Saturday, October 29, 2011

The communion of saints…that’s our focus today.
The communion of saints, the glorious company of the faithful who stand around God’s throne and cry glory…
We probably think we know what they look like.
They come in two gothic varieties, male, with a page-boy haircut, or female with long flowing tresses. They wear long white robes, carry some incongruous object or other – a wheel, a gridiron, - and can be recognised above all by their haloes.
They are, after all, simply two-dimensional characters, bright in their stained glass shrines…Men and women frozen in perfection, finished products from the beginning of their lives…

If that sounds just a little unlikely to you, I’m profoundly relieved.

If the saints were like that, you see, they’d be no use at all, either to us, or to God. Rather than remembering them with delight, we’d forget them with relief as their only effect would be to discourage us from ever trying to be holy.
But rejoice.
The truth is something quite different.
The saints are real, utterly real…Women and men who tried and failed, and tried again. People whose life experience was the same mix of faith and doubt, of despair and hope that we all recognise.
Ordinary people, in fact.
People just like you.
And me.
The communion of saints.

Ordinary people?
Surely not.
They seem to be extraordinary…and have been adopted as role models by Christians for many generations because they seem to be somehow different, set apart by some distinctive feature of their lives or their faith...
So, what then makes a saint?

A saint is someone who shows God to others.

It’s as simple as that.
We look at the lives of the saints and see God in them
There’s a well worn and apocryphal story of a small boy who was called out from his Sunday school class to explain to an All Age service just what a saint might be.
Casting about desperately for an answer, he caught sight of the stained glass that surrounded him as he stood at the front of the church and blurted out
A saint is someone that the light shines through”

It might be a funny story, except that it is profoundly true.
A saint IS someone the light shines through…
A flawed, imperfect human being whose life is made beautiful by the presence of God.
On that evaluation, you may not have to think too hard before you realise that you know a few saints yourself…though if you told them, they’d surely be horrified, or amused.

You see, I very much doubt if saints are sufficiently self-conscious to notice their own holiness.
My suspicion is that most real saints struggle day after day with a sense of their own unworthiness.
They would laugh outright to hear themselves described in these terms…
Even the greatest saints struggled constantly with their own failures.
Think of Peter, the founding saint of the church…commissioned by Jesus to be the rock, the firm foundation on which the Church would stand.
Peter the impulsive “have a go hero” who dived in where angels fear to tred, and shed blood among the olives in dark Gethsemane.
Peter, the frightened man who was quick to deny his friend and master.
Peter, who ran headlong to the tomb but couldn’t believe the evidence of his eyes on the morning of the Resurrection.
I very much doubt if he thought he was specially holy!

Or there’s Mary of Bethany…so emotional that she dared even to lay into Jesus for his neglect of her family
lord, if you had been here my brother would not have died”
and perhaps so blinded by her tears that she didn’t recognise her risen Lord until he called her by name.
Do you think she believed that she might become an example to us, someone to follow, an inspiration through the centuries?

But I see I’m in danger of suggesting that REAL saints lived long go and far away…and that’s far from the case
Let’s reflect on one of the most famous Christians of our time, Mother Theresa of Calcutta.
Recently her diaries have suggested that she had all but lost her faith, that the light of God’s presence was almost obliterated by the troubles and tragedies of the world.
But despite this, there are so many who already revere her as a saint…for though she may have struggled with an overwhelming sense of God’s absence from her life, those around her saw God’s light shining through all that she did and said in his name.

So…that’s the role of the saints alive…People who share our struggles but through them all show us the Father. I know many saints like that, - indeed, I’d rarely make it from one Sunday to the next without their love and their encouragement
But today above all we celebrate the saints in glory…the multitude without number whose hope was in the Word made flesh, those who join with us whenever we sing together
Holy, holy, holy Lord”
That shining circle who stands around the throne of God is still very much part of our story…for we worship together, our prayers and praises connecting with theirs across time and eternity.
When I first presided at the Eucharist, the day after my ordination as priest, I was completely bowled over by the overwhelming presence of that heavenly company….MY saints. - the people whom I’d known and loved, who had shaped my journey…and those who had died long before I was born, but whose words or deeds had inspired me. They were all there, standing beside me at the altar – and when I’m properly attentive, they are there still, week on week, singing with us, lending power and life to our song. Pause to listen for their voices yourself, this morning, and be thankful….
So, where does this leave us…the people who gather here week after week? Again and again in his letters Paul talks to “the saints in” a particular place…and those saints are neither more nor less than the ordinary body of believers in that place.
You are among the saints in Cainscross
You may not think of yourself as holy in any way…but actually, by virtue of your baptism, holiness IS your calling.
We are, every one of us, set apart for God…called to be saints, just as we are.
Flawed, imperfect people, but people through whom the Light of the World is content to shine.
I believe in the Communion of Saints, the forgiveness of sins,
The resurrection of the body and the life everlasting. AMEN.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

A response to Anon

When I logged on this morning, I discovered that this post had generated one fairly fierce, accusatory comment, which I'm not about to repeat here - though it might be helpful for you to go and read it now, before continuing... You see, it contains a painful degree of truth, and so deserves a response - though I'm not generally happy to debate with someone who hides behind anonymity.

However, the point is well made.
I talked about all that we have and all that we are coming to us from a generous God - and was taken to task for having much, myself, while others have so little.It seemed to me that Anon was,   using the fact that I can have a comfortable life as a reason to question God's part in the whole - though I may be misreading him/her...I'd question the logic of that. Blaming God for the failures of God's children isn't going to get us anywhere much, I fear.

I'm more than willing to admit that I am less generous, more fearful, more focussed on scarcity than in my heart I would like to be. 
God provides enough for all, but we mostly (and yes, that most definitely includes this left-leaning, failing-more-often-than-not Gloucestershire vicar) forget to trust God's generosity. Instead we panic,we hang on to stuff for ourselves, hold back from being fully human, from being generous in response to God's generosity,- because this is a broken, messed up world, inhabited by broken messed up people. 

I ALWAYS preach stuff I NEED to hear... 
I don't speak from a position of superiority, thinking for a moment that I've got it sorted. I'm just holding up an ideal to which I want to aspire, and inviting others to consider whether they want to join me in trying to get it less badly wrong. I'm hoping that nobody assumes that preachers are speaking from a moral high ground.
Rather I'm preaching from a consciousness of my own failings, and my own need of God.
If I only preached about things that I had got right, I'd never ever enter the pulpit again...but I also think that I'd run the risk of offering bland words, with no roots in a real experience of faith and struggle.

Yes, I'm blessed to live in a beautiful place...though I longed to come to this particular spot because I was drawn to walk away from the privileged communities that had nurtured my vocation in the more recent past. 
But I don't think I need to apologise for my address, or even for the fact that I was able, for a few years, to make my home somewhere that embodied all my childhood dreams of a house in the country with an apple tree and a porch full of gumboots. I am thankful for that (though the struggle to make ends meet as a self-employed family living in a Georgian house with Georgian drafts meant that for several years charity shops were the only place that I could shop at all)...but I don't think it defines me. 

Well-intentioned but damaged, veering between faith and fearfulness, helpless and hopeful, aspiring to things I know I'm still far from managing...another child of God who needs bushels of grace just to get through...
That's the sort of definition I could own.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Bible Sunday Yr A sermon for St Matthew's and All Saints

Bible Sunday
A day to celebrate the book that is, says the psalmist, a lamp to our feet and a light to our path
One of the four pillars on which Anglican Christianity rests
And – even today – the world's number 1 best seller

But I wonder if, just sometimes, you marvel at that and ask yourself why this collection of ancient writings, dating from times so utterly unlike our own, is still given such power, such credibility in the contemporary Church
Whether you even question its relevance.
Don't panic if you wouldn't be the first – nor will you be the last.

You see, it all depends on how you look at the Bible
At a rather splendid training event I attended on Thursday, someone compared the Bible to a picture frame
When the frame is empty, you simply look through it at what is there....actual historic events – the building of Solomon's Temple, the fall of Babylon, the great Roman census
There's no denying their veracity...things that really happened, preserved for those who came after.

Or you might find a picture inside your frame...a view painted by a particular artist, standing in a particular place, with a particular perspective. Much of the Bible is written with a purpose, be it to offer the good advice of Proverbs, to create a strong national identity through the body of laws in Leviticus or, in the New Testament, to convince readers of an important truth
As John puts it
But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”
That view is inevitably going to be partial and specific...No good looking at a picture of trees and lamenting that it doesn't show the seaside.
It's one view...with one purpose.

But most tellingly, that Bible picture frame might actually contain a mirror....for this is, famously, the book that reads us even as we read it, the book that makes us ever more aware of the reality of who we are.
Think of David, enjoying his relationship with Bathsheba, having got away, quite literally, with murder – but brought to the dock through the story of the rich man who takes the one ewe lamb of his poor neighbour.....
As David listened to the prophet Samuel telling him that story, it was easy for him to see where justice lay – and, at last, to recognise the enormity of his own sin in stealing his neighbour's wife...and realising that God's justice demanded that he should pay for his offence.
In the same way, though perhaps less dramatically, we can find ourselves again and again in the Bible's stories......Are we afraid to be known as Christians? We find ourselves allied with those disciples who forsook Jesus and fled
Are we trying hard to evade God's call on our life? We can team up with reluctant prophet, Jonah, as he takes ship for Joppa, to avoid his mission to Nineveh
Are we always jumping to the wrong conclusions, expecting God to act one way when in truth he is acting another? Simon Peter is our man....jumping in with both feet again and again,
The Bible creates a template against which we can measure ourselves, as we “delight in the law of the Lord and meditate on his law day and night”
The idea is not that we should learn every word, every line of Scripture but that we should become so aware of it's overall shape that we can match our life to that template.

A good friend, preaching in another place this morning, lent me this image...which takes us right to the heart of what it should mean to read the Bible.
Imagine for a moment that, in a dream, you are attending a theatre and watching a play. The play is reaching the climax when suddenly an actor is taken ill. The director steps forward and invites not just anyone but you to play the role. What could you do? You would have to improvise in the light of all you knew about the play so far – the plot, the characters and perhaps what you had read in the programme about the end. Today, as we give thanks to God for the scriptures, we are reminded that one way to understand the Bible is that through it, God invites us to play our part in his drama, applying all we know of his plans and words to our own often unexpected situations.

If that sounds scary, then take heart.
The Bible DOES need us to live its message. ~It's words live as our lives reflect them, but that message we are called to live can be distilled so that it is straightforward, if not exactly easy, to take our part in the drama
That distillation is there in our gospel today,
This is the Scripture of the Scriptures that trumps everything else
God’s word is quite simply Love, says Jesus.
You are to love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. And no less important, you are to love your fellow human being with the same love you have for yourself. Jesus has given us the key to understanding the Scriptures, interpreting the Bible for our time and all times. It is love, God’s love, our love, everybody’s love. If we keep love in our hearts and lives, we show the true character of God to the world we live in. Love is the fulfilment of everything that God wants to say, the ultimate truth of God’s word. That word of God, God’s word of love, is found above all in Jesus himself, who lived and taught and died a life of love, that the love of God could be a reality for everyone. And in Jesus’ rising from death, God showed that love is the greatest power in the world. This is the beginning and end of the Scriptures: it is on love, human and divine, that the future of the world, God’s world, depends.

Because our God is one who longs to communicate, words are there for God to make himself known to us,.. Each word holds an infinity of meanings, and however much we meditate on each phrase, day and night, there is still more meaning to be discerned, but the overarching meaning is, always, non negotiably, love.
Thus, whenever we approach Scripture it should be with the expectation that we will be changed by the encounter, that the story of those men and women of long ago will become our story…and that, like them, we can be swept up in God's great love story, through which he woos humanity.

That’s our task this Bible Sunday. The Bible is precious, priceless, inspired.
It deserves our best attention for behind the words on the page is the living reality of the Word made flesh.
Let’s, then, join in with the story.
Let’s not be afraid to get things wrong, for errors are part of learning.
The Bible needs us, if it is to have any existence beyond the sterility of the page.
We need the Bible, if we are to gain insights into the ways of God for it is a book that will lead us to God and help us to engage with God in bringing in His kingdom.
It is a gift, to be savoured and celebrated, for it comes laden with the love of God.
Thanks be to God!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Proper 24Yr A - 8.00 at St Matthew's

It is a truth universally acknowledged that nobody loves a tax demand – however much we may appreciate the benefits that our taxes fund. If we're rich enough, we move to an off shore haven, pay advisers handsomely to help us reduce our bill and would undoubtedly celebrate wildly if we could legitimately claim religious exemption from paying our dues. However I don’t think that the chief priests and Pharisees were really hoping for an official “get out clause” when they cornered Jesus in the Temple that day…
They had something quite different in mind.
Over a period of some weeks, Jesus had been preaching seditious stuff…We heard some in our gospel last week as Jesus talked about wedding guests who won’t accept their invitation, leaving the way clear for outsiders to replace them. He ended that story
with the portentous words “Many are called but few are chosen”.
Chosen…an essential element in the identity of the Jewish people.
They are God’s chosen…
But here, as in other places, Jesus has suggested that they might yet be superseded– that the line between insiders and outsiders, between chosen Jews and passed-over Gentiles might after all be rubbed out. Not something that the Jewish authorities would enjoy hearing. So they set out to make trouble, to win a debating point of their own.
“The Pharisees … plotted to entrap him.”
They weren’t just testing Jesus. On the contrary, they tried to trick, him by their question, first softening him up with a compliment "Teacher, we know that you are sincere.”
then moving in for the kill
“Tell us what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the
emperor or not?"

The problem was not only that the taxes were being paid to the Romans, the hated occupying forces, but that the coins with which they had to be paid bore an image of the head of the emperor, the emperor regarded as divine.
This broke the commandment not to make graven images – a fundamental of Jewish law.
So good Jews found themselves with a dilemma – should they obey Jewish law and bring down the wrath of Rome, or keep their heads down,obey Roman law, and thus flout the Torah

There was no easy answer – no way of squaring the circle.
Those who questioned Jesus knew exactly what they were doing . Whatever he said could be used against him, for the question would force him to upset either Jewish leaders as a collaborator, or Romans as a revolutionary.

However, in the event they weren’t quite as clever as they had imagined. When Jesus asked them to show him a coin, at least one of them was able to reach into his pockets and produce one…There, in good Jewish hands, was a graven image – and what’s more, that graven image of the Roman emperor had been brought into the Temple, the most sacred place in the Jewish world.
Cue some embarrassed Pharisees, flushing and shuffling their feet...discomforted just as they had hoped to discomfort Jesus.
Jesus could just have left it there – but he needed to remind them, remind us, of another important truth..

"Give Caesar the things that belong to him" says Jesus.
But then he goes on "and give to God the things that are God's".

Game, set and match to Jesus – in one simple clause.
The coin is the emperor's - it bears his image to state that very clearly. But it's not just the emperor's image that Jesus sees before him. He also sees something that bears the image of God.
Remember Genesis?
"God created humankind in his image, in the image of God
he created them. Male and female he created them."
Whoever we are, wherever we come from, whatever we have done, we each reflect God in some way.
We heard that in our epistle too.
We bear God's image, just as much as the coin bore the image of Caesar.
Give to the emperor what bears his image, says Jesus, but give to God what is his, - nothing less than the whole of us, body mind and spirit.

The psalmist reminds us that the earth is the Lords and everything in it…but it suits us better to gloss over this.
We know that we literally owe God everything but we forget again and again.
We think of things as “ours” or “mine” and wonder how to increase our profits
We separate faith from work and play and sometimes from our brains as well, because logic and faith don’t always go hand in hand. We compartmentalise our time: time for working, time for eating, time for playing, time for family, time for exercise, time for God (about an hour on Sundays, on the whole).
We compartmentalise our money: money for housing, money for food, money for clothes, money for children, money for fun, money for God’s work.
But that’s not how it should be.
Everything – all that we have, all that we are, comes to us through God's generosity.
Made in God’s own image, we belong to the God who calls us by name, each and every day.
Give to God the things that are God's.

Monday, October 10, 2011

The image of God

Another thought from last Thursday's lecture....probably blindingly obvious to most of you, but not something I'd really considered myself.
As we are made in the image of God - we carry a responsibility.

Do you know, I'd really not seen it that way.

I'd understood that the glimmer of God's reflection in us enabled us to love and to create.
I'd understood that we were even able to cry with God at the world's pain.

But I'd not thought of myself as acting as God's ambassador just because I'm human, in the way that I feel myself to be an ambassador for Christ by virtue of my baptism, or for God's church through the grace of my ordination.

Made in the image of God - so what can I do to polish the image, to enable the reflection to be clearer....
Perhaps it doesn't call for a radical change of direction (though John Donne might have thought so) so much as an additional consciousness...and prayer, always, always prayer

Restore thine Image, so much, by thy grace,
That thou may’st know mee, and I’ll turne my face

Sunday, October 09, 2011

"In a moment, in a twinkling of an eye..."

Our neighbouring catholic Anglican  parish has been hosting a rather splendid series of lectures this year, to celebrate the 400 years of the King James Bible...We've heard bishops and deans, former MPs and current Canons - and one way and another it has all been very good.
Usually, though, I've listened with interest, learned something new - and that has been it.
Not so on Thursday, when our speaker was a palliative care specialist, who just happens to be married to our diocesan bishop.
Her topic "Medicine and the Bible" could have gone in many directions and indeed we covered alot of ground in the course of under an hour.
But two things have stayed with me, which I need to reflect and blog on - and somehow, so help me, I WILL find the time before they fade.

The first is that idea represented by the title....that in a split second, as they hear a diagnosis, people's lives are changed.
Someone who isn't feeling that ill goes to collect their test results - and their world is turned upside down.
In the west, we seem to spend an awful lot of our time living in our futures....planning what we will do when X.....saving for retirement (or fretting because saving just doesn't seem to be manageable)....dreaming of the next holiday....
And suddenly, all that is gone.

Alison spoke of the contrasting two-thirds world view...that the future is highly provisional, that the question "What will you be doing in 12 months time?" is almost meaningless, in a context where the fragility of life is taken for granted, and demonstrated day by day. She spoke, too, of the joy that seems to characterise this approach, which leaves you focussed almost entirely on the present. Her words reminded me of the saying I heard again and again in India
"In the west you have clocks - in India, we have time".

Among her hospice patients, she said, that joy is sometimes rediscovered, as the future is contracted into maybe the next day, the next few hours - and hopes, too, become simpler, less demanding...
"Perhaps when I wake I'll feel less sick......My family will be here......The sun will be shining"
It might seem an impoverishment to live in the present simply because you are deprived of the future you imagined....but to really let go of tomorrow and savour today is surely a gift, not a deprivation.

This morning when he arrived at church, my delightful new godson was on very smiley form - and his grins lit up my world. His mum commented that she's very aware, this time round, of the simplicity of his, sleep, love....and we reflected together on the fact that his contentment comes in part from living in the present.

At both ends of life, then, we learn to sit light to time.
I wonder if this helps prepare us for eternity.

Saturday, October 08, 2011

Homily for Trinity 16 A

On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear.
You prepare before me a table in the presence of those who trouble me
Come...everything is ready..come to the wedding banquet.

It's all about feasts today.
The feast we are invited to here and now, as we gather at the Lord's table to receive our Saviour in bread and wine, and that great feast for all people, that will be shared when the kingdom comes.
But there's another feast first, a royal wedding no less.......and lots of people invited.
Weddings, whether royal or otherwise, are all about the future.
We celebrate with the couple, not just because they have found one another but because they are going to spend the rest of their lives together....and if that couple happen to be a prince and his bride, well then their future will include big changes for all the people in their kingdom. It's exciting to be in at the beginning...but, as our Common Worship marriage service reminds us, those who turn up on the day are committing themselves to “uphold the marriage, now and in the years to come”
They are signing up for the long haul.

So, I wonder what we make of those who are invited at first and refuse their invitation?

Matthew has a particular agenda when it comes to God's chosen people, Israel, so I guess this might be just another dig at those observant Jews, the scribes and Pharisees, who believed they were definitely on the “A” list, but refused their invitation to the feast when it came from a rag-tag Messiah with the sort of friends that they'd spent most of their lives avoiding.
But I don't think we can safely confine our reading of the parable to them alone.
I suspect there are wider implications, which we'd be foolish to ignore.

In pretty much any book, it's pretty stupid to refuse an invitation to a royal wedding – and in an era where kings ruled with a rod of iron, it was practically suicidal....
but nonetheless, those invited first had their own plans, their own agendas – and elected to stay away....a decision that cost them dear.
I don't for a moment believe that we're supposed to see their fate as indicative of the way God might act – ..but it IS supposed to make us think.
After all, if we are honest, we often choose to put our own agendas before God's invitation....and our excuses are pretty threadbare, even though we tend to stop short of actual murder.
God invites us, and we have better things to do.
So we find ourselves irritated, angered by the voices that call us to join in a party with guests whose table- manners we can't vouch for, still less their pedigrees.
On the whole, we'd prefer to stay at home.
We couldn't enjoy ourselves if we're expected to sit down beside THEM.
And it IS our choice.
We don't have to share in the feast....but if we won't come, then there are many others who are less fussy...

The royal servants are commanded to invite any Tom, Dick and Harry they find standing around the streets and soon the king's hall is filled with people – good and bad, says the parable.
Remember – a feast for all people...
The only thing these guests have in common is that they want to be there and to share in the future they are being offered.
They are prepared to leave their own business and accept the invitation to join the royal celebrations........and engage, too, with the future they herald.
Let joy be unconfined.

but then Matthew introduces a further complication, absent when this parable appears in Mark & Luke, where we end with general rejoicing.
Not this time.

This time, the king spots one guest who isn’t wearing a wedding robe and, furious, has him ejected from the feast.
That's troubling for us in many ways.
Is wearing the wrong clothes really grounds for expulsion, to the place of wailing and gnashing of teeth?

We no longer find ourselves bound by dress codes on the whole...and it's very hard for us to understand what could be so dreadful in any outfit that it would warrant explusion from the feast.
Often, for grand celebrations, suitable clothes were provided as part of the invitation (this still happens at grand weddings in India, where female guests are routinely presented with wonderful saris to ensure that they are all equally splendid on the great day) in turning up in inappropriate clothes, the guest is apparently snubbing his host, the king.
There's no need for him to appear in workaday clothes, but he just can't be bothered to change...
In other words, though he's physically present, he's not really committed to the celebration, or to the future that it heralds.

He won’t get changed, literally, and that shows the king that he isn’t going to be any use practically as the work of the kingdom gets under way. He’ll come to the party, but he doesn’t want what it celebrates to make any difference to his life.

Matthew’s version of this story tells us that being a Christian is not simply about getting a ticket to the banquet, a seat at the table. It is about being involved in the making of God’s kingdom – being part of his work. And that means being prepared to get changed, not physically into fine clothes, but by letting God transform us inwardly, showing us where we need to grow, where we need to repent and make amends, where we need to learn to
love and to be loved, to forgive and be forgiven, to give help, and to accept it. It doesn’t matter how old or how young we are, how sorted or how messy our lives are, when we stop getting changed, we stop growing. If you
are the same person as you were a year ago, or ten years ago, if you are still carrying the same resentments, repeating patterns you know aren’t healthy, if you know no more of the Bible now than you did then, then there is something that needs changing...
perhaps through prayer, perhaps through talking to someone you trust, perhaps through some decisive action you have havered over for many years.

We all need to get changed.

To live is to change” says the proverb “and to be perfect is to have changed often”
But, you know, despite the implications of our gospel, I refuse to be pessimistic.
When it comes to it, I don't honestly believe that any of us will refuse our invitations.
We may postpone our decision
We may try hard to find a better place to be, a more entertaining party.......
but when the kingdom comes, when all tears are wiped from our faces, when all disgrace is taken away........then, I believe that through God's grace, and at his Son's expense, we will all sit down and eat
the rich feast he has spread for all peoples.

(I'm indebted to a colleague from the PRCL list for both kick starting me with this, and providing the substance of the penultimate paragraph. Thank you, Anne)

Sunday, October 02, 2011

I have a dream

Yesterday the children from Valley Church School gathered in the church for their Harvest Festival. The service, planned entirely by the school, though with a slot for a "word" from me if I felt so moved, was just lovely.
Readings, prayers, songs were all presented beautifully and a good crowd of parents turned up to support their children, and obliged the vicar by sharing in the inter-active story telling with the appropriate actions and sound effects. 
Believe me, 200 assorted adults and children all being trees and waving their branches in the breeze is a sight to behold!

Towards the end of the service, the children sang "I'm going to paint a perfect picture"
a song that I first met when the vicarage children were primary aged themselves. 
"I'm going to paint a perfect picture
A world of make-believe
No more hunger, war or suffering
The world I'd like to see"

There was a slot immediately after this for "Prayers and Blessing" - so I asked the children whether they thought that the world they had sung about had to be make-believe - or was it something they could help to create? A smattering of hands suggested that some still believed they could make a difference.
Then I asked if they'd LIKE to make a world like that.
All the children's hands went up...which was a help when we began our prayers.

But what shocked me most was that, even when I asked again, barely a dozen adults thought that the world of the song was worth hoping for, working for, believing in.
They were so sure that there was no possibility of such a dream becoming reality that they weren't prepared to invest even a token gesture of hope in it.

Simply heartbreaking.
I know life isn't easy here in the valley - but to have completely lost sight of a better future...
I came home and wept for them.

For my godson

Tomorrow, Benedict John Timothy, you will be baptised by your godmother at church in the valley, where your father is a curate.
His will be the words we will hear then...but I wanted to record here how significant your Baptism is, not just to me but to the whole church community here.

The joy of welcoming you into the family of the church is tremendous.
So often, I baptise babies, knowing that it is unlikely that I'll see them again for a good long while....and the precious, beloved god-children I've been trusted with up til now have mostly lived too far away for me to see much of their growth in life or faith.

Benedict, by God's grace, for you it will be different.
Before you were born, we prayed for you and I blessed you in the womb, asking God to bring you safely and smoothly into the world.
Since your birth, you've been with us for worship week by week.
We've watched you become ever more responsive, so that last week at Messy Church your presence alone would have kept the teenaged girls content and engaged all afternoon.
Tomorrow, I will ask the congregation
"People of God, will you welcome Benedict, and support him in his new life in Christ"
knowing that there is a real possibility that we will be able to do just pray for you, to take you for walks when you need to be rocked, to play with you as you turn from baby to toddler, to little boy...

The liturgy tomorrow says all that we will need, but your namesake, Benedict wrote not just a Rule that has influenced countless men and women through the centuries, but a prayer that could hardly be better for you as you begin your journey in faith.
I'm praying it for you tonight

Gracious and holy Father,
please give me:
intellect to understand you;
reason to discern you;
diligence to seek you;
wisdom to find you;
a spirit to know you;
a heart to meditate upon you;
ears to hear you;
eyes to see you;
a tongue to proclaim you;
a way of life pleasing to you;
patience to wait for you;
and perseverance to look for you.

Grant me:
a perfect end,
your holy presence.
A blessed resurrection,
And life everlasting.

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Homily for Proper 22 A - All Saints BCP & Evensong

Who do you think you are?

That's a question that I found myself asking with some anxiety yesterday afternoon, as I attended the induction of a new pastor at Ebley Chapel...
You see, the Christians of that denomination have very clear ideas about the role of women and those ideas do not include any element of leadership.
Having been invited to attend as the leader of their neighbouring place of worship, I duly turned up in my dog collar – and realised that they had probably been praying quietly that I wouldn't come.
I felt that it mattered that I was there...but nonetheless as the service progressed it was hard not to at least ask the question
Who do you think you are?”

It's a question that both epistle and gospel might bring to mind.
Paul, of course, starts off by declaring his credentials – and they are impeccable.
It sounds for a few moments as if he's committing that unforgivable social sin of blowing his own trumpet – but then, in verse 7, everything changes.
We are suddenly brought up short – just as he himself was once brought up short on the road to Damascus.
A line is drawn under all those proud accolades of birth and education
It may have sounded good but, says Paul – it is without value, rubbish
whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ

It's that heart-stopping moment that we may experience, perhaps, when we first fall in love...The moment when the whole landscape of our world changes and we realise that what looked like hills are now valley, while the dips and troughs are transformed into lofty peaks....when we realise that nothing we knew before really mattered.


Who do you think you are?

It's a question worth considering.

Is your first answer something to do with those bits of yourself that others see....the successful businessman, the loving parent, the community servant?
Of course those identities matter – for they are part of the way in which you serve God in the world
But there's a danger in them too...if they divert you from your primary calling, to be a child of God and disciple of Christ, knowing and known by your Saviour.
The problem with the tenants of the vineyard in Matthew's parable is not that they weren't working well in the vineyard but that they'd lost sight of their identity as tenants.
They wanted to believe that the vineyard, and all its harvest, belonged to them.
They had forgotten who they were and abandoned their relationship with the Landlord so thoroughly that they thought nothing of beating up and killing his emissaries...even his Son.
That way, they thought, they could be independent forever.

We all like's a cardinal virtue in today's world...but it is only ever an illusion.
Like all those other things that Paul lists, the sources of pride that he might have clung to, it has no eternal value at all.

Nothing does, nothing, beyond that amazing love affair that God has with us, and that we can have with Him.

Who do you think you are?
You are the one whom God calls to share in the death of his Son, so that you might also share his resurrection.

Who do you think you are?
You are a tenant in God's vineyard, called to bear fruit for Him, and Him alone.

Who do you think you are?
You are God's beloved – and as such, you have infinite value, value beyond anything you could ever hope to achieve by your own efforts or your wildest dreams.

So, together, let us  press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.