Monthly Archives: July 2021

St James 25th July 2021 – Rev Alison Way

Link to Rev Alison’s reflection video: https://youtu.be/vTjxXCMMmpo

2 Corinthians 4:7-15, Matthew 20:20-28

In the name of the living God, loving Father, precious Son and ever present Holy Spirit Amen

There have been a few series of a programme called Pilgrimage on the BBC in recent years.  A selection of celebrities with some faith, lapsed faith or none walking well known historic pilgrimage routes. The first one of these series followed the way of St James – who we remember today, which culminates at the Cathedral of St James – in Santiago de Compostella in Spain (which is thought to house St James’ mortal remains). This series featured amongst others the actor Neil Morrisey, Debbie McGee and Reverend Kate Bottley. The route they used was declared the first European cultural route in October 1987 and is known as the Camino. Back in March 2020 we began a Lent course based on a film about walking this route called the Way. It was also about a very unlikely group of pilgrims, and what they discovered about themselves along the route (just like the Pilgrimage TV show!). Sadly Covid lockdowns stopped us continuing.

Pilgrims have been walking the routes the camino includes (with various starting points France, Spain and Portugal) from the 9th century onwards. Technically pilgrimage is a devotional practice consisting of a prolonged journey, toward a specific destination of significance. I think it is more about the experiences on the journey as the ultimate destination. It combines the physical, with the spiritual and the emotional alongside simplicity in living. Pilgrimages are a feature of most world faiths not just Christianity.

The reasons for making a specific pilgrimage are many and various including in fulfilment of a vow, for forgiveness for sins, as a thanksgiving for life or as a means of intercession, among other reasons. I think, sometimes, we should view our whole lives as spiritual pilgrimages to help us cut through the complexity to get to the nub of what matters in our lives. – Our walk with God’s heartbeat guiding our next step. We can be so caught up with the cut and thrust of life, so taking things back to first principles can be helpful and help us to follow the path God would have for us.

Lets think about this a bit more by looking at the life of St James and what his spiritual journey or pilgrimage looked like! James often called the great was a Galilean fisherman who with his brother John (the sons of Zebedee) was one of the first disciples to be called by Jesus to follow him. He was there at some of the big moments in Jesus’ earthly life. He witnessed the transfiguration on the high mountain. The night before Jesus’ crucifixion James went to the Garden of Gethsemene and he slept whilst Jesus prayed.

James’s mother was a key figure in his life – and in our gospel reading we heard her asking whether James could sit with his brother at Jesus left and right hand in glory. We will never know how this came to pass exactly, but the level of anger from the other disciples, might well suggest that James and John may have encouraged their mother in making this suggestion! In a rebuff, James heard those words of Jesus calling for a life of service rather than lording over others, alongside moving away from political behaviours and jockeying for position. How much did this influence his spiritual journey (as well as the first-hand things he experienced?) Did this give him the courage and determination to do things he did after Jesus rose from the dead to spread the good news?.

Continuing with the things James experienced in his life pilgrimage, he was present for the resurrection appearances of Christ. He is then thought to have spread the good news to the Iberian peninsula and subsequently (about 14 years later) he was put to death by Herod Agrippa in Jerusalem. Herod hoped in vain that disposing of Christian leaders would stem the flow of those hearing the good news. It didn’t!

All of these experiences, the highs and lows formed James and his walk of discipleship. We can see as our epistle has it – that there were times when James was just as much a treasure in a clay jar as we are. Meaning he was vulnerable and fragile to making poor choices, and taking the power to ourselves, rather than the power coming from God. Clay jars can be very useful but break easily too.  Just as all of our experiences, the highs and the lows form us. There are moments when we try to take God’s power and use it for our own means rather than making clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us.

God can and does use our weaknesses just as much, if not more than our strengths in our pilgrimage through life. The pilgrims on the way of St James particularly use a scallop shell often hung around their necks as a symbol of their journey. There are a couple of pretty fanciful stories linking St James to these shells. I have reproduced some shells for us to use in a prayer activity later at the end of this reflection, but it would be useful to look at this picture below now.

The shell connects us with our spiritual journey. They may remind us of the beginning of our walk with God. We use a scallop shell (or a silver replica) often in baptising new members of our church family. We are reminded of this as we take these promises on for ourselves if we were baptised as infants at confirmation.

The lines and the connections on the shell may remind us of our walk through this life and its many experiences. These lines radiate throughout the shell showing how these form us and interconnect. The triangular shaped peak of the shell reminds us of the three parts of God’s love for us, that connect with us and the lines and connections of our lives. God as Father, creator, God as son and saviour and God as spirit and guide. Our connection with God and God’s connection with us – radiates through all our experiences. Much as St Paul found in the first reading this morning, so the life of Jesus is made visible in our bodies too.

It is helpful to see this life in terms of spiritual pilgrimage, with our concentration only on the next step we need to take. That overused but actually helpful phrase is to say that life is a journey. Our lives are intertwined with God’s love for us and God’s hand guiding us to our ultimate destination. Safe and loved in his heart of love in this life and the life beyond our earthly existence. It is important to stick with each next step we take (as we would if walking a pilgrimage route of life), rather than getting caught up in where we have been and where we might end up. Staying in the present and most importantly in God’s presence in our uncertain and sifting times – this will give us the strength, courage and purpose we need for today. As well as through the grace of God, God’s eternal loving hope for all our tomorrows. Amen.

You may wish to spend some time with this shell image and write a prayer guided by God’s love for us for your next step in your spiritual pilgrimage in these uncertain times.

 

References: https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/features/what-is-a-pilgrimage

https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b09w7lcg (First BBC series of Pilgrimage).

Trinity 7 18th July 2021 Rev Alison Way

Link to the Reflection Video: –https://youtu.be/la_VJ6bRCDk

Ephesians 2:11-end, Mark 6:30-34, 53-end

We will probably remember the late Member of Parliament – Jo Cox said – “We are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us.”  We have also probably found this statement to be true also when we have sat down and got to know people who are very different from ourselves. In our extract from the letter to the Ephesians, the thrust of this is all about unity and inclusivity. It is all about everyone belonging to the Christian community, being united in Christ once and for all, irrespective of them being different from each other. Like the Ephesian Christians before us, we will particularly need this unity and sense of inclusive purpose as we negotiate our way forward as stage four  of the road map comes upon us.

Ephesus like many places in our world today was a melting pot of cultures, and an important military base and port. The gentiles (those of non-Jewish descent) in the Ephesian Churches were probably more numerous than those of Jewish descent. What the writer initially does is spell out that everyone is united and on an equal footing. Don’t let the language of circumcision or uncircumcision put you off. Let me unpack what was being said:-

Before Jesus came the situation was like this. God started to work with the humans he had made. He picked one group and had a deep relationship with them. God promised them a new land and to be with them in all that they did. The basis of the arrangement God had with his chosen people was that if the people loved God and put their love of God first. If they followed the rules he set them on how to live their lives, all would be well. The people had to love God and keep his rules for the bargain to work!! God also hoped the other people he had not chosen would want to join the ones he had. The people he chose were called the Jews (Hebrews or Israelites) depending on where you are in the story. Their mark of identity was circumcision hence the label of them as ‘the circumcision’ in our passage from Ephesians. The other group therefore being the ‘uncircumcision’.

Now this original deal didn’t work very well and for a number of reasons.

  • The group who God had not chosen didn’t like or get on well with the ones God hadn’t chosen and vice versa.

  • Those God had not chosen did not want to join up and a wall built up between them, which developed into a big barrier.

  • There was another problem, the people God had chosen – didn’t like putting God first and following his rules. They kept putting the rule book down and doing what they wanted to do when they wanted to do it…

In view of the problems God sent messengers to his chosen people, the circumcision, often in the guise of prophets, and they listened sometimes and did what God wanted. However, eventually they always seem to end up doing their own thing and forgetting about God. Putting the rule book down and the situation between the two groups of people was getting more and more out of control. The situation escalated frequently and fighting broke out. Sometimes God’s chosen people won and sometimes the other group won!! It was all getting very nasty, cracked and divided, and God wasn’t remotely happy with this!

God wanted to be there for everybody not just a small group and God didn’t want there to be all this hate – because God was always and is always a God of love. So God decided to bring an end to all of this. He sent messengers to say he was going to do something really different and then he did it – he sent his son to be our Saviour Jesus Christ. Now to make this big change, God had to do something spectacular and something that had never been done before. So what happened as we well know, was that Jesus was killed and then he rose again, he came back to life in a new way after 3 days to change things once and for all and forever. By doing that God brought both groups together, so they and we all now have access to God’s love and peace for us. Another way of putting this is Christ broke down the wall of hate by giving his own body. Christ through dying on the cross wanted to bring the Jews (the circumcision) and the gentiles (everyone else – the uncircumcision) together. Through reaching out his arms on the cross he was the bridge of peace for us all bringing everybody into relationship with God – so everyone knew how much God loved them. Jesus did that for the people then and it still works for us today – So we can all know God now, through the power of his Spirit as a direct result of Jesus dying (and rising again). In doing that we should remember that Jesus died to bring us peace and to bring us together all of us in one body. This ensures that you and me and everyone here could know how much God loves us.

In our own way, we need to live and love through this reconciling peace of God and keep it uppermost in our outlook. We live in times of division and much has been hurt and damaged by our recent pandemic times. I don’t think we initially entered into these days in a particularly unified place as a country either – whichever side of the debate we were on in relation to Brexit too.   We have people holding very different views about the pandemic and having lived through very different experiences. At one end of the spectrum are those who are ready to go and get on with it as soon as possible. At the other end is a lot of fearfulness and trepidation, and the impact of a lot of isolation and other difficulties people have had. We have people with all the means they need to live and others well below the breadline. We have people in the full flush of health and those struggling or whose vital treatments have been delayed. We have people who are living with the long-term debilitating impacts of long Covid. We have people who have lost loved ones (often long before what they feel should have been their time). We have people in stressful occupations, or on the front line living with the impact of long-term stress and those without employment and with little prospect of employment. One Sunday supplement magazine article I read several months ago used the analogy that an unprecedented number were living with the impact of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

None of us has been through times like this before, and we will need to do our best to move forward lovingly and kindly in the days ahead of us, keeping at the heart of all our beings and doings the reconciling peace of God. We will need to concentrate on what holds us together (and not to let the things that divide us take over). I do not think this is going to be particularly easy and tensions are bound to surface. For some our pace will be too slow, remembering yet for others our pace will be too fast.

To do this we are going to have to work together and pull together well (and avoid the trap of stone throwing behaviour). For example, some may be more comfortable wearing a mask in the building, others may be happy never to wear one ever again. We will need to respect one another’s choices. In addition – we will be working through all the things that make our churches work. Also we will be doing that with an eye to what will make them grow and grow younger. I don’t know what this will look like exactly, but I know God has a flourishing plan for us all! I need us also to remember that I don’t know at any depth how all the bits used to fit or evolved together over many years before March of 2020. So please help me with this (don’t assume I know because I don’t in all likelihood!). It is also likely that some aspects will need to fit together quite differently. Some fundamental things have also changed and it is likely that more will have to change too. Please help and support where we can and particularly pray.

To use the language and style of this reading, Jesus has proclaimed peace to those who are raring to go, and peace to those who are more cautious. We need to be sharers of that reconciling peace through access to the Holy Spirit, God’s presence with us. We are just as much all members of this household of God, built upon the foundations of the apostles and prophets with Christ Jesus as the cornerstone as the Ephesian churches ever were! Let’s be united, concentrate on growing together as a dwelling place for God. Let God’s peace and reconciliation fill us and overflow from us. Amen

Jo Cox quote came from https://wearethecity.com/inspirational-quotes-jo-cox-member-parliament/ New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995

Trinity 6 – Rev Alison Way – 11th July 2021

Rev Alison’s video reflection can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vu-rYnozkHw

Ephesians 1:3-14, Mark 6:14-29

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

Today’s readings could not be much more chalk and cheese. In our Gospel we have King Herod thinking Jesus as he began to teach and preach was John the Baptist raised from the dead. We then heard the sorry tale of how Herod had been intimately and entirely involved in the demise of John. It is a story packed with the seedier side of human nature – deceit, manipulation and inappropriate extra marital relations. In all of it, Herod had recognised that John was a ‘righteous and holy man’ and protected John even after arresting him for speaking out against Herod’s lifestyle choices. Yet subsequently, Herod’s hand was then forced after he had made an ‘extravagant’ and open-ended promise as a gift for a dance performance. Herodias, Herod’s wife, took her chance to enact her revenge on John who had spoken out about the inappropriate nature of her relationship with Herod. We also know deep inside Herod knew what he ultimately did was wrong, because it says the King was deeply grieved.

We recognise the sentiment in all of this in all probability, because sometimes we have all found ourselves resorting to devious means to get our own way, and then on a better day working out we should not have done it! I have seen someone preaching about this passage holding a silver salver to be the platter and asking people in their mind’s eye to put their behaviours of this sort on to it, asking God for forgiveness – It was an uncomfortable and humbling moment.

We occasionally use the phrase wanting someone’s head on a platter when they have done us wrong and we want revenge like Herodias did. This is an idiom of speech with direct origins from this story!! By in large revenge is not something that does any of us any good, much better for us to be seeking peace and reconciliation than ill-fated working out how to get even.

Anyway – as I said at the beginning this passage could not be much more of a contrast with the reading from Ephesians but there is a link. The Ephesians passage has us thinking about praising God across many dimensions of his love for us and rooting the basis of our spiritual blessings firmly in God’s love for us. The link between the two readings connects us to the essence of why Herod knew what he was doing was wrong, because our spiritual journey’s recognise the importance of our quest for holiness through praise and worship of the God who loves us so much. And it was that very thing that Herod recognised in John – he knew John was on the quest for holiness too. More than that he knew John was holy and righteous, and what Herod was doing was not!

When we think about our praising God across the many dimensions of his love for us, it is hard not to dwell on our experiences of the past 16 months or so (and very nearly all the time I have been here). When we have been able to praise God together in worship, we have had to follow quite complicated regulations about the ‘what and how’ of it, much of which has been most unwelcome. It has been very hard to bear the lack of singing, the being together and yet by necessity separate from each other. Inherent in praising God together in worship is heartfelt singing and deeper fellowship in person than we have been able to exercise for most of this time. Like all of us, I am really looking forward to having much greater freedom to worship, and share fellowship. For the first time in a long time, I can see the joy of singing together is finally more than peaking over the very near horizon! Thanks be to God.

As an aside for a moment, as we contemplate the wonder of singing together in praise of God’s glory – what should we start with? I would be very interested in hearing your choices and why you chose them. Though it might be our overarching favourite hymn – that might not contain words that really sum up what our first in church sung praise of God should be after such a long drought of this activity. Please do let me know your thoughts? I am minded to pick (if it is me picking) a good solid hymn of praise – possibly Praise my soul the King of heaven, To God be the glory, or Guide me O thou great Redeemer.

Let’s take a moment now though to dwell on the riches of this extract from the first chapter of Ephesians to remind us why we praise and worship God. There is a lot in this passage, and I am going to draw on just four of many riches to help top up our internal balance about it.

  • Firstly: We worship to recognise our blessedness by God and how we are his children through Jesus Christ.

  • Secondly: We worship as Jesus is the foundation of how we can stand holy and blameless before God through his love for us. Jesus who was there from the very beginning, who was and is and is to come.

  • Thirdly: We worship in God’s glorious grace, freely given to us and as the reading said that is lavished upon us. Not something we earn or deserve, but flowing abundantly from God’s love for us, lavishly as the reading put it.

  • Fourthly: We recognise the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives working in us and through us. In this instance Paul uses the language of inheritance, the power that accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, and toward the end of this passage that we are marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit.

The passage also says there are three active responses we need to be busy with for the praise of God’s glory (which is another central facet of why we worship). The verbs St Paul uses for these are hoping, hearing and believing. These things help us to stay connected to God’s love for us and to be wholehearted in our praise.

Firstly, staying hopeful is important to us and living in the hope of God’s love for us beating in our hearts. This is a great comfort in the troubling times we have been living through, and has been a stream of peace and reassurance.  One of the ways to stay in that hopeful place is to be consistent in our prayer and bible reading, which moves us on to keep hearing the words of scripture and letting them work in our hearts, which is St Paul’s second verb. In a little while, I will be embedding the daily Bible readings that have been supplied over all these months in our daily worship resources into our newsletter. When this all started I never imagined we would still be doing this all this time, but the joy of reading the psalm and short reading specified is usually that you will be reading it alongside many Christians across our land on that day and in unity together. God can work in us through the wonder of scripture – even the most familiar passage can have something new to say in us. As well as hoping and hearing the scripture – the third active response we need in praise of God’s glory is to believe and let the Holy Spirit work in us, boldly and freely in our belief!

As we move towards greater freedom in praising God’s glory together in the days and weeks and months ahead – let’s remember that that is what our worship together is about. We worship to give the glory to God. Technically this whole passage is written by St Paul as a very Jewish form of praise. Some of the original recipients of his letter would have recognised this intent as a psalm or hymn of praise. It was intended to be a way of blessing God for all the blessings God has showered on us, to encourage us in the walk of holiness, and draw us to reconciliation and peace.

At the moment, we need this kind of perspective altering vantage point that worship brings, to enrich our hearts and lives, just as much as our Ephesian forebears did. To take the next step forward revelling in God’s creative love, to remember the big picture of Jesus’ saving love for us and to allow the Holy Spirit to accomplish God’s will in us through his counsel.

Let us pray: Praise be to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. He chose us in love to be holy and blameless. He called us in love to hear the good news of salvation. He blessed us in love and included us in his most marvellous plan. Praise be to God, Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer – Help us to live with hearts on fire in praise of your glory. Amen.

Prayer adapted © ROOTS for Churches Ltd (www.rootsontheweb.com) 2002-2021. Reproduced with permission.

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

Trinity 5 – 4th July 2021 – Penny Ashton

Are we too self-sufficient these days?  It is a popular saying that God helps those who help themselves.  To a certain extent I would agree that God gave us brains and abilities and intended us to use them, but there is a danger in thinking that we will accomplish anything of eternal value through our own strength.

Prof Brian Cox often smiles when speaking of the end of the universe, and is often asked why – his answer is that he thinks it is funny.  He particularly thinks it is funny when we create what we like to think is a permanent memorial to a person or happening, when he is aware that ultimately the universe will disperse to the extent that our world will not even leave the faintest echo of what has happened during all the time that it existed.  It makes you feel rather small and insignificant!

And yet God says: ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness’.

Confusing passage, and may have been a part of an ongoing conversation with the Corinthians, of which we only have Paul’s half. There is a hint in earlier chapters that the Corinthian church is very excited by some new teaching that has been brought to them by people that Paul refers to as ‘super-apostles’, and Paul is trying to bring them back to the basics of the gospel that he taught them.  He does so by pointing out that if he chose to, he has more to boast about than they, but choses not to rather he speaks of some kind of affliction that he wished to be rid of, but whenever he asked God, he received the same answer.  It is a challenge to each of us when we are asked to do something that our immediate, almost instinctive response is ‘I couldn’t possibly do that’.  God’s grace is sufficient for us, for power is made perfect in our weakness.

In our gospel reading, we find Jesus returning to his home.  No reason is given for this, but the preceding chapter gives an idea of how busy he had been, and my own experience is that adult children often return to the family home when they need a rest.  From what we read, Nazareth does not seem to have provided him with that, as his taking part in the regular worship at the synagogue, and his miracles of healing seem to have stirred up a feeling that he has got above himself – it could be paraphrased as ‘who does he think he is?’.  It is interesting to note that referring to him as the son of Mary rather than of Joseph implies a suggestion that they believe him to be illegitimate.  The reception of the synagogue in Nazareth is sharply contrasted with that in the village in the previous chapter, where Jesus had been previously and where he raised the daughter of Jairus, a synagogue official from serious illness, possibly even death.

And so, after a seemingly not very fruitful return home, Jesus goes out again to the surrounding villages and commences teaching again.  This time, however, he decides that the disciples have heard and seen enough of his teaching for the time, being, and now need to continue their learning by taking his message out themselves.  And so, we read that they are sent out in pairs with fairly strict instructions.  They are to take nothing apart from the basics.  They are to take no supplies, but to rely on the welcome they receive for hospitality.  The instruction not to move to another house probably refers to a common practice amongst travelling preachers at the time of going from house to house – effectively begging.  As Paul was told, ‘God’s grace is sufficient for us, for power is made perfect in our weakness.’  If a place does not welcome them or their message, they are to simply move on making sure they take nothing from that place – not even the dust that their shoes have picked up on the journey.  This shaking off of the dust was a routine act for a Jew as he left gentile territory, but to do it to a fellow Jew shows how seriously the rejection of God’s teaching was to be taken.

On Wednesday the PCC heard a report on the most recent meeting of Deanery Synod, and a report that we looked at called ‘Discerning Ministries’.  I have a copy of it with me as I think that we shall be hearing more about it during the year.  The underlying thinking behind it is that we are spreading our clergy to thinly, and being human, they will only stretch so far before they snap.  At the same time we may be frustrating gifted and talented lay people by not using them as they believe God wishes to use them.  Under the heading ‘What is Church?’, it says this:

Our model of church has sometimes been based on having a vicar and expecting then to do or lead on most things – including the things that don’t need to be done by a priest.  The days of ‘one vicar one parish’ are increasingly gone and the current way in which multi-parish benefices are configured often puts a strain on everyone – clergy and laity.  This was apparent before Covid 19, and is even clearer now with additional financial pressures and many people feeling weary.  The role of the clergy as spiritual leaders is still central, but the desire is to release them from the unreasonably broad burdens that many are carrying, alongside releasing the varied gifts of the laity so that together we can find a more joyful and sustainable model.’