Author Archives: Rachel Feltham

Epiphany 2 16th January 2022

Epiphany 2 Year C – 16th January 2022

Isaiah 62:1-5, John 2:1-11

In the name of the father, and the son and the Holy Spirit. Amen

Did you know that in Genesis chapter 9 there is an account of Noah – that stalwart of ark building and saving all the living creatures, getting very drunk on wine from the vineyard he planted after the ark had safely come to rest after the big flood. He deeply embarasses himself afterwards (as people often do with a spot of nakedness too!) One of the psychological effects of alcohol at least in the earlier stages of intoxication is to lower our inhibitions. I know what I am about to say is not quite in the same league as Noah, but I was equally shocked when some years ago now when with my sister children’s (who are all now grown up). (Not very recent I admit!) We were watching an episode of the children’s TV show Camberwick Green (animated puppets – made in the sixties with Pippin Fort and the soldier boys etc) and encountered an episode where the character Windy Miller (who lived in a windmill) got drunk on cider!!! And slept when he should have been working.

Basically wine making and drinking have been a fundamental part of human existence for a long time. The Bible contains a number of challenges about getting drunk. The book of Proverbs advises not to get led astray by drink. It instructs leaders to avoid it – I am not going to use this to comment on ‘partygate’ that has dominated the media over the past few weeks… However not all the advice in the Bible is negative, in Proverbs it also advises to give strong drink to one who is perishing and also wine to those in bitter distress is also included, (remembering bitter wine vinegar being offered to Jesus on the cross!)

St Paul wrote about this too and cautions against drunkenness. Those who wrote the Bible clearly knew all about wine from experience and observation. They also point to the social problems associated with over-indulgence. Though they may not have called it binge-drinking – our current label for it, the writers of the Bible clearly understood what drink could do in excess!

All this background makes it interesting that the first recorded sign – as the gospel of John called it or miracle as we more commonly call it, is all about partying after a wedding and wine… Though things have been different in our strange times – most of us have found ourselves over the years at wedding celebrations and wine is often very much a part of these. However we are unlikely to find ourselves as guests, if the wine runs out thinking this is our problem. So Jesus reaction as a normal wedding guest to his mother when the wine ran out runs in line with our own reactions. What concern is that to you and to me Jesus says. But then it gets quite a lot more mysterious – My hour has not yet come – he goes on.

I recently re-read an interesting interpretation of what happened next in this story, which is one of those for regular churchgoers, which is a bit over-familiar. We have heard it so often that it washes over us a bit, or is a bit too cosy and comforting. I heard it in a talk by Margaret Silf, who has contributed to the Bible Reading fellowship’s New Daylight in the past. She divides the action into 3 parts and I have added some reflections of my own to hers

  • Needy emptiness

  • Transformation

  • Poured out, tasted and shared

Let’s begin with needy emptiness. God’s action here in this story and God’s action in our own lives begins in the same way from our need. We turn to God in our need more often than not on these occasions we acknowledge as indeed we should all the time that we cannot make it on our own. In a way we recognise our own helplessness and how things are not under our control. So need plays a key part. But this needs to be accompanied by obedience – the call to obedience to surrender ourselves without the usual question or argument to our God who is wiser than we are.

How did the servants at the wedding feast feel as Mary said – do whatever he tells you. And what did they think as they filled the huge jars usually used to hold water for foot washing and other rituals that took place before the wedding feast began? Sometimes the things we seem to have to do – can seem rather off the main point or the solution we are looking for, but that sometimes makes doing them all the more important. This isn’t blind obedience but trust. In these circumstances, it is knowing that we cannot help ourselves and it is about handing over and acknowledging our need of God in the situations in which we find ourselves. In this way the need becomes emptiness. We need to be empty and have let go of control for God to work in us.

Just as the empty jars were filled up, they must first have been empty. This needy emptiness is the raw material of the next stage, the transformation that God brings to us. When we start from needy emptiness – or even needy openness to God’s movement in our lives that is all he needs to work in us  and make miracles of our lives too. It is important in this reflection that God regularly chose emptiness to reveal himself (revealing himself is very much what this season of Epiphany is all about). As well as using the empty twenty gallon water jars, God used other empty things. He used the empty womb of Mary and the empty tomb on the first Easter day.

Emptiness like this is not very comfortable, but we do need to resist the temptation to fill our inner emptiness with anything less than God’s will for us. From needy emptiness we move on to transformation. The filled water jugs – have just been filled. There are no dramatic fireworks, hand gestures or theatricals. The miracle happens silently, secretly, if you like – hidden in the depths of the stone water jars.

Transformation can be like that. A butterfly shapes itself silently in its chrysalis. The child is formed silently in the womb. So transformation happens in ways we cannot see, control or understand (at times). What Jesus is doing in turning water into wine for that wedding party is giving us a sign of how God is longing to transform us. Transform us from the people we think we are to the people God has created us to be.

Yet that transformation still needs one more step to complete the picture to make the miracle of change in us (and in the water turned to wine) seen. The wine must be poured out, tasted and shared.  If it had not been poured out, tasted and shared – it might well still have been water. Jesus knows this too and invites the servants to draw out the wine and take it to the chief steward for tasting. When God touches our lives with his transformations, there is also a call for us to be poured out, tasted and shared for each other. We are not given gifts, changes, growth in our inner being and transformations for these to be kept to ourselves. That would be like – having the wine in the water jars but never trying it!

Our willingness to go with how God shapes and transforms us is marked by whether we are willing to share or whether we are still living for ourselves alone. It’s never too late for this to happen. When God has touched a human heart – that person becomes living wine for others. We probably all know and rejoice in those who share of what God has worked in them with us. We have recently been giving thanks for someone who was living wine for others in the life of Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

God as we can see in this passage often saves the best until last. So that in a way just when we think that we are past all possibility of change, the greatest change may be just about to happen. The ways of God and how the Spirit moves in our lives starts from our empty need, through the transformation of our hearts and then our willingness to be shared, tasted and poured out

We need to go where God calls. Be obedient and trusting and to be willing to share of what transformations God works in us. Every single one of us – each heart on fire for God beating to his rhythm. Amen

The New Revised Standard Version (Anglicized Edition), copyright 1989, 1995 – Some material adapted from Margaret Silf.


Plough Sunday – 9th January 2022 – Rev Alison Way

Plough Sunday 9th January 2022 – Rev Alison Way

Amos 9:11-end, Luke 9:57-end

In the name of the Living God, loving Father, Risen Son and ever present Holy Spirit. Amen.

As I said at the start of today’s service – we are marking Plough Sunday today. It celebrates historically the long hours of tilling and preparing the land before the seed can be sown. The festival was originally celebrated after the 12 days of feasting for Christmas as a way of inspiring people back to work. The plough for the town or village was often stored in the church. It was then decorated, blessed and taken around the town or village, and money raised to keep a ‘plough light’. This light was a candle kept burning in the church until harvest, reminding people to pray for the land and those who worked on it. Sometimes seed and soil were also blessed, and if we have brought some seeds with us today, we will be praying God’s blessing on them symbolically a little later in this service.

Many of our traditions have changed since the height of Plough Sunday activities. For example, marking the 12 days of Christmas as the feast has shifted to Christmas starting on 1st December (or earlier) and ending pretty smartly on Boxing day for some. Likewise preparing the ground after the harvest is now much more of an autumnal activity than a winter one! Some things have stayed more constant – I think the idea that we should pray for the land and those who work it has remained pretty constant, especially in more rural parts of our country.

Talking about ploughing may seem a world away from the lives of many of us today – but the start of a New Year often brings with it a sense of new beginnings. Penny talked briefly last week about New Year resolutions and encouraged us to have a new year resolution to walk in the light of Christ all the days of our lives. Shine as a light in the world to the glory of God the Father, based on the words from the Baptism Service.

Our new beginnings today build on that and are represented by any seeds we have brought with us. These seeds are ones I am going to attempt to grow in my green house this year. Having a green house is a relatively new thing for me. My gardening help insisted I couldn’t have a greenhouse lying idle in the spring of 2020 even allowing for my absence of green fingers! (I have not had a Rectory with a green house before!). For the last two years I have had a good crop of courgettes and tomatoes, and less success with cucumbers based on plants someone else had sown as seeds and nurtured into life. This year I am hoping to have some similar success but with plants I have nurtured from seed myself!

Looking at these seeds has made me reflect somewhat! The seeds are tiny in relation to the size of the plants that result (particularly prolific courgette plants which have some triffid like qualities!). Yet for seeds to grow they have to germinate and lose this form to take on another. They need water, light and the right kind of preparation of the soil. They need all these things at the right time and in the right amount to flourish well. Not every seed will spring into life – yet that so much can come from something so small is quite startling – and nature as it often is – is deeply impressive.

I think the same is true of our new initiatives – our seeds of planned growth in 2022. In both churches we are heading towards fanning into flame something aimed at families. We are taking different approaches, aiming to re-energise our work with the under fives and their grown ups in Wincanton via WOW! and moving towards a monthly more family orientated offering with worship, craft and breakfast in Pen Selwood – called ‘Rise and Shine!’. These things are very much seeds at the moment, waiting for the right time to be sown. There is much preparation of the soil going on behind the scenes, and this needs to be supported by our diligent prayers. It is difficult with the state of things at the moment with the pandemic to be entirely clear when we are going to start with either, and this looks like it may still be later than we had hoped before the Omicron strain of COVID hit! We have also found some extra preparatory work that needs doing as the requirements for safeguarding have developed significantly in recent times. It is really important that we take these developments seriously and prayerfully. So any seeds we are using as an aid to prayer will represent these things too so important in the life of our churches moving forward.

The Bible readings I chose for today, which took the theme of ploughing have some other slightly different ideas embedded within them. The Old Testament reading is from the prophet Amos. Generally, the content of Amos was written at the time before the exile – where Amos call to account the people of God who were acting in immoral and socially corrupt ways at the time. He was warning them of difficult times ahead and to turn from ways where the rich got richer and the poor got poorer, and predicts their downfall through the exile . The reading we got today doesn’t reflect that but is the end of his book – where Amos is talking of better times to come following the exile – that the faithful people of God will eventually be restored back to their homes and be fruitful in the land. It is reading looking not to the current circumstance but a far away future horizon.

Sometimes we too seem to endure the difficult times of the present, whilst keeping our eyes on a longer term goal like Amos did. I have found the journey we have been on in and out of covid restrictions somewhat limiting to our horizons. It seems each time we have a better patch, the situation changes and takes us back to places we really did not want to revisit. We have at the very least been enduring a long period of uncertainty about some things which hitherto we took for granted as part of the fabric of our lives. Our long term horizon, our eternal rest in the love of God is not changed by any of this – but the short term stuff has been very disrupted! I recognise in myself a need to approach this differently, giving thanks for what is possible, and sitting light to what isn’t, in the knowledge that our God of love is both constant and eternal. We each have hope that rests on things above rather than earthly things which pass away.

In contrast to Amos’, the words of Jesus encourage us to keep ploughing on, looking forward. My commentary described this section of scripture as ‘Following Jesus without qualification’, without letting other things get in the way This relates to the reality that if you are not looking forward when ploughing, looking backwards would tend to set the farrow we are ploughing out of line! I think this is probably as much about NOT setting our sights on things past, rather than the days ahead of us. Since the autumn, I have been consciously trying to use the language of moving forward, rather than getting or going back to normality. Moving forward is what we can do, what we can’t do is do anything to change the past or get back to exactly how things ever were. We can learn from the past, but we cannot replay it or change it.

When we set out on our journey together back in February 2020, I could never have imagined some of the things we have faced or the path we have been travelling. All these steps are behind us, we carry the experiences of them with us, but what matters is the next step and then the one after that. Taking each step living with God’s hope in our hearts. I have said a number of times, I would like it to get a little easier with less time spent on risk assessments – and it is true I would, but I also know that God’s strength will support us in the days ahead come what may! Things will come to fruition in God’s time – if we need to travel further in the wilderness of COVID uncertainty so be it. Let’s keep looking forward and praying.

Praying particularly for the seeds we will plant, for those who work the land and for our seeds for growth in our churches. It may not be for tomorrow or the day after, but let’s be diligent in our prayer. We are going to use the Blessing of the seed prayer in our service books to conclude these thoughts. If we can hold any we have brought with us for blessing in our hands and if we can hold in our hearts WOW! and ‘Rise and Shine!’ as I say these words asking God’s blessing on these ventures. Let us pray.

Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation: in your goodness you have given us this seed to sow. In it we perceive the promise of life, the wonders of your creative love.

By your blessing, let this seed be for us a sign of your creative power, that in sowing and watering, tending and watching, we may see the miracle of growth, and in due course reap a rich harvest.

As this seed must die to give life, reveal to us the saving power of your Son, who died that we might live, and plant in us the good seed of your word. Blessed be God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

All: Blessed be God for ever.

By itself the earth produces:

All: first the stalk, then the ear, then the full grain shall appear.



Common Worship: © The Archbishops’ Council 2000-2020

The New Revised Standard Version (Anglicized Edition), copyright 1989, 1995

Word Biblical Commentary for Amos

Arthur Rank Centre – Plough Sunday

Epiphany – Penny Ashton

Matthew 2:1-12

It is good to see that the wise men have reached our nativity scene safely.  I am always pleased that in Wincanton church where there is more space, we see the wise men travelling from the east end of the church as soon as our crib is set out.  It seems fairly sure that they arrived in Bethlehem some time after the birth of Jesus, but their journey was long and slow, and I am sure they must have first seen the star at the time of his birth.

I wonder if you have ever used a satnav?  Although they don’t seem to have been around for very long, they do seem to be almost everywhere now.  They are as much a standard fitting in most cars now as headlights and windscreen wipers have been for as long as I can remember.  Have you ever disagreed with one?  I know I have when I am not convinced that it has chosen the best route, and I have to say that the more modern ones seem to be better natured than the originals.  If I take a turning that my car does not agree with, it goes quiet behind the message ‘recalculating route’.  An earlier model that I have used, would insist on an immediate U-turn to bring me back to its chosen path!  The Wise men were also using satellite navigation, and probably the first ever recorded, but they did not totally follow it either and so they ended up in the wrong place as we heard in our gospel reading.  I sometimes wonder what the discussion might have been like when the star deviated south from its path which they presumed was leading to Jerusalem, and how they reached the decision not to follow it any further.  Whatever the reason they arrived at the palace in Jerusalem, which is a fairly logical place to start if you are looking for a king.

In the church we celebrate Epiphany almost as Christmas part 2.  The feast of the Epiphany is one of the oldest in church history along with Christmas and Easter, and has been celebrated separately but close to Christmas since around the year 350.  The celebration differs slightly between the Eastern and Western churches – we celebrate the visit of the Magi at this time, whereas the Eastern church celebrates the baptism of Christ.  In both cases though, it is the revelation of the royal and divine nature of Christ that is the focus of the day.  The official date for Epiphany is of course 6 January, which is the day following twelfth night or the last of the twelve days of Christmas, and that was originally the date for the giving of gifts.  In this country that gradually moved back to New Year, and then again to Christmas, but it seems that the tradition grew from the gifts of the magi.

The separation of the two feasts of Christmas and Epiphany underlines their distinctions.  In the first we celebrate the very humble and vulnerable birth of God to live as a man, and primarily to the Jewish people; in the second His manifestation to the world in the shape of the magi, and therefore to us as well.  Neither of these could happen without the other – the second is impossible without the first, but without the second, the first would have little apparent meaning.  As Simeon says in the temple, as we shall celebrate in a few weeks’ time, Christ was born to be a light to lighten the gentiles and to be the glory of Israel.

These two phases must also take place in us in the same way.  Initially Christ must be born within us – as the start of our Christian lives, but we cannot and must not keep him hidden there.  Our job is to be a part of the glorious Epiphany of God, the shining out of his light to all that we meet.  The light that has enlightened us as gentiles, has to be shown and shone.  We are to be the light of the world, and as Jesus himself later put it, you don’t light a candle to put it under the bed!  To put it another way – the Epiphany must continue to happen through us.

Why is it then that we so often feel that rather than shining with the light of God, we are more often stumbling in the darkness of the world?  It is true that we are living in dark times – we are in the middle of a global pandemic, there are wars and threats between nations, there is famine and poverty, and there are natural and climatic disasters which seem to occur more and more often.  Wanting to do the right thing is becoming more and more difficult, and it can be depressing to realise just how little difference one person’s best efforts can make.  But we should not, and must not let that stop us – it has always been true, and never more so than now, that it is better to light a candle than to rail against the darkness.   No single one of us can end the evil of global poverty, but we can each add a small item to our shopping lists to leave as a donation for the food bank or the Lord’s Larder.  We can all make the occasional donation towards those charities that we most support in order to fight against famine or homelessness.  We can all look out for the Fairtrade logo on those items we buy regularly.  I used to have my doubts about the efficacy of internet campaigns, but only this week I received a notification from the Children’s’ Society that the bill that will cut the cost of school uniforms has now passed into law.  It has taken eight years, but it will at last make a difference.  And just possibly the email that I sent to my MP and to Jacob Rees-Mogg made a tiny contribution to that.  As Greta Thunberg says, nobody is too small to make a difference.

More importantly than all these things though, if we truly want to be a part of God’s Epiphany – we must remember that we most become like the people and things that we spend most of our time with.  If we want to shine out with the light of God then we must make it our priority to spend time with him.  Whenever we baptise a child in church, we give them the gift of a lighted candle with these words: ‘God has delivered us from the dominion of darkness and has given us a place with the saints in light.  You have received the light of Christ; walk in this light all the days of your life.  Shine as a light in the world to the glory of God the Father.’[1]

The new year is traditionally a time for resolutions – perhaps we could make this one ours.

[1] Common Worship: © The Archbishops’ Council 2000-2020

Christmas Eve – 2021 – Rev Alison Way

Isaiah 9:2-7, Titus 2:11-14, Luke 2:1-7

In the name of God, loving Father, risen Son and ever-present Holy Spirit. Amen

Over the last couple of years, the run up to Christmas has been much less rushing around like a headless chicken in my world! Last year we were very limited on what we could do because of COVID and levels were such that promises made for celebrations were reduced or dashed completely as the big day approached! This year there has been a good deal more going on (still not like it was in the headless chicken pre-pandemic days), but still with the omicron variant of COVID  looming rather badly! Good job we didn’t know that last year!

This year I did attend a couple of rehearsals and the filmed performance of a school nativity play. Unusually I was the live audience of one! Controlling the sound (and it was taking place in one of my churches). Everyone else who watched it did so from a video!  We have done a little more in the way of special services, praying hard our events don’t spread the virus. We have sung the carols inside that we so missed last year.

Several times in the last few months, I have seen threats of Christmas being cancelled sprawled across the papers, but Christmas and what it means to us can never be cancelled as it is a matter of the heart and faith. It wasn’t cancelled last year either! We may have much reduced or no gatherings and are still not able to connect with every tradition we have built up over the years, but the reason for the season of Christmas remains intact and whole in our hearts by faith.

We do whatever we can because 2000 years ago a baby was laid in a manger because there was no place in the inn and that baby was the son of God – Jesus – Emmanuel God with us. That is written on our hearts and kept alive through our faith. But as a society we have put layers and layers on top of this event, so it is possible to celebrate Christmas with no mention of the Christ child. It can be all about robins, holly and ivy, Rudolf, and snowmen! It can be all about the glitter and the tinsel, and have no substance.

I also worry about the pressures we can put upon ourselves, the need to have a perfect Christmas is one of them. Where we look perfect, everything we cook is perfect, where everyone loves all their presents and everyone gets on for the duration of the festival. Perfection is not the aim of a celebration of Christmas, but marking God’s intimate and profound love for us  that Jesus was born as the son of God to save us. To bring us deeper into God’s amazing love for us. Jesus’ love for us is perfect, whole and complete, but pressurizing ourselves into unrealistic visions of perfect family Christmas isn’t helpful. This is particularly difficult if family circumstances have broken down or we have lost someone special to us and all the more if their loss is covid related!

If it helps to bring this home about not seeking perfection – the first Christmas was far from perfect too for Mary and Joseph. Having a baby far from home in a stable is really less than ideal!!!

Striving for perfection was my first concern, my second concern is that we are ‘romanticising’ the events of when Christ was born and therefore diluting the message. For example, I really enjoyed the school nativity in this church, though this one didn’t – these shows often suggest the stable was clean and warm. It doesn’t really need me to tell you that this would not have been the case in all honesty.

Also, for obvious reasons at the school nativity the baby was revealed from inside the manger. When the big moment came Mary picked him up from where he was concealed in the bottom of the manger.  Easier to explain but not the reality! As I understand it having a baby is a rather more painful and prolonged business than that!! And I don’t imagine any of you who have had babies fancy doing it in a stable of all places.

If we dilute the story of Christmas or get caught up in the perfection quest, what we lose is the cost, the jeopardy and the vulnerability and the reality of it. God’s heart of love for us within it all.

For example, Mary’s acceptance of what was to happen to her (which could have resulted in her being stoned) is important. Trystan Hughes – in the book Real God in the real world (BRF 2013)) wrote

During the Christmas period we remember that this young jewish girl must have been so fearful when she discovered she was expecting. Fearful of rejection, fearful of humiliation and fearful of pain and great risk of childbirth – Yet she turned that difficulty on its head by trusting God putting herself completely in his hands and embracing the wonder of life!

Joseph’s part in this is also pretty radical. Joseph’s acceptance of Mary bearing God’s child is pivotal to God’s plan and a work of God in his heart too. Things would have been very different without Joseph’s part! Also travelling the 40 or so miles to Bethlehem with a heavily  pregnant woman would have been hazardous.

What really happened with the shepherds is challenging too! Angel encounters are frightening. Hence the first line of virtually any angel encounter is Do not be afraid. The shepherds were the lowest of the low in society. Yet they acted on what they saw and that sense of God at play in their hearts as the angels praised God around them!

The vulnerability of it all is important. How God’s love won through even in these early days against the odds. Jesus didn’t come to us to save us and bring us his presence and his peace without a significant degree of risk and jeopardy at every turn. If we dilute the story we lose sight of that. Vulnerability opens our hearts in a new way too. Today usually we don’t generally seek out opportunities to be vulnerable. Yet these have been thrust upon us by recent times and circumstances and over a prolonged period!

When we are vulnerable and open hearted, we acknowledge our weaknesses as well as our God given strengths and gifts. We also allow more room in our hearts to find the deeper things of God within ourselves and those around us. This work in our hearts of God’s love for us is why Christmas can never be cancelled!

This night of all nights we need to be open hearted to the love God has for us. Each one of us his special child. For as the prophet Isaiah put it

6For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counsellor,  Mighty God, Everlasting Father,  Prince of Peace. His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace

To truly understand that Jesus has been born for us, we need to sit with those familiar phrases and chew over each one and feel them deep within ourselves with all our vulnerabilities, frailties and let God’s love fill us afresh. And to live with God’s hope firing our bodies and God’s peace overflowing to those around us.

I am going to end with a poem. You may wish to close your eyes as I read it. It is called You are deeply, deeply loved and it is written by John Harvey and answers the question: – On this night of the year, a voice is speaking – can we hear it?

  • On this night of the year, a voice is speaking – can we hear it?
  • ‘I know the cares and anxious thoughts of your hearts
  • I know the hard times you often give yourselves.
  • I know the hopes and ambitions that you have for yourselves and for others.
  • I know your doubts too – even while you seek to express your belief.
  • On this night, I want to find a way of saying to you:
  • You are deeply, deeply loved,
  • Just as you are,
  • Forgiven, loved and challenged to be the very best you can be.
  • So I’m speaking to you in the only way I know – from a stable,
  • In a child born into poverty,
  • Soon to grow to maturity,
  • Born to show you,
  • In a human life,
  • The love of God’



New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995

Real God in a the real world – Trystan Owain Hughes, The BRF Advent book 2013

You are deeply, deeply loved by John Harvey from Candles and conifers edited by Ruth Burgess. Reproduced for use in church and at home Christmas 2021 Wild Goose Publications

Advent 4 – December 19th 2021 – Rev Alison Way

Advent 4 – December 19th 2021 – Rev Alison Way

Hebrews 10:5-10, Luke  1.39-45(46-55)

In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit Amen

In another familiar gospel reading, we encounter Mary hot footing it to see Elizabeth. The ‘hurry’ here is important. Mary has just had her encounter with Gabriel and heading off to see Elizabeth is the very next thing she does. Was this a response to needing to find wise counsel for herself? Knowing that Elizabeth would know what to do if anyone would know what to do in Mary’s circumstances.

Elizabeth was a woman of her day and had some status. She was the wife of an important priest (Zechariah). There is a significant contrast here – where Elizabeth had some status, Mary was a slip of a girl, unmarried and with very little status. Indeed, Mary was in danger of being deserted by her husband to be, which would have been a disaster for her in the society of her day. Elizabeth’s status had been diminished hitherto, as she had been barren and she had had to live with the social stigma that brought. Now she was pregnant against all the odds, but in God’s time and to God’s specific and well planned agenda. Mary knew this and Mary knew this because – The angel Gabriel had told her in Mary’s encounter about Elizabeth being pregnant. The angel said  And now your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month  for her who was said to be barren.

This meant Mary must have thought Elizabeth would have really unique insights and after an angel encounter, rushing in haste to see the other person mentioned in the dialogue that you know makes sense to me!

I think it is not unreasonable that Mary, six months on, would have known that Elizabeth was pregnant. That that amazing news would have travelled to her. But not God’s hand in it and amazing is the right word for it, as Elizabeth was well beyond child bearing years. But it is pretty certain in these days before instant communication that Elizabeth however did not know what had happened to Mary. All of which makes what happens next all the more surprising

Both the baby – who would grow up to be John the Baptist, and Elizabeth herself recognise the importance and status of Mary and the event that is to come. The growing presence of God inside her. This is a real case of the deep things of God – speaking to the deep things of God and the people involved being open to how the spirit moved. As they met God took over the encounter as his Holy Spirit filled Elizabeth.

I love the freedom and spontaneous joy of this image of the scene painted in acrylics on canvas by Hanna Varghese. See It captures the utter delight of these 2 women carrying 2 special babies. Mary is pictured running down the hill – whilst Elizabeth is moving to embrace her. Mary must have been relieved to see Elizabeth, but what Elizabeth felt and said came from God. Did she even understand what she was saying and the gravity of it – Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.

When we say something is blessed it is a pretty significant thing for us to say. It indicates the hand of God in it and something powerful and awesome in that. It is important to realise with that cry out that Elizabeth is recognising blessedness here and not offering the blessing (that Mary had come to see the only person on earth who might have wisdom to impart – in all those Elizabeth will know what to do thoughts).

Elizabeth recognises that blessedness in two dimensions both Mary as the servant of God and her unborn child as something really, really special. Dealing with that first one first. Unfortunately Mary over the years has developed something of a cultic following where it feels like some branches of our Christian faith have made Mary more important than Jesus – with the notion of Mary being a perpetual virgin and the queen of heaven – being an extreme of it! Don’t get me wrong Mary and her response to God are important and can teach us a great deal about going where God leads irrespective of personal cost. However, it is a reality that the queen of heaven sort of approach has so hijacked these expressive words of Elizabeth into something they were not intended to be.

In my second year at theological college, I regularly used to get a lift to the university with one of my tutors and he was more than a bit more catholic than me. As we drove into the university car park almost invariably he would say the following prayer – Hail Mary full of grace, please find me a parking space! In part I have to say to wind me up!!! But we did always find a space! Even with my reservations! We can respect others with views that differ from us, but one of the joys of anglicanism is that we do not have to agree.

But getting back to the point. Elizabeth with no fore knowledge of what had happened to Mary but through the power of the spirit within her. She hit the nail on the head. She had fully understood what was happening to Mary and how Elizabeth continues bears this out – And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me?

Elizabeth’s question comes in reverence and fear of what God has done. Elizabeth expresses her overwhelmed realization that she is being visited by the one who is pregnant with the messianic child. The mother of my lord being a clear reference to this. Lord was the phrase in constant use to prevent jewish believer’s having to say the sacred name Yahweh. Elizabeth would have understood Lord

  • As “The-Lord- who will-Provide,”

  • As “The-Lord-who Is-My-Banner,” over her in times of conflict

  • As “The-Lord-who Is-Peace,”

  • As the Lord who is the God of Israel

  • As “The-Lord-Is-There,”

  • And “The-Lord-of-hosts,” witnessing to the Almighty God of sovereign power who is surrounded by His heavenly hosts

We need to recognise God in these ways too in what Jesus brings us and have him as our Lord in these ways as well – Elizabeth recognising Jesus as Lord is really important!

As well as Elizabeth recognising the truth, she also explained her child’s reaction – the child to be John the Baptist. He also responded to the sound of your greeting and he responded with a leap for joy. I have not been pregnant but the sensations of the baby as it grows inside its mother in the most part is often the source of much joy!

What we have seen today in Elizabeth and her unborn baby John, starts with recognition. As we get into the business end of our celebrations of Advent and our focus shifts to Christmas – Let’s resolve to make sure recognition of Jesus’s lordship is at the heart of our celebrations and his lordship over our homes, our lives and our hearts with their capacity to love, which can be topped up by his powerful spirit. This is Lordship that must guide us in our stewardship of all that we are and all that we have and to be beacons in our communities sitting light to the material aspects of the season, but concentrating on the spiritual aspects of this celebration.

A Christ free consumer driven Christmas just does not make sense as we recognise Jesus as Lord of all and Lord of our lives. Let’s shake off the tinsel and the glitter, and get back to basics. Let’s recognise the Christ child in the coming days with real spirit filled joy. Joy (is not to be confused with happiness) – in fact we can still be joyfilled in the most dire times in our lives. Joy is a simple heartfelt response to God’s overwhelming love for us. Outwith the circumstances and current trials and tribulations – joy is also a spiritual fruit

Joy as expressed in that painting at the heart of the encounter of Mary and Elizabeth and joy that is ours in abundance and for flourishing as God knows is best for us in our hearts and in our lives. If we let the Holy Spirit in and more importantly let the Holy Spirit take over Amen

New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995

Advent 3 – December 12th 2021 – Rev Alison Way

Philippians 4:4-7, Luke 3:7-18

In the name of the living God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Today as we continue to observe the season of Advent, I want us to think about the words we will shortly use as the introduction to smiling and waving the peace. Turn to page 7 of your service book to see what they are:-  In the tender mercy of our God, the dayspring from on high shall break upon us, to give light to those who dwell in darkness and in the shadow of death and to guide our feet in the way of peace.

These are very familiar words, I am going to share some thoughts about what they mean.  This is actually a verse from Luke’s gospel (1:78), even though it sounds like a bit of Isaiah. Its context is in the words of Zechariah as he spoke for the first time in a while after the birth of John the Baptist.  Zechariah was an elderly priest who served at the temple, and his wife was Elizabeth, Mary’s cousin. If you use New Daylight Bible reading notes, we are in the middle of 2 weeks of thinking about Zechariah. When John is born, Zechariah praises God – he has been mute since he had an angel encounter prophesying John’s birth. Zechariah says that John will serve as a prophet and give knowledge of salvation “through the tender mercy of our God”, and that John would also point to the coming of the Messiah as the Dayspring from on high. This makes this another title given to Jesus, like Son of God, Son of Man, Emmanuel, Key of David and King of the nations.

The words are hugely familiar to me because daily in morning prayer I say a version of these words as the gospel canticle, also known as the Benedictus. These are the words of Zechariah from Luke’s gospel again, but the translation I routinely use is rather different and the notion of dayspring has been worded differently

What I say day by day in morning prayer is: – In the tender compassion of our God the dawn from on high shall break upon us, To shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace. Similar but sufficiently different. The astute amongst you will have noticed that the dayspring had been translated as dawn too. Though dawn can be spectacular with the rising of the sun implicit within it, it does not quite have the same notion as a dayspring to me

So investigating the word dayspring it is a more poetic and atmospheric way of speaking of the dawn or new light. It was used specifically to refer to Jesus as the Messiah who was and is the light to those who sit in darkness. It is more literally the rising of the sun from the east with a new light and a new dawn indicating something more of the ground-breaking nature of the coming of Jesus.

The evolution of the language we have used to translate this phrase is interesting, because though we used this phrase day spring in our oldest translations – King James and the prayer book since then we have rendered this phrase rather differently – as the rising Sun or the Sunrise from on high or the dawn. The rising Sun (with a U) is an interesting play on what was to happen with the rising Son (with an O) later in Jesus’ story. The translation of the underlying phrase here in the Greek is a rising light in the east. The light brought by the Messiah provides the light of truth and forgiveness especially to those blinded by the darkness of their sins. Somehow to me there is more refreshment in this light and more too it than just dawn!

We also understand the word spring today in a couple of different ways. Springing as a verb is very active and energetic, something happening with great passion and joy too – perhaps a springing lamb or spaniel comes to mind!! Through Isaiah God says –  I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. There is an element to a dayspring that is active and passionate. Spring is also a noun, which tends to bring to mind pure water bubbling to the surface which is cooling, refreshing and invigorating and essential to life. Jesus said but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty.  The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.

This week I have had another couple of days not drinking the water from the tap in Common Road due to some essential water works. Even this minor inconvenience, has made me more aware of how much water is the stuff of life and how difficult things are when the flow is interrupted. We need to understand the spring in the day spring in this essential to life way too. But there is also another meaning of the noun Spring as the season of new life and growth we associate with the buds bursting forth, the bulbs flowering and so forth. In Jeremiah it says Ask rain from the Lord in the season of the spring rain, from the Lord who makes the storm clouds, who gives showers of rain to you, the vegetation in the field to everyone. We need to bring this growth and new life welling up and bursting forth to our understanding of the spring in day spring.

God is always doing something new and creative with us and within us, making us more Christlike on our journeys of faith day by day on God’s walk with us. So we bring to the word day spring a lot of understanding of the word spring, but we also should reflect on the day part of the word too. As we look to the celebration of the coming of Christ which happened over 2000 years ago we get into this confusing world of the Bible. Reading stuff looking forward to the Messiah in the Old Testament scriptures and looking back on it from the New Testament perspective. Though we are linear and time limited, God and his workings through Jesus and the power of the spirit are not. Though Jesus was on earth and walked amongst us for a season, since then we have lived in the day, in the moment.

In the light of Jesus’ presence through the Holy Spirit with us – we do not know what it is to live without that day by day and we should not underestimate that reality. In our own way we are looking back at the history of Jesus birth, where after a long period with its lessons of human sin and helplessness the approach of the covenant, the law and God’s chosen people had run its course. As Vine says (this phrase is not very pc!) “Man’s extremity is God’s opportunity.” The world was ripe for God’s intervention and at this time in history God intervened.

As Jesus was born and as we remember that a strange stillness had come over the world. Things were never to be the same again. The dayspring of Jesus was overturning the deepest darkest times and opening the way of love and the power of God to all our hearts and homes. There is part of me that feels we are also at a low point in our approach to our beautiful world, with the challenges the pandemic has brought and the way our society has lost sight of truthfulness. Day by day, we again see lessons of human sin and helplessness and have more than a bit of Man’s extremity being God’s opportunity. It is beholden on us as God’s messengers on earth today – to share the good news of Jesus Christ in our context today vigorously and our values of love for God, and love for our neighbours near and far.

Our paramount need is to work together for the common good and having light and hope in our hearts and lives. We need to share this with some significant urgency in a world that so needs it. We need to get beyond the individual approach and reach out with God’s love to those around us. In a way we need to be daysprings in every meaning of it  and of God’s love – just as much as Jesus was and bring God’s hope, meaning, purpose and peace to those around us.

I am going to end these thoughts with a verse of a very familiar advent hymn which uses the dayspring from on high as a title for Jesus

O Come Thou Dayspring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here;
Dispense the gloomy clouds of night,
And death’s dark shadows put to flight

With God’s love in our hearts this Christmas, let’s help dispense the gloomy clouds of night and death’s dark shadows for our community by sharing the love of Jesus however we can. Amen




New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995

Peace – Text copyright © The Archbishops’ Council 2000-2021

CCLI – Song  reproduced under CCLI 217043 for St Peter and St Paul’s Church Wincanton

New Daylight – September to December 2021 – Zechariah – Amy Boucher Pye

Advent 2 – 5th December – Rev Alison Way

Philippians 1:3-1, Luke 3:1-6

In the name of the living God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Early this week I was sharing in our Advent group, about how much I like a good plan! We did an exercise at the beginning of the group about how people approach life – do they like to be spontaneous and go with the flow at one end of the scale, and those who like things planned out and thought through at the other end of the scale. It came as no surprise to me that I came out as the person who most liked to be planned. (I have done similar exercises to this one before and found myself in this position of being the person who most like to be planned several times before!).

My enthusiasm for a good plan has been one of the greatest stressors I have had in the last 20 months or so, where planning has been difficult if not reasonably impossible! There has been the unwelcome challenge of more uncertainty this week too. Will we suddenly be rushing into a period with further risk assessments, yet more long and complicated guidance (often produced after you are supposed to apply it!)? Or will it all be a storm in a tea cup and we will carry on as we have been for a while?

At the moment I am about the most planned ahead that I have managed since I have been here and I have been fighting the sinking feeling inside that the omicron variant may yet scupper that! Being a vicar is an interesting challenge where planning is concerned with lots of dimensions and layers to it. With dates agreed a long time ahead and things that need attention now and overtake everything I thought I might have been doing. Something completely other happens from time to time but other commitments are very fixed and don’t shift irrespective of anything else!

Our gospel reading today Is about the unfolding of God’s big plan – where it ends with John the Baptist saying

And All flesh will see the salvation of God

It begins with setting the context and the historical setting by listing who was in charge, starting with the Emperor Tiberius, local Roman governor Pontius Pilate, then the local (and powerless) King Herod and finally the two high priests, Annas and Caiaphas (we heard about them 2 weeks ago). We are then introduced to the person preparing the way for Jesus – John the Baptist. And after the musical Godspell – We can have the refrain – Prepare  ye the way of the lord in our minds.

Being prepared, alert and ready is very much the basis of what John the Baptist was about and is captured in the words we heard quoted from the prophet Isaiah at the end of our gospel reading. So what does being prepared actually mean in our Christian lives?

Interestingly we thought about this in this week’s advent course. From my perspective it is not about having everything planned out, so this is something I need to be careful of in particular. It is also not about being so laid back that we miss opportunities that God gives us. It is also not about being so wired that we are anxious and constantly in flight or fight mode (with adrenaline cursing round our blood systems much to much)

The Reverend Lucy Winkett who compiled our course entitled – so what are you waiting for –  said the preparedness and readiness we need is as follows:-

  • We’re asked to practise our courage,

  • Practise kindness,

  • Practise forgiveness.

  • And to do all of this today – not postpone it all to some time in the future.

I found this a helpful thing to dwell on.

  • Practising courage – means being brave in small things now, so it becomes a habit when more difficult things come along.

  • Practising openness – means responding to the sense of God we feel in his presence in the things that unfold each day. Praying as we go is another good way to be open.

  • Practising honesty means saying when something matters to us in line with our faith (and not worrying about the potential reaction).

  • Practising kindness is really important in our current scenario (and something I have been saying frequently). It is not usually difficult to be kind and it says a lot about us and our hearts for God, loving our neighbours as ourselves. Honesty does need to be done kindly too!

  • Practising forgiveness was the end of the list of things we needed to practise – to live alert and prepared seeking God’s forgiveness, seeking other’s forgiveness and forgiving ourselves. Not leaving something festering when we know we are in the wrong. There’s a lot to be said for ending each day with reflection and repentance, alongside thanksgivings.

The final piece of guidance was not to postpone it all to some time in the future. Leaving undone things that we should have done – not living in the now. If we are experts in procrastination this is a tough ask. There are of course times when we are better leaving something – but beware default positions, especially if it is do tomorrow what I could do today!

I really like the fact that the verb used here was practise. Keep trying, keep perfecting, keep going – don’t give up. We are always a work in progress. I was challenged on the clergy quiet day – not to describe our Christian lives as our walk with God (which I am prone to do and because I like walking). But to think of it as God’s walk with us – putting God in his rightful place first in our lives. This change of emphasis will also help us to be more open and mindful of God’s love for us.

I think one of the things our COVID days have brought us is a great awareness of living in the moment. We have had a lot stripped away and it has helped us to not take things for granted and to be thankful for each day. Let’s use all of this to help us live in a state of readiness – being prepared as the voice in the wilderness cries out to our hearts once again.

“Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” Amen


New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995

Godspell is a musical composed by Stephen Schwartz with the book by John-Michael Tebelak based on Matthew’s gospel

York course – So what are you waiting for – Lucy Winkett © York Courses 2017


Advent Sunday – Penny Ashton – 28th November 2021

Advent Sunday – 1 Thessalonians 3:  9-end, Luke 21: 25-36

The Advent course that we have been following this year has the title ‘So what are you waiting for?’.  I wish that more of you had decided to join this, but realise that having the course on line – a decision reached with regret due to the high infection rates – may have put people off.  I feel that the title is particularly appropriate for the season of Advent though, which is a time of waiting, although at times we don’t seem too sure what – or who – we are waiting for.  In another parish, a friend of mine used to be increasingly annoyed with the vicar, who as he built up the crib scene for the children, which I think he did over a few weeks used the phrase ‘waiting for Jesus’.  She felt that the children would become confused as the older ones would remember that we were waiting for Jesus last year too, until he came at Christmas, and now we were doing it all over again.  It must seem confusing to a child, particularly as they are frequently very literal minded.

So – what are we waiting for?  The western world is most definitely waiting for Christmas as your newspaper and television will not let you forget.  I notice that the radio stations too are debating when it is appropriate to begin to play Christmas music.  The consensus seems to be as soon as it is December, so be warned – it starts on Wednesday!  Our readings for today – and for the rest of the season however seem to be looking much further ahead.

The many differences in tone between the two readings chosen for today makes you wonder why they were chosen for the same day.  Paul speaks of the joy it brings him when he remembers the Thessalonian church, and how he often thanks God for them, and prays that they will be upheld and strengthened in their faith but he ends by praying that they will be ready when Christ returns, which is perhaps the main theme of Advent.

Jesus is warning the disciples – and us – of the alarming things that are to happen before his kingdom on this earth is finally and fully established.  The reading today starts in the middle of the events that he is warning of, which begins in v8 of Luke 21, and much of it sounds like a description of the state of the world today.   Many people believe that we are living now in the end times, and there have been lots of occasions when the time of Jesus return has been narrowed down to a date, and people have sold all they possess and headed for a place they believe to be appropriate to meet him.  So far this has not happened – or at least not in the literal sense that they were expecting.  I am sure you have seen pictures depicting Jesus descending on a sort of celestial elevator made of fluffy white cloud – somehow, I don’t think he was intending that description to be taken too literally.  The fact is, we are in the same situation now as the people of Israel were before Jesus’ birth.  We have hints in the prophesies, just as they had in the Old Testament, but very little that we can pin down with any accuracy.  Perhaps that is why we have to have faith!

Before we look at the warnings that Jesus gives in the gospel reading, it is worth remembering that what He is telling us is that things will get worse before they get better, but that the dreadful things that are to come will only be temporary.  In fact, the more I learn about history, the more I realise that He could have been describing almost any time between then and now.  He has given us three fairly clear instructions about how we are too live through it all in this reading though.

Jesus first instruction to us, when we see these dreadful things that he has been talking about start to happen is not to do what my first instinct would be and find the nearest dark corner to curl up in and hide, but to stand tall and hold your head up.  In this life we have nothing to fear, because, as St Paul tells us in Colossians chapter 3, we must set our minds on things that are above because we have died, and our life is now hidden with Christ in God.  There may be times in this life when things get nasty and uncomfortable, but if we can think in terms of eternity, we have nothing to fear.  And so we can, as Jesus tells us, stand tall, and whatever is coming, we can look it in the eye.  As Jesus has said – it will not last for ever, but eternity with Him will.

Our second instruction is to be on our guard.  We are told that we will not know the time that all this will happen, and that many people will get it wrong and cause panic and alarm by getting it wrong.  In many of the parables Jesus likens the coming of the kingdom to things that are unexpected – like a thief in the night.  Our job is to be wary, and where God has called us to do something, to make that our main focus.  There is a story about St Francis of Assisi who was hoeing a row of beans when he was asked what he would do if he knew that this would be his last day on earth.  His reply was that he would finish hoeing his beans.  Sometimes we can feel that the place where God has put us and the task that he has given us can be a bit mundane.  The hymn ‘Teach me my God and King’ by George Herbert has some interesting and at times odd seeming words, but the overall meaning is clear – that when we perform anything in God’s service, that task becomes sacred.  In this time of Covid I have often thought how we have suddenly realised how important to our hospitals and care homes are the people who do the cleaning.  It has never been a high-status job, but they are the people contributing vastly towards keeping us all safe.

Lastly Jesus tells us to be alert.  This seems to be similar to being on our guard, but a guard who is not alert, who is not keeping a good watch, is a guard who can and may miss vital signs of possible danger.  Some years ago, I worked just outside Bristol on a large trading estate.  My shift used to start late and finish late which meant that I was nearly always parked at the very far end of the large car park, and by the time I left, I used to walk quite a way back to the car to go home.  I found it a great comfort in the winter months when it was cold and dark to know that the security men who were on duty would be following me on their CCTV screens to make sure that I was safely in my car, and that it had started properly to take me home.  It may have seemed a small task to them, but it meant a lot to me.  We must be alert not just to the things that are happening around us, but also to the guidance of the Holy Spirit who will help us to understand what it all means.

Advent, like Lent is a season of fasting and preparation for the festival and celebration that comes at the end.  In the same way, before Jesus returns to complete all that he has promised, things may have to get worse before getting better.  We have Paul’s belief to fall back on though, that our present sufferings are as nothing when compared with the joy that awaits us in the end.

Thanks be to God!

Christ the King – Rev Alison Way – 21st November 2021

Revelation 1:4b-8, John 18:33-37

In the name of the Father, the Son and The Holy Spirit, Amen

Our gospel today is in the middle of the action after Jesus was arrested and hours before his crucifixion. He has already been interviewed by the chief priest Annas and transported bound to a further chief priest Caiaphas. Significant as Annas and Caiaphas are – they can do no more at this point, they are effectively powerless to do anything to Jesus much as they wanted to. They have to hand him over to where worldly power was held, in this instance to Pilate (the Roman Governor of the area).

Just before our reading starts – the chief priests had handed him over, they had remained outside Pilate’s headquarters. The chief priests had not really said clearly to Pilate what their problem was with Jesus either… Just ‘If this man were not a criminal, we would not have handed him over to you.’ They had also acknowledged their powerlessness to do anything about it. ‘We are not permitted to put anyone to death.’

Back inside the building we then get the rather strange conversation between Jesus and Pilate. The chief priest were not there even because they were afraid that just going into Pilate’s headquarters would make then unclean. Then they would be unable to partake in the Passover celebrations. Even at this most pivotal point – when they really needed to get Pilate to do what they wanted him to do, their purity mattered more to them than anything else. Can we see moments in ourselves when the priorities get out of balance like this? The power system at this time was crumbly and crumbling – that is not what Christ’s kingship and kingdom is all about!

So back to the conversation between Pilate and Jesus. I suspect this is one where Pilate did not understand the magnitude and gravity of what Jesus said. Pilate tried three times to find out who Jesus is – First by asking Are you the King of the Jews? And secondly by asking really directly ‘What have you done?’ And thirdly So you are a King? Jesus answers to each of these questions add layers of complexity.

To Are you the King of the Jews? Jesus counters with his own questions, wanting to know what is at the heart of Pilate’s question. Is he acting for himself or is he just doing other’s bidding? Jesus is clearly looking at where the power really resides.

The answer to the second question ‘What have you done?’ is all the more mysterious. Jesus saying he has a kingdom even if it is not from this world. This implies as we know is the case that Jesus is a King beyond our worldly understanding. He then makes a point about what his followers would be doing if they were from this world. He asserts they would be fighting his corner. As it is they have fallen away. Even Peter, who is nearby has just denied him three times. His followers are powerless to put up any defence at this point. Jesus is not a leader of an army, or the Messiah as the Jewish people of his day had wanted to overthrow the Romans. He is also effectively saying to Pilate – I am not a personal threat to peace and the stability of your governance! But I doubt Pilate understood that.

Understanding Jesus’ kingdom beyond and within us is important. It is beyond us because he is not limited to our linear worldly experience of life and time. It is within us, because we are living in his kingdom now because of the power of the Holy Spirit dwelling in our hearts. Won for us by Jesus’ love for us, love that is cross-shaped.

To the third question So you are a King? Jesus is more direct. Saying he was born to be a King. Many of the carols we will hopefully be singing in a few weeks, herald his birth as the new born King.

He then says something very interesting about truth. First that he is to testify to the truth. This truth being that Jesus embodies the eternal kingdom of God, which, while experienced in the world, does not originate in it and is not bound by it either. The truth that Jesus testifies to transcends the confines of time and culture once and for all. This is in marked contrast to the cultural and political truth of the Roman Empire, represented in this scene by Pilate.

Our society is in a real mess with political truth and we do seem to have lost sight of the need for truth, truths and truthfulness. It can be very difficult to get to the truth in the way we go about things. As Christians our truth needs to be founded in Jesus and his saving love for us and we need to be particularly diligent as Jesus says in this passage, and listen to his voice carefully.

The second thing he says about the truth is Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice. This can be difficult and challenging. Much of what Jesus taught us turns value systems and approaches upside down and inside out. The value of questioning ourselves – as to what would Jesus do – can be a very useful question in any given situation. It would often illicit an answer that is quite other but should always be loving, inspired by the loving heart of God for us. What has been done in Jesus, his kingship of us and his kingdom around us? Everything around us testifies to the truth of God and everyone who belongs and lives in that truth listens to God’s voice through the power of the spirit that lives in us. This goes on – no matter how much the world and society around us tries to distance itself. We are living definitively and definitely inhabiting God’s kingdom on earth.

The earth around us sings God’s praise. The love we experience in one another sings God’s praise. The inspiration in our hearts to be as God wants us to be, sings God’s praise and makes us a kingdom beyond this world and pointing to the next. The kingdom is still here, wholly and completely. We have so many other things that appear attractive today, which are just like the emperor’s new clothes. We seem to be in danger even in our lives of clouding out the real balance and the greatness of what we have in Jesus. We need to live in Jesus’ kingdom now.

We need to live in the kingdom with Jesus’ kingdom values and be honest where power for us resides. Power is not ours to choose to wield as we wish. We are NOT in control of this world or the next, but loved and cherished by the God of this kingdom who gave us so much in his son Jesus. We are here to live in his kingdom and to testify to the truth he brought us and to follow his guidance in our lives through listening to his voice.

Real power in the kingdom of God is entirely that which Jesus has brought us – which is not from this world; This Kingdom both transcends (goes over and above) and subverts our  earthly understanding of power. The coming of Jesus – the start of the story (which we will turn to again shortly) completely changed the power balance and the priorities for always and for ever.

My question for us in response to all of this, this morning, as we mark this feast of Christ the King revolves around power and where the real power lies in our lives. This really boils down to whether Christ is the King of our lives. Do we show in our lives the central role of truth speaking and truth hearing that his kingdom brings? Power can be very seductive and enticing and wrapped up in all kinds of fancy trappings that can make it look attractive, desirable and necessary even when it is leading us astray. As with all human existence we have choices on how we use the power we have to live for ourselves, or to live for God .

Today let’s take stock and where necessary take action and make sure Christ is the King of our lives and not anything else. That our priority is hearing and speaking the truth that Christ is King and living in his kingdom and not one of our own making. Amen

New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995

Kingdom living © ROOTS for Churches Ltd ( 2002-2021. Reproduced with permission.

Remembrance Sunday – Rev Alison Way 14th November 2021

John 14:27, James 3, 17,18, 1 John 1.5
In the name of the living God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Looking around a church on Remembrance Sunday, there is a sea of poppies –– obviously there are gatherings of poppies in strategic places at the front and round the font as well as poppies scattered across everyone gathered on their clothing. These are like the poppies that grew around the scarred lands used for battles in the Great War. These particularly inspired John McCrae in 1915– the first line of his famous poem – In Flanders fields the poppies blow. And particularly when the battles finally ceased and the land stopped being used that soil that had formed the trenches contained thousands of poppy seeds, all lying dormant. In these areas the poppies bloomed like never before.

One of the most famous bloom of poppies was around Ypres, a town in Flanders, Belgium. This was crucial to the Allied defence. There were three battles there, but it was the second, which was calamitous to the allies since it heralded the first use of chlorine gas in the conflict. This brought forth the poppies in greatest abundance. Even from the deepest of calamities, new life can and did grow in the poppies.

An American woman Moina Michael from Georgia, was the first person to wear a poppy in remembrance. In reply to McCrae’s poem, she wrote a poem entitled ‘We shall keep the faith’ which includes the lines: And now the Torch and Poppy Red – We wear in honor of our dead. She bought some poppies, wore one, and sold the others, raising money for ex-servicemen. Her colleague, French YMCA Secretary Madame Guerin, took up the idea and made artificial poppies for war orphans. It caught on.  In November 1921, Poppies were sold for the first time as the British legion was being born and in 1922 the poppies sold came from a factory founded by the British Legion – staffed by disabled ex-servicemen – to produce its own. This continues today and is now called the Poppy Factory.

Remembrance is important – We have been handing the baton of remembrance using poppies from one generation to the next since 1921 – 100 years to this November. Remembrance is about walking in the footsteps and through the stories of those who have gone before us. Standing shoulder to shoulder with them and living learning from their experience. It is important to keep passing the poppy baton on to our children and our children’s children. As we look at our poppies – lets explore the different facets of remembrance.

Let’s think first about the black centre – if we are wearing a poppy you may want to touch the parts of it as I write– so the black centre is a bit like a big full stop. Each full stop in a poppy marks a life lost, lost in conflict in service of their country.

  • Private William Deane is the youngest of the fallen from Wincanton in the first world war. Just 18 years old. From Tony Goddard’s “More than just names” – Both William’s parents died when he was young, so he and his brother Charles were brought up by his Auntie Mabel living in South Street. William lied about his age and joined up at just 17 in Yeovil in 1915. He died in Roeux Wood near Arras on 3rd May 1917 just 10 months after arriving in France.

  • In the second world war, David Morse was the youngest aged just 17. He grew up in the Rodber House Orphanage, in Shadwell Lane Wincanton, he joined the navy in the boy’s service in 1937 and died when the Royal Oak was torpedoed in Scarpa Flow on 13th October 1939.

  • More recently between 2008 and 2014, I lived and ministered in villages in Wiltshire (Broad Town, Clyffe Pypard, Hilmarton and Tockenham) round the back of now Royal Wootton Bassett and Lyneham where the air base then was. In total, 345 men and women were carried through the town in hearses as visitors came from all over the world to say goodbye.

This brought home to me in a new way the cost to many families today of conflict. Parents and grandparents who had lost children, children who had lost a much loved parent.  Friends and families now living on treasuring the memories of someone so dear. Let’s also use the full stop centre of our poppies to help us also to remember those who died in more recent conflicts and those living with that loss and grief today.

Let’s next think about the redness of the poppy’s petals – we may want to touch the petals now. The redness reminds us of danger, harm and hazard. In our mind’s eye let’s remember those still involved in conflict today. In a way the colour of the petals is also a visual reminder of the blood spilt.  Injuries sustained in and through conflict change the lives of those impacted for ever. Not just physical injuries but the scars caused by experiences – things like shell shock and post-traumatic stress disorder. Things after the first and second world war that the society of the day did not understand in the way we do today. Things that caused pain and stress in family and community life.  And in our present – Help us also to remember too those who have been injured in more recent conflicts and those living with significant challenges and disabilities today, and those who support them. Let’s also remember those members of the general population who are hurt in war too.

Next we turn to the stalk of the poppy – we may want to touch the stalk of our poppy now. The stalk reflects the peace in which we stand. Peace won for us by the actions of those who have gone before us, those known to us and those we never knew. Help us to learn from the past and do all that we can to make the world a better place to live in for the future. To always have hearts seeking reconciliation and peace.  As we heard in our reading Jesus said – Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you. Lets share that peace and do all we can to live in peace with our neighbours both near at hand and across our world. Let’s resolve afresh today to live as peace makers and peace bringers to those around us. In our pandemic days let us lean into the peace of God that passes all understanding.  Peace that Jesus spoke of and peace that Jesus has left with us through the power of the Holy Spirit and deep peace that we can share with others.

It is particularly important to share that peace in our acts of kindness and compassion for each other – let’s sow peace as people who make peace as the letter from James had it.  There is a song I learnt as a child we may know – which says Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me!

Finally, if your poppy has a leaf, we may want to touch the leaf –  let’s use that to signify our walk together and our growth together as a community in this place – loving our neighbours and caring for those who are most vulnerable. Remembrance reminds us of the sacrifice and the selfless example of our forebears. Help us to learn from this the need above all to work together for the common good as they did.

Let us pray

God of life, from generation to generation you have held all creation in the palm of your hand.

As we cradle our Remembrance poppies: hold us close to your heart this day as we remember those who died in conflict, particularly those who lived before us in this place.

God of life, as we cradle our Remembrance poppies: may the persistence of your healing love continue its work in the lives of individuals and communities still living in the aftermath of conflict particularly our veterans, and all those who have lost loved ones or those living with the impact of life-changing injury. Surround and protect them with your life-giving Spirit.

God of life, as we cradle our Remembrance poppies  – We give thanks for all the organisations that support our service personnel, and their families and especially for the work of the Royal British legion in its 100th year. Grant us the strength to always work together for peace, for the common good and to share our peace through acts of kindness and compassion. In the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.



More than just names – the Wincanton Roll of Honour for the Great War and Second World War by Tony Goddard

The New Revised Standard Version (Anglicized Edition), copyright 1989, 1995

Prayer adapted from