Category Archives: Uncategorized

Advent Sunday – 3rd December 2023

Advent Sunday – 3rd December 2023

In this Advent of expectation draw us together in unity, that our praise and worship might echo in these walls and also through our lives. In this Advent of expectation draw us together in mission, that the hope within might be the song we sing and the melody of our lives. In this Advent of expectation draw us together in service that the path we follow might lead us from a stable to glimpse eternity. Amen

Every 3 years this set of readings comes up and it reminds me of Advent Sunday in 2002 (and makes my stomach churn as I remember how excruciatingly nervous I was). This day was notable for the reality that it was the day I first preached an adult assessed sermon to a congregation of grown ups at a 9am communion service in Llantrisant in South Wales. I was on placement in my first term at theological college, and though in the long run up to going to college and the selection processes, I had led lots of worship aimed at families and youth (and in my work life numerous presentations and training sessions about software and consultancy skills) – speaking theologically to just grown ups was a whole other matter, very intimidating and as was expecting me to share wisdom in a sermon (the first term at college had proved my Biblical knowledge could be vastly improved too). One of my tutors had poured over the preparation with me and was in the congregation waiting to assess my efforts!

At the beginning of this week, I re-read what I wrote that day – which like all good novice sermons had 3 points and a clear beginning and a summary at the end. My points are all still valid that we need to be always growing, to be ready whatever comes along (and alert to God’s hand in it) and to live in the hope Christ left with us.  

Every Advent, we start back at the beginning readying ourselves to mark the coming of Jesus, and the wonder of it. It is hard to get our heads round imagining God preparing the ground of Jesus to come and working in a time ordered way (which is a dimension God is significantly beyond – not being limited to our linear existence but timeless – here yesterday, today and forever). God would have been lining up the prophets, putting the words they needed to speak in their hearts, and then selecting the key players (Mary, Joseph, Elizabeth, Zechariah, Shepherds, Magi) and the key venues and recruiting Gabriel to pass on his important messages.

It is hard for us to get our heads round this as we don’t know what life was like before Jesus came, we have only known how it is possible to know Jesus personally as the saving power in our lives. As St Paul put it in that first reading – Because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind.

Jesus came to open God’s heart of love to all of us and he came as a vulnerable child to do it. This advent we need to ponder the wonder of that deeply – be open and reach out with the love we know to those around us. Christmas affords many opportunities to explain the meaning of the season, we must use the ones we have.

While I was on retreat 10 days ago I finally returned to Glasshampton Monastery. This is a thin place, where the gap between earth and heaven seems smaller, and also it has been a quiet house of prayer for over 100 years, and is currently looked after by some Anglican Franciscan brothers (the same order as are based at Hilfield). It is very special.

And here is a picture of the altar in the main chapel. It is all quite plain – I love the arches that lead to the vestry (which look a bit like a house in Bethlehem, and the simple stone altar and platform (with matching tiles)). In this picture there is a San Damiano cross – this is a replica of the cross that spoke to St Francis in his earliest days – Rebuild my church was the message it had for him.

On my first visit to the chapel for evening prayer, I had a niggling feeling that something had changed I couldn’t put my finger on what. The next morning at the daily early communion, which started at 8am, I was suddenly struck as we gathered around the table for the eucharistic prayer what had been niggling me. Jesus was not there. In this picture behind the san damiano cross you can see a grey cross on the wall. Previously – if we look at this picture (which I took on my last visit in 2019) we can see there is a large (about 5ft) statue of Jesus on the grey cross – which used to dominate the space and was a very acute visual reminder of the lengths Jesus went to to save us.

I was quite flummoxed by the fact that Jesus was missing! But in a way that is one of the things we are remembering in Advent and how important it is to us that Jesus came in the first place, the difference he made and his rescue plan for all people. I found out subsequently from the brothers at afternoon tea (the only time they really converse each day) that Jesus had fallen from his position on the wall a couple of months earlier, and one of his arms had broken in the process, or had given into the strain of anchoring Jesus to the wall. There was a discussion about the fact that at his annual dust on Holy Saturday he had been noticed to be wobbly! They are currently finding 3 quotes for the rather specialist business of mending him.

In our run up to Christmas, the last thing that needs to be missing in our hearts and lives is Jesus. This is a time when we need to reflect on how we are growing, how alert we are to God’s love for us and what God is up to, and how hopefully we are living bathed in the light of Jesus great love for us. St Paul talks about strengthening us and strengthening our testimony to his love in our lives. We need not to be found to be missing either, but living lives where our faith is growing, we are alert and ready for God’s touch and above all hopeful (no matter what may come and go). Jesus love for us as I said earlier (and this is where I will end today) – is in all our yesterdays, all our todays, and all our tomorrows forever. Thanks be to God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the presence of the Holy Spirit he left with us.

Let us pray

God of hope, who brought love in to this world, be that love that dwells between us.

God of hope, who brought peace in to this world, be the peace that dwells between us.

God of hope, who brought joy into the world, be the joy that dwells within us.

God of hope, the rock we stand upon, be the centre, be the focus of our lives always and particularly this Advent time. Amen

The New Revised Standard Version of the Bible 1989, 1995 ©

Prayers from an Advent Manifesto by Martyn Percy – BRF 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) ©

Bible Sunday – 29th October – Penny Ashton

October 29th – Bible Sunday

I wonder what you first think when you hear the Bible being read in church Sunday by Sunday.  If we are honest, I suspect that our first thought is often not of the content, but of the delivery – we might wish that the reader had stood a little closer to the microphone or angled it better for their height.  We might also realise that – as we are all different, we all have different styles of reading – some faster, some slower.  Many people take the trouble to check through the different translations to see which one they feel brings out the meaning most clearly, others stick to their preferred translation or to the one from the lectionary that has been emailed out to them. 

These things can distract us a little from the content of the reading and we can miss a part of what is being read to us.  That can be a problem, since as Jesus pointed out in our gospel reading today, his words will not pass away until he comes again, and in the meantime, the guidance we have, and the only – fairly contemporary accounts of his actions and words can only be found in our Bibles, and the guidance of the Holy Spirit to help our understanding of them. 

It is interesting to note that we are not the only ones who have needed help in understanding what is in the Bible.  As Ezra the scribe read from the whole of the Hebrew scriptures – probably the books that we have as the first five books of our Bibles – there were people giving explanations as they went along.  If you have time, the book of Nehemiah is worth reading – it tells of how Nehemiah, who held a high position in the court, obtained permission from the king to return to Jerusalem and organise the rebuilding of the city walls after he had heard that the whole place was in ruins.  The book of Ezra, which is roughly contemporary is a more difficult read, and often seems to contain an official report of the rebuilding of the temple.  In both cases there was strong opposition to the work, but support from the Assyrian kings who provided supplies for the building work as well as soldiers to safeguard the journey back to Jerusalem.  All the precious objects from the sanctuary were recorded and weighed, and were also returned, although there is no mention of the books of the law in the list, so we can only assume that the priests had kept them safe.  The Assyrian kings probably didn’t consider the scrolls to be valuable in the same way that the gold and silver vessels were.  This would explain how Ezra is described as having studied the scriptures and knowing them well despite being held captive in exile – something he could not have done without ready access to them.

At the point where our reading today commences, the building work is pretty much completed – the temple has been rebuilt and regular sacrifices and festivals are being observed again, and the walls of the city have been rebuilt.  It is a good time to remind the people of their story back as far as Abraham or even further, and to remind them of the law that was given to Moses while they were in the desert after fleeing from Egypt.

Their reaction to hearing the scriptures again seems to have been one of extreme emotion.  They were being reminded once again of how they became a nation, of all that God had done for them over the centuries.  It seems that their first reaction was to weep – whether with joy or sorrow we do not know.  Whichever it was, they were encouraged by their leaders not to weep but to celebrate – the day was a holy one, and it was time for a party!  The instructions were clear – eat the best food, and make sure that everyone has plenty.  The ability to read and understand the Bible is to be celebrated.  It was a great joy to me when the Churches Together organised the funds to provide Bibles for our primary school in age-appropriate formats to support the teaching of RE in that school.  Many of you were very generous in supporting that effort.

As we are celebrating Bible Sunday, it seems appropriate to look at the work of the Bible Society.  Many of you will know the story of Mary Jones which I read as a child, who walked 26 miles to Bala where she had heard that a Bible in her native Welsh could be obtained.  Her determination inspired the work of translation so that everyone who wished should have access to the Bible in their native language.

Nowadays the work of the Bible Society continues, nearly 220 years after it was founded, and it now has the whole Bible translated into over 700 languages, making it accessible to 5.7 billion people, or over 80% of the world’s population.  This milestone was reached in 2020 and means that the number of languages has almost doubled since 1990 when it was 351.  In 50 of these languages the translations are the first ever made, meaning 57 million more people can access the whole of God’s word in their mother tongue for the first time.  One of the most recent translations to be completed is into the Mohawk language.  This is the fulfilment of a lifetime dream for Harvey Satewas Gabriel.  Harvey was a member of the translation team and is now 83.  He says ‘When I do something, I don’t give up easy,’ This full translation has come 219 years after the Gospel of John was first translated in 1804 and was the first scripture translated by the Bible Society!  Much of the early translation work was done by Harvey’s grandfather and great-grandfather as part of the team, but Harvey himself completed the 58 books that remained untranslated when he retired in 2005 and was able to work on them full time.  Canadian Bible Society’s president, Dr Rupen Das, said: ‘God speaks through his word, but how can people hear if it’s not in a language they value and appreciate?’  I wonder how we would feel if the only way we could read the Bible would be in a language that was not our own first language?[1]

In addition, the Digital Bible Library, set up to enable hundreds of millions of people to access Scripture through websites and apps, has recently reached the milestone of bringing together 2,500 texts in 1,622 languages used by over 5.7 billion people.[2]   It is the very useful way that I am able to carry an assortment of Bibles around in the pocket of my jeans!

Currently the work is focussing largely on the conflict in Israel, where teams are providing practical support in the form of items that may have been lost – often as basic as soap or socks, torches or blankets, but also emotional and spiritual help through the society’s trauma healing programme.  The Bible is at the heart of this work, and people are offered a whole or part Bible or a portion of scripture, depending upon their openness and readiness as a part of the work.

These are most definitely causes for celebration, until you realise that there are an estimated 7000 languages currently spoken in our world today, so there is quite a distance to go yet.  The work of translation is not easy, as translators must make the scripture not only readable, but to make sense to different cultures.  Translating to people who have never seen a sheep or kept livestock or grown crops, or who live nowhere near water, and have no use for boats and fishing are just some examples of the problems faced. 

The reaction of people who are given access to a Bible in their own language for the first time is often one of real joy, which makes me feel a little ashamed of the ease with which we can access the Bible today, and yet how little people in this country often know of it.

On this Bible Sunday, and always we need to treasure and regularly read the scriptures which are so easily available to us, and to support the work of organisations such as the Bible Society in our prayers as well as financially, as they continue to make it available to more people all the time.

[1] Bible Society website

[2] From the website of the Bible Society:

20th Sunday after Trinity – 22nd October 2023

Trinity 20 – October 22nd October

Isaiah 45:1-7, Matthew 22.15-22

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

It is not hard in the current situation in the world today, to imagine 2 different groups of people with different ideologies and backgrounds at loggerheads with each other. There are several examples playing out on the news day by day. Hamas, Gaza and Israel and the longer running Ukraine and Russia conflicts.

This is very much the position where we encounter Jesus in our gospel reading this morning/afternoon. In amongst 2 different groups of people who held wildly different ideologies and backgrounds… When they choose to ask him a very tricky question about taxes, which I think has been a pretty vexed subject for at least 2 thousand years!!

In fact, taxation has been one of the instruments of government in some form or another for as long as human beings have lived in communities. Examples of taxation are known to have existed in the third millennium BC  (over 4 thousand years ago). In Mesopotamia, one such tax was called ‘burden’, which suggests that taxes were no more popular then than now. In the absence of money that stands in the place of things of actual value, taxes in those days were paid in kind. Daniel Defoe wrote Taxes, like the poor, have always been with us. It was Benjamin Franklin another American president, who first captured the role of taxes in our lives ‘In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes’

In our gospel reading – the two groups Jesus is with are disciples of the Pharisees and Herodians. First of all, neither of these groups were on Jesus’ side by this stage of the gospel story in Matthew. Anyone coming up to you starting Teacher, we know that you are sincere and then asking a tricky question about money and taxes is really showing they are NOT going to be on side. To complicate matters further these 2 groups, though united in questioning Jesus (and not liking him) did not agree with each other on this topic either!

The disciples of the Pharisees – who were religious zealots of the day didn’t like Jesus because he criticised them for talking the talk not walking the walk. It was all about carrying out the right ritual at the right time. Not doing things with good heart and for God. They would have been in favour of not paying the tax, as they wanted power and wanted rid of the Romans.

Whereas, the Herodians were supporters of Herod Antipas, the puppet King of the Jewish nation established by the Romans. They feared Jesus was going to try to take on his power or his authority with the Jewish people. They were running scared for different reasons. They would have been in favour of paying the tax, as that was keeping their man Herod Antipas in power and in with the Romans. This is really a bit of a hornet’s nest for Jesus as whichever way he answers someone won’t be happy.

I suspect in our hearts and lives we can identify time and places where we have had this kind of dilemma. Where those we are talking to have very opposed views as to what should  happen next. And there is no easy or obvious resolution in sight!

So they ask the question – 17Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not? And Jesus spots their testing, hypocritical game and tells them so. That is a pretty brave thing to do – when someone is behaving like that do we normally call a spade a spade? Jesus final answer after they had examined the coin and found the emperor’s head on it – Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.

The answer he does give is ambiguous, and has been interpreted in different ways.  For some it makes clear that we have dual loyalties, to God in spiritual matters and to the state in temporal ones. Probably from this answer what the Herodians will have heard is that paying tax is right, but faithful Jews will know that there is nothing that is not God’s, so the disciples of the Pharisees will have heard him as rejecting the tax to Rome.

Others again have suggested that the avoidance of a direct answer is the real point: Jesus doesn’t tell people what to think, but requires them to work things out for themselves. No doubt his answer on this occasion could have sustained a market-place argument for hours,  or been another complicated parable etc. as people tried to get to grips with what he was saying

Retuning to the world today – There really isn’t an easy answer to any of the questions  posed by the conflicts ongoing at the moment and there are many innocent bystanders being hurt and killed. Both through the situation in Israel and Gaza and Ukraine. There are different people interpreting what is going on in wildly differing ways. In this complexity I think it is important that  our first response is to pray for peace. We have been lighting a peace candle now for many months, and I found the prayer that had been produced by churches together in Great Britain and Ireland, which I found helpful. I put it in the newsletter and you should have a copy of it in your hands today.

Before we pray it together let me just explain how it starts with reference to  some old testament characters. These characters show the width of God’s love, mercy and inclusion in every division from the very start. They are all from the family of Abraham and some of the earliest of God’s promises to show the depth of this prayer.

  • Abraham is known for his faith and  hope (and willingness to follow God’s command). His name means the father of nations.
  • Sarah his wife is known for fear and doubt. She did not believe she would bear a child in old age to be the founder of a new nation. Yet Sarah’s name means chief or ruler.
  • Hagar is the slave girl, who Sarah gave to Abraham when she failed to conceive a child – Hagar is treated very harshly, running away and being exiled as she bore a child Ishmael. Hagar’s name means immigration or flight.
  • Isaac is the son of Sarah and Abraham who came along eventually – yet he is tricked by his younger son (Jacob) who takes the birthright of Esau his older son. Isaac’s name means laughter. This is the Jacob who goes on to have 12 sons!
  • And Ishmael is Hagar’s son – And he was promised to be the start of a great nation too. He lived in the wilderness but have 12 sons (as did Jacob). For Muslims, his family line is in the origins of the prophet Mohammed…Ishmael’s name means God hears – referring to how God helps Ishmael in his difficult early days!

The point being God is God of everything and everyone – the flawed and the faithful, those who are deceived and deceiving, and those who are honest. In our hearts – looking at the need for peace in seemingly  insurmountable circumstances and where we don’t know what to say – what is best is to cry out in prayer to God in the face of all these conflicts.

Let’s have some silence and then we will pray the CTBI prayer together.

O God of all of Abraham, Sarah, Hagar, Isaac, and Ishmael: Our hearts are broken in pieces at the suffering and murder of your people. Our voices cry for peace and for justice. Comfort those who grieve, console and heal the injured, be close to those in fear, restrain with your mighty hand those who perpetrate violence.  Send us your wisdom in all that we say and do, that our voice may always seek justice, peace and security for all. Amen.

The New Revised Standard Version of the Bible © 1989. 1995


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)

Trinity 13 – 3rd September 2023

Jeremiah 15:15-21, Matthew 16:21-end

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

Early September has a new beginnings and changing times feel to it, as people pick up the strings of activities and groups after the summer break, our children and young people return to school, the light evenings are drawing in and in the natural world (the summer wanes, and niche insects start to appear the daddy longlegs and the giant moths (including the one currently terrorising my shower room!))

Change is in the air but God’s love for us is a constant and we must not lose sight of that. We need to tune in to what is going on around us, and find what God has for us at this time. This may be how we want things to be or think they should be, or we may find ourselves in circumstances where we don’t understand or can’t see a way through – relying solely on God’s love for us – which is enduring and everlasting cutting through all the challenges and trials we may be experiencing.

Today in our first reading we encounter Jeremiah having a very tough time. He is in a tight spot. Jeremiah prophesied at a time of suffering; Jerusalem was besieged by the Babylonians in the lead-up to the city’s destruction and the exile to Babylon. Jeremiah expresses the anguish of facing condemnation for sharing the words God has given him. He is in an impossible situation, unable to remain silent but persecuted by those around him for what he says.

In the first part of that reading, we get a sense of jeopardy Jeremiah is feeling

On the one hand, his heart was joyful to be God’s messenger where it says: your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart. On the other hand the consequences of sharing his messages from God have left him alone and isolated – where it says I did not sit with the merrymakers nor did I rejoice. He is both angry about his situation and clearly suffering with some kind of incurable wound too. We would say he is suffering, or to use the words of Jesus in our gospel reading he had taken up his cross in following what God wanted of him.

The second half of the Jeremiah reading is God reassuring him, that it is for good that Jeremiah is doing what he is doing. God remains faithful to those who serve him. Even though the going is clearly going to be tough, God says to Jeremiah things like – They shall not prevail over you, I am with you to save you and deliver you. He predicts the people in Jeremiah’s day will turn to him as a fortified wall of bronze.

This is a message to us about the going getting tough and keeping going. Not to give in or turn away from where God is leading us. To be honest with God about how we are feeling and to lean into God’s support for us. I have talked about lament several times over the last few months, and here again Jeremiah is lamenting, and God will take his prayer seriously and bring change to his heart and situation in the time and in the way God has for him.

I think it is also about remembering to take a longer perspective, to take a step back and not judge things immediately. This is difficult for us, as our culture is swift to conclusions and very instant, the ways of God sometimes only make sense to us weeks, months or even years ahead. Sometimes they may even never make the sense we want them to, as what we want is not what is on God’s heart.

Sometimes we are not in the place to make sense of anything too when the going gets really tough, or we are in deep pain following a traumatic experience or a life-changing bereavement. The important thing is to take each day as it comes, resting in God’s love for us in the moment, and keeping thankful for the tiny joys and pleasures we experience if we open our eyes to the love God has for us.

Praying for the spiritual fruit of patience, and for courage to hold onto what God wants of us is important too. Turning to our gospel reading, Jesus is very short with Peter, when he wants to future to be different from what it had to be. It’s a natural response to hearing that someone must undergo ‘great suffering’ as was the path ahead for Jesus, to want to avoid that. Jesus calls Peter ‘a stumbling block’ hindering his progress and what was necessary at that time, and to bring us all in the loving heart of God. As is often the case Peter seems to have only heard the negative – the suffering and the death part of it, and not that on the third day Jesus would be raised.

The simple truth is that we cannot have resurrection (and the power that changed everything) without the death part. This is one of the reasons why if we want to celebrate Easter fully, we must also linger at the cross and take onboard the cost and the pain Jesus suffered for us, to fully understand the power of God’s love for us. There is also the obvious truth that many of us have experienced, that our growth in faith is greater when the going is tough than when the going is easy. I am not wishing tough times on anybody, but they are a fact of life which cannot be all roses and apple pie.

A clue here on how to approach life is in the words Jesus says to Peter about where he was setting his mind. He was setting it at human things rather than on divine things. This is back to the question of perspective –  ours or Gods? God’s perspective is timeless and omnipotent, and knows the future, the present and the past for us. We can be very blinkered by what we want and when we want it (even more so in a society that is very instant and very consumerist). We can confuse what we think is best, with what God thinks is best for us very readily, especially when things don’t work out for us or don’t go the way we want.

Taking space to dwell with God each day, to pray, to be and to be thankful is very important, to be honest with God about how we are feeling, and to know in our hearts his presence and peace. To keep going with this kind of discipline is important too, even when we feel isolated and angry as Jeremiah was feeling. God’s love will save us, deliver us and redeem us. We are precious in God’s sight, and his love for us is beyond our capacity to fully comprehend. Love in this life and endless eternal love when our time comes.

I am going to end with the collect for today which very much captures what I have been trying to say today about resting and relying on God, not expecting the going to be easy.

Let us pray

Almighty God, you search us and know us, may we rely on you in strength and rest on you in weakness now and in all our days, through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

The New Revised Standard Version (Anglicized Edition), copyright 1989, 1995, some material reproduced with permission from ©, Some  material  is copyright Church House Publishing © 2000-2023