Saturday, February 23, 2013

Going home...a homily for Lent 2 C

At our Lent groups this year we are exploring Henri Nouwen's book “The return of the prodigal son” - a deep, sustained meditation on the parable as it's presented in the Rembrandt painting. On Thursday we focussed on what it means for the son to leave home, on his rebellion and his wanderings. We explored the ways that we too leave our true home with God, through the choices we make every day...and began to imagine what homecoming might mean for both son and father.
If that first session is anything to go on, I think we are in for an engaging and thought-provoking Lent.

Of course you'll have noticed that today's readings do NOT feature the prodigal son in any way shape or form...but they are, I think, very much about the journey home...and about that Love that invites us all to make our home with Him.

Our Genesis reading introduces us to Abram –already embarked on the journey of faith that transformed his life.
Abram and Sarai, a childless couple leaving home – on the strength of a promise that home and family lie ahead ..a family as numerous as the stars in the sky.
A family wedded to their land, but asked to leave it behind them...with no idea where they might finally settle.
It's either madness or faith – (have you noticed how often they seem rather similar!)..
but Abram “believed the Lord and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness”
and we know that in due time God's promises were made good, the gift of a child was given and a new homeland claimed.

Our journey too takes us to a new place...somewhere we never expected to find ourselves.
We too are asked to leave behind the ways in which we have sought security...
Our citizenship is in heaven” says Paul.
What a thought...that we might have a new identity, a transformed security found not in material things nor in human relationships but in the place that WE have been promised...and the central relationship that we can have with God.
One thing I have asked of the Lord; one thing I seek; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life to behold the fair beauty of the Lord....”
Those words from psalm 27 were printed on my ember card, when I was ordained priest – to encourage me to take a longer view...
When I'm in danger of getting bogged down by the demands of parish life, when I seem to be making all the wrong choices, when the voices in my head are telling me
This enterprise is doomed” then I need that reminder...that I, and those I care for, are travelling home to the place where we will see for ourselves the fair beauty of the Lord, the end of all our exploration

(With the drawing of this Love and the voice of this
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.)

And while we are travelling, taking wrong turnings, mistaking our destination and being distracted by sights along the way ..what's going on for God?
The gospel makes that obvious
He is aching for us...reaching out with endless longing love...never forcing us but totally intent on drawing us to Him.
Jerusalem, Jerusalem...How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing”
Like any parent whose child has gone astray, God is straining forward, his one aim our homecoming.
God longs to shelter us in welcome us to our true home, the place where each one of us can be fully ourselves, where there is no need to wear a mask, no need to pretend...and no need to fear.

Do not be afraid Abram.....Kathryn......Eira.....Mary......June....”

Because, surely, home is the place where you are truly safe.
The place where you find sanctuary when life is tough...the place where you are always welcome, no matter what...

Do not be afraid.
You're on the way home...on the way to the place where you belong, the place where you are always welcome,
Lord you have made us for yourself and our hearts are restless til they find their rest in you”
wrote Augustine, no stranger to the excitements and struggles of life...

So journey through Lent in confidence.
Our road may be the way of the cross...for we are called to follow Jesus to Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets...but beyond the cross are the open arms of our Father who says to each one of us
Welcome home”

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Not half empty! - some notes on the Asset Based Community Development conversation

Today I was a delighted member of a group of church leaders meeting in the Forest of Dean.
On a beautiful morning, the drive there was pleasure enough - but the arrival was even better.
You see, we met at the headquarters of the Salvation Army in the Forest - a former pub that is now a welcoming community cafe and shop - inspiring in itself, before even the conversation started.

But the conversation was what I had come for.
Last summer I met Aidan, working with the Barnwood Trust to encourage community development across Gloucestershire...and he'd shared with me a philosophy that seemed to speak directly into the needs of my slightly run-down, none-too-confident parish.
I was excited but couldn't quite see how to pursue it - til I read mentions of the same approach on twitter. Further meetings & conversations, including a brilliant day in Birmingham, reinforced my conviction that Asset Based Community Development (ABCD) makes the best sense - whatever your context...

Let me explain.
 When working with a struggling community - or indeed a struggling church - it's very tempting to start by lamenting what cannot be done...The glass is half empty....This community's shortcomings are the most important thing about it...and it needs rescuing, probably by a paid expert outsider.

We've all seen examples of this approach...the "hit and run" development worker who arrives full of initiatives to address the perceived needs of a community, works with them, creating a new layer of dependence, til the funding runs out, - and then disappears, leaving them pretty much exactly where they were before.
Living in what has been very much a "done to" neighbourhood, I can vouch for the disabling effect of this approach - as ineffective in bringing about long-term transformation as the "Father knows best" school of ministry has been in building churches full of engaged and active Christians.

But suppose you look at it the other way.
Focus not on the top half of that glass but the bottom.
The glass is half full.
In every community, regardless of its perceived deprivation, there are people with unique talents and gifts - of the head, the hand or the heart
People who have strengths they could contribute, if we could only engage them - for to foster a genuine community, we need the gifts of all.

Two decades ago, in the early days of Local Ministry I read 
"God has already planted in your church all that it needs to BE church for your community" - so this approach felt very much like coming home - to a place where instead of service users/consumers the focus is on gift-givers, collaborators in building community (and, by God's grace, the kingdom too)

We were a group from a huge range of different churches - some more concerned with evangelism, others intent on service, pure and simple.
Of course, even service can be counter-productive...for it's all too easy to decide 
"What YOU need is......." but ABCD is all about working as partners, a slower process but one that has a strength that the quick-fix "let me do it for you" will never match.

Effective community-building depends on deep listening to the community...on celebrating its strengths and recognising its passions, on asking again and again what each individual cares about so much that they will DO something.
"Where your treasure is, there is your heart also..." and indeed the reverse "Where your heart is, there is your treasure"...for the passionate energy that lights up the true enthusiast is the greatest gift in uniting disparate individuals to form community.
There's no place for a superhero flying in to the rescue...a challenge for church leaders, so often outsiders placed in a community in order to make things happen - and often with a quite specific brief or expectation of what those things might be.
That's where the story behind the Sally Army presence in the Forest was specially inspiring as Viv explained just how much of the SA's traditions they had had to set aside in order to follow the dream that God had given them, told us of a chain of unlikely prompts and off-the-wall connections that came together with wonderful results.
Of course it's risky - but, Viv stressed, there are no failures...for the things that don't fly are no less valuable as learning experiences and nothing is ever wasted.
"Will you go where you don't know and never be the same?" 
Those serious about Kingdom building can expect to be changed in the process...and there's no possibility of half measures...of partial involvement, going home to somewhere more salubrious at the end of a working day. This is deeply incarnational
"The Word became flesh and moved into the neighbourhood"

To deliver a package of "help" with predetermined boundaries is one thing; to explore together what might focus life and energy in that community is quite another - but you know, God really is quite busily at work outside the churches and our well-intentioned programmes! 
ABCD resonates splendidly with the Mission Shaped Church agenda
"See what God is up to and join in"
Rather than imposing a solution to imagined problems, it seeks to celebrate what is already there and build on that.

So - here's my story of a step on the way towards Kingdom building...a story of riches discovered where I'd expected misery and want. It's proof that we are, each one of us, both half-full and half-empty....with a balance of strength and weakness that needs must propel us into working together so that we can both share our gifts and receive, joyfully, the gifts of others.

Six years ago, in Bangalore, I found myself enthralled and inspired by the CSI projects for street children. Before I visited, I had expected to have my heart wrung, to be full of pity for these children, growing up in abject poverty.
I was sure that I would long to bring each and every one of them home!
That was the only thing I got right!
Those children were so full of joy, and their grasp of what is truly important was so clear and compelling that  I found myself envying them.
I did indeed long to bring them home - because I wanted everyone I knew, but most specially the young people of my church, to learn from them, to connect with that deep delight in the gift of life, that gratitude for each day as it comes, that ability to celebrate the present moment.
Til I went there, I had imaged their glass must be half empty....but for all their desperate poverty, they were rich beyond my imaginings and their glass was not just half full, but truly overflowing.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

All my hope - a response to this morning's "Together at Ten"

"God unknown
He alone calls my heart to be his own"

we sang this morning, to that wonderful Howell's tune "Michael"....and that theme unfolded in so many ways, both intended and unexpected, as the service went on.

We listened to Luke's account of the temptations and realised once again that Lent was our opportunity to make sure that it was God that had our hearts.
We looked at some of my very favourite temptations....the joy of shoes, of white chocolate with raspberries, of lovely shiny technology
Not bad things in themselves, obviously (I do SO love those purple shoes) but not the place to give our hearts.
More insidious, perhaps, is the temptation to let our churches, both the buildings and the whole wonderful, exasperating, joyous muddle of congregational life become an end in themselves.
How often do I substitute doing things FOR God (in the form of God's church) for doing things WITH God......or better yet, allowing God to do things WITH me.

We considered too the temptation to worldly power, that Jesus resisted.
I thought I might not be so very troubled by that one - til I realised how much it matters to me that things in my church are done "properly" (whatever that means - and whatever mad yardstick I may use to measure it)
And I wondered whether the whole "busyness" thing was part and parcel of the same temptation - to make myself indispensable...
"Look how much I'm doing. You can't possibly manage without me. See how full my diary is!".

By the time we'd thought about all that, I was glad that I'd given everyone a scrappy bit of paper on which to note those things which might hold our hearts in thrall, when truly they belong to God.
We talked about spring cleaning our hearts and then shredded those bits of paper, before making new acts of commitment to God, represented by paper hearts to carry with us as we continue our journey through Lent.

For me, it all came together at the offertory, as we sang "Purify my heart".
"My heart's one desire is to be holy, set apart for you Lord
I choose to be holy, set apart for you my Master, ready to do your will".

I choose to be holy.

I know I'm a long way from being able to sing, or say, with complete truth, that this is my one desire...
I want so many things - those caricatured in the "tempting objects" of the morning, but others too, things good in themselves that too easily crowd in to fill the space belonging to God alone.
But for all that, holiness IS a choice...a choice to continue, despite all the innumerable distractions and false leads, despite the lead-weight of baggage that we insist on carting with, to try to come close to God, who promises that, as he has called us, he will make us worthy of that calling.
"God shall call one and all, We who follow shall not fall"

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Homily for Lent 1 C

Jesus was led by the Spirit in the wilderness.

That's something we need to remember. The wilderness – a landscape of disorientation,loneliness,and deprivation – is nonetheless the place where God's Spirit is present and active.

That may not be the way it felt to Jesus for those 40 days as he fasted and struggled...but though he was famished, empty – he was FULL of the Holy Spirit...the Spirit who never left him, even for a moment.

Standing, as we do, outside the gospel story we might assume that Jesus always knew what would happen, was always sure of himself – but surely as he emptied himself of his divinity to become fully human, Jesus also emptied himself of divine foreknowledge. His wilderness experience was REAL for him – not something manufactured as a teaching point for us.

But against all expectation, that place of deprivation and loneliness became a place of self-discovery and of blessing – for Jesus and for us too.

Each of the temptations offered him were temptations to be LESS than his true self.
IF you are the Son of God – command this stone to become a loaf”
Why not?
What harm could it do
He was famished, after all.
Jesus knew he COULD produce bread from practically nothing (think of the feeding of the 5000) – but to do so now would be to step outside the limitations of his humanity, just for his own benefit.
That's the nub of it.
To value oneself above all else is the root and ground of all genuine temptation – and surely one of the strongest voices in society today...
We're encouraged to see ourselves as privileged consumers, to focus on our own rights, to delight in having free choice in most things.
It's disturbingly easy, as you look at 21st century western culture, to believe that it really IS all about ME I am thankful that Jesus met this head on.
Not for him “Because I'm worth it...”
Rather in his steadfast insistence that
We do not live by bread alone” Jesus reminds us that there are things of deeper importance than gratifying our own desires. We are creatures made to exist in relationship – above all in relationship to God, whose word shapes our lives.

So far, so good.
Jesus stays true to himself but next comes the temptation of power, an easy route to victory – all gain with no pain. To yield would mean Jesus ruling the world – but enthralled to Satan and thus so much less than himself.

Later Jesus would show all times and all people that God's power is made perfect in weakness, - for the greatest moment of his glory was when he was lifted on the cross, in powerless vulnerability. I don't think Satan understood that power – not then, not ever.
For now Jesus simply asserts that all worship belongs to God...worship offered elsewhere is meaningless and empty – for worship is all about putting things in their proper order..
God first.

Finally he's encouraged to make God PROVE that he cares.
Go on.....jump....He'll save you if you're THAT special”
I know I fall into this one again and again....for despite all the evidence I find it hard to really believe that I am loved and worthy of salvation...I doubt the once and for all validity of the love-offering of the cross, continue to struggle with the outrageous grace of a God who cares enough to share our human life AND our human death...triumphantly demonstrating that there's nothing He won't do for us
Because you're worth it”
Jesus is the proof of God's love – not a needy recipient of it....and in this 3rd exchange we hear him coming into his own the Scripture he speaks becomes in itself a declaration
Do not put the Lord your God to the test”
Yes, Jesus is quoting...but as he rejects the idea of tempting God he is also sending the tempter packing...routing him from his work of tempting God made man in Christ.

So through these temptations Jesus discovers his true identity and the course he is to take.
The same is true for us.
Our temptations are important in helping us to recognise the flaws and weaknesses, the engrained distortions of reality that we barely notice any more...They may, like those we've heard about today, attract us at first because they seem to be routes to a greater good...but in fact they are byways, leading nowhere.

During Lent, we are each of us invited to spend time considering both who we are and who God calls us to be. That's the point of it all.
We go into our own wilderness to seek God in the silence.
We can be confident that even in that unfriendly landscape the Spirit is there, leading us, helping us to strip away the small props and luxuries that we've come to rely on, enabling us to increase our conscious dependence on Him.

The wilderness is the place where we recognise who we are, our own particular temptations, and face them head on, so that we might come to a deeper understanding of our own nature.
It's quiet out there – a good place to spend this time listening.
Listen to the voice of your ego, the one that insists “Go on.......because your worth it” and in listening come to a greater understanding of your own struggles and difficulties.
But having listened to yourself, listen even harder to the still small voice of God.
Expect to hear Him – and pay attention to his transforming words of love.

Friday, February 15, 2013

So...what AM I doing for Lent?

Friday already...3 precious days of transformation behind me - and I seem to be drinking wine and eating pretty much what I feel like (within the constraints of the "build a better Kathryn" campaign, which continues unabated).
But I feel more engaged by and with Lent this year than for some what AM I actually doing?

Well - I'm doing LESS.
My Spiritual Director has charged me with spending 10 minutes a day being still before God...Not praying...not fidgeting over my faults and failings or hurling a frantic battery of entreaties but just being present in silence and whatever inner silence I can muster...being still.

Meanwhile, I had been enjoying  "Beyond Busyness" - after someone recommended it when I found myself with an unexpected reading day. The lack of regular activity on this blog is testimony to my daily struggles with time management - with discerning the difference between the important and the urgent, with frittering precious time simply because I'm too busy to work out how to use it I was ready for anything but unprepared for how wonderful "time wisdom" is
I'm not going to try and summarise the book - if you CANT find the time to read it, then you surely really need to! - but I will try and track my progress in not being busy through this Lent.
Thus far, it feels lovely - spacious,  thoughtful - qualitatively different

And - I'm doing something really special too.
I'm spending time every evening listening to a beloved piece of Lenten music...Not doing anything else. Just listening.
It's wonderful :)

Here's today's

Signed with the cross

I will never forget the impact of my first Ash Wednesday as a priest - and repetition has done nothing to diminish the effect.
I made my way along the altar rail, tracing the cross in ash on foreheard after forehead.
It's a surprisingly intimate act...
When I offer the Blessed Sacrament, it matters hugely that I get myself out of the way - that I in no way intrude in that holy moment when God places Godself into cupped hands.
Ashing is different...for it is a moment when together we contemplate our common mortality.
"Remember, you are dust and to dust you shall return"

Every year, I wonder if I am being prophetic...whether one or other of us will not be kneeling here in 52 weeks time. 

I remember those whose foreheads I have marked - and whose funerals I have taken.
Tony, Elizabeth, Vera, Ivy, Harry, Richard - and others too.

Just a few days before, I traced the cross in the oil of catechumens at Baptism, reminding those gathered that the cross is more than just an invisible name-tape that confirms that "this child belongs to Jesus". It is, too, an indication of the shape of things to come - of the dying to self that is at the heart of our Christian journey.

We are on a continuum.
From the Ash Wednesday Eucharist I drive to the Crematorium for another encounter with job now not to remind those present of their ultimate destination but to hold the flickering candle of faith as firmly as I can, so that those mired deep in grief may yet find their way home.

"He remembers we are but dust.
We flourish as a flower of the field.
When the wind goes over it, it is gone
And its place will know it no more"

There's such desolation in that line "Its place will know it no more"
Will we too be utterly forgotten?

And yet - that wind! It need not, after all, be the chilly blast of destruction but the life-giving wind of the Spirit, moving over the void to bring new life.
"The merciful goodness of the Lord endures forever and his righteousness upon their children's children"

"Rejoice, oh dust and ashes - the Lord shall be your part"

Mine is the voice of certainty. It is my role to believe for everyone present - and the liturgy enables this most wonderfully.

Now the cross is a signpost...I trace it once again as I commend the departed to God's care
"Go forth upon your journey..."
The cross is not only the way mark - it IS the way home.

"Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.
Turn away from sin and be faithful to Christ"

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

What are you doing for Lent?”
It's a surprisingly common question – which could safely be translated as “What are you giving up for Lent?”.....but if I'm honest I'd rather start somewhere else.
Don’t ask what you can do for Lent, but rather what Lent can do for you.”
A good line, which I owe to the former Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster...but one that rather goes against the current grain of the church – where we’re rightly encouraged not JUST to view Lent as a process of giving up, but rather of taking on.
The argument runs thus.
"Instead of pointless self denial, or a mini-detox process – another attempt at those failed New Year resolutions,an exercise in giving up chocolate loudly, just so that other people can see how seriously you take your faith – you'd much better embrace something positive, and use Lent as a time in which to work at making things better."
BE the change you want to see” is the tag line for this year's “Love life, live Lent” programme...and there are others like it...myriad ways in which you can commit to a different generous task for each of the next 40 days.
And of course it is always good to spend more time in practically loving our neighbours....and there is so much to many ways in which we can and should make a difference.

So - please don’t misunderstand me!
I’m delighted that these projects are running, and I’m looking forward to following some through myself,- but reflecting on our readings for today, I was struck with a sudden anxiety that, in our determination to see Lent make a huge difference to the world around us, we’re somehow missing the point.

This year in particular, as we’ve rushed headlong from Advent, through Christmas and Epiphany tide, to arrive breathless today with but one “green” Sunday in between, - it may be that more activism is not what is called for.
After all, frenetic displacement activity can often be an excellent strategy to avoid working on something we find painful – and part of the purpose of Lent surely remains the call to penitence…which is never easy, and frequently uncomfortable, even painful.
Much safer, after all, to get involved in a community litter picking expedition!
Sign me up now!

Of course, the original point of “giving things up” was to de-clutter heart, mind and soul to allow a clearer focus on the things that need attention, the inner concerns that we may prefer to evade.
Rend your heart and not your garments” says Joel…
so we do need to spend time this Lent considering those parts of ourselves, our lives and beings that might need rending – tearing out – to enable us to become more fully the people God made us to be.
Those parts which need to go are the ones touched by that unfashionable reality, sin.
It’s amazing how hard it is to bring up the subject, even in a sermon to be preached in the safety of my own church on a day when it would surely be a strange priest who did not even mention sin!
But it seems that sin has become almost a taboo word…I know I tend to skirt round it, to talk about brokenness…failure…destructive habits…and perhaps that’s right when I’m trying to help someone else make sense of their own journey.
But when I come before God to consider the health of my own soul, then surely it’s time to be honest…to look hard at the reality of who I am, and the gulf between that and the person I long to be…and to name those habits of mind and behaviour that ensure that the gap continues to yawn wide.
And the name of those habits – those selfish choices, those failures to trust God with the people I hold most dear, those recurrent patterns of sheer nastiness –, well, that’s sin.

Today we enact the truth of this. We spend time like the psalmist acknowledging our faults, we lament that our sin is ever before us, within us, around us.
Perhaps this Lent might be the time to actually work a bit harder on changing things…on using the wonderful help that the Church offers us in both the general confession and in the sacrament of reconciliation to embark on a new start.
It's not easy – for few truly worthwhile things ever are...but if not easy, it is emphatically worth it...liberating, life-changing, life -giving, soul-transforming.
No matter what we bring before God – we can be confident of the outcome.
Because, wonderfully, once we have confronted the reality of our fallen humanity, we open ourselves to the God who is “ gracious and merciful,slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love”.
The people Joel talked of wept and lamented, but they wept and lamented in the presence of a God who was always ready to forgive and to heal. This is not the end for them but the beginning. Admitting to God that something is wrong with your
soul, or your attitudes, or your relationships, or whatever is the first
step to finding the real joy he means you to have, just as admitting to a doctor that something is wrong with your body is the first step to physical healing.
A dear friend, a priest in another place, told me once that he no longer uses the familiar words “you are dust and to dust you shall return” as he marks his people with the cross on Ash Wednesday.
Instead, he uses some of the loving words of Jesus - perhaps
I do not call you servants, but friends” “God loves the world so much” “Abide in my love”
As you confront your own sinfulness, hear those words deep in your soul – and let them transform you there.
And in answering the church’s invitation to a holy Lent, don’t be too busy…Love life by all means, - and live Lent too, but do so as one conscious of sin, and open to forgiveness, so that you can truly rejoice in what Lent can, by God's grace, do for you.

Saturday, February 09, 2013

8.00 homily for the Sunday before Lent, Yr C. Glimpses of glory.

It's time I had my eyes tested! After a lifetime of wearing contact lenses for short-sightedness, then a few years when I could read fine if I took off my glasses, I'm beginning to realise that any day now I'll need to put ON reading glasses...which presumably means I'll need to revert to contacts once more. So I guess I've always been aware that vision isn’t something to take for granted,- and I'm sure that I often I fail to see things clearly, or recognise them for what they are.

Today we celebrate a moment in Jesus’s ministry when his identity became almost literally blindingly obvious. Even though we have left the season of Epiphany behind us, today we hear about a true epiphany – a moment of recognition that changed everything.
There on the mountain, everything that Peter, James and John had begun to suspect about their Master, became blazingly clear in the strong and mysterious light radiating from his body and face. The disciples were permitted a glimpse of God’s transcendent glory on the face of Jesus... For a brief moment, the veil which separates the invisible from the visible, the future from the present, was lifted, and everything was wonderfully clear.No room for any doubt...Jesus is THE ONE!
They had been prepared for this by a long tradition in Jewish Scriptures. Moses had his own direct visions of shining wonder, as he encountered God on the Mountain – and the reflected radiance was such that he had to veil his own face to protect others from the glare.
Now on another mountain the disciples saw Jesus emerging from that great tradition…speaking with Moses and Elijah, his glory outshining them both.
Moses could lead the way to the Promised Land, but couldn't enter himself. Elijah could enter the heavens, but could take no one else with him.
But something greater, someone greater is here.
Jesus not only leads the way, as the pioneer of our salvation, he is the way that allows the rest of us to reach home – and his presence makes this holy ground.

Unsurprisingly, the disciples both rise to the occasion and fall characteristically flat on their faces.
They can't miss what's going on, - but their response is way off key! Peter does it again, rushing in with both feet, intent on capturing the moment. He has recognised God here, in this place on this day,- so if he can only build the right structure, he is sure he’ll be able to guarantee God’s presence forever.

Let’s build three booths….or a prayer hut….. or a Cathedral”

Wherever we have once encountered God, we want to safeguard that encounter, to pour over it like a miser turning over his gold…when really we should turn from our encounters, our faces glowing like Moses, to our own task of enlivening and enlightening the world.

The Transfiguration is a beginning, a promise of what is to come, a vision of the glory we anticipate for the whole world once Jesus' redeeming work among us in complete. But we can spot that glory here and now as well...if we only open our eyes. This week I've glimpsed it as I listened to an elderly couple tell of the care they gave to his estranged father in the final years of his life, despite health problems of their own...In a visit to another elderly couple, both grappelling with life-threatening illness, whose love and delight in one another turns an ordinary little house in Cashes Green into holy ground...and in the mutual support and dedication of the whole of the St Matthew's School community as they worked together through an OFSTED inspection...
They might not seem remarkable things to you – but I promise you, they were, for a moment or two, alive with the glory of God, brim full of His love, that changes everything...

In just 3 days Lent begins...a season to simplify our lives and refine our take time out,  to read, to pray, to deepen our relationship with God...
but may I challenge you, too, to walk with your eyes and your heart open, so that you may both see and celebrate the signs of God's glory breaking through in our world. There may be more transfiguration around than you imagine. 

Saturday, February 02, 2013

My eyes have seen your all-age reflection for Candlemass

I spy with my little eye....something beginning with C

Might be the cross
Might be the crib
Might be the candles
Might be the congregation
Might even be Communion

Actually – I want us to think about all of those today....

I wonder if, as we sang our opening hymn, anyone remembered when we last sang it here together.
It was, as it happens, our opening hymn on Christmas day – though on that occasion the words told another story...a simpler one, perhaps, of shepherds, angels and visiting kings...come together at the crib to worship a new born king.
We have continued our celebrations for the 40 days since (and one more for good measure) because, you know, it takes TIME to assimilate the wonder of God here with us...God as a helpless baby,open to all the horrible things that can, and do, still happen in our world.
So we've stayed at the crib – some of us have prayed beside it nearly every day – and rejoiced that Jesus is for life, not just for Christmas

Today, though, the baby leaves the crib behind and is taken to the Temple...where Simeon and Anna play their own game of I spy, spotting that little family as they arrive with their 2 turtledoves...
They've waited long – perhaps come close to giving up completely...but then the day dawns when they see and recognise heaven in ordinary – acclaiming it, - so that others too may know and rejoice.

But even as they celebrate the Christ – the promised, anointed one.....they spot too the shadow of the cross.

“A sword shall pierce your soul too” says Simeon to Mary...and for a moment the cold wind of mortality chills us all. Candlemas is the time when we turn from Christmas towards Passiontide. We cannot plead ignorance. The celebration of Christ's birth carries within it the sadness of his death – just as at the end of this service, as we process from the crib to the font, we will say the words that I use to close a funeral service
Lord, now let your servant go in peace. Your word has been fulfilled...”

Candlemas is a feast where birth and death can seem very close – for us, as for that baby boy.


And that, quite simply, is what we all have to do.
WE have to see and recognise Jesus – wherever we encounter him...
We need to be alert to spot him in the crowd – and we may have to point him out to others too.

Of course we celebrate his presence here week by week – in Communion, in our friends and neighbours in the congregation...
But when we leave here we don't, we mustn't, expect to leave Christ behind us.
Each of us carries the light of his presence, the light of his love within us

So – that's where those candles come in...Their flames show us things that might be hidden, light up dark corners, bring warmth and hope to even the darkest times
And for us today they are a reminder of our baptism – when each of us was given the light of Christ and commissioned to bear it wherever we go
There will be dark times ahead – there always are.....but today, just as much as on Christmas Eve when we heard John's wonderful prologue, we rejoice that “the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has never put it out”
Our task, then, is to share that light...To carry the candles of faith, hope and love out into the world so that others may see and recognise Christ

“Shine as a light in the world, to the glory of God the Father”