Monthly Archives: September 2023


A colourful combine harvester!

Deuteronomy 28:1-14, Luke 17;11-19

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

What is thankfulness? My theological dictionary said thankfulness is gratitude for blessings, where as in wikipedia it said  a positive emotion or attitude in acknowledgment of a benefit that one has received or will receive. Another way of putting it is the rather quaint ‘have an attitude of gratitude’ may sum it up. Robert Louis Stevenson said The person who has stopped being thankful has fallen asleep in life. And Charles Dickens said Reflect upon your present blessings, of which every man has plenty; not on your past misfortunes of which all men have some. My dad was a great Josef Lock fan and he sang a song called Count your blessings one by one (when dawn appears and day has just begun!)

Spiritually thankfulness to God is described in the Bible as both a duty and a sacrifice. And both unceasing  and spontaneous – (this is an interesting challenge and rather conflicting but clearly important!) The Bible also says we should be thankful as part of God’s will for us in Christ’s name and that we should expect the songs of heaven to be packed to the gunnels with it!

There are examples of thankfulness in the Bible for food, wisdom, conversion, answered prayers, victories,  being saved, the lord’s supper and changed lives. Our gospel story today is an example of an expression of thankfulness in person to Jesus. As the Samaritan leper went back to Jesus and gave thanks praising God. We need this kind of attitude of heart and mind to rank quite highly in our lives and hearts.  

Of the 10 lepers Jesus healed int the story only one took the time to be thankful to Jesus. Jesus had changed all the lepers lives radically and powerfully (they were on the edge in every way with leprosy in Jesus day). It was probably the most unlikely one of the lepers who showed thankfulness in the eyes of the Israelite people as he was a Samaritan and foreigner and not of Jesus’ faith!

Thankfulness is at the heart of celebrations of the harvest and we are here today to give thanks for the abundance around us! and all that we have and take for granted. We have much to be thankful for not least for the hard work of those who farm the land around us and in all the varied ways that they do that.

Farming can be very varied these days. Some years ago I went to a farm where they had installed milking robots. (I had a vision of a robot walking to the cows and that is not it!). The cows in fact went to the robot! For me – not well versed in the ways of  milking parlours, this was quite an eye opener and a startling revelation in places of the application of technology to farming! I was in awe of the creativity and ingenuity that had gone into the design of it all and how impressive the laser guided latching on to the teats for milking was. How the systems now knew in great detail quarter by quarter each cow’s milk yield. But not only was there creativity and ingenuity from the human designers. On display on that occasion was also happy cows who had quickly adapted to a significant change in their routine and were now more able to make choices for themselves, the farmer said this was having a very positive impact on their well being. I was particularly amused by the gate that could detect if the cows had been milked or not (to let them back out into the pasture or not!). It was all really inspiring!! It was all a very interesting use of IT (a previous passion of mine.

Harvest time also affords as an opportunity to show thankfulness for all the harvest we experience. We are going to use our fingers on one hand for this. This is a five finger prayer. We are going to be thankful for all we have and the good things of each finger focus, but also the challenges in these prayers.

Our thumbs represent God the giver of life. Point to you thumb and Say that with me – God the giver of life. It is always important in thankfulness to start with God – our creator and the creator of the beautiful world in which we live! And remember when tough times come along God is always with us.. Do that once more – point to your thumb and say – God the giver of life.

Point to the next finger and pray for The farmers of the land and the fishers of the sea. Point and say that with me – the farmers of the land and the fishers of the sea. Those who initially gathered the harvest, or nurtured the animals or fished them from the sea. For care of the natural world, and safe and sustaining practices – fair pricings for fisherfolk and farmers. Both these industries farming and fishing have been very badly impacted by recent times and fall out from recent political decisions. There is also the  behaviour of our supermarkets and their purchasing power. The spiralling cost of living and fuel, food stuffs for animals etc. There are food miles to consider too (where a food has travelled half way round the world so we can have it out of season!)

So let’s pray from the top – Thumb – God the giver of life –  2nd – the farmers of the land and the fishers of the sea

Point to the third finger – Food processors – Point and say that with me Food processors – These processes bring us variety and longevity. There is often a lot of work between us and the people who gathered in the harvest. The people who on a huge scale produce processed things we enjoy eating… so they are preserved and kept fresh. Name me a few (Heinz baked beans, Tunnock’s tea cakes)

Some of what is done is good and wholesome, other aspects of food processing are less good for us. It is also not right that we have plenty and others are struggling!

So let’s pray from the top – Thumb – God the giver of life – 2nd – the farmers of the land and the fishers of the sea – 3rd Food processors

The next finger – 4  is Distributors and retailers. Point and say – Distributors and retailers

The people who made food available to us. Some of us from our gardens/farms but mainly those who drive the lorries and the supply chain. (There are issues we discovered in the spring with the just to market approach). There was a shortage of salad and tomatoes, because it was uneconomic for the farmers to grow crops that needed fuel! Also it is great to give thanks for the staff of Morrisons’, Asda, Waitrose, Lidl, the Coop, the butchers, the local farm shops, Cole’s yard And so on… But we need to ensure people are paid a fair wage for a fair days work (all the way down our food supply). And keep praying for the grain supply ships in Ukraine for safe passage to be agreed again!

Let’s take it from the top Thumb – God the giver of life – 2nd – the farmers of the land and the fishers of the sea – 3rd Food processors – 4th Retailers and distributors

And finally our little finger – 5th Us- the Shopper and cook. Say that with me Us, the shopper and cook. The person who gathered the food for us and prepared it for us to eat. We may be that person or we may live with a person or even employ a person that does most of that for us. Always great to be thankful for them. Also to be thankful for people who make it easy for us to have nutritious food the likes of Wiltshire farm foods, and parsley box.. (there are others). And to pray for those who find it extremely difficult to feed their children and rely on food banks like the lord’s larder…

As Nicky told us two week’s ago – it is NOT right on any front that we have more food banks than Macdonald’s fast food restaurants in our country!

So let’s do it from the top – remembering to be thankful, but also mindful of the challenges associated with each thing we pray about.

Thumb – God the giver of life – 2nd – the farmers of the land and the fishers of the sea – 3rd Food processors – 4th Retailers and distributors – Little finger – Us, the shopper and cook


We need to be thankful for all of this and the beautiful world God made for us and be good stewards of our part of it. To be mindful of the challenges in our world today and harvest time is the time to remember with thankfulness and generosity. For all kinds of things and all of God’s creation and our indebtedness to God

Thankfulness needs to be very much a part of what we do and how we do it and who we are in our lives. Then in our hearts we shall reflect the rejoicing that hymn bringing in the sheaves describes which we will now go onto sing!.

Trinity 16 – 24th September 2023 – Penny Ashton

September 24 – Trinity 16

Jonah 3:10 – 4 end, Matthew 20: 1-16

Its not fair!  But you said….  You made me look stupid.  I told you so!  We may not say these things anymore, though I am sure when we were younger we did, and I am sure you will still hear them in playgrounds up and down the country.  I wonder if we still catch ourselves thinking them, even if we don’t say them!

The story of Jonah is interesting, as there is no point in it where he is happy.  First he dislikes what seems to be, as far as we are told, the only task God has for him, and understandably so as the huge city of Nineveh will not like his message.  He dislikes the idea so much that he runs as far as possible in opposite direction – Tarshish is on the south coast of Spain – west of Gibraltar near Cadiz and was believed by the Hebrews to be the far limit of western world.  Nineveh, on the other hand is in northern Iraq, near the Turkish border – today the site is surrounded by the city of Mosul.

In running away to sea, Jonah almost causes the death of entire crew of the ship and definitely the loss of its cargo.  However, he eventually gets to Nineveh which is a huge city and as God asked – preaches repentance all day as he walks through the city. 

It seems that he may have exceeded his instructions here, as God has told him to ‘cry out against it’- Jonah goes further and preaches God’s destruction for the sinful ways of the people.  Unexpectedly, the people, from King down listen to him, hear his message and repent of their wickedness, and God forgives them – as he did Jonah.

Jonah then goes and sulks – you feel he might have been rather enjoying the thought of watching God destroy the city.  He finds himself a hilltop with a good view and builds a small shelter so that he can watch and see what happens.  This is the point where he almost reverts to the playground language that we were thinking about earlier.  Jonah complains to God – I knew you would do that.  In our reading, in chapter 4 v2 he says: Is this not what I said while I was still in my own country?   …I knew you were a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing.’.

He almost blames God for his own running away.   God’s response is interesting – he is basically saying to Jonah ‘is this your problem?’.  It reminds me somewhat of something that used to occur in Blackadder – I don’t know if you watched it, but occasionally Miranda Richardson, who played Elizabeth I would turn to a person who wasn’t agreeing with her and say ‘Who’s Queen?’.  Just occasionally we need to be reminded who is God, and who is really in charge, as Jonah did at this time.

Jonah did know what God was like -while in the fish he had prayed ‘Deliverance belongs to the Lord’ (Jonah 2: 9).  It is worth reading the whole prayer – you can look it up in Jonah chapter 2. 

So he sits in his shelter and sulks, and complains to God and God provides a bush to give some shade from the hot sun for him.  Although Jonah is cross with God and almost ‘not speaking’, he is pleased with the bush – until the next day when it is attacked by an insect and dies, and he loses the extra shade.

In our gospel reading we find a similar situation.  Each set of workers has agreed the rate for the work and at the end of the day they receive it.  It is worth remembering that nobody has been cheated here.  However, when those who have only worked for an hour get a full day’s wages, those who worked long and hard get excited.  The word goes around that the boss is paying extra.  In consequence, when they only get what they had agreed to, which seemed a good deal at the time, they too start to complain.

There is a well-known saying that comes to us from the 15th century that comparisons are odious, and these stories demonstrate the truth of that well.  Both God and landowner have shown the same characteristics.  Both have set a task and expected it to be obeyed, and neither goes back on their promise, both show generosity.  But still they get complaints.

Our prayers are often requests – we ask God to make people better, make our lives somehow easier, help us to deal with world situations or people we find difficult.  Often when writing intercessions for use in church I feel I am giving God my shopping list.  We add the proviso ‘ in the name of Jesus’ or sometimes – ‘if it be your will’, but I wonder, do we expect our prayers to be granted?  Jonah wanted to be proved right.  What do we really want?

I was lucky enough to spend a weekend recently learning about Julian of Norwich.  She spent much of her life in prayer, and wrote some interesting things about it.

‘Pray inwardly, even if you do not enjoy it.  It does good, though you feel nothing.  Yes, even though you think you are doing nothing.’

‘Prayer is not overcoming God’s reluctance.  It is laying hold of His willingness.’

She gives us there, two important things to remember about prayer – first and most importantly – do it!  But also, find out what God wants for our world, our church, our village, whatever and then use your prayers to work with him in making it happen.  I have copied a few more sayings of hers on the subject on to a separate sheet which you can find with this reflection.

 The lesson I think we can take from our readings today – remember, we have a loving and generous God who loves to hear us come to him in prayer.  One of my favourite prayers is the collect for Trinity 12 in the older version and I would like to end these thoughts now with that:

Almighty and everlasting God, you are always more ready to hear than we to pray

and to give more than either we desire or deserve: pour down upon us the abundance of your mercy, forgiving us those things of which our conscience is afraid and giving us those good things which we are not worthy to ask but through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ your Son our Lord.

Copyright acknowledgement: Lewis, Jone Johnson. “Julian of Norwich Quotes: From the English Mystic.” ThoughtCo, Sep. 3, 2021, Some material included is copyright: ©  The Archbishops’ Council 2000- 2023, The New Revised Standard Version (Anglicized Edition), copyright 1989, 1995

Trinity 14 – 10th September

Elizabeth remembered…. September 11th 2023 – In the name of the loving God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit Amen

I am very conscious of the events and activities of this time last year as we marked the death of our beloved monarch – her Late Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. In our national consciousness this week, was the picture from Balmoral on the Tuesday – when greeting the outgoing and incoming prime minister. I read somewhere this week, she said it was her job to do this despite the evident frailty only the closest aides and family were really aware of at the time.

After the announcement on Thursday lunch time that the Queen was seriously ill, I felt a real sense of foreboding. Not the kind of thing royal authorities say unless really pushed into it. I had a couple of conversations, hoping for the best but fearful of the worst. I still had the lingering sense I  have described before from the Sunday of the Platinum jubilee of these times are passing in my heart, and the full stop hat pin in the emerald green outfit on what turned out to be her final balcony appearance.

Obviously at 6pm, we knew the worst  had happened, and Her Majesty had died. I rushed about a bit and getting things in place, phone calls about flag lowering etc and prayer focuses to both churches, and cancelling choir practice.  

I re-read what we did, opening Wincanton church for prayer on the evening of the day she died.  Then in the next days Churches open longer for prayer, with a prayer focus from the Friday and a book of condolence for the town and village followed by a quiet evening service of prayer and reflection in Wincanton. Bells were tolled.

The flags were lowered and then raised again on the Saturday morning, in Wincanton this was during the coffee morning to mark the accession to the throne of King Charles III. Then a Sunday service of thanksgiving on the first weekend in both churches. I also prayed at the town proclamation of the new King. The next Sunday we had a communion in a time of mourning in both churches, followed by a memorable and frankly miraculous vigil service on the eve of the funeral – with candles, taize, flags, silence, and a really, really misbehaving ipod (on the day I most needed the technology to behave itself!!). The timing of the national silence at the end of the service was perfect too! Which only happened by the working of the Holy Spirit.

Like many on the Monday, I watched the funeral over several hours, with all the different moving parts and poignancy as we formally marked her Majesty’s passing.   

In the stuff we did there were hastily and heartfelt reflections I had written. I was and I still am a huge fan of her late majesty and it was a mix of wanting to absolutely get it as right as I could and feeling rather overwhelmed by the task… As a person who has to say something helpful whatever the circumstances, the pressure is not insignificant. I was particularly heartened by the one written on the first Friday after the Queen had died, and I am going to repeat a bit of that now – as it still works.. The original is obviously abit raw and I will leave shorter silences than I did first time around. This very much concentrates on the loss of Elizabeth our late Queen as we mark her year’s mind as I said we would today.

In those words of Jesus, I am the way, the truth and the life, No one comes to the Father except through me. We have the reassurance and hope we need for Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the second’s eternal rest, after a life of explicit and implicit Christian devotion and faith, now reunited in a new way with those who have gone before her especially, her beloved Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh and ‘us four’ her family their Royal Highnesses King George the sixth, Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother and her sister the Princess Margaret.

The guidance for this service suggests I address three questions in these reflections as we come to begin to understand the enormity of our loss today, as we mark the Queen’s rest in peace in the heart of our loving God.

And as I answer the three questions in turn for and with this community, please think of how you would answer them, and I will allow a pause for reflection (of about 30 seconds at the end of each question). So the first question is What stands out in your memory about The Queen?

For me this has to be her deep sense of calling from God to her role as our Monarch. It was thrust upon her at 10 years old and then her own accession to the throne so much sooner than she might have wished for after her Father’s early death. I also know from the conversations I had before the Platinum Jubilee. We may remember I asked people in both the communities where I serve as priest here in Wincanton and gathered at the beacon lighting ceremony in Pen Selwood, the answer to the question – what do you most admire about Her Majesty the Queen. 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

I am going to leave some silence now (about 30 seconds) to ponder What stands out in your memory about The Queen? SILENCE

The second question – was What will you always remember about her? Obviously all of those things we have already thought about. But there are others. One that has really struck me today is her courage and determination. Becoming our monarch at 25 year’s old, with a young family must have been pretty daunting and reasonably terrifying. She was a young woman leader in a society that was very much a man’s world back in1952.

Her dependence on God gave her the strength she needed for each step of her long, long reign over us.

She has remained resolute and steadfast in the face of good times,  and like all of us, not insignificant adversity over these many years, always with a heart to serve and a strong sense of duty and particularly her constitutional purpose. Our country in particular and the commonwealth of nations owe her a huge debt of gratitude for the sacrifice and service she has given to us.

We will also remember the human characteristics she was blessed with that gracious smile, her passions in life particularly for her family, her horses and dogs, and her sense of fun, with a definite twinkle in her eye with James Bond 007 and more recently with Paddington Bear. I am going to leave some silence now (about 30 seconds) to ponder – What will you always remember about her? SILENCE

The final question (and it is a big one) is What did you learn through her life and death, including about God in Jesus Christ? We have learnt a huge amount through Queen Elizabeth’s life and now her death. We have seen a shining example of a Christ centred way to live. A way based on the fruit of the Holy Spirit’s work in her heart and life. The way of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self control. The way (in Church of England speak) of seeking the common good and treating everyone graciously, and with dignity and respect. We have a lot we can continue to learn from our late Queen in how she lived her life.

In her death, as I said earlier we have the reassurance of her eternal rest in the heart of our loving God in heaven. Gathering in this good and faithful servant of God’s and our country. Queen Elizabeth knew the way, and the truth and the life that Jesus spoke of. She knew it through God’s amazing love for her. This amazing love for us too won through Jesus’ death on the cross and rising to new life for us all.

I am going to leave some silence now (about 30 seconds) to ponder this final question What did you learn through her life and death, including about God in Jesus Christ? SILENCE

To conclude these reflections I will play a piece of music called Elizabeth Remembered which was used around the BBC coverage over the days of mourning. And at the very end of this service, we will have the set prayers for the accession and we will sing the National Anthem – praying for our new King and Queen as we do it and the future of our country and the commonwealth.

Here is Elizabeth remembered written by Debbie Wiseman played by the BBC concert Orchestra.

The New Revised Standard Version of the Bible 1989, 1995 (c)