Author Archives: Rachel Feltham

The baptism of Christ / Plough Sunday

Link to the video for this reflection: https://youtu.be/r77zAeIpdns

Link to the Church of England Service for this Sunday which should be available after 9am on Sunday 10th  January

https://www.churchofengland.org/news-and-media/join-us-church-online/weekly-online-services/plough-sunday

Acts 19.1-7, Mark 1.4-11

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

In our Epiphany journey we have shifted today on from the visit of the magi, through to the very first days of Jesus ministry. But even before Jesus comes into focus in Mark’s gospel account, we are introduced to John the baptizer, whose primary purpose was to prepare the way for Jesus. This year, in our readings, we concentrate on Mark’s gospel and much of it is very like the passage we heard read by Alison this morning. A lot of action distilled into a very small amount of words. We have the whole story of John and the baptism of Jesus done and dusted in just 8 verses. All the other gospel accounts give us much more information, particularly Luke which fills in the whole back story of John with his parents Elizabeth and Zechariah.

For example, in Luke, John was the baby that leapt in the womb of his mother Elizabeth when she encountered Mary. And Elizabeth was the one at that point who exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb”. If you haven’t read it recently, it is worth reading the whole of the first chapter of Luke’s gospel. It tells how the story of the birth of John the Baptist fits around the story of Mary’s response to God’s call on her life.

Anyway, we find John this morning baptising and proclaiming a baptism of repentance in the wilderness. There must have been something spectacularly charismatic about John. People were not drawn to him for his sartorial elegance, his smart attire or his unusual diet. Let alone for his message. Generally, I do not find that stressing the need to repent of our sins (important and helpful as that can be to us) is something that usually attracts a crowd. Let alone a crowd that has to have made quite a big effort including significant inconvenience and discomfort to travel to a wilderness to hear it. My view here is that John’s integrity and authenticity was the draw. When we know something or someone is the real deal it can help as to make the necessary effort to travel to see them. We need to put out of our minds our world beset with fake news, and at times people being flagrantly economical with the truth! The impact of this has been particularly graphic this week – with scenes I hope we never see again in my life time. Please pray for the people of the United States of America.

It is also not a small number of people who go to John to be baptised and repent – our gospel says – all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him. Add to this – that people are travelling to be baptised and repent not because John is the main draw. John clearly says to them that he is only the warm up act as he proclaims: ‘The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals’.

It is also worth noting here that the use of repentance is using a Greek word that carries the sense of ‘a change of mind’ or ‘a change of heart’. It relates far more to the promise of a new future than to mulling over the sins of the past. John is clear that what he is offering is only stage one of the new life into which God invites us. And we can hear that too in what Johns says next ‘8I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.’

Finally, Jesus appears over the horizon and in 3 short verses – he is baptised by John, this is a new stage in his life too, as he moves away from the hidden years in Nazareth, begins his active ministry and the stuff he had come to earth for. And then something amazing happens as he comes up out of the water or more correctly I should say God does something amazing. People of Jesus’ time tended to imagine a rigid, unbreakable barrier dividing earth and heaven, one that made it impossible for humanity to reach God. Now this barrier is torn apart and God’s Spirit comes powering through, like a descending dove on him. And a voice is heard from heaven that says ‘You are my Son, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased’.

The world is indeed changed by this moment as it heralds the time of Jesus active ministry, and the start of his teaching. Teaching we still rely on and take to heart to govern our days two thousand years on. It is rightly described as a new beginning and seasonally a significant epiphany moment.

In Victorian times another new beginning was also marked at this moment of our epiphany season. If we get in touch with our Victorian forebears this Sunday was traditionally known as Plough Sunday and celebrated on the next Sunday after Epiphany. It speaks of a time before farmers had their own ploughs, the communal plough decked with ribbons would be brought into the village or town church where God’s blessing would be asked for the work that it was to do. It is quite likely this happened here in Victorian days. After the service, the plough would be paraded around the village or the town, usually with dancing and stopping at every pub for refreshment! The farmers who were going to use it would give contributions towards the cost of its upkeep, and often to the upkeep of the church where it had been blessed. The work officially began on the following Monday  – though if the revelling was excessive sometimes Tuesday or even Wednesday. In medieval times – some ploughs were kept in the parish church, and some churches kept a ‘plough-light’. In days when work was scarce in winter, the observance of Plough Sunday looked forward to the time of sowing with the promise of a harvest to come. We are so much more detached with our supermarkets and accessible food supplies from the impacts of poor harvests than our forebears were.

Times have changed, ploughing tends to follow harvesting and therefore much more an autumnal activity. Nor do we, in England at least, still use shared village owned ploughs. Remembering Plough Sunday, once again is a tradition to help us connect with the agricultural year, to reconnect us to times and seasons, and with a focus on praying for all aspects of the world of work. This last year, 2020, has been very difficult for almost everybody in different occupations, walks of life and times of life. It is important to pray for our rural economy and all who work to farm and steward the land around us. We have come to cherish and be more thankful for our farmers and their endeavours, and what can be sourced locally has been much more obvious to us.

At the start of this new year, it is pretty clear that we are still in the grips of this pandemic with this very unwelcome new and more virulent strain of the virus More restrictions are now in place to help prevent the spread.  At this time of new beginnings it is important to pray for our world of work. This has been impacted in so many ways by our pandemic, with people furloughed alongside others losing their livelihoods completely (and levels of unemployment rising). It has been even more difficult for those for whom their usual line of work has been pretty much impossible, which encompasses much of the arts and those involved in exhibitions, county and country fairs, and the like. Maybe we know people amongst our family and friends where this is the case, and times are hard, it is especially important to pray and to be of practical help if we are able.

It also a time of new beginnings for the roll out of vaccines and we must particularly pray for this too. Logistically, this is going to be very difficult so let’s pray for wisdom, tenacity and safety in those organising and involved.

 

Returning to Jesus baptism, as I was saying this was what we would call a real epiphany moment for him. We understand that the word epiphany means a manifestation of God or the divine or a superhuman being (like an angel from God). This is the most true definition to the origin of this phrase, which comes from the Greek epiphaneia, which is used in the New Testament letters. It describes Jesus’s appearing (either when he came originally – and the divine broke through into our world as it did at his baptism). All the events we remember through this epiphany season point to this kind of wonder.

Interestingly we have come to use the word epiphany to mean something other but related in recent times. In common speech today as well as it meaning an encounter with the divine, we also tend to use it to describe real light bulb moments we have had. Moments when we suddenly see order where there was chaos or understand something fully for the first time! This meaning is much more commonly used as a sudden or striking revelation, when we don’t see things in the same way again. In the main epiphany moments in this sense are positive and enlightening, but they can be life changing.

I cannot speak for you, but I am conscious of a string of ‘epiphany’ moments of this sort in this last year. Particularly what is important and what really matters.  I am expecting more epiphany moments as the days lengthen, the snow drops herald the spring once more and the impact of vaccinations begins to make the difference we need. Let’s take stock today as we mark the baptism of Christ and Plough Sunday. Maybe take time to think back and write a list of our 2020 epiphany moments. Then pause and give thanks, reconnecting them with what they say of our encounter with the divine – the God that loves us so much he sent us Jesus. God is saying to us just us much as he did to his son Jesus – You are my beloved. Let’s rest in his presence and love in our epiphany moments and the ones to come, and our new beginnings, whilst focusing our prayers for those who work the land and the world of work as a whole, and all those involved in healthcare and the vaccine roll out programme. Amen

 

The New Revised Standard Version (Anglicized Edition), copyright 1989, 1995 – some material from rootsontheweb.com

Epiphany – 3rd January 2021 – Rev Alison Way

Based on Ephesians 3:1-12 and Matthew 2:1-12

Link to the video reflection:

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

I went to a very traditional all girls secondary school in Cheam in Surrey, called Nonsuch High School for girls. It is in the park that used to be part of Henry VIII Nonsuch Palace Estate. From my very first year there one of my most vivid memories was of the traditional nine lessons and carol services we had on the last day of the Autumn term. As part of this – we sang a beautiful carol that the 11 year old me had not encountered before – Three Kings from Persian lands afar. Half the school sang the tune and half sang another part with completely different words (which I know now to be called a ‘chorale’). It is a piece written by Peter Cornelius and is more traditionally sung by a solo tenor with a supporting choir singing the other part – rather than a school full of girls.

If you are watching me online – then there is a link on the email from the office or in the post for Epiphany on the Wincanton parish church web site. Or click here. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=thu3vgz5y28 Three Kings from Persian lands afar by Peter Cornelius and it is sung by the choir of Kings College Cambridge.

Anyway the first verse begins to tell the Epiphany story

Three Kings from Persian lands afar To Jordan follow the pointing star: And this the quest of the travellers three, Where the new-born King of the Jews may be. Full royal gifts they bear for the King; Gold, incense, myrrh are their offering.

As we think on those words we have to remember what an incredible venture the journey for the kings was. The kings set out to follow a star without knowing where they were going and without knowing what they would find. The courage of their journey is impressive and one we should learn from.

I have always liked the idea of the pointing star too. Stars are very special and one of the wonders of our beautiful world. Think first of the Kings following a particular star and travelling a long way to follow it. Following a star when we think about it cannot have been easy. First it would have meant travelling at night (which is much more hazardous) or fixing the direction of your travel by the star light and sticking to it. There was also the jeopardy of kings getting lost. If we have ever tried following a straight line irrespective of everything around us, we know how many difficulties we might encounter on the way. All right if the straight line follows a path or a convenient roman road but there are lots of other hazards we could find if it didn’t.

The main theme in the carol continues

The star shines out with a steadfast ray; The kings to Bethlehem make their way, And there in worship they bend the knee, As Mary’s child in her lap they see; Their royal gifts they show to the King; Gold, incense, myrrh are their offering.

Firstly, in that verse there is the word steadfast. The need to keep going – in this case the star to keep shining and encouraging the kings to be strong and determined and to keep travelling even though they didn’t know where they were going. Then the verse went on to think about the gifts the kings brought. If we were bringing a gift for a child what kind of things would we bring? All rather different I suspect from the gifts the Kings brought.

These significant gifts point to the deeper things going on here. There being much more to this situation than meets the eye. The gold to depict Jesus as king and as a place where real power lies. The frankincense with its roots in worship of God – and Jesus unique and special role in that. The myrrh which points to the way of suffering and death Jesus was to die for us

We need to think about the things we have been given our special gifts and talents, our circumstances and our lives and look for the deeper things of God in them. Particularly where there is more to our situations than meets the eye. In our hearts in love with God, see in all that we are and all that we have the way that we should be following Jesus and pointing in all our lives to the love Jesus has for us.

The final verse of the carol has a slightly different tune and begins

 Thou child of man, lo, to Bethlehem The Kings are travelling, travel with them!

Again this takes us on the journey, and though these days we often think of life as a journey as we like to reflect as time goes on growth and progress – we need to remember that we need to understand our lives from God’s perspective. Travelling in faith with God just as much as the Kings did. Travelling in faith as the kings did IS not always comfortable or cosy. As primarily it meant journeying into the unknown as it so does at the moment! Trusting God to bring us to new places and new understandings without knowing what those are going to be in advance! And not knowing what we may need to pack for the journey. In this new year – we are still in the unknown and unprecedented – let’s continue to concentrate on each next step with God guiding our hearts.

Then the final verse continues to remind us of two critical aspects of this journey

The star of mercy, the star of grace, shall lead thy heart to its resting place.

Mercy – God’s amazing and overwhelming love and forgiveness for us. Grace – God stooping to meet us, as the psalmist says – what are mortals that you are mindful of us. But God is entirely mindful, loving and concerned way beyond what we could ever earn or deserve.

Then the verse ends reminding us about what we bring to the God that loves us so much – where it says

Gold, incense, myrrh thou canst not bring; Offer thy heart to the infant King. Offer thy heart.

What our loving heavenly father God wants most from us is our love. He placed that love in our hearts to begin with and wants us to love him and share his love with others. How we live our lives in love with God starts and finishes with love. Love in our hearts and love shared with others. The message of the kings, their presents and their journey comes back to our understanding of how much we love God, and God loves us. Whether we are a King from Persian lands afar or a resident of Wincanton or Pen Selwood – we need to respond and first and foremost offer our hearts to the infant king. Offer our hearts. Amen

A prayer for our journey 

As the wise men journeyed in faith we pray now for our faith. Grow our faith in us, good God. Fill us with a spirit of understanding, a willingness to spend time travelling closer to you.

As the wise men journeyed in faith, we pray now for courage to travel wherever you may take us; and to make you the focus of our journey. We pray for our churches and the journey of faith we have together.

As the wise men journeyed in faith bringing gifts to you, we give thanks for our gifts and ask that they are a source of blessing for the world. Give us strength to live sacrificial lives, sharing our time and our resources to bring about your kingdom.

As the wise men journeyed in faith – we pray for those currently on difficult journeys, the sick, the dying those who have recently died and those who are bereaved.

As the wise men journeyed in faith their journey became a sign, their meeting with God incarnate a prophecy of change: give us grace to embrace the justice and peace of your kingdom. We pray for our world

As the wise men journeyed in faith, we thank you for their example of steadfastness and perseverance, and pray for your spirit to follow their example. Amen

CCLI – Song reproduced and streaming license under CCLI 217043 for St Peter and St Paul Church, Wincanton, Prayer adapted from rootsontheweb.com, The New Revised Standard Version (Anglicized Edition), copyright 1989, 1995

Christmas 1 – 27th December

There is a service video link here https://youtu.be/rqekLvVBfec

Penny chose this  poem for our reflection and is included in the service.

What Kind of Messiah

By Godfrey Rust

What kind of Messiah does anyone want? What sort of Saviour will do? Before we subscribe and get dunked in the font, what kind of Messiah are you? What kind of Messiah does anyone need in our postmodern hullabaloo? What qualifications will help him succeed? What kind of Messiah are you?

Will you stop us from worry and calm us from fear? Will you free us from debt and fatigue? Will you send Boris Johnson* packing next year? Will you put us on top of the League? Will you heal our diseases with mystical magic so we’ll live to 102? Will you make it all better when things turn out tragic? What kind of Messiah are you?

Will you find me a partner and get me a job? Will you save me a good place to park? Will I be superfit even though I’m a slob? Will you keep me a berth in the ark? Will you answer my prayers (but not everyone else’s)? Will you make all my wishes come true? Will you bless all of Liverpool*’s strikers (not Chelsea’s!)? What kind of Messiah are you?

Will you be kind to Hindus and good atheists? Will you send all the bad ones to hell? Will you show Richard Dawkins he doesn’t exist? What is it you’re planning, do tell! Will you stop every war, every flood and tsunami and remove the excess CO2? Will you fix all the people who’re driving me barmy? What kind of Messiah are you?

Will you make sure my mortgage rate doesn’t go higher? Stop me drinking too much alcohol? Can I win EuroMillions and go and retire to a house on the Costa del Sol? Will you bless my belief and ignore my behaviour and vindicate all that I do? Oh, just be my own private and personal Saviour— what kind of Messiah are you?

© Godfrey Rust 2012, godfrey@nullwordsout.co.uk

Christmas 2020 – 24/25 December – Rev Alison Way

Isaiah 52.7-10, Hebrews, 1:1-4, John 1:1-14

Link to video reflection: https://youtu.be/iyrU6aT21sY

Link to all age video reflection (Based on Luke 2:8-17) https://youtu.be/e9SSm78k5vY

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

We know the story of Christmas probably inside out and backwards – though we have been a bit starved of carols this year. I will preach this sermon at St Michael’s and we will have just heard – O holy night from Aled Jones (here is a youtube link to him singing it with Katharine Jenkins – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aYK3sllLD3U) It paints a picture of the angels on the night of Jesus birth. We can see it in our mind’s eye and heart’s imagination, but at this special time it is also good to hear the magical and mysterious words of the beginning of John’s gospel. Where we move from telling the story literally to words with deep imagery and artistry – pointing to the deeper truths of Christmas. This passage from the beginning of John’s gospel explains why Jesus came to save us all and bring us all into the light of God’s love, once and for all and forever!

This reading though deeply familiar, is still yet veiled in mystery. Somehow within it are hidden depths, which are there to challenge our minds. God’s love for us is also in every word to touch our hearts. Something that resonates with the presence of God inside each one of us – his Spirit that inspires us tells us how Jesus came into the world. Also how sending his Son was an entirely different approach than the ones God had tried before.

Remembering God had tried making promises and agreements with his chosen people, and providing guidance on the way to live. God sent prophets, spiritual leaders and even kings to help his people, but again and again his chosen people had turned away from him. Despite all the difficulties and set backs, God still wanted to open his love up to everyone not just the chosen few. So simply and completely he sent his Son to us Jesus.

And yet this passage also brought together the approaches and the patterns of reason in the world John was writing into all those year’s ago. Let me explain what I mean.  These words of John’s gospel start at the beginning. In fact  – In the beginning to be precise, and the beginning is, of course, a very good place to start! For the early Jewish followers of Jesus they would have heard echoes of the start of the story of creation in Genesis, which also starts in the beginning. Early Jewish followers would have known the word of God was powerful and they would have agreed that in the beginning there was indeed the word, because God spoke words and things happened. God said let there be light and there was. God said let the earth bring forth living creatures of every kind and there was. The early jewish followers would have known that the word (the spoken word and the power) was with God and to them it was self-evident that all things came into being through him.

But there is another layer here because not only would the jewish followers have understood the concept in the beginning was the word – so also would the Graeco/Roman ones and the parts of the world approaching life through Greek and Roman thought patterns when Jesus was born! Even if they understood the concept a little differently. These followers understood the word as the divine force to do with wisdom and reason and for them it was an entirely natural way of talking about God. John beginning his gospel like this to his Greek and Roman readers, In the beginning was the word was again a clear and clever reference to God, and as this reading unfolds it clearly it describes how Jesus, the Son of God, the outworking of the word came to earth.

It goes on in verse 10 He (the word/Jesus) He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognise him. Frankly this combination of ideas about the word in John’s gospel is a stroke of genius as  it is seemlessly marrying together powerful cultures and ideologies completely alien to each other – across the Jewish and Greek/Roman divide. In all cases really getting to the point about what God was doing in Jesus at the first Christmas but in different ways. This master stroke in the choice of words brings together cultures that we know didn’t mix well and in places were deeply hostile to each other.

Unfortunately in our world and our society today we still know enough don’t we about mixing different cultures and ideologies and just how challenging that can be. Finding ways of unifying ourselves to the common good and shared meaning are extremely important and never more so than in our world today in our pandemic times. Sadly over the years there has been many a conflict based on often unfounded fears of difference, when in reality the common ground  was just a misunderstanding away! The lands around Jesus birth – still speaks to us with seemingly irresolvable conflicts between cultures that rumble on and on. We pray for peace there this Christmas and for peace in all the other places in the world where there is conflict too.

Having touched on how this wonderful passage from John’s gospel played out to the people of Jesus’ day. Let’s just take a moment now to dig more deeply into this rich passage and the concept of the word for us, the people of God today. We know that the words we say and use are immensely powerful. They bring meaning and understanding, and in this case hope, love and purpose. Sharing that meaning and understanding is as John’s gospel would have it is the life that is the light of all people. By saying Jesus is the Word – it is saying that Jesus is at the heart of all meaning and understanding and the essence of our communication with one another and our lives. As such this is a very, very powerful statement indeed.

For me one of the critical points of understanding in the Christian faith is the recognition of Jesus occupying the central part of our lives. When we share with those around us we gain meaning, understanding and love from those we meet. All of which start from God’s love for us and all his children. Our capacity to love and be loved is rooted and grounded  in God’s love for us. It is in all our experiences of compassion and care that God is really present with us. The God who was with the word Jesus from the beginning and the God we know in every breath and dwells with us through the power of the Holy Spirit that Jesus left with us.

This passage also brings together aspects of the Trinity, God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The word (Jesus) the Son was with God and the word Jesus gave us the power to become children of God – which is a reference to the Holy Spirit. Jesus as word – meaning and purpose to life, is also the light that shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot and will not ever overcome that. This also is something we need to be extremely thankful for. Through the Holy Spirit, we know God is with us in the good times and the bad and there is nothing no matter how bleak or painful that God cannot love us through and gently guide us through.

One of the main conduits of this providential care is those we are given to travel with. Christianity is not and never has been a solitary pursuit, but  one founded in relationship with one another, our companions on the road and in relationship with our loving God . We may be socially distanced from one another in 2020, but love brings us together. God will be with us forever loving us in this world and the next. That love is something that no darkness can take away. Our experiences today of all this are just a foretaste of the intimacy and joy that dwelling in and with God for eternity will be like.

 In Church – We often say the words Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit etc, but there is a slight different variant of that Glory to God, source of all being, eternal Word and Holy Spirit. Brings to the fore Jesus as the word –

  • The word is all our experiences of love, meaning and understanding.

  • The word is for yesterday, the word for this moment and the word for all our tomorrows in this world and the next.

  • Thank you God for Jesus coming into the world at the first Christmas our eternal word, our meaning and our light. Amen

 The New Revised Standard Version (Anglicized Edition), copyright 1989, 1995 – Worship words – Text copyright © The Archbishops’ Council 2000-2020

Advent four – Rev Alison Way – December 20th 2020

Luke 1:26-38

May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, our Lord, our Strength and our Redeemer Amen

This reflection is different from the one I will be doing in the churches today. “Do not be afraid” appears 366 times in the Bible. That is once for every day of the year (even on a leap year like this one!) This phrase – Do not be afraid almost invariably happens when something pretty spectacular has just occurred. Like an angel appearing to an ordinary girl like Mary in our reading today, and fear is a pretty natural human response!

Fear is an interesting human state, in fact, as fear is both a state of mind but also has a effect on our physicality. Fear induces in us a reaction that produces the hormone adrenaline, which prepares the body to flight (run away) or fight. So, when we get frightened or encounter frightening situations our bodies prepare in ways that other emotions to do not effect us.

I think it is interesting and actually I find it a bit mystifying that doing frightening things is viewed as a pleasurable activity by some! Or something they will pay good money for! For example – I do not understand why people enjoy going to horror films or scary films at all. I cannot think of something I like less! I think long and hard about watching something with lots of suspense in it too – and hands appearing from behind walls etc…. I also do not understand the human capacity to go on scary fairground or theme park rides and think that is fun! And that goes too for extreme scary sports like white water rafting or bungee jumping. For me every day life can be scary enough from time to time, and this has been particularly true in 2020 without seeking out additional frightening experiences!

Life was certainly quite scary for Mary in our gospel story today. Imagine in our early teens for a moment being faced with a radical change of plan like this from an angel – a messenger from God? This encounter with the angel turned Mary’s life upside down and with a high prospect of it all going rather pear-shaped in her culture as a result to boot. As we know the end of the story, we know God’s plan had its own way of working itself out.  But Mary did not know this as her part in the story of our salvation began. She did not know Joseph would stand by her and that that would prevent her from at best being ostracised by civilised society and to at worse being stoned for infidelity!

This makes her response to the encounter – here I am – let it be to me according to your word all the more impressive and determined. Mary sets an interesting example of how to handle fear – which appears to be pretty much step up to it and face it!!

But when we are handling fear in our lives. How do we do? There is an acronym for the word FEAR that will help us explore this more deeply, where fear is False Extremes Appear Real.

Let’s start then with False – fear is often a terror that what probably won’t happen will. A right level of caution is always appropriate but a wrong level of unreasonable anxiety is destructive. We have additional complications about falseness and truthfulness in our society today. It can be very difficult to find and stick to the truth.  The phenomena of labelling some ‘fake news’ when it doesn’t reflect what we want to be true is at the root of some of this. Wanting it to be true and it being true are two different things. I long for a day when we don’t get ourselves in such a muddle over truth being absolute rather than relative as we now at times want it to be. The knack here is to keep things in proportion and on the side of the truth (not the relative truth), and remember a healthy dose of common sense can be useful!

Let’s move on to the next element of the acronym, from False to Extremes. Fear envisages a worst-case scenario in which absolutely everything that can go wrong does. Dale Carnegie – of how to win friends and influence people fame, also wrote a book about handling fear. He suggested that one of the ways of doing this was to imagine all the worst possible scenarios and then work out how you can handle them. This can lead to paralysing inactivity as we work all that out and at worse a significant neurosis. Very occasionally in life, everything does seem to go wrong all at once in life (and 2020 has had elements of this about it!) But, that is the extreme and certainly not the rule and many a cloud does have a silver lining even if it is a bit obscured to begin with. Also some of the strangest and scariest things we encounter at the time can be things we look back on with great joy!

The final part of the acronym from False and Extremes – is Appear Real. Appear Real – fear focuses on the imagination and flights of fantasy rather than reality! When people witness a frightening incident their descriptions of it can be wildly different.  One of the reasons for this is that as time passes recollections are clouded by interpretations beyond the event itself. So we say what we have reasoned happened rather than what we actually saw.

The fact that God via the angel in this case says Do not be afraid or in the authorised version Fear not so often means God understands our propensity for nervousness and fearfulness. Faith is born out of our knowledge of God’s love for us and is the heart of our relationship with him. In taking even small steps into the unknown guided by God – we will find that he is with us in every step (even if we don’t know where the next step will take us!) At the moment we are on the cusp of a new beginning as the vaccine roll out begins to happen, but there are still many things we do not know about how all this will be long-term. I think it is important to remember to keep fear in perspective.  With fear when False Extremes Appear Real.

We need to remember how it must have been for Mary as she lived the story of how Jesus came as the Son of God to earth and her role within it. This story helps us to live our stories. She didn’t know the twists and turns of her story any more than we know the twists and turns of ours. And yet Mary has the wisdom to say Here I am, the servant of the Lord, let it be to me according to your word. Let that be said in our hearts just as much in response to our uncertain times. Here we are, the servants of the Lord, let it be to us according to your word. Amen

The New Revised Standard Version (Anglicized Edition), copyright 1989, 1995 – Some material from rootsontheweb.com

Advent 3 – Penny Ashton

Advent 3 – Isaiah 61: 1-4, 8-end and John 1: 6-8, 19-28

Link to the video of this reflection: https://youtu.be/-mhkKKMEzqE

I often think these days that the current younger generation will be much more patient and able to deal with waiting than people of my age.  We all grew up with electricity, but whereas I am used to gadgets that switch on when I push the switch, modern electronics take time to get started.  I can write down a phone number in a matter of seconds, but if I want to save it to my phone or computer, then I have to wait for it to boot up and for the application I want to open before I can actually make the note.

When John started preaching, the Jewish people had been without a prophet for some 400 years since the time of Malachi.  What we don’t know is whether they had grown tired of waiting or were looking for a prophet to bring them fresh word from God.  Whatever the answer, they would definitely have been surprised and excited by the appearance of John, and the religious authorities who had been keeping things going in the meantime were quick to want to check him out.  John, however does not seem inclined to give them any useful answers, as he is only willing in the account we heard read today to tell them who he is not.  If you read on in this chapter you will read John’s testimony concerning Jesus, and his account of Jesus’ baptism.  John is very clear about his purpose – he is to prepare the way for Jesus by preaching repentance of sin and baptism, and when that is done, he is to fade into the background.

Is there a lesson for us here?  More than once in our bibles we read accounts of people approaching the disciples and asking in various ways to see Jesus.  Nobody seemed terribly anxious to see Peter or Andrew or James – and nowadays the world does not really need to see Penny or Alison or you either – although they may not entirely realise it, they want to see Jesus still.  John is a good role model for us all here.

I sometimes wonder if the Roman emperor Constantine did the Christian church any favours when he made it the official religion of the empire.  He certainly enlarged it massively at a stroke by enrolling his entire army, but the long-term effects have been to make our faith respectable and this is not always healthy.  I have read that St Benedict who lived in about 500AD was amazed when sent to Rome to be educated by the number of churches that had been and were still being built.  We do love our buildings!  And yes – I love this church at Pen Selwood too.  But do our churches distract from our message?  For five months of this year, our church buildings have been closed to public worship – for three of those months the buildings were completely shut and locked and even now access to them is very limited.  Do we feel that God went away in that time?  Did we say with the exiled people of Israel – ‘how can we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land’?  We learned new ways – developed new skills, perhaps our church life will one day return to its former structure, but I rather hope it doesn’t.  Change is never comfortable, and I am sure we would not have changed greatly in this year, but it has been forced upon us.  Once again I remember the comment that someone put into our Vision Survey in 2018 – Whilst we all love the comfortable old, we would like to embrace the exciting new.  During lockdown earlier this year we heard a lot of talk about the new normal, as people learned different, new and often better ways of doing those things that they weren’t able to carry on in the normal way.

I wonder if we ever consider these days quite how counter cultural Jesus and John the Baptist were in their day.  Without going into the rights and wrongs, I wonder how much difference there really is between turning over tables in the temple court and pulling down a statue in Bristol.   Some things cause deep offence to some people, and if you want your protest to be noticed, sometimes you have to upset people – whether by blocking the traffic in London, removing a statue in Bristol or returning large quantities of unwanted plastic to the shop that insisted on packaging everything.

Our reading from Isaiah gives us a good steer of what God is actually looking for in his kingdom.  Jesus read some of these verses in the synagogue at Nazareth at the beginning of his ministry:

‘The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me;

he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the broken-hearted,

to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour,’.  The result of his preaching that day was to be thrown out of the synagogue, and almost off a cliff.

If you use email then I expect that you, like me receive several emails daily from charities in desperate need of funding.  Television advertising is heart breaking to watch, and our news recently has been full of the campaign of Marcus Rashford for children to receive the free meals at home that they are given when at school.  We are about the 5th richest country in the world, and still there are children going hungry.  We pride ourselves on being open, welcoming and tolerant, and yet people in positions of power and authority are still being investigated, and inquiries show that many of our establishments are still institutionally racist.  In the last week, 25,000 people have learned that they will probably be made redundant – and they are only a part of the damage that has been done this year.  Charities that give advice and help with debt problems have never been busier, and the Trussell Trust, that runs many of our food banks tells me that they are expecting to give out a food parcel every 9 seconds this winter.  I also know that people are wonderfully generous.  Last month the Children in Need appeal raised the amazing sum of £41m.  By now it is probably more than that, but I also know that next year they will be looking for more.  Where did we go wrong?

Before you start looking for a handy cliff, I should stress that I am not seeking to blame anyone for these things – for once I am not even blaming the government!  But there must be more that we can do.  Each one of these people in need is made in the image of God, and deeply loved by Him.  I know that many of the problems of the last year have been caused by the pandemic – but I also believe that many of them were accidents waiting to happen – it just took the push of a virus to set the dominoes falling.  We have much to be thankful for.  We live in a beautiful part of a country where we are free to worship, where we are free to call out our leaders when we see shortcomings.  Where the intention of the welfare state is that no-one should fall through the cracks and have nothing – it is not perfect, but it is at least trying.

We cannot escape the fact though that our churches are becoming emptier – and not just at the moment because people fear infection.  There must be something that we are not getting right – and I wonder if it is because our lovely stone walls prevent people from seeing that what they need and really want is to see Jesus.   We look respectable, comfortable – but should we look loving?  Should we take a leaf out of John’s book and point out that we are not, and don’t have the answer – but we do know, and can point to the one who does?

Advent 2 – Rev Alison Way

Isaiah 40:1-11 and Mark 1:1-8

Link to the video of this reflection: https://youtu.be/UN25YTLHgbc

Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts, be acceptable in your sight – O Lord our strength and our redeemer. Amen

I was talking about Isaiah last week in my reflection for Advent Sunday. The passage for last week came from the time when God’s chosen people have returned to Jerusalem after the exile, and are rebuilding the temple (but the people had lost their way with faith in God yet again). Where as this week’s reading comes from more hopeful times – a bit earlier in the story when God’s chosen people were on the cusp of returning from the exile to Jerusalem).

For devotees of Carol Services this reading is very familiar and often one of the chosen ones. It starts in a place that makes us feel good too – Comfort, O comfort my people – says your God. The verb is even in the imperative – showing it to be a command. That is like saying – “better times are coming, breathe in God’s love for you now”. We can resonate with this kind of message as we so need this kind of comfort today. Comfort from God is a breath away if we get in touch with our inner sense of God travelling with us through the Holy Spirit Jesus left with us. This is a very deep well always available to us. Sometimes we just need to pause and pray it into our hearts. This has been most obvious in our pandemic days. As vaccine hopes are peaking over the horizon, let’s lean in to it once more to give us the strength we need to endure (however long it takes us). God’s strength and hope is for us

In places the Holy Spirit is called the comforter, and in this part of Isaiah the verb comfort is used repeatedly to signify encouragement or restoration to new life, but it may also denote that a need for a change of mind or direction is required or some element of repentance. In a way, our recent times have also made us think about all we have taken for granted up to this point, and some ways we will want to change to make the future for ourselves, our nearest and dearest, our communities and our world better. It may be that our pandemic times have made us realise things we had not previously – and I think where it is needed reflection and repentance is very good for our souls. It shows God where we now know we need to proceed differently from now on, and helps us to be open to the Holy Spirit’s work with us and within us.

The next few verses of the reading – are ones we read knowing they point to the coming of Jesus (rather than the immediate events of God’s chosen people as the original readers would have interpreted them to be). Where it starts A Voice cries out: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God”. I am not going to talk about who the voice was today, to allow Penny to major on John the Baptist next week in our Advent journey. I want us instead to think about preparing the way. This time of year we generally do a lot of preparations – all kinds of things (cooking, shopping, decorating, writing cards, buying and wrapping presents, and so forth)… I suspect some of it is scaled back for most of us in our pandemic days. But I wonder if we should think about how each thing we are able to do is bringing us closer to the real message of Christmas, how God’s love came down with one intent to save us.

There have been wilderness aspects of our last year’s experience. I don’t think I have ever in my life time spent so much time by myself. I shall be hugely thankful for times when we can more easily mingle. Currently having to set out that we cannot socialise at all inside the church buildings because we are in tier 2 is a horrifying thing for me to say. I so wish this was not the case – as fellowship is such an important part of our journey. We may not be able to chat together in person and inside in the way that we might want but we can pray together and strengthen each other for the journey in that way.

The next part of the verse says “make straight in the desert a highway to our God”. What does that mean? For the original listeners it would have been heard as a call to return to Jerusalem, and in some cases it is translated as highways indicating the dispersed nature of the people of God in exile across the Babylonian empire when this part of Isaiah was inspired. It sounds like a need to make a journey – in the people of God’s case a journey leading back to Jerusalem.

For us we tend to think more of God’s action in sending Jesus, as being the straight highway to God. A direct and decisive intervention pointing to God which we mark each Christmas. A straight highway is not a bendy country lane – but a broad wide and the most direct path possible through the desert times to better places ahead. This must be making us think about how our lives are being lived currently. From the outside do they look like broad highways pointing to God’s love for us or would we look more like a narrow, bendy country lane where the importance of God’s love for us is not so obvious. Being focussed and direct about God’s love for us is also better for us in other ways, as it stops us letting other things crowd in and get in the way too.

These weeks leading to Christmas do afford us opportunities to be more explicit in how we live and what we say. Celebrating Christmas is not cancelled no matter how much we can’t do what we would normally do! There are layers of tradition and family myths, which we are all going to miss that aren’t practical or safe in 2020! There are people we aren’t going to see and activities we aren’t going to be able to indulge in. In this genre is our annual warm bath in a range of mostly Victorian Traditional Carols inside the Church.

Singing the story TOGETHER in Church (not being sung too) is very much part and parcel of Christmas. From our enforced abstinence in this activity inside the church buildings in 2020 we will really know how important this is to us and next year (hopefully) singing TOGETHER will be part of everything we can do then. Yet we still can sing these things in our households, and through various different outlets videos/tv services etc (I will be pointing us to sources of these as we get closer to Christmas too). It is the togetherness that is really missing, and it is a togetherness that points to God. A large packed church full of people singing Hark the herald angels sing – transports us in a different way into the immanence of God’s love for us. There is no doubt that I will (and many of us will) really miss that. It can feel a bit like being there on the hillside as the angels impart the good news of Jesus birth to the shepherds. Let’s remember that feeling and as we remember know deep in our heart that the good news of Jesus birth is still the best news we ever had. In 2020 – let’s hold on to that and hold on to it fast.

A bit further on in the Isaiah passage it brings home to us what the good news is. It says Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all the people shall see it together. For Isaiah’s original audience – the dispersed people of God in exile in the Babylonian empire – this is all about the sign of God’s presence and power once more being visible and experienced in Jerusalem as the temple is rebuilt. I wonder what they made of the second bit of that verse that ‘All people shall see it together’. I suspect they may have interpreted that as being all the scattered people of God would be together and see it and not that it meant something much more radical than that – that Jesus was coming for everyone. That the “All” was so much more inclusive. Remembering even from the very beginning we remember that Jesus’ birth was revealed first to shepherds amongst the poorest and marginalised groups within God’s chosen people and then to wise men from the East – who were beyond God’s chosen people in every sense!! As Jesus was born from the very start it was clear he was for everyone – a saviour for the world.

As we reflect on ‘all people shall see it together’, let’s remember the message of love coming down this Christmas and every Christmas is for everyone, and use it to inspire us to beacons pointing to that love in all that we do.

Let us pray: – God, you have comforted your people, making paths where there seemed no path. You have lifted up valleys, relieved droughts, and made high places low. You have gathered your people in the eternal place of love. You speak to our hearts, and you forgive us for our wandering ways. Your light and love and faithfulness and work are true, ever true, always lasting. We praise you, for the goodness you are, and the pathways you make before us. Amen.

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

Prayer adapted from Rootsontheweb.com

Advent Sunday

Advent Sunday – Year B – Rev Alison Way

Link to the Advent Sunday Service and video reflection: https://youtu.be/aszbKE-h_p4

Isaiah 64:1-9 and Mark 13:24-end

Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts, be acceptable in your sight – O Lord our strength and our redeemer. Amen

The singing of  “O Come O Come Emmanuel” – with its reflections on the historic titles we give to Jesus and its lilting melody and unmistakable minor key herald the start of the new church year – and the start of Advent. Our time of prayer and preparation as the days shorten but with the light of Jesus once again shining in our hearts. As it did when he first came to earth as a vulnerable baby to save us over 2000 years ago.

Jesus came at that time – as the Messiah – promised of God – to sweep away the old and bring in a new way of all humanity being loved and cherished by God. Sweeping away the old – includes all the time that had passed with God working through Abraham and his descendants. Their journeys to and in the promised land – and the times of exodus and subsequently exile and eventual return to Jerusalem, and the building and then the rebuilding of the temple.

With the coming of Jesus – God is working in a new way – and our reading from Isaiah today is from those times after the return from the exile in Babylon. A lot of people much wiser than me have drawn parallels between the exile experiences of the people of God and our recent times with coronavirus. For example, Samuel Wells who is the vicar of St Martin in the fields along Maureen Langdoc came up with 10 practices for our Covid days inspired by theological themes from the exile. These are:

 

  1. Resist denial: practise truthfulness.

  2. Resist assuming control: develop patience.

  3. Resist the impulse to be right: discover humility.

  4. Resist anxiety: find courage.

  5. Resist fleeing from yourself: become your own friend.

  1. Resist the suffocation of technology: embrace joy.

  2. Resist the assumption of scarcity: celebrate abundance.

  3. Resist self-centredness: embody charity.

  4. Resist greed: realise simplicity.

  5. Resist despair: choose hope.

https://www.abc.net.au/religion/practices-of-resistance-coronavirus-lockdown/12164370

The reading from Isaiah starts with ‘O that you would tear open the heavens and come down’ – in its own way that is exactly what God did when Jesus came. It was not done in the dramatic way Isaiah imagines – no mountains quaking or fires, but through a young faithful woman – messages of angels, visiting shepherds, a travelling star and wise men from the east.

Isaiah is writing of the times when despite everything that has occured – when God’s chosen people have returned to Jerusalem after the exile, and are rebuilding the temple. Even after all that, still the importance of God in the lives of the people is not central.  Things are better than they once were so they have slipped back into apathy. God recognises something new and different is needed and it comes quietly at first – as Jesus is born as a vulnerable baby all those years ago.

I will come back to Isaiah – but we also get a sense of Jesus’ time on earth building to a crescendo in our passage from Mark’s gospel. In the action, this is not long before Jesus is taken to be crucified. He is trying to get across what he is there for. The language (as it is in Mark) is more hidden and mysterious – but there is clarity there. My words Jesus said – will not pass away. And indeed it is testament to their importance that we continue to study then and find new meaning for each passing generation. Jesus words here are a call for us to stay watchful and alert to the good news of Jesus. In our preparations for Christmas I think this must be a call to us to stay focused on what Christmas is really about – how God’s love came down to earth on that first Christmas for us all.

Back in Isaiah – one of the phrases that most struck me was in verse 8 – Yet, O Lord you are our Father; we are the clay and you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.  Powerful words indeed – are we clay in our Father, the potter’s hands. Are we letting God shape us and guide us in these difficult days – are we open and malleable to his shaping. There have been moments in our journey through 2020 when some of the basic building blocks and things we hold most dear have been stripped away. This has been difficult and challenging – have we stayed open to the still small voice of God’s guiding in our strange and confronting times. Relying on God will give us through his Holy Spirit the strength for each step we need to take. Staying focused on each step also helps us not to over-reach.

I like a good plan – and I confess I have found it confronting and stressful that we cannot really progress in that way at the moment. I look at our plan for Christmas celebrations (which seem a pale imitation of what any of us would usually do or want to do) apprehensively knowing it could happen or it could not happen – or even something else quite other could happen. I have never quite known a time like this. Its more than doing a jigsaw puzzle with out the picture, its doing a jigsaw puzzle without the picture and with the pieces fading in and out and changing all the time!!!

What can we do in these circumstances – what we can do is practice what Jesus says in our Gospel – staying alert and watchful. Staying focussed in the present in the moment, looking for the good, being kind and thoughtful. Being thankful for each day and the presence of God with us. Being ready to do what God wants of us. And remembering all God has done for us – particularly in sending Jesus to us.

This brings me to our second hymn (which will sing near the end of this video service). This hymn captures the big picture of Jesus’ love for us in a sublime way – equally associated with this Advent Sunday. It is The Wesley classic (words by Charles music by John) – “Lo, he comes with clouds descending”.

I don’t know if you remember me saying at my licensing back in February here that “At the name of Jesus” – set to the tune Camberwell was my second favourite hymn – well “Lo, he comes with clouds descending” is number one in my book. This hymn is a mix of imagery of what Jesus did for us on the cross – a subject we talk about a lot and also imagery we talk about a lot less frequently  – watching and waiting for Jesus’ second coming – as the gospels and John’s revelation also predict. This is very much the stuff of Advent and Advent Sunday in particular. That challenging extract of Mark’s gospel we have just heard is also riddled with images of the second coming to. For example amongst the action described was the Son of man coming in the clouds.

Talking about the second coming of Jesus is quite tricky – and in the past this subject has been rather abused to engender fear and submission to inappropriate regimes. Obviously the gospel writers, wrote what they did expecting the ‘second’ coming to come soon.. This is reflected in the part of Mark’s gospel that says Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. 2000 years on this leaves us a bit mystified, from the position where the second coming has yet to come. One of things this means we particularly need to do is get in touch with our mystical side and put down our reliance on logic and rationality. There are deeper things afoot here.

So what is this deeper meaning then. I think we need to acknowledge something of the awesomeness of God.  How God’s interventions such as when Jesus came in the first place can be very dramatic, unexpected and in ways beyond our comprehension. Also when God intervenes again as God will at some point when the way we live now inspired by the power of the Holy Spirit Jesus left us comes to end –  however this intervention comes to be from God– it will be dramatic, unexpected and beyond our earthly powers of comprehension

Understanding this, means living ready for everything and anything from God – surely something 2020 has taught us over and over again. With our eyes firmly on Jesus and the promise of eternal life. For Christians death brings the promise of intimacy with our loving God.  The second coming if it happened in whatever way it might in our life time, would bring this intimacy too and this is the hope we live our lives with. In that sense the second coming is not something to be feared, but something to be marvelled at and wondered about. The prospect of the second coming should be something that brings how we live our lives into sharp focus.

The guidance from Mark’s gospel this morning is this as Christians to expect challenging and difficult times and to face them in readiness, courageously and determinedly. We also need to be sure of our foundations, and not to place too much store on the things of this world. To concentrate on our relationship with God and the things to come.

Remember as I said earlier – Jesus said Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. Jesus is asking us to be ever watchful, alert and ready and to pray for strength from the Holy Spirit. All of which is very sound guidance in how we approach our lives, when we think about what Jesus has brought to our lives now and what the second coming could bring. Fundamentally, this passage is a wake up call asking us to live with a real sense of expectancy – alert and ready to how God has intervened, is intervening and will intervene in our earthly existence. Jesus Christ, yesterday, today and forever. And how our priority must be to live clinging to God’s values and not our own. We need to live and pray as my favourite hymn Lo he comes ends –

Saviour, take the power and glory – claim the kingdom for thine own. Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! – Thou shalt reign and thou alone. Amen

 

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

Christ The King

Christ the King

As this Sunday was previously known and loved as the Sunday next before Advent, often know as Stir up Sunday, I have included the words of the collect for today and the post communion prayer – which was formerly the collect here.  These well-known and well-loved words have always been for me a beginning of the anticipation of Christmas.  

God the Father,

help us to hear the call of Christ the King

and to follow in his service,

whose kingdom has no end;

for he reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, one glory.

 

Stir up, O Lord,

the wills of your faithful people;

that they, plenteously bringing forth

the fruit of good works,

may by you be plenteously rewarded;

through Jesus Christ our Lord.

 Collect and post communion for Christ the King

Common Worship.                  

Reflection for Christ the King

Ephesians 1: 15-end, Matthew 25: 31-end

For someone like me who preaches occasionally it is surprising how often certain occasions come more than once.  One example in my case is the feast of St Michael and all Angels and the other is Christ the King – in four years of preaching, they have both occurred 3 times.  It would be reasonable to assume that I have managed to acquire an understanding of them by now, but unfortunately, I am as much as sea as I ever was.

Regarding the Kingdom Season – from All Saints Day to Advent, the Church of England says this about today: ‘The annual cycle of the Church’s year now ends with the Feast of Christ the King. The year that begins with the hope of the coming Messiah ends with the proclamation of his universal sovereignty. The ascension of Christ has revealed him to be Lord of earth and heaven, and final judgement is one of his proper kingly purposes. The Feast of Christ the King returns us to the Advent theme of judgement, with which the cycle once more begins.’ I should therefore take this opportunity to wish you all a happy new year, as our new church year begins next Sunday.

I often feel that to celebrate the kingship of Christ should be to point out something that we were aware of all along.  The book of Revelation makes it plain that however many battles there may have been or may be to come, and however often we feel that the forces of evil are getting the upper hand, the final victory has already been won and Jesus is most definitely reigning triumphant.  The original film of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel has a repeated line in it which I like – ‘it will be alright in the end.  If it’s not alright, then it’s not the end’.

If we are to celebrate Christ the King, then what should His kingdom look like?  Jesus often spoke in parables, and while it could be said that all his parables relate to the Kingdom, there is a large group of them in which he specifically refers to the Kingdom of God.  In Matthew, Mark and Luke’s gospels, Jesus frequently gives an illustration beginning with the words ‘the kingdom of God is like…’.  We need to be careful about how we read these, as Jesus is not saying that the kingdom is like a mustard seed, yeast or a valuable pearl – more that the whole story illustrates something about the kingdom although I was interested to read only this morning that mustard grows almost as a weed in the Mediterranean world.  Rather as I suspect we think of horseradish or wild garlic, once you had mustard growing, although it was useful and good for the health, it was almost impossible to eradicate.  Perhaps the kingdom is like mustard seed after all – it seems to flourish most when under persecution and has not stopped spreading for 2000 years.

If the kingdom parables illustrate different aspects of the kingdom, our gospel readings since All Saints Day give us an idea of how inhabitants of the kingdom are expected to behave.  Over the past few weeks, we have read from the beatitudes and the parables of the wise and foolish bridesmaids and last week of the talents.  One thing that is plain in all of them, is that God’s kingdom is not something that is to come, His kingdom is now.

The season concludes today with the King sitting in judgement at the end of time.  The story is well known to us all, and never fails to make me feel uncomfortable – I don’t know what its affect is on you.   In biblical times, the handing out of justice was a task of leadership – the early leaders of God’s people were called Judges and you can read about some of them in the bible book of that name. The degree of justice depended very much on the calibre of the individual ruler.  We now have Magna Carta to thank for the beginning of the separation of government and the judiciary and the ruling that everybody, even the monarch is subject to the rule of law.  At the time I am writing this, the governments both in this country and the USA are in some disarray with what would appear to be power struggles, both in 10 Downing Street and in the White House.  This is despite the fact that numbers infected with and dying from Covid 19 are going up at an alarming rate, and the negotiations on Brexit seemingly nowhere near completion with less than 50 days to go before it happens.  It is at times like this that I am profoundly grateful that Christ is King, and the things of this world will pass away.

We have a hope – we are a people of hope, and our hope is wonderfully described in our reading from Ephesians.  I always enjoy reading Paul’s writing when he gets carried away with the glories that are to come, and seems to run out of superlatives to describe the wonders that God has in store for us.  Let’s hear it again:

‘with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power. God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all’.  I do hope that for the rest of the day, the hymn ‘At the name of Jesus’ will be in your head after reading that – I wish we could sing it now!

Head over all things for the church which is his body – the church which is made up of the saints on this earth.  The church which is us.  We have a hope, and we have a king.  May it be our constant joy to live as people of his kingdom.

2nd Sunday before Advent

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

Link to the online service of Spiritual Communion

 https://youtu.be/V0Kso58KFc8

1 Thessalonians 5:1-11, Matthew 25:14-30

Talent is a word that has morphed somewhat!! We have a regular television programme – called Britain’s Got Talent, where acts from the sublime to the ridiculous show us their party pieces… More correctly a talent is special often an athletic, creative, or artistic aptitude for something. A natural endowment to something – Mo Farrah to running first, Katharine Jenkins to singing. In both those cases, they have trained and honed their gifts, but they have definitely been based on a natural disposition to run long distances or sing beautifully in the first place!

The truth is that everybody has talents! It can be in every day things like ironing, baking, gardening and listening. Or in more complicated things like: –

  • Owning and operating bits of equipment to do specific jobs

  • Expertise in specific areas

    Some people are great at hospitality or administration

  • In sport, creative arts, music,

  • With computers and

  • Even in prayer (we will come back to that)

Nobody in my opinion has no talents at all. I’m not very keen on how showbiz – celebrity stuff has overtaken the word talent either. We need to celebrate how God has made each one of us – different, unique and special.

Jesus told a parable in our readings today about talents too, and this gets to the point where we are clearer about how this word talent has changed its meaning. A talent in Jesus day was a sum of money. In fact, an awful lot of money! One commentary I read said that 5 talents was the equivalent of being a multi-millionaire in those days. Another said one talent was the equivalent of 15 years wages for a labourer. When Jesus told the parable he was talking about high finance and not so much gifts and abilities.

The story is about a wealthy man who invested his money by loaning it out to members of his staff. Three of them were lent huge amounts of capital and told to trade with it. Two of the three were remarkably successful. They returned the initial interest and the profit to the boss and in return they were moved on to better things, to administer a larger section of the boss’ business.

The third was intimidated by the task and chose not to rise to the challenge and buried the money, made no profit and returned it untouched. He received a pretty severe telling off and was punished for his timidity and lack of imagination. It ends badly with weeping and gnashing of teeth – which is never good in Jesus’ parables.

In the parable the sum of money could represent our knowledge of God. The Jews learnt from their scriptures about a God, who loves us, save us and cares how we treat each other. but they were given this knowledge, not just for their own benefit. They were expected to spread it to others too. To keep our knowledge of God to ourselves is selfish– timidity won’t get us very far. We need to spread around what we have learnt of God’s love to our families, friends and neighbours. That is one basic meaning of this parable

It is also tempting to apply it to our gifts and abilities too and the word talent in the wider sense we use today. What we are good at or clever at becomes what we are talented at. We mustn’t bury the talents we all have, and we must put them to work serving God as God intended. Everybody can do something perhaps not brilliantly well, but sufficiently well to be appreciated.

I challenge us all today to review how we are using talents our gifts and abilities a fresh. Particularly how we could use them to show our love for God and to put them to work to serve his kingdom. Talents are not to be left at the bottom of the wardrobe of our lives like that unwanted Christmas present from our Great Aunt. We need to use them to help us all show how God loves the world and how much we love God especially in our pandemic times.

Another thing we can all  work on is our practice of prayer. We all have different gifts in prayer, and being prayerful is a deep seated natural instinct. The Archbishops have asked us to pray every day (at 6pm if we can). I wrote about this in last week’s newsletter and circulated the resources and it will be mailed out this week to those who need it. I would like to take this opportunity for you to read what they said… From 4th November so a little time has elapsed but still plenty of days ahead to pray in!!

Please read the Archbishops letter…… 20201104 Joint letter ABC ABY to the nation

To finish I found a very short story, which illustrates the point of the parable of the talents rather well. Somewhat surprisingly it is about 2 frogs! We may not think that frogs have a lot of talents. But if they live up to their “frogginess” which includes their talent to swim, it can make a huge difference to the outcome as you will see. It begins….

Two frogs fell into a tub of cream. The one looked at the high sides of the tub which were too difficult to crawl over and said, “It is hopeless.” So he resigned himself to death, relaxed, and sank to the bottom.

The other one determined to keep swimming as long as he could. “Something might happen,” he said. And it did. He kept kicking and churning, and finally he found himself on a solid platform of butter and jumped to safety. Amen

References: Story from rootsontheweb.com