THANKS

I seem to be having a little break from taking services again; nothing personal. It is how different rotas, times and seasons,  and arrangements end up – either a glut or gaping hole. The same in other arenas of work where there can be hectic activity for a two weeks followed by total silence – life is quite irregular, seemingly disjointed. I read some words from James Hollis (Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life) which included the following:

“The world is … less predictable … less controllable …less knowable ….” Although from a book (Falling Upwards – Richard Rohr) which is a topic for another short thought those quotes seem to be relevant to my present pondering.

I have been writing my thoughts down through this medium since July 2014. I reproduce part of my first tentative post:

“I am hoping by creating this blog to record some of my dreams and thoughts on my own personal journey of faith. The title says it all: I am a Reader, or licensed lay minister, in the Anglican church and this is my reflection on the way my faith is developing.  I have been following the Christian faith for over 50 years but the last five years have been some of the most exciting in terms of the way my understanding has developed…. My spiritual director thought that a blog would be useful – so here it is!”

That Spiritual Director is still with me accompanying me on this journey, now over 60 years,  exploring my understanding  of faith and being involved in communicating a message of hope, light and love for the world of today – a message that  is even more needed now than ever before.

Over 40 people are sent these thoughts every time I publish them. Together with those who pick it up from my sharing the link on social media there is probably 50 plus individuals impacted by whatever I say. That is a a good number more than some of the churches where I may speak on a Sunday; especially in some rural areas. You could argue that not everyone, necessarily, reads all I write or even just “likes” it as a matter of course out of politeness How much of what is said from a pulpit actually goes in? True, there are many who have followers in their thousands but for me, I am happy that I am hopefully helping a handful.

We are all busy and I am grateful to you all for picking up on my varied comments. I also get complimentary e mails or Face Book comments which make me think the exercise still has value. I suspect that I might repeat myself some Sundays – although if it is important then it bears being restated; my present thoughts tend towards ethical concerns and also getting older: more on these topics to follow.

If they ask me, I could write a book

and the dark secret of the plot

is just to tell them that I love you a lot.*

When I was studying Ministry and Theology I was introduced to the Grove series of booklets as concise statements about matters of biblical understanding, spirituality and so on. We were told that although we could use one or two an essay containing only such a bibliography would be frowned upon as too lightweight! Certainly they can be read in the space of an evening or so and are an easy way of checking out key facts on a specific topic, exploring new ideas or being challenged.

I acquired a few more when our liturgy tutor, Colin Buchanan turned up with a suitcase of them “on offer”. Reduced rates for multiple copies- ever keen to grab a bargain I began my association with the 32 page editions. I soon found out that he had originated these when at the former St John’s College, Nottingham (these days published in Cambridge).

I have been a subscriber for about ten or eleven years now – four volumes each year costs £11.95 inclusive of postage which makes them extremely good value. I am not sure how many I now have in total but I suspect well over a hundred. There are series on biblical studies,  spirituality and so on. I have this last year also added the ethics series to my regular order. These are readable and relevant and would make good discussion starters on matters of real concern today. So much of the world needs the input of Christian ethics that this series, rooted in practical applications around modern day problems, seems valuable.

Some recent examples from the Ethics series I have received in the quarterly mailings include:

Being disabled, Being Human – challenging society’s perception of disability and personhood

Christianity and the Social Contract – applying theology to the key questions of our time

Surveillance Capitalism and the Loving Gaze of God

Some of these make disturbing reading and identify the need for Christians “to speak up loudly in the public sphere to preserve the essential dignity of human beings ….  as individuals loved into  being by a loving creator – a creator who calls us to look with his eyes of love upon a fragile world and to work with him for the healing of God’s creation.” (Ireland – Surveillance Capitalism and the Loving Gaze of God, p 25, Cambridge, 2022)

I do not necessarily agree with everything I read in them. My copies are annotated with exclamation marks, the word NO in the margin or large questions marks; occasionally there is a scribbled comment starting “what about ….?” Hardly surprising as they emanate from a place which was evangelical in its outlook so I might well see the ideas from a  different perspective. However they are useful as they expose me to ideas that are current and also ensure that I think through my reactions and understanding of my faith. 

Spirituality series: titles I have to hand include the following, the first I did not agree with at all but the other two I found helpful:

The Practice of Evangelical Spirituality

Enjoying Sabbath – a guided exploration of the sabbath landscape

The Christian Development Model – spiritual examination, mentoring and discipleship

When Bishop Colin was taking our Lent course this year (something he has offered to Parishes in interregnum for a while) he mentioned to me that some times the booklets provide the starting point for a new author.  I think that is useful as a lot of people, myself included, want to share their thoughts with others – hence, on one level, these blog comments I make from time to time.

What has struck me though is that they principal reason for writing is to remind us that the good news is central to our fish and we need to echo the idea that God, through Jesus loves us a lot.

RT/November 22

* from the song “I could write a book’ (Rodgers and Hart 1940) sung by Dinah Washington, Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra along others. I did initially consider “Paperback Writer” as per The Beatles but those lyrics have all the wrong connotations for something written from a Christian perspective, whereas this old standard seems fits the bill far better for what I see as useful volumes.

RETREATS

For quite a few years now I have been attending retreats, both organised for groups and as an individual. The suggestion came via my Spiritual Director that I consider this as a regular part of my spiritual development: taking time out to be quiet before God and reflect, meditate and attempt to hear what God is saying to me.

The original suggestions over ten years ago were along the following lines as part of a rule of life:

Weekly pattern of prayer as in Daily Office

A quiet day every three months

A retreat at least annually.

During my theological and ministry training I attended Parcevall Hall each year for specific tutoring ;and had also been there on a Painting and Prayer retreat organised under the auspices of the Creative Arts Retreat Movement which has, sadly, now ceased to function. In the previous ten years I attended two or three other places for a few days for retreats so the concept was one with which I was comfortable.

However by 2015 I found the “gentle Christian ethos”of Holy Rood House. This place had been suggested by my parish priest at the time and I found it amenable, fitting with my own approach and understanding of spirituality. Thus over the years it has become a place to turn to, away from the rigours of routine.  A supportive community where I feel accepted and comfortable.

About 2017 I became a Community Companion of Holy Rood House, near Thirsk, which represents a closer involvement – summarised by three words – Presence, Prayer, Promise. Although not physically present all the time there is that sense of being involved through prayer and the promise of supporting the centre.  We receive a regular companion newsletter as well as the opportunity to attend a Companions Retreat once or twice a year. Its formal title is the Centre for Health and Pastoral Care: this underlies a sense that I have long felt the need to emphasise the healing nature of our faith. I do not necessarily mean curing but being healthy in attitude and spirit in spite of whatever is thrown act us in our lives heron this damaged world.

My current expectation is that I try and make two formal retreats each year: one of the two Community Companions events in either March or September and one or the two Men’s retreats held each year. I would also like to make a further visit but these days I prefer to limit my driving so this would again, entail an overnight stay. I have also availed myself of on-line groups but prefer attendance in person. 

My record on quiet days is less than originally suggested. These can be at a formal retreat house or utilise something like an Open Garden or just spending time in an open church  – waiting upon God in the stillness and quiet.

When I was living on my own it was possible to attend much more often, taking in a Christmas house party as well but now as I am in a partnership with all its concomitant commitments I have to allocate my time wisely and well. There are other demands.

I would make a strong plea to those reading to consider a retreat, from time to time, as an important part of their spiritual diet. I tend to look to the one place for myself but there are places around the country where the provision of a space for time away with God is available .

Where I live we are fortunate to have a number of facilities relatively close by: Scargill House, Parcevall Hall, The Community of the Resurrection at Mirfield and The Briery in Ilkley – all within easy reach. There are others around and one of them might suit you. my wife finds that Scargill House is the one for her, for example.

For me my main focus is Holy Rood House. I often share their regular Facebook posts reflecting on specific seasons and natural seasonal events and what I find heartening is that these arouse positive feedback from my social media contacts so emphasis how much it speaks to a wide variety fo individuals including many who are not in regular contact with church activities as such.

Ii has benefited myself enormously and I commend the concept.

RT/November 22

Being Inclusive

 The main points made in my sermon last week (Sunday 28 August 2022)   in Cononley.

They reflect some of my understanding of Inclusive Church, of which organisation I am a personal member as well as some of my reading of ‘Living in Love and Faith’ materials. 

The readings were: 

Proverbs 25: 6-7

Luke 14:1, 7 – 14

From these two readings I get the idea of people jostling for position in the eyes of God. How good they were, how strictly they enforced the commandments – last week the gospel reading  included a synagogue leader being shown up when he objected to curing on the Sabbath and being described by Jesus as a hypocrite.

Dinner on the Sabbath would a rather special meal – the food prepared beforehand and it was common to invite guests.  Very specific rules about where you sat according to status, the nearer the host the more important you were assumed to be!

This passage is not really about dining etiquette; social advice; how to avoid embarrassment at posh diners. Jesus was not worried about creating embarrassment nor did he always follow accepted custom.

Jesus tended to keep company with those on the edge of polite society, the untouchables, the nobodies. 

What this reading is suggesting is a sense of meekness – a true understanding of where we are in relation to things of God. It is a warning against  our love of hierarchies and status. Jesus is saying we need to do things differently.

Jesus was proclaiming the coming of God’s kingdom and I see this picture of the total inclusivity of God’s offer.  Love seen in action – Living in Love and Faith.

Our challenge is to work out how we apply the teaching of  Jesus from this particular meal time. We can truly celebrate God’s kingdom if we do not exclude  those who would normally be seen as at the end of the line, the bottom of the pile, the social outcast for whatever reason. Our gospel and our church must be truly inclusive such as those who are:

Economically disadvantaged

Living with mental health issues

Living with various forms of disability

Different ethnic groups

Different genders or sexualities

These are distinctions that can exclude people: and the same goes for any other categorisation we may care to make between individuals who are all created in the image of God.

God’s love is generous and embraces all – no one is excluded from God’s offer of unconditional love. 

All are welcome.

Has everyone been made welcome in the church? God’s generosity is the important aspect of this account. God’s generosity to all. Which should spur each of us on to greater generosity.  It is about ensuring all are welcomed by ourselves.   

Living together in God’s love and rejoicing in God’s faith.                                                         

My ministry

“… do what he could, preach a little gospel, sell a bottle of Dr Good.”

My Church of England role is a licensed minister, not ordained, but authorised to lead worship, preach, teach and so on. Basically there are three services I can not take: Baptism, Marriage and The Eucharist although I can assist in the distribution of the elements. I wear specific robes when leading a service or preaching which means cassock, surplice with hood and scarf – the last being blue to distinguish it from those who are ordained who wear a black scarf or a stole in the various liturgical colours (green, white, red or purple).

It is interesting that many of my friends who are not especially aware of the dress code in the Anglican Church fail to fully understand that I am not, nor never would a vicar! To them, if I am wearing the outfit, I must be ‘one of them’.

All of this is very much public, at the front of a church and is seen by some as my ‘ministry’. I often discuss this with my SD (Spiritual Director). I refer to this person as SD because nobody else knows who it is apart from, possibly, the then Warden of Readers in 2010 who initiated the process whereby I acquired a SD. Our discussions often centre around the fact that ‘ministry’ is much more than just standing on the chancel steps exhorting the faithful or leading prayers.

I have a friend who has been a Non Stipendiary Anglican priest for a long time and he reminds me when his children were young he would sit with them in the congregation rather than take his place in the chancel stalls where the clergy are often observed. He was taken to task by some suggesting that he was not exercising his role as a minister by sitting in the pews. His vicar at the time, replied that he was ministering where he was: he was ministering to his young family of three girls which was just as valid as when he stood up in a pulpit and preached.

All very similar to my discussions with my SD. Much of my life is not spent in a church building, or actively taking services. I have two distinct strands of involvements apart from family ones – one with community rail where I have been a Director of the Leeds-Morecambe Community Rail Partnership Co Ltd since 2007 which seeks to promote the use of rail and its facilities for all those along the 75 mile route, engaging with all who are in their local communities. My other distinct role is in the world of dementia awareness. This was something I came to about 2013 when my then wife was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s Disease (she was 58 then and died four years later). Through the need to become a carer I rapidly absorbed a great deal of knowledge about dementia and approaches to care and treatment. The upshot was that by 2014 I was one of the initial group of five responsible for setting up Dementia Friendly Keighley which came a charity and has expanded with a presence in the shopping centre in a prime location offering support and advice to all those who are affected by this disease. Earlier this year my role as a Dementia Friends Champion changed to that of an Alzheimer’s Society Ambassador for Dementia.

These two strands have a considerable overlap as the Community Rail Partnership, which is known as the Bentham Line (Bentham being the station roughly in the middle) was the first to propose a dementia-friendly railway which it achieved some five years ago. We have helped hundreds of rail staff become dementia friends, an Alzheimer’s Society initiative, as well as organising a number of reminiscence trips to the seaside and country for those affected by dementia.

Having remarried a couple of years ago I now continue to have a ministry to the family – this is very important and part of the Christian witness that is important if my conviction of faith is to be credible to those who live in the village. Fine words from the pulpit will be totally wiped out if I neglect family matters because how I live also speaks of my faith.

Sometimes I “preach a little gospel” and sometimes my efforts in the world of dementia awareness could be akin to doling out “bottles of Dr Good” which I always understood to be some so-called patent medicine that might help but not necessarily efficacious. So in that respect the lyrics from the 1971 Cher hit are not totally appropriate but as well as family duties  I am doing something in the community as part of my Christian ministry which I might then rephrase as:

“  Do what I could, preach a little gospel, do something that is good.”

Hello journal, my old friend

Hello journal, my old friend

I’ve come to talk with you again

It seems a long time since I wrote anything for this blog which was not just my sermon notes, not all of which are published.  I have been preparing thoughts on bible passages for nearly twenty years now to be shared with congregations and it is possible I repeat myself occasionally hence the caution.

Certainly I can recall having spoken at every major festival apart from Easter Day itself and also officiated across various services from Advent through to Christ the King in the Christian calendar. The only day I have never been asked to preach is Easter Day itself.

Given the three year cycle of gospel readings in the Anglican Church there is a high chance that I could be saying the same thing I did a few years previously. I do not look back at what I previously said because often world events or local issues mean there is a fresh alternative  although some underlying themes will be a constant because they are a core part of my belief.

*   *   *

However yesterday the writing of this reflective journal was encouraged by my Spiritual Director. We have been meeting three times a year since the start of 2010 and he has, again, commented on the way my spiritual journey has developed and changed over the years: my journey has given the opportunity to experience many different approaches to Christian faith, together with various styles of worship. My own understanding has broadened out and become more inclusive over the last twelve years and helps me to appreciate that, especially in a village context where there is one single church, we have to worship alongside those with whom we differ on some parts of our understanding of our faith and how it out works in living in the Kingdom of God.

On Saturday 16th June there will be changes in the parish when our new vicar is installed and instituted. He will undoubtedly have ideas about how to shape the worship and liturgy and at the time of writing I have yet to meet him, let alone have a discussion about how my ministry may need to alter in the new framework.

But my faith journey has been exciting and might be of interest to others so my Spiritual Director thought it would be good to resume writing my thoughts.

If I can adapt the words from the old Simon and Garfunkel “Sounds of Silence”

Hello journal, my old friend

I’ve come to talk with you again

Because a vision softly creeping

Left its seeds while I was sleeping

However there is not the sense of angst in the song of 58 years ago (is my LP really that old?) in what I am writing but a sense of expectation. What will the next stage be like? Where will it lead me? What new insights might there be of my understanding of God and how I communicate  my faith through the variety of opportunities that present themselves in my ministry.

Kildwick, Cononley and Bradley Joint Service 29 May 2022

As the service was to be followed by an AGM or Annual Parochial Church Meeting I was asked to be brief. Our singing was accompanied by a brass band specially drawn together for the event so the emphasis was very much on songs of praise, with six in the service thus my opportunities to say much was constrained. the reading was from Acts, one of those tat has to be used on this 7th Sunday of Eastertide. Acts 16: 16 -34

Ever had a bad day? Ever had too many problems? One disaster after another?

How do we react when things go wrong? Blame others, those in authority, family or – even – God?

Our reading shows this for Paul and his new companion Silas. Paul had recently had a major dispute with Barnabas and Mark, whom he had worked with for some time, and they had gone their separate ways. Now with Luke and Timothy he was out living the Christian life and he found himself in deep trouble.  He and Silas had been singled out – another annoyance  – beaten and thrown into jail.

Their reaction – to pray and praise as we have had read:

But they were praising GOD (Psalms) despite the situation

25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them.

And this positive approach meant good outcomes. Their words to the worried jailer:

31They answered, ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.’ 32They spoke the word of the Lord* to him and to all who were in his house. 33At the same hour of the night he took them and washed their wounds; then he and his entire family were baptized without delay. 34He brought them up into the house and set food before them; and he and his entire household rejoiced that he had become a believer in God.

Lessons for us today?

Good that we are singing hymns. Hymns can glorify god and many of those chosen for today are from the praise sections of the hymnbook.

I do not know what your personal circumstances are but we have an example to follow in Paul and Silas.

Living out our Christian experience can cause problems: we should stand out from the crowd as having something different about us. Will not result in prison but if we stand up for truth and love we can be misunderstood. So when Justin Welby spoke out recently about sending refugees to Rwanda being against Christian ethics he was  decried in some quarters and seen to be “meddling” in things that were no concern of his by those who felt uncomfortable with being challenged. 

We may not be in prison but are we held prisoners by events, our thoughts or nature: one approach is to rely upon God and praise God despite what befalls us. Whatever happens God is still God.

Sunday next before Lent 2022

Notes of the comments I made this morning at St Johns United Church; the readings were

Exodus 34: 29 – 35 The shining face of Moses

Luke 9: 28 – 36 The transfiguration

As I often do I split my comments into sections so the actual ~”sermon” part appear less. A row of asterisks indicate the sub sections.

The hymns this morning have been chosen to echo the idea of the transfiguration which is the topic for today – the Sunday next before Lent. The transfiguration has its own festival on 6th August each year but that is often not on a Sunday so can easily be missed in weekly services. It is a well known account but I discovered this week that according to legend it took place on Mount Tabor – 17 miles south of here – a small hamlet above Halifax which has a Methodist Chapel.

One of the key things about the transfiguration is the concept of light that this brings and the radiance of the glory of God – and our first hymn picks up on that theme: Shine Jesus shine: it reminds us that Jesus was truly divine and we look for God’s mercy to reach out in this troubled world.

We are expressing the hope that God’s  values will be seen in us as we shine out.

****

The Old Testament reading would have been in the minds of those who recorded the transfiguration. And the account tells us that Moses who had been in the presence of God was visibly altered by that experience. So much so that as  sunglasses had not been invented he had to cover his face.

I am sure we all know the account of the transfiguration very well and you will have heard a lot of sermons about this event so today I want to concentrate our thoughts on what God said. 

‘This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!’

In these times of war and uncertainty, especially Ukraine, although there has been much fighting elsewhere around the world for a long time, it is right that we consider the concept of God in what is happening. God is telling us to listen to Jesus.

There is also an echo in those words of another time when God spoke from the heavens concerning Jesus – and said the same: his baptism. At the start of his public ministry on earth and now as he is entering the last few days of that time on earth prior to his death, burial, resurrection and then ascension. God had confidence in Jesus as he was entering the next key stage of his work.

The disciples did understand after the resurrection when they realised that death was no incompatible with the idea of God. The Jews nor Moslems still can not accept that God – in the person of Jesus – could die.

Both passages indicate a changed appearance from being close to God. We may not physically glow but are there signs that we have been in the presence of Jesus. 

The Swiftley pass the clouds of glory – 260 in Singing the Faith) has these words in verse 2:

But by following the saviour through the valley to the cross
And by testing faith’s resilience through betrayal, pain and loss.

And then in the last verse

Lord, transfigure our perception with the purest light that shines,
And recast our life’s intentions to the shape of your designs

Are we reflecting the light that is Jesus?

Is Jesus shining through us?

Are we faithful when all around us is pain or loss? How are we feeling about world events?

How might we hear Jesus?

Some suggestions – you may have others that work for you so do not be offended if I mss your favourite out – just let me know.

Read/study the bible – individually or together

Meditate

Pray

Reflect on your own spiritual experiences

Fellowship – as we share we  may learn from each other

Check church history to see what has been done before

Could we not say that this is all about spending more time in the presence of God?

This week it is Ash Wednesday and for the five following weeks we have a Lent Course here at led by Colin  Buchanan. My liturgy tutor and the Bishop who officiated at the service when I was first admitted to the office of Reader and licensed to preach and teach as an authorised minister in the Anglican Church.

Can I encourage you to consider joining in with this as a way of deepening our faith and our commitment to God?

But whatever wee can do may we each one be more willing to listen to Jesus as God commanded 2000 years ago. Amen.

****

I have posed a number of questions and one answer is to walk in the light of God, follow God and trust God.

How do we do that? Each has their own approach. But basically it is being true to what has been revealed to us and living out in love and faith. Love to all and faith in God to sustain and keep and uphold us whatever may befall.

Our final hymn – one I first cam across 50 years ago in William Street Mission Hall in Swindon – emphasises the aspect of light again. As we walk in the light it will be evidence to the world that we believe in God and that God is still in the world today, through us and our actions.

Walk, walk, in the light.

Psalm 40

I am writing this reflection from the perspective of some one who is a survivor of church-based abuse. It is an amalgam of several people over different time scales who were subject between them to a wide range of abuse: emotional, psychological, financial as well as sexual.

This psalm tells of God’s deliverance in the first ten verse but then from verse 11 onwards is a plea for help.

I believe that God is sovereign and there is a sense of abundance in the praise for past help. And thus if there is a memory of God’s goodness then this part makes sense. Although it some times this lofty pean of praise is one that our own experiences find harder to fully subscribe to.

I still recall a jaunty Sunday school chorus (number 374 actually) from long ago which now seems a trite, over simplified motif. There was the implication – believe and all will be well when we join with God in his home on high. Thinking about it – are we saying that it is only finally resolved when we enter fully into God’s presence in the life to come? Is there still evidence of the “miry clay” of the chorus clinging to our feet for evermore?

Yet verses 11 -15 are a heart felt plea for God to intervene for those things still unresolved. My experience is that for some, these issues can stretch back twenty, forty or sixty years in time and still there is no easing of the emotional or spiritual pressure. If it is not irreverent it as if one would really wish  that God had invested in a decent watch, such as a Rolex, rather than a sun-dial which only works when the sun is out!

There is a sense of wanting resolution faster with phrases such as: do not withhold your mercy, make haste, do not delay.

There is the sense of being totally overwhelmed with statements such as: evils without number, so many problems there is no way to see forward, innumerable times.

Sometimes the release only comes at the point of death; here I am thinking of the perpetrator, but this might be a long time and whilst waiting there is still this sense of dishonour and those who say “Aha Aha” which sounds judgemental. Ultimately all that can be done is to acknowledge God as a help and deliverer and try to rejoice because the individual seeks God.

So the question I am left with is how can I truly echo the words “I have spoken of your faithfulness and your salvation” when there is this unresolved issue? Has it really got to wait until I, too, reach glory when I resurrected into a new heaven and earth? Or what comfort can I take for the here and now as I attempt to live out my life according to my understanding of the Kingdom of God here on earth?

All I can do is trust God and take, as an example out of many possibilities,  selected lines from the final stanza of Psalm 91 to heart, bearing in mind that our faith always has an element of mystery in it. If there was no mystery then there would be no need for faith.

God says 

“I will protect those who know my name

I will be with them in trouble,

I will rescue and honour then

And show them my salvation.”

January 2022

Note:I prefer to take the whole passage rather than selected verses because my experience has been that some of the errors or poor behaviour has often stemmed from establishing a church on fragments of scripture, not always helpfully linked in my view, that has the possibility of allowing some of the abuses that I have considered in my reflection, to be perpetrated. This especially related to places where what used to be known as “heavy shepherding” was the norm or individuals acting alone without reference to others, or where followers attempting to prove their adherence to the leadership by becoming even stricter.

ADVENT SUNDAY 2021

I was leading the service at St Johns United Church this year.

First outing for two months – such are the vagaries of the rotas we have! Although fortuitously this allowed for me to plenty of time to care for Shelagh while she was very unwell.

I was asked not to preach for too long as the building can be a little cool. So I sneakily broke down my thoughts into four sections interspersed with the hymns and prayers. Actually I think that works quite well …

Readings were Jeremiah 33: 14- 16 and Luke 21: 25 – 36

INTRODUCTORY COMMENTS

This year Advent Sunday is sandwiched  between Black Friday and Cyber Monday! Two commercially motivated events with a very different purpose to that which we celebrate today. Both are driven by the sense of gain either individually or corporately which can be seen as in direct contrast with the teachings of Jesus.

The start of the new liturgical year: last week we ended the year with Christ the King – Jesus back in heaven as King of all creation 

This week we start the cycle all over again with this time of preparation before recounting once more his incarnation, life and ministry, passion, death, resurrection and ascension – in Luke’s gospel this year – and so back to Christ the King.

SOME MORE COMMENTS ABOUT THIS SEASON (just after lighting first Advent Candle}

These days Advent is a season of expectation and preparation, as the Church prepares to celebrate the coming of Christ in his incarnation, and also looks ahead to his final advent as judge at the end of time. The readings and liturgies not only direct us towards Christ’s birth, they also challenge the modern reluctance to confront the theme of divine judgement:

In the northern hemisphere, the Advent season falls at the darkest time of the year, and the natural symbols of darkness and light are powerfully at work throughout Advent and Christmas. The lighting of candles on an Advent wreath was imported into Britain from northern Europe in the nineteenth century, and is now a common practice. The Moravian custom of the Christingle has similarly enjoyed great success in Britain since the latter part of the twentieth century, with the encouragement of the Children’s Society.

THE ACTUAL SERMON (444 words)

This service is an Iona style service which is based on Celtic approaches and they are typified by observing the natural rhythms of life – each season succeeding season in a cyclical pattern. Last week some one wrote about this idea of circular time in the Church Times and how this was quite different to our usual understanding of time as linear. We control what we do by time tables, by measuring how long something takes in contrast to natural rhythms of time.

On two occasions I have been privileged to spend time on Holy Island, Lindisfarne, and there you have to get used to a natural rhythm – the tides that cut off the island twice a day but keep shifting during the day so tourist based business hours have to continually adjust to reflect natural events.

What I see in our readings is this idea of a promise and waiting.  Jeremiah has an uncharacteristically upbeat message of hope which talks of justice and righteousness which was what the Jews wanted, still want as they still await a Messiah.

A lot of scripture can be read on several levels and this is especially so in our gospel reading.

It has some stern comments about the idea of judgement and what some see as end times. Many would see a lot of this actually being realised in 68 – 70 AD when Jerusalem was attacked and laid waste with the Temple being destroyed. Up to that point the Christians were really seen as an off shoot of the Jewish faith and the whole basis of their faith with emphasis on sacrifices and such like in there Temple was obliterated.It would have seemed, to those alive then, as the end of time as they knew it.

The ultimate kingdom we are watching for is yet to be: Christ will come again to fully restore that kingdom but his death and resurrection bring in the reality of that kingdom. Some only see the idea of the kingdom as pertaining to a final return of Jesus, which is quite a limiting view. This is typically those who describe the kingdom of heaven is being all about where we shall be when we die. There is a much fuller picture to explore.

How can we use this period of waiting and preparation profitably?

May we be able to step back from our linear approach to time – ruled only by clocks and calendars to spend time reflecting on God in the time for Christmas. Anticipating both his birth and his establishment of his kingdom here on earth in all its fulness.

FINAL THOUGHTS (which lead up to the hymn “there’s a light upon the mountain”)

The Four Last Things – Death, Judgement, Heaven and Hell – have been traditional themes for Advent meditation. The characteristic note of Advent is therefore expectation, rather than penitence, although the character of the season is easily coloured by an analogy with Lent. The anticipation of Christmas under commercial pressure has also made it harder to sustain the appropriate sense of alert watchfulness, but the fundamental Advent prayer remains ‘Maranatha’ – ‘Our Lord, come’ (1 Corinthians 16.22).

Candles feature in this time of Advent and the idea of light coming into the world. We are part of that process as we demonstrate the light of Christ.

This is echoed in out last hymn which talks of light anticipating the coming of the kingdom of God, the coming of Jesus as God incarnate. Note especially the words of verse 4