Monthly Archives: August 2022

Trinity 8 – The Reverend Ken Masters – 7th August 2022

A Sermon preached by The Revd Ken Masters at Wincanton

on the 8th Sunday after Trinity, 7 August 2022

Readings: Genesis 151-6; Luke 1232-40

Alison has asked me to include a reference to Mary Sumner, whom the Church of England remembers on Tuesday.  So, let me tell you – or remind you – of her life.

Mary Elizabeth Heywood was born in 1828 at Swinton near Manchester, the third of four children.  Her father, Thomas Heywood, was a banker, and her mother a woman of personal piety.  When Mary was four, the family moved to Colwell in Herefordshire, on the western edge of the Malvern Hills.  But a year after the move, Mary’s six-week-old brother died.  It was at Colwell that her mother started holding mothers’ meetings.

Educated at home, young Mary learned to speak three foreign languages and to sing well.  To complete her musical education, she travelled with her mother and elder sister to Rome. While there she met her future husband, George Henry Sumner, the son of Charles Richard Sumner, the Bishop of Winchester – a brother of the next Archbishop of Canterbury [1848-62] and related to William Wilberforce.

Mary and George were married in 1848 at Colwell.  Three years later George became Rector of Old Alresford in Hampshire, in his father’s diocese.  Busy for many years bringing up her three children, Mary became more and more concerned about family life and the fact that mothers received no particular support from the Church.  In 1876 she rather hesitantly began holding meetings of mothers in the parish, to offer mutual support.  Her plan was quite radical in its day as it involved calling women of all social classes to support one another and to see motherhood as a profession as important as those of men, if not more so. The first meeting was held in the Rectory, but Mary was so overcome by nervousness that her husband had to speak for her and invite the women to return next week.  At that second meeting she had gathered enough courage to lead the meeting.

Nine years later, in 1885, she was part of the audience in the Portsmouth Church Congress, some 20 miles from her home. The first Bishop of Newcastle, Ernest Wilberforce, had been asked to address the women churchgoers.  He felt he had very little to say to women and invited Mary to speak in his stead.  Although nervous once again, she gave a passionate address about national morality and the importance of women’s vocation as mothers to change the nation for the better.  A number of the women present went back to their parishes to found mothers’ meetings on Mary Sumner’s pattern.  Edward Browne, then Bishop of Winchester, made the Mothers’ Union a diocesan organisation.

The Mothers’ Union concept spread rapidly across the dioceses throughout the United Kingdom.  Within 15 years, at the turn of the century, it had 169,000 members.  When the Mothers’ Union Central Council was formed, Mary Sumner was unanimously elected president; a post she held into her nineties.  During the Diamond Jubilee, in 1897, Queen Victoria became patron of the Mothers’ Union, so giving it an unprecedented stamp of approval.  The Mothers’ Union set up branches throughout the British Empire, beginning in New Zealand, then Canada and India, and later in Africa.

Mary Sumner died on the 11th August 1921 at the age of 92, and was buried with her husband, who had died 12 years before, in the grounds of Winchester Cathedral.

Today, the Mothers’ Union, which grew from an organization in one parish to a world-wide society has some four million members – the majority of them in India and Africa.  And, it has to be said, in the United Kingdom there were 222,000 members in 1993, but the number has now reduced to about 93,000.

On its website The Mothers’ Union describes:

Its vision is of a World where God’s love is shown through loving, respectful, and flourishing relationships.

Its Aim and purpose are:

To demonstrate the Christian faith in action by the transformation of communities worldwide through the nurture of the family in its many forms.

And the website appeals:

Join our four-million strong movement to:

  • Strengthen communities all over the world

  • Help the most disadvantaged at home

  • Shape how we advocate for the rights of families

  • Build supportive, loving relationships

  • Develop your own relationship with God

So, as we give thanks for Mary Sumner, we may gratefully reflect upon the way God takes small beginnings and one rather nervous servant to provide another channel of His love to the world.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.

 

Sources: Saints on Earth (2004); Wikipedia; MU website.

Trinity 9 – August 14th – Rev Alison Way

Trinity 9 – August 14th 2022 – Rev Alison Way

Jeremiah 23:23-29, Luke 12:49-56

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

I want to start with a riddle. A pilgrim came to the fork in the road. One road led to safety and the other to death. In each fork stood a guardian. They were identical twins. One twin always spoke the truth and the other one always lied. To find the right road to travel – The pilgrim was allowed to only ask one question – only one and he didn’t know which twin was which. He could only ask one question to one of the twins and to save his life he had to find out which road led to safety. So what did he ask?

Let me give us a moment to ponder that.

The question he asked was – If I ask your brother which way leads to safety which way will he tell me to go?

Both twins will point to the road to death – so the man would go down the other one. If he asked the Truthful twin –  which way his brother would send him – and knowing his brother would lie would point him to the road of death. If he asked the lying twin which way his brother would send someone to safety – knowing his brother would say the truth and as he always lies, he would also direct the man to the road leading to death!  So the pilgrim had his answer and would go down the path not indicated by either twin and that led to safety and life!

And so it can be in life. How do we know who to believe? And what to base our walk of faith upon? This is also one of the points our reading from Jeremiah was getting at. Jeremiah was living in a time when the prophets were saying things had come from God. When they were actually the schemes of their own hearts and not what God wanted at all…. Combatting these self-serving prophets was one of the things God placed on Jeremiah’s heart… In the passage – Jeremiah firmly tells the prophets to speak the word and interpret dreams faithfully!

The beginning of this passage reminds us of God’s presence with us and our inability like the prophets of Jeremiah’s time to hide our poor choices in secret places God cant see! We may (not that I am recommending this) be able to deceive some people some of the time, but we can NEVER deceive or hide anything from God’s heart of love for us. As it says God knows the secrets of our hearts.

I had a good look at where that reading finishes too – What has straw in common with wheat? says the Lord. Starting with the wheat and the straw, this probably relates to a proverb of Jeremiah’s day. Grain is the valuable food stuff and the straw the leftovers at best mixed with mud to make bricks! The wheat is valuable and the straw is relatively worthless. In comparison with the wheat being prophecy true to God and the straw being prophecy for one’s own devices and desires. I also wondered if there is a hazy reference for the hard time of the Israelite people when enslaved to the Egyptians in this, particularly the times when they had to make bricks! And then the same number of bricks when they had to collect the straw as well. That being the fate of those following false prophets, perhaps.

Anyway moving on to the second bit – Is not my word like fire, says the Lord, and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces? Fire can be refining and purifying as well as destructive. Likewise a hammer can be destructive and used to smash things to pieces, but a hammer in the hand of a stonemason can craft blocks and intricate carvings or shape heated metal with an anvil. The interpretation of God’s word for us or a Godly interpretation of a dream is like the refining properties of fire and the craft of shaping stone blocks with a hammer. The destructive properties of fire and hammers is like being taken in by self-serving interpretations of God’s word or a dream. Like the pilgrim riddle I started with, the dilemma for us is spotting the refining of God from a much more destructive choice for ourselves from self-serving messengers.

Our gospel today adds another level of complexity. Jesus did not come to us, to bring God’s heart of love for us so everything could stay the same. Let me be clear. The power of the Holy Spirit is here to change us for the better from the inside out. That reading sounded like serious family melt down, with all those different relationships father and son, mother and daughter etc being divided. One of the things Jesus has come to say is that the cultural norms of his day, the duties and obligations within those relationships needed to change in the light of his coming. As people respond to the leading of the Holy Spirit.

For example, the expectation of the eldest son to inherit his father’s position was being challenged as this might not be the call on the eldest son’s heart by God. A new daughter in law was to be loved and cherished by what Jesus taught, rather than remain on the fringes of the family.

The message of Jesus disrupts and disturbs the status quo and frankly it always has! But in following the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we open out our hearts and lives to new hopes and new possibilities and the flourishing life God intends for us – which may well be beyond our imagining. There is no guarantee here of a comfortable ride!

I was very struck last week with the talent and skill on show in the gymnastics I saw at the Commonwealth Games live and many other sports on the television. How does the seed of such talent get fanned into flame? Some were children of previous competitors, like Eilish and Liz McColgan. For others it was brave and heartfelt choices, stepping out of comfort zones in families – which changed things forever for all of them as they nurtured an athlete, gymnast or whatever  activity it was as the spark of talent was spotted. And in yet another area, this was the activity taken up later in life with two over seventies Scottish gold medallists in para lawn bowls

The point really is to spot the opportunity, fan into flame the sparks of God’s gifts to us and how his spirit is working in us (Even when it feels most unlikely!) –  I have great personal experience of this – which is a story for another day. To spot the grain for us in dreams and God’s word, rather than fall for the straw and false self-serving interpretations of dreams and God’s word for us.

To finish – I think this means we need also to think through where ‘duty and obligations’ like the family relationships in Jesus’s day might be holding us back too.  Be bold, be brave, let’s travel where the Holy Spirit leads us. I am going to end with a verse of a powerful modern hymn, which resonates with God’s love and challenge for us

in Christ alone my hope is found
He is my light, my strength, my song
This cornerstone, this solid ground
Firm through the fiercest drought and storm
What heights of love, what depths of peace
When fears are stilled, when strivings cease
My comforter, my all in all
Here in the love of Christ I stand

 

References

  • The New Revised Standard Version (Anglicized Edition), copyright 1989, 1995
  • Word Biblical Commentary – Jeremiah 1-25, Peter Craigies, Page Kelley and Joel Drinkard
  • CCLI – Song reproduced under CCLI 217043 for St Peter and St Paul’s Church Wincanton – In Christ alone – Stuart Townend and Keith Getty.

Trinity 8 – Penny Ashton – 7th August 2022

Trinity 8:  Riches in heaven 

Have you been following the Commonwealth Games?  There seems to be little else on television, so I am sure you have been almost unable to avoid them.  If like me you live with someone who doesn’t like any sports this can make life difficult.  It is amazing the value that the athletes place on their performance – I think it must take a particular mindset to train as much as is necessary to be able to achieve what they do.  I can see that there must be a thrill in winning, but for me it would not be worth the effort needed to possibly get there.  Fortunately, we can’t all be the same!  We have also been watching this week Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak competing for something that they both very much want although they may only find out whether it is a treasure or not when they have won (or not won) it.  It could be said that they are in competition for power, whilst for the athletes it is glory.  I am very glad that I don’t particularly want either. 

In our following of the story of Abraham, we are learning interesting things about how to pray.  Two weeks ago we heard Abraham negotiating with God over the destruction of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah.  The passage we heard today comes a little earlier in Abraham’s story when he seems to be downright angry with God, and is telling Him so in no uncertain terms.  And yet, God gives him the most wonderful promise – that not only will he and Sarah have a son, but that through that son his descendants will one day be too numerous to count.  I have on one occasion seen a 1988 edition of the BBC That’s Life programme which told of the work of Nicholas Winton with the Kindertransport bringing Jewish children from Czechoslovakia who had fled there from Nazi Germany to safety.  The programme particularly moving, as not only was Nicholas Winton present in the theatre, but unknown to him, the rest of the audience was made up entirely of people he had rescued and their descendants and this was revealed to him at the end.  The sheer number of people showing their gratitude was very moving.  I believe that there is a similar scene at the end of the film Schindler’s List and they give us an idea of the scale of God’s promise to Abraham. 

Our theme from the two readings seems to be value, and we are being asked to think about what we most value in life.  It is clear that Abraham placed the highest value on having a son.  Jesus is telling us that things on earth will lose their value over time and that we should look for something of heavenly value that will last.   This goes very much against the current thinking, when individual rights seem to be valued above almost anything.  Advertisements constantly tell us that we should have something because it is the best, and ‘we are worth it’, and aspiring for things to own drives much of our economy.  On the day I wrote this, the Bank of England released figures forecasting increasing inflation and economic gloom for this country for the next year or more, which makes Jesus promise of treasure in heaven much more attractive as any money we may have in the bank loses value constantly by the rate of inflation. 

Jesus’ teaching seems to fall into three sections in our gospel reading today – in the first part he is talking about considering what we value, and to an extent seems to be advising an earthly decluttering of our lives.  The teaching that we have just heard follows immediately after the better-known passage reminding us that God knows what we need, and cares for us much more that the wild birds or the wild flowers and grasses.  And yet his followers still seem to be worried.   He then goes on to remind us that we must learn to trust and allow things to happen at the right time, giving the two illustrations of slaves awaiting the return of their master from a wedding feast – an occasion that in those days could last for several days, and of a householder whose home is broken into.  The theme of these two analogies seems to be that we need to be ready as the timing will not be made known to us in advance.  I am sure you remember many stories of people who have thought that they had calculated the timing of Jesus’ return, and have sold all that they possess in order to be waiting at the proper place and time.  So far, as far as I am aware, nobody has got the sums right for that one yet, so we need to continue to keep ourselves in a state of readiness for when our Lord and Master comes.  This is hard teaching for those of us who would always rather put off doing things until they become urgent! 

There is a promise in Jesus’ teaching here which must have horrified those who heard it, and which I had not noticed before.  Jesus says that the householder who finds his slaves alert and ready at whatever hour he returns will himself wait on those slaves.  And yet Jesus is perhaps prefiguring for the disciples the time to come when he will wash their feet.  Jesus is not asking us to do anything that he himself was not prepared to do. 

We are being told three things in today’s readings – that we can and should be honest with God, and tell Him what we are really thinking – and let’s face it, He does already know, so there is little point in trying to hide things.  That we must live simply – and any excess that we have needs to be shared, but above all, we must be watchful and ready because we will not know when he will return and bring measurable time to an end.