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Sunday 13th June 2021

The Parable of the Growing Seed Mark 4 v26 – 34

So here we are in Mark chapter 4, towards the end with Jesus speaking in parables to those who are following him. This is only one of the ways that he used to teach, at the end of the chapter directly after this section Jesus calms the storm perhaps displaying God’s desire to bring peace.

But here we are with a finely crafted short work of fiction. These are stories, not the same as a direct message so they don’t easily fall into categories that you can either agree or disagree with, something you either like or dislike. If we don’t like the message, we will usually react and argue without actually hearing and thinking about what is being said.

So, Jesus using parables, draws us in, takes us deeper engaging our imaginations asking us to interpret instead of argue. We are invited to give it a second thought, then to ask questions and stay curious. You may then find something more than agreement or disagreement – namely meaning.

Like those who came to listen to Jesus I suspect like them, most of us here have heard stories or sermons on “the kingdom of God is like or the kingdom of heaven is like” and we know that he did not mean a place where righteous people go when they die or that it meant the perfect new world that God will create after destroying this hopeless mess.

Our story is that the kingdom is at hand and within reach now, we know that it is upside down not based on top-down power, not about maintaining order and control by way of reward or punishment.  By being crucified Jesus demonstrated that God’s kingdom wins through gracious self-giving, that it is though weakness rather than conquest and it is more about reconciliation rather than humiliation. It triumphs through a willingness to suffer rather than a readiness to inflict suffering.

So, it is different from the world’s powers – upside down and that is what we follow and believe in. This is what we desire, a spark of something pure, something good, something holy an aliveness which shows us a glimpse of God’s kingdom.

So, what is it in these few short verses these very short parables that is asking us to use our imaginations, what is it we are trying to interpret in particular?

We can probably all see the surface meaning of the story: in this case the secret growth of the seed or the small seed produces a big bush. But can we interpret the layers underneath? Is it the same for those first hearers as it is for us?

The first parable; so simple and seems quite innocuous. The seed grows secretly, doing its own thing unobserved in the earth and eventually there appear the stalk, the ear of corn, and the swelling corn inside the ear. Then of course the harvest. Seems straightforward enough.

The hearers at the time would have understood the dangerous undertone at the end, when talking about the harvest. They would have known their scriptures and recognised a quotation from Joel (3 v 13) about the sickle going in at harvest which is all about the coming of the day of the Lord and judgement on the nations round about; the restoration of the fortunes of Israel. Jesus is telling them that God’s promised moment is coming. But it is not going to be what they expect.

Perhaps another layer underneath is the apparently innocent description of how the seed starts to germinate and grow. The seed going into the soil sleeping in the soil and then getting up. A reflection of the rhythm of God’s present creation, the cycles of night and day, the seasons a time for planting and a time for harvest. But what has that got to do with the kingdom of God? Is it that Jesus would go into the earth and then arise – is it similar to the words used for resurrection not so much about individuals but they would again have understood this as being to do with the restoration of Israel. Again, not the sort of kingdom of God movement people were expecting.

Both the parables are also stories warning against looking down on the small beginnings in Jesus’ ministry in Galilee and of the great work that God was to do. When two or three gather to meet and pray often it is the start of a new initiative that God has in mind. The second parable perhaps adds that Jesus is saying don’t worry but remember who your God is and what he has promised – that the kingdom will eventually offer shade to the whole world.

When I was preparing there were a couple of things in the parables that made me curious and want to dig deeper. The first being how little dependence there was on the man in the story; just the scattering of the seed (which he has been given) and the putting in of the sickle when it had ripened. Second, whatever the man does it grows and he doesn’t know how.

Is this where the link with our other reading comes in? (2 Corinthians 5 v7) “We live by faith, not by sight”. How hard it is trusting things that you cannot see and fully understand as you live day by day.

In our current society have we lost this connection, this dependence, this trust in God and his creation. Do we still marvel at what God has created? Or are we so insulated now because we think everything can be made? Is that where our security is? Is that what drives our activity? Is it that we think everything can be made – then everything needs to be taken in hand and we then get on the merry go round and if we don’t keep going everything will stop without us and – because of this we are so tremendously important? So, we can never let anything out of our hands to be entrusted to others. So, we hold on and endlessly wear ourselves out. We worry and stress about what will happen next.

We have forgotten how to rely on God “look at the birds of the air/see how the lilies of the field grow” (Matthew 6 v26ff)

I have colleagues at work who strive to be in control of everything and suffer greatly with stress because they are not, or can ever be. Others are so worried that if they make a mistake, they will be thought less of and they may lose their job. No matter what is said or what support is given it is so difficult if not impossible to shake them from this mind set. Some of these people have worked for the company for nearly 30 years and are highly thought of. I too fall into this way of thinking an acting.

The job becomes the source of security and take that away nothing remains.

Now let’s not be mistaken we have a role to play and will be accountable for what we do and how we are but God is the initiator, the prime mover. We have to pay attention and join in exercising our gifts; scattering the seed we have been given but we need to keep a sense of right perspective.

Anthony De Mello in his booklet the way to love makes the following suggestions about dealing with insecurity which is what my colleagues and I are experiencing

“If you wish to deal with your feelings of insecurity there are four facts you must study well and understand.

First it is futile to ease your insecurity feelings by trying to change things outside of you. Your efforts may be successful though mostly they are not. They may bring some relief, but the relief will be short lived. So, it is not worth the energy and time you spend.

Second, this fact will lead you to tackle the problem where it really is, inside your head. Think of people who in exactly the same condition that you find yourself in now would not feel the slightest insecurity. There are such people. Therefore, the problem lies not with reality outside of you but with you, in your programming.

Third, you must understand that this programming of yours was picked up from insecure people who, when you were very young and impressionable taught you by their behaviour and their panic reactions that every time the outside world did not conform to a certain pattern, you must create an emotional turmoil within yourself called insecurity.

Fourth, whenever you are insecure about what may happen in the future, just remember this; in the past six months or a year you were so insecure about events which when they finally came you were able to handle somehow. This was thanks to the energy and the resources that that particular moment gave you, and not to all the previous worrying which only made you suffer needlessly and weakened you emotionally. So, say to yourself: if there is anything I can do about the future right now I shall do it. Then I’m going to just leave it alone, settle down to enjoy the present moment, because all the experience of my life has shown me that I can cope with things when they are present, not before they occur.”

 

So be like the birds of the air; the lilies of the field live for the present. Each day has it troubles but set your mind on God’s kingdom before everything else and the rest will come to you.

We can help God bring about his kingdom by paying attention and watching it grow and acting at the right time. We have our part to play by how we act and what we do. The Kingdom was Jesus’ passion but he went about spreading a culture of hope and compassion among ordinary people breaking down prejudice and social barriers so we should be no different.

So, don’t do things to please others but be true to your deepest and best instincts. Act compassionately to others, cultivate an openness of heart, understand where people are and share what they are feeling. Seek to promote justice and peace, we are God’s eyes and ears arms and legs. Overcome evil with good with acts of love, peace, forgiveness and humility.

This so far has been individually focussed but there is a community element which links in with Claires vision and with what sort of church we want to be in place. How will we be known what descriptors best represent how we as a community are seeking to help bring in God’s kingdom in this area.

But the kingdom of God is much bigger than we can comprehend, bigger than we can see, something beyond us and our understanding so I want to finish with some words from Margaret Silf taken from her book Roots and Wings. Perhaps something more to pique our curiosity and make you wonder.

 

  • In the beginning was a seed, the size of a grain of salt. The seed was packed with potential.

 

  • The seed held the power to bring forth, to create, it held the power of life itself.

 

  • And the seed released its power in a big bang, giving birth to time and space.

 

  • And the power flowed forth, and flows still, fifteen billion years later. And the power was, is and always will be about life.

 

  • The seed contained everything that would bring forth. Life in all its fullness.

 

  • And the secret of the seed revealed themselves, through the silent reaches of the unfolding aeons,

 

  • Seeding the stars and the galaxies, shaping and sifting, gathering and dispersing

 

  • Energising space with the forces that both hold us together and urge us to grow, each in the direction of our true nature.

 

 

Richard Harwood 13.6.21

 

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Sunday 6th June 2021

The Inside Out Family: Mark 3.20-35

Please forgive me, but I have decided not to preach today on one of the thorny issues in our gospel reading, such as who or what is Beelzebub – or what might or might not be the ‘unforgivable sin against the Holy Spirit’! Instead, I will focus on a theme that is probably much more on our thoughts and can be as equally challenging: our families.

I wonder what words or phrases come to mind when you think of the word ‘family’?
It might be words like supportive, loving, caring – or words like demanding, distant, or abusive. We each have such unique experiences of family life that it can be difficult to imagine ourselves in a very different family situation, particularly one of many hundreds of years ago. But today I would like us to both look back at the family in Jesus’ time and look forward to our church family and community in the future.

I have had the privilege over the last few years of working with several hundred people from our global family of United Bible Societies on how we communicate effectively across cultures. As in any family, we find that misunderstandings can quickly break apart healthy relationships. We use a tool called ‘the colours of worldview’ to explore how we each have different perspectives on life that colour everything from decision making to how we view relationships and family. One of these worldviews has been in existence for hundreds of years and was particularly strong amongst families in Jesus’ time: the worldview of honour and shame.

Let’s look at the first few verses of the Bible reading to see how this comes into play.
‘Then Jesus went home. Again, such a large crowd gathered that Jesus and his disciples had no time to eat. When his family heard about it, they set out to take charge of him, because people were saying, “He’s gone mad!”’
What has driven Jesus’ family to travel thirty miles from Nazareth to Capernaum to stop Jesus? And the phrase ‘taking charge of him’ is vastly underplaying it. It’s the same word used here as when Jesus and John the Baptist were arrested. So why travel so far to restrain and arrest Jesus?

To understand this better, we need to imagine ourselves into the worldview or mindset of these first century people. In those days, family was everything. A person’s identity was valued by their standing within their family, and whether they had brought honour or shame to it. And it wasn’t the nuclear family we think of today, but an extended one with cousins and uncles and aunts. Often nowadays people define us by what job we do, our salary or even what football team we support. In Jesus’ time the answer to the question ‘Who are you?’ would be ‘I’m the third son of …in the lineage of …’ Some of you may have experienced this worldview in your own family or in other cultures.
There was also a clear distinction between who was inside and who was outside the family. This is one reason why there is such a strong urging in the Bible of the need to support orphans and widows, as they had no family support to rely on.

In this Bible passage, Jesus’ family is worried that he will bring dishonour to them by being called mad, or even worse, possessed by spirits. By association, his loss of honour will do lasting damage not only to him but to his whole family.  And if Joseph is no longer alive, which seems likely from his absence in Jesus’ later years, then Jesus would be the head of this family unit. His actions will bring honour or dishonour on the whole family.

At the end of the passage we hear that Jesus’ closer family of his mother and brothers have arrived too. They don’t go in and confront him, because they don’t want to shame the family in front of others, but they want to call him outside to take him away.

Jesus’ response is remarkable:  A crowd was sitting around Jesus, and they said to him, “Look, your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, and they want you.”
Jesus answered, “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?”  He looked at the people sitting around him and said, “Look! Here are my mother and my brothers!  Whoever does what God wants is my brother, my sister, my mother.”

From Jesus’ subsequent actions, particularly his care for his mother even as he lay dying on the cross, it’s evident he wasn’t disassociating himself from his blood family. But Jesus’ words are radical in the way that they are breaking apart the old way of being family and reshaping it anew. It’s no longer what family you are born into that matters. Your status isn’t built on your blood relatives, but on doing what God wants, the will of God. Being part of God’s family is not limited any longer. It is open to all, to everyone to be part of it.

Recently, Claire asked us what words best describe the kind of church family we are and the kind of church family we wish to be. Some of the people in our church Facebook group responded by using words and phrases like: ‘your loving church family’, ‘embracing, connecting, accepting’, ‘love, warmth, caring for each other and for the environment’
These are all great descriptions of how we view our church family and what we want it to be. But I want to look at this from a different angle and ask instead, how can we enable these all to develop within our church and how can we welcome people into our family?

I’d like to return if I may to the intercultural programme I mentioned earlier and share one of the tools we use. It’s a simple way to help us reflect on how we communicate with people who might have a different worldview and background to our own. It’s called the ‘triple A’.

Where it all needs to start is with the word: Awareness. In our programme we talk about how we are all intercultural learners. It all begins by being aware of the different worldviews people have and valuing this diversity. It’s also an awareness that people might be looking for something very different from our church family. In our Bible reading, we heard about those who had a narrow worldview and mindset. They found Jesus’ message disturbing and uncomfortable. It challenged their worldview of what family meant. How can we develop this awareness, to learn and value the difference of others as we encounter them in our community and in our church family?
The second word is Acceptance – an acceptance of the other person as they are and not expect them to have the same worldview as ourselves. It doesn’t mean that we have to agree with them. It’s about understanding and accepting this difference. Churches over the centuries have tried so hard to be welcoming of others, but at the same time so often shoot themselves in the foot in the process. They often use rules that exclude many people, in an attempt to define who is inside and who is outside our church family. You may be able to think of a number you’ve encountered yourselves in churches. Here are a few quick examples of recent church bylaws, which illustrate this, (but thankfully I don’t think are in our own rules and regulations!):

‘An active church member is defined as one who gives at least one penny a year.’

‘Men serving communion are required to wear a coat and tie.’

‘No church member can drink alcohol except during the Lord’s Supper.’

But it’s often the unwritten rules or habits we create that can prevent people feeling accepted and part of God’s family. What might these be in our own church, or in our own attitudes to what we expect of people, if they are to be part of our family?

In our Bible reading, Jesus says that whoever does God’s will is his brother and sister and mother. And what this ‘doing the will of God’ is, remains a little mysterious. Jesus perhaps deliberately does not go into great details here. If we are to take its broadest meaning, of doing what pleases God, then it’s something we frequently encounter in the people around us, in their care for each other and our environment. We can celebrate and learn so much from how God is already at work in our community in ways that might surprise us.
The third word is a more unusual one and perhaps may be the most challenging. It’s the word Adaptability. When we encounter people who are different to us, they can often challenge our assumptions, our beliefs, our opinions and so much more. It can be uncomfortable to reflect on how we might need to adapt and change too.
Claire recently wrote a reflection for Pentecost for us in our church newsletter, referring to a book called ‘Being interrupted: reimagining the church’s mission from the outside, in.
It’s a challenging read to say the least! It looks at how it’s often through interruptions to our usual routines that we encounter God at work in our church and community.

Jesus’ own life was one of constantly being interrupted by people demanding to be fed, to be healed, or in today’s reading to be challenged about what it means to be part of God’s family. And the amazing thing is that it’s often through these interruptions that we discover so much about God at work. In today’s case the interruptions lead Jesus to challenge the idea of who is inside or outside God’s family.

It made me stop and think about how willing I would be to see this happen in our church, and I found that a very challenging thought. How much should we allow our own church routines and life to be interrupted by others? How adaptable are we to allowing the gifts and hospitality of those outside the church family to shape us in the future?

As we pray and consider our next steps as a church, what we stand for, what our mission and our life might be, I pray that we might continue to develop this sense of awareness, acceptance and adaptability so our church family would be a place of open welcome. In the words of the first hymn that we sang or heard today:

You are welcome here, come as you are.
You are welcome here, with open arms.
Bring your burdens, bring your pain,
Bring your sorrow and shame,
You are welcome here, come as you are.

 

 

Hamish Bruce                                                                                                             06/06/21

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Sermon Palm Sunday 2021

Mark 11.1-11

I couldn’t help but notice parallels between the events of Palm Sunday and our return to our church building this morning.  Just like those Jews entering Jerusalem on that first Palm Sunday, eager to celebrate their most important festival, the Passover, here we are at the start of Holy Week anticipating the celebration of our most important festival.  The crowd would have been looking forward to worshipping in the temple in Jerusalem, just as we have been looking forward to being in our church again.  Perhaps, too, we may note resonances between recent events in this country around crowds meeting for public demonstrations in London and Bristol, with the arrival of a noisy and possibly disruptive crowd in the capital city of Israel. Would the authorities have viewed this crowd as causing an ‘annoyance’ to use the language of the new Police and Crime Bill?  The ‘authorities’ in Jesus’ day would have been the Sadducees who were in charge of the temple and religious business generally in the city, and the Roman governor and his soldiers.  Then there were the Pharisees, the legal experts.

All these groups, and the crowd following Jesus, and his disciples would have been viewing the events of Palm Sunday from their own particular standpoint.  I want to suggest, however, that they all had one thing in common, and that was how they understood power and authority.  I went into Boots recently to buy a face mask, and couldn’t see any.  So I asked one of the staff to show me.  Leading me right to the back of the store she pointed to a stand labelled ‘Face Masks’.  I was puzzled by the variety – some were strawberry flavoured, others melon or rose and yet another ‘Easy peel’.  Then I realized I was looking at a different kind of face mask – a beauty product! -We’d used the same words but with different meanings.

There’s something of that going on in Mark’s account of Palm Sunday and the events of Holy Week. Jesus had spoken a great deal about the kingdom of God – ‘the kingdom of God is near’ are the first words of his ministry according to Mark and the kingdom of God runs like a thread through his teaching.  Jesus tries to explain through parables and other ways that this kingdom is different from how they might usually understand the term; kingdom of God is a kind of shorthand for naming God’s way of doing things, a way that’s different from ours.  However, rather as with face masks, the word kingdom triggered a different response in the disciples and the crowd. Just before entering Jerusalem James and John had asked Jesus if they could have the top jobs in his kingdom when it finally arrived.  They were obviously anticipating some kind of political coup.  All the disciples had failed to understand when Jesus had warned them that he would suffer and die in Jerusalem. Even arriving on a donkey and so indicating that his entry was not that of a conquering hero didn’t shift this misconception.

The Sadducees and Pharisees who appear later in the week in Mark’s narrative may also have been anticipating some show of power as Jesus appears with a whole crowd of followers.  The Sadducees would have been alarmed at his presence in the temple; the heart of Jewish religious practice, this was their domain.  A symbol of God’s presence and power.  The only place where Passover could be properly celebrated.   A fanatical mob (as they might have seen it) appearing there might result in a clampdown by the Roman authorities as well as a challenge to their own position as guardians of Israel’s most sacred place.

The Pharisees were probably nervous about Jesus’ authoritative interpretation of the whole body of Jewish teaching contained in the Torah.  With his popular following he could easily undermine the control they had over what constituted orthodox belief and practice.

So, the disciples, the crowd, the Sadducees, the Pharisees – they all had a similar understanding of power, of authority and of how it was most likely to be exercised.  They had failed to grasp Jesus’ own understanding.  Nevertheless, ironically, they were right in anticipating, in the case of the crowd and the disciples, some kind of imminent victory and in the case of the Sadducees and Pharisees an overturning of traditions they were jealously guarding.

Mark conveys this irony in his tightly woven account of the Passion and events leading up to it.

He couldn’t make any clearer Jesus’ own understanding of kingdom, authority and power than in the choice of encounters he includes in the section before his account of Palm Sunday (Mark 10.13-end) – Jesus blessing children and saying ‘The Kingdom of God belongs to such as these, the words to the rich and very godly young ruler, ‘One thing you lack, go sell everything you have and come, follow me, the prediction to the twelve of his betrayal, arrest, being handed over, his death and resurrection, his quiet reproof to James and John and the others that he is a leader who has come to serve and give his life rather than lord it over others, and then finally the encounter with Bartimaeus, a beggar who knows he is blind and seeks healing; the implication being that it would be good if the  disciples could do the same and see well enough, like Bartimaeus, to follow Jesus in the Way – a way that exercises power and authority through sacrifice and service, rather than by lording it over others.  A way that is ultimately vindicated by the events of Easter morning.

When Jesus gets into the city of Jerusalem he goes straight to the temple, straight for the jugular, we might say; and of course the next day he drives out those buying and selling there.  It’s perhaps worth noting that Jesus’ harshest words are directed towards those exercising religious power, rather than political power like the Romans.

Let’s imagine for a moment Jesus entering our temple, our church here, and looking round.  What would he see? A group of people who, as Hamish pointed out last week, have entered more fully into the truth that church is much more than a holy building.  We’ve continued to be a body of believers in spite of physical separation from our sacred space and from one another.  Unlike the Sadducees, we’ve subverted any idea that the temple, the sacred building, is the only holy place where true worship can be offered.  We’ve done it through Zoom, papers through letter boxes, doorstep conversations, Facebook, phone calls, WhatsApp….  Jesus had referred to the temple being destroyed and later being raised up – meaning his own body rather than the building.  So as he looks round at us this morning I wonder what he anticipates might be raised up in us, the church as his Body in this place, as we continue through this pandemic?

I hope he might anticipate fruitfulness because we’ve had to die to whole lot of ways of doing things.  Our gospel last week was about a seed needing to fall into the ground and die before it can bear fruit.  Unless it dies, Jesus says, it remains alone, and Jesus’ own death and resurrection bears witness to that truth. As he had been explaining earlier, he was offering his life as a ransom for many.  So, for us too, whatever new life is emerging for our church is a gift not only to those within our current membership but to the many well outside it.  How might we look out for more ways of sharing that gift with others?

When Jesus cleanses the temple he says that the temple is to be a house of prayer for all nations; it’s as though Jesus breaks open those jealously guarded traditions or boundaries or habits we religious people maintain that can make joining in hard for those not in the loop.  We may be invited to sit more lightly to some of these things in order to make space for others. Sacrifices may be required.  Being a house of prayer for all nations doesn’t come easily.

Our palm crosses remind us of sacrifice.  We know, though, that sacrifice is not the last word.  After the cross comes resurrection. Jesus’ way of exercising power, his death on the cross, releases a huge source of energy leading to life in all its fulness, a life intended for the many, not just for the special few.  I invite you, as we enter Holy Week to enter more deeply into the wisdom of the cross.  Stick close to Jesus each day.  Perhaps hold your palm cross to remind you to do this.  It may help to read straight through Mark chapters 11 to 15 and then work through a short section of the same narrative each day this week, saving chapter 16 for Easter Day.  Reading aloud can help and for some people picturing whatever is happening can also deepen our understanding.

Let us pray

Lord Jesus, may we follow your way, the way of the cross, and bear fruit that will be a source of life for many.  Amen

 

Christine Bainbridge                                         28 March 2021

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February 28th 2021, 2nd Sunday in Lent

Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16. Mark 8:31-end

A new name for everyone

 

It’s the second Sunday in Lent. Not exactly Christmas day, is it? The ‘fun’ of Ash Wednesday is behind us, Palm Sunday is weeks away when the pace picks up again, and Easter – it’s like, years away. My Lenten resolve is just about holding up but the temptation to replace the water in this wine glass with something that comes out of a bottle with a cork in it is quite strong now.

 

I’m inspired to use our OT reading from Genesis 17 today. It’s about an elderly couple – very elderly, in their nineties! – Abram and his wife Sarai. Old people usually move quite slowly, which seems to fit the pace of Lent.  It’s all about covenant­ – that is, the promise God made to Abram and Sarai, that he would bless them, cause them to have a child despite their great age, and through them, to bless all nations of the world (Genesis 12:3). It’s a promise they had been waiting to be fulfilled for 20 odd years. We too are even included, embraced by that promise of blessing through one of his offspring, born a couple of thousand years down the road from Abram and Sarai, by the name of Jesus. And did you notice, because I didn’t at first, that everyone in this story gets a new name? Abram – exalted father – becomes Abraham – the father of many; Sarai – Princess – becomes Sarah – My Princess; and God, the Lord, is named for the first time in the Bible in verse 1 as El Shaddai – which is often translated as ‘God most high’ but might also mean ‘God of the mountains’. That’s why we sang that beautiful song, El Shaddai, after the passage was read. So, God gains a new name along with his covenant partners. It feels a bit like this… “I, El Shaddai, take you, Abraham and Sarah….”

 

Let’s stick with names for a moment. Often, names in the Bible really mean something like they did here. Abram’s new name, Abraham, father of many, contained the promise that a whole nation was going to come from him. We tend not to think so much about that nowadays, but I wonder if there is anything to discover here? Think about it: our parents gave us the names they did for a reason – however trivial it may seem! And they gave us our names in love. Did they subtly intuit what name would fit us? When we who are parents name our children, do we do that? What moved us? God’s grace is always at work. I was thinking about my own name, the other day. Richard. Never been terribly struck by the name, to be honest, and it’s not in the Bible! It means ‘strong ruler’ and of course people think of Richard the Lionheart. Not much there, I think, for me. Then I remembered while I was just daydreaming a song that my parents sometimes sang around the house, really as a bit of a joke: ‘Open the door, Richard! Open the door, Richard, and let me in!’ It’s practically a quote from that verse in Revelation 3:20, with my name in it, where Jesus says, ‘Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice, and opens the door, I will come in’. Was that an invitation, waiting for me, hidden inside a popular song of the time? Then I remembered the famous prayer of St Richard of Chichester, immortalized in the musical Godspell: “Day by day, Dear Lord, of thee three things I pray: To see thee more clearly, Love thee more dearly, Follow thee more nearly, Day by Day.An invitation and a prayer hidden in my name: whether this is just random or a subtle God-given gift I don’t know; but it touched me and spoke to me, so what’s not to like? Perhaps you might like to reflect on your name, however much you love it or hate it. What does it say? Is it in the Bible and if so, does the person who shares your name relate to you at all? If it’s not in the Bible, like my name, then do some daydreaming and association. Maybe there’s something there. If you really hate your name, think about that: why? Does it reflect something that you don’t like about you, or you wish you were more like that? Let whatever it is speak to you. It’s just a thought. There might not be much there, but then, there might be!

 

But Abram got a new name. Not quite the name he started with. Sometimes people don’t like their names and take a new one; or choose their middle name, if they have one. If you did that, why did you choose your new name? What did it say about you? There are people who are given or receive new names when they adopt a new role. Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio took the name of Francis when he became Pope. Why? Because he wanted to signal his commitment to the poor of the world. I suspect he prayed much over this and felt that this choice was actually God’s leading. His name embodied his mission. It’s not always the case, of course. But consider this, what would you choose to change your name to, if you wanted to? Thinking about that might be a way of getting in touch with your deepest desires about yourself: who would you like to be; or more profoundly, who God wants you to be.

 

When we meet someone, and develop a relationship with them, learning their name might be the first thing we learn, but from there our relationship builds. So it was with Abraham. He had a relationship with God. In fact, God started it and called him by name. This idea of relationship with God: the ability to speak with him, hear him, walk with him, be loved by him and love him in return is central to biblical faith. Of course, it reaches its clearest expression in the gospels where real live ordinary women, men and children met with, talked with, ate with, touched, embraced, loved the human Jesus. A relationship with Jesus – as simple and straightforward as that. We are all invited into that relationship. This period of Lent can be a time to examine that relationship – how’s it doing? Holding up? In need of a reboot? There are tons of resources available to help, and some of those resources are some of us! You might like to speak to Claire if you would like to explore the possibility of meeting with someone to talk about your relationship with God. If you’re looking for something to literally plug in, the Pray as you go app is an absolute winner. You’ll find it in Google Play or the Apple App store for your phone, or on your computer. 12 minutes a day.

 

Interestingly, there’s a couple of bits in Genesis 17 that the compilers of the lectionary left out. Verses 9-14 give a graphic account of the practice of male circumcision, which was Abraham’s part of the bargain. When I was 12, in my first year at secondary school, during an RE class, a boy named Fox asked our very scary headmaster, Mr Eagling, or ‘Crip’ as he was known, “Please sir, what is circumcision?” Mr Eagling drew himself up to his full height and boomed in a voice that brooked no dissent, “It is a cut around the middle!” Which, if anything, implied something much scarier than the reality (or maybe not!). Anyway, the point I’d like to draw out here is that it was a mark on his body. The covenant was literally inscribed on Abraham’s body. There was no imposition of this on Sarah, but she is included in the covenant, signalled by the change of name.  Allow me to spool out the thought of inscription of God’s promise on the body to all of us irrespective of gender. The ‘Christian equivalent’ of circumcision is baptism – it is the sign of entry into the Kingdom, and in the case of children, a name is given – back to the original theme! And baptism is something done to the body.

 

There are many ways that our physical selves can kind of take part in and literally embody this relationship (PS – another word, a synonym for embody is incarnate – think about that!). Raising your hands in worship and dancing are often part of charismatic prayer and worship – they are great examples of bringing the body to God.  So is kneeling to pray: my own experience here is that it actually makes it easier to pray – I like to use a prayer stool. Putting your body in that position, which is one of humility, can help bring the heart and mind into the same place. The practice of crossing yourself can be quite powerful – it’s a prayer acted out by the body as we place the sign of the cross over our hearts. Perhaps sometimes it’s the only prayer we can manage. Pilgrimage is another way that our bodies can engage with God: the act of walking or moving from one place to another with holy intent. Putting ourselves into a physical journey as a way of engaging with the interior, spiritual journey. Abraham and Sarah had plenty of that, journeying around the Middle East from Ur of the Chaldees to the land of Canaan.

 

The other bit that the lectionary missed out was this: ‘I will give you a son by Sarah…then Abraham fell on his face and laughed, and said to himself, can a child be born to a man who is 100 years old?? (verses 15-22). Any of us might well laugh! This is about doubt. If the circumcision reading was left out to spare our blushes, was Abraham falling over with laughter left out because we’re not meant to doubt? All of us have doubts about our faith. It’s not wrong. Abraham had them! The lovely thing here is that God still blessed him. God is bigger, much bigger than our doubts.

 

Well, all of that seems quite a long way from an elderly couple who lived four or five thousand years ago but hey, join the dots, we’re connected with them. We thought about names – what our own names might mean or say to us; and then we considered what name we would choose for ourselves today, and how that might reflect our aspirations. Then we moved from names to relationship, specifically with God, and wondered about taking a rain check on how that’s going at the moment. Finally, moving swiftly on from male circumcision we thought about ways that we could honour God with our bodies, to quote St Paul (1 Corinthians 6:20). And finally we saw how Abraham really doubted what God said would happen. And still got blessed! Here’s a wild thought – we might like to chat about some of this in our breakout groups? Crazy, I know.

 

Richard Croft

 

 

indiana jones

First Sunday in Lent. 21.02.21 by Rev. Claire Jesus’s Temptations

from Mark 1:9-15

How can temptation be Good News?

SERMON starts with a video Clip: ‘Only the penitent man’, from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MxPdqbmYi8U

You may have recognised the clip, from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Indiana, aka Harrison Ford, has to pass three tests that others have failed, at the cost of their lives. If he doesn’t pass these tests and get to the Holy Grail his mortally wounded father will die. The way ahead is littered with the corpses of those who have presumed to know how to find the Holy Grail. The first clue from the battered notebook is ‘only the penitent man will pass’. At the last moment, he suddenly falls to his knees and avoids the deadly slicing wheels that would’ve cut ofF his head. The penitent man is humble before God; getting to his knees has, literally, saved him.

Lent is a penitential season and today is the first Sunday in Lent. I don’t know about you but it’s beginning to feel as though we’ve been a whole year in some sort of wilderness, given that we were just into Lent when we went into lockdown last year.

At times like these I’m grateful for the shape of the liturgical year. When days and weeks merge into each other and working from home and being at home don’t feel very different, we can at least look to the church year as a framework for our worship and reflection.

The reason for liturgical seasons, is that by marking the significant events of the life of Jesus Christ, we rehearse the Christ-event over and over again and make ‘chronos’ time into ‘Kairos’ time.

By that I mean that the ordinary passing of time gains some spiritual significance as we remember and rehearse the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus. Kairos time is God’s time and it shapes us.

So, we rehearse the incarnation at Christmas and Epiphany. We recall the start of Jesus’ ministry as Epiphany leads us through his baptism and his first miraculous sign. The temptations of Jesus mark the beginning of Lent; his Passion is rehearsed in Holy Week and his resurrection at Easter. Ascension follows, and six weeks later, Pentecost – the outpouring of his Spirit on the first disciples.

So by the passing of liturgical time, we live the life of Jesus from start to finish and beyond. There’s an older liturgy in use in some places for Ash Wednesday, where the congregation pray to God to be delivered, or forgiven, or perhaps even saved. The response is good Lord, deliver us and you may even have prayed this prayer in other Ash Wednesday services.

It’s an interesting prayer because it traces a path through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, just like the liturgical year. It is in four couplets and the first says:

‘By the mystery of your holy incarnation;

By your birth, childhood and obedience;

By your baptism, fasting and temptation,

Good Lord, deliver us’.

 

I’ve always liked the prayer because it suggests that our deliverance (by which I take to mean our forgiveness, or salvation) is achieved, not just through Jesus’ death, as we often sing, but through his life as well. We’re saved as much by his life as by his death. It’s an interesting angle, and one which you might want to sit with for a bit, if it’s not so familiar with you.

 

How has Jesus brought for us salvation, healing and forgiveness? By his incarnation, birth, childhood, obedience, baptism, fasting and temptation, as well as the other, more obvious events of his death and resurrection (which the prayer goes on to mark too).

 

By all his life, we are delivered. It means that the temptation of Christ in the wilderness, which the gospel alludes to this morning (although being Mark, it’s a brief allusion) is fully part of our deliverance.

 

What does this really mean? How can Jesus’ own temptations be part of our salvation? It must have something to do with his humanity. Is it heresy to say we are as much saved by his humanity as we are by his divinity? I’m not entirely sure, but that’s the angle this morning!

 

The idea that we are saved just as much by his temptations as by his death and resurrection I find strangely comforting. His temptations are Good News! If we stay a few moments with this idea, I wonder if we can all catch hold of that comfort too? Can it really be Good News that Jesus was tempted?

 

How can Jesus’ temptations be part of our own healing? Firstly, to clarify terms, we use a lot of religious words in church and there’s often not a single meaning to any of them – they tend to carry multiple meanings. So: sin, salvation, sanctification, repentance, penitence, healing, wholeness. In Lent we traditionally use words like repentance, penitence, confession, fasting. All things that address our fallenness and signpost us towards forgiveness and holiness.

 

But sometimes these words can accuse us in ways that are not appropriate. Yes, we are sinners, and we say the confession every week (and a stiffer one in Lent) but we are also ‘in Christ’ and therefore ‘there is no condemnation’. We find it hard to imagine that even as sinners, we are also beloved children of God. How do you feel when you sit before God in silence? Do you feel his gaze of love, or do you imagine God being rather dissatisfied, or even cross with you?

 

I’ve been having an extended conversation about Christianity with a friend who has stopped going to church. They described to me the images they had picked up from Sunday worship.

 

In this set of images, God is the headmaster; the bible is the book of rules; the vicar is the teacher and the Church Wardens are the prefects. If you believe the wrong things you go to hell; if you believe the right things you go to heaven. If you go off piste to explore different ways to be a healthy human being, you are met with puzzlement.

 

My guess is that she isn’t the only person to have been put off God by an over emphasis on how sinful we all are, and unworthy and full of shame. It’s not a very healthy image to dwell on. The language of sin is difficult to use with wounded people, people who have suffered trauma and people who have mental health problems, which is a large proportion of the young (and a not insignificant number of us).

 

On the other hand, society is interested in concepts of health and wholeness. It’s here that we can meet other people who are seeking these things. Especially after the effects of lockdown become more and more apparent, we might increasingly be involved in thinking with others about health and wholeness. But as Christians we will know that sin and salvation, healing and wholeness CANNOT BE SEPARATED.

 

So what is temptation? To be tempted is to come face to face with the depths of yourself. It’s a lot more subtle than ‘can you give up chocolate for 6 weeks?’ If we fast from something over Lent just for its own sake, all that will happen is that we’ll end up with a little bit of spiritual pride that we didn’t have before (but perhaps a healthier waste line).

 

Our challenge therefore is to know, as Jesus had to, what form our temptations take. There may be several. They probably change over time. It’s much easier to say the general confession and much harder to know explicitly what your areas of wounding are. Because we all have different strengths and weaknesses.

 

It wouldn’t be so hard, for example, for me to give up chocolate for a while – as a child I competitively saved Easter eggs so that I could crow about still having some left when all my siblings had eaten theirs. I got a perverse kick out of self-denial and I wanted to win. There’s a bit of spiritual pride for you. One of my other temptations is to fend for myself – even when the Spirit is saying ‘reach out because I am generous’, I am saying ‘I don’t believe you’re generous so I’m going to hoard my resources because I’m the only person I can really trust’. That would be one of my temptations: trust only myself. There’s a bit of healing needed there.

 

 

To identify where you need healing, think: when you let the Holy Spirit lead you into your alone time with God (as Jesus did) to face the crux of who you are, what happens? Does God look on you and say ‘well, at last this sinner has come clean and realised just how bad they really are’? Or does God look on you as a loving parent would and say: ‘it’s great we’re here together; I’ve been longing to lift off that heavy thing that’s weighed you down for so long’?

 

I wonder if salvation, sanctification and healing are much closer than we imagine? Linguistically they are basically the same thing. That’s why the Good News is more than just a feel- good moment. Christ offers forgiveness when we fall, which is our ongoing sanctification. AND it feels like healing. We are saved by Christ; we are being saved (made whole) by Christ and we will finally be saved (safe) with Christ.

 

So, the Good News this morning is that Jesus faced his temptations so that we can face ours. He faced himself so we can do the same. We are loved, not condemned. And the promise of God is that he draws us into deeper fellowship, especially through Lent, and this is for our salvation and healing and for the healing of everyone we meet.

 

As Mother Julian of Norwich said: First there is the fall, and then there is the recovery from the fall. Both are the mercy of God.’

 

Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

valentines

Sermon 14 February

2 Kings 2.1-12, Mark 9.2-9

Today is the last Sunday before Lent starts.  Given the rigours of lockdown and Covid I decided not to talk about giving up things or denying ourselves; just accepting that we are where we are is giving us plenty of opportunities for that this year.

This happens to be a multi tasking Sunday where celebrations are concerned; not only is it the Sunday next before Lent, but it’s Valentine’s Day, it’s the day when friends in our link diocese of Växjö in Sweden celebrate their patron saint – St Sigfrid -, it’s Racial Justice Sunday, and Green Christian would like us to mark Valentine’s Day by expressing some love for planet earth!  We marked Racial Justice Sunday towards the end of last year when Ian spoke to us, and we’ll be marking the need for climate justice on a Sunday early in March, so I won’t be specifically referring to those.  The theme on which I’d like to focus today is friendship which may touch on all these concerns anyway.  Let’s begin with Valentine’s Day (picture).

Valentines day, taking place just as Spring is starting, new life is beginning to appear, yet it’s still pretty dark and cold. Valentine’s Day is partly a distraction from winter, but also ties in with the rhythms of life here in the northern hemisphere.  As we start to emerge from winter, with spring on the horizon, our thoughts may well turn to romantic love, or lust for that matter – ‘in the Spring a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love’, as Tennyson puts it.  A young woman’s fancy might as well!  There is a reaching out for relatedness, for something that takes us out of ourselves, out of winter into Spring.  Romantic love may be a great start to a relationship but it’s often friendship that helps it to last, enabling us to see the beloved through ordinary spectacles as well as rose tinted ones.  Friendship between lovers.

Now St Sigfrid (show picture of his statue) – I’ve spoken about him before – an English monk from York who set out with a group of monks and his three nephews in the 11th century to take the gospel to Sweden. He is said to have built the first church in what is now Växjö diocese.  This statue of him stands outside Växjö cathedral in Småland.  The bonds between him and his group of monks and his nephews must have been strong to keep them together through the hardships of travel, climate and the opposition that they would have experienced.  I suspect there was real friendship there.  Friendship between colleagues.  Friendship between family members.

And now what we call the Transfiguration, offering another insight into friendship(Icon)

Our readings this morning are there to encourage us as we enter 40 days of Lent, and start to anticipate the cross.  Immediately before the transfiguration Jesus has been explaining to a group of his disciples that he must suffer death and then rise again – something they failed to understand.  Now he’s taking three of them – Peter, James and John up a mountain, a setting associated with encounters with God.  It’s as though he’s pulling back a curtain so they might see what has led to his understanding of who he is and what he is called to do.  He’s sharing this mystery with his friends.  He wants them to understand.  There’s Elijah on his left who climbed a mountain when he was running away from Queen Jezebel and who heard there the still small voice encouraging him to return and telling him what to do.  Jesus is letting his friends know that he stands in that prophetic tradition and prophets always face opposition.  Moses the law giver is on his right.  Moses, you may remember, spoke with God face to face, after which his own face would shine with light.  Moses went up a mountain to receive the 10 commandments, mediating a covenant between God and Israel.  Like Moses, Jesus will be mediating a covenant, but this will be a new kind of covenant that involves laying down his life.  The voice from heaven makes clear that although Jesus stands in the line of the prophets and of Moses he is greater than both, being God’s Beloved Son.  The dazzling light around Jesus also makes this point.  We see Peter, James and John almost literally blown away by this revelation at the bottom of the icon.  (icon goes down)

And this revelation is offered to us as we face Lent.  In Mark’s account Peter, James and John still don’t get it; not until they look back after the resurrection.  Even though Jesus probably knew that they wouldn’t get it he still shares this experience with them.  He treats them as close friends.

One of the bishops in my last diocese used to talk about the different people around Jesus.  There was the crowd – often mentioned, sometimes of considerable size, but not necessarily committed.  On the edge, as it were.  Turning up whenever Jesus appeared, but not actually following him around.  Then there was another group, a fair size, who were committed enough to follow him much of the time, but did not necessarily share a communal life with him.  They are referred to simply as ‘the disciples’. Then there were the 12 – those closest to Jesus and known to us by name, who ate with him, stayed wherever he stayed.  And then the three closest, Peter, James and John, who feature in our gospel account today.  We might say that the crowd had a passing acquaintance with Jesus, while the groups of disciples were his friends, but in varying degrees of closeness.  He would teach them, explain the parables to them, but only with his closest friends would he share glimpses of his identity as God’s son and also of his human vulnerability.  In so doing he was inviting them into his own intimate relationship with God the Father.

The gospels were written for the encouragement of those, like you and me, who want to follow Jesus.  At the start of Lent we might think of where we would place ourselves at present.  Perhaps in the crowd, an observer, not stepping forward, but drawn to Jesus, curious about him.  Or part of that large group of disciples, hanging out with Christ, following him most of the time but not necessarily sharing his life.  Or one of the 12, those closest to Jesus, with him all of the time.  Then the 3 with whom he shared the most of himself.  Might they be called his soul friends?  Wherever we are Jesus invites us to draw closer.  He wants to draw us into his friendship.  To identify more with him.  Lent can be a time to accept that invitation.  What might it be like to stick with Jesus as with a close friend during his time in the wilderness, or when he raises Jairus’ daughter or prays in Gethsemane?  What experiences of our own might we risk sharing with him as our friend during Lent?

Looking at our reading from the Old Testament we can see some risk taking in the friendship between Elisha and Elijah.  Both know that Elijah is approaching the end of his life.  Elisha is determined to face this moment with his master and follows him on a very roundabout route to do so!  He is present when Elijah dies and is taken up to heaven and as a result he receives a portion of Elijah’s spirit.  This hadn’t just been a relationship between master and servant, but perhaps between soul friends.  It’s a profound insight into how we can influence our friends for good.  As we allow our friendship to develop, sticking with each other through good times and bad, we pass on a part of our spirit to one another, enriching one another.

Jesus invites us to relate to him as our friend – to trust him with our highs and low as we would with a best friend and to allow him to trust us with his deepest experiences, both the glory as in the Transfiguration, the vulnerability as in Gethsemane and the suffering when on the cross.

Friendship with Jesus is connected to our friendship with others.  So I’m wondering if we might remember our friends particularly this Lent.  How are we keeping in touch with them?  How willing are we willing to listen to what is really going on for them, especially if it’s difficult?  Can we risk telling them what is really going on for us?  Do we go beyond the superficial in our conversations?  I was reading an interview with Tyrell Lewis, formerly involved in gang crimes in Brixton and now running the Brixton Street Gym, where he remembers Pastor Mimi on his estate, a true friend, who would ask questions like ‘How’s your heart?’ How’s your mind?’ ‘How’s your spirit?’  She was a friend who helped him turn his life around.  She passed on some of her own spirit.

Friendship between partners, lovers, friendship between colleagues, friendship with family members, friendship with church sisters and brothers, friendship with a kindred spirit (a soul friend)…how are we doing in our friendships?  and where do we stand in our friendship with Christ?

Jesus says to his disciples, ‘I have not called you servants, but friends, for everything I learned from my Father I have made known to you’.  (John 15.15)

Christine Bainbridge

Advent

Advent Sunday – 29th November 2020

Mark 13.24-27

Happy New Year!  Advent marks the start of the church new year.  Our 3 year lectionary covers a different gospel each year.  It’s Year B now and we move to the gospel of Mark.  We’re near the end of that gospel this morning in what is sometimes called ‘the little apocalypse’, or bible-speak for the end times.

At the beginning of chapter 13 from which our gospel reading comes today Jesus and his disciples are in Jerusalem and it sounds as though the disciples, anyway, are doing some sightseeing.  After all they didn’t get to Jerusalem very often.  Look what massive stones!  What magnificent buildings! they say (Mark 13.1) as they come out of the temple – the equivalent in their day of Westminster Abbey or St Paul’s Cathedral.  Jesus meanwhile is more focused on what lies ahead. Soon it will be Passover and what we now call Holy Week.  He wants to prepare them for his death and all that will signify.  He needs to change their perspective from that of a tourist to…what?  That’s what I’d like to consider this morning.  Shifting perspective is at the heart of Advent, which may be why the church’s year starts with what you might say is the end of the story in order to prepare us for the beginning which is Christmas.

It’s hard to change perspective.  Recently we watched a programme about the ocean going liner The Queen Mary.  She was huge.  Turning her round was a challenge.  There was at least one occasion when the ship was not turned round quickly enough to avoid slicing through a British cruiser, with disastrous consequences.  Jesus needed to turn his disciples’ attention away from their immediate surroundings towards a bigger picture of what lay ahead.  It may well have felt like trying to turn around a large ship.  In Mark’s gospel the disciples are especially slow to catch on.  It wasn’t until after Jesus’ death and resurrection that they really entered into that bigger perspective he wanted them to have.

I want to suggest that Advent invites us to turn around and though it might feel like a slow, laborious process it’s well worth the effort, not just for ourselves, but for our country at a time when we are all working our way through the trauma of a pandemic.

There are some key words associated with Advent, one of which is repent.  To repent means turning around, like that ocean going liner.  If we’re turning around and away from something what are we turning towards? I like to think of repentance as an inward shift –a change in our order of priorities so that some things in life become more important, while others shrink into insignificance.  The shift may be accompanied by sorrow over mistakes we have made or wrong turnings we have taken.  This year, though, I’m more connecting repentance with a shift in how I view what’s going on around me, which is where another Advent word watch comes in.  The disciples were looking at Jerusalem through the lens of a tourist.  I have found myself looking at my surroundings through the lens of my health and the economy.  That seems to be the perspective constantly set before me as I follow the news.

Jesus’ words to his disciples challenge that perspective because, using pictures and language from the Old Testament, he challenges what you might call a one dimensional view of human life.  During Morning Prayer in the weeks leading up to Advent we’ve been reading the Book of Daniel and the Book of Revelation from the apocalyptic tradition in our scriptures; weird stuff, but essentially about reminding us that there is a bigger, heavenly perspective to events on earth and that since Christ, the key to it is Christ’s death and resurrection.  Advent offers us a heavenly perspective.  If I’m turning away from a fixation on my health and our economy I’m turning towards a far bigger picture of what human life is all about.  To use bible shorthand – it’s also about heaven!  I’m turning towards heaven.

If there really is a bigger dimension to life than what we can experience with our senses, if there is such a reality as heaven (which as I’ve just suggested is shorthand for a fuller dimension to which we have access though Christ’s death and resurrection) then what difference does that make to living right here and now, through a pandemic?  In other words what difference might celebrating Advent make?

Those of you who have visited Iona or perhaps another holy place may have heard it described as a thin place, meaning that it feels as though any moment you might hear heavenly music, or catch a glimpse of Christ in glory, as though there is a very thin divider between earth and heaven, between a one dimensional life and a much fuller dimension of which we may catch the occasional glimmer.

Moving the perspective of our personal ocean going liner towards that larger dimension I’m calling heaven impacts a number of things.  I want to mention just two.  The first is around that word watch again.  Jesus commands us to watch or keep alert, as it’s translated in one place in our reading and to stay awake.  Now staying awake and being alert are things many of us know about at present – they are ways we react when we sense a threat ahead and they are a common response to trauma.  I guess I’m not alone in not sleeping so well and sometimes feeling unhealthily alert too much of the time.  I think it unlikely that Jesus is encouraging us to be alert in this way.  It’s more that he’s saying whatever upheaval we are going through to watch out for where the divine is breaking through.  Look out for it.

The picture that has come to me recently is that I, and perhaps we, are sometimes like blind Bartimaeus, sitting on his mat by the roadside, shouting out, ‘Jesus, help me!’  If I could see, all that would be in front of me would be lots of legs –those of the crowd all around Jesus.  Nothing else.  Then someone says, ‘Get up, stand up, Jesus is calling you’.  This is risky.  Leaving my begging mat, my one cloak, to move towards Jesus.  But as I do so my perspective changes.  Just standing, brings about a shift.  I’m on a level with Jesus. He’s there in front of me, asking what I want.  And now I really want to see.

In order to watch we may have to deal with what you might call spiritual lethargy.  Remember we’re turning a big ship around.  Like Bartimaeus we might need to shift position.  Advent is a time for sharpening some of our spiritual practices, not so much in terms of trying harder, but being more willing to develop openness to what Paul describes as the height, depth and breadth of God’s love for us in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3.18-19).  Where might we have experienced that during our day?  Watch can be about taking time to reflect on the day’s events; watching for where God may be breaking through and inviting a new perspective.

The second thing that is impacted by having a heavenly perspective is our attitude to death.  Here I’m greatly indebted to the Venerable Bede.  (Or the Venemous Bede, as he is called in ‘1066 and All That’!)  Yes, Covid does strange things to people…I’ve finally got round to reading Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People!

Reading Bede’s history is one of my ways of dealing with the pandemic.  I find myself wanting to see how, if at all, what’s happening now connects with events in the past and might help me to make sense of them.  The 8th century might seem like rather a long way back, but it does have some resonances with today.

Bede chronicles much of what are sometimes called the Dark Ages during and after the disintegration of the Roman empire and the departure of the Romans from Britain (mainly the 3rd to 8th centuries).  He writes about wars, ethnic clashes, a major eclipse, food shortages, pandemics, splits in the church, and yet he does so with half an eye on that split in the clouds revealing Christ, the Son of Man, in his glory.  Like other notable Northern Christians – Aidan, Hilda, Cuthbert, Columba – for Bede there was a thin veil between earth and that larger, heavenly dimension; whilst grieving over the disintegration of the order and stability provided by the Romans, as he watched and pondered over subsequent events he noted the gradual, but nevertheless inexorable growth of Christianity.  For Bede this was like increasing light gradually consuming the darkness of paganism. The light was shining in the darkness and the darkness could not overcome it.  (John 1. 5).  He saw death and destruction, and at the same time more and more resurrection life.  How hard to hold these opposites together!  Yet, theologically, there can be no resurrection without Christ’s death.

Reading an account of Bede’s death in 735 AD written by someone who was with him I am challenged.  Bede viewed death as the portal to a fuller, resurrection life.  I wonder how many of us see death in that light?  Or as ‘rising to the life immortal’ as the collect for Advent Sunday puts it?  When he was close to death Bede was recorded as saying, ‘If it be the will of my Maker, the time has come when I shall be freed from the body and return to him who created me out of nothing when I had no being….the time of my departure is at hand, and my soul longs to see Christ my King in all his beauty’.  Bede used to refer to death as our ‘heavenly birthday’.  Bede had glimpsed that parting of the clouds and Christ’s glory in writing his ecclesiastical history, and in death he anticipates experiencing it fully.

As Christians we are not tourists as we look around our world, but those watching with compassionate alertness for signs of divine love at work.  Eager to share it, and if necessary to suffer for it.

The apocalyptic strand in our tradition, though strange to our ears, offers hope.  It not only reminds us of the bigger  picture, but invites us to trust in the reality of it – of life after death, light not being overcome by darkness, of God’s faithfulness right to the end of our lives.
Christine Bainbridge

Device-to-root-out-evil-Dennis Oppenheim

Would you like to know the future?

Mark 131-8, Daniel 121-3: End Times

Kingdom 3, 18th November 2018

Would you like to know the future?  Could be handy if you could place bets on horse races knowing the result in advance; though perhaps not entirely honest.  When you first think about it, it sounds interesting, and you can think of lots of possibilities.  If only you had known how that relationship would turn out.  But would you really want to know, especially if you cannot change it?  There has been discussion about genetic tests for hereditary diseases.  Would you want to know you had a terrible disease coming at you later in life?  It could give you time to prepare.  But what a burden on your life now.  Maybe it is not such a good idea.

 

Science fiction is full of time travel – Dr. Who is on at the moment – but it is by no means clear that it is actually possible.  You can theoretically go forwards in time, by relativity.  If you travel fast in space, time passes more slowly than if you stay on earth, so when you get back, your friends and family will be a bit older than you are.  Astronaut Scott Kelly spent 11 months circling the earth on the International Space Station, and when he got back he was younger than his twin brother.  But only by 11ms, 0.011s.  As far as we know, we cannot go backwards in time, or see into the future.  God seems to have put some fundamental blocks in physics that prevent time getting in too much of a muddle.

 

Our readings today are both prophecies.  Both Daniel and Jesus are looking forward to future times.  The common understanding of the word prophecy, and the Oxford English Dictionary definition, is a prediction of what will happen in the future.  So perhaps this is a way in which we can know the future.  But looking at these passages, and at prophecy in the Bible generally, that is only a part of the story- as we shall see.

 

Last week, our reading had Jonah prophesying the destruction of Nineveh, but it did not happen, much to Jonah’s annoyance; God changed his mind when the Ninevites repented.  It was not the accuracy of the prophecy that mattered, but its effect.

 

This week’s passage in Mark has the disciples admiring the magnificent buildings of the Temple in Jerusalem.  It was reputedly made of blocks of white stone 11m x 5½m x 3½m – two of them would be bigger than our church.  Jesus, typically, takes the conversation as a starting point for teaching the disciples: not one stone will be left standing on another.  Also typically, he does not explain what he means until Peter, James, John and Andrew come and ask him later.

 

Jesus’ teaching goes on a lot further than today’s reading, for the whole of the rest of Chapter 13.  He starts by warning against interpreting events as signs of end times.  There will be wars and famine and persecution.  There will be false messiahs.  Do not be deceived, but stay faithful.

 

Then he talks about End Times.  Even from our perspective in the future, it is difficult to be sure which parts of the passage refer to what.  In those days seems to refer part of the time to siege of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple by the Romans in AD70.  This was a time of great suffering for those living in Jerusalem, with somewhere around a million people killed.  It was a calamity for the Jews, and effectively the end of Israel until the 20th century.  The stones of the Temple were indeed thrown down, not one was left standing.  Jesus’ words in our reading do seem readily to point to this event.  But he moves on, without defining that he is talking about something else, to talk about  the Second Coming: At that time men will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. (1326).

 

All the way through, Jesus hedges his prophecy about with warnings.  Look out for the signs, but do not be deceived by events, no-one knows the day or the hour, only the Father.  Be aware of the signs, but just be ready.

 

There is actually not much teaching about end times in the New Testament, ignoring Revelation.  This passage has a parallel in Matthew 24 and Luke 21.  There is a similar piece in Luke 17, and bits in 1 and 2 Thessalonians and 2 Peter; and of course, Revelation.  In the Old Testament, Daniel is the main place.

 

These prophecies are difficult.  They do tend to attract intense and rather weird extremes of Christianity.  Christians have disputes about historical and dispensation premillenialism, post millennialism, amillenialism, all coming from how you view the 1000 years in Revelation.  There was a book in the 1970s, The Late Great Planet Earth by Hal Lindsey, in which he identified lots of the elements of Revelation with actual countries.  He had the European Economic Community as Babylon the Great ruled by the Antichrist, equating it with the beast with 7 heads and 10 crowns in Revelation 131, because the EEC at that time was working up to 10 members.  Some Brexiteers may sympathise with his analysis, but there now being 28 members in the EU, events seem to have rather overtaken him.

 

If it is so difficult to interpret prophecy, why is it there?  The disciples had asked Jesus specifically, when will these things happen?  And what are the signs that they are about to be fulfilled?  But without hindsight, it was not at all straightforward to understand what he was talking about.

 

Tony Vigars did a series of sermons and studies on Revelation here in 2004.  Much of his interpretation of Revelation was that the images are symbolic, rather than historical prediction.  What applies to Revelation seems to apply to most of the End Times prophecy.

 

When we look at the Bible we do so through a filter of our modern culture.  Our education is analytical, literal, historical.  We have had such success with science and technology that we expect to understand things, to be able to see a chain of causation.  We expect reports to be factual, logical.  But this would not have been the mindset in Old Testament time, or Jesus’ time.  We are dealing with images and types and descriptions that were poetic, evocative, absorbed in childhood through stories and synagogue, much as fairy tales are in our time.  When I say, to quote Flanders and Swan, Who’s been sleeping in my porridge?, you will probably get the reference.

 

Prophecy is speaking God’s message into a situation.  There are occasions when, yes, it does predict events (and a test of a prophet was, when that such predictions should come true – Deuteronomy 1822).  More often, it is interpretation of events to show Gods’s purpose behind it.

 

So what do we make of the Second Coming?  After this sermon, we will say in the creed, He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead.  Advent, in just a couple of weeks’ time, both looks back to Jesus’ first coming in Bethlehem, but also to his coming in the future: Lo he comes with clouds descending.  Yet many of us, I think, would be hard pushed to say what we really think this means.  When will it be?  I was at a Readers’ training day last weekend with the title Making Friends with St Paul, and the Jesuit priest who was leading it was asked, Did Paul ever change his mind?  The example he gave was about the Second Coming.  In the early letters, Thessalonians, Paul expect Christ’s return immanently.  Later, Paul realises that it is not necessarily going to be soon.  We are now some 80 generations later, and it has not happened yet.  If Paul did not know, and if Jesus said only the Father knows, I do not think we are going to do much better.

 

What is it going to be like?  Again, it is almost impossible to say.  The imagery Jesus uses in dramatic, but again poetic, imaginative.  Just as the lightning comes from the east and flashes even to the west, so will the coming of the Son of Man be. (Matthew 2427)  With our current understanding of the way the universe is arranged, it is hard to see how it can be literal.

 

But in terms of meaning, we can see a message.  At the beginning, through him all things were made, and all things will end with him.  History will not just fizzle out, but in some way Christ will bring it to a close.  The same Jesus who listens to our prayers has a cosmic importance.  We shall be called to him, which is a daunting thought, but we can meet him in peace, because of the love he has shown for us.  Whether the world ends tomorrow, or billions of years hence, he is out Lord, and he say, ‘Watch’.

 

Jeremy Thake

St. John & St. Stephen

 

 

 

Mark 13

As Jesus was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!”

2 “Do you see all these great buildings?” replied Jesus. “Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.”

3 As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John and Andrew asked him privately, 4 “Tell us, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are all about to be fulfilled?”

5 Jesus said to them: “Watch out that no one deceives you. 6 Many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and will deceive many. 7 When you hear of wars and rumours of wars, do not be alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. 8 Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places, and famines. These are the beginning of birth pains.

 

Daniel 12

“At that time Michael, the great prince who protects your people, will arise. There will be a time of distress such as has not happened from the beginning of nations until then. But at that time your people—everyone whose name is found written in the book – will be delivered. 2 Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt. 3 Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever.

Remembrance2018

Remembrance Day / Armistice Day.

By quirk of calendar, this day, the hundredth anniversary of the end of the First World War comes to have two names: Remembrance Day (which is the name for the Sunday nearest the 11th), and Armistice Day, the day that marks the 11th itself. I’m intrigued by those two names, and the different emphases they bring. The name Remembrance Day, of course, brings to mind the task of remembering combatants. Certain symbols guide our focus: the tomb of the unknown warrior in Westminster; the Cenotaph – a symbolic empty stone tomb inscribed with the words, ‘the glorious dead’; the military bugler playing the Last Post, as for 2 minutes we symbolically hold a night-time vigil beside the body of the fallen warrior, and the Rouse, as we reawaken to start the new day.

And there is on this 100th anniversary plenty to remember.

We might choose to focus on the nearly one million British and Empire soldiers whose lives were lost. We might rightly focus with pathos on what those lives might have come to. We might think of the youthfulness of so many of the dead – many the same age as the young University student officer who stood next to me on Friday at our campus memorial (and, indeed, that some were much younger – we now know that a quarter of a million British soldiers were under the age of 18). The sacrifice of young male lives for a bigger cause, thinking “it would all be over by Christmas”: it’s poignant stuff that tugs at the heart, captured rather well in Danny Boyle’s ephemeral sand sculptures that have been created in 32 locations around the coast this morning and that will be washed away as the tide returns – all those unique lives lost. It feels right to remember such things.

On Friday at the University memorial we announced that we would be adding a new plaque with the names of nine more soldier to the existing First World War memorial: names of staff and students who had been overlooked mainly for administrative reasons. I spoke with one of the volunteer researchers involved who had spent hours in the University archive trying to find a photograph of one young man to send to his grandchildren (none of whom ever knew their grandfather). She reported how deeply moved the family were to receive the time and attention. When I questioned the volunteer herself, asking her why she had spent so much energy on such a small thing, she told me (after explaining in no uncertain times that she was not religious) that she felt there was something profoundly important about acknowledging the fullness of what had happened, about telling the full truth, about bringing to the surface hidden or lost things (all of which struck me as profoundly religious).

The same desire for reality and deep truth underlines the film-maker Peter Jackson’s documentary, They Shall Not Grow Old, which is being shown tonight on BBC2. Using computer-aided reconstruction, colourisation, and with the help of lip readers to work out what the soldiers were saying, Jackson transforms that grainy, speeded up, black-and-white footage of the First World War, that seems so other to us, into something startlingly remarkably real. As he put it: “the faces of these guys became human beings”.

But if we are inclined towards this deeper reality, sooner or later slightly trickier questions emerge about whether there are, or should be, boundaries to remembering. One of the new names to be added to the University memorial is that of Charles Flint, a 15 year old laboratory assistant. Charles was not in the armed forces, but rather the forerunner to the Merchant Navy, and he died of influenza rather than from violence. He’s buried at Cemetery Junction.

Which prompts me to ask: who else, beyond Allied First World War combatants, ought we to remember today? I note with curious interest the gradual expansion of memory over the decades to include the dead of other conflicts: those of the Second World War, Palestine, Korea, Northern Ireland, the Falklands, the Iraq Wars, Afghanistan. This past month there have been several stories in the BBC pushing at the boundaries to focus attention on other overlooked groups: the soldiers of the Caribbean, the half million Indian Muslims. But even this is only a work in progress. In the last few years we have seen a remembering of certain civilians, like the previously unrecognised men and women at Bletchley Park; and more remarkably the rehabilitation of the memory of those shot for desertion.

But then there are much more difficult questions: should we remember the other dead? I think especially of civilians, whose names are inscribed in no books of commemoration; who have no cenotaph; and who throughout the past century have exceeded the numbers of military personnel who die in warfare. Do we remember them today, and if not today, when? And, then, should we remember the young idealistic self-sacrificing soldiers on the other side? In New College chapel in Oxford their memorial plaque includes these words: “In memory of the men of this college who coming from a foreign land entered into the inheritance of this place and returning fought and died for their country”, followed by the names of three Germans. Indeed, should we expand our remembering to include not just the people, but the acts done, too, by all sides? These are deeply uncomfortable questions aren’t they? I dare say some might even consider them to verge on blasphemy – and of course to express the emotion like that puts its finger precisely on the problem: which god is being blasphemed, the god of national self-image?

Our first reading today comes from that humorous and starkly self-critical book of the prophet Jonah. It’s a story about a Jewish man sent by God to preach salvation, to preach safety, to Nineveh, the capital city of his country’s worst enemies: the Assyrians, an empire that wiped 10 of the 12 tribes of Israel off the face of the earth. It’s a vocation so awful that Jonah initially flees to Spain to avoid it. And when he finally and reluctantly fulfils his mission, he sits outside the city deeply upset that God has shown such interest in Israel’s most bitter foe, to which God replies “should I not be concerned about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who do not know their right hand from their left?”. Do we dare to remember the bigger picture?

“Remember”: a word used in two key places in Scripture. In the Ten Commandments: “Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy… you shall not do any work … remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt.” Because those who remember that they were once slaves are more likely to be compassionate on the powerless. And then the famous “Remember” of the Gospels: “do this in remembrance of me,” says Jesus, tie your community meal to the story of one executed by an occupying force, who dared to speak of a different Kingdom because then you will not be tempted to be that force yourself, and you will keep your eyes on God’s kingdom. Memory then, is not just about a feeling warm about the past. To truly and fully remember opens up the present to reconsideration. Remembrance Day ought to challenge what we do now, and to whom.

And that leads into consideration about the other title for today: Armistice Day – a Latin term meaning the “standing-still” of arms, the cessation of fighting, or to put it the other way around: the day of peace. If remembrance should point us with intensity and honesty backwards, to designate a day as a Day of Peace asks us to look forward. It asks us celebrate acts of reconciliation, and to ask where they are still needed. As an example, I think of a remarkable story of an RAF man, Tom Tate, who died in 2016. Tom had bailed out during a bombing raid in 1945 landing in the German village of Huchenfold, north of Pforzeim. The month before Pforzheim had been destroyed in a similar RAF raid killing 18,000 people. Revenge was in the air, and so Tom and his fellow captured crew were dragged to a nearby cemetery to be executed by teenagers in the local Hitler Youth. Tom and one other crew member escaped, but the other five did not. Tom was later recaptured by German soldiers and taken to a POW camp. And even then a miracle was beginning: one of his guards handed him a pair of boots donated by a widow from Huchenfold who had heard about the lynching of his fellow airmen and who wanted to show remorse. After the war Tom was filled with bitterness but 50 years later he stumbled across a magazine article called “The Village that asked Forgiveness” relating how Huchenfold’s pastor had erected a memorial plaque to the five murdered British airmen on which was written the words “Father forgive”. Tom, with some trepidation, decided to go to Huchenfold, and the following words are his: “It was clear I had become a symbol of reconciliation. I was greeted by so many people, all of whom wanted to shake my hand. I’ve never been hugged by so many ladies in all my life! I also met Emilie, the woman who in 1945 had sent me the boots. Guilt had hung over the village for years, but by going there it somehow changed things for them. I was so welcomed, and so well looked after, that suddenly I realised I’d made a mistake. I wish that I’d gone to Germany earlier to relieve these people of their guilt. When someone comes with arms open to embrace you, you can’t feel enmity any more. The act of friendship invites forgiveness.”

Armistice Day could be, then, not just a day of sad remembrance, but a day to focus on celebratory and miraculous hope, and where that is still needed. Our reading from Mark sees Jesus proclaiming “the good news of God…”. The expression “good news” is, in fact, the technical one for the announcement brought from a battlefield that the battle has ended. The battle is over, Jesus is saying. Repent and believe: put down your weapons, take courage and come and follow me: there’s a new kingdom coming and you’re part of it. Amen.

baptism

Baptism and a New Way of Seeing

Baptism Sermon – Mark 9.38-end, Psalm 124

“Come to Church” they said “it will be fine.. it’s a baptism! they don’t talk about all the scary stuff any more.. it’s all luvvey-duvvey now. None of the gratuitous violence or random maiming… it’s all fine and fluffy”….. er… well . .. (whoops!)

We are here on this wonderful joyful day, and then our reading gives us this?£&%@!
As Richard said a few weeks ago… the Lectionary is set for the whole church … a way of working through major themes in the bible over a three year cycle… we don’t get to decide.

But actually if we realise that Jesus is using a metaphor, creating the most vivid images to make a dramatic point.. we will see that there is something in this reading which is pertinent to our baptismal family today, and indeed to all of us….

* I want to introduce you to an OT Hebrew word; Anawim, עָנָו
‘Anaw’ means afflicted, humble, poor the outcast, the vulnerable – those open to exploitation……. A common usage was ‘little ones’ (Anawim, is the plural).

Who might that be? Children certainly… revealing vulnerability and innate trust; but also outcast are the homeless, the exploited, or excluded by gender or race or sexuality, the disabled, the sick, those deemed ‘unprofitable’…

* In creation season.. we might think also of the forests, the oceans, indigenous tribes, endangered species.. All interconnected parts of the marvellous kaleidoscopic wonder of creation.. all vulnerable.. all weak, all ‘little ones’, all anawim

(And maybe we see the vulnerable in ourselves too?)

So let’s explore the context of this week’s reading.. remember this is a conversation following straight on from last week’s when the disciples are embarrassing themselves as they consider who is the greatest in the kingdom, and Christine reminded us that Jesus took and held a young child, (probably a toddler),

* “you want to know who’s the greatest..?”

Dramatically illustrating the fact that the kingdom belonged to the little ones, the wide-eyed, the innocent – and not those who look for power or status…

The kingdom Jesus speaks of is truly upside down, it inverts and challenges the priorities of the world.. it is revolutionary and transformative..

We have only paused for the week… and now we are sat back down (with the popcorn and the boxset) and we press play .. “where were we up to? … ah yes Jesus holding this child…”

Aha! Still holding the child? (we can forget that detail) Ok.. so that helps us to think about what he goes on to say…
We resume with a bizarre question from John. ‘teacher’ he says (as he begins another question that suggests he hasn’t learned anything so far!!), ‘teacher we saw a man who was driving out demons in your name, and we told him to stop, because he doesn’t belong to our group.”

 

Jesus appears frustrated – he’s certainly emphatic!

And comes back immediately with three staccato ‘for’ responses; don’t stop him!

  1. for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me.
  2. (for)Whoever is not against us is for us. 41 
  3. For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.

The exorcist didn’t have ‘true-faith’ assumes John.. or did he? He knew enough to know that Jesus was to be respected… and that his aims were not to exploit, but to heal, (we may surmise).

John seems to want a border, some definition, ‘our group’ (and maybe that’s understandable); But Jesus is pointing to openness and inclusivity of this kingdom of God… it seems to be a kingdom with very porous borders!

Jesus seems to be getting at something far deeper… the kingdom isn’t so easily defined – but is about the heart. The heart in rhythm with the heart of God, open to God. It makes space for our mistakes and errors, and allows for vulnerability and openness.. (and thank goodness for that!)

What he is saying is still relevant to the child in his arms; which may explain why he jumps straight to these next words….

42 “If anyone should cause one of these little ones to lose faith in me, it would be better for that person to have a large millstone tied around the neck and be thrown into the sea.”

Is he really connecting the street healer (‘not of our group’) to the vulnerable child?

Jesus kingdom is made explicit again, even though it remains mysterious; the vulnerable come to us in trust, they reveal the kingdom of God to us! And they require our care, love and nurture.. The forests, the earth, the air we breath.. the oppressed, the exploited, those on minimum wage or living on the streets.. and the children… All are the anawim, all ‘the little ones’ who so often are the first victims of the human desire for power and greed…

Jesus then ‘ultra-emphasises’ the injunction not to exploit… he goes fully ‘out-there’

“do anything.. cut off your limbs if need be, but don’t exploit the little ones.. “

In God’s kingdom (where the poor are lifted high).. there is nothing worse than exploiting the vulnerable. Instead… we are to love, to care, to treasure and honour…

 

Which brings us to today’s happy occasion and what baptism means…

This morning our family are here for baptism… a sacrament of new life in the church and in God…

The children lead the way in this kingdom.. we are reminded that it is the wide-eyed, awe-struck, wonder and playfulness which is its mark.

By emphasising the distinctive—salt-like—flavour of this story—by holding the child to make his point so clearly.. Jesus story is resisting a world concerned with power, conquest and domination.

Baptism is saying something similar too. When we baptise these children in a few moments they begin a new life and participate in this different story; one which embraces vulnerability and compassion; forgiveness and new beginnings every day.

It’s a story which stands with the anawim, the little ones.
It’s a story that says that life is a precious gift to be treasured and shared.
It’s a story, which cares about community, the environment, justice,
It’s a story of imagination and creativity;

This is a story of hope. The story of the church. This is God’s story.

Which means we all face a choice…

* The church calls Baptism a ‘Sacrament’, which means it’s like ‘a window on God’. It is a way of showing that this kingdom is already with us, in our midst, yet seemingly ‘not yet’. Jesus invites us all to ‘wake up’ and to participate in its coming.

Through these distinctive symbols; passing through waters of new birth, receiving a light, being anointed, it is like we are saying God has changed their story, the signs tell us that the change has already taken place. These children just need time, (we all need time), to face the full reality and responsibility of that, (Maybe that’s why we do church – to practise these stories of hope?)
The sacrament says that they are more than simply invited into the story of God’s hope and endless love; they’re already participating!

So baptism isn’t just about this family; it’s for the whole church. It reminds us of our own baptism, and that in this moment the love of G-d calls us all to live with open arms; to repent and turn away from the story of fear and death; to turn instead to delight and wonder—to savour and give thanks for this amazing gift of life, like these children’s lives.

And as we delight in this baptism life, this different story, we make room for others, the anawim, ‘the little ones’ to share that life too, to break down the walls that divide us, to live the story of welcome, love and compassion. It’s God’s revolutionary story; and it begins today!

 

GS Collins