Sunday, 8 December 2013

Reflection for the Second Sunday in Advent

As we continue celebrating Advent, inevitably our thoughts and prayers this morning also focused on Nelson Mandela, praying that he might come to share forever in the life of God our liberator.

It is very interesting to see how the media and various public figures have reacted to Mandela's death. There has been a lot of talk about Mandela's commitment to forgiveness and reconciliation. And that was undoubtedly part of his legacy, and one which as Christians we celebrate. But Mandela realised, in a way I am not convinced that all his obiturists do, that genuine forgiveness is hard won. Forgiveness is not cheap; rather for him it occurred on the other side of a life involving taking sides against injustice, suffering, persecution, struggle, and victory. In the same way, of course, the forgiveness we all need comes to us through a life, through the blood of the Cross, and through the triumph of the empty tomb. There is nothing glib here, nothing that allows us to cover up injustice, or the need to oppose it, with premature appeals to forgiveness. The prophet Jeremiah denounces those who "cry 'peace, peace' when there is no peace".

It is the less comfortable, more confrontational side to Mandela in which I am interested. In standing up for justice in the face of power exercised for injustice, he echoes the prophetic tradition of the Old Testament. The prophets were not - as we sometimes are in danger of thinking - holy fortune tellers. Rather, they dealt solidly and squarely with the here-and-now of the real world, telling - often quite bluntly - God's people, especially their rulers, when they were falling away from their relationship with God by damaging the poor and the oppressed.

The Church - and that means all of us - needs to continue this prophetic work in our own day. It is part of what we have been baptised to do.

But nor should we get too comfortable, spending all of our time pointing out wrong doing in others (however necessary that might be when those others have the power to oppress and exploit) without ever turning our critical attention on ourselves. In today's gospel one of the central characters of Advent, the great prophet St John the Baptist, turns on some of God's People, the Sadduccees and Pharisees, calling them a 'brood of vipers' and warning them not to appeal to their special status as God's People. Because, after all, God doesn't need them. God could make new children for Abraham out of stone. They need to repent.

And what about us? It is no good us sitting smugly and imagining that as the Church we are somehow privileged. God no more needs us than he needed the Pharisees and Sadduccees. How are we failing to live God's children? How are we complicit in injustice and oppression? What are the hypocrisies of which we need to repent? Those questions force themselves upon us during Advent and we should each of us spend time thinking about them, and then turn back to the Lord who wants to forgive us.

Drop down, ye heavens from above; and let the clouds rain the Just One.

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Advent Sunday - some practical suggestions for a Holy Advent

So what things can we do in Advent to help us watch for the presence of God in our lives?

Fr Tony shared some ideas for this Advent to keep Christ in the middle of our homes and families and at the front of our minds every day, making it a daily habit, during Advent:

Ø Lighting an Advent candle – or any candle for that matter – and burning it gradually every day during Advent – perhaps for 5 minutes or during a meal. The light of the living flame of the candle reminding us of the light of Christ.

Ø Opening the doors of an Advent calendar every day leading up to Christmas Day can be another habit, perhaps with a short time for prayer, reminds us we are keeping close to God in Advent

Ø Set up your Christmas Crib with an empty manger – as a sign that during Advent we are awaiting the coming of the Lord – with the infant Jesus being placed in the manger after Midnight Mass on Christmas morning.

Ø Find moments for prayer during the day – perhaps going for a short walk or using your time on the tube or bus as a time of prayer, trying to be aware of God around us.

Ø Or get into the habit at the end of each day of spending 3 minutes prayerfully reflecting on the day that is passing – giving thanks for the gift of life; thinking about when in the day you felt that God was most close to you and asking God to show you those situations when you were not living as God wants.

A few ideas for Advent – you don’t need to do them all of course! – but I would encourage you to try something – to do something different for Advent – that becomes a daily habit and a reminder of God with you.

Kilimanjaro in review

Thank you to everyone who sponsored me for climbing kilimanjaro in Tanzania in November. It was a truly unforgettable experience - deeply terrifying at times, wonderfully amazing at others and in all of those days a deep thanks to God.
Here are some images
all this for five of us! all carried by the  porters up the mountain

our camp above the clouds on the way up
Kilimanjaro from the lowlands - snow was added during our climb

Mawenzi  after a night of snow and hail
View of Kilimanjaro after some snow the day before we assaulted the summit 

Yes this small tent is what you think it is - a room with a view

protea in the wild
It took a great deal longer to go up than come down!
Vegetation changes according to the hight of the mountain

our amazing porters and guides

Pilgrim through this barren Land....

taking in the view

At the summit with Ernest the SMSJ school bear 

All this raises money for the BLMF - too cold for the diocesan tee-shirt

Kilimanjaro orchid

Mighty Mawenzi
coming down through the rain forest on the last day

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Christ the King

There were good reasons to look forward to this weekend: it is the great feast of Christ the King today, and locally we had the privilege of baptising baby Olivia Kosisochukwu Ejim into membership of the Church at St Matthias this morning.

For me, another thing hotly anticipated was the 50th anniversary Dr Who, The Day of the Doctor, broadcast yesterday (and on i-player here until 1st December). In the run-up to this there had been all sorts of press speculation about the contents, numerous programmes about Dr Who on the telly, and a definite buzz on social media. Dr Who has become popular, which is both pleasing and odd for someone like me who liked it as a child, at a time when this was deeply unfashionable.

Why is this peculiar sci-fi drama suddenly so trendy? Why were people without an ounce of the geek about them glued to their TV screens yesterday evening? One reason, I think, is that the new version of Doctor Who presents us with companions to the Doctor who are very much like us, ordinary people, who you can imagine meeting on any bus or tube train. Unlike the cardboard characters from the old version, these companions have depth, they have families, relationships, loves, and hates. And these things matter, and continue to matter after the companions meet the Doctor. These ordinary people get taken into absolutely extraordinary situations: exploring time and space, meeting species, planets, cultures, and realities beyond our wildest imaginings. This appeals to us: it speaks to an urge to explore, to cross boundaries, to live live fully and richly, to - as I said - be extraordinary, whilst still remaining the ordinary people we are.

Now, at the risk of sounding like the worst sort of preacher in the entire world ever - the sort of person who talks about something which has nothing whatsoever to do with the Christian faith, and then throws in the casual line "Jesus is a bit like..." ("Jesus is a bit like football", "Jesus is a bit like spaghetti bolognese") - the Christian Church is in the business of making the ordinary extraordinary. Today's feast celebrates Christ the Universal King, the king of everything, Lord of all that exists. This man from Nazareth, killed by the Roman Empire, possesses an empire of which Caesar could only ever dream - an empire extending over everything that is, everything that has been, and everything that ever will be. Yet it is not an empire built on conquest and oppression, but one built out of love, the love of God victorious on the Cross.

Christ, the ordinary man who is also God, does not simply reign over us. He invites us to reign with him. We, children of God by God's grace, come to share in Christ's reign, not only for this life, but eternally. To share, that is, in absolutely everything that matters. And if that is not a case of the ordinary being made extraordinary, I don't know what is. It is certainly what we claimed for our new Christian today through baptism.

In one of my favourite Dr Who episodes, a character with the fabulous name of Elton Pope says this,

When you're a kid, they tell you it's all grow up, get a job, get married, get a house, have a kid, and that's it. No, the truth is the world is so much stranger than that, so much darker, and so much madder. And so much better!

To which the only Christian response is 'Amen'.

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Remembrance Sunday 10th November

Remember Me
(The voice of the dead)

Remember me

Duty called and I went to war

Though I'd never fired a gun before

I paid the price for your new day

As all my dreams were blown away

Remember me

We all stood true as whistles blew
And faced the shell and stench of Hell

Now battle's done, there is no sound
Our bones decay beneath the ground

We cannot see, or smell, or hear

There is no death, or hope or fear

Remember me

Once we, like you, would laugh and talk

And run and walk and do the things that you all do

But now we lie in rows so neat

Beneath the soil, beneath your feet

Remember me

In mud and gore and the blood of war

We fought and fell and move no more

Remember me, I am not dead

I'm just a voice within your head

Harry Riley

Saturday, 2 November 2013

All Souls Day

Today is All Souls Day. Mass will be celebrated for all the departed at both of our churches at 12 noon.

Welcome, Lord, into your calm and peaceful kingdom those who, out of this present life, have departed to be with you; grant them rest and a place with the spirits of the just; and give them the life that knows not age, the reward that passes not away.

Friday, 1 November 2013

All Saints Day

Happy feast day! Today the Church celebrates our fellowship with the saints in glory.  As Christians we don't simply 'remember' the saints, looking to them as past examples of Christian life, from whom we can learn. This is important, of course, but it's by no means the whole story. Rather, we believe that the souls of the saints continue to pray for us, and exist in fellowship with us. They are our heavenly family, our friends, who encourage us onwards in our journey through life.