Author Archives: Rachel Feltham

Bible Sunday – Rev Alison Way

Psalm 119: 9-16 Colossians 3:12-17, Matthew 24:30-35

Link the Alison’s video reflection: https://youtu.be/eMxz_ySeZd4

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

There are a few prayer book collects, the special prayers included for each Sunday week by week that have had a lasting impact. In a few weeks on what is now kept as the feast of Christ the King (the Sunday before Advent Sunday) is the one that famously starts Stir up we beseech thee O Lord the wills of thy faithful people, making that day stir up Sunday – and the day when traditionally we should stir up the Christmas pudding. Bible Sunday – which we mark today is another of those. In the last 40 years – this has been associated with the last Sunday of Trinity – which we keep today though the prayer book originally had it on the 2nd Sunday of Advent. Here is the collect

Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: help us so to hear them, to read, mark, learn and inwardly digest them that, through patience, and the comfort of your holy word, we may embrace and for ever hold fast the hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ, Amen.

What I particularly like about it is that famous phrase which said of scripture that we need to read, mark, learn and inwardly digest. Unsurprisingly I am very enthusiastic about the Bible. Over years of ministry I have made many trips to school (to talk about my favourite book) and run many days and short courses to make it more accessible for grown ups. The Bible is a wonderful resource we have at our finger tips. It isn’t a book – it is a collection of books, and books across a wide variety of topics. It is peppered with well-crafted stories. Both stories with well painted characters and stories with meaning and purpose! It contains stories that show human nature in all its glory and horror! There are also long and convoluted (and sometimes rather bloody) histories alongside the complexity of the law as laid down in the Old Testament. (Just have a try at Leviticus if we want to engage with that). There is poetry and the hymn book of the Israelite people but granted – we sometimes lose a bit in translation. There is prophecy and writings looking to the end times (where the meaning is hidden and written in ways that were understood at the time but mystify us!!). In a way the Bible is a whole library in one volume…

We have the fortune to have access to the Bible in our native tongue. Lives were literally lost in the translation of it and we live in a part of the world where owning and reading a Bible is not an activity which might endanger our lives. We have this fantastic resource – the question is how much do we engage with it. How much reading, marking, learning and inwardly digesting are we doing?

I was having a conversation a couple of weeks ago about my experience of engaging with passages of the Bible in my daily walk with God. How sometimes reading even in the most familiar of passages, I spot something that really helps my situation that particular day. As I am reading it speaks to me in a new way and gives God through his Holy Spirit a way of helping me and guiding me. Moments of inspiration and revelation of this sort – often start from musing on something I had not spotted before. I am certain this is one of the ways God can guide us – but it does require us to open the book regularly…

Getting down to reading, marking, learning and inwardly digesting – starts with reading. It is unsurprising that I have a lot of Bibles!! This is my earliest one – a beaten up Good News that has clearly seen better days (and has been my companion since I became a Christian in my teens). I have ones in traditional language, through to a Bible called the ‘word on the street’.  I have one with fabulous pictures and illustrations, and others with room to write in the margins or draw as we are inspired. This is a recent one with beautiful pictures from Hannah Dunnett and space for journaling and recording our own reflections on each page.

Much as I love it – and all the ways into it we have the Bible is not an easy read. For example – The ritual purity laws in Leviticus (I alluded to earlier) are a really difficult read (maybe even a cure for insomnia). If we are honest – We may find reading the Bible difficult for a variety of reasons.

  • We are not the original intended readers (who understood their culture and rituals in a way we 2000 and more years later definitely don’t!).

  • Some parts of it are deliberately written in code – so should the text get into the hands of those unfriendly to the Jews or early Christians it did not seem subversive.

  • It is always a translation from another language or culture (unless we happen to be a scholar of the original languages – which I am not!).

  • Not to get too technical – Sometimes there are layers of editing within what we are reading – with different agendas playing out too.

My take home lesson from all this is that engaging with the Bible is a good thing to do and preferably a good thing to do daily. We might find that it might be a good time to get a fresh translation or a modern paraphrase to help us engage in a new and invigorated way. Maybe we could ask Father Christmas via our nearest and dearest to get us a version different from the ones we already have. I would be delighted to provide advice on this to suit your needs if that would be helpful.

So once we are reading it – what helps with the marking and learning of the Bible described in our collect. The simple truth is we are probably better off not flying solo…. Getting an interpretation for a passage is a great place to start. Yes, carefully read the passage and note what speaks to you and then carefully read an interpretation. Then take time to ponder!!!

Personally I have been reading New Daylight produced by the Bible Reading Fellowship every day to help with Bible reading for over 20 years…. It gives us a daily passage, interpretation and prayer. It is a really good way to start… It is all laid out for us and they produce a pocket sized booklet 3 times a year to guide us. Another approach, if we want to read readings that others are reading that day – we might also want to engage with the ‘Reflections for Daily Prayer’ series – produced by the Church of England. There is strength in reading, marking and learning alongside everyone who is following the laid down pattern of readings for that day…

Finally we might want to take on a challenge to read all the Bible methodically for a year with some helpful daily reflections to fire our journey… This Bible Challenge book would help us with that and I have used this guide to reading the Bible in a year and it comes highly recommended.

If we are more technically minded, I am pretty sure all of these things are available as phone apps too. Another thing to think about doing as well as reading our Bibles is to listen to them (and there are lots of available audio versions), including one where the whole New Testament is read by the dulcet tones of one David Suchet..  (actor who has been Poirot in recent times!!). Sometimes listening to it helps us to mark and learn from a text rather than just reading!! In a few week’s time as Advent starts we are shifting in our Sunday gospel readings from Matthew to Mark. I cannot commend highly enough, taking out the 90 minutes it would take to listen to Mark’s gospel in one sitting – it will bring it alive!!!! Give it a go!

Really – I am saying all of this because of something it says in our reading from Colossians today and because of that Bible Sunday Collect. What it says in Colossians really tunes in to the inwardly digesting part of the collect. It says Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly.

What then is ‘the word of Christ’? It is surely more than just his words, although it must necessarily include them. Obviously this relates to the reference to John 1.1-14, with its sublime climax, ‘And the Word became flesh and lived amongst us’. So the phrase refers to the whole of Christ’s life and ministry, his actions as well as his words, and his example and character, given for us to follow. The word also refers to Jesus bringing meaning and purpose to our lives. Meaning and purpose played out in his life (and his influences from his Jewish heritage). Though we might find it easier (at times) not to grapple too much with the Old Testament material, this stuff influenced Jesus and his understanding and was formative to him (and will help us to understand him better). Hopefully at some point we can take some time to lift the lid on the Old Testament and understand some rules of thumb that make it easier to understand and demystifies it.. though not today!

For me letting the word of Christ dwell richly – does mean engaging with the Bible (and all of it). As I said earlier, the Holy Spirit has a way of engaging with what we do read and giving us pointers and messages through our endeavours. Once we have read what we are going to read, let’s pause and ponder and then let the Spirit inform our hearts, our prayer and feed our souls… The collect urges patience in our inward digesting but assures us of comfort from God’s word…. which ultimately helps us hold fast to the hope of everlasting life.

To finish this reflection, I want to take us to where the more modern collect set for today takes us – a prayer that could have been written for times like these… Collect for the Last Sunday after Trinity – Merciful God, teach us to be faithful in change and uncertainty, that trusting in your word and obeying your will we may enter the unfailing joy of Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen

  • Resources Referenced:
  • New Daylight – Bible Reading Fellowship
  • Reflections for Daily Prayer – Church House Publishing (new version for 2020-2021 now available)
  • The Bible Challenge – read the Bible in a year – Ed. Marek Zabriske
  • Collect prayers – Copyright Church House Publishing 2000-2020
  • The New Revised Standard Version (Anglicized Edition), copyright 1989, 1995
  • Good News Bible – Rainbow Edition
  • Hannah Dunnett – Journalling Holy Bible – International Version
  • NIV Bible App – Read by David Suchet.

St Luke’s Day – Penny Ashton

St Luke’s day – 2 Timothy 4: 5-17 and Luke 10: 1-9

All shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well’

Many of you would be able to tell me that that is a quote from the writings of Dame Julian of Norwich.   Julian lived between the years of 1343 and approximately 1416.  During her lifetime the city suffered the devastating effects of the Black Death; the Peasants’ Revolt, and the suppression of the Lollards. When she was about thirty she was so seriously ill she thought she was on her deathbed and was given the last rites, but amazingly she recovered and lived for at least another 30 years.   Although she lived in a cell attached to St Julian’s church, she would have been aware of all the happenings around her as she was not cut off from society – her cell had 3 windows which enabled her to take part in worship of the church and to communicate with the world outside and with her servant, and despite all these dreadful things happening she was able to write the beautiful words with which I started.   She lived through a pandemic just as we are today, but with none of the advantages that we have of medical skill and knowledge or of numerous methods of communication.

You are probably wondering why I am talking about a fairly obscure English mystic when the theme of our service is St Luke, but on St Luke’s day it is customary to think about healing and wholeness.  We know very little about St Luke personally, but we have a lot to thank him for.  Without his writings we would have very little to decorate our Christmas cards and nativity scenes, as almost the entire Christmas story is told only in his gospel.  Without Luke there would be no annunciation, no journey to Bethlehem, no fully booked inn, no manger no angels and shepherds.  We would also know nothing of the boyhood of Christ, and our evensongs would have no Magnificat or Nunc Dimittis.  In chapter 1 Luke tells us that he set himself the task of finding out and writing an orderly account and his story is possibly the best account of the life of Christ that we have.

We know Luke through his writings, and if you include the Acts of the Apostles, he wrote about 25% of our New Testament. Possibly the only non-Jew to be included in the New Testament.  The best known parables – the prodigal son, the good Samaritan and the lost sheep were also brought to us by Luke. Our only account of the growth of the early church was written by him.  As Paul mentions in his letters, Luke accompanied him on much of his travelling.  The narrative in Acts sometimes changes to the first person as Luke almost forgets his role as a reporter rather than a participant.   He knew the importance of good record keeping.

What we remember Luke for chiefly today is his profession – he was a physician and is patron saint of doctors and surgeons.  Since we are aware that Paul was not always in good health, it is likely that Luke chose to travel with him in order to care for him and enable his ministry to continue.  We know from our first reading today that he remained with Paul during his house arrest in Rome while he awaited his trial before Nero, in the certain knowledge that it would lead to his death.  We have no knowledge of what happened to Luke after this – he had told the story he set out to tell.

We learned through the news during lockdown earlier this year that nurses, doctors and carers were working far beyond their allotted shift hours to provide the best for those in their care – in the case of staff at care homes even to the extent of leaving their families to fend for themselves as the carer lived in at their place of work so as to be always on hand.  We also know that the medical profession is generally not highly paid, the hours are antisocial, and that this year they were under resourced to the extent that going to work meant putting their lives on the line.  We applaud the courage of firefighters, the police and the armed forces – we never thought it would take courage to be a nurse or carer.

We have also been in danger in the recent past of almost canonising them.  My contact with medical professionals in my family has brought something very much to the fore – they are not saints and angels – and have no desire to be treated as such.  They are however professionals – and do wish to be treated professionally.  They work in a setting where performance and profit related rewards are not possible, so we cannot apply those criteria to them.   We do however all expect them to be available at the time when we need them, and to do that, they must be properly resourced.  That is where we come in.  I would venture to suggest that while it is gratifying to be applauded weekly from the nation’s doorsteps, they would prefer to be supplied with the proper tools to enable them to be able to carry out their duties to their own satisfaction.

Above all we can pray.  It is not possible to overestimate the importance of involving our heavenly Father in those things that matter to us.  We have as a matter of course included our local health centre as a matter for our prayers in our weekly newsletter, but I wonder how many of us manage to skim read those parts that we think we know – I know I am guilty of that one.  Our list of people needing our prayers is also regularly and carefully updated – I am aware of at least 3 people currently on that list who have recently been admitted to hospital.  Please don’t skim past that part either.

Luke gives us an example of a careful record keeper, a good story teller, one who records wonderful examples of praise as well as of actions.  He knows that his role is that of story teller, and he has no interest in telling us of his role within the story – his interests in the outcast, the gentiles and women are clear in his gospel, and his faithfulness to the work of the gospel sets an example we could do much worse than emulate.  And Julian?  Surely she gives us an example of a faith that shines out in the very worst of times.   If the Covid restrictions become stricter – as I am afraid they well might, we would do well to remember her beautiful words that we started with – all shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well.

Trinity 18 – Rev Alison Way

Philippians 4:1-9, Matthew 22:1-14

Link the video of this reflection: – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yLnMPdtJ_dk

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

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

It is a tricky gospel parable set for us today – There are 4 things I want us to draw out of it. The first is who is listening in!! Jesus is telling this story in the Temple courts. Therefore, there is a mixed audience including

  • The chief priests and religious leaders (who have definitely turned against Jesus)

  • His devoted followers and disciples

  • And a sprinkling of people in the middle of those 2 poles wondering about who Jesus was and what he was about.

This means this is one of those stories making a lot of points!!!

The second thing I want us to think about is where this story starts…. There is a key phrase at the start of the story which is the kingdom of heaven is like or may be compared with. A lot of Jesus parables start like this including the parable of the weeds, mustard seed, yeast, hidden treasure, the pearl, talents, and workers in the vineyard. Above all this starting point is to help the listeners to listen.  Especially those who loved him and were actively engaged in following him.

What does this phrase indicate? This is more of the upside down inside out topsy turvey teachings of Jesus setting aside the conventional reason of his day. It is not the kingdom in heaven, but the kingdom of heaven. It’s about our place in God’s Kingdom and the choices we need to make and the lifestyle we need to live! Remember we have both people bought into his message and those who are very anti listening in!!!!

So having grounded that… Let’s unpack the story to get to my third point. The action is quite straight forward to start with – The king is preparing a wedding banquet for his son and he sends out invitations to the great and the good. All those who he invites refuse to come. From the king’s perspective this is clearly not a great result at the very least this shows a lack of respect for his authority. Culturally to refuse an invitation especially from a king was a huge insult.

Likewise inviting people to a party is not a hard ask? A party is likely to be pleasurable and enjoyable, and in their best interests. This would have been an extravagant affair – going on for days staying with the King at the King’s significant expense. But the people initially invited all say No. This says a lot about practices and priorities of the prospective guests. How the wrong things had enslaved them and diverted them from God’s kingdom. We need to be wary of wrong things that enslave and divert us too.

The subtext here is that attending the party represents worshipping God, walking with God,  and working together for God in His Kingdom of heaven now and in the kingdom in heaven for all eternity. Knowing this is better by far than the most amazing thing we have ever imagined. Continuing with the story then – when more servants are sent to say everything is ready, they either ignore them and go and do other less important things instead or ill-treat or kill them! We may hear this as reference to the prophets, John the Baptist and ultimately Jesus being sent to save us. This call is issued with due force this time. Everything is ready, I have taken a lot of trouble. Come!

Yet the underlying inference here is that those invited were largely unresponsive and paid no attention – going back to things that in kingdom terms were really not important. This is a warning against passivity and apathy towards our faith and its importance in our lives.

And then a selection behave very badly (again this is a reference to those who led the people to conspire against Jesus. The outcome wasn’t great for the party refusers…. And this is my third point I want us to think about as the passage says of them – The king was enraged. He sent his army and destroyed those murderers and burned their city.

This is not a cosy comfortable view of God and judgement. We mustn’t gloss over the all powerful nature of the almighty and the consequences for those who entirely rejected the ways of God as his chosen people and went on to reject Jesus as well. One of the ways the commentators explain why this is here is that it is aforewarning of difficult times ahead and the fall of Jerusalem, which would have been in Matthew the gospel writer’s present . In handling this verse we must remember Jesus earlier guidance in the sermon on the mount – to leave the judging to God!

Thankfully the story doesn’t end there – The king decides to invite anyone the servants can find on the streets to the party and gather them into the wedding hall. Again, this is a loss of privilege for God’s chosen people as the width of the invitation is extended to all and there would have been more brisling from the religious leaders listening in to these words. More positively, this is a big message of inclusion – anyone his servants can find can come. They are all now invited to the palace for the son’s wedding banquet. What an honour! They’ve never even dreamed about something like this, but now they have it! All they have to do to be “worthy” of it is to accept the king’s crazy generosity and head to the palace.

This is the way of God’s grace – not about our worthiness but God’s amazing saving love for us. Interpretively, this is the great turning point in redemption or salvation history. What God’s chosen people had thought was exclusively theirs because they are genetically descended from Abraham, we now learn is available to everyone. Anyone who accepts God’s invitation can now be a child of Abraham and a citizen in God’s Kingdom of heaven.

Unfortunately for me the story doesn’t stop there, we come to the action honed in on the man with no wedding clothes. Again, we are in rather harsh territory and the second of the really challenging verses in this story appears and this brings us to my fourth point!!! A man not expecting to go to the banquet in the first place is chastised for not having the right clothes on! He is thrown out and it ends with weeping and gnashing of teeth – never good in the parable of Jesus.

Have we got an explanation for this? What I read said – That in the lavish preparations the king laid on for the party was suitable clothing for the days of festivities for all the guests. The guest didn’t have to be pre-prepared but all he needed was available.. So therefore not wearing what had been provided is more an ‘act’ of wilfulness against the king. Someone still wanting to plough their own furrow regardless of the amazing invitation!

This challenges the assumption that responding to the king’s invitation by showing up at the wedding feast is all that the king requires. But clearly, something more is necessary. Specifically, the king expects us to be appropriately dressed for the occasion.  Those who aren’t – even though they have responded to the king’s invitation, are separated from the other guests and thrown out of the feast.

My commentary said this was about the importance of righteousness (Making right choices) for those who would enter the kingdom, and thus to balance the point made earlier that “both the bad and good had been gathered in from the streets”. This is all about the importance of right hearts, right lives, right motives. What we need to do is put on Christ as our clothing all day every day in our lives and live his way. Where we need to hold fast to Christ’s teachings and how he directed us to live and love.

We need to follow his direction on his path through the work of the Holy Spirit, turning to love and not selfish gain. Putting on Christ like these wedding clothes will help us to live to the challenge this parable of Jesus puts before us. We may baulk about the term righteousness (but at its simplest this means living the way God says is best) and it is not to be confused with self-righteousness. It is really important to live well – Jesus in Matthew’s gospel has said that over and over and over again. One of the ways to live well would be to apply the discipline described in our first reading today

  • Rejoice in the lord always

  • Let your gentleness be known

  • Do not worry

  • Bring everything to God in prayer and supplication with thanksgiving

  • And let the peace of God guard your heart and your mind.

Amen.

Harvest Thanskgiving – Rev Alison Way

Harvest

Link to video reflection: https://youtu.be/L62HWbLBIRM

2 Corinthians 9:6-end, Luke 12:16-30

In the name of God creator, redeemer and sustainer. Amen

   Today is our harvest festival and it is also the day when we remember St Francis across the church. I have been very fond of and very influenced by the ideas of Francis for a long time! Just to remind us of Francis story  – He gave up a life of riches and opulence, as the son of cloth merchant in the middle ages  to be an itinerant friar and to set up an organisation for followers who wanted to live their Christian life as he did. Francis cherished embracing poverty and living alongside the poorest alongside sharing his love of Jesus practically and passionately. Francis’ approach was a stark contrast to the Church of his day… Francis is associated with animals and the natural world and a very fitting saint to share our harvest celebration alongside.

In The little flowers of St Francis – which are an early account of stories of his life is the little gem I am going to read us – which relates to that gospel we just heard

One day (as Francis was walking along), he saw some trees in which there was an almost infinite multitude of birds. St. Francis marvelled at this and said to his companions: “You wait for me here on the road, and I’ll go and preach to my sisters the birds.” . . .  “My sister birds, you owe much to God your Creator and you ought to praise Him always and everywhere because He has given you the freedom to fly everywhere, and has given you two and three layers of clothing. . . Furthermore you neither sow nor reap, and God feeds you,  and gives you the rivers and springs for your drink; and he gives you the mountains and valleys as your refuge, the high trees to make your nests, and since you do not know how to spin or sew, He clothes you, you and your little ones.   Therefore, your Creator loves you very much, since He gives you so many benefits. So beware, my sisters, of the sin of ingratitude and always strive to praise God.

Francis makes a point in that story – about being thankful and grateful (which is opposite of as he puts it the sin of ingratitude). One of the things central to our marking of harvest – is the need to be thankful and grateful. Thankful and grateful to God for all we have and thankful and grateful to those who grow, harvest, produce and retail our food. Many of whom have put themselves at risk in our current Covid days, to maintain our food supplies (and even when in March people were panic buying and stripping the shelves – I never did understand why toilet roll was so important at that point).

Thankfulness is an important discipline in the Christian life, as it helps us to keep things thoroughly in perspective and not get things out of balance. I have long found it useful to look for something to be thankful for at the end of each day and particularly when the going gets tough as it certainly is at the moment. Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve found myself and others abit up and down. The news appears to be going in the wrong direction. It is clear we are looking a way in to the distant future for something more like life as we knew it. Yet the good people of Wincanton (and Pen Selwood for that matter) have weathered storms and epidemics before.

I have recently been reading this book – The book of Wincanton – by Rodney Legg. This book describes a particularly poor patch for Wincanton over 10 years or so near the beginning of the 18th century. Firstly in November 1703 there was a great storm (causing considerable structural damage to some of the thatched and timbered buildings) – particularly those in a poor state of repair (or housing the poorest inhabitants). During the storm the ceiling of the Bishop’s palace in Wells collapsed killing the Bishop and his wife. Many cattle and sheep were killed in the surrounding area (15,000 or more – which would have been truly devastating!)

The impact of the great storm could still be seen across Wincanton a couple of years later and then this impact compounded by ravaging fires in 1705 and again in 1707. In the latter one, some 44 buildings were lost and it is remembered as the ‘Great fire’. Imagine if our house and that of our nearest 44 neighbouring properties were burnt today. I don’t know how big the population of Wincanton was at this point, but that is a huge number and would have brought significant hardship. Fires decimate property leaving individuals today with just what they are standing up in,

The book continues to describe difficulties caused by blocked wells, rain damage and depravation after the storm and then reasonably inevitably issues with pestilence. With then small pox epidemics ravaging the town – with a particularly virulent outbreak in 1711 – which claimed 88 lives, (which again must have run shockwaves through the community). All of that reminds us that tough times are how things go sometimes and in the midst of our own tough times currently it does give us food for thought!

One of the things it makes us think in the context of harvest is about being thankful, for all we have, for the bounty of our good earth and for full tummies at meal times. Yes, we have had to endure six very disturbed and worrying months and Yes, we have the prospect of many more ahead of us. But we do have roofs over our heads, and the vast majority of us have access to all the basic necessities.

Our gifts brought for harvest this year will go to the Lord’s larder and I know will be very welcome. They will help meet the increasing need the Lord’s larder identifies in their current publicity. They have been experiencing unprecedented demand and the campaigns of Marcus Rashford and the like have helped to bring to prominence the need to make sure everyone has the basic necessities of life in these difficult times.

As well as being thankful our first reading today points to the importance of being generous in sharing what we have. In fact Paul puts it for him very plainly – You will be enriched in every way for your great generosity. My experience of life and all it has to offer us is that the more we put into it, the more we share what we have, and the more we are open-hearted rather than closed hearted and protectionist, the more we are blessed. As the well-known prayer attributed to St Francis that starts – make me a channel of your peace – puts it It is in giving that we receive…

There are many ways we can be generous in life. Not just with all that we have but with our time and our energy. Maybe in supporting friends and neighbours. Being a listening ear and picking up the phone to have a chat with someone having a lot of time home alone.

In praying and supporting our local economy – farmers, producers and retailers. If we haven’t already do print out the poster from the Arthur Rank centre for harvest to thank our farmers and display it in a prominent window at home. It may even be at this time of our annual meetings, we could be generous with our time in serving on the PCC or in other roles.  Please speak to the wardens asap if that could be you….

Two final things to say – Living thankfully and generously inspired by our harvest thanksgiving also means moving away from the mentality that our gospel reading starts with ‘Of building bigger barns for ourselves’. It also means moving away from worrying where are gospel ends – which clearly says ‘Do not keep worrying’

We end with the prayer attributed to St Francis I alluded to earlier – let us pray

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace: where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console, to be understood as to understand, to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.

References:

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

Arthur Rank centre resources – Thank you for our farmers 2020

Rodney Legg – the book of Wincanton – 2005 published by the British library

The little flowers of St Francis http://www.sjpcommunications.org/images/uploads/documents/francisreadingsyearc.pdf

St Michael and harvest thanksgiving – Rev Alison Way

Link to the Video for this reflection: https://youtu.be/NMfYjCxdKVA

Revelation 12:7-12, John 1:47-end

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

If I were to ask what an angel looks like? We would probably say something like they have :

  • Long flowing white robes

  • Halos – preferably of a tinsel like substance

  • And have in our minds the cast of the last nativity play we saw with lots of small children suitably attired.

  • We could also talk about wings – different ones having different numbers

  • We might say their are different types – seraphs, seraphim and cherubim,

One of our churches locally is dedicated to an angel – St Michael and in my ministry this is my second church dedicated to this particular angel. Angel based dedications of churches often mean that they have their roots along way back in history (about 800 years for our St Michael). In the previous St Michael, where I was the curate (in Basingstoke), I often used to get visiting school children to count the numbers of angels (there were loads). Or even to count the number of wings if I was feeling particularly mischievous!!!

We need to be a bit careful about describing angels in the way I just have, akin to small children in nativity plays etc…. Because firstly there must be something quite intimidating about encountering angels as almost always the first thing they say to people is ‘Do not be afraid’. And, secondly, our angel Michael, who we mark today is a long way from the fluffy tinsel halo’d sort of angel from our Christmas cards. He is a ‘Fighting’ angel and a warrior angel. His name means ‘Who is like God’ and that has to make us think too.

Biblically: We don’t know a whole lot about Michael. He is one of three angels actually named in the bible. (The other two being Gabriel who is closely associated with the birth of Jesus and whose name means the strength of God, and Raphael who is associated with healing and whose name means the healing of God). Michael is clearly described in two places in the Bible in a vision in the book of Daniel as a prince, and as the head soldier angel – who successfully fought a dragon and defeated the devil in the visions within the Revelation of John. That was our first reading today.

The word angel is taken from a very ordinary word meaning messengers, and angels are a particular type of messenger, as they bring news from God to the people. As such angels are God’s special messengers and we will remember them fulfilling all sorts of roles. There are others of the more aggressive sort alongside Michael: –

  • The cherubim and the flaming sword protecting the garden of Eden (Genesis 3.24)

  • The angel who wrestled all night with Jacob (Genesis 32)

  • The angel who speaks to Joshua (Joshua 5.14)

  • The horses and chariots of fire surrounding Elisha (2 Kings 6.15-19)

  • The fourth man in the fiery furnace (Daniel 3:25)

Now I think that this point about being God’s messengers is a way in which we can be more like angels today – even these tougher sort of angels. It is important for all of us to share our love for God and Jesus. It is no coincidence that the word angel is found within the word ‘evangelise’ which means to talk about Jesus and his story to others, and helping them to develop a faith in God of their own. If we develop this a little further – It also means living lives that share the good news of Jesus too with others

In our current strange times and circumstances where we have found being a person of faith helpful, I think it is important to share that. Where we have found praying has helped us, say so. Where we have found knowing the promise of life everlasting helpful, say so. Where we have found hope in God and comfort through his Spirit helpful, say so.

There are 3 other ways specifically related to harvest and being harvest angels to others I would like to explore now

First – being a harvest angel means sharing our sense of thanksgiving for the harvest. This is particularly important this year, when we cannot do some of the things that would enrich our community, which naturally make this point. Things like bedecking the church with flowers and produce, sharing in harvest lunch and then having lots of fun auctioning all that has been donated.

Thankfulness for the harvest includes thankfulness for

  • The sun and rain,

  • The fields and pastures,

  • The seeds, the hay and feed crops, vegetables, and fruit

  • And all manner of foods we enjoy.

  • For those who grow it, who farm it, who harvest, process and retail our food.

  • All the myriad of skills that sustain our meal

Sharing our thankfulness with others helps us all to keep a right balance in things, not getting too puffed up with our own self-importance, but recognising all that goes into making our daily bread.

The second way we can be harvest angels is in how we choose to live our lives. We will remember from the account of creation in Genesis, that on the sixth day of creation humankind were given dominion over God’s beautiful world. Humankind is to honour it, and share its’ resources and to live in reverence for creation and in harmony with one another. It is important that we live lightly on our earth, that we honour it, live in reverence to it and share the resources we have harmoniously, by looking at and modifying our lifestyle. There are a selection of ways we can choose to live lightly and to encourage others to live lightly too. This is one of those areas in life –  where saying it is not as effective as doing it.

A third way we can be harvest angels is to regularly pray for our natural world, praying for our local farmers, processors, and retailers and praying for things that are important to them. The Arthur Rank Centre are running a thank you for our farmers campaign for harvest 2020. In our email round robin this week was a poster so you might want to stick that somewhere prominent to show your thanks. They also recommended praying for our farming communities across ‘the triple threat’ that has affected them this year: –

  • The vagaries of our weather – and the dry spring which has resulted in a very poor wheat harvest

  • The uncertainties around agricultural policy as we exit the EU etc…

  • The impacts of COVID-19 – particularly on sources of diversified income and work force issues

Whilst we are praying – we might also like to pray for areas across the world where harvests have failed or been poor due to the impact of climate changes or difficult weather too. According to the world bank –

Agricultural developments is one of the most powerful tools to end extreme poverty, boost shared prosperity and feed a projected 9.7 billion people by 2050. And yet agriculture-driven growth, poverty reduction, and food security are at risk:  Climate change is already impacting crop yields, especially in the world’s most food-insecure regions. In 2020, shocks related to climate change, conflict, pests and emerging infectious diseases are hurting food production, disrupting supply chains and stressing people’s ability to access nutritious and affordable food.

So returning to angels where I started – When I was first ordained back in 2004, I was given a card with this picture on it. It says congratulations on your ordination – and then shows the picture of an angel. I was at least initially left with the impression that one of my friends thought I was going to become an angel. At the very least I seem destined to sprout a lacy and sparkly outfit like this angel, a halo and wings. I am glad to say that being ordained has yet to have this effect on me – as having wings could make putting on my clothes very difficult.

Now physically becoming an angel is impossible in this mortal life – as angels are not the same as humans – they are a mixture of spirit and matter and are a different order altogether than human beings. So if we can’t become angels – What we can do is develop angel like qualities by being God’s messengers, and I hope that is what the person that gave me this card really envisaged.

To be God’s messengers we need to share the good news of Jesus and also to be harvest angels share our passion for our created world in all aspects of harvest-time

  • Our sense of thankfulness for the harvest.

  • Our lifestyle choices that mean we live lightly on God’s beautiful world.

  • Our prayers for our local farmers, our agricultural economy and for food production across the world.

Amen

A Harvest Thanksgiving

Let us give thanks to God, the God of all peoples of the earth.
For the colour and forms of your creation and our place within it, we bring our thanks, good Lord: All: your mercy endures for ever. 

For our daily food, and for those whose work and skill bring your good gifts to us, we bring our thanks, good Lord: All: your mercy endures for ever.

For the gifts and graces inspired in human minds and hearts; for insight and imagination, for the skills of research which bring healing and fulfilment to the lives of many; we bring our thanks, good Lord: All: your mercy endures for ever.

For the light and shades of the changing seasons, and their variety and dependability; for new life and growth out of barrenness and decay; we bring our thanks, good Lord: All: your mercy endures for ever.

For new hope and strength in our communities, especially in your Church and among all you call to serve you, we bring our thanks, good Lord; All: your mercy endures for ever.

For all in whose lives we see goodness, kindness, gentleness, patience and humility, and all the fruit of the Spirit, we bring our thanks, good Lord: All: your mercy endures for ever.

For the life we have been given, and for all those whom you have given us to share it, we bring our thanks, good Lord: All: your mercy endures for ever.

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

Arthur Rank centre resources – Thank you for our farmers 2020 https://arthurrankcentre.org.uk/resources/harvest-resources-children-young-people/harvest-resources/  and  https://www.worldbank.org/en/topic/agriculture/overview

Some material included  is copyright: ©  The Archbishops’ Council 2000-2020

Trinity 15 – Rev Alison Way

Trinity 15 – Rev Alison Way – Philippians 1:21-end, Matthew 20:1-16

Here is the link to the video of this reflection: https://youtu.be/7XSv38ioii4

Here is a link to a Harvest reflection from the Diocese: https://youtu.be/MruI8wCEvBg

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

As we mark this year’s season of creation, today’s readings from Philippians reminded me how God made humankind on the 6th day of creation in Genesis 1. So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. The second story of creation has a more complicated description of how God made man to look after his garden and then woman as it was not good to be alone. We will remember the story of Adam and Eve – The apple, the serpent and all that – how they fell from grace and were banished from the garden. There were struggles and difficulties from the start – so these are not a new thing.

There were struggles and difficulties in how God tried to relate to his people through Old Testament times through promises and the law. Then Jesus came to bring us all into God’s abundant love for us, but even with that love providing hope for eternity, there are struggles and difficulties. As this was love ultimately won for us through struggles and difficulties, alongside the suffering that Christ endured for us

Paul in our reading from the letter to the Philippians takes on board suffering and struggling as part of life. His struggles are described and the struggles of the people of Philippi to whom he is writing. It is clearly difficult for him and them, but he urges them to stay positive. His advice includes:

  • Share abundantly,

  • Stand firm,

  • Strive together

  • Do not give into intimidation…

Those words make us think about our current situation and are ones that could easily apply today. It is tricky currently as the news from all around us remains difficult. Things are still a long way from what might be described as ‘normality’  and with little prospect of normality any time soon. I think we could take a leaf out of Paul’s book and look practically across his areas of advice and encouragement.

Paul started with sharing abundantly. As we prepare for harvest – it would be good to share with those who have less by bringing suitable products to your harvest festival in church to support the Lord’s larder. This is on 27th September in Pen Selwood and 4th October in Wincanton. They particularly need long-dated items – shampoo, toilet roll, tins of baked beans and sausages, macaroni cheese and soup – plus confectionary.

Beyond that sharing, what we have been given is an important biblical principle. Though we are a bit limited currently in what we can do at the moment and even the most simple thing can be very complicated, making sure our motives begin with generosity matters. Jesus’ love for us was generous beyond words. Let’s make sure we are generous with how we are approaching people and things currently. Being kind in a time when many are struggling and not at their best is vital! (and even when that is not reciprocated!)

There was also the example of the grumbling workers in the vineyard from our gospel story. They didn’t get the balance quite right did they? Jesus turns some of our values and approaches upside down and inside out. This story comes just after he has told his disciples specifically. But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first. (Matthew 19:30). Jesus then repeats this phrase at the end of the story too.

Jesus is saying this because his value system was different – To counter those who had got caught up in legalism and it being about religious behaviour rather than love and matters of the heart.  The vineyard owner was generous with those who came late in the day, so they could have what they needed and did not go without.

The next piece of advice from Paul was to stand firm. Standing firm in one spirit is how he puts it. Standing firm in our faith through the spirit’s guidance, means remembering God’s amazing love for us, Love for each and everyone of us. Love poured out from the heart of Jesus for all humanity. Love that is at the centre of our being and purpose each day. Now is the time to be particularly conscious of the Holy Spirit’s guidance in our hearts, enabling us to follow God’s call in some very strange times. Times that can leave us feeling powerless and vulnerable, and also for many rather isolated and lonely. God’s presence and peace is with us – let’s recognise that as a source of strength today.

The third piece of advice from Paul was to strive together. It is good we can meet together and pray together though this has not been possible for everyone. I think one of the aspects most hard to bear in lockdown was that we could not pray together. There are so many limits on what we can do at the moment and I am fearful obviously that even what we are currently doing may have to stop again. It is important to stay with it and even if we can’t pray together to stay praying. Prayer changes things. Praying for one another is something that gives us strength and praying with the scriptures is important. The full verse I am referring to here is Striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel.

All through this period I have been sending out worship resources to support prayer at home and to encourage us to read the scripture. Having faith in the gospel means immersing ourselves in the scripture. In recent times our daily prayer resources have been working through the book of Acts, which tells the story of the early church – their highs and lows, and their struggles and suffering. There has been much fuel for our journey and ways their story can inform our own in our trying times.

Finally the last piece of encouragement from Paul – do not give into intimidation…Paul is writing to the Philippians in a time of great persecution, when the powers that be and opponents were stacked up against them. When it was risky in the extreme to profess the Christian faith. We live in different times – we are free to hold our views but may be finding the current circumstances intimidating and frightening. Sticking to our first principles and the love won for us in Christ is important in times like these and not to lose heart. This is easy to say but not that easy to do. Prayer, reading the scripture, and worship however we can will provide fuel for the journey of discipleship. This helps us to hold fast to what is good and pleasing. Paul’s advice in struggles and suffering applies just as much to us as to his original audience in Philippi.

  • Share abundantly,

  • Stand firm,

  • Strive together

  • Do not give into intimidation…

 I am going to end these reflections with a prayer of praise. Praise is important at times like these – to help us recognise and live in God’s strength day by day. Let us pray

We praise you, Lord, for all that you are, for the creation that is yours, for its beauty and wonder, its diversity and richness. We praise you for your presence and comfort that enriches us with your abundance. We praise you for your steadfastness that perseveres with us, faltering disciples and failing followers. We praise you that, day by day, you amaze and enrich us and reveal yourself in new and unexpected ways. We praise you that you are the same yesterday, today and for ever – and yet forever new. O Lord our God, you are indeed, from the depth of our being, highly to be praised. Amen.

References – New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 and © ROOTS for Churches Ltd. Reproduced with permission. www.rootsontheweb.com

Trinity 14 – Rev Alison Way

Romans 14:1-12, Matthew 18:21-35

Alison’s video reflection: https://youtu.be/8nq42qMuEDg

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

As we mark this year’s season of creation, I was reminded at the beginning of our Romans reading about the food we eat and how God made it all at the beginning! In the first Genesis account of creation, God made all the different kinds of vegetation on the third day of creation and all the other living creatures on the fifth day of creation.

The Romans passage really speaks to the futility of having disagreements about what is OK to eat and what is not. Something that continues to this day! The substance of the disagreements would be substantively different at the time Paul wrote – but this is still a divisive topic! At one end of the spectrum – Some take the account of creation in Genesis to mean we should all be vegans, as humankind was required to look after the garden God had made in the second version of the story and God made the seed-bearing plants on the face of the whole earth and every fruit tree to provide food. At the other end of the spectrum – Others have a markedly different view than that clearly God made some animals to eat plants and others to be carnivores. So it goes on – ‘Quarrelling over opinions’ is something that beset the church in Paul’s day and something we can have difficulties with in our day.

Paul asks us to uphold everyone – and particularly those who hold different opinions from those we hold ourselves. This is easy to say, but frankly not remotely easy to do! Opinions are subjective but when we disagree about stuff, we can easily slip into the habit of stating our opinion as fact! I think the different approaches to our current pandemic also bear this out… Some are probably being too careful. Some are probably not being careful enough…

In relation to our food choices, I do think as Christians we have a duty to make choices that are good for the earth God gave us to steward. This is a heavy responsibility – and one humankind has not always done well.

A bit of a health warning – I am sharing some of my opinions – about living lightly on the planet. I do not always manage to live up to my opinions, but I do try to honour the lordship of Jesus in my choices and my opinions are subjective and disagreeing with them well is also Ok. We may well even find eventually that we are reaping the consequences of humankind’s choices in our COVID pandemic – (whether we understood the implications or not, of course – only time will tell!)

Though Paul is making a different point in our reading from Romans, I think eating in honour of the Lord matters, and giving thanks to God for what we have to eat as we eat it matters. This requires us to be mindful of our choices, honouring means respecting God’s wishes for our world that we look after as God’s stewards. Choices to care for our planet we can do and some of this has been more prevalent in recent days are: –

  • To source what we need to consume locally. This cuts down the food miles considerably – which is better for our world. Being careful if buying our apples in the supermarket to pick the British ones! All this helps our local economy and producers too.

  • Even I the most unlikely and least green fingered gardener have been growing things to eat this year. Home grown tomatoes have been a bit of a revelation really! All that was needed was a little love and attention every day through watering and I have been eating succulent and delicious tomatoes for weeks… And probably now need a recipe for tomato chutney!!

  • Choosing fairly traded products is good too where they are available.

  • Other options include not being wasteful and throwing a lot of food away because we haven’t gotten around to using it!

  • We also need to be concerned and mindful of how food is presented to us. Moving away where practical from single use plastic. (I absolutely acknowledge this has been more difficult in recent times – but good to see some soft fruit in cardboard punnets in the Co-op in Wincanton last week!)

In the letter to the Romans Paul continues – We do not live to ourselves – we live to the Lord. We have to take account of those around us – Our locality, our community, our neighbours both near and far. The current set of circumstances is such that some people are even more dependent on foodbanks and support than usual. It is not unreasonable also to think that this is going to get more difficult as our uncertain times move into autumn/winter

We are planning to support a local foodbank in our harvest celebrations this year. Giving practical help and sustenance to those most in need – in this instance the Lord’s larder based in Yeovil. It does not bear thinking about that we are likely to have people without enough to eat nearer than we would want to believe. The low yield in this year’s wheat harvest across the country is also not going to help us with this with likely consequences including- inflating the cost of basic essentials too. So to our harvest celebration bring some long date products to support this work. These are things they particularly need (tins of macaroni cheese, beans with sausages, tinned soup, confectionary, toilet rolls and shampoo). We may think this is a strange list and some other things would be more wholesome but this is what they are asking for. This stuff is practical and is readily consumable for people often with limited access to cooking equipment.

There are lots of things we would usually do for harvest that we can’t do in 2020 (for covid related reasons) – particularly in relation to decorating the church (please don’t expect this) and fresh produce (please don’t bring this). We will take time in our harvest services to give thanks for both these things. But this year – could we concentrate on practically supporting those locally with less than ourselves. So the list they want is tins of macaroni cheese, beans with sausages, tinned soup, confectionary, toilet rolls and shampoo.

We also need to think about our choices for our global neighbours. We make choices which can positively and negatively impact others across the world. Let’s be mindful of this to in how we approach our food with a God honouring approach, not living just to ourselves but living to the Lord and the power of his love in our lives…

The final part of this passage from St Paul’s letter to the Romans is rather sobering. It talks about accountability before the judgement seat of God when the time comes and having a heavenly perspective on our choices particularly over judging our brothers and sisters. Making judgements which are for our own benefit and not the wider benefit of society and the world around us!

Nothing makes this easy to hear and digest. I have recently been reading a fictional account of the person – who took St Paul’s letter to the Roman Christians. In the story she was a woman called Phoebe, she took and bore the brunt of the frustrations of the first readers, when they were digesting its contents. Paul is far from diplomatic! But trying to get his point across passionately and so it was understood and understood well! Different people within the Roman Church reacted differently to aspects of it and in different ways. Phoebe had to pick her way through some challenging and difficult conversations, whilst trying to help people stay focused on the lordship of Jesus and his saving love for us

I think this is also an important point to end on for us too. We hear things differently, we see things differently. We live in very turbulent times. Even in the most turbulent of times concentrating on the Lordship of Jesus over our lives,  the Lordship of Jesus in our lives and even more so the Lordship of Jesus through our lives is the key to living in the moment, day by day as we so need to in our current times.

I am going to end by reading a poem called “For the earth’s healing” – Written by Jan Berry

We listen with joy to the song of the morning
when angels rejoiced, and the skies came to birth;
when God placed the sun, moon and stars in the heavens,
shaped mountains and rivers and seas on the earth.

We dance in a world that is filled with God’s glory,
of green growing beauty and creatures at play;
we laugh with its wonder and cry with its sorrow,
and rest in its quiet at the end of the day.

We weep for an earth that’s in need of God’s healing,
the oceans that roar and the rivers that cry,
we search for solutions, and shout out our questions,
to God who commands us to look to the sky.

We dream of a world that is living together,
with beauty and goodness and loving to share;
the answer God gives to our hope and our longing:
‘The world that I fashioned is placed in your care’.

www.rootsontheweb.com© Jan Berry, Hymns for Healing, Holy Rood House.

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

Trinity 13 – Rev Alison Way

Trinity 16 – Roman 13:8-14, Matthew 18.15-20

Link to Rev Alison Way video reflection: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WQGi0DQ7wwE

Link to Bishop Ruth’s video reflection: https://youtu.be/9FyYjdmfBUg

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

As we mark this year’s season of creation, I was reminded in our Romans reading  about God creating day and night – In the first Genesis account of creation it says

Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.

What triggered thinking about this was the phrase – The night is far gone, the day is near. Night follows day and day follows night. We live in a part of the world where the length of the day and night varies with the season and as we move into autumn the nights are drawing in as they say

That phrase the night is far gone and the day is near from our Romans passage is included in the traditional vestry prayer (more commonly for an 8am communion service). That goes like this

Abide with us, Lord Jesus, for the night is now past and the day is at hand. As the night watch looks for the morning, so do we look for you, O Christ. Come with the dawning of the day and make yourself known in the breaking of the bread. Amen

Embedded in there is that phrase from Romans for the night is now past and the day is at hand. It is a phrase asking us to be ready, willing. Asking us to be timely and prepared to follow God this day and every day. It is about not losing sight of the ball. Of not losing our focus and our heart through the trials and tribulations we can experience.

I have some fondness for the phrase ‘Life is not a rehearsal’ in this regard. Life is to be lived, moment by moment, day by day. Recent times have taught us this in new ways and peeled back the layers of our complicated 21st century lives.

What is promised in our relationship with God is the sense of readiness and in touchness with God we need to follow his way day by day.

The second way I was reminded of that phrase 12the night is far gone, the day is near is via the ancient office of Compline or night prayer. This is something we had planned to do in Holy week but Covid-19 put pay to that. I first encountered night prayer at Hilfield friary over 35 years ago… When I first went to the camp they hold for young people  – (sadly this is the  first year in 44 that camp has not happened)

I know some of us have been to Hilfield, and it is sad we cannot in the current circumstances do the usual parish quiet day there. For me it is a very special place – I would say a ‘thin place’ where heaven and earth meet.

Anyway back to night prayer,  the opposite of our phrase comes up in their liturgy,  which marks the beginning of their greater silence, This is probably one of the most ancient short worship services there is. They say it thoughtfully, quietly and prayerfully. It is powerful in its simplicity and its safety and sense of God with us. In this short service, it concludes with some kind of blessing responses– that goes like this:-

In peace we will lie down and sleep; for you alone, Lord, make us dwell in safety.

Abide with us, Lord Jesus,  for the night is at hand and the day is now past.

As the night watch looks for the morning, so do we look for you, O Christ.

And on Sundaysthey add – Come with the dawning of the day and make yourself known in the breaking of the bread

In there as well as its obvious relation to the vestry prayer is our phrase from Romans, but turned about – for the night is at hand and the day is now past. And it brings into sharp focus God’s protection and care for us as we sleep. It is important to reflect on God in everything and the untime bounded nature of our loving God. We may well be sleeping, but God is just as much with us in the hours of darkness as he is with those waking on the other side of our planet. A phrase from the evening hymn – the day thou gavest captures this well:-

The sun that bids us rest is waking our brethren ’neath the western sky, and hour by hour fresh lips are making thy wondrous doings heard on high.

Just because we are sleeping our God of the past, the present and the future is still active and loving. A human response to the love of God – in praise and prayer is consistently happening somewhere across our world even as we sleep. For some I also know recent times have brought sleeplessness in the wee small hours of the night, thinking about Jesus abiding with us and in us and through us can help.

Another phrase and another prayer struck me in the Romans passage, which follows directly on from the one I have been talking about. It is – Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armour of light. A couple of the prayers set for evening prayer have this phrase at the heart of them, but I am really thinking this time about the traditional collect for Advent Sunday – which goes

Almighty God, give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness and put upon us the armour of light, now in the time of this mortal life, in which thy Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the quick and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, now and for ever. Amen

That prayer is forth telling forthright and profound and right in the heart of it – is the casting away of works of darkness and putting on the armour of light. As we prepare in Advent for Jesus to come as the Christ child and as we prepare in life to meet Jesus is the life eternal (however that happens), our phrase casting away the works of darkness and putting on the armour of light could be shortened to putting down vices and picking up virtues. However that would lose its juxtaposition with our previous phrase about being ready for the day

A commentary I read suggested this was a metaphor about taking off our night clothes and preparing for the day by dressing and arming ourselves suitably. No-one spends the daytime by choice in their pyjamas (unless they are unwell or doing some charity thing). There are so many things in the day we want to do where pyjamas cannot be the attire of choice! Early on in lockdown – I saw the actor  Martin Clunes doing a breakfast tv interview with his dogs on his lap (in his stripey pyjamas). All was well until the dogs wandered away and he had to be very careful!!!

The phrase contains a big clue to what is being put on The armour of light – Or in some versions of the Bible the weapons of light. Indicating this is fighting attire – for fighting the good fight – as another hymn writer would have it. This also suggests that being clad in the armour of light means the going will not always be easy – elements of battling day by day. Today is not the day for a discussion of the imagery of light and darkness, though that will need an airing in due course. I need to save myself something to say on Advent Sunday, but this phrase about the armour of light is linked to advent in our hearts is a very active one about the challenges of the Christian life.

In a sense the 2 phrases I have been reflecting around and how we have used them in our prayers (separated from each other)  need as we have seen to be taken together to get the full force of the point. The point being about being prepared and ready to follow God. Day by day. Wherever he leads and to be prepared with our armour of light on for the going is not always to be easy.

I think on this day too – when those gathered in church share in communion together for the first time in a long and difficult time – Let’s also remember God abiding in us through Jesus and making himself known to our hearts and lives through the breaking of the bread. Amen

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

Prayers from Common Worship: ©  The Archbishops’ Council 2000-2020

CCLI – Song words reproduced and streaming license under CCLI 217043 for St Peter and St Paul Church, Wincanton

Trinity 12

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

All things being well, we will be baptising the newest and youngest member of the church family this Sunday in the service at St Peter and St Paul church. I say all things being well, because of being on holiday and recording these thoughts a bit ahead of time and in today’s topsy turvey world – who knows if we will or we wont do things a  few weeks away!

2020 has been a very unusual year in which to be born, I want us to imagine what we might want to say in a few years times – to our little one being baptised today  about the circumstances of the year of her birth. By that time she would be old enough to understand sufficiently (in her teens perhaps – when she will be preparing for confirmation and taking on a faith commitment for herself). By then we will have foresight and hindsight and somehow all that besets us currently will have moved on to the next big thing and then the next.

Interestingly as with all things in the future we just don’t know how it will all pan out for us and for her. Will even the words sound strange? – coronavirus, lockdown, social distancing, face coverings. Or will they all still be with us part of how things always are by then.

Despite this in our strange times it has been a time to take stock and work out what matters in our life (and not some of the things that had taken too much prominence that were just glitter and froth!)

For once it would probably be easier to be talking about our faith instead of talking about the times around our little one’s birth because what it means to have faith is constant. In talking about why having faith in God matters with a young person preparing for confirmation, we would be on stronger and more certain ground and would probably find it easier to string the words together.

Why faith matters to us and what it is all about in our day to day life – This kind of statement is what Paul is doing in our extract from the letter to the Romans this morning. One of my commentaries described this passage as being like a string of beads – like these.

The beads are each of the pithy sayings in that passage that will help us live our faith well. Pearls of wisdom like let love be genuine, rejoice in hope, and weep with those who weep. The string that binds the beads together is God’s love for us. Showing us a way to live well following the example of Jesus. These are all things we will want the little one we are baptising to know, experience and grow in to in her walk of faith.

We want her to experience love that is genuine, people outdoing one another in showing honour and serving the Lord. We want these things to be foremost in her walk from this day and as she grows. It is the responsibility of her parents and godparents to particularly help in this but also the responsibility of her church family to support and aid them in their endeavour, and to be encouraging everyone in their walk of faith.

The very first phrase ‘let love be genuine’ could be the heading for this whole reading. The first half about how we should be as the body of Christ his church, and the second how we should be with our wider society – showing we are Christian by our love.

It is always worth digging into to which word is being used for love in that phrase let love be genuine. In our language we have one word for love, in the languages of the Bible there are many – which are used differently. The word used here is the intimate sort of love – conjugal love between a man and a woman. Love that made our little one in the first place in the heart of God’s love for us, but also to indicate the intimate relationship we now have with God through the death of Jesus and the work of the Spirit in us.

We know the difference between love that is sincere or genuine and love that isn’t too! It can be deeply hurtful when we find that in our human relationships when love we thought was sincere and genuine turns out to be a façade or fake!! We will not experience this in our love for God – because his love is the source of all love we experience surrounds us, fills us and overflows. Our little one being baptised on this day is a beloved child of God as are we all beloved children of God – we may be a little older and sometimes wiser, but God never stops loving us – with genuine and sincere love. Love for us in this life and the next whenever our time comes.

The depths in this Romans passage would be well worth reflecting on further; for both our community life as a church and our life in the world. Paul does not make out the going will always be easy in either sphere. Be patient in suffering for example or bless those who persecute you. There is a particularly strong section about not avenging or taking revenge. The old 2 wrongs don’t make a right adage is helpful.

There is also much there to build us up and encourage each other. So important in our days and so important for the little one we baptise today as she grows in the faith from this day.  Encouragements to

  • Rejoice in hope

  • Persevere in prayer

  • Outdo one another in showing honour

Honour is a bit of an old-fashioned concept – respect, value, cherish might be good ways to understand it. I have bought our little one a bracelet to mark this special day. Obviously not for now, but as a keep sake of her baptism. Her family will be able to remind her of these beads of teaching. The beads themselves are from Nazareth (where Jesus grew up) and the string holding them together represents God’s love for us all. The beads form a circle which reminds us of the never ending love God has for us – for yesterday, today and forever. I have put this passage from Romans in with it, in the most child friendly version I could find.

Those near enough will see there is one other bead on the bracelet which is a little cross to remind us of the saving love of Jesus. For as we heard in our gospel passage Jesus said If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.

This symbolises the cross bringing new life and genuine love for this little one and for all of us Amen    The New Revised Standard Version (Anglicized Edition), copyright 1989, 1995

Trinity 11

Trinity 11 – Romans 12: 1-8 and Matthew 16: 13-20

I wonder if any of you watch or listen to Prime Minister’s question time when it is broadcast?  I used to often hear it on the radio when the broadcast of parliamentary proceedings was a fairly new thing and George Thomas was Speaker of the House.  It is noticeable that many of the questions to the Prime Minister are the same – often asking him or her what their engagements are for the day, as the format is restricted.  MPs then have a follow up question which is more pertinent, often to a matter that relates to their constituency.  I mention this because when I looked at today’s gospel reading, I had a touch of deja vue, as it is the same gospel that I preached on at the end of June on the feast of St Peter and St Paul.  I was tempted to do as the Prime Minister does and say ‘I refer my honourable friends to the sermon I preached on this subject recently’.  I also considered an even worse cheat of just repeating the same sermon until I remembered that although I am at Pen Selwood this week, everything we do goes to both churches, and although it was Wincanton’s patronal festival, it was shared with you on line and you would certainly have caught me out!  If you do want to hear my sermon on the gospel for today however, it is still available through the parish website!  There is also an almost certainly better reflection on this passage available on the Diocesan website given by Rev Canon Dr Rob James, the Canon Chancellor of Wells Cathedral.

So today we are looking at the wonderful passage from Romans 12.  At the end of all his letters, Paul moves on from theology to practical advice, and this is what is happening here.  Over the last few weeks we have been reading chapters 8 – 11 in Romans, which are always worth studying, but take some effort.  Now Paul is talking language that even I can understand.  In the first verse he distances himself from the Greek way of thinking, that the spirit was the only part of a person that was important, the physical was often the problem.  Paul however starts by saying that to be complete in our worship, we must dedicate our bodies to God as a spiritual act.  My favourite translation of these verses is J B Philips in which verse 1 reads: ‘With eyes wide open to the mercies of God, I beg you, my brothers, as an act of intelligent worship, to give him your bodies, as a living sacrifice, consecrated to him and acceptable by him’.

Dedicating our bodies means dedicating all that they do – whether we are writing a sermon, mending an altar frontal, cooking the dinner or weeding the garden we are serving God.  If we think of it in that way, we might find ourselves approaching the mundane with a different mindset.  Some of our well-known hymns take up this theme – New Every Morning is the Love, and Teach me my God and King both spring to mind.

In the next verse Paul includes our minds as well.  The word ‘repentance’ is often used in the church as an act of turning to God and this often comes from the Greek word ‘metanoia’ which literally translates as changing your mind.  Not changing your mind in the sense that I might decide to have coffee, then change my mind and have tea, but in a far more profound way; literally changing your mind for a new one as you might if you took a purchase back to a shop to change it.  I have always liked the J B Philips translation of v2 which reads:

‘Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mould, but let God re-mould your minds from within, so that you may prove in practice that the plan of God for you is good, meets all his demands and moves towards the goal of true maturity.’

I love the picture this gives me of God filling our minds like a plastic bag or a balloon and pushing them outwards to be the right shape, not the shape that the world would have us fit into, and the practical outcomes of letting Him do this.  But after that Paul gets really practical – beginning to sound almost like an old-fashioned nanny – ‘don’t get above yourself’!  We need to have a realistic knowledge of the gifts and abilities that God has given us and work to our strengths.  The picture Paul gives of the church as a body is often used and very useful – I am very aware that if I tried to walk everywhere on my hands I would not get far, and yet without a fair assessment of ourselves and each other that is what we as a church would be trying to do.  We can sometimes get downhearted when we see the skills and gifts of others, but we don’t realise how important the seemingly lesser tasks are.  We recently lost a member of the leadership team at Tiny Church.  She never created craft activities or told stories or lead the singing, but she is the person we miss the most as she was always there making sure that the crayons and tables were put away so that the children didn’t trip over them, and that no child escaped through the south door when parents weren’t watching.  We miss her enormously, but she always said that she didn’t do anything special.

We have been thinking a lot today about the uncertainty of the future – I was pleased to hear Bishop Ruth use a phrase in her message that I included in a reflection recently – I do not know what the future holds, but I do know who holds the future.  Whatever is coming our way, whatever shape the church may take in the future, the one thing I am sure of is that we will need each other and the support we can give each other more and more as time goes on – we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another.

It has become clear over the past few months, that we are able, both as churches and as communities to pull together and look out for each other.  I pray that when we find out what the ‘new normal’ is going to be, we will not lose this.