Sunday, 16 March 2014

Second Sunday of Lent - Who are you?

Here is a true story from United Airlines in Denver USA.  A crowed United flight was canceled and a single agent was rebooking a long line of inconvenienced travelers. Suddenly an angry passenger pushed his way to the desk. He slapped his ticket down on the counter and said, "I HAVE to be on this flight and it has to be FIRST CLASS."
The agent replied, "I'm sorry sir. I'll be happy to try to help you, but I've got to help these folks first, and I'm sure we'll be able to work something out."
The passenger was unimpressed. He asked loudly, so that the passengers behind him could hear, "Do you have any idea who I am?"
Without hesitating, the gate agent smiled and grabbed her public address microphone.
"May I have your attention please?" she began, her voice bellowing throughout the terminal. "We have a passenger here at the gate WHO DOES NOT KNOW WHO HE IS. If anyone can help him find his identity, please come to gate 17."

We are often asked the question who are you? and our usual reply is to give our name, where we are from and what kind of work we do. The truth is we carry around a great deal of information concerning our identity – store loyality cards, credit cards photo ID in the form of driving licences or gymn membership.
Sometimes in visiting homes I see framed certificates indicating significant levels of achievement in the world of academia –degrees, courses undertaken etc  but curiously I have never seen a marriage certificate framed and on the wall in a family home? In food outlets there are framed certificates on food hygiene (always a year out of date of course ) in church now we have to put up our insurance certificate to make people feel healthy and safe and in doctors surgeries or lawyers office certificates reassure us that the person on the other side of the desk really does know what they are talking about and are the person they claim to be.
There’s one piece of paper that I have, and maybe you do too tucked away safely in a shoebox or drawer. Like most certificates it doesn’t see the light of day very often. I’m talking about your baptismal certificate. Here is mine!
This certificate proves who you are but it has nothing to do with how clever you are, what schools you went to, what organisations you belong to or anything like that.  This is one certificate you didn’t have to work for. It was given to you, not because you were particularly good, or because you have earned it in some way. Your baptismal certificate was simply given to you as an act of Love.
This certificate refers to something that God did for me. This doesn’t state what I did, it states who I am.
On the day of our baptism, through a very simple act involving a few drops of water along with God’s Name, a wonderful new relationship with God was begun. God did something for us. He made a commitment to each of us, to love us for eternity.
Nicodemus came to Jesus one night. He is curious and confused as the words of this “Man from God” seem to be at odds with his own understanding and religious practice. How ludicrous Nicodemus thinks when told he must be born again.
The new birth that Jesus is talking about is from above. Getting into the Kingdom of God is not something we are able to accomplish; it is something that comes "from above", given by God, freely and graciously.
Through our Baptism we are called into a relationship, called to be obedient to Christ, to follow Christ
Jesus’ call of grace always involves the response of obedience to follow him; 
it means commitment and dedication to his work through his church; 
it requires us as children of God to seek justice and mercy in the issues that arise in our community; 
it entails letting Christ’s love be our guiding force as we deal with those who challenge our patience; 
it means us being Christ to others.
My Baptism certificate is only a piece of paper. It has no magical powers. But it does remind me that God has given me the thumbs up. 
Our baptism tells us that we have God's tick of approval on us. Like me, you’ve probably got all kinds of documents and certificates that remind you of your achievements. Your baptism reminds you of what God has done for you and who you are – a child of God.

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Holy Week Service times

Lent is not an end in itself. It is a time of getting ready.

We are getting ready for Holy Week and especially for the Easter Triduum, the great three days, in which we celebrate Jesus' passing over from death to life. The wonderful, dramatic, celebrations of these days are incredibly moving, and well worth attending, no matter what stage you are at in your Christian life (or even if you're simply wondering if Christianity might be for you!) Please put them in your diary, and try to get along.

We now have times for our Holy Week services. They are the same at both churches.

Holy Week

On the Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of Holy Week sermons at Mass will focus on 'The Women of Holy Week'

Monday  14th April– St  Matthias 7.30pm Mary of Bethany
 Tuesday 15th April - St Matthias 10.00am Veronica
Wednesday 16th April – St John 11.00am  Our Lady

The Easter Triddum - The Passover of the Lord

HOLY THURSDAY, 17th April, 8pm
Mass of the Lord's Supper, with footwashing and procession to the altar of repose.
Followed by a vigil of prayer until midnight.

GOOD FRIDAY, 18th April

9.30am Churches Together in Hendon and Colindale procession of witness. Meet at Our Lady of Dolores, Egerton Gardens.

1pm Confessions.




Everyone is welcome to all these services!

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Ash Wednesday

Just because we are human, we are all called to be holy - that is to be people of love, deep in love with God and with other. As Christians we are committed to grow in holiness by our baptism.

Lent, which begins today, is a time to remember this call to holiness and to seek renewal by God's grace to continue on our journey to perfect love. At today's Mass we are marked with ashes, a sign of repentance, acknowledging that we have all turned away from the path of holiness. As the season progresses we quite deliberately turn back to that path. We will renew our commitment to it together when we come to celebrate the Easter Vigil, making once again the promises of our baptism.

Keeping Lent is an important part of our collective Christian life. There are three traditional ways of keeping Lent:

  • Fasting - We give something up as a spiritual discipline and as a sign that we depend ultimately on God alone. It's a good idea to give something up for the whole of Lent. In addition, Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are particular days of fasting.
  • Prayer - We make deliberate efforts to spend time with God in prayer. Lent is a good time to take a look at our prayer lives: do we set some time aside every day, even a few minutes, to be aware of God's presence?
  • Almsgiving - We work for God's Kingdom by giving and working for justice. Many people like to donate to a Lent charity. In our diocese, Bishop Richard has a Lent appeal. But Christian charity isn't just about giving money. We are called to make the world better. Look, for example, at the Church Action on Poverty website.
There are many other ways of observing Lent. It is a good time to make your confession - the sacramental celebration of God's forgiveness that should be part of the life of every Christian. In our parishes there will be an opportunity to work through the Pilgrim Course module on the Lord's Prayer - 11:30am on Wednesdays at St John's, 7:30pm on Thursdays at St Matthias. This will be a good opportunity to learn more about our faith alongside other people. Finally, we'll be praying the Stations of the Cross at 6pm each Sunday at St John's - why not make this a part of your weekly timetable this Lent?

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Sunday Next before Lent

Mt Sinai
Mountains have a special place in our religious landscape as they are mentioned over 500 times in the pages of the Bible.
Mountains have a logical religious symbolism for biblical cultures since their peaks are “closer to God” who was believed to dwell in the heavens. As a result, God often reveals himself on the mountaintop.
In the Hebrew Scriptures, the mountains of Sinai and Zion are most significant. Mount Sinai, of course, is associated with Moses and is the place where Moses received the gift of the Law, the Ten Commandments. Thus, Mount Sinai is a symbol of God’s Covenant with Israel. Zion, to the south, is the location of the Jerusalem Temple. In the New Testament (Mark and Luke to be precise), Jesus appoints the Twelve on a mountain. In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus delivers the Beatitudes in his Sermon on the Mount, conjuring an image of Moses who received the Commandments on Mount Sinai.

Perhaps the most significant mountain scene in the Gospels, however, is the Transfiguration of Jesus that we have just heard as our gospel this morning - Jesus is accompanied by Moses and Elijah, who themselves encountered God on the mountaintop in the Hebrew Scriptures. Now, they encounter God through Jesus and Jesus, in turn, is seen as the fulfillment of the Law (Moses) and the Prophets (Elijah).

Mountains have always had significance for myself. As a teenager, and a  family we lived in the shadow of 9 great copper bearing mountains in the Congo and a decade a go I came to appreciate the beauty of the mountains that make Jamaica so beautiful and produced some of the best coffee in the world. last year I returned to Africa to climb Mt Kilimanjaro to celebrate my 25 years of ordained life and thanks in part to your generosity was able to raise £5.5K for the Bishop of London’s Mission Fund.

So Mountains remind us of God , are places that touch and inspire the human imagination and in the ascent of them test our own character and will power.

We climb the mountain of Transfiguration each year before Lent begins
for the same reason Moses climbed Mount Pisgah, to get a glimpse of the Promised Land. We climb to see where we ourselves are headed and to get some perspective on our journey of faith.

When Jesus arrived at the mountain top his figure changed the outward appearance of the son of Mary, which had been ordinary and like us,
shone as if he was not like one of us.
Jesus shone with the glory like that which caused the face of Moses to shine that day on the mountain of Sinai, when the holy law from heaven was given.   Jesus shone with the glory that carried Elijah up to heaven's height, gone from this world but alive in the next. 
He shone with the glory of his own baptismal day, when his Father's voice from above was heard to say: "This is my Son, the beloved, in whom I am well pleased" and indeed those words first uttered at the river are repeated on the Mountain of Transfiguration.

And what is our response to this extraordinary revelation?
What does this mountain top experience teach or inspire within us in our journey of faith today?

Jesus was facing the long journey to another mountain, where he would be lifted higher – the mount of Golgatha outside the walls of Jerusalem
It would of course not be a journey he would undertake alone but with the Disciples close at hand, but unlike on this mountain at the point when Jesus was lifted high on the cross they had already fled in fear and shame.

Scripture tells in many places that to be like Jesus is our destiny; that the intention of God in his calling of us is to make us like him. We are destined for glory, a glory like his, a glory that will make us shine as he shone.

But first, as with Jesus, there is cross to bear.

And therefore each year we climb the mountain of Transfiguration with him. We climb because there is a rough road ahead of us, we climb to draw inspiration for the 40 days ahead in our personal and collective discipleship and discipline as his followers.
We climb to share the vision that Peter and James and John beheld,
and to be strengthened by it for our return to the lowlands
for our return into the nitty gritty of living and for the days before we receive the fullness of the glory that Jesus gives to us through his death and his resurrection that we celebrate at Easter.

Jesus looked ahead to the choices of the Passion and God gave him the
vision and the strength he needed:

We too stand at the threshold of the great season of Lent – that begins on Wednesday – Ash Wednesday.
Before us are decisions – something to give up perhaps, something to take on definitely – daily prayer….. Lent groups…..stations of the cross on Sunday evenings.

As we look forward, be it in our daily challenges or our preparation for Lent,  we see Jesus ahead beckoning us to follow him into the passion and death that is Holy week and Easter. and we draw the strength needed to follow and resolve in order not to fall away or give up over the next five weeks

God wills to give us the vision and the strength we need the vision and the strength to face the fears and choices of our lives. The vision and the strength we need to respond to the call of God to live beyond ourselves, to live lives of sacrifice and courage  till the glory we see in Christ settles on us not just for a day, but forever.

Sunday, 16 February 2014

3rd Sunday before Lent

Writing to the church in Corinth, St Paul reminds his readers then and now that the Christian faith is something different. Christianity doesn't fit neatly into the existing order of things, it does not sit comfortably with received ideas, it certainly isn't " a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age". In fact, if the rulers of this age had the slightest grasp on the wisdom that comes from God, "they would not have crucified the Lord of glory".

St Paul is quite clear here, and elsewhere, that Christian belief is on a collision course with Empire. In signing up to life in Christ, his readers place themselves outside of the mainstream, commit themselves to a way of seeing the world that is likely to make them stick out like a sore thumb, to place them in awkward positions, and to force them to challenge many features of the world around them. And this calling would be a familiar one to any of his readers - probably many of them - with a good grounding in the scriptures. It is the calling to be prophetic.

As in Paul's day, so in our own. Christians are called to not fit in! We see the world in the light of the future Kingdom, through which God in Christ establishes justice, love, and peace. Because of this we should feel restless, we should end up disagreeing with much that we hear from our politicians and newspapers, and we should often find ourselves out-of-sync with fashionable ideas. We should be difficult, marginal, and, yes, prophetic.

There are, however, dangers here. It is all too easy to take the call to not fit it as an excuse to feel affirmed in whatever unpopular idea we happen to hold. I have no doubt that the bishops who drafted the House of Bishop's response to same-sex marriage, published yesterday, felt that they were prophetically standing up for the gospel, refusing to conform to 'the wisdom of the age'. Yet I myself see nothing of the good news in their attitude towards a good number of their own people and clergy. In fact, far from setting themselves against, 'the wisdom of the world', it seems to me that elements of the Church are in danger of aligning themselves with some of the most disturbing and bigoted elements of that world. The room for self-deception once we set ourselves up as prophets is real, and is something we need to recognise.

Yet we cannot escape from the call to be prophets. For all that it brings with it temptations, the call to be a prophet is one given to each of us at our baptism and one that we cannot escape. Not only that, our world needs prophets. So let us pray that we exercise this calling wisely and with discernment.

Sunday, 9 February 2014

Lighting up the world

Today's gospel reminds us that our calling, our vocation, as Christians is for the sake of other people. Being a baptised person is not all about me being alright with God, to the exclusion of other people. Instead the Church - that is, all of us - are there to be a sign of God's Kingdom to the world, a sign that makes that Kingdom a reality. In words that echo today's gospel, each newly baptised person is called to "shine as a light in the world, to the glory of God the Father".

We are called to be like the salt, a small pinch of which can make an entire meal tasty. We are called to be like a light - the smallest candle can shed light on an entire room. Our churches might be small in comparison to the population of our city, but even so God wants to work through us, using us as salt for his earth and light for his world. The groups of people who meet Sunday by Sunday in West Hendon and Colindale for Mass are people God wants to be something like a sacrament of his love and his salvation for the people of this area, loved by God and made in his image. That is an awesome, and a wonderful, calling.

We can let our light shine by confidentally celebrating the Church's worship, by sharing our faith with others in day-to-day life, and bringing other people to Church. We can let that light shine by serving others around us, by breaking down barriers of fear and hate, and by struggling for justice in a city where divisions between rich and poor grow daily. In these, and in many other ways, we can be faithful to Jesus' call in the gospel.

Sunday, 2 February 2014

Happy Candlemas!

Today we celebrate the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple. We look back to Christmas - Jesus is still a baby when he's presented - and forward to the Cross - Simeon tells our Lady that a sword will pierce her heart. You can read about Jesus' presentation in Luke's gospel.

Today is often called Candlemas. At both churches we began our Masses by blessing candles and carrying them in procession, remembering the words of Simeon - Jesus is "a light to lighten the Gentiles".

A Hymn for Candlemas

Hail to the Lord who comes,
comes to his temple gate!
Not with his angel host,
not in his kingly state;
no shouts proclaim him nigh,
no crowds his coming wait;

but, borne upon the throne
of Mary's gentle breast,
watched by her duteous love,
in her fond arms at rest;
thus to his Father's house
he comes, the heav'nly Guest.

There Joseph at her side
in reverent wonder stands,
and, filled with holy joy,
old Simeon in his hands
takes up the promised Child,
the glory of all lands.

Hail to the great First-born
whose ransom-price they pay!
The Son before all worlds,
the Child of man today,
that he might ransom us
who still in bondage lay.

O Light of all the earth,
thy children wait for thee!
come to thy temples here,
that we, from sin set free,
before thy Father's face
may all presented be!