Monthly Archives: November 2023

Christ The King – 26th November 2023 – Penny Ashton

November 26th – Safeguarding Sunday, Christ the King

It is probably fair to say that the concept of safeguarding is a relatively new one – at least in Church of England terms.  By new I mean something we have come to learn about in the last 50 years – which is not new in normal thinking, but it sometimes takes the Church of England a while to catch up!  Being new does not mean bad – there are a great many things that we have learned in the past 20 years or so that are definitely for the good of all, but it does sometimes take us a while to get our heads around them, and safeguarding is one of those.  We always thought that we knew the people we met on a regular basis, and they were good and kind people, and I still hope and pray that while there is a lot that many of you do not know about me, and by the same token I do not know about you, in most cases the second part – about being generally good and kind holds true.  It is a sad reflection on the times that we live in however that this is not always the case, and as with so many things, the few can be spoiling it for the many. 

Safeguarding may be something that we have only recently had to learn about, but sadly it has been needed – although not always available for a very long time.  It is probably true to say that the first recorded occasion of coercive control occurred in the very beginning of our Bibles – in Genesis chapter 3 when the serpent casts doubt in the minds of Adam and Eve as to whether God had actually forbidden the fruit, and whether taking it would mean that they would die.  Doubt as to whether something you believe to be wrong actually is so, is often used in coercive control.  As we know from the story, once the commandment had been broken, Adam and Eve felt shame and wanted to hide themselves and what they had done.  I did not know until recently that the fig leaves which they used to make clothing contain an irritant and would have been quite uncomfortable, and the first act of safeguarding comes from God who makes the clothing of skins to replace them and prevent their feelings of shame.  This analogy does not bear taking too far, as just as all safeguarding issues are seldom as straightforward as they seem, neither is this one. 

If you read your bibles, particularly the history books of the Old Testament, you will find more occasions of abuse and of judgement.  King David – surely one of our heroes – abused his power as king when struck by the beauty of Bathsheba, and compounded the wrong when he gave orders that her husband should be sent into the thick of battle where he would certainly be killed.  The story of Abraham – father of the Jewish race contains many occasions when his actions are abusive – particularly in his treatment of his slave Hagar who twice found herself on the brink of starvation in the desert, once because she had run away and the second time because she had been thrown out by Abraham and Sarah.  Again, the story is complicated, but the one thing that stands out is the way in which God cares for Hagar, and later for her son Ishmael too.  The name Ishmael actually means ‘God Hears’ and this really sums up our subject.

Throughout history we may have been, or perhaps may have chosen to be ignorant of the abuse that was going on in our society, but God has not been.  There are people who have no cause to love the church, which is not surprising if you learn of the treatment that they had received at the hands of people who served the church, and who were sometimes respected and admired within it, but if they could look beyond the human made construction and organisation, they would find a loving and caring God who knows how they feel, and weeps with them. 

Today we celebrate the feast of Christ the King, and next Sunday is Advent Sunday – the first day of a new year for the church, and as we do at the end of the calendar year and the beginning of a new one, it is perhaps a good time to reflect on the year that has passed and consider what we would like the next year to look like.  Perhaps we should also consider how we feel the Kingdom of Christ should look, and how we as subjects of this kingdom should be thinking and behaving.

There are many ways in which the vulnerable suffer abuse in our world today.  It is easy to categorise abuse as sexual, but there are many forms it can take, and many reasons why a person may be vulnerable.  Any one of us could become vulnerable to abuse due to ill health – either mental and physical, stress, disability, poverty or simply age.  Abuse can be physical, verbal, financial or spiritual.  It can be found in human trafficking, county lines drug dealing and modern slavery.  Nearly always it is hidden both by the perpetrator and their victim, and often leaves the victim suffering from shame, induced by the abuser seeking to put the blame on to them.  It is hard to forgive once discovered, but the tightrope we have to walk as Christians is the need to care appropriately for both the abused and the abuser.  Forgiveness is at the heart of the gospel, but that does not mean evading consequences or justice.  God is quite clear about that in the readings we have heard today – both in Ezekiel where God says ‘I will save my flock, and they shall no longer be ravaged; and I will judge between sheep and sheep.’[1]  God is clear in this prophecy that the strong and rich will receive little sympathy from him if they gained, or kept their wealth through abuse of their power.  Our gospel reading is even more condemnatory using the words ‘accursed’, and ‘eternal punishment’ for those abusers who seem to be completely oblivious to what is right and what is wrong.

Safeguarding is not about ticking boxes, although at times it may feel that way.  It is not a form filling, paper-based exercise, although some of that is necessary.  It is also not about living in permanent suspicion of others.  It is surely about living with Christ as our King and acting that out in all that we say and do.  It is about being watchful, being aware of the weaknesses (often hidden) of others, about noticing.  Above all, surely it is about caring – making sure that we treat others the way that we would like to be treated.  It is about being servants of Christ the King.

[1] Ezekiel 34:22 © The Archbishops’ Council 2000- 2023,  The New Revised Standard Version (Anglicized Edition), copyright 1989, 1995

2nd Sunday before Advent

2nd Sunday before Advent

Zephaniah 1:7, 12-end and Matthew 25:14-30

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

A story that ends ‘with weeping and gnashing of teeth’ as our gospel parable did today, is a sign that all has not gone well for someone. In this it was the slave that had not used his talent to serve the master. When this story comes up I am always struck by the use of the word talent. A  talent was a unit of money (probably worth what a labourer would earn over 15 years according to Tom Wright). So it would have seemed a lot of money to a slave, and 5 talents a huge amount! That understanding makes the master’s reaction to it being buried in the ground (and not used) much more understandable!

We understand the word talent rather differently – it goes with our gifts and talents. Talent being having a natural aptitude or skill at something. We all have gifts and talents (some things we are particularly good at) and some things we are not so good at, but recognise that other people are good at them.

Our mission as Christians – is to use all things we have been given (our gifts and talents) and even those things we are not so good at  to further the kingdom of God and share the good news of Jesus Christ.

When Rachel Pengelly was travelling with us (and incidentally I have heard on the grapevine she is doing really well in her curacy) – she preached on the passage from Matthew’s gospel – we call the great commission and how important these words are – as guidance on how we should lead our lives.

These are the final words of Jesus to his disciples then (and to us) before he returned to heaven. Let me remind us what they are:-

Jesus said.  ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’

Our  mission, and the mission of the disciples that have come before us, and the mission of the disciples that follow on from us – is to use our gifts and talents, strengths and weaknesses to share the good news of Jesus to others.

We are in the business of passing on the Christian baton (and helping others to know Jesus in their hearts and lives, and the hope, purpose and meaning that brings to life on earth).

This is our responsibility – and fulfils the first and second mark of mission that have been widely applied across the Anglican church for many years. These marks of mission go under the words Tell and Teach – tell is to proclaim the good news of God’s kingdom and teach is to teach, baptise, and nurture new believers.

To this end, with our friends at the Roman Catholic church, as churches we want to reach out to our communities and run the Alpha course for adults in 2024. This is a very well known course, which starts with food and explores the basics of Christianity (and allows everyone who attends to ask the questions they have always wanted to ask to find out more). Today with the stuff we were given as we came in, is a leaflet called Try Alpha – Stay curious.  On the back it tells us a bit more about the content of an alpha course and what to expect.

What we need now is for everyone to pray about this, and to think of someone (or even better more than one person) they could invite. Someone who asks us about our faith perhaps – or someone who we know is finding the going hard, or is lacking hope in these difficult times we are living through. Someone who God has placed on our hearts, or someone we have been praying for to find faith for a short time or a long time.  

Pray about the asking and then give it a go, using the words God puts on our hearts. The worst that can happen is someone says NO, and yet they will know you care about them in a deeper way than they might have realised, and that you want to share in some way the best gift we have ever been given – the love of Jesus Christ in our hearts through the Holy Spirit he left with us.

Another way of doing this, as the leaflet suggests is to offer to bring someone to Alpha. Either way if you get a Yes, let  me know and I will be in touch with details of where it will be and when.

I appreciate this may feel like quite a big challenge, but talking about our faith and sharing it is part of the Christian way and has been for over 2000 years. Someone somewhere shared their faith with us – to help us get started. Can we remember who that was and the circumstances?

I know for me that it was the youth group and the people of St Dunstan’s Church Cheam. When I was just sixteen, and attending an all girls school, frankly I was keen to get to know some boys (hormones and all that). Anyway a friend invited me to the Youth Group, but in those days it was possible to insist that those who attended the youth group also went to Church twice a month.

Initially I did what was required only, and I was a bit mystified (especially as it was quite a high church) by all that was  going on! This story is about to show us how God can move in mysterious ways even when our motives (to get to know boys) are far from his plan for us!

Within a matter of a few months however, I was going every week. In the youth group, and church family  were people who greeted me warmly, wanted to get to know me as I was, and had something I knew I didn’t have.

I came to understand over time that that was the presence of the Holy Spirit. I had a moment just before my 17th birthday, where I invited Christ into my heart, as well as this being a gradual dawning experience of God’s love for me.

All our experiences of coming to faith will be different – but I know those people showed Christian love to me all those years ago – shared the best gift with me I have ever had – and which changed the course of my life pretty exponentially – as it has all turned out!

We often don’t know when we have been the catalyst for sparks of faith in others. However we won’t be if we don’t share our  faith gently and lovingly . We must not leave the gifts and talents we have been given for this in the bottom of the wardrobe (With those discarded Christmas gifts we have never used).

At this time, we need to pray for each other, and for the right moments to ask the people God puts on hearts to come to Alpha or to come to Alpha with us. I will end with a very familiar prayer which John McGinley recommends for those willing to step out of their comfort zones and one to the  path of following the footsteps of Jesus in sharing the good news, lovingly and kindly and hopefully.

Let us pray – May the road rise to meet you. May the wind be always at your back. May the sun shine warm upon your face and the rains fall soft upon your fields and until we meet again – may God hold you in the palm of his Hand. Amen  

References: New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995, Matthew for everyone part 2 – Tom Wright – SPCK, 2002, Mission Shaped Grace, John McGinley, River Publishing 2017

4th Sunday before Advent – 5th November 2023

4th Sunday before Advent – 5th November 2023

Micah 3:5-end, Matthew 24.1-14

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

Today is the beginning of the end of the Church year, when the new year starts on Advent Sunday in 4 week’s time (now there’s frightening!). The Church year through our readings and festivals does a journey. It begins with the hope of the coming Messiah on Advent Sunday, works through Jesus story through the year and ends over the next four weeks  with the proclamation of his kingdom over all with Jesus as Lord of earth and heaven. This chunk of seasonal time ends with the Feast of Christ the King.

This season has been called the Kingdom season or now the time between All Saints and Advent, and we have moved to red as part of this season is about marking the kingdom of God and the Saints within it – as it starts with All Saints day that was on Wednesday this week. Red is the colour of blood to remind us of the cost of following the faith – for Jesus and the many martyrs. Red is also the colour of fire – indicating the presence of the holy spirit with us and to indicate things are hotting up as we journey ever onward

Our gospel reading is a rather dramatic one! It starts with Jesus saying of the temple buildings You see all these, do you not? Truly I tell you, not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down. This would have been a deeply shocking thing for him to have said and for those around him to have heard. At this stage in their history, the people of God had already endured one temple in Jerusalem being destroyed (reference to that in our first reading from Micah today) and then being rebuilt subsequently. The thought that this might happen again was utterly abhorrent. The temple was viewed by this stage as a barometer to the people’s relationship with God. So when it was good, all was good, and when it was destroyed all was very bad indeed.

The trouble was that the temple and ritual observance – right action had taken over the peoples – obsessions about what made them clean and pure rather than living with a right heart – loving God and sharing that love. And this again is a wake-up call to us about making sure we have our hearts on fire with God’s love for us. Every day and not just for an hour on a Sunday or when we feel like it. The temple to Jesus had come to symbolise all the things that were getting in the way of God’s love in the heart of the people of God of his day. In a way we can probably own the things in our hearts that get in the way of God too. Today’s a day to think about it, pray about it and move on. Letting God forgive us, and resolving to do better.

This reading then moves into the apocalyptic, which means talking about the end times of Jesus’ kingdom on earth and what that will be like. Jesus describes frightening times and hard times ahead. This is partly a reflection of the times the Christian’s were then experiencing when Matthew’s gospel was written some 40 or so years after Jesus died and it is writing into the reality that the Romans did indeed destroy the temple again. That this had probably happened before Matthew’s gospel was written. This kind of writing is generally not easy for us to understand. Culturally we have rather lost this mystical magical style of apocalyptic writing – embedding deeper truths in colourful pictures. We are children of the enlightenment and meet it with cold hard logic and science.

The real point is that difficult times will come and that there are times when life is more about endurance than anything else, and endurance built on hearts on fire in love with God come what may! Endurance is probably not always the most attractive quality and expectation. Things being endured rather than enjoyed is a bit of a daunting prospect in a way, but I also think this is an object lesson in our expectations of life. Culturally we are selling the dream

Money = happiness, The latest greatest gadget or gizmo = happiness, The high pressure job = happiness, Disposable fleeting relationships = happiness, What I want = happiness

And none of this is actually true! Life has ups and downs but love weathers them all. God’s love of us today and every day. Our love for God in our hearts in response, and our lives lived in pursuit of God’s will and purposes for our lives. This is much more likely to bring inner peace and contentment, but will not bring us a guarantee from difficult times. Endurance is a deep and eternal way to cope with all that comes our way.

In way these words of Jesus are also encouragement to live today, for today, being part of his kingdom on earth for as long as we are here and being part of his kingdom in heaven when our time comes. All this talk of Endurance and eternity, reminded me of the story  of Maximilian Kolbe

He was born near Lodz in Poland in 1894. His parents were Franciscan tertiaries and, He trained for ordination in 1907, Maximilian became a franciscan friar  and eventually he returned to Poland and became a lecturer in church history. After suffering a severe illness, he resolved to publish a magazine for Christian readers and this soon gained a huge circulation. Soon his community was producing daily and weekly journals.

After the Nazi invasion of Poland, Maximilian was arrested as an ‘intellectual’ and taken to Auschwitz in May 1941. There he continued his priestly ministry, secretly celebrating the eucharist. When, after an escape, a prisoner was chosen with a large family to forfeit his life as an example, Maximilian stepped forward to take his place with 9 other prisoners and to be put to death by starvation.

After two weeks he was still alive in the starvation bunker. Finally Maximilian was injected with phenol and died on August 14th 1941. The man Maximilian died in place of lived through his experience in Auchwitz and went on to have a large family. He was present at the celebration when Maxmilian Kolbe was made a saint in 1982

In a way all I have talked about this morning as we have started our look at God’s kingdom, can be summed up in 2 words – Endurance and Eternity. Endurance – to keep going on through the ups and downs of life, and eternity – God loves us here in this life, and in the next – with the promise of eternal life with him in heaven for ever. Amen

Exciting Holiness, the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible (1989, 1995) ©