Monthly Archives: November 2022

Advent Sunday – Year A – 27th November 2022

Romans 13:11-end, Matthew 24:36-44

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

As Advent starts once again, the contrast between our worship today and the world at large around us (which pretty much now views the first of December as the start of Christmas) could not be more obvious!! Our readings are challenging and that gospel pretty severe! Not tinsel and glitter at all! And there is a welcome outbreak of a minor key in our hymns which adds to the Advent feeling.

Over the next few weeks as worldly Christmas rumbles on and enfolds around us, there will be an opportunity each Sunday morning to keep a holy Advent and dip into our rich Anglican heritage. Remembering Advent is a season of expectation and preparation, as the Church prepares to celebrate the coming of Christ in his incarnation, and also looks
ahead to his final advent as judge at the end of time.

This first Sunday of Advent particularly takes up that latter aspect, looking to Jesus but beyond him to the end times. Hence the discomfort and the discord with everything Christmassy around us. In our lesson from Romans – we need to lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armour of Light.

How can keeping a holy Advent help us with this? Putting on the armour of light? Primarily I think this helps us to be clear about what Christmas is all about and that is Jesus (and not all the other stuff which crowds him out). To stay awake as Jesus told us to and being ready not just for his return, but for opportunities to share his amazing hope filled love with us with everyone. This is a challenging light and a penetrating light!

It’s about our light in words and actions – our life style choices and openness to God’s Plans for our lives. This time of year it is particularly important to make sure our lights are shining for God. Particularly when there is so much that shines and glitters that is not of God’s love! In the current situation our country and world is in, it is crucial to make sure our lights are shining for God. We need to find simple ways to reach out to help those around us find meaning in what is of God and not all the tinsel and glitter which we don’t need.

In the next few weeks we will gently connect ourselves with those who in different ways heralded the coming of Jesus in ceremonies involving light Sunday by Sunday. I mean in the lighting of the candles on our advent wreaths! As we did earlier.

Each one reminds us of aspects of our sharing of the light Jesus brought into the world and as we watch this all unfold – I want us to think about our lights shining in our needy world, and how we can bring our faith, our hope and our love to those around us. So they too can be children of light and children of the day as God intended it to be.

Candle 1 connects us with the patriarchs. This light represents the patriarchs faith in God. The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all those from earlier times and understandings. Their songs and their stories which we carry with us – help to show us the way and inspire us through the light of the faith of those who have travelled before us to keep steadfast on the path.

Candle 2 connects us with the prophets. This light represents the prophets of old. God spoke to the prophets of a saviour that would bring peace and God helped them to share the joyful and hope-filled message of the coming kingdom. Inspire us to share your message of hope and peace in the full deepness of its meaning – not just absence of conflict but about wholeness and well being in the heart of God, now and for eternity and their example of hope.

Candle 3 connects us with John the Baptist. This light represents the son of Zachariah and Elizabeth and Jesus’ cousin. John as he grew strong in the spirit and prepared people for the coming of the Lord and baptized them in the river Jordon to wash away their sins. Inspire us as your baptised people to also prepare the way for your coming – To sweep away what doesn’t speak of you in our lives and to live true to our baptism. This is the light of the Christian challenge.

Candle 4 connects us with Mary. This light represents Mary. The angel Gabriel told Mary that she was to be the mother of your son. Though Mary was afraid she responded to your call with joy and from a heart overflowing with love. Inspire us to respond to your call to share your light with others with joy too and to respond from our hearts with love, the light of love.

All of these connect us with the past that was part of the birth of Jesus. A birth we will remember again in just a few short weeks. This empty manger is to represent all that (and how it will be filled with love in the days ahead). A birth that changed our lives forever and brought us into the light and into the day. Through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit he left with us.

In the continuum which is this past, our present and the future that God has for us, as individuals and, as Christians journeying together. We are the light God has to share his light with others. To show the light of the world that came for us and the light of the challenge we have to be. That light in the world with our faith, love and hope shining out as beacons to our needy world. This is the light that guides us and this is the light we share with others.

The light of the Christian challenge lived out in our faith, hope and love, connected and rooted in the past, patriarchs, prophets, John and Mary and through the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

In our present and in the future God has for us, let’s make sure this is the light that flows from us. This Advent let’s put on our armour of light and truly reflect the glorious light of Christ for our world. Amen.

The New Revised Standard Version (anglicized edition) © 1989, 1995 and Times and Seasons from Common Worship © Church House Publishing 2000-2022

Christ The King – Penny Ashton – 20th November 2022

Christ the King

It couldn’t possibly happen here – it’s what we all think, and what we all hope and believe.  I suspect that most of us would be afraid to think anything different.  But safeguarding is in danger of becoming something that the Church and diocese requires of us, and an exercise we go through when required in order to get the box ticked.  Today is the festival of Christ the King, and a day in the church’s year about which I always feel is challenging to find something fresh to say.  I think in the past I have said that it seems to be a festival of the blindingly obvious.  And yet…..?  I am almost prepared to bet that within this community today, there is abuse of a vulnerable person going on most of the time.  We know very little about what people are really like – when they are at home, safe behind closed doors.  Really – how much do you actually know about me beyond the information that I have provided? The abuse may not be the headline grabbing child sex abuse – please God, but abuse can take many forms – verbal abuse of a vulnerable adult or a child that takes away their confidence, financial abuse – where a person in a position of trust is quietly and unnoticed fiddling the change for someone they are doing shopping for – or using the card, that they have been trusted with, for the wrong purposes – the other word for this one is theft, but we don’t like to use it.  There are many types of abuse, and they mostly go unnoticed and unreported, and there is sadly nothing that we can do about those.  But when things are reported – when you hear of something in conversation that concerns you, particularly in a church context – and it could be a concern about my behaviour – or Alison’s – do you know what to say or do?  Do you know who you should discuss it with and get advice?  Do you know what to say to the person who has confided in you?

This is why we all need training in safeguarding – we all need the answers to these questions and we have to have the answers ready to hand when they are needed, because we do not know when we will need them.  We are celebrating Christ the King – but what does his kingdom look like – and how should it look.  Surely the kingdom of Christ is one where everybody is safe, loved, valued, and protected.  This is the Jesus who so often said ‘Come unto me…’ each time followed by a different promise, who welcomed and blessed the children brought to him, who gave us the commandment to love one another – and said that it would be through our love for one another that we would be recognised as his disciples.  Humankind has turned Christianity into a church – often building based religion, and we have grown used to that, but as Bishop Michael Curry, who preached so wonderfully at the wedding of Prince Harry says:

 Jesus did not establish an institution, though institutions can serve his cause. He did not organize a political party, though his teachings have a profound impact on politics. Jesus did not even found a religion. No, Jesus began a movement, fuelled by his Spirit, a movement whose purpose was and is to change the face of the earth from the nightmare it often is into the dream that God intends. . . .[1]

The Archbishops council, in its policy document ‘Promoting a Safer Church’ said this: The Church of England affirms the ‘Whole Church’ approach to safeguarding. This approach encompasses a commitment to consistent policy and practice across all Church bodies, Church Officers and that everyone associated with the Church, who comes into contact with children, young people and adults, has a role to play…The care and protection of children, young people and vulnerable adults involved in Church activities is the responsibility of the whole Church. Everyone who participates in the life of the Church has a role to play in promoting a Safer Church for all.’[2]

Everyone – the whole church – this means you and it means me – has a role to play.  Hard words, but we cannot – must not ignore them

As the Archbishops of Canterbury and York wrote in 2013:

‘We cannot overestimate the importance of responding appropriately today[3]

The Church of England has recently undertaken a review of past cases – referred to as PCR2.  This was a huge exercise which in this diocese involved going through every file which might have held a safeguarding concern back as far as the 1950s – over 3000 files in this diocese.  Over 170 were found to contain safeguarding issues, and after further investigation 16 new safeguarding cases were identified, of which 6 have been referred to statutory bodies such as the police and Children’s Social Services.  It is a sad fact of life that if we are not vigilant, then it could just as easily happen here as it may have done in other parishes within this diocese.

Our readings today show two pictures.  In Jeremiah we hear how God has little patience with leaders of his people who do not properly care for them, and how God himself will step in and restore the scattered nation and will give them new leaders so that no-one need be afraid or in want.  Jeremiah then goes on to tell of God’s promise to raise up a new king for the nation – ‘and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety.’

In our gospel reading we have the fulfilling of that promise in the unlikely setting of a public execution – where through the love of God to us, Jesus is brought to the cross alongside criminals of the day – and yet over his head are the words ‘The King of the Jews’.  An unlikely setting for a king, and yet even in this time of extreme torture, Jesus shows what his kingdom is like.  In John’s gospel we read of how from the cross Jesus gave the care of his mother to his much-loved disciple in order that she should be safe and provided for.  In today’s reading from Luke we heard of how he reacted with love to the thief who requested it.  His is a kingdom that is built upon love.  It is our privilege to be members of that kingdom – as we say in our communion service, ‘Though we are many, we are one body because we all share in one bread’.  And when we welcome a child or adult who joins us through baptism, we say ‘ We are children of the same heavenly Father – we welcome you’.  It seems therefore only right and proper that when we celebrate the Kingship of Christ, as we do on this Sunday every year, we should also look to what safeguarding actually means within his kingdom, and what our response should be.  As Bishop Michael Curry said, let us make it our task to ‘change the face of the earth from the nightmare it often is into the dream that God intends. . . .[4]Amen

[1] Michael B. Curry, Following the Way of Jesus (New York: Church Publishing, 2017)

[2] Promoting a safer church –  safeguarding policy statement for children, young people and adults.

© The Archbishops’ Council 2017

[3] Safeguarding: Follow-up to the Chichester Commissaries’ Reports’, June 2013:

[4] Michael B. Curry, Following the Way of Jesus (New York: Church Publishing, 2017)

3rd Sunday before Advent – 6th November 2022

Job 19: 23-27, Luke 20:27-38

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

Back with the Alternative Service Book produced in 1980, the weeks we are now in, in the church year became the kingdom season – the time between All Saints on 1st November prior to the beginning of the new year in church terms on Advent Sunday. Most recently it is described as All Saints to Advent and provides an opportunity to change the colour to red. Things are hotting up! It is a time of remembering, walking with the saints and acknowledging Christ as King of our whole beings. It is also the time when we understand and look at questions of the kingdom of God.

Now the kingdom of God is not a particularly easy topic to get our head around! The kingdom of God can be describing the eternal kingdom open to us when we die, when we will experience the awesome love of God more fully. We sense that this will be a wonderful and awesome thing to come standing before the amazing goodness of God revealed fully and finally when we die, but there is also a sense that the kingdom of God also describes the situation in our experience now. We live as part of God’s kingdom in our day to day lives, living guided by his Spirit. We have glimpses of what is to come – which inspire us and help us keep going and live assured of God’s love for us and going about doing his will for us and his purposes for us. Living the abundant and fulfilled lives he intends for us.

In all of this there is something of a now and also not yetness about describing the kingdom of God. We know when we have experienced very special moments and had more closeness and intimacy with the love of God in this world. When things have joined up, when we have felt truly and completely and wholly loved. The prospect beyond the life of living surrounded in that love for perpetuity is quite overwhelming and awesome.

Anyway, this side of the great divide it is from memories of encounters of God that our first reading has echoes. Job is speaking in the midst of his great angst, and in response to another of his friends telling him that he must be to blame for the woes that have befallen him. Job rises above all this and in those very memorable and well-known words. Memorable and well known – partly courtesy of Handel’s Messiah. Job says if only my words could be maintained forever as I would want them to be  I know my redeemer lives!

This is Job’s way of explaining what is happening to him and what he believes. The words I know that my Redeemer lives – these are simple and straightforward words. Words straight from his heart about the importance of God to him, and his place in the order of things. In a way it means  I know God loves me and will meet me more fully when I die. Job knowing this in the midst of his very great troubles, which would have been enough for many of us, including me to have walked away I suspect, as such this is quite a stunning and profound example.

Today of course we read into this sentence – I know that my Redeemer lives – an understanding of Jesus as our redeemer. Redemption – being saved – is a work of God’s grace. Godly love that stoops down to our level and loves us beyond our capacity to love in return. Redemption can mean literally deliverance by payment of a price. In the New Testament, redemption refers to our being saved from our sin, death, and the wrath of God by Christ’s sacrifice. In the Old Testament, the word redemption refers to action by another, rescue or deliverance and even payment of a ransom. Ultimately it is God who redeems us in Christ. There is nothing to be done beyond what Christ has done. Though we still await the final consummation of God’s new creation for us in Christ and what it will be to be held in God’s loving hands the other side of death. We experience his overwhelming love, comfort and care for us in this life and strength to take every step on the journey he has for us. .

Our second reading, in its own way, though for us with even more difficulty, is actually Jesus making a similar point to the one Job is making. About matters of life and death and what it is important and trying to describe something of the now and not yetness of the kingdom of God. We are somewhat limited by not being 1st century Sadducees. To understand the thrust of the argument – but I hope what I now say will help us dig a bit deeper. In the gospel reading Jesus is being set up. We are used to Jesus being asked trick questions by the Pharisees, but today it is the Sadducees who are posing the teaser! They have a slightly different starting point.

The Sadducees were very fond of Moses and if Moses hadn’t said it or encountered it, they wanted no part of it. We will have met people like this not probably about Moses but about other things or influential folk. One of the things they were particularly against was any notion of resurrection – understanding resurrection at some level is not an option for followers of Jesus. Any way for the Sadduces – Moses hadn’t mentioned resurrection, so for them therefore it didn’t happen. The Sadducees were also amongst the very powerful, priests and the very wealthy. They wanted to keep in with the Roman authorities (as they had the most to lose) and they also opposed any revolutionary ideas which might offend the Romans. They set Jesus this teaser all about the story of the seven brothers who all one after another married the same woman. In their minds they were testing Jesus, so Jesus would have to say there was no resurrection and that they were right and the pharisees and everyone else were wrong! I suspect as I have said before we have all met people like the Sadducees at some point!

But Jesus didn’t do what they wanted. He started from their favourite starting point – i.e. Moses! Hence the reference to Moses and the story of the burning bush. The bush said to Moses – when attempting to convince him to follow what God wanted. I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. To show he was part of his line, his heritage and part of the promises made to his people – he was part of the past, but also theirs and Moses’ present, and wanting to guide him and the Israelite people into the future. Then Jesus goes on – Now he is God, not of the dead (Eg Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and even Moses).

Putting that in language we better understand today, God is not interested in presiding over a kingdom of corpses. He wants living people to love and who love him in return. So there must be life after death, continuing that love for everlasting, because that is what God made us for. Jesus is very brave here and takes them on their own ground and in their own terms. As a result of not being 1st Century Sadducees – we do find the reasoning rather difficult. He was using a live philosophical argument for this time period called the ad hominem argument. This means addressed to person– an argument directed towards the feelings or even prejudices of the hearer. This is still a common ploy today – and the basis of many an advertising campaign to persuade us using our own terms!

He was trying to win them over on their own ground and help them see beyond themselves and their limited vision. What he said was very challenging to them and needing them to prepare for resurrection to be very much part of the future. Part of their understanding of things for the living and what happens when we die, which is never an easy topic to address.

These words of Jesus like Job’s words before were there to persuade everyone that God loves them fully and completely. It is interesting that Jesus did this and took the time to do this and used pertinent examples and the thought processes the Sadducees were familiar with and relied on. We can learn a lot from this in our encounters with others and when talking about our faith. We need to start from their starting point and not ours, and look for ways to make God’s love real to people and ways they will really understand and can relate too! Real people with all their quirks and oddities – Just like our own – Need to start from where they really are with questions of God. We need to help them understand how much God loves them as they are and as they were created – unique and special every single one.

Everyone needs to be free to love God without trying to be somebody different. God put us here to learn to love and to share that love and God’s love with others. We need to be ready to be fully part of his amazing love for us when we encounter God more fully when we too die. We are here as conduits of God’s amazing love for us. We are the only soldiers God has to spread his love more widely and we would do well to take the message of the ad hominem argument Jesus used on board. Trying to reach others in terms and examples they will understand. We would also do well to want as Job wanted his lasting and only legacy to be sharing the knowledge that his Redeemer and our Redeemer lives. Amen


References:: The New Revised Standard Version (Anglicised edition) © 1989, 1995