Sunday, June 13, 2010

Homily for 8.00 - Trinity 2, Yr C

Do you see this woman? 

That's the question of this passage...

The question Jesus asks Simon – who has been making it very clear by his disapproval that he does both see and has already judged this uninvited guest who is making such a scene....

Do you see this woman?

On one level, of course we all see her.

She's there centre stage, held forever in the spotlight as she kneels at the feet of her Lord.

If this was a bid for attention, she was certainly successful, as we remember her almost 2000 years later.

This is her story, isn't it?

The story of the woman with the ointment.

But do you see this woman?

What if you had been there, among the crowd, when she burst in – loud, distraught, deeply embarassing?.

Would you have seen her – or failed to get beyond the discomfort that her sudden entrance produced?

My guess is that most of us would have tried our utmost NOT to see her....hoped that by ignoring her she would somehow get the message and vanish quietly

Over the years we have all become adept at selective blindness...

We see the things we want to see and ignore all the rest...

We see the angelically smiling toddler, but not young adult with cerebral palsy whose wheelchair we make room for on the pavement;

we see the young lovers full of hope and beauty but not the disshevelled woman with bruises on her face; we see the captain of industry but not the rough sleeper reeking of cheap cider and other things that are even worse...

We see what we can bear to look at – and as the poet said “human kind cannot bear too much reality”.

So it is that we praise God for beauty, but miss his healing presence in brokenness.

But if we're only willing to open our eyes we'll find God there among the broken, for this is the place of healing, the place of forgiveness.

Today is a special one for our parishes, since M. begins his new ministry as a priest among us. One of the tasks of priesthood is, I think, to act as a sign-post – pointing out where God is at work, showing where Christ is to be found.

At yesterday's ordinations, after Bishops and clergy had laid their hands on the deacons to be made priest, and we had all surrounded them with our prayers, calling down the Holy Spirit upon them, Bishop Michael anointed their hands marking the sign of the cross in oil on each palm as a sign of their calling

“to reconcile and bless”

Reconciliation,forgiveness and blessing – important words for Christians, words that point to places where we surely find Jesus, time after time after time.

So part of M's calling, part of the calling for each of us, is to put ourselves in those places of brokenness, and try to see.

To see beyond the erratic behaviour and embarrassing difference, and recognise the precious child of God and then to reach out with love.

To discern Christ's own presence in the broken, and then kneel in service at their feet.

And, perhaps hardest of all, to understand that there is forgiveness for us, that we too are loved, in all our failures and disappointments...that we too are included in the great reconciliation that Christ offers to all.

There is an irony in our gospel passage, since Simon thinks

"If Jesus really knew this woman, he would treat her differently" - but of all those present, only Jesus does know her, only Jesus can see into her heart.
So though Simon fails to see the woman, Jesus does.

Jesus sees her in all her fragile potential...For him she is not a social problem, not an unwelcome interruption in his real business of talking theology with the important folk at the table.

Jesus sees her – in her sin, in her brokenness, and most of all in her love.

And, seeing her, he acknowledges the truth of who she is, and this changes her.

That’s the crux of the passage, for me.

The unnamed woman who pours out her precious ointment on Jesus feet and bathes them with her tears has been transformed by her contact with Jesus.

We're not told if she has been following him, listening to him for months...

We're not told if they've had long conversations in which she poured out all her hopes, fears and disappointments.

But we know that she now has the courage to believe she can serve...She sees herself in a new light, the light of love and forgiveness.

She is no longer defined by her past - as a sinner...but looks towards a future of acceptance and hope.

Stuck in his self righteous rut, Simon the Pharisee can't see that...nor can he see that he's every bit as needy, every bit as sinful himself.

Like David, before he heard the parable of the ewe-lamb, his self-knowledge is distinctly limited.

He's convinced that he's getting most things right - but even when judged as a dinner-party host he's not doing too well.

He can’t even extend the normal gracious signs of hospitality to Jesus.

How can God’s life-changing, forgiving power take root in him?

The doors and windows to his soul are firmly locked against it, and those locked doors don’t just prevent God’s forgiveness getting in, they also prevent Simon the Pharisee getting out, growing into his full potential as a flawed but forgiven child of God.

Presented with the route to freedom, it seems that he chooses to remain chained...

Having little sense of his need for forgiveness, he cannot receive it - and so he is like the debtor forgiven little, who loves little.

In this gospel, it's not the weeping woman who needs our pity - but the man who can't see himself at all.

Do you see this woman?

Needy, broken, locked in...a bit like us, perhaps.

And do you see her as a guest at God's table, a lover welcomed home by the beloved.

Do you see yourself there?

Are you free to sit and eat?

Thursday, June 10, 2010


When I was a child, I had a springer spaniel, Robin...endlessly bouncy, demanding (and getting) long walks every day. He was my first pet, and set the bar high for those to follow. My family had always believed in big dogs and had tended to dismiss anything smaller than a spaniel as a "pretend dog" for those who weren't up to the real thing! Fast forward to the 1990s when we were looking for pets for our own growing children.
3 children plus a 2CV meant that big dogs just weren't going to be possible - so I found myself forced to adjust my ideas about what made a proper dog. Maisie, a cross breed terrier, converted me in a moment and when Hattie Gandhi wanted a dog of her own, it was easy to agree that another terrier might be just what we needed.
So Mufti came into our lives - a pedigree puppy with ears so much too big for her head in those early weeks.
Her mum had won "Best of Breed" at Crufts but on the day we collected her, the breeder said
"All you can ever ask of a dog is that she should be a good companion"
Mufti clearly heard and took this very very seriously.
While Hattie G settled into secondary school, Mufti was there to greet her with all the enthusiasm that a battered teenage ego might require.
She was such a chatty little dog - always "conversing" with us...showing her excitement and delight with yelps of pleasure when I went into the room, nearly beside herself with squeals of joy when I picked up her lead...
When Hattie G left on her Gap year expedition to Thailand, Mufti pined for days but gradually transferred her affections to me and so for the past 5 years she has been my shadow in the house, finding her way onto my knee the moment I sat down, generally keeping an eye on me, and with a loud and forthright opinion on most things.
She considered, briefly, becoming an old lady when we moved to the vicarage, but the arrival of Libby put paid to that notion and she gamely set out to teach the new puppy who was boss and how to play properly. There was never any doubt about who was top dog, despite the disparity in size. She was such a gutsy little dog...interested in everything...willing to try anything if she thought it would please me...
I guess it was when she stopped even trying to play with Libby that I knew we were nearing the end.
Thank you, Mufti, for 12 lovely years. A good companion indeed.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Friday Five: Patience & Persistence

Sally says...
As I write this I can see out over our newly set up veggie plot from my study window. When Tim and I moved here in August last year he set to work clearing the ground, this spring I began planting seeds indoors and out, and now the beds are full of leaf and promise. We have harvested some spinach and lettuce, but still have to wait for the main crops....
Patience is something that sometimes comes easy and sometimes doesn't, in the case of the garden it is easy, I can see the growth and know that waiting will produce good results. With other things patience is more difficult....
Along with looking forward to eating our own veggies, we are also looking forward to seeing four of our children graduate with Bachelors degrees this year, they have worked hard over the three years and stuck at it through some difficult stuff. It would have been easy for them to give up, but they haven't...
Persistence often pays off, but we need to be aware that it sometimes turns into sheer pig headed-ness...
With all that in mind I offer you this Friday Five:

1. Is patience a virtue you possess? If it is then does it come naturally, if not how do you/ did you work at it?
Not remotely.
When doing the "Belbin" test during training, I found that I had practically a negative score as a "Completer/Finisher"...I like instant results, before there has been time for me to be distracted by the next shiny thing just out of sight. 
That said, though I have no patience with projects or things, people are so endlessly beguiling that I have no problem being patient with them.
Except for a certain vicar whom I know too well. Her repeated failures, her stubborn refusal to learn from her own mistakes, makes me snarl and growl with frustration. I know I'm a work in progress - but here, as in the decorating, I want results NOW!

2. Being patient with ourselves can be a huge challenge, we are often our own worst critics; is there anything you need to be patient with yourself with at the moment?

I haver between being over-tolerant of my own inadequacies (I suspect that actually it wouldn't be beyond the bounds of possibility for me to keep the study tidy, get to bed before midnight, and give the dogs a decent walk every day if I were actually to try) and desperately frustrated at my inability to cram quarts of activity into pints of time. I always believe that I CAN fit in 6 impossible things before breakfast and am outraged when this fails to come about...
What I need most is a dual gift: realism about just who I am, and patience as the implications of this come home to roost.

3. Are you the kind of person who can/ will persist with a difficult task? How much of this is personality related?

My best beloved father was one who Never Gave Up on anything (dying of cancer, he prolonged his life by some weeks, I'm certain, because he was determined to finish reading A la recherche de temps perdu in French)...I lack his staying power but it has left a legacy, in that I do find it hard to give up on things, even when it might be best to do so. I DID manage to give up A level German when I realised that I was going to hate every single one of the set texts...but generally, if I have publically committed to something, then I will see it through regardless.
This holds good for real challenges - but in the smaller things - clearing out the garage, creating a flower bed, - I'll be off over the horizon in pursuit of any possible diversion. I'm ENFP to the core!

4. Can you spot when persistence turns into pig-headed-ness, or do you never get there?
Ermmm....See above. I think the jury is still out. Hindsight may make it clearer...

5. Post a song or a poem that chills you out and helps you to re-group, re-focus and carry on?

The slow movement of the Bach Concerto for two violins is so complete in its perfection, it stills me and gives me a glimpse of which point, my failure to prepare properly before painting the kitchen becomes rather silly really.
Bonus, a picture or a photo that speaks to you of patience or persistence...
Well - if I were designing things, we would all be issued with seven-league boots as standard, so that the goals once recognised could be achieved instantly (but then perhaps I would miss the detours?) Anyway, given that the journey is also worth savouring, and that I know I'm a long way short of being a finished product, I guess I'll make do with this.

Friday, June 04, 2010

Corpus Christi

yesterday...and, as every Thursday, the day began with a 1662 Communion service at Church on the Hill. It seemed quite strange to be using this liturgy as we thanked God for the gift that is Holy Communion.
It's not hard to imagine what Cranmer would have made of the more exuberant celebrations of catholic devotion to the sacrament, the processions with rose petals, the High Mass with Benediction...

In the evening we celebrated again, down in the valley - but though the congregation here is usually willing to indulge their vicar in pretty much any kind of liturgical experiment (though I had promised that I wouldn't smoke them out two years running) we were a tiny congregation and I'd planned the service to be as straightforward as possible, as after it the Herring and I were going to walk through the liturgy in preparation for his imminent First Mass.

It was Eucharist, so of course it was special, but I did feel rather wistful for a moment as I imagined all the liturgical wonders going on in other places...I hankered for incense and the Byrd Ave Verum until I reached the homily and heard myself say

"Here God trusts us with God's self, in a fragment of bread and a sip of wine".
Then, once again, the wonder of the sacrament all but silenced me.

Lord Jesus Christ We thank you that in this wonderful sacramentYou have given us the memorial of your passion:grant us so to reverence the sacred mysteries of your body and bloodthat we may know within ourselves
and show forth in our lives

the fruits of your redemption;

for you are alive and reign with the Father

in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Chick pics

After a 20 year wait, today we collected our trio of poultry. Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome

BARBARA - who is a Bluebelle (hybrid Maran & Rhode Island Red) - the top of the pecking order, very inquisitive and friendly

MARGOT (yes, we are reliving The Goode Life) - a Black Star - who has a lovely iridescent gleam to her plumage and enjoys a quiet cuddle and....

and BRIGID, a Speckled Star (Maran cross Barred Plymouth Rock) - who despite having been sat upon by her companions all the way home from Banbury, turns out to have an independent cast of mind.

The blessed Dufflepud toiled in the noon day sun putting the eglu together, while the girls picked over what will one day be a vegetable patch...but they are now safely installed in their new home, which is allegedly both fox and rat proof. I sincerely hope this is right.

The sensible among you will be wondering how on earth I plan to find time to look after more livestock...The rest will know that 2 dogs and 2 cats seems a pathetically small menagerie after the heights we have scaled in the past (iirc, the Lower Farmhouse record was 2 dogs, 2 cats, 2 rabbits, 1 guinea pig, 2 gerbils, 1 hamster and a couple of ponies)...and with all 3 children flying the nest from September, now seemed the right time to let my chickens come home to roost.

I expect time will get squeezed periodically - but the girls are a delight and I'm told they might even lay eggs too.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

In memoriam Jonny Leonard

Remembering with gratitude a wonderful musician (he played at my wedding 25 years ago) and a lovely man, who died yesterday in South Africa. He was organ scholar at University College Durham when I was a post-grad there, and we continued to cross paths for a good few years afterwards, losing touch when I moved from London, but reconnecting last year via FB. 
I'm glad to have known him, gladder still to have sung for him - and saddened that his music is stilled.

Bring us, O Lord God, at our last awakening
  into the house and gate of heaven,
to enter into that gate and dwell in that house,
where there shall be no darkness nor dazzling, but one equal light;
no noise nor silence, but one equal music;
no fears nor hopes, but one equal possession;
no ends nor beginnings, but one equal eternity;
in the habitations of thy glory and dominion,
world without end.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Birthday survival kit

One of the joys of being me, here and now, is having friends who know so exactly what is needed to make me smile...S and the girls battled with road-works on a wet afternoon in half term to deliver a wonderful boxful of birthday booty...Gin, chocolate, pampering of all kinds, sparkly things, fair trade things... Aren't I a lucky woman?