Monthly Archives: June 2022

Trinity 2 – Penny Ashton – 26th June 2022

Trinity 2 – The cost of service

It seems that there is a right and a wrong time for everything.  There are two major similarities between our two readings but each has a different outcome.  We could ask if God’s will changes – or if God himself does.  In fact, we need to remember that what seems to us to be the right time is not always God’s time.

What are you doing here?  A strange question – what would we answer?

Elijah has been through a tough time – he has prophesied several years of drought and famine to king Ahab, who then blamed him when it happened.  He was forced to flee to a different country while the queen, Jezebel tried to kill all the prophets who were faithful to God – we read in an earlier chapter of how 100 of them had to be hidden in caves and fed by Obadiah who was in Ahab’s service in charge of the palace but was faithful to God.  This must have placed him in some personal danger, but sometimes God has placed the right person for a specific job in the right place at the right time, and Obadiah recognised that this was his time.

Elijah then challenged the prophets of Baal and Asherah to prove whose God was real – taking on in total 850 false prophets.  The challenge was to meet on Mount Carmel, prepare an altar and sacrifice, and call to their god and to see which God sent down fire for the offering.  As Elijah put it: ‘The God who answers by fire, He is God’.  After they had called on their gods all morning Elijah begins to taunt them: ‘Cry aloud! Surely he is a god; either he is meditating, or he has wandered away, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened.’ Then they cried   aloud…. As midday passed, they raved on until the time of the offering of the oblation, but there was no voice, no answer, and no response.’ (1 Kings 18: 27-35).

Elijah then rebuilt the altar of God, put the sacrifice on it and then completely drenched the sacrifice and altar with water so that it was completely soaked.  Then he prayed to God – ‘Then the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt-offering, the wood, the stones, and the dust, and even licked up the water that was in the trench.’ (1 Kings 18: 38).  The full story is in 1 Kings chapters 17 and 18 and is well worth reading when you have a moment.

Elijah was then warned that Jezebel the queen again wanted to have him killed and so again he fled.  The story of what happened next is a well-known one, but is worth looking at again – ‘He (God) said, ‘Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.’ Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?  (I Kings 19: 11-13)’ Twice he is asked the same question – What are you doing here?  It seems that Elijah had been expecting something from God – maybe a pat on the back after his epic time, but God seems to be telling him that this is all in a day’s work – and he needs to get on with the next thing.

There is a well-known saying that there is no such thing as a free lunch.  This is particularly illustrated by both our readings today.  One of the tasks given to Elijah is to find the person God has chosen to be his successor, and he is guided to Elisha.  There is no question from Elisha as to whether he should follow – he simply asks for a bit of time to take leave of his parents, and then gives away to his colleagues what is possibly his most valuable possession – there is always a cost involved.  If you read on, you will find that the succession actually took place some years later as far as we can tell, but Elisha followed his master from then onwards.

This rather raises the question as to why Jesus seemed to have less patience with the people who wanted to follow him and with his disciples who wanted to emulate Elijah and call down fire from heaven.  Possibly it was just not in God’s timeline.  Perhaps the fact that Jesus knew what was to come in Jerusalem also showed to him that the people who wanted to follow him were not prepared for the events that were to come.  I wonder if I would have been either.

There is a cost involved in following God – for Elisha, his family and possessions.  For the would-be disciples, family duties and home life.  Nowadays the cost is more likely to be in the region of the respect of others.  When comedian Frank Skinner ‘outed’ himself as a believing catholic, he said something to the effect that nowadays, to identify with the Christian church is to announce to the world that you are some kind of crank. As Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 1 v18: ‘the preaching of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the wisdom of God’.  Could this be part of the cost for us nowadays – in what is sometimes called the post Christian age?    Are we prepared to stand up and be counted?  Calling down fire from heaven is a much more exciting proposition, but what is God actually asking us to do at this time – in his time?

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

Trinity 1 – Rev Ken Masters – 19th June 2022

A Sermon preached by The Revd Ken Masters at Pen Selwood on the 1st Sunday after Trinity, 19 June 2022.

Readings: Isaiah 651-9; Luke 826-39

The Gospel passage sounds familiar – at least to me – and yet it’s a reading used only once every three years.  Going back 20 years and more, it was never used in the Alternative Service Book Gospels.  Perhaps its familiarity is because of its strangeness.

The first thing is to put it in context.  The passage that preceded it in Luke’s Gospel is the miracle of the Stilling of the Storm.  Jesus and his disciples were in a boat crossing the Sea of Galilee, when a storm arose.  Jesus spoke and the storm subsided.  He spoke and his disciples became calm.

They arrived on the other side of the Sea of Galilee – at a place which Luke (following Mark) calls ‘the country of the Gerasenes’ – or the ‘Gadarenes’ in the King James Bible.  No one seems to know exactly where that was – except that it was on the east bank and therefore not traditional Jewish land, but a pagan area.  A strange man approached Jesus and his disciples.  He was possessed by many demons.  So, here instead of a storm at sea was a mental storm – someone beside himself with delusions and wretchedness.  Jesus immediately tries to cast out the demons – but, as is often the case, the man possessed, having long known no other form of life, beseeched him not to.

Jesus then asks the man’s name, but instead the man replies with a description of his disease.  ‘He said, “Legion”; for many demons had entered him.’  A Legion at that time would have been ‘a body of front line soldiers in the Roman army, generally 6000 strong, and often with the same number of auxiliaries attached.’  [C F Evans, Saint Luke, p.386.]  In other words, the man had so many problems and issues, that they were countless.  And up to then he’d never been able to be free of them; they’d imprisoned and shackled him; he was totally possessed by them.

Being pagan and not Jewish territory, ‘there on the hillside a large herd of swine was feeding’ – in other words, pigs.  Goodness knows why they asked it, but ‘the demons begged Jesus to let them enter these’.  Their entry into the swine so upset the herd, that it panicked and rushed over the cliff edge and fell into the Lake – there to be extinguished.

I’m not quite sure what we are to make of this Gospel story.  In some ways it seems so foreign to our modern experience of life.  And yet, there are various forms of mental illness that can be likened to possession.  Perhaps, also, it’s not too far from the kind of mass hysteria stirred up by fanatical and totalitarian leaders.  Or perhaps it’s not too far from the extremes that seem to possess conspiracy theorists, or some of the anti-everything-brigade in social media, or some of the exclusive and secretive modern sects.  We may use different language, but there are still individual and social extremes that can be said to have captured and mentally imprisoned some human beings.

The end of the story is rather drawn out, but describes the people of the locality wanting Jesus and his disciples to leave them in peace.  But, on the other hand, the man who had been freed wanted to go with Jesus.  But he was told by Jesus, ‘Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.’  And the man translated that into ‘proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him.’

So, perhaps, there are some hints and pointers we may take from this strange story.  Not to try and get rid of Jesus, nor take our Faith too lightly, so that we may go back to our old ways.  To accept healing which liberates us, even in small ways – and not to try and hang on to the shackles.  And above all, to be aware of what God in Jesus has done for others – and for us – and sensitively to tell others around us of that.  Thanks be to God for this Gospel miracle – and for all that Jesus has done.  Amen.

Trinity Sunday – Rev Ken Masters – 12th June 2022

A Sermon preached by The Revd Ken Masters at Pen Selwood on Trinity Sunday, 12 June 2022

Readings: Proverbs 81-4,22-31; John 1612-15

We come on this Trinity Sunday – you and I – to worship God.  We do so in a form that goes back 20 centuries – but today in modern-ish language, though full of technical, theological words.  To those outside the Church, this may seem very peculiar.  However, this tradition gives us part of our identity as members of the Christian Church – and followers of Christ.  That is one aspect of our identity as persons.

45 or so years ago, I learnt about another aspect of identity in T-groups, sensitivity training, & group dynamics.  We had posters with messages about identity, such as:

 I am afraid to tell you who I am

because you may not like who I am —

and it’s all that I have.

 Another:

I must be able to tell you who I am

before I can know who I am.

 And another:

I can help you to accept and open yourself

mostly by accepting and revealing myself to you.

To read these from the pulpit now seems almost embarrassing.  Yet their message expresses a reality about some of our inner feelings and the ways we relate with each other.

Our identity as persons is partly shaped deep within ourselves – and has partly developed by learning knowledge and acquiring skills.  It’s also modified by the way we relate to the people around us: as we’re born, grow up, play, work, and grow older.  Then there’s that other, higher dimension – in which our identity is partly shaped by what is beyond us – essentially mysterious and personal.  After all, none of us know ourselves completely – even though we know ourselves better than we know anyone else.  Some pretend others are an open book, but of course they’re not – there is an inner mystery about them too.

Another very important part of our identity is our name.  There’s that wonderful story in the book of Exodus, chapter 3, about Moses and the burning bush.  One day, there he was, on the edge of the wilderness, minding his own business so-to-speak – or, more accurately, minding his father-in-law’s sheep.  He was attracted by ‘a fire blazing out from a bush’.  His name was called – ‘Moses!’  He responded ‘Here I am.’  And then Moses had the temerity to ask God for His name.  God answered ‘I AM who I AM’ – which says nothing and yet everything.  The Hebrew consonants of God’s Name are Y-W-H-W, probably pronounced as Yahweh and traditionally read as Jehovah.  The mystery of the divine identity remains, holy and sacred.

Here I am.  Here you are.  Here God may reveal His divine identity as ‘I AM who I AM’.  Each of us being essentially a mystery.  And I’m not trying to explain the mystery.  I simply want to say that our identity depends on all three.  God, other people, and our own self – rely upon and depend upon each other.  That is part of the unity and diversity which is life.

Today being Trinity Sunday, we may think of that unity and diversity as being at the heart of God.  The Church tried to describe that in working out the doctrine of God the Holy Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, yet One God.  This too is a mystery – not in the sense of a Whodunnit – but in a sense of mysteriousness, awe and reverence.  People find this doctrine difficult to understand.  I’d suggest not to think of it as how One can be Three, but in terms of how the belief came about.

Like Jesus himself, his first followers were Jews and shared the basic belief that there is only One God.  A belief, incidentally, which Jews and Christians later shared with Moslems.  The Lord our God is One.  But then after Jesus had died, risen and ascended, his followers found they believed in Jesus as Lord – that He is the Word and revelation of God – and so, in a unique way, the Son of God.  Moreover, they experienced the power of God’s Holy Spirit – as we celebrated last Sunday – which they believed to be the way God reveals Himself in creation, in inspiration, in guidance and within each human soul.  They still believed in only One God – but One God who reveals Himself as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

So, this deepens the mystery at the heart of God.  I like to think, though, that it also has parallels with the mystery of human identity.  We are identified as Christians at our baptism in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  At the heart of God and at the heart of each one of us, there is love – both a need and a capacity for love, and both a need and a love for each other and for God.

On this Trinity Sunday we give thanks for the love of God, shown in his Son Jesus Christ, and communicated to all by his Holy Spirit.  So may the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us all evermore.  Amen.

Platinum Jubilee – Rev Alison Way – June 5th

Platinum Jubilee – June 5th 2022 – Rev Alison Way

Joshua 1:1-9 and Luke 22:24-30

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

At the last coffee morning, I wandered around asking the question – What do you most admire about her Majesty the Queen? I got over 40 answers. At one end of the spectrum, I got answers like

  • her crown, tiaras and sparkly jewels,

  • her outfits and her smile,

  • her humanity displayed in evident love of horses and of dogs

  • And her love of the countryside

At the other end of the spectrum, people produced a selection of daunting characteristics which we would aspire to model in our lives too.

  • Her loyalty (this was the thing most repeatedly said!) and commitment

  • Her strength of character and resolve

  • Her integrity and steadfastness

  • Her devotion to our country and dedicated service

  • Her fortitude and resilience

  • A number reflected on her longevity and the example she sets after a record breaking 70 years of reigning and now at 96 years old.

In recent days we have been reminded of Queen Elizabeth’s journey to the throne – Up to the age of 10, it was a reasonable distant unlikely outcome, as the child of the second son of King George the fifth. However, the abdication crisis in the mid-nineteen thirties changed all that. It culminated with her father becoming King George the sixth and her destiny with it. Then again later on, her father died at 56, an age we think of as relatively young. It would not have been unreasonable at that point, to think she had somewhere in the region of another 20 plus years before she became our monarch. But it was not to be and with 2 small children Queen Elizabeth ascended the throne of our country at the tender age of 25!

For me (and I know I may well be a bit biased!), but also for some at the coffee morning, the answer to what I most admire about Elizabeth, our Queen is her deep rooted Christian Faith. On this day when we remember the coming of the Holy Spirit particularly on the feast of Pentecost, it is fantastic to be giving thanks for someone who has followed her call and sought the guidance of the Holy Spirit so explicitly and implicitly day by day

The documentary shown last week – Elizabeth, the unseen Queen, which if we haven’t watched it yet, I recommend wholeheartedly. (Sadly, I had not realised until I started watching it – that the commentary with it would include the reflections of the Queen herself on the events before us.) As is her way the remarks were brief with much of the footage being shown with accompanying music. But what was said was resonant with her Christian faith – in the way many of her communications are.

As I said – our Queen lives a life that is implicitly guided by her Christian faith, and the presence of God with her through the Holy Spirit. This spills out explicitly in what she says. For example – she said I rely on my own faith to guide me through the good times and the bad. When all your world is torn with grief and strife, think yet. When there seems nothing left to mend, a frail and torn fabric of your life, a golden thread of courage has no end.

The need to lead courageously, inspired by God’s presence with us Is very much the theme of our first reading today. When Joshua is taking on the mantle of leadership from Moses – on the cusp of entry into the promised land. We hear echoes in this of the Queen’s first steps in monarchy after her beloved Father died. And her evident courage over these many years

This passage and particularly where it ends has long been a favourite of mine (and is a reading particularly chosen for platinum jubilee celebrations like this one). God speaking to Joshua, to Elizabeth our Queen and to us – Be strong and courageous, do not be frightened or dismayed, the Lord your God is with you wherever you go. A quote I am fond of which makes the point well is from General George Patton who said “Courage is fear that has said its prayers.”

Since the Queen’s birth in 1926, our world has changed hugely and our Queen has pretty much seen it all and for many things met the key players.14 prime ministers starting with Winston Churchill, 14 US presidents Harry Truman (with only 1 she hasn’t met). Just pause and thing about “What events have happened since her birth Or what has been invented and who over the years the Queen has met?”

In all those events and people, and with all that stuff that has been invented – there is lots to be thankful for and to reflect on. One thing has not changed, and as we thought about the vow the Queen made to our country and the commonwealth. We know feels she has been called to serve in this unique way by God.

Our second reading from Luke’s gospel reminds how important it is be among others (as Jesus was) as one who serves. As we give thanks for the life of Elizabeth our Queen, we cannot do that without realising how central her faith in God is  and how that has guided her life of duty and service. There is little doubt it would have all looked very different without this faith and the work of the Holy Spirit’s inspiration in her life,  which has given her the strength she has needed for each step along the way.

We have seen courage in the face of adversity in our Queen and most recently sitting alone at the funeral of her beloved husband is an image we remember.  She does not have the freedom to express herself in the ways that we have. Her ability to stay calm and a role model in all circumstances is admirable!

Our Queen has also been called upon to speak and to find the strength in some of the most difficult of times for our country too. In 2020 she spoke to us in the early days of lockdown. I remember being very struck by what she said at the time, partly prophetic and profoundly reassuring at a very frightening and unsettling time. Towards the end of that speech  she spoke prophetically of the great advances of sciences that enabled  COVID vaccines, and went on We should take comfort that while we may have more still to endure, better days will return.  We will be with our friends again. We will be with our families again. We will meet again.

Finally, I want to end with three short quotes from that recent documentary Elizabeth, the unseen Queen, which speak to service, courage and the deeply held Christian faith of our Queen. How the Holy Spirit has guided her over the years. For Elizabeth our Queen, there is more to life, deeper meaning and purpose which flow from these words

We are all visitors to this time, this place -Our purpose here is to observe, to learn, to grow, to love and then we return home.
When people have a challenge, they sometimes talk about taking a deep breath to find courage and strength. In fact the word inspire, simply means to breathe in.

Each day is a new beginning, I know the only way to live my life is to try to do what is right. To take the long view and give of my best in what that day brings and to put my trust in God.
Amen.

References

Queen Elizabeth II Coronavirus Speech Transcript

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m0017xv0/elizabeth-the-unseen-queen

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

The Servant Queen and the king she serves – produced by CPO – for the 90th birthday of Queen Elizabeth II

https://www.royal.uk/21st-birthday-speech-21-april-1947