Is this death important to us?
If our answer is yes, then we have to ask a follow up question: Why is this death significant to us?

Mark doesn’t do the work for us. He leaves us on our own. How do we give this death significance? How do we make it important for our understanding of the story of Jesus?

The death of John is of course pointless, its senseless. King Herod cuts off John’s head for no significant reason—and so in one sense this story is not an important part of bigger story of Jesus.

And I wonder if this is not also true when it comes to all the deaths that we hear of and talk about today?

There is so much death in our modern time, and it seems so senseless—somebody killed over a grudge, like Herodias’ grudge.
Countless victims of war, of crime, of murder.
Another Father or husband taken before his expected time

For most of the deaths, in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and now Tunisia even the streets of our own city their names mean so little to us. We may well stop for a minute to pay tribute, as we did last week on the 10th anniversary of the 52 people who were killed by the July bombers, and then we have to, we choose to get back to our lives and all that demand’s our attention from the moment we wake until the moment we take our rest.

For the most part those nameless people who we read of and are told about don’t play a role in the story of our lives, at least we don’t live and act like they do. They don’t really fit. They are senseless victims of violence. Victims of someone else’s madness. And that’s what Mark gives us in the middle of his story about Jesus—a senseless beheading, the product of a drunken oath, the consequence of that age old sin Pride.

By placing this death in the middle of the Gospel, Chapter 6,  St Mark is placing a story about a tragic and senseless death  in the middle of a far greater and more important story. The story of the death of Jesus of Nazareth.

And this maybe is the way in which St Mark is suggesting we understand our life and the lives of those around us. Because of the importance and significance of the death of Jesus our view of death is transformed, so that there is no truly senseless or meaningless death. When we consider John’s beheading, just as we should when we hear and see the victims of the violence of this world we do so in the context of the death of Jesus.

And here is the answer to question I asked earlier Why is this death significant to us?

John’s death is significant because Jesus takes into himself the wounds of all victims as he breathes his last on the cross.

Jesus’ crucifixion gives John’s beheading significance, and in turn brings a new understanding and hope in to the face of loss and tragedy so that death does not have the last word. This is the case for John the Baptist and it is now true for every other senseless and tragic death since that of Jesus.

When Mark includes John’s beheading in the middle of Jesus’ story, even when it doesn’t contribute anything to the unfolding drama, Mark wants us to see that every senseless death finds a place in Jesus’ story. It’s already there. John’s beheading shows us that victims of violence, even when senseless, belong to the story of Jesus.

And if death is important so then is life – the life of each one of us. It is in the writing of St Paul that we see this most clearly articulated. He, that is God, destined us for adoption as his children though Jesus Christ v5 of the fist chapter in his epistle to the Ephesians.

It is because through Jesus Christ that we enter a relationship with God like that of a child with a parent – precious and loved that we find the ultimate meaning in the meaningless fact of death because in v7 In him, Jesus Christ, we have redemption through his blood….

 Let us therefore in the prayers we offer today and every day in the week ahead, echo the words of St Paul as he writes to the Ephesians:  Blessed be God the father of our Lord Jesus Christ who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love.

Thursday, 9 July 2015

News from our Bishop -and for your prayers

Number 10 announced new bishops of Edmonton and Islington today. The Bishop of London announces the next Archdeacon of Hampstead. View it in your browser.
Bishop of London's crest and motto: Amor Vincit Omnia
Dear friends
Bishops of Edmonton and Islington; Archdeacon of Hampstead

Downing Street announced this morning that the Queen has approved the nomination of the Reverend Rob Wickham to serve as Area Bishop of Edmonton and the Reverend Ric Thorpe to serve as the Bishop of the revived See of Islington. I am also delighted to announce that Prebendary John Hawkins has accepted my invitation to succeed Luke Miller as Archdeacon of Hampstead.

I was grateful for the help of the Edmonton Advisory Group and more than a hundred correspondents in establishing that the most important challenge facing the next Bishop of Edmonton was making an energetic Christian response to rapid social and demographic change within the four boroughs and in particular in the areas identified for development.

The consultations revealed a unanimous appreciation for Bishop Peter’s “gracious leadership and consistent pastoral care”. It is a tribute to Bishop Peter, assisted by Archdeacon Luke Miller, that unity has been on the whole preserved and the Area transformed during their partnership.

In his eight years at St John’s, Rob Wickham has been in the forefront of re-energising the church and engaging with the local community to bring a distinctive Christian contribution to regeneration in Hackney.

He is a missional Catholic with a record of fruitful cooperation with other strands of church life in the Diocese. As a former member of the Camden Town team he is sympathetic with those who maintain traditional catholic teaching and will work within the London Plan while rejoicing in the new opportunities which the ordination of women to priesthood and episcopate has opened up.

He will be moving during the summer with Helen, Tom, Susannah and Harry. The Archbishop of Canterbury has confirmed that he will consecrate the new Bishop on September 23rd in Canterbury, alongside the Bishops of Kensington and Maidstone.

Prebendary John Hawkins has already had experience of serving in an Archidiaconal role in the Area together with many years of parish work at St John’s, West Hendon and St Matthias, Colindale. He has a special concern for the church’s contribution to education. The new team will be operating from the autumn when the Bishop of Willesden, after holding the fort over the past months, will be able to return to his many other responsibilities with huge gratitude for what he has done in a time of transition and understandable anxiety.

The new diocesan team is finally completed with the appointment of Ric Thorpe as the second Bishop of Islington.

In Capital Vision 2020, we committed ourselves to promote the creation of a hundred new worshipping communities within the Diocese by 2020. In the past twenty years over sixty have been established and in direct response to Capital Vision we are already in double figures. It is clear that those ministering in such pioneering posts together with the existing cohort of church planters need knowledgeable support and mentoring in the early years. At the same time if the Diocese is to develop as a learning community then there must be ways of harvesting the experience, both positive and negative of those who have been called to re-imagine the church for the 21st century. The need has been made all the more urgent because of the recent grant by the Church Commissioners of a substantial sum of development funding to assist our 2020 strategy.

The Reverend Ric Thorpe, as the Diocesan Adviser on Church Planting, has already done a great deal of work in this field both supporting those involved in new ventures and applying the lessons learnt for pioneers in training as well for the many people beyond the Diocese who are interested in the London experience.

The population of London is increasing once again although not so explosively as it did in the 19th century. The population of Victorian London increased from just over a million in 1800 to seven million by 1900. The old structures of church life were not adequate to the missionary challenge of such rapid and explosive growth. At the same time there was a recovery of a more energetic style of episcopal leadership and a new vision of the diocese as an instrument of mission and this argued the case for an increase in the number of bishops.

At first there was a revival of some of the Sees left vacant since the end of the Elizabethan experiment with suffragan bishops. Bedford was created under the Suffragan Bishops’ Act of 1534 but fell into abeyance between 1560 and 1879 when Walsham How was appointed to minister in East London. West London was the responsibility of the Bishop of Marlborough from 1888 – 1918. During this period some of the surviving Area Bishoprics with more appropriate titles were established, beginning with Stepney in 1895.

From 1898 – 1923, a former Rector of St George in the East, Charles Henry Turner occupied the See of Islington. When he died however the See went into abeyance. Now in the vastly different circumstances of the 21st century the decision has been taken to revive Islington as a response to contemporary missionary challenges.

A number of deanery pilots are planned as a response to the General Synod’s work on “Intentional Evangelism” and we shall be experimenting with “porous” boundaries within the selected deaneries. At the same time the further use of school buildings to house new congregations will be explored.

It is abundantly clear that crucial to the success of these initiatives is a supply of highly motivated, specially equipped and properly supported pioneer ministers. The entrepreneurial talent necessary and the ability to work without the support of long established structures require more and not less encouragement and oversight. Mentoring and building up a cadre of “alongside coaches” who will work with Area Bishops and the Diocesan Bishop to support pioneers has become an urgent necessity. The Bishop of Willesden has had a special responsibility for the oversight of pioneer ministries of various kinds and with the growth of his national and pan-Diocesan work new arrangements are urgently needed. The revived Bishopric of Islington will be free from the increasing administrative demands on Area Bishops in London but working collaboratively with episcopal colleagues to address the agendas opened up by the developments described above.

The Bishop of Islington will be available to harvest and share experience of church growth strategies. He will be available to the whole Church of England as a resource as the Church pursues its intentional evangelism programme but at the same time the new Bishop will have the credibility of being a practitioner actively involved in church planting and supervising the new School of Church Growth in association with the staff of St Mellitus both in London, Chelmsford and at its Merseyside campus.

The role is inherently episcopal but like bishops in early Anglo-Saxon England it has an emphasis on the responsibility which all bishops share on missionary work and church extension. The work already being done in London and other dioceses has always issued from invitations and there is no intention to intrude uninvited into anyone else’s jurisdiction.

The Archbishop of Canterbury has warmly welcomed the appointment and has confirmed that he will consecrate the new Bishop of Islington in St Paul’s Cathedral on September 29th.

I hope that you will hold all the new members of the London team in your prayers over the summer.

With thanks for our partnership in the Gospel
Bishop of London's signature
The Rt Revd & Rt Hon Richard Chartres KCVO DD FSA
Bishop of London's contact information

Sunday, 5 July 2015

Letting go and letting God - living by God's grace

On this 5th Sunday of Trinity we are challenged to let go and let God and we are given two clear examples of those who have taken up the call of discipleship and all that it requires of them in terms of personal cost.

Ezekiel was called to be a prophet. Like many prophets before and after him it is a call that carried a price. It cost him dear and exposed him to real trouble, danger and persecution. God duly warns Ezekiel that he is giving him a mission particularly unpleasant to fulfill and one that some would say was impossible. I am sending you to the people of Israel, to a nation of rebels who have rebelled against me;

Ezekiel is neither a flatterer nor a demagogue; he proclaims what God instructs him to say. Therefore he must not expect to be well received by all. God does not entertain any illusions. But neither does Ezekiel get discouraged. He is like the sower who throws his seed by the handful knowing that most of the seed will never produce a crop, some will fall on the path, some on rocky ground , some on thorny soil.

Is this wastefulness?
Is this a lack of realism?
Is this foolish and wasteful of time and energy?
God wants everyone to have a chance. He cannot resign himself to seeing the least plot of ground lay fallow or denied the opportunity to produce a crop.
Because of his love for you and me and the whole of his creation. Gods love causes him and you and me to go on believing the unbelievable, go on hoping in the face of  hopelessness.

St Paul knew the truth of this. He who had been the leader of the persecution of the early church,
he who had taken part in the murder of St Stephen,
he who had arrested many who followed Jesus Christ, NOW becomes the greatest builder and defender of the church.

Paul knew trials and hardship and ultimately many years of imprisonment BUT he writes 10Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.

Paul reveals that he asked God three times to remove the "thorn", whatever it might have been, but that on each occasion the response was, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Paul takes this so literally that he says he'll boast all the more gladly of his weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in him. He says that he's content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ, since through Christ, whenever he's weak, then paradoxically, he's strong.

It's one thing to say those words, but quite another to have the faith to live them.
Most of us live in our own strength and do everything we can to ensure that we are strong enough to withstand any of the rigours that life may unexpectedly throw at us.

Materially, we make sure that we have a house and enough income to pay for it and maintain it. We take out insurance against any physical calamities in life, and in recent years we have become more and more likely to lay blame for our accidents and incidents and to seek compensation for them from somebody else.

We're adult Christians and I'm sure God expects us to look after ourselves and our families properly, so I think we're right to take out insurance rather than to expect someone else to pick up the pieces if things go wrong for us.

But this "insurance attitude" does tend to spill over into every aspect of life. Many of us like to see where we're going in the future and to make plans for five or ten years ahead, and we're now encouraged to do that within our churches. But if our plans are too well laid we can become a victim of our own success, for there's little room for God to suddenly do a new thing if we have everything tied up.

When we take tight control of our own lives or the lives of our churches, we are strong. But God's strength is quite different to our own strength, and God's strength is made perfect in weakness. People and churches who are able to let go of control often appear to be weak, but God is able to work through them.

When Jesus sent out his disciples on their very first mission, he refused to allow them to take anything to ensure against danger. They were only to take the clothes they stood up in. They were not to take any money (imagine going anywhere without money, or at least a plastic card!) They were not to take any defensive weapons to guard against wild animals. They were to go just as they were, and to throw themselves on the mercy of others.

That takes a lot of humility and a lot of courage. But as well as being thrown on the mercy of other human beings, they had to learn to rely totally upon God.

The disciples on their mission and Paul in his life found that God's grace was sufficient for them.
The question for us today is this: 
Is Gods grace sufficient for us too?
Is God's grace sufficient for our church?
When we look at these questions the events in that small town of Nazareth speak to us with renewed vigour.

Jesus faces rejection in his home town. Not surprising you may say after all envy and jealousy have a way of destroying relationships. Anger, resentment and jealousy cause disharmony within a person, cause dis-ease. They are underlying currents that act as blocks to God's love and healing power. And so Jesus found that even he was unable to perform many miracles in his own country among his own kin.
The church to day in our own time is faced with ridicule and rejection in her “home town”. For the church in the west and so called developed world is often in decline compared with the massive growth in Africa and Asia.

In our own country the voice of the church is seemingly sidelined by internal debate and concern over money, doctrine or scriptural interpretation. The church is often silenced by the agenda of the press or is victim to the desire to destroy or pull down anything or anyone who stands for authority.
Our 21st century Western life is so cushioned, seemingly technologically advanced that perhaps there is little room for God to manoeuvre. Perhaps we too should take more risks for God, so that his strength can become perfect in our weakness.