Monday, December 19, 2011

Christmas Card

As regular blog readers will know, I am never organised enough to do cards and gave in a few years ago. Instead I once again offer a video Greetings card to you all.

In this one, there are various images of the visit of the Archangel Gabriel to Mary as described in Luke 1.26-38.

It has made me think too of the great poem by Nicola Slee (available in The Book of Mary - recommended purchase!):

Fiat (Luke 1:38)

I uttered myself
I claimed my voice
I was not afraid to question

I held my ground
I made my yes
looking straight into the angel's eyes
(any slave girl could have been beaten or raped for less)

There was no mastery here
Nothing was taken from me
Everything was given

Here I am:
See me


Consider it, if you will as an invitation to listen out for God this Christmas and an encouragement to find your YES.

Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Preaching on John the Baptist take 5

You would have thought that having preached on John the Baptist no less than four times (which begins too look less than it did when I had been in ministry only five years now I've clocked up nearly ten!) that I would have a John the Baptist sermon for every eventuality but as it transpired the sermon I had forgotten to write for this morning (until yesterday afternoon) was on John the Baptist but NOT on the readings I had preached on before. So it was that the sermon below came into existence in only a couple of hours. I didn't have high hopes for it but in the end was rather pleased with it.

(readings below)
Our readings this morning talk to us a little about the Nature of God but rather more about what the nature of those who are called to follow him should be. This is apt as those words addressed to John the Baptist "What do you say about yourself?"

We heard about the Nature of God as light. As our Gospel reading said, John “came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.” 

Light is an important part of Christmas - very much if the lights on one of the houses in my street are anything to go by - but also in the original Christmas story – the star leads the magi, we light a candle each Sunday on our advent wreath and of course, as we heard in the Gospel, Jesus coming into the world is described as light

You might think of that famous painting The Light of the World by William Holman Hunt with the figure of Christ knocking at a door – an old wooden door with no handle and with weeds growing up in front of it. It’s a beautiful painting rich with imagery – a fallen apple at Christ’s feet, his lamp cut with small stars looking much like a Christmas lantern his golden crown also interwoven with thorns. Hunt when asked said of the painting

"The closed door was the obstinately shut mind. The weeds the cumber of daily neglect, the accumulated hindrance of our spiritual idleness. ...It is the door of the human heart, and that can only be opened from the inside." 

Hopefully we are those who have had the courage to open that door and let the light of Christ into our lives. Because our readings today also talk about our role. Like John, We’re NOT the light but we’re here to show the light – a bit like a film or slide projector, projecting light onto the wall. The projector may be a very complicated piece of equipment – it may need special skill to set it up and get it just right but the projector is not the thing we want people to look at but the image it projects.

We, like John, need to testify to the light through our lives. We’re not saying we have to be perfect but the way we Christians live says something about the God we believe in. Paul was writing to the people at Thessalonica about how their lives should be shaped.
“to admonish the idlers, encourage the faint hearted, help the weak, be patient with all of them. See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise the words of prophets, but test everything; hold fast to what is good; abstain from every form of evil.” 

I’ve been leading assemblies this week with our CE secondary school at Wolverley and talked to the students about the importance of peace in our faith and in many faiths – for us Christians it is so important that we make peace with each other every week. As I said to the students, this is because we as Christians don’t think we are perfect and we don’t always get it right but we try to be as good as we can be. And although it reads like Paul is expecting the Thessalonians to be perfect the fact that he also includes the words “Beloved, pray for us.” Shows us that he didn’t think he could manage to live up to his own words without the support of others. I think Paul’s list is one which encourages us to think about our attitude, about the way we look at life. It’s about having a positivity of life. Rather than letting the door to our heart get choked up with the weeds of worry, of bitterness, fear, hatred, anger. Giving in to those strangling weeds would make us like the poor characters in Narnia where it is Always winter but never Christmas. Paul urges us to “be patient... rejoice always... give thanks in all not quench the spirit”. This is a bid for a non cynical attitude, a positive outlook. We might think that there are some circumstances where there is nothing that we can give thanks for. With the world’s finances where they are and personal finances for many people giving concern, we might think it is all pretty bleak – how can there be any cause of thankfulness.

I found this idea challenging when I was in Peru last year. In a place where people had virtually nothing: No running water or sewerage, no prospect of work, little help from the government and yet in the midst of this we sang the Taizé chant Nada te turbe: Let nothing trouble you, let nothing frighten you, God alone is enough We heard a sermon about how perfect love casts out fear and the priest then gave an encouragement for even those in the poorest part of the city to show charity with the words who is so poor that they cannot afford to give their neighbour a cup of tea or help move rocks from outside their house?

This incredibly positive attitude reminded me of a story I once heard in Taizé of a group of Christians in Eastern Europe who were imprisoned in a camp during the communist regime of the USSR. One day they found a blackberry growing through the fence and one of them suggested that the person who counted the most blessings in that day would get the small piece of fruit. The next evening, people in this horrible environment came together with dozens of blessings including moments of wonder at creation and small kindnesses they had been shown by others. These lists of blessings encouraged them all in the toughest time.

I think Paul’s message to the Thessalonians and to us is not that we need to make a great show of our lives. We’re NOT the light but here to testify to the light. We don’t need to do that in a blaze of glory but in our own way. In giving up your seat to someone laden down with bags, to letting a car out at a junction, to smiling at someone, stopping for a cup of tea and a chat with someone who doesn’t get listened to, making a small contribution to St Mary’s breakfast club or to a homeless charity for or buying a gift for the Shuttle’s Christmas Gift Appeal.

What do you say about yourself?

As Desmond Tutu has said:
“Do your little bit of good where you are;
it's those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world”
So where in all the preparations for Christmas are you letting the light shine through your life?

What little bits of Good can you remember to do so that together we can all overwhelm the world with light?

The readings were:

John 1:6-28 6There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. 8He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. 9The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. 10He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. 12But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. 14And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. 15(John testified to him and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’”) 16From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known. 19This is the testimony given by John when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” 20He confessed and did not deny it, but confessed, “I am not the Messiah.” 21And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the prophet?” He answered, “No.” 22Then they said to him, “Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” 23He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’” as the prophet Isaiah said. 24Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. 25They asked him, “Why then are you baptizing if you are neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?” 26John answered them, “I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know, 27the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.” 28This took place in Bethany across the Jordan where John was baptizing. 1 Thessalonians 5:12-28 12But we appeal to you, brothers and sisters, to respect those who labour among you, and have charge of you in the Lord and admonish you; 13esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. 14And we urge you, beloved, to admonish the idlers, encourage the faint hearted, help the weak, be patient with all of them. 15See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all. 16Rejoice always, 17pray without ceasing, 18give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 19Do not quench the Spirit. 20Do not despise the words of prophets, 21but test everything; hold fast to what is good; 22abstain from every form of evil. 23May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do this. 25Beloved, pray for us. 26Greet all the brothers and sisters with a holy kiss. 27I solemnly command you by the Lord that this letter be read to all of them. 28The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Sunday, November 27, 2011

How are you waiting?

Ok so it's been a while ...

I preached this morning at  a small family community church in our team who are so warm and friendly - a place where EVERYONE shares the peace with EVERYONE else!

The Readings were:

1 Corinthians 1:1-9 1Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes, 2To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours: 3Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 4I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, 5for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind— 6just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you— 7so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ. 8He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Mark 13:24-37 24“But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, 25and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. 26Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory. 27Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven. 28“From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. 29So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. 30Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. 31Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. 32“But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. 34It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. 35Therefore, keep awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, 36or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. 37And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.”

• Two different ways of telling the same story
• Bible all about stories & reflecting on its own story – Mark’s use of Isaiah in Rabbinic tradition & Paul talking about Jesus
• Different stories of Christmas
o Fluffy o John Lewis o Sad o Scrooge
• Juggling Stories & finding Christ
• Challenges

We seem to be getting slightly different stories from Mark and from Paul in our readings this morning. Mark tells us that we won’t know the hour and that we must be alert:
“But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. 
He talks of the signs of the end times and a blustery day like today seems quite suited to his theme of
“the powers in the heavens will be shaken.” 
Paul tells us that we have been enriched with all knowledge through Christ and that we should wait eagerly.
“for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind— just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you— so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ.” 
This seems a little conflicting – the one rather fearful and wary the other confident and joyful. One of not knowing and one of being equipped. Yet people can have the same message with a very different story. Both are telling us to be waiting but they tell it with a different outlook. We can sometimes forget that the Bible is not only one big story but also a collection of stories and one which references itself. The Bible reflects upon itself in the way it tells the story and retells itself. In our Gospel reading we have a good example as Mark describes Jesus retelling words from Isaiah – reinterpreting the story for the present time. Reflecting the original meaning but also bringing that story into the present with its own meaning. He also retells this message not just through scripture but in a very short parable:
"It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch."

For many at this time of year there are different stories around about the approach of Christmas. Many of them are around in our shops or on our televisions There might be the fluffy fairy-dust filled Disney dream of a perfect white Christmas – that chocolate box image of the smiling perfect family gathered round a glowing fire with all the presents they desire. Or there might be more of an adventure or twist to the tale – some of you may have seen the John Lewis Christmas advert. We see a child frustratedly waiting for Christmas – counting down the days with grumpy anticipation . Yet when Christmas day dawns he rushes PAST the vast pile of presents at the foot of his bed and instead rushes to give his carefully chosen present to his parents. There are those for whom the approach of Christmas brings sorrow, desperation at the thought of not being able to afford it, sadness at missing family or at family disputes. A time not of joy but of stress and depression. There are also those unreformed scrooges who talk only of the waste of money on frivolities – excess food, extravagant gifts and blind consumerism for a meaningless commercialised winter festival. These four different ways of telling the story can give a very different message although they are about the same thing,.

Now I’m not sure any one of us has exactly those stories - I’m sure we each have our own distinct story of Christmas. How do we balance the stories of our faith, of the Christ child lost under the pile of tinsel, baubles and presents. We are conflicted with our right desires to express our love for families and friends through time together and gifts at this annual accustomed feast and our need to tell our Christian story of the greatest gift ever given – God’s gift of his son to the world as a poor, helpless baby. Of course we are waiting for Christmas, yet our readings both talk of waiting not for Christ’s first coming but his second. In our stories of Christmas, where does this return of Christ come?

Advent is our chance to remind ourselves of that coming of Christ not just at Bethlehem but also of his coming again. We may be caught up in all the distractions this season brings – card writing, present buying, gift wrapping, cake baking, mince-pie crafting, party going, carol singing, cracker pulling but the church calls us to live also outside this secular Christmas Wonderland story and to inhabit a story of expectation.

So, as you begin advent, I wonder what your story of Christmas is? How do you tell others the story of Christ’s coming through your life and through words? People may be asking a lot “Are you ready for Christmas?” but perhaps the more proper question for us is “Are you ready for Christ?

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Dreams of Hope and Home

Fantastic time at Greenbelt again this year. Fabulous friends to camp with and an awesome team of friends new and rediscovered at the Performance Cafe. Yet again I focussed on the things I could experience then and there which I couldn't anywhere else so I failed to get to any talks - thinking instead that I can download those later. Couldn't possibly get that experience of the witty and awesome Duke Special, the divine Edwina Hayes, the liltingly lovely Yvonne Lyon, the delightful Gentry Morris, the blissful Harry Bird and the Rubber Wellies, the hilarious Folk On... and so many more. So I spent a lot of time in the Performance Cafe or catching up with friends here and there. Apparently a new member of the team commented to another "Sarah knows a lot of people doesn't she?" and it was wonderful to meet and chat with so many people I do know and, as ever, chat to people I had never met in queues for loos, pies and gigs!

I spent a lot of time looking out at the gathered crowd either during worship, from inside the Performance Cafe tent, from the grandstand across the site or from the tented warmth of the tiny tea tent and thinking that Greenbelt really is a small taste of heaven. It is a foretaste of what the Kingdom could be like. It is the world if it were made up of people who follow the Way of Christ. Mark Thomas has tweeted that he was surprised by how much he liked Greenbelt (ranking it only behind Glastonbury as his favourite festival of the year) and I think those of all faiths and none can see that Greenbelt is a great place of loving community. A place of the Kingdom. A place of Love, Compassion, Justice, Freedom (as our diocesan 2020 Vision group has it).

So my spiritual tanks are re-fuelled by some awesome music, some experience of community, a LOT of laughter, some peaceful worship, some uplifting worship, takign part in The People's Bible, viewing some artwork (officially in the Methodist Art collection and unofficially in some glowing robot sculptures and painted feet).

I've returned home with a signed Dave Walker Tshirt, a few scrapes and bruises (and some welly rub!), three new CDs, a peace of heart, some deeper friends, a commitment to keeping in touch more with some of my once a year friends and a readiness for all which this term has to offer, with the beginning of my training for ordination, a new school year which will include the Worcester Diocese Clergy Conference, Gloucester's Rock the Cathedral, The schools weeks at Taize, The Midlands DYOs hosting the DYO conference and so many more unanticipated delights!

My favourite lyrics of the weekend from Harry Bird and the Rubber Wellies*

"they said Jesus shouldn’t heal a man on Sunday
he shouldn’t eat with sinners and he shouldn’t have fun
well some rules are just waiting to be broken I guess
so I think it’s time I started breaking some"

*unlike someone else who loved I feel like Popeye with a mouth full of spinach

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Sermon at Malvern Priory

Just back from Malvern where I was presenting a Worcester Spirit Mark Bronze Award (a sign that the church is welcoming to children and young people) as well as preaching and running some creative prayers. It was a great morning and the text of the sermon is below. As they are fully digitized you can also have a listen when they pop it up on the website here. The text was Matthew 15 21-28 Jesus and the Canaanite woman who asks for her daughter to be healed and FOR ONCE I did what we always joked about in training for preaching - I began with an anecdote about a dog!

It might be useful to know that I took a stuff "puppy" toy with me but this picture of Peggy should pretty much have the same effect!

This is our dog Peggy. She is a bouncy frolicking dog who bounds up to people she’s never met and gets very excited when she sees people she has met and yet when we sit down to a meal she is a model of good behaviour – sitting perfectly with eyes that say “I’m the best behaved dog in all the world” as she watches eagerly to see if anybody drops a tiny bit of food on the floor and then she rushes in to gobble it up. When our nieces who are 4 and 1 are at the table Peggy thinks that the little one is her best friend in all the world as she is very good at dropping food. Even though Peggy knows that she gets a lovely bowl of dog food after we’ve finished eating every evening, she still waits for those little crumbs that fall like a dog that gets no other food
In our gospel today this image of the dog sitting under the table waiting for the scraps is used in rather a shocking way. What’s most shocking is that it’s Jesus who seems to be referring to this woman as like a dog “It’s not right to take the children’s food and feed it to the dogs” on the surface I’m sure many of us would agree with that statement but Jesus is not just talking about children and dogs. The conversation with this woman is about the preconceptions, the prejudices that were around in those days that Jewish people and Jewish Rabbis would not waste their time on non Jews they only looked after their own and, out of character for Jesus, he seems to take this position saying in effect you’re not one of us so I’m not helping you but of course he doesn’t mean what he says instead he’s testing out the prejudice of the woman and those around him – even of his disciples. He is bringing all this prejudice into the light. Jesus’ message at the end of this passage and throughout the Gospels is clear – his love is freely offered for all. Jesus calls us to love our neighbours, to love our enemies even. God’s love is for all – not just for the Jews and that’s still true – God’s love is not just for those who are “in” – who go to church regularly, who call themselves Christians but for all people. That’s why it’s so wonderful to have people here together – some who have been to this church every Sunday for many years some who have been only a few times and some who are here for the first time. ALL of us part of God’s family. As we know family is about so much more than the people we are related to and the baptism today is all about family. Baby X has got new Godparents and more than that has been welcomed into the family of the church, into God’s family – a family that welcomes and loves everyone – all those who are in the church, those who have only stepped into this church for the first or second time today and those who have never been in this or any church.

I’m sure none of us this week have missed hearing about the violence in the streets of many of our cities. Many of us may have been tempted to call the young people involved “dogs” or worse perhaps and yet Jesus’ message today says that even these unlovely and unloved dispossessed looters are offered God’s love. This is not to say that their actions are anything but wholly unacceptable that their behaviour is excusable but it IS forgiveable as God’s love is about forgiveness – as tough as forgiving people can be. The reasons for their disaffection to society to those they call rich to those they see as sitting at the table eating a fine meal while they search for the scraps. What love have these young people received? What faith do they have in the authorities or for some in their families? What hope do they have for their future with youth unemployment at 19.7 per cent (Labour market statistics July 2011 issued by Office for National Statistics) with university fees set to be so high many will see them as unaffordable and with house prices rising so much that they will never be able to own their own home.

None of this excuses their actions – many other young people are in similar circumstances and are NOT rioting or looting but still facing tough times. Young people I know were condemning the violence on Facebook, others were in Birmingham and elsewhere helping with the clear up. Churches too were showing that like Jesus with the Canaanite women they are giving more than crumbs to those young people who no-one else cares for – Street Pastors and youth workers have been out helping to talk to and listen to young people in London, Birmingham, Manchester and in other places affected.

What is there that we can do to build up community? How can we be sure that everyone comes to the table and is welcomed to join in the feast? So that no-one is left to scrabble for the crumbs? This church does a great deal to welcome children and young people but this is not something which is achieved and then ticked off the list. Like this baptism today, it is not a one off event but the beginning of a lifetime as part of the family of God. How are you building up that family as a church and Where in your life do you see opportunities to show God’s love to those that feel unloved? Or to put it another way – who in your lie deserves more than just the crumbs?

Tuesday, June 14, 2011


Great video which a few people have flagged up lately. It's one of those best viewed twice (when you've seen it once, you'll understand why!)

Monday, June 06, 2011

"Rights" of Passage

Well this would have been a useful book a few years back!

The Journey of Christian Initiation

by Paul Avis, Martin Davie, Harriet Harris, Christopher Hill & Stephen Platten

It's described as:
This helpful volume sets out to clarify the Church of England’s thinking about baptism, confirmation and admission to communion, and addresses some very practical questions in relation to ministry in this area.

Discussion of the topic is grounded in the New Testament and the early Church, and is traced through the development of the Church’s theology and practice of initiation from the mediaeval and Reformation periods up to the present. Drawing on the Book of Common Prayer (1662), the Thirty-nine Articles and Common Worship, as well as on Scripture and the Church’s tradition, it sheds light on contemporary practice and understanding, which can – and do - vary locally.

Anglican approaches to Christian initiation are also explored in relation to those of other churches.

Hopefully a useful read now for churches thinking about admission to holy communion before confirmation and considering that age old question of "what age confirmation?"

Not read it yet as it's just out but hope to get hold of a copy soon.

Friday, June 03, 2011

No Hopers, Jokers and Rogues

I think the title of this song for me encapsulates the Gospel and who it was that Jesus went to. The tune is irrepressibly positive and I think the genuine friendships of the group come through in a way that is quite tangible.

I played it yesterday in the office and poor Emma was humming it within minutes!!

Yet it's not just the tune but these awesome lyrics that ring through with faith, hope and love.

Come, all you no hopers,
you jokers and rogues
we're on the road to nowhere,
let's find out where it goes
It might be a ladder to the stars, who knows
Come, all you no hopers,
you jokers and rogues.

Leave all your furrows in the fields where they lie
Your factories and offices;
kiss them all goodbye
Have a little faith in the dream maker in the sky
There's glory in believing him
and it's all in the beholder's eye.

Turn off your engines and slow down your wheels
Suddenly your master plan loses its appeal
Everybody knows that this reality's not real
So raise a glass to all things past and celebrate how good it feels.

Awash on the sea of our own vanity
We should rejoice in our individuality
Though it's gale force, let's steer a course for sanity

I'm really hoping they might feature in the playlist in between acts at the Performance Cafe this year. If not it will certainly be on my ipod when I'm there!!

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Surrexit Dominus Vere - The Lord is risen indeed!

This Taize chant for me is one of such joy that it really encapsulates the sense of Easter morning. Happy Easter one and all.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Hello God, this is me Lulu

I am so proud to be an Anglican this Easter. First Bishop John suggests our schools should be rediscovering their original foundation aim to be serving the community and now it turns out Archbishop Rowan has taken time to respond to a letter from a six year old in Scotland. You can read the article to discover the context but what made me smile was how much it is not just a standard letter or in an adult style but in one which is trully wonderful:

Dear Lulu,

Your dad has sent on your letter and asked if I have any answers. It’s a difficult one! But I think God might reply a bit like this –

‘Dear Lulu – Nobody invented me – but lots of people discovered me and were quite surprised. They discovered me when they looked round at the world and thought it was really beautiful or really mysterious and wondered where it came from. They discovered me when they were very very quiet on their own and felt a sort of peace and love they hadn’t expected.

Then they invented ideas about me – some of them sensible and some of them not very sensible. From time to time I sent them some hints – specially in the life of Jesus – to help them get closer to what I’m really like.

But there was nothing and nobody around before me to invent me. Rather like somebody who writes a story in a book, I started making up the story of the world and eventually invented human beings like you who could ask me awkward questions!’

And then he’d send you lots of love and sign off.

I know he doesn’t usually write letters, so I have to do the best I can on his behalf. Lors of love from me too.

+Archbishop Rowan
I think my favourite phrase just has to be:
"Then they invented ideas about me – some of them sensible and some of them not very sensible." I remember someone once saying that a sign of someone who really knows there stuff isn't that they can describe it in intelligent language and with lots of technical words but that they can explain it in simple terms to someone who knows nothing about it in a way that they can understand. Just goes to show what a great theologian ++Rowan is.

Friday, April 22, 2011

What is a church school?

Interesting prominence given to the Bishop of Oxford's comments on admissions to church schools and whether or not (or to what extent) schools should give preference to "Christian" families in the TES and featured on the Today Programme.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Rob Bell Wins

Went to hear Rob Bell talk about his new book Love Wins which has been the centre of a lot of controversy from people thinking this means Rob is a universalist (which for many implies that there is no need to live a Christian life). He talked about the image of the city of God in Revelation which has an ever open door (21.25) and it reminded me of the poem about Judas Iscariot which talks of the eventual acceptance of Judas and his own acceptance of the love of God and today again Bishop John preached at the Chrism Mass about the woman who washed Jesus' feet and how we, like Simon the Pharisee, need to learn lessons from those who know themselves to have sinned and know themselves forgiven.

He asked what would our churches be like if each and every one of us willingly allowed ourselves to be changed - that unlike Simon the Pharisee we did not only invite God into our lives but keep our lives the same but like the woman we allowed ourselves to be changed.

The poem concludes like this:

'Twas the Bridegroom stood at the open door,
And beckon'd, smiling sweet;
'Twas the soul of Judas Iscariot
Stole in, and fell at his feet.

'The Holy Supper is spread within,
And the many candles shine,
And I have waited long for thee
Before I poured the wine!'

The supper wine is poured at last,
The lights burn bright and fair,
Iscariot washes the Bridegroom's feet,
And dries them with his hair.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Re the Regeneration Summit - Igniting Change

Some interesting developments now on the Regeneration Summit website with footage of the day which our Bishop John attended and which fed into our CandY at Diocesan Synod day. Check out the videos by young people.

If you're very eagle-eyed you might spot Bishop John on this video:

Those there signed a pledge:

Gathered in Sheffield for the Regeneration Summit we are excited by all the positive work with young people across our nation. We rejoice that so many young people are involved in the life of our Church, yet we yearn for more.

As Bishops and Church leaders we pledge ourselves to find new ways to listen to the voices of young people, and encourage them in their Christian walk. We will work to enable young people's voices to be heard better both within our Diocese and the national Church. We will seek to find new ways to empower young people both in leadership and ministry. We will endeavour to work with colleagues to enable new mission initiatives with young people, and consider if new financial resources can be made available to support these.

As young people gathered at the Regeneration Summit we affirm we will work hard to encourage and support our church leaders. We will pray for our Bishops, and so all we can to bless their leadership amongst us. We will work positively in our local churches, to encourage our leaders. We pledge ourselves to pray for our friends, and to try to find new ways of sharing our faith with them.

Together, we commit afresh to pray for the Church we love, and to ask God to work a miracle amongst us, that He would use us to help many more young people across England come to a living faith in Jesus Christ.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Book update

Ok so the book is available as you know and if you want to know more you could listen to this interview. I appear to be in the pleasant company of Bishop John Pritchard slightly further down the page so scroll down to that too and have a listen!

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Sing unto the lord a new song

So despite the nasty cold I ventured to work today. To be honest sitting here on the sofa with the laptop seems far more achievable. I'm planning a service of the word for our office tomorrow and its the day commemorating Charles and John Wesley.

I found a lovely sermon by Archbishop Rowan Williams (which you can perus at your leisure but what really excited me also this great list of SINGING INSTRUCTIONS below from John Wesley himself.

I had thought about having some singing tomorrow but as I have little voice for speaking I think it rather unfair to ask the few others who will be there to sing so I am heading to itunes!

I feel I am failing at number three - as weakness and weariness do seem to be hindering me somewhat at the moment! Anyway... enjoy!

I. Learn these tunes before you learn any others; afterwards learn as many as you please.

2. Sing them exactly as they are printed here, without altering or mending them at all; and if you have learned to sing them otherwise, unlearn it as soon as you can.

3. Sing all. See that you join with the congregation as frequently as you can. Let not a single degree of weakness or weariness hinder you. If it is a cross to you, take it up, and you will find it a blessing.

4. Sing lustily and with good courage. Beware of singing as if you were half dead, or half asleep; but lift up your voice with strength. Be no more afraid of your voice now, nor more ashamed of its being heard, then when you sung the songs of Satan.

5. Sing modestly. Do not bawl, so as to be heard above or distinct from the rest of the congregation, that you may not destroy the harmony; but strive to unite your voices together, so as to make one clear melodious sound.

6. Sing in time. Whatever time is sung be sure to keep with it. Do not run before nor stay behind it; but attend close to the leading voices, and move therewith as exactly as you can; and take care not to sing too slow. This drawling way naturally steals on all who are lazy; and it is high time to drive it out from us, and sing all our tunes just as quick as we did at first.

7. Above all sing spiritually. Have an eye to God in every word you sing. Aim at pleasing him more than yourself, or any other creature. In order to do this attend strictly to the sense of what you sing, and see that your heart is not carried away with the sound, but offered to God continually; so shall your singing be such as the Lord will approve here, and reward you when he cometh in the clouds of heaven.

From John Wesley's Select Hymns, 1761

From John Wesley's Select Hymns, 1761

From John Wesley's Select Hymns, 1761

Monday, February 28, 2011

Church in the World

As hubby and I had a few days away in York last week, I had some brain space to do some random thinking. I pondered the place of churches in the community especially as we wondered around York and Whitby. Being a visitor I was able to have those unknowing eyes which we in our own churches can never have. I saw lots of churches in York but not a great deal of Church. There were buildings but little evidence of Christian service. Now to be fair, I was being a tourist and not living in the community and was there midweek but I was surely like many others. With a viking festival on for the week I wondered how the churches had engaged with it and there were events at churches but only as venues it seemed. I contrasted this with the proliferation of crystal shops in Whitby cashing in on the ghoulish reputation as beign the place Dracula landed in England. How about how the churches engage normally? The minster sadly charges for entry (and I'm sure that is a sad necessity for the community) but the neighbouring St Michael le Belfry offered a space for quiet and reflection, with a gentle welcome and a clear sign that the congregation are an active church community. I did spot the Salvation Army with its usual list of all kinds of social action. Some of the churches do seem to have been transformed into particular ministries - one for a club for the elderly and one in a village was a gallery and arts centre.
We need perhaps though to be visible outside our doors. I spent a lovely afternoon in sunshine listening to a pair of buskers and these could easily have been a pair of Christians sharing songs of hope.

I'm aware that these are somewhat vague ramblings and only the beginnings of thoughts about how Christians should be visible in our communitites. My current conclusions include:

  • We can't rely on our churches to be visible signs of our Christian communities as people see them as interesting historic buildings not as bases of mission.
  • We need to be seen outside our doors
  • We need to make our buildings seem more open from the outside and easy to enter.
  • We should be seeking out parts of the community culture where we can engage and show we exist - a church team at the local pub quiz? an ancient style service featuring during a viking week? a chaplaincy to the local shops/schools/hospitals/prisons
  • As individuals we need to be bold in talking about our vocations as Christians to the jobs we have be that teacher, carer, gardener, musician, artist etc

Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Call comes in the Midst of Life

With some heavy borrowing from Rob Bell's Nooma Dust, my sermon as intended for tomorrow! May change over breakfast of course and mostprobably at the pulpit/lectern as usual!

The Call comes to you in the midst of life
The Call comes to you in the midst of life
The Call comes to you in the midst of life

In today’s gospel we hear about Jesus call to his disciples to follow him. He walks by the sea of Galilee and seeing peter and Andrew and James and John he says “Follow me” Nowadays we have far more complex recruitment processes of adverts and parish profiles, application forms and interviews and references. Jesus However walks past and says “Follow me” sounds rather unprofessional really. Actually his words are not as simple and ordinary as you might expect. These were the words with which a Rabbi would traditionally call someone to be their disciple.
(from Rob Bell's Nooma Dust)

Education was huge in Jesus' day, and the system that Jesus would have probably grown up in and learned from was very specific. Jewish education was made up of three primary sections: Bet Safar,Bet Talmud & Bet Midrash
Bet Safar: Usually from the ages five to ten, it was a time taught in the synagogue by the Rabbi. During this time, good Jewish boys memorized the Torah - Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy – the first five books of our Old Testament memorized by the age of ten.
Bet Talmud: Progressing on from Bet Safar, it continues from the age of ten on to fourteen. During this time, the student would continue his memorization of the Psalms, prophets, and the rest of the Hebrew Scriptures (the Old Testament). It wasn't uncommon in that day for a good Jewish boy to have the Old Testament memorized by the age of fourteen. The student would also during this time begin to learn the art of questions and answers. In our western civilization today, we are into information transfer, but in those days, answering a question wasn't quite as direct. A rabbi might ask a student what is two plus two? Today, we would spout off the answer of four. But back then when a Rabbi would ask what two plus two was, a student might answer with, "What is the square root of sixteen?" This not only told the Rabbi that the student heard and understood the question, but was able to process it and respond with a question of his own. So you see, when we find Jesus in the temple at the age of twelve (Luke 2), we find him doing just what a boy of his age would be doing, questions and answers with the elders.
Bet Midrash: At the age of fourteen, the best of the best would continue to apply oral and written law from the Talmud, the Mishna (the earliest oral version of the Talmud), and years and years of commentary on the scriptures. Each Rabbi would have their own interpretation of how to live out the Torah. You see, you have the law itself and then the Rabbi's interpretation of the rules required to obey the law. The Rabbi's rules were called his yoke. When you studied under a Rabbi, you took his yoke upon you. But Jesus came and said His yoke was easy. That He isn't about endless lists of rules and regulations (Matthew 11). If we understand this we see that, when Jesus is speaking, He's not just picking words out of the air; He's speaking as a Rabbi would.
So, at the age of fourteen, the best of the best, the Oxford and Cambridge of the Jewish boys took another step. All Jewish boys wanted to be Rabbis, because teachers were the most respected people of the day. At fourteen, the Oxford and Cambridge would approach a Rabbi and request to become his disciple. The Rabbi would then quiz the boy. If the Rabbi quizzed you and determined that you were good enough, that you were indeed the Oxford and Cambridge, he would say, "Come, follow me, take my yoke upon you and become my disciple." And at that time, the boy would leave everything, (home, mother, father, synagogue, community…) and devote his entire life to being just like the Rabbi.
Now there is always the possibility that the Rabbi might decide while quizzing you that you are not the Oxford and Cambridge. He would say, "Obviously, you know Torah, but you don't have what it takes to be just like me. Go, have children, pray that they become Rabbis, and ply your trade." Go learn the family business and live a good life that your sons may grow up to be better than you. And that brings us back to the text,
As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers; Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fisherman. What were they??? Fisherman…Why? Because they didn't make the cut! A Rabbi had probably told them they weren't the best of the best, and sent them to "ply their trade". Jesus goes to the losers and rejects and calls them! "Come, follow me," Jesus said, "and I will make you fishers of men." At once they left their nets and followed him.
Now, how many of you, honestly will say that this has never made sense to you?
But that is what happened! There is no more. Nothing is missing. The author didn't leave anything out. You see, Jesus was a Rabbi! He is calling disciples! He thinks they are good enough, even though others did not. He's giving them a chance to fulfil their dream.
The Call comes to you in the midst of life
The Call comes to you in the midst of life

And the place where Jesus meets these disciples is not some specialist disciple recruitment centre or even the job centre plus. These men are going about their normal lives. To hear God’s call doesn’t require you to go out of your way. God’s call comes in the midst of life. In fact, it often comes when you are doing something at which you are talented, skilled or gifted. God sees your gift and calls you to use it for the kingdom, not just for your work. It might be that you spend a lot of time organising things or listening to people and God calls you to put those skills to organising a charity event, or listening not just to customers but to those in need of a listening ear and maybe even a shoulder to cry on. It might be that you have fabulous skills in finances or sewing or carpentry and God calls you to help as a church treasurer or run a project helping teenage mums to craft clothes for their children or fix up the cloakrooms in the local school. These skills might not be simply your work skills but the things you take so for granted; the gift of hospitality of baking of smiling and being friendly. All these things can be the root of God’s call to you.

The Call comes to you in the midst of life
The Call comes to you in the midst of life

I know in the church we can often think that there are those who have a calling to ministry in the church and the rest of us just have jobs or tasks but it is so not the case and making that clear is exactly what Jesus was doing by calling the unlikely candidates such as Fishermen, a tax collector like Matthew, a doubter like Thomas and a zealot quasi terrorists like Judas Iscariot. Jesus was showing that the call can come to everyone. It’s not just about the Pharisees and all their rules but about each and every human being listening to where God is calling them and following. Paul in his letter reinforces this. The message of Christ doesn’t come “with eloquent wisdom,” but simply and with truth so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power. Jesus deliberately didn’t call the usual suspects as he didn’t want to replicate the law driven religion of the Pharisees. He wanted real people and so he called real people who would not be caught up in philosophical arguments but would tell the Good News. As Paul says For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. In a climate when, increasingly the church is mocked by comedians and by newspapers, this concept is more than clear. The message of the cross can seem like foolishness, passed on by the ones who didn’t make the cut to follow the best Rabbi but Jesus teaching is not about SUCCESS but about love so his call doesn’t go out only to the top notch people but to each and every one of us. We’re not following after different Rabbis as Paul says it’s not about “I belong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apollos,” or “I belong to Cephas,” but we all follow Jesus
I suppose the question is how does the call come? How can we her it? For some it is a clear and blinding as it was for Paul on the Road to Damascus and as daunting and clear as the call to Ananias who healed Paul’s blindness – putting himself in the path of the man who had been campaigning for the death of Christians. I have known friends who have woken one morning with words clear in their mind, calling them to somewhere. It might come in the guidance from friends, from reading scripture, from the revelation of a glorious experience of God’s creation. It might come through our own prayer or be shown through the prayer of others. For others, the call creeps up on us. Sometimes, in fact, we don’t see it until we look back and see our footprints with God’s walking alongside.
From my own life I remember frustration at two points in my life when I didn’t see it until later. Both times, I was still where had been for some time and really felt I should have moved on – I felt that God was calling me on to new things but I hadn’t yet reached them.

(personal story)

I’m sure Peter James, Andrew and John didn’t think they wanted to be hauling nets but off with some great Rabbi and yet there they were – where they needed to be, in the midst of their regular life, so that Jesus could walk by and call “Follow me”

Where are you working at your nets?

Where will Jesus come to call you?
How will you respond?
The Call comes to you in the midst of life
The Call comes to you in the midst of life
The Call comes to you in the midst of life

The texts for this morning:
Matthew 4:12-23
Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: “Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali, on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles— the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.” From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.
Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.

1 Corinthians 1:10-18
Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose. For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there are quarrels among you, my brothers and sisters. What I mean is that each of you says, “I belong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apollos,” or “I belong to Cephas,” or “I belong to Christ.” Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?
I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one can say that you were baptized in my name. (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.)
For Christ did not send me to baptize but to proclaim the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power. For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Booked up!

So the penultimate set of proofs for the book has come through with promise of the next and final set to follow. It's all feeling very real! Launch date is 31st January. I can't quite believe how long ago Phil and I started on it all. It's lovely to see the project finally come to this point. I'm also getting slightly itchy fingers about what the next project might be? Moving Images Changing Lives 2? It's a possibility (and I must admit I still view films with a mind to potential clips for work with young people!) but I'm not sure if it's the way forward. I've got a few training courses lined up this year which may take my time but I do like to be mulling something over for a while anyway! When we started the project we were both very sure that there was a great need for a course for young people to help them explore confirmation and I'd like to think that I'd work on something else that was very much linked to the need of those working with young people or the direct needs of young people themselves. Any ideas wise people of the blogosphere? What do you want that isn't out there?

update : CHP now has a page for it too! and one for me as well!