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A guide to who believers are

Given by: 

Nolan Robson

Date given: 

8th January 2017

Book: 

Ephesians

Chapter: 

1

Sermon Series: Ephesians: A guide to life with Christ

Sermon Title: A guide to who believers are

Bible Passage: Ephesians 1:1-14

To listen to the sermon, please click on the link below.

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Audio icon Click for Sermon on: Ephesians 1:1-1418.73 MB

Faith takes Guts

Given by: 

John Barratt

Date given: 

2nd October 2016

Book: 

Luke

Chapter: 

17

Today’s Bible readings are about having the guts to deal with the evil that bedevils human life.  Because God is concerned for our proper development he will inspire, energise and forgive us, but it is our responsibility to stand up for what is right insofar as we have opportunity.  Our faith is that God is as he is in Jesus, and God didn’t destroy Jesus’ powerful opponents in Jerusalem. 

For several weeks, in our Gospel readings, Jesus and the disciples have been moving towards Jerusalem - Jesus very determinedly and the disciples very unwillingly.  Jesus has repeatedly warned them what will happen there [Luke 9:22], and in today’s reading [Luke 17: 5 – 10] it is not surprising they ask him to increase their faith in him, so they can cope with his apparently mad plan to confront the paranoid authorities.  An exasperated Jesus tells them that because they don’t have faith the size of a mustard seed, they are like inefficient and ineffective slaves! 

His talk of ‘slaves’ is a shock but, if we think about it, we are all enslaved by ‘reality’.  For example, physical reality gives us no choice; if we walk off a cliff we hurtle downwards, because of the reality of gravity.  Just as physical reality enslaves us, so unreality in our relationships with ourselves and other people produces unavoidable consequences.  Jesus called his understanding of proper relationships the heavenly Kingdom of God, encouraging his disciples to do the Father’s will on earth as it is done in heaven.  Only this understanding of an unconfined reality can explain Jesus’ otherwise feckless initiatives against evil, but it challenges the primacy we accord ourselves.

Pride in our individual identity comes naturally.  I was recently at the Wothorpe shop counter when another shopper, holding a jar labelled “Easton-on-the-Hill Honey”, said “Oh!  Local honey!”  “No!” said the assistant.  “But it says it’s from Easton”“This”, replied the assistant firmly, “is Wothorpe”.  Such innocent localism easily degenerates.  There are many jokes on the lines of the question: “What’s the difference between Finnish and Swedish people?”  The Finnish answer is: “the Swedes have good neighbours!” 

Self-centredness runs away with us.  The broadcaster Jeremy Vine recently showed a video of a car driver repeatedly threatening him with violence because his cycling had obstructed her.  In Zimbabwe, President Mugabe’s budget includes no capital expenditure for schools, but £300,000 for presidential car maintenance.  Recent reports of commercial and sporting greed, and of widespread ‘trolling’, expose the scale of anti-social behaviour.  5tn plastic pieces floating in the oceans typify human ecological carelessness.  OXFAM and the UN currently report “the worst refugee crisis in recorded history”, and the deliberate bombing of Aleppo hospitals defies description.  

Based on the heavenly values of God as our shared ‘Father’, Jesus taught we should live simply, overcoming evil with good by loving and repeatedly forgiving our enemies.  This was what he was planning to do in Jerusalem, combatting powerful oppressors by maintaining his personal integrity as he dealt with them despite their provocations in his trial and execution.  Reality for Jesus was Heaven’s limitless eternity.  Physical death was an insufficient reason to avoid the challenge.  No wonder the disciples dithered. 

In today’s reading from the Letter to Timothy, St. Paul, whilst he awaits death in a Roman prison, declares his faith in Jesus: “I know the one in whom I have put my trust”, and “God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.”  When Paul contemplates his future he thinks about Jesus who “ended the power of death and through the Gospel revealed immortal life”.  

Today’s reading from the prophet Habakkuk provided early Christians with one of many OT precedents for their courageous faith.  Habakkuk was disgusted with contemporary injustice, and correctly foresaw that his fellow-Jerusalemites were heading for Babylonian destruction and exile.  He first questions why God doesn’t intervene directly, but then he rolls up his sleeves and courageously denounces the proudly powerful evildoers, calling for people to delight in and trust the way of the Lord.

In the ongoing history of those who have courageously shared Jesus’ mind, most examples are lost in obscurity, but here are some snapshots that illustrate the power of what Paul called “the mind that was in Christ”:

John Mason, the writer of our next hymn, was born here in Northamptonshire during the bitter Civil War.  He wrote the hymn in 1683 when the country was still bitterly divided into strong religious and political lobbies, and the Scientific Enlightenment was beginning to challeng conventional religious orthodoxy.  Mason followed the lead of a group of Cambridge theologians who were convinced of the compatibility of reason and faith, and they courageously challenged irrationality, concentrating on the practical application of Jesus’ example.  Mason’s hymn expresses the heavenly reality which makes sense of Jesus’ example.

A recent newspaper report told how the African hospital founded by Albert Schweitzer in 1913 can no longer pay its way because Government funding has failed.  Schweitzer was an internationally-acclaimed scholar and organ recitalist when his horror at European exploitation in Africa led him to study and qualify as a medical doctor, so he could establish the hospital and treat people even though they could not afford to pay.  He wrote that he undertook this individual initiative to “make atonement for all the terrible crimes” committed by Europeans in Africa.  I still remember the Children’s Encyclopaedia photograph of his piano, with its specially-added organ-type pedals, being carried up-river on a canoe, so he could practise for his money-raising European and American recitals whilst isolated in his Equatorial African medical practice.

In October next year it will be 500 years since Martin Luther challenged established church teaching and practice, provoking most un-Jesus-like behaviour.  Courageous church leaders and scholars have been working against the grain of 500 years of rationalised prejudices by concentrating on Jesus’ example.

The Waldensian Church was founded in the 12th century and was much-persecuted.  Last July it was headline news in Italy that Pope Francis had visited the Waldensians’ annual Conference, where he asked forgiveness, and accepted blessing by the Church’s woman president. 

German Catholic Bishops recently reported on the question “Was the Reformation really necessary?”  They state frankly that there was merit in Luther’s challenges, and that those who wanted reform rather than break from the Church were not given a fair hearing.  Luther, the Catholic Bishops write, should be seen as “a religious pathfinder, Gospel witness and teacher of the faith.”  One bishop said “we must contemplate our Christian faith and the errors of the past, admitting our guilt and repenting on both sides for the past 500 years.” 

Leaders of the German Evangelical Church and the Catholic Bishops are planning a joint pilgrimage to the Holy Land as “a common prelude to the joint Festival of Christ agreed on by both Churches thinking back to the common roots of our faith”.  America’s largest Lutheran denomination has approved a list of 32 statements on ministry agreed with the American Catholic Bishops.  At the end of this month the Pope will attend a Catholic-Lutheran prayer service in Sweden to mark the official start of the Reformation Jubilee.  The Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury meet later this week, not just to talk, but to commission 19 further pairs of Anglican and Catholic bishops from across the world to work together in their dioceses.  Overcoming evil within the Church is an obvious priority.  Are we prepared to overcome our deep prejudices?  

It is also our individual responsibility to choose a Jesus-based method when we have opportunities to heal individuals and society.  The Pope recently said: “We do not love concepts or ideas; we love people.”   Responding to press questions about reforming the global economic system, he replied: “Neither the Pope nor the Church has a monopoly on the interpretation of social reality or … solutions to contemporary issues  …  [but] human beings and nature must not be at the service of money.”  He condemned “… using … methods which damage Mother Earth in the name of productivity [and] deny many millions of our brothers and sisters their most elementary economic, social and cultural rights.  This system”, he continued “runs contrary to the plan of Jesus.  Working for a just distribution of the fruits of the earth and human labour is a moral obligation.  For Christians, the responsibility is even greater: it is a commandment.”

Evil is not difficult to recognise, and the Church, when it is faithful, gives us a clear lead.  When confronted with evil, can we have faith that Jesus was right, and adopt his mind-set?  We can then be efficiently effective slaves within the eternal security of the Father’s heavenly reality. 

Sermon to recognise the Removal of the Bells at Nassington Church

Given by: 

Rev Peter Morrell

Date given: 

14 August 2016

Book: 

None

Chapter: 

None

Sunday, 14th August 2016   Trinity XII   Nassington (CW)

Hebrews 11.29 – 12.2   Luke 12.49-56

Today is the last time the bells in this church will be rung before the refurbishment of the frame and the bells are retuned and, in the case of one or maybe two of them, recast. Then they will be re-hung, together with a sixth bell, the Teal Treble, in time for Christmas.

When, last Sunday Hilary reminded me of this, I abandoned my original plan of preaching on the rather difficult and potentially upsetting passage I have just read from Luke’s Gospel.

I want to take you back to spring, 1963. I was eighteen years old, and, to my parents’ consternation, I had set off in late March, on my own, to walk down the Rhine valley and through the Black Forest. On a balmy, sunny and still April evening, I was sitting alone on the balcony of an inn, high above and overlooking a bend on the River Neckar, a day’s walk eastward from Heidelberg. On the table before me was a Römer glass, charged with cold, white wine. The winter of 1963 had been the worst I remember experiencing. On that evening it was but a fading memory. As I sipped the wine, unexpectedly, from across the wooded hills came the sound of a church bell. I have never forgotten it – or the emotion that swept over me. It was a magical – and, more importantly, a spiritual moment. Suddenly, I felt I was in the presence of something, or someone, far greater than I. I was, of course, in the presence of God.

Now wind the clock forward forty-two years, to 4 June 2005. At 4 p.m., my daughter, Harriet was to be married in this church. The church was full. It lacked but two people. Harriet and me. We set off from New Sulehay at 3.55 p.m. and as the limo drove down the hill, I heard these bells ringing out – not for me, of course, but for Harriet and for Charlie, the splendid man she married. And suddenly, I experienced again the emotion that had overwhelmed me forty-two years earlier in the hills of Baden-Württemberg.

And that, of course, is the power of the bell. First cast four thousand years ago in China, it made its way through India, playing central roles in Buddhism and Hindu-ism, arriving in Israel during the time of Moses; and finally to Europe.1 In 400AD, Paulinus, Bishop of Nola in Campania, introduced bells to Christian worship2&3 and in 604, Pope Sabinian officially sanctioned their ecclesial use.4 The bell quickly spread to the rest of Western Europe, with the Abbeys of Wearmouth and Whitby both having bells by 680.1

A History of Bell Ringing4, available on the internet, records that bell ringing became recreational, undertaken by lay people in place of the clergy. I pass over the fascinating intricacies of Stedman’s Grandsire Method and the like, although you may read all about it for yourselves on www.bellringing.org. However, I share with you some more light-hearted observations from the same piece.

In the rural areas, standards of behaviour deteriorated with bell ringers described as layouts and drunks. Often locals saw an opportunity to earn a few shillings. However this was often transferred quickly from the church tower to the village inn…for which the tavern keepers were very grateful.

 

And again,

Change ringing began to lower in social esteem, with swearing, smoking and a barrel of beer in the tower normal. Some belfries became notorious as the meeting place of the village riff-raff, who indulged in heavy drinking and riotous behaviour. A deep rift developed between ringers and clergy, with some towers closed by their incumbents. The ringers often broke into the belfries to ring or drink and were usually very independent, reserving the right to choose when to ring.

I’m assured, by Brian Hardie, that nothing of that nature ever occurs in Nassington, although he has heard of it happening elsewhere!

Bells cannot speak by themselves. So let us thank God this morning for the dedication and skill of those who ring them, whatever their state of sobriety!

But I return to the more weighty aspect of church bells – indeed of all bells. Their function is to broadcast a message. In former times, when there was no radio and television, it was often the only way to alert the population to important events. So, for example, “during World War II all church bells were silenced, to ring only to inform of an invasion by enemy troops”4

But the primary message that is broadcast by church bells is spiritual; as it was for me on that April evening in 1963. Bells tell us that worship is about to begin and call upon us to participate. They tell us that a couple are about to be married; and afterwards, that they have been. They toll for the departed. In some traditions, they tell those who are not in church that bread and wine have been consecrated. They inspired Alfred Lord Tennyson to write, as part of his poem In Memoriam, “Ring out wild bells”, a copy of which you have.

Whenever church bells are rung, they proclaim that the church still stands and speak to the presence of God, whether to the faithful or to the unbeliever. As Tennyson wrote at the conclusion of his poem,

Ring in the valiant man and free,

The larger heart, the kindlier hand;

Ring out the darkness of the land,

Ring in the Christ that is to be.

Amen.

1http://www.historyofbells.com/ (accessed 080816)

2https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Church_bell (accessed 080816)

3https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paulinus_of_Nola (accessed 080816)

4http://www.bellringing.org/history/ (accessed 080816)

Karin's Farewell Sermon

Given by: 

Karin Voth Harman

Date given: 

3/07/16

Book: 

Luke

Chapter: 

10

Trinity 6: Karin Voth Harman’s Final Sermon

Apparently, that roguish composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, used to come home in the early hours after a long night of drinking, stagger over to the piano and torment his father by running off a series of scales on the piano. But he would leave off the final note of the scale.

Do, re, mi , fa, so, la, ti…

He’d play the scale over and over louder and louder until he knew that his strict and disapproving father would be truly awake. And then young Mozart would dance off to his bedchamber.  And the elder Mozart would lie awake tormented by that unfinished scale …Do…..ti…

Eventually he would stagger down in his dressing gown and pound the final note into the piano. Do.

Unfinished business of any kind can keep us awake at night, has kept me awake quite a few nights recently. First trying to work out how to complete the tasks, handover the files, and say the thing this morning that would send you off with a sparkling high note ‘do’. Those concerns were then overtaken by Brexit uncertainty as I’ve wondered in the wee hours how this whole thing might play out. Is there a grumpy old man or woman somewhere who might suddenly appear and play that note of reassurance?  Who will save the Torys? The Labour party? The United Kingdom?

I’ve been glancing frequently at a quote which hangs on a yellow postit note off the bottom of my kitchen cupboard. It’s by the American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, and it begins:

Nothing worth doing can be achieved in a lifetime; therefore we must be saved by hope.’

I’ve found it helpful to hold onto this thought as I try to cope with great change. The important things are not actually completed, even in a lifetime. The pieces of work which we undertake, these are just part of something happening on a much bigger scale. And we do not hear that final resolving tonic note. Therefore we are saved by hope. We are not saved because we can present to god or mankind on a platter all the wonderful things we’ve done. We are saved by hope.

Why am I a Christian? Because the very best repository of hope that I can find is in the rich and varied words of the Bible, especially as they describe the life of this man called Jesus of Nazareth. His life, which claimed to show us God, and his spirit, which he said would be with us forever, remains a source of profound inspiration not only to me, but to many, including non-Christians like Mahatma Ghandi, who have spent their lives working for a better world.

And far from imagining God as a grumpy old man upstairs who will stagger down at the end of time and set everything right, Jesus shows us a God who is beneath and beside us, initiating the scale, underwriting our hope, and coaxing us up the ladder.

The gospel story this morning tells of Jesus sending 70 of his disciples off, in pairs, to prepare the way for God to work. That’s quite an important detail in the reading, you’ll see it in the first verse of the section from Luke on your pew sheet. Jesus sends them off in pairs, to go to every place to which Jesus himself also intended to go.

The work of God is never solo singing. We are sent out together, not to build something on our own, but to prepare ground in which God can more effectively work. We simply hold a place open for God, by keeping hope alive.

Having spent time with Jesus and learned much from him, these pairs of people, probably men and women, rich and poor, old and young… they set off into the unknown.  Jesus is absolutely frank about the risks saying, ‘ I’m afraid I’m sending you like lambs into the midst of wolves.’  But don’t cling to the stuff that makes you feel more comfortable in times of crisis – extra shoes, credit cards and snacks. Instead, travel light, and just see what happens – if people don’t welcome you, well, shake the dust off your feet and travel on. If people do welcome you, enjoy your time with them. Oh, ‘and do as much healing work as possible, because that is a tangible sign of the hopeful reality of the kingdom of God. Say to everyone, you can be part of the kingdom of God.

A man walked from London to Liverpool recently and wrote a piece for the Guardian this week concluding, ‘I understand why England voted Brexit’. He found lots of places where people didn’t feel part of Europe, didn’t feel part of a United Kingdom, and certainly didn’t feel part of the kingdom of God.

Archbishop John Sentamu also recently walked through the vast northern regions for which he is spiritually responsible, you may have seen some of his journey on tele. He was repeating what many of his spiritual forebears did when Christianity first came to Britain,… walking or sailing around, visiting isolated communities, little coastal towns, settlements high up in the mountains, telling them that they were part of the kingdom of God. This is how Christianity first spread in this country, by monks and priests on the move.

Cathedrals were built like upside down boats and seen as motherships for the different regions of Britain… sending out little boats, building smaller upside down boats like the one we’re in now… the emphasis always on movement and taking this good news out.  But eventually every parish in the UK had a church building, and we started to look inwards, to see the church as a place of stability, rather than a vehicle to travel in.

But the church has never really been about, cannot be true to Christ if it is all about stability. Jesus was a wandering man, who said in gospel we read last week, ‘foxes have holes, and birds have nests, but the son of man has nowhere to rest his head’.  He saw himself as more mobile than foxes running over fields, or birds migrating across continents.

The church exists primarily to send labourers out into the fields where the harvest is ripe. And that is scary, but also hopeful.  There are wolves out there, but there are also people desperately needing what we can offer to them in Jesus’ name.

Our gospel story this morning ends with these 70 wanderers coming back to Jesus, not discouraged, but full of joy saying, ‘wow, even the demons submit to us’. In the 21st Century we might translate that as ‘wow, even the things we were most afraid of, they did not get the better of us in the end’.

At this moment in history there are many demons to confront:  financial instability, political infighting, racism, anger across the divides in our country, a terrible national football team.  England needs real leadership, it seems, more than ever.  On Friday a theatre company easily recruited hundreds of volunteers willing to dress as a ghost army of soldiers who died at the Somme a century ago. They fanned out across the country to remind us of our history, to urge us not to repeat the past. And if you were able to meet them in person, or even to see them on media, you will have been deeply moved.

We’re so good on the past in this country: it’s easier to navigate, even its most difficult bits. But Jesus calls us to go out and lead people into the future, to fan out and listen and bring healing in the face of demons we now see exposed. We need an army of living soldiers who will hold out good news – literally the gospel -- to those who feel they have nothing to hope for, and to those who feel the pity and the glory was all in the past.

This life is not about us preaching and arguing until people say ‘doh’ as the scales fall off their eyes,…Nor is it an easy passage up the scale until we hit that final ‘do’ at the top.  Nor is it, stretching this pun way too far, a mad dash to accumulate as much dough as possible. It’s about the movement… about going up and down, in and out with a bit of improvisation, travelling together and returning to Jesus with the joy of knowing that ‘even the things we feared most, did not get the better of us’.  To journey hopefully, said another wise sage, is actually better than to arrive.

Nothing worth doing in this world is ever achieved in a lifetime, therefore we must be saved by hope.

At the end of his letter to the church in Galatia, St Paul writes the words we’ve heard read this morning: ‘Do not grow weary of doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time if we do not give up. So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, especially for those in the family of faith.’

Over the past five years I’ve had the incredible privilege of working alongside Philip and all of you in this family of faith. As I leave I’d like to recreate and celebrate the scale of what we’ve done together by inviting you to play along with me and do something a little bit risky, a little bit out there, not very British.

One of the first things I took on when I arrived was our group for our youngest members of God’s Family and their parents or carers. Others had started this work, and others will continue it. I’d like now to honour all those who have been part of Twiglets, either here in KC or more recently in EoH. If you have ever been to Twiglets or helped out with Twiglets can you stand?  Can you also stand if you think you might like to be part of Twiglets in the future? Can we thank these people for giving hope to young mums, beleaguered grandparents, and the newest members of our community?

About 4 years ago, we popped a box in the back of the church, called it a food bank and began to encourage donations. The church across this country has mobilised this work of feeding the hungry. And our box, along with so many others, has regularly been filled by small donations, and emptied. It is a visible, indeed edible expression of God’s love for those who often sadly feel too ashamed to come to church. If you have ever contributed to this box, or indeed benefited from it, could you stand, as we thank those who have given this sign of hope and acceptance to our whole community?

3 years ago we started the Community Café which has been a wonderful intergenerational blessing at the heart of this village. The continuing success of this café has depending on loyal regulars, and a big rota of volunteers. Can you stand if you’ve ever attended café, or helped out with all the serving, washing up, lugging of chairs and table it involves? And can you stand if you intend to help out with café in the future, either by attending or serving? And can we thank those who have created this very tangible sign of a more inclusive world?

One of the things I love most is the experience of worshipping God together with people of all ages. So much of my work has been devising family services and special events for families in the smaller villages, or third Sunday services here in Cliffe or Messy Church. All of these kinds of worship are totally dependent on teamwork. One priest clutching a service booklet will not suffice. Can you stand if you’ve ever contributed by singing, by leading, making something, or baking something for one of these all age services or events? Can you also stand if you’d like to get more involved in Messy Church, or family services in the future? Can we thank those who hold out hope to our children?

‘Do not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up. So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all… ‘

There are many other ways in which I could have asked people to stand this morning to express their commitment to the work of God. Many many people are part of God’s song across our churches here in this part of Northamptonshire. I thank you for allowing me to sing with you and to stretch you maybe further up the scale than you thought you could sing.

But I leave you with that tantalising high note, the final ‘do’ hanging. Because the song never finishes, the resolution is always just a bit above our vocal range. I myself always struggle with the high notes. But that’s OK, because God is not a grumpy old man upstairs asleep. He is awake and will one day finish with a great flourish, the songs we have started here in this place. AMEN

Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime; therefore we must be saved by hope. 

Nothing which is true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history; therefore we must be saved by faith.

Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone; therefore we must be saved by love.

No virtuous act is quite as virtuous from the standpoint of our friend or foe as it is from our standpoint. Therefore we must be saved by the final form of love which is forgiveness.”


Reinhold Niebuhr, The Irony of American History

Jesus is Risen; He is Risen Indeed!

Given by: 

Philip Davies

Date given: 

27th March 2016

Book: 

Luke

Chapter: 

24

A Reflection on these words and their abiding in our hearts and mind, and in our priorities for our living.

At the beginning of Lent we were thinking about the beginning of Jesus` ministry which finds him for 40 days and nights in a desert, a wilderness landscape. Here we found him contemplating rocks and boulders, the harsh reality of being alone without signs of hope or change; and we thought also of his sitting under a starlit sky like Abraham considering the billions of bright lights in the sky as being like the billions of people all sons and daughters of God.

“What hope for all of these and their planet, now and in the future, he must have thought?”

From that wilderness Jesus sets out for three years when he shows how this hope can be found, by his way of living, by his teaching and by his bringing together all who responded to his message of inclusion, openness of heart to all especially those who were excluded and shown prejudice.

Much of this time he spends near water and water bringing life becomes a sign of people turning away from ways that are selfish, greedy and intolerant and their taking on the faith of Jesus, and through baptism by water identification with the living of the faith of Jesus in perseverance and humilty.

On Palm Sunday, Holy Week begins with the entry of Jesus to Jerusalem by which time he must have known that those opposed to him especially the fearful religious leaders would find a way of working with the Roman governor to have him killed. Jesus` words to the religious leaders who criticise and belittle the joy of his followers were these “I tell you, if they (the people) were silent, the stones would shout out.” And when they hear the parable of the vineyard and the tenants the Pharisees realise all that Jesus stands for is a direct challenge to their hopeless and joyless ways and they wait for their moment to have him killed.

By Maundy Thursday we again find Jesus outside and this time in a garden. The Garden of Gethsemane. In a place where we find him very fearful about what is to come. Although surrounded by his friends he is deeply lonely and troubled, and when he wakes them he says words that are echoed in one of our translations of the Lord`s Prayer, I pray that you may be delivered from the time of trial.

But both Jesus and those who follow him will face the times of trial and for Jesus it will be on Good Friday the unjust trial with the false accusations and fear mongering of the religious leaders, the cruelty of the soldiers of the emperor, the ineffectiveness of the Roman Governor and then the terrible death of crucifixion when and where in the place of the skull he dies. His final words completing his earthly ministry praying forgiveness for those responsible for his killing and he commits his soul to God.

Easter Morning Casper Friedrich

 

Easter Day gives us another landscape to consider, again the landscape of a garden. And early in the morning perhaps with birds singing, the first light dawning and the freshness of a new day, women come bringing their spices to anoint the body of their dear and greatly loved friend, the man who had shown them the fullness of God`s love and how to show this by their living.

 

Coming with their feelings and emotions of loss and because of these more attuned to finding comfort in the setting of the garden and with a sense of God`s presence. And we recognise also their devotion continues to be to the one who by his living had changed their lives.

 

 

 

Three women are named in Luke`s Easter day narrative, as being amongst those who come, Joanna, Mary the mother of James and Mary Magdalene. In John`s narrative an encounter is described between Mary and Jesus and the meaning of this passage seems to be that John having started his gospel with the word present in the beginning, now has that word being with the woman in the garden, to show the reconciliation of people with each other and with God, the working together for the sustainability of the planet and the peaceful living together of its peoples that this is the foundation of the new way of living made possible through faith that Jesus is Lord, that he lives, the living Lord.

And in Luke`s Gospel read today, we find these words “Why look for the living among the dead?” Jesus will not be found in the crushing of the innocent and the forgotten by attitudes and actions from intolerance or prejudice; he will be found within the depth and breadth of the widest mutuality of human love and the new covenant of living out the forgiving love of God. The man who to suffering went lives and he goes on ahead for them, for us, and for all.

Is this it? Is this enough? “An idle tale” is how Luke describes the response of the first hearers but as time goes by the message is understood and Peter, John, others and later Thomas share the faith of Mary Magdalene and the other women. Jesus is Lord, the life he lived, the way he showed, the faith he had is now theirs and their lives will be the hands and feet of God in bringing hope to all people that all will be well and all manner of things will be well.

The fullness of God`s love shown by Jesus dwelling within them in their hearts and it lives in all who follow as they did believing that God can make all things new, that Jesus will be the guiding light now and for always and that by living within this light people will be the change that our world needs.

To work together like the vision in Isaiah in the sustaining of the life of our planet, to change economic systems so that all people are fed, to change priorities of the powerful so that people everywhere have access to clean water and proper medical resources and that ways are found where war and terrorism and their consequences become a thing consigned to past history and become words and concepts that future generations will no longer have to use.  

It seems to be a long way off but when we say “He is Risen Indeed; Jesus is Lord” we join with all who seek to make this vision real.

You say Goodbye, and I say Hello

Given by: 

Karin Voth Harman

Date given: 

31 January 2016

Book: 

Luke

Chapter: 

2

Candlemas 2016

 

Today we celebrate the feast of Candlemas… the moment when the light of the infant Christ lights up the face of the elderly Simeon, the ancient Anna. And they in turn bless the new child. Old and new brought together. You can read this as some theologians have done as the moment when the Old Testament gives way to the New. You can read this a story about the Body of Christ, the church, as three generations come together in the temple and bless each other. Or you can take a leap of faith as I’m about to do and read it as gospel,  or good news,  for those getting on in years. Simeon and Anna are of a great age and they probably thought their story had ended years earlier. Anna in fact had sort of ceased to be a viable citizen in her community’s eyes decades earlier when her husband had died.  No one will have expected Simeon or Anna, these old wrinklies, to feature in the story of the new born King.

And yet they do feature. And very powerfully so. This bit of Luke has so much resonance that the church has decided to remember it every year at the feast of Candlemas. This week all the year 4 school children in the Prince William catchment area will be put on coaches and taken to St Peter’s, Oundle for the annual Candlemas celebration, where the story of Simeon and Anna will be re-enacted by some of them, and handed down to all. For these children this gospel will perhaps speak of the role of their grand and great grandparents in blessing their lives.

As they get older and become parents, grand and then great grandparents themselves, the story will change again. And the older they get the more prominent will become the most famous verse of this passage, verse 29: ‘Lord now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word’. I quote this in the King James version, because in this version are these words sung every evening by choirs performing the nunc dimittis in cathedrals and churches throughout the land.

It’s beautiful, the nunc, as it’s affectionately known. But it’s also a momento mori – a reminder that we all must depart this life, and it begs the question, what does it take to depart this life in peace, according to thy word?

For Simeon the answer is quite clear. He can depart in peace, because he has now seen Jesus and recognised Jesus as the light of salvation. He has taken this ordinary looking child in his arms, and seen through the swaddling clothes to the blood stained grave clothes which will soon wrap this same body. He has seen beyond the grave clothes to the defeat of death and inauguration of a new Kingdom, God’s Kingdom, which is the Resurrection.

It’s that faith which now lights up Simeon. It’s the faith that realises that God wasn’t kidding when he told Simeon he wouldn’t die until he’d found this salvation and seen the Messiah. Saying hello to this messiah, Simeon realises he can now say goodbye.

Paintings of this moment abound. The most famous perhaps is Rembrandt’s, which I so enjoyed seeing in the flesh in an exhibition a year or two ago. I remember standing in front of it in the national gallery finding myself humming the tune of the Beatles’ song ‘You say goodbye, and I say hello, hello…’

In the Beatles’ song, goodbyes and hellos are at sizes and sevens. The feast of Candlemas  brings them into congruence. Into peace.

And that in a nutshell is what so much of life, and especially so much of old age is all about. Finding ways to keep saying hello, even as we are having to say goodbye. And finding peace even as we depart.

Anyone lucky enough to live to a great age has to say a lot of goodbyes. You ask my 90 year old mother in law how her Christmas was and at some point in her answer she will tell you that she had cards announcing the death of 4 or 5 of friends and worryingly, no Christmas card from another 4 or 5 who she’d expected to hear from.

Some of you have been to so many funerals, you should be training clergy like me how to do them. You know so much about bereavement you could write the book. Some of you are in the process of saying goodbye to bits of your body, and goodbye to bits of your memory. All of us at some point or another have to say goodbye to the illusion of control over our own destiny.

And that is why you who come to church and are amongst us as you age have so much to teach the rest of us. Even when you can no longer make it to church, your legacy lives on. It’s amazing how much Kath Fenn continues to minister to those who care for her, continues to be talked about despite being housebound now for many years. John Craig who many of you will remember sat in that back pew where his daughter Libby now sits – he was a walking sermon, even when he could barely walk. He once told me that the key to keeping your sense of humour as you aged was to live realistically -- not to stir up desire for the things you could no longer have, for things you could no longer do.  And then with a twinkle in his eye he told a few stories about the benefits of loss. He woke one morning to the sound of water plopping into his back room through a burst pipe. There was absolutely nothing he could physically do, so instead of running round trying to find solutions like he would have when he was younger, he just went into the kitchen and had some breakfast.

 

A man who’s doesn’t come to church and has never been to community café came in on Friday to meet with me about something. From the top of the steps there by the door, he looked over the café crowd --  pregnant women, mums holding babies, toddlers rushing around chasing Charlie the dog – over to the tables where people of more advanced years sat chatting away. And his eyes lit up and he said, ‘wow – what a big spread of ages. You hardly ever see that anywhere else. ‘

Well Church is the place where you do see it. According to a recent study, in Britain places of worship, and football stadiums are the two places where the generations are most likely to be found together.

At the beginning of life we offer welcome and nurture; Church is a place where we discover and say hello to all the gifts God has given to us. We say hello to his word for our lives. And we try to find how our lives will take their place in God’s story.

At the end of life, Church should be the place where we learn to depart in peace. As we welcome in the next generation, holding and blessing the babies as many of us do at café here on a Friday, we prepare ourselves to depart in peace. If you’re heading towards the end of life, ask yourself what it would look like for you to depart in peace, according to God’s word. What has God’s word to you been and how have you been part of God’s story? Has his word been fulfilled in you? Or is there still unfinished business? Perhaps  you’re still looking for God’s purpose for your life? Your life might be end loaded of course – like Simeon’s or Anna’s – they had to wait right till the end for the revelation, for their bit in the story. But they were expectant, looking into the eyes of the people they met, and looking into the pages of scripture, for that word.

I remember holding my baby daughter in my arms thinking something along the lines of ‘now I can die in peace, because I’ve replicated myself’. That child is now grown and I know I’ve not replicated myself.  The meaning of my life has many more words in it than her name, important as that is. Life is a long journey to find the words of God which are uniquely spoken to each one of us.

I want to live my life so that I can say with Simeon, ‘let your servant depart in peace and according to your word’. Your word has been fulfilled in me. This is God’s promise to each one of us. We can depart in peace, knowing that we’ve fulfilled some, probably not all, of God’s plans and purposes for our lives. As we celebrate Candlemas this year, 2016, let us remember that good goodbyes begin by saying hello and holding out our arms to the Christ child.

AMEN

 

 

Midnight Mass 2015

Given by: 

Karin Voth Harman

Date given: 

24/12/15

Book: 

Luke

Chapter: 

2

Midnight Mass 2015 Sermon

 

 

In an ordinary British house, on an ordinary street, a young boy and girl while away the long dark hours of December.  The lad is face down into an electronic device. The girl, in contrast, looks out through the window at the moon, and curious, she picks up a telescope to look a bit closer.

And thus begins her odd relationship with an old man on the moon, as told by the 2015 John Lewis Christmas advert.  While the Scandi singer croons ‘you’re half a world away’, the single minded child  tries every which way she can to bridge that gap – paper airplanes, a  message wrapped round a homemade arrow.  All the time holding up that telescope to her eye. Finally, after the successful delivery to the moon of a John Lewis parcel, the old man and the child ‘meet’, as they gaze through their respective telescopes, a tear rolling from his eye; hers lit up with the joy of at last making contact.

Inevitably this heart-warming tale of extra-terrestrial connection has prompted a load of spoofs… themselves testimony to the power of the John Lewis marketing department in shaping our Christmas story these days.

With the blasting off of Major Tim Peake, and the return to cinemas of the beloved Force, there is, inevitably, a Star Wars spoof in which the old man is Darth Vadar, fixing his coordinates on the girl and blowing the earth to smithereens.  And there are a few spoofs which reflect our current obsession with historic abuse, asking why, exactly, is that old man on the moon? Perhaps he has ulterior motives? 

The creatives at Aldi must have been waiting with bated breath for the John Lewis advert to air, so that they could spoof it. Their Christmas ad reminds us that a telescope costing £109.95 at John Lewis, is not so astronomically priced at Aldi.

And I like their focus on the telescope, rather than the old man. Because the real mystery is not so much why the man is on the moon, but rather, how is it that this child can come to see him?

How much does the advert’s telescope really cost?

A telescope so powerful that it will draw your eyes away from the all singing all dancing Ipad, and permit you to glimpse the loneliness of another human being?

Loneliness has recently been identified as a major health risk. Equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day, or being an alcoholic. It’s worse for your health than obesity or taking no exercise.

And yet it’s a very hidden ‘dis-ease’ and one which is all too easy to overlook.

The John Lewis ad, and others this season, such as the C0-0P’s,  pick up on our growing levels of awareness around an epidemic of loneliness, particularly amongst the elderly.

You may have seen the German ad, doing the rounds on social media which sort of brings down to earth the old man in the moon. In this clip an elderly man eats Christmas dinner alone, year after year, whilst his high flying children pursue their careers around the world. ‘The more I did, the less I cared’ sings the English backing track. So one year the aged gentleman sends cards to his children announcing his death and giving a funeral date. And of course as they receive these cards, his family drop everything and return home. Guilt and grief ridden they tentatively open the door to his flat. And find to their great surprise a festive Christmas table laid with candles flickering.  Grandpa pops his head out from the kitchen and enters, beaming, with a platter of turkey.

Watching clips like these, on one’s ipad, it’s easy to somehow be fooled into thinking that we are making a difference to the epidemic of loneliness out there. We press ‘like’ and feel somehow we’ve made a moral difference.  But of course we’ve done nothing to help. In fact we’ve spent time we might have spent with our lonely neighbours face down in a screen. What will prompt us to pick up a metaphorical telescope and look out to the lonely wherever they are, and then to engage in that vigorous and imaginative activity we see modelled by the heroine of John Lewis?

The story we celebrate tonight is the story of a birth into the world of a light so great, so luminous, that seeing, not just believing, but seeing was changed forever. In cultures which required the old to wander off and die of exposure, and the disabled to be similarly abandoned, into many cultures which refused to really see women or small children as fully human, the Christian story shouted ‘Open your eyes’. See that we are all, each and every last one of us, made in God’s image and precious to God from before birth to beyond death.

The three Kings of the story, often pictured with telescopes in hand, learned to look up, and follow the star to a place where they could throw down their old instruments and gaze close into the face of the Christ child as they knelt before him. The Shepherds, guarding their flocks, looking closely at those sheep, were suddenly asked by a host of angels to turn their eyes to the skies. Looking up, they received a message telling them to hasten to Bethlehem. In one nativity play performed here in recent years, the shepherds, like the little John Lewis girl, rode in on scooters, emphasising the momentum created by the joyous Christian message. The power of the Christmas story to encourage us to change our focus, expand our vision, and motivate us to action which brings us closer together.

What did that baby in Bethlehem, so lit up by the star, and the host of angels, and the love of  bewildered parents and shepherds do when he grew up? He went around healing, most often blind people. And talking about how all of us need to open our eyes.  In his famous story about who enters the kingdom of heaven and who does not – the sheep and the goats—he says that the good have fed, clothed and visited Jesus himself, but the bad have not. And when both sheep and goats ask, ‘but when did we see you and feed, clothe or liberate you?’ Jesus replies, ‘Whenever you did these things to the least of your fellow human beings, you did them to me’. Jesus continually taught that the image of God resides in the most isolated, overlooked human beings. His life and his teaching became a telescope through which, if we pick up and use it, we can learn to focus on others and to bring them close.

We may train our telescopes on the night sky, looking for proof of the divine, as did the first astronauts into space. But if we are looking through the lens of Jesus, we will find when we focus that lens, that we are seeing our neighbour. Even those ‘half a world away’.

Why do we need Jesus? Because we cannot buy that kind of telescope at Aldi or even at John Lewis.  The moral telescope which leads us to try to connect with one another. Some of us, perhaps, have inherited one, and we naturally tune into the lost and lonely. But most of us are more like me watching the ads, or that John Lewis brother slouched on the couch,  head down in our own increasingly screen oriented lives.

If we sometimes feel adrift from humankind, as if our digitally filtered life on this planet has deprived us of the brilliance of the night sky, the smell and companionship of mules and horse, the plain food and physical weariness which has characterised the lives of almost all previous generations, we need more than ever the stories of the birth and death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The truth of these stories reminds us of the true elements of life. The realities of body and spirit. Our place in the universe, connected to the sheep, the camels, even to the asses, connected  to the spiritual realities personified by the angels, connected to one another across the barriers of gender, race, class, nationality, all of these connected through Jesus , to God.  The stories of Christmas and Easter tell us there is a great love that has intervened in history, making itself known in terms that are startlingly palpable to human beings. Half a world away a small baby was born in Bethlehem. His story became a telescope through which we are enabled to look out. To look up. To simply see. And to bring others closer.  Why not hold that gift to your eye this Christmas morning? AMEN

 

 

End of life issues on the Feast of St Luke

Given by: 

Karin Voth Harman

Date given: 

18 October 2015

Book: 

2 Timothy

Chapter: 

4

Feast of St Luke 2015

2 Timothy 4.5-7 and Luke 10.1-9

For me, one of the most poignant bits of the New Testament is the final chapter of 2nd Timothy. The aged St Paul writes this, his final known letter, from Rome, where he is imprisoned and awaiting trial. It is addressed to Timothy ‘my beloved child’ and it’s a letter from an elderly mentor to his young tutee -- lots of advice, seasoned with a fair bit of grumpiness and overly conservative points of view.  Paul ends it by twice urging Timothy to ‘come before winter’ if at possible. ‘Come before winter’ – I’d like to see you one last time. These are the words of a man who has almost finished his race. At the end of life many of us hope to be able to say those the words we’ve heard read this morning:  ‘I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race. I have kept the faith.’

I’ve been thinking a lot about the end of life over past few weeks as our 15 old dog begins his final descent.  I watch my little fluffy Zebedee, who has always behaved so youthfully, now staggering around, his back legs collapsing when he tries to turn. He has to wee like a girl now, and sometimes he just stands and shakes, despite all the painkillers he’s on.  Those of you who’ve loved dogs will well understand my dilemma. What do we do with an old dog who has no sense of time, no unfinished business, no one to urge to ‘come before winter’ – though we did urge our grown up daughter to come home this weekend just in case. As a society we’ve kind of accepted that the responsible dog owner will decide when the dog’s had enough, and call in the vet with the lethal syringe. But this is a truly terrible responsibility.

I wonder how long it will be before the responsibility for determining the exact moment of death is taken away from ‘nature’ and given to those who care for suffering humans? Because of course there are many in our society who think, and even cry with far better reason than I did once when suffering from acute food poisoning, ‘If I were a dog,  someone would put me out of this misery’.

On this healthcare Sunday, as we read the final words of St Paul, and remember the work of the physician evangelist St Luke, let’s spend a moment reflecting on end of life issues, for  more and more I hear people clamouring for the ‘right to die’

The generation who came of age in the 1960’s and who have won rights to end unwanted pregnancies, to have sexual relationships with whoever they want, to change their gender or the shape of any body part on demand, will no doubt be most vociferous in their demands to choose the time and manor of their death. Liz Kendall the Labour leadership candidate recently compared the question of assisted suicide to other issues of control over one’s own body, and declared for a change in the law.

Those pushing a change in the law do so in the name of compassion, and ‘religious people’ who demur are depicted as harsh and cruel. One columnist recently wrote that Christians are those fascinated by a man suffering on a cross, and have no right to impose their morbid ideas about redemptive suffering on others. For a moment that might seem a plausible accusation, but let’s look at where the followers of Christ have gone after looking carefully at that man on a cross.

Almost without fail, they have gone into the business of alleviating suffering, and the feast of St Luke’s offers a chance to reflect on that remarkable aspect of our religious history. Wherever Christians have taken the gospel, they have followed the example of those first 70 sent out by Jesus and have accompanied their message with the healing of the sick. Christians have founded a great many of the world’s hospitals and medical charities. Today it will often be people motivated either by an active Christian faith, or by an attitude towards suffering shaped by centuries of Christian teaching, who are providing healthcare in the most dangerous and deprived parts of the world. Even the aetheist columnist Matthew Parris was forced to admit as much as he travelled around the poorest parts of Africa.

And Britain’s hospice movement, the envy of many other countries, sprang of course from the Christian faith of Dame Cicely Saunders and others. Far from wanting to rejoice in suffering, Christians have been at the forefront of alleviating it. And we need to make sure that we are still there, supporting especially the work of the hospices, and all the various homes for those who cannot live independently. On this day we give thanks for those many Christians who have followed in the footsteps of the Great Physician Jesus Christ, and one of his early followers, the physician St Luke. I would imagine that most of you here today will have motivated by your faith to alleviate suffering – at least a few times. For some of you that motivation will have determined the shape of your whole life.

Christian ideas about the importance of each human life have led the development of healthcare for centuries. Two more recent forces, however, threaten to dismantle this ethic.

The first is a technological quest unbridled by wisdom. This is the force that keeps people alive when they would naturally die, so that the sufferings of old age are now much extended.  Scientists have recently boasted that they will be able to keep those born today going for about 140 years. Of course when people have no concept of an afterlife, the quest to extend this life as far as possible makes a certain kind of grim sense.

But a second cultural force cuts across that quest, and this is the need to measure everything, including human life, in concrete terms. How much is life worth to a person who has dementia, we ask? How about to a person suffering from a disability or from depression? We know how much it costs to treat those who suffer from these things. If we can somehow identify the moment when the balance tips – when the value of life drops below our calculation of cost – then we can intervene with a syringe of poison. These two forces, one keeping people alive much longer than naturally possible, and the other seeking to end life when it starts to drain our resources are creating the perfect storm in which euthanasia becomes a sensible option.

But as I watch Zebedee decline, I realise how very difficult it is to know when enough is enough.  In the morning, when he’s enjoying  his breakfast and wagging his tail,  I think certainly not today. By evening when his legs are giving out every few steps I am thinking this is intolerable. The decision is weighing heavily and my relationship with my beloved dog changing because I now hold the power of life and death over him. I also realise how selfish concerns inevitably creep into the decision to ‘do what’s best for Zebedee’. Could we hold off till Philip gets back from sabbatical so that I can have a day or two off to grieve? Or should we do it over half term, when my husband is off work? Can we find a day when our daughter can be there too?

I can’t imagine what it would be like to make this decision for one’s parents, or one’s disabled child, when money and time and unsettled scores and the logistics of getting everyone who needs to say goodbye together before administering that lethal dose would bear much more heavily.

Once we have the right to choose death even just for ourselves, unbearably selfish desires are bound to affect that choice. This is why arguments against assisted suicide always make the slippery slope argument. No one likes suffering. It’s costly and time consuming both for the person undergoing it, and those trying to help. But do we really want a world where all suffering is avoided by lethal injections? And if not, where on that slippery slope would you draw the line? And who in practice would draw that line?

Reportedly a Dutch ethicist, having seen what has happened in his native Holland since assisted suicide was legalised has told the House of Lords, ‘Don’t do it Britain… some slopes are truly slippery’.

The laws governing assisted suicide and euthanasia matter to each one of us because evidence shows that in places where this is legalised – Oregon, Holland, Belgium – palliative care suffers. Britain was recently voted the best country in which to die, because of our extensive network of hospice care. But most of that top quality palliative care is funded by charitable donations. Can you imagine how funding would dry up once lethal injection was established as an accepted alternative? Can you imagine how much the strapped NHS would save if they could end the life of anyone who considered suicide? And then, eventually, anyone who couldn’t speak for themselves but whose quality of life was deemed low enough?  At the end of the slippery slope, those choosing the right to die naturally would be seen to be foolish… time wasters and bed blockers.

Pope Francis has warned that assisted suicide gives us a false sense of compassion. Real compassion, real following in the footsteps of Jesus, of St Luke, and of St Paul, means surrounding those who suffer with love and good palliative care, so that each of us can fight that last fight with courage, finish the race, and keep hold of faith, rather than giving into the despair which will tempt us all at one time or another.

Douglas Murray, writing on this issue in the Spectator, reminds us of the character Gloucester in Shakespeare’s King Lear. Blinded and having already failed to kill himself once, the aged Gloucester, in the penultimate scene of the play, when the battle has been lost,  insists that he can travel no further. Edgar urges him on with these memorable words:  ‘men must endure their going hence even as their coming hither. Ripeness is all. Come on’.   Gloucester lives for only a few more minutes, but the moments he has left, after he is persuaded to journey on, turn out to include that moment in which he discovers the truth about everything.

Contemporary Challenges

Given by: 

John Barratt

Date given: 

4th October 2015

Book: 

Mark

Chapter: 

10

Pope Francis’ little Fiat in the White House motorcade dramatically expressed the counter-cultural Christian principles he brings to the world’s attention.  He represents the western churches’ recovering confidence in the basic Jesus Way.  It is the proper role of church leaders to assert Christian principles strongly.  We foot-soldiers have to apply the practical consequences, using our individual consciences and our influence in local political processes.      

Arguments about practical application are evident throughout the history of both Bible and Church.  In our Gospel reading about Divorce, set against contemporary Jewish practice of the husband’s unilateral right to end a marriage, Jesus’ starting-point is a plainly-stated principle.  St. Paul [1 Cor. 7:10-16] and St. Matthew [5:32; 19:3-12], extend the discussion in their versions of what Jesus said. Currently, in both the Roman and the Anglican worldwide Communions there are forceful arguments about practical applications of the principle.

The Pope has recently highlighted current challenges, such as Climate Change, Economic Injustice, and Refugees, and asserted relevant Christian principles.  Taking the perplexing challenge of refugees, let’s use today’s Biblical Lessons to highlight a fundamental principle which we should apply.

Today’s OT Lesson is from the Jewish Book of Beginnings, or Genesis [2:18-24]. This collection of writings established the basis of Jewish religion, using merely as vehicles pre-scientific stories told in other communities for the Jews different understanding of humanity’s purposeful relationships with God. Struggling to establish unintended scientific consistency wastes time when we should be grasping Genesis’ life-giving insights.

Genesis insists that the underlying reality of God’s heavenly kingdom is in great shape. It is our job to bring into line what is here on earth, as our Lord’s Prayer reminds us!  Humanity is represented in the Creation stories by Adam and Eve. Each person is individually created, but Genesis describes the co-operative arrangements we individuals must establish – marriage, languages, nationalities, work, etc – to enable us to live individually alongside each other.

In a world dominated by other priorities, Jewish leaders rejected the self-centred focus of neighbouring tribes and their local gods.  Despite some dodgy episodes, the insignificant Jews accepted responsibility for showing other people how to live in the only reality of one God.

The OT is culturally remote from us, but we can absorb its ancient wisdom by following the Jesus tradition.  Our Epistle reading, originally addressed to Jewish Christians, [Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:5-12] puts it succinctly: “Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways …, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son.”  The Gospel writers, familiar with the OT, show Jesus as the embodiment of the Jewish God.   Again, it is an individual, Jesus, and his involvement with others, that is significant.

The dominant Biblical principle, therefore, is that each individual, of any race or creed, matters to God and is accountable to God.  Archbishop Rowan Williams wrote: “Calling the Church ‘Catholic’ is a matter of grasping that it teaches the whole truth in a way that involves the whole person and is addressed to the whole of humanity.” Despite this Christian Catholicity, we retreat so readily into the comfort zone of familiar groups – our locality, our nation, our religious sect. Biblical charity may properly begin at home, but it never ends there.

William Tyndale expressed this principle less abstractly in the prologue to his 1526 translation of the NT: “‘Gospel’ is a word that signifies good, merry, glad and joyful tidings, … makes us sing, dance and leap for joy.”  In conversations and donations we, as individuals, can enjoy promoting such tidings but, in this desperate refugee situation, surely this church community can collate our individual efforts into a more effective, collective response.  

The World Council of Churches has asked member churches “for both humanitarian support and advocacy with governments”.  Both the Pope and Archbishop Welby, whilst pressing Governments, are also taking in Syrian refugees.  Where refugees are in Europe already, local churches are providing emergency aid, such as baby bath centres, medical services, water, food and clothing, induction and language courses, in railway stations, camps and transit zones.  What can we do?

If we are to play our part in confronting this and today’s other urgencies wemust think and confer together.  When a university committee faced a financial crisis 100 years ago, all except one member complained how terrible the situation was, but made no practical suggestions. The silent one was Ernest Rutherford, the father of modern physics.  When pressed, he eventually said “We must sit and think”! Remember what Jesus said about assessing the cost before building a tower [Luke 14:28-30].

In our individual thinking, we should first reconnect ourselves to our faith.  Bernard of Clairvaux, a thousand years ago, asked activists: “How long can you give everyone else your attention – but not give yourself any?…  ” 

How sure are we that Jesus was right about the nature of reality? Can we develop habits of useful contemplation about life?  How can our Church better help our thinking? Whom can we ask for guidance and encouragement?  What are fellow-Christians saying and doing?

What alliances can we make? Jesus chose a remarkable assortment of allies. What positive principles can we confidently articulate, to share with each other, and with Jews, Muslims, people of other faiths and none, whose outwardly different traditions often inwardly encourage the same divine principles as our own? The inefficiency of thoughtless religious monopoly is in addition to its false comforts! Birmingham churches are linking with a secular civic organisation to provide a better response to this refugee catastrophe.

Some institutional religious co-operation is already emerging.  The Council of Christians and Jews is currently focussing on the forcible removal of Christians from the faith’s Middle Eastern place of origin.  At the start of the 20th century, roughly 20% of the Middle Eastern population were Christians; today it is around 5%.  In 1987, 1.4M Christians lived in Iraq; now it is only around 300k.   In Syria, around 700k Christian refugees have fled from ISIL.  In the camps surrounding the war zones, around 40% of refugees are Christians.   

The former Chief Rabbi, Lord Sacks, has said: “Peace is the ultimate hope of monotheism, with its belief that the world is the product of a single will, not the blind clash of conflicting enemies.”

Many refugees are Muslim.  Muslims, like Christians and Jews, are mono-theists too, sharing our roots in the OT.  There are many Muslims in nearby Peterborough at various stages of integration into English life.  Exploring what unites us through practical responses to human need seems a far better way of reaching mutual and enjoyable understanding than the present cultural stand-off.  As Mrs Merkel has said to those worried about the Islamicisation of Europe: the best answer is to practise the Christian faith!  

We are a small village; perhaps we think we can do very little.  Hear what has happened in an isolated Swedish village less than half the size of Cliffe, and the home of a friend.  There is one small church congregation.  In 2011, the immigration authority placed nine asylum-seeking families there whilst permission to stay was considered.  Most had been city dwellers; all of them were exhausted.  They had temporary accommodation in vacant flats called ’Legoland’, that no one else wanted.   

At a village meeting, the Local Authority representative described the refugees’ needs, such as winter clothing, but also a place to meet.  The congregation created the equivalent of our Friday cafe which, as time has passed, has welcomed families from Afghanistan, Albania, Azerbaijan, Iraq, Nigeria, Somalia, Syria and Ukraine.  Some have been returned to their country of origin, others granted permits to stay.  Through all the relief and pain of arriving and leaving, the warm hospitality has continued, both asylum seekers and volunteers discovering the individual in each other.  

During term time retired teachers give the adults informal Swedish language lessons.  There is football training in the village Sports Hall for children over ten and their fathers.  Help is given by a retired farmer, a former Chairman of the Parish Council, using his laptop to process translations of official documents from schools, doctors, lawyers, and the immigration authority.  A pregnant woman was taken by car, with her husband, to a town hospital - where the baby was safely delivered.  On the way home the thankful father, a Muslim, asked to be taken first to the Church, to offer his thanksgiving prayers. 

The team of volunteers has grown; goodwill and generosity in the wider community increases.  Last July there was a party to celebrate four years of hospitality and hard work.  ”We have met people of other faiths and cultures” says the church’s leader, ”we are learning to accept each other, we like each other, ... For us life has become more meaningful.”  

Tyndale was right.  “‘Gospel’ is a word that signifies good, merry, glad and joyful tidings, that makes the heart glad, and makes us sing, dance and leap for joy.” As major challenges confront us, what are we waiting for?

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