WISHY WASHY

“I thought you two would get on – you’re both wishy washy Christians”

A comment from a mutual friend of myself and another Christian minister whom I met recently.

 

I pondered this for some time. Slightly sad that my faith was seen as somehow, somewhat diluted or possibly ineffective? I did not pursue it as I know the individuals style tolerably well, it was her short hand way of saying that my faith, and the other persons, was not the same as hers. And she would struggle to accept that.

It illustrates the need for a generous orthodoxy or “diverse complementarities” as our Area Bishop has put it in respect of our parish. This is essential despite our different interpretations we Christians are too small a group to be seen disagreeing amongst ourselves.

It posed the more general question: why do some Christians display  judgemental tendencies? I am wondering does it come from a view of extreme right and extreme wrong? You are either “in” or “out” – no grey areas, a mutually exclusive saints or sinners approach. Personally I see faith as much more fluid. The corollary is that “if my belief is right, irrefutably right, then anything different is wrong”. Or is it “I am going to heaven because I believe a, b, c …” with an inference that others are on the one way ticket to eternal conscious torment?

I cannot accept that. Throughout the scriptures there is an evolving relationship with God, understanding varies with time and circumstance giving rise to multiple interpretations. Happily living together with the disagreements in tension with each other.

 

I have come across those who ridicule and shout down any who do not follow their very specific doctrine. Where is the love? They respond with the comment “Tough Love” but even that has to accept that we are not all the same?  What is it that they genuinely find so unacceptable about a multiple approach?

If someone says they are Christian but their experience is not yours – does it matter? We all rejoice together that they believe and trust in God and follow Jesus. I am then told that there is only one way to God – I agree but that way has a myriad paths running the route that bring each of us, from whatever background or faith position, into the prospect of a vital and viable relationship with God.

To be fair the mutual friend is not that judgemental as described above but I suspect she finds it hard to think of me as a “proper Christian’ in her belief system.

My faith is now evangelical in that I listen to others and hear their concerns, their stumbling blocks so I can share my own convictions and am willing to be known as Christian but does not accept the traditional Evangelical doctrine. I find my faith now more congruent and complete which makes me more confident about it. Surely the opposite of wishy washy?

Sermon for 11 April 2021 – Easter 2

The text of my sermon preached at St Andrews, Kildwick and St Johns, Cononley on Sunday 11 April 2021.

The readings were Acts 4: 32 – 35 and John 20: 19 – 31

Simon, Andrew,James, John 

Philip, Bartholomew (Nathanael)

Matthew (Levi), Thaddeus (Judas)

Judas, Simon, Thomas, James.

THE DISCIPLES – WHAT DO WE MAKE OF THEM?

I get the feeling they were a mixed bunch and not always depicted as good role models in the gospel accounts. For example:

Ran away – when the going got difficult

Fell asleep at crucial moments

Missing the point repeatedly when listening to Jesus

Not understanding what Jesus said

Complaining

Jewish mother looking for special favours for her sons

Denying they even knew Jesus with oaths

And that is just among the twelve we have names for. Some barely mentioned in the accounts we have – just their names and the briefest of biographical details. Some are totally un-named as we read that 70 or 72 were sent out at one time so that is 58 or 60 totally unknown to us.

Note there are also a number of women, how many we do not know,  often called Mary, who followed.

Giving Thomas the soubriquet “doubting Thomas” to my mind seems a little unfair. Judas Iscariot the traitor, Simon the Zealot and Matthew the tax collector also have a tag.  Why not denial Peter or sleepy James and Sleepy John?  Why has that rather negative tag stuck?  Why has poor old Thomas got that epithet?

True he wanted actual proof and in that he resembles modern humanity in that it wants facts, hard evidence.Yet this was the first time Jesus was addressed as God in the recorded events – so is such a negative view of Thomas fair?

It is pointed out, if we take the view that chapter 21 was a later addition, that this is neatly towards the end of John’s  account – it certainly reads like a conclusion. The gospel started with an acclamation that the Word – or Christ – was with God at the beginning and here is doubting Thomas at the end being given the words to round off the whole book. Even John when he looked into the tomb, as recorded earlier in this chapter, saw and then believed. Thomas had not had that  advantage.

I like to think that this was meant more as encouragement.

So why not Believing Thomas? He needs a makeover.

Messiah – reclaiming the original plan

So the Messiah, the son of God, is turning out, for the disciples, despite their fears, to be Jesus, the very one whom they had lived and listened to over the last two to three years. The source of their spiritual existence and also ours.

Jesus had come from heaven, to reclaim humanity in accordance with the covenant that God wanted to be a right relationship be for us. Julie has spoken about the various covenants prior to Easter and Jesus by being victorious in death helped to accomplish this, then and now.

Now in his resurrection state seemed to be able to move between our world and God’s world – being part of both kingdoms.

Fellowship and living out the covenant

We read that this had a very real practical result in the fellowship of the early church. The apostles, or disciples as I have referred to them already, gave their testimony with great power. A very different bunch from the gospel accounts. Of course they had been emboldened by events at the time of Pentecost and we have not got there yet in our telling the story in our church year!

However there is this notion of having ‘things in common’ and nobody was needy. This was not new – back in the Torah, the Law of Moses, there had been the idea of release from debts and freeing slaves every fiftieth year being a year of Jubilee. You can read about it in Leviticus 25. But through this provision, this law the plan was that nobody would be permanently poor and ancestral  lands sold would be returned and slaves set free.

Some have wondered whether the common ownership in the Act 4 passage was an early form of communism – I do not think so: it is thought here was no  suggestion that people sold the houses they lived in but rather let go of old family property and used the proceeds for those less fortunate. So, as in many cases, the result of Jesus was a re-establishment of all that was good in the older covenant. Not abolishing the law but fulfilling it. As I understand it the Year for Jubilee was not mentioned thereafter in the Bible and some suggest it was hardly ever practised, if at all. Certainly it was not around in the first century having died out totally when the northern part of the Israelite kingdom was taken into captivity in 740 – 720 BC.

For the Jews sharing their property was a cultural shock and against all that they would have done formerly. They looked upon their ancestral homes as part of their tradition and inheritance so we can see this as very new thing with the idea of fellowship with all, not just your family or tribe. This was renouncing a central Jewish symbol alongside the setting aside of the Temple and the old sacrificial law as necessary qualifications for faith – being prepared to be led by Jesus and the spirit of God.

It would have been counter cultural for them.

Applies to us – all about attitude

We might say that was all very well in the first century – life is very different now, different culture, different problems, much more complex. Very true: but I think from the Acts reading we can pick up the idea of having a right attitude. Being prepared to change.

There are a great many ethical concerns that are important for Christians to engage with – both internationally and within this country and how we relate to the world and the many, for whom, the bible and faith are a mystery and which is shunned by some. Although I am aware of an increasing awareness of spirituality amongst individuals: how it is outworked may not be in the same way as the church has done previously.  

Back to Thomas who called Jesus God, the first to do so. He was sceptical at first but he believed. He also got three mentions in John’s gospel which is more than others get such as Thaddeus, for example.

May we all, as we behold Jesus in our bibles, in our reading and listening, in our reflecting on the mystery of his love (as in the hymn ‘The head that once was crowned with thorns’ v5), be blessed because we have believed. May we each echo Thomas and proclaim ‘my lord and my god’ in what we say, what we do and how we live out our faith in love and truth. Amen.

Palm Sunday 2021

The text of my sermon given via Zoom in the Parish of Kildwick, cononley and Bradley.

The readings were Philippians 2: 5 – 11,Mark 11: 1 – 11

In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit

Palm Sunday. A time when Jesus and his disciples were going up to Jerusalem because it was the time of the Passover. The passover this year started yesterday and will be observed by Jews in remembrance of their deliverance from Egypt.

200 years before

On the assumption which seems supported by quite a few commentators that the crucifixion took place in 30 AD (Jesus then being 33 or 34 years old having been born 6 – 4 BC) a  good Jew would on reading Mark’s account of waving leafy branches (Mark does not actually mention Palms) would think back nearly 200 years (164 BC actually) when Judas Maccabaeus cleansed and restored the Temple. He was a victorious leader who overthrew the Selucid (Greek) occupiers under Emperor  Antiochus Epiphanes. The actions of Judas  resulted in the establishment of the festival of Hannukah  which is still celebrated today by Jewish communities.

They celebrated by waving ivy and palm branches.

1000 years before

On seeing Jesus riding on a colt (sorry does not actually say a donkey in Mark) the Jews would see an echo of another historic moment in their history about a 1000 years earlier.

In 970 BC actually, Solomon ascended to the throne and he came into Jerusalem riding on a mule belonging to his father, for his coronation as king.

Treating like Royalty

A lot of symbolism in this arrival at Jerusalem which would have been evident to the crowd.

With those thoughts in mind it is little wonder that they treated Jesus as if he was royalty. You do not lay down your cloak for anybody, it is reserved only for the very top people. They were acclaiming him as the Messiah crying out Hosanna – which means “save Now” – a sense of urgency. Apart from the brief period 200 years ago they had been subject to occupation by other powers for 600 years. Their days of glory and having their own king were a cherished memory. Herod who ruled was a puppet of the Romans – described as a client king for the Romans.

Interesting that this entry with all it presaged did not, apparently, arouse the suspicion of the Roman authorities.

Messiah

The crowd saw Jesus as the messiah who was going to overthrow the Romans.

The crowd were expecting a traditional Messiah. For them the important thing was the overthrow of the occupying forces for once and for all. They saw this as a a person bringing vengeance and retribution for  all the wrongs they had experienced. They certainly did not expect a Messiah whose principal message was one of peace and love. Jesus told them to love their enemies and he went to  his death in a state of forgiveness to them for what they had done.

Divinty – as in Philippians

If we look at the Philippians passage we Jesus being reckoned as truly divine since the beginning of time stepping aside from this and becoming incarnate as a human. He did not lose his godly nature but he accepted the role that he alone could be the one who could overcome the force of evil and thus bring about the only antidote to its devastating effect on all.

This passage is seen as a very early hymn expressing our faith and is sometimes used as a form of creed (see E9 in the Common Worship book). Jesus was the one who died in self-giving love on the cross – for all. 

Counter-cultural

Sadly for the majority at that time, Jesus was not behaving as they expected. The crowd were looking  for a warlike warrior who would overthrow the vicious Romans and give them their independence just as Judas Maccabaeus had done. 

He was not what what they expected in a King, because he was talking about bringing in a kingdom founded on peace. Much has been done by nations in the in the past that has used the idea of a “just war” to right wrongs – in other words a war is to be preferred against allowing a greater atrocity to exist. But here  Jesus here is stating, that he comes in a peaceful way. Yet he got angry – the overturning of the money changers tables in the temples two days later. But he was not to be drawn into a plan that would systematically kill in order to achieve his objectives, which were those of God.

The High Priests could not appreciate Jesus, whose concept of a Messiah was not a sword wielding king: it was alien to their minds. 

Pilate, as a Roman Prefect, would not have understood it. Totally against the approach Romans adopted to bring about their aims.

Herod, the puppet king was not of that approach either.

And the crowd, it seems, soon turned on Jesus when they realised he was not going to deliver the goods. I often wonder how many of the disciples, at that point, were still expecting Jesus to suddenly quit talking and start physically fighting?

Their war-based mentality just did not get a gospel of peace and forgiveness. Were they threatened by it? 

As an aside do we have trouble really accepting a gospel of peace? How many conflicts are we involved in which are warlike in their nature? Not killing, but for example: acting to ‘teach some one a lesson’; lacking in compassion in our approach; bent on ruining a person’s reputation? Or do we always seek to do all we do peaceably in the name of love?

May we all be constant in our allegiance to Christ. Not fickle like the crowd who proclaimed one day and wanted him crucified by the end of the week.

Following his example and seek to set aside our selves to truly be those who love and forgive, and live in peace and understanding with all humanity

May we indeed have the mind of Christ and put on his approach. Be prepared to stand out and be different. We do not have to make an ultimate sacrifice as he did, but it may mean we have to reach out in love and faith to those around us. To accept those perhaps, with whom we do not totally agree and whom have other viewpoints and unconditionally love them, support them and work with them, to further the gospel?

Amen.

Mothering Sunday

The text of my sermon for Mothering Sunday given via Zoom for the parishes of Kildwick, Cononley and Bradley

The passages were 2 Cor 1: 3 -7 . John 19: 25b – 2

In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit

Relationships

Any one know some one who is a  true reclusive?

Really happy being on their own?

Many have been forced into a life style more akin to being reclusive than they would have liked  in the last year with social distancing and restrictions.  We are generally social beings and work best when in relationships and in groups. Single people often put a radio or other sound on as soon as they get home as being on your own can seem daunting. that could readily be e approach if we allowed it. Fortunately the technology has provided some respite – but how many feel Zoomed out as the digital platforms do not quite replace proper socialising.

A neighbour was recently saying (more than six feet away in her garden)  she has yet to hug her new granddaughter and that is typical of the reaction to the lockdown measures.

We all need relationships.  When I used to lecture in management we had trite acronym for a team – together everyone achieve more – which underlines the importance of relationships in work, but the same is true across all aspects of life including church.

At the start of his second letter to the Corinthians Paul is hinting at his relationship with the church there –  nine mentions of the word ‘console’ or a derivative. Some would translate that as comfort: Tom Wright suggests that the word can meant call some one to come near’ or ‘to make a strong appeal or exhortation’. This suggests encouragement, new hope or insight which will help the recipient to better face whatever it is that is troubling them. Meeting people where they are and giving fresh hope, fresh ways forward – something that should characterise our lives as Christians in this time of pandemic problems.  Whilst we do not know what was the affliction Paul experienced it seems it was serious. Given some of his life events I am guessing something extreme.

A sense of a form of solidarity as part of the Christian body, a deep concern between Paul and this church. It speaks of a relationship. Relationships built on love, understanding and trust – a central part of true friendship.

Example of Jesus

Jesus – although in one respect was God was also, paradoxically, human and as such he needed relationships. He had his disciples – there were perhaps 70/72 in the bigger looser group, then the 12 and then the closest three – Peter, James and John.

He had his family, and although they did not follow him during his lifetime, we know that some of his brothers did become believers later on – James, Jude (letters), Joseph and Simon as well as un-named sisters. (Mark 6:3 or Matthew 13: 55-56)

We do not hear a great deal about them in the gospel accounts but there is this glimpse in today’s gospel from John. At his most vulnerable, being crucified which was a torture designed to be as painful as possible; to be as drawn out as possible and as undignified as possible, Jesus does not forget he is in relationship with people

His mother was there, and no doubt she was feeling vulnerable as here son was being slowly executed; she was not forgotten by Jesus.

He ensures that the  “disciple he loved”   who we believe to be John was given the instruction to care for Mary.

We should take comfort that as we are often vulnerable in our lives, our work, our hopes, our fears, our future that we can be sure that God is still concerned about us.

Mothering Sunday

I was going to comment on the use of the word Mother’s Day compared to Mothering Sunday but Chris Wright has already done so in his article in the parish Pinnacle magazine which I would commend to you. The key element being that this day is half way through Lent and thus this Sunday was seen as something more special. It was a time to go to the main or ‘mother’ church and that often allowed the chance to take a small gift home.

The evidence of care seen within Paul’s comments speaks of a church that might exercise mothering.

Mothering can be thought of  as:

To watch over

To nourish

To protect

This might be a good person specification for God! And Paul was convinced that god was at work amongst all that was afflicting him. Truly a mothering.

The idea of mothering I would broaden out to encompass female and male, young and old, single and married, parents or those childless – totally inclusive.  We can all exercise “mothering”.

God, although we speak of him as Father and use masculine pronouns God is really both male and female and “mothers” us in his love and provision. We do not have a gender singular neutral pronoun for referring to a person in English which is something that has exercised grammarians for the last three hundred years.

Our relationship with God

Jesus in his death throes was still concerned about relationships. So we whatever the background, whatever the context we need to consider our relationships with family, with friends with those whom we meet. Do they meet the ideal represented to su in Paul’s letter and in the words of Jesus on the Cross?

Many will still use today to affirm their relationship with their mother through gifts such as flowers, chocolates or actions. Making them feel pampered and appreciated.

But for all of us a  good time to pause and take stock of our relationship with God. We need to  affirm our relationship with God, we can truly begin to understand something of his promise to us of his kingdom, heaven, here on earth.

In all our vulnerability, in all our needs, when things look desperate then God can still reach out to us. We have all needed that care, that mothering during the last fifty one weeks of restrictions.And we have all been called upon to offer that care.

Shortly we have an opportunity to consider our own relationship with God, as we say our creed, or affirmation of faith together Because God cares for all of us, so we should reflect that love to others.– not just mothers.

Let us look to God to relate to us. May we all be thankful that God wants us and enables us to be in a relationship with himself which will promote action that will make a difference to those around us” in our families, amongst our friends and all we come across.

Amen.

Sunday next before Lent – 14 February 2021

Below is the text of my sermon for this Sunday – next before Lent 2021.

This was broadcast for All Saints Keighley on their Facebook page and also at a Zoom gathering for the Parish of Kildwick, Cononley and Bradley.

The readings were 2 Corinthians 4: 3 – 6 and Mark 9: 2 – 9

Pancakes ready? Shrove Tuesday this week and then its Ash Wednesday.

Quinquagesima to use the Book of Common Prayer designation means the 50th day before Easter. Lent actually has 46 days (40 days plus six Sundays) and if we include both days it is 50 days until Easter. 

Transfiguration is the reading every year on this Sunday, next before Lent. So we read it in Matthew, Mark and Luke over the three year cycle of lectionary readings. Also celebrated on 6th August each year as well. Must be important as it is set before us every year.

This event follows on from Peter’s confession that Jesus was the Messiah. It seems especially as we read through Mark that it took a while for things to dawn on the disciples. They needed to know how the story would unfold before they could really understand.  How often do we find that we need to take our time to appreciate what it is God is saying to us?

So here we have these dazzling clothes. I recall soap advertisements from the 1950s – I guess that all the scientific knowhow of Lever Brothers at Port Sunlight could not have got the whites as bright as depicted in this account!

I understand that the idea is that their garments were glowing – a real brightness that our laundries could never achieve! . A number of times we read in the old testament about how when people were in the presence of God their faces glowed. The idea of a bright light is central to our gospel message, shining in the darkness.

The words from heaven echo those at the Baptism of Jesus we heard a few weeks ago – telling them to listen to Jesus. Elijah and Moses represented the old order and now this was something new.

I always used to wonder how they knew it was Moses and Elijah?  Divine illumination or being told by Jesus after the event are what I have been told but I now understand that Moses and Elijah were often thought of together in the minds of the faithful so not surprising that any self respecting Jew would know it was them.  Moses representing the law, the scriptures and Elijah the prophetic voice – two strands of God’s revelation to us. Also in Jewish traditions Moses is regarded as the greatest prophet. But he died and was buried. He had lived a full life yet we read his sight was undimmed and his vigour unabated at the time of death.

The old testament reading for this morning tells us about Elijah who was one of the few who did not die 

11As they continued walking and talking, a chariot of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them, and Elijah ascended in a whirlwind into heaven. 

Very different for Jesus – he would have to die, in a public execution that was designed to humiliate and be as painful as possible but he would be triumphant , victorious over death. But for now there was this vision of Jesus talking with two great figures of Israel”s past – Moses and Elijah.  And just three witnesses.

Perhaps that is why Peter’s idea of three dwellings or as some translations have it booths.  Possibly the first thought that came to the mind of a good Jew, such as Peter, for whom the Festival of Tabernacles or Booths would have been well known. The feast is still practiced today amongst the most strict of orthodox Jews who live in a tent for the eight days – it is celebrated after the harvest and was a time of rejoicing – we can read about it in Leviticus 23.

This feast also pointed them to a time when God would again dwell with his people, in the future. As Christians, we might refer to this as the kingdom of God. The temple was illuminated to remind Israel of the pillar of fire that had led them in their wilderness journey.

Reminded them of how they lived during the wilderness years following the Exodus which also looked to the day of the Israel’s deliverance as. The feast was looking forward to the coming of the Messiah.

The Jews knew that the messianic hope was symbolised by light. The idea of light is central to the gospel as seen in the reading from the second letter to Corinthians.  It was an Indication of the glory of God as noted in the Feast of Booths.

From Paul’s letter he sees himself as a servant of Jesus and this idea underscores the notion that the Jesus is truly the Messiah, the one who bring about the ultimate purpose of God’s kingdom. We can be sure in that hope. 

The Transfiguration is a bridge between the incarnation of Christmas and Epiphany and the preparation for the death and resurrection of Jesus which we observe in Lent followed by Easter.

May this revelation of Jesus in his glory be with us, in our minds and hearts as we move into the period of Lent. The Disciples found out more about Jesus as they journeyed on in their faith and this moment of brilliant illumination was a pivotal point when they were told very simply to listen to Jesus. May that be so for each of us.  Amen.

Candlemas 2021

The text of my input to the Zoom service for 31st January 23021 for the Parish of Kildwick, Cononley and Bradley. The readings wereMalachi 3: 1 -5, Luke 2: 22 – 40.

Candlemas – we can remove the crib from public display from Tuesday as the season of Epiphany ends, the period of enlightenment. Often there can be a procession for a Candlemas service with lighted candles -one church I knew had over a 100 at such a service. But it is another opportunity to signify a moment of understanding, something that is a light to our understanding.

Checking out an old order of service for candlemas I was reminded of the following acclamations that can be used with the gospel reading.

Today the Lord is presented in the Temple

In substance of our mortal nature Alleluia!

Today the Blessed Virgin comes to be purified

In accordance with the law Alleluia!

Today old Simeon proclaims Christ as the light of the nations and the glory of Israel Alleluia! Praise to Christ, the light of the world!

This reminds us that Jesus was  fully human and underwent all the physical life of a first century Jew.

We have to remind ourselves that Jesus was raised as a devout Jew carefully abiding by the law, the Torah. This provided, amongst many other things in its 613 commandments,  in Leviticus 12  for a special ceremony of cleansing from ritual impurity – in the case of giving birth this was 40 days later on in the case of a son (although 80 days for a daughter – will not comment on this apparent inequality in the law) and there are, in fact, two offerings made.

Sin offering – graduated according to means – mandatory for cleansing from defilement

Bull – high priest

He goat – Ruler

She-goat or lamb  – common people

Turtle-dove or pigeon  – poor

Flour  – very poor. (a bit under 1 lb if take an ephah as 8 lbs)

So we can tell that Mary and Jospeh were poor – but not very poor! A great contrast between Jesus as Son of God and his earthly life.

Burnt offering. – the other turtle dove- voluntary act of worship, devotion and complete surrender to God – the animal is totally consumed by fire whereas only the blood was needed for a sin offering to be sprinkled. This idea underlines the thought that Jesus as the firstborn, would be seen as being offered to the Lord rather like Samuel whom we heard about the other week.

There are many other laws and associated sacrifices which we need not examine today.  But the essence was about being pure – and separated unto God. 

This idea of purification is present in the old testament reading but also has some connotation of judgement.  There The example of refining precious metals is used where heat is used to bring the base metals to the top and allow them to be skimmed off. A sense of righteousness, devoted to God which is what the priests, the Levites, were meant to be.  As the first born Jesus was especially given to the Lord but it is a principle applicable to all of us.

Then we come to the well known words of the Nunc Dimittis (from its opening words in Latin) used as a canticle in evensong or compline.

Simeon’s words speak of hope for the whole world.  At last God’s plan for all people can come to fruition and not just the Jews. He, and Anna, were praying and looking towards God and looking for something miraculous that would bring about the kingdom of God in all its fulness. They saw that Jesus being born was the starting point of this process and so praised God for his provision.

However there is a sombre note – there is talk of suffering and a “sign that is to be opposed”. Jesus was not 100% popular with all he came into contact with – still the case. Because his values are not necessarily the world’s values or priorities. There is a challenge in accepting Jesus, we are confronted with choices about how we should act. 

Interestingly the purification laws has an echo in a service near the back of the Book Of Common Prayer for “The thanksgiving of women after child-birth commonly called the Churching of Women” the use of which has more or less died out now since the 1960s. Those looking at all the old testament laws generally state that we still need to observe all the moral principles although the ceremonial and cultural laws are no longer to be followed. And these principles that are enshrined in the teaching of Jesus can seem at odds with much of the possessive and insensitive power plays seen in some politics or corporate affairs. Or as said earlier, separate and devoted to God.

Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace according to thy word.

For mine eyes have seen thy salvation,

Which thou hast prepared before the face of all people;

To be a light to lighten the Gentiles and to be the glory of thy people Israel.

We could have had reading from Hebrews 2 as well this morning and this encapsulates the ideas of Jesus being a human, the concept of sacrifice and the suffering aspect.

17Therefore he had to become like his brothers and sisters* in every respect, so that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the people. 18Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested.

Jesus is a light for us all and so may we all give thanks that Jesus was truly human, and prepared to stand out against the wrongs of society and may we commit to follow his light and live a life devoted to God.

Baptism of Christ – 10 January 2021

The text of my short homily given on-line for the Kildwick, Cononley and Bradley Parish morning prayer

Readings were Genesis 2: 1 – 5. and Mark 4: 4 – 11

In the name of the Father, son and Holy Spirit 

Light

We are living in times which can feel quite dark and gloomy.  Restrictions due to the pandemic, disturbing events in Washington in the USA and other serious developments which can drag us down: even if not physically then emotionally and spiritually.  A chaotic time.

Many years ago when I first worked in retail the older gentleman who trained me always referred to whether nights were drawing in or drawing out when chatting to shoppers – he would say “well the nights are drawing out now.” Probably because light is an important aspect for us all, and as a good salesman he knew he needed to connect with the customers and this was one of his ploys. 

Our old testament reading has this image of a very chaotic earth and it being changed by the actions of God. The words in verse 2 can refer to anything from a wind, through a spirit to God’s spirit which swept across giving rise to light. It was the start of the creation of all that we know and experience, all that has happened and will continue to happen.

Epiphany is a time  of awareness or realisation. Jesus as first visibly manifest when born,  only a select few witnessed that. The magi visit might have been more, possibly some more when he was twelve in the temple  but the first real public occasion was his baptism which we remember today as given in the gospel: Jesus was manifested, made known, in a very public way as God come down to earth.

Notice too that the Spirit descended from heaven – although I do not see heaven as “up” but that was the  understanding of the time when written. This was the way in which Jesus was anointed. Set apart. I see a parallel with creation account in Genesis, where God said the light was good and here is saying I am well pleased in my Son. And there is the image of Spirit being involved in bringing a new creation that would counter the parts of the original creation that had gone wrong and bring the reality of God’s kingdom not only to the Jews, but within a few years to the world.

So today we ask ourselves how is God manifest in our lives? How do we show that true light?

By living out our faith. Each of us have our own story, our own understanding but may we all seek for a manifestation of God in our lives.

By responding to the light that is Christ and believing that through that new creation we will be effective, as we know that the underlying cause of our actions – do we live as those anointed by God, aware of whom we are and being known as a Christian? 

A time when we can reflect on our own encounter with God, our own spiritual experience.

May we each one, look earnestly for God’s anointing of ourselves, that our spiritual lives may flourish and we live in the light of God’s new creation, the new birth that is signified in baptism.

Sermon for Sunday 3 January 2021

The following is the text of my thoughts given at St John’s United Church, Cononley on the first Sunday of the new year.

The readings were:

Ephesians 1: 3 – 14

John1: 10 – 18

Anyone yet taken down their Christmas decorations?

I only ask as a friend messaged me on Christmas Eve to say she had not got my address but was sending a card as it would still arrive in Christmastide.

Despite the commercial approach which often starts in December or even earlier: I noticed the street decorations going up in Skipton in October, it is still Christmas.

The readings today are those authorised for today, the second Sunday after Christmas. Note that the gospel reading from John chapter 1 occurs again as well as at Christmas – it must be important for it to be repeated.

The passage which echoes the creation story of Genesis reminds us that God’s love is eternal, his whole nature is love which is generously shared with each of us. And Jesus was sent into the world to enable God’s abundant love to be sent into the world, through his life lived in a small part of the world, that affected many and gave rise to his followers who revolutionised the world and who continue to this day.

As we look and read about the life of Jesus we  can choose to live out what we see, reflecting God’s generosity to us, as Jesus himself displayed the Father’s glory. We are regarded as children of God, which we see in the Ephesians reading.

As we look and perhaps wonder are we truly part of God’s family we should think of the wisdom of the Holy Spirit – do not doubt, do not panic, do not worry. Look at me and you will see Jesus in yourselves more and more. As Jane Williams once wrote:

Through the son we see the Father

Through the spirit we see the son

Thought the father we see what we are meant to be

We are made in the image of God to share in God’s love and goodness.

There is an old testament reading from Jeremiah 31 also in the lectionary for today which states, in part, 

“Hear the word of the Lord, O nations …

They shall come and sing aloud on the height of Zion

They shall be radiant over the goodness of the Lord 

I will turn their mourning into joy,

I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow …

And my people shall be satisfied with my bounty says the Lord.”

God is protecting, providing, God’s love for us is paramount, and this is a message for all the world.

This season continues up to Wednesday, Feast of Epiphany. The coming of the wise men or magi – probably one year later. I suspect that they had quite a retinue with servants and so on so their arrival would have been quite auspicious.

Epiphany- this means a moment of awareness or realisation.

Manifestation of a god

Jesus when first visibly manifest when born, an event only witnessed by a select few: the shepherds as mentioned on Christmas Day. That awareness is now global and despite those who oppose the idea of God, it shows no sign of going away. Around the world Christianity is still a force to be reckoned with. The appearance may change but the fundamentals of faith are forever.

Jesus was made known to the wise men as a god. They were probably Zoroastrians – an ancient faith located in the Persian area – who were searching for the truth and they found God’s son and presented suitable gifts from their treasure chests.

Their faith was very different to that of the Jews yet they were still accepted. That fact gives me hope for those who find faith difficult or whose view of faith differs from our own.

We are all made in God’s image, all worthy of God’s love – however, whenever we come, whatever our status, our background. 

And today as we reflect on this blessing of being part of God’s family let us all be thankful for God’s love to us. Let us demonstrate that love as we start 2021 living as best we can, during the current restrictions, to our families, friends and communities. May we allow others to see Jesus and his love in each of us.

Christmas 2020

The text of my sermon for Christmas morning – St John’s United Church, Cononley

 

The readings were:

Isaiah 62: 6 – 12

Luke 2: 8 – 20. 

Some one has described the manger as the most famous animal feeding trough in the world.

But it is key to making sure that the shepherds would be sure they were in the right place. I think they would know what a manger looked like so perhaps that is why the message from the angels mentioned it.

Interestingly, despite many images showing animals around at the time of birth – not actually mentioned as being there in Luke’s account. The word translated “inn” can have several meanings and it could have been a two storey dwelling with usual living accommodation on the first floor and space for the animals underneath. Given that Bethlehem would have been crowded with all those arriving there for the census  it is hardly surprising that something makeshift would be required.

Thinking of using what ever is to hand for the infant, I am reminded that when I was young when visiting relations it was not uncommon for a drawer to be emptied and used as a temporary cot – so perhaps we should not be surprised to note that the new parents placed their infant in whatever was to hand – such as would be found in a place where animals might be found.

The Old Testament passage from Isaiah is shown as poetry and thus capable of various interpretations but can be seen as looking forward to the coming of a Messiah “see your salvation comes … you shall be called ‘Sought Out’, a city not forsaken.” . Often the use of the word Jerusalem was not just standing for the physical city or even nation but was also used to indicate the place where God was, or even the place of God’s glory  and thus – the Kingdom of God. The shepherds would very likely be aware of these passages as education consisted of learning the ancient story of the Jews in what we term the Old Testament – they would have termed it the Law and the Prophets. So the shepherds who certainly would have known the law well, and some of the shepherds could be conscious of the words we heard from Isiah and would understand this concept of the kingdom of God. 

The shepherds were the first ones to really know about Jesus – up until then it has been Mary and Joseph, with  Elizabeth the mother of John the Baptist.

So they followed the heavenly messengers instructions and went to Bethlehem to see what was going on. Whether they took a gift of a lamb, again another image often portrayed, or not is unknown. But when they saw, they obviously believed – because a baby in an animal feeding trough might have been unusual even then – but it matched what the angel said.  And they broadcast what they had heard. Witnessed to the event.

This is all so well known, so familiar, what can we take for it for ourselves today.?

God had, incredulously, come down into a damaged, difficult and despairing world. The Jewish people were living under the fourth main foreign body to control them – Assyrians, Babylonians, Greeks and now the Romans.  Their life was one of hardship and oppression – living under strict controls where your own individual plans could be nullified at a stroke by the whim of the Roman emperor.  So in that respect we are better off – the rules we have to live by are being brought about with medical and scientific advice. Augustus had stated that his father, Julius Caesar, was a god thus he could claim to be a son of God.Thus his empire was the kingdom of God – precisely the term that would be thought of for the Messiah’s kingdom.

But this is God with us, God incarnate in human form, God living as a baby – vulnerable and dependent having to renounce all his kingly status for us.  Jesus who would grow up and live in a dangerous place and endure much sorrow and anguish in his early life. 

But through his existence, his death and victory over the grave, there is this redemption. As the Isaiah passage said

“They shall be called ‘The Holy People’, the redeemed of the Lord, … not forsaken.”

So through that there is this wonderful sense of light and hope and peace. How many Christmas cards do we see with the message “peace” – and this is what we should be echoing the words of the heavenly host 

“Glory to God in the highest heaven

And on earth peace among those whom he favours.”

May we, in these times of restrictions and disappointments, look forward and be thankful  that we have faith in a God who through Jesus understands us, our fears and grieves with us. May we truly give God glory and thank him for the gift of his son, Jesus whose birth we remember and celebrate this morning that his birth was the start of establishing God’skingdom here on earth,

CHRIST THE KING. 22 November 2020

This is what I would have said today at St John’s, Cononley if the service had been able to go ahead ….

Traditionally this particular Sunday in the Christian year has been more popularly known as “Stir up Sunday” – from opening words of the Book of Common Prayer collect for what used to be termed the last Sunday after Trinity.

“Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may of thee be plenteously rewarded; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”

This is because it was associated with stirring up the Christmas puddings – just a hint that Christmas is approaching and time to start the preparations. The street decorations, unlit admittedly,  have been up since late October in Skipton, so they are well ahead. I once witnessed a sermon delivered on this day, when  the preacher mixed her Christmas puddings from the pulpit using the various ingredients as images on which to hang certain gospel truths.  This year people are still unsure of exactly what will be possible at Christmas time but some are getting things ready last week on the radio the CEO of Co-op Foods told us that mince pies sales are doing well already!  

In Common Worship  this last four weeks of the liturgical year can be  taken as the season of “Christ the King” running from All Saints Day through to the eve of Advent.

Next week, on Advent Sunday – the new year for the church – we start the cycle all over again: preparation, birth, life, passion, death and resurrection and ascension of Jesus. This day can be taken to represent the culmination of events in Christ’s earthly ministry; looking  back to what has been achieved through his life and teaching.  And now he sits over all in his true place of rule.

I feel it is appropriate that we consider this cycle of events in Christ’s earthly existence from heaven – incarnation – heaven. A rhythm that would be familiar to the Celtic people who lived according to seasons and nature,  close to the regular changes of the world – common for most over 1000 years ago. Some years ago I was privileged to spend some time on Holy Island where there is a simplicity and serenity in having to adapt to a natural rhythm of the tides that cut off the island from the mainland; so very different from the never ceasing, perpetually busy life in the modern western world.

The continual working through the stories of Jesus from a place of kingly rule in heaven to an earthly ministry and back to heaven to rule as King, is a useful feature of the lectionary. Our own lives have seasons – each phase gradually moves onto the next and, as an aside, I do wonder whether we need more to accept that there is a cycle to life, a season for various things as we can read in Ecclesiastes chapter 3. Part of the natural order, and a helpful basis for our spiritual lives. Some, I believe, have come to understand more of this approach through 2020 when all of our ideas have been challenged and changed due to the present pandemic.

Whether we call Jesus King, the Christ, messiah or some other acclamation – perhaps that is less important than how we respond to his claims on our lives which demands us to give ourselves fully to his service. And now in a time of uncertainty and concern, this service is even more essential to our families, friends and communities.

We are called to worship and witness.  One view of our mission is about implementing the victory Jesus won on the cross. We who believe and follow Christ need to honour his reign over us as we seek to live out what that means for each of us.

So perhaps we should take note  the words in the collect for the 25th Sunday after Trinity, still in Common Worship but as the post-communion prayer: so we would not have used it today.

The New Zealand prayer book phrases it thus:

Stir up, O Lord, the wills of your faithful people that, richly bearing the fruit of good works, they may be richly rewarded through Jesus Christ our Lord.

May we be those living fully under Christ’s reign in our lives – living out his kingdom here on earth.

Amen

For those interested I spoke much more about the Kingdom of God four years ago on the Sunday of Christ the King, and the text of my notes are at  https://rodtickner.wprdpress.com – dated 20 November 2016.

My spiritual journey continues

Changes in my ministry in the last two years

At the beginning of October I started ministering as a Reader in the Church of England in the Kildwick, Cononley and Bradley Parish.

Given that up to two years ago I had no intention of leaving Keighley or involvement at All Saints this is quite amazing.  A year or so earlier I had considered a move but the logistical nightmare of sorting through thirty years of accumulated stuff soon put paid to that as totally unfeasible.  However 2019 was the year when I met Shelagh, whom I have known for over twenty years, and we fell in love and married in October. She had been living for 30 years in a pleasant house on the edge of Cononley and early on we decided that I would be the one to move – although my coming into her house meant as much upheaval for her as my leaving my own.

The expectation was that I would continue to worship and minister at All Saints as before but with one Sunday each month at St Marks where Shelagh normally worshipped and she, in turn, would be with me at All Saints when I was not on duty once a month: thus together in worship half the time.  As well as preaching there I had a regular commitment to the Friday morning Shopper’s Service in the Shared Church and occasionally at St Barnabas in Thwaites Brow. It was a seven mile car trip and straightforward.

At the back of my mind was the thought that I could offer to help out in Cononley for some non-eucharistic services especially as the house is quite close to the Church of St John in the village, but had not really followed the idea up.

Enforced change

Then in March 2020 came the present pandemic and church services ceased, travel was discouraged as we all adjusted to lockdown. On line services started and these were helpful but there was also time to reflect on how these enforced changes would pan out. Owing to a combination of factors – such as my technical prowess and non standard computer equipment – live involvement in ministering was not possible, even pre-recording remotely was a fraught exercise. I had begun to wonder whether my ministry within a worship setting was coming to an end. It was a subject of a Zoom virtual discussion during July with my Spiritual Director and the possibility of being more involved locally began to suggest itself.

As I prayed I began to feel a very definite sense of calling to serve locally. As I thought about it I realised that I was quite open about my faith but if I wanted to invite people to a church event many would question why was I not supporting the local church? As I read a number of books it became apparent that effective witness was carried out where you live and it seemed almost universal that you went to the local church. Incredibly some of these were ones that had languished in the cellar of the old house and had not been able to be moved prior to lockdown in March!

Thinking back to when I was part of a ‘gathered’ church 

Years ago I would happily travel past half a dozen or more Christian churches to get to the “right”one where my brand of faith was satisfied. It was done by myself and many others, no doubt from good motives at the time. There was this sense I regret of feeling superlative, exemplified by one phrase I recall from one leader “come with us and we will do you good.” There was the suggestion that I would be blessed if I remained with them but woe betide me if I left as I would go without their blessing. They also predicted that within five years there would no other churches in the city but they would have all the Christians as part of their 1000 plus church. Over 35 years later I can only state that it did not quite work out like that – the group still exists but of its size I know not.  One of the things that got me into trouble was that I questioned what was said: only to be told that I had to obey my leaders in the Lord, and they would be responsible for the mistakes – all I had to do was do as they told me. This seemed to mean I had to believe exactly the same things as themselves. They could not accept questions. I am glad I acted on my conscience over 35 years ago and moved on.

Being local in ones church

Even travelling to All Saints meant I went past five churches and another two or three were near the route! And I recall when I was helping out at other churches the sense of dismay I had that many Christians within a geographical parish did not attend the local expression but were gathered at another church when there was a real need for support in the local church. 

I have been part of that approach for a long time, so guilty as charged; believing that some churches were not quite “sound” or even in error and thus to be avoided. But more and more, I am less sure about that. It is an approach that creates large churches with over 50% non local membership and very small, struggling churches which only have a weak voice in their community. If all the Christians in an area stayed local then there might be more churches which had sufficient people to enable a full range of services and teaching and support to be made available. If I am called to serve then the style or customs of the local church will be less important to me than being of help in the locality.

In August I had recorded a service for All Saints but was less than happy about it as the process was not easy and I found it hard to concentrate on what I was saying because of the technical demands. I was not sure I wanted to see it but checking though available services on the internet I found that St John’s in Cononley had a Eucharist that very morning, so I hurriedly went – hoping that there would be room as I had not pre-booked a space!

A tentative enquiry about whether some help might be useful led to a change within two months!

By the end of September I was writing an introductory article for the local Parish Newsletter and preaching at Bradley on 4th October followed the next week at Kildwick: allowing me to experience the various churches within the parish. My involvement at Cononley will follow in November for I am limiting myself to two services per month.

My personal spiritual journey

My authority to officiate actually covers the entire Diocese so being involved elsewhere was not an issue and the various clergy involved at Keighley were very understanding and felt it was good to be part of the local church.

The Parish of Keighley has four churches with a team rector, two team vicars and a curate as well as a number of retired or self supporting clergy and about nine or ten Readers. The Kildwick, Cononley & Bradley Parish has one stipendary priest, a retired priest and one other Reader for three churches. So in terms of “staffing” it makes sense.

But it is more than just these practical matters: there is a sense that I can be a witness and an encouragement in the community where I live. It is a challenge as my faith has to stand the scrutiny of those who would expect high standards from those who profess to be a Christian. I have ready encountered this in my work in Community rail and the Dementia Awareness projects.

There is also a sense of peace and feeling that this is right for now. The pandemic has hastened what might have taken several years but I believe that as I have responded to the circumstances I have been led to a renewed sense of purpose in my ministry within a liturgical framework.

This journey has seen many twists and turns over the last fifteen years or so and each move has broadened my understanding and appreciation of the different approaches to being Christian. I have been challenged about seeing things differently from others and living peacefully with that tension. I recognise that I have a view and understanding but the next person may have their own interpretation which some would see as mutually exclusive. For me that represents part of the mystery of faith that all subscribe to the same God, same Lord, same creator, redeemer and sustainer but how we express it varies.

How long this part of my spiritual journey will last I can not say.  There may be constraints of personal health; a change of incumbency; external factors such as Covid 19 restrictions and so on. All I can do is be open to God’s leading and follow the prompting of the Spirit. I started off writing about changes in the last two years but in reality it has been going on for nearly sixty years now – albeit slowly at first – much of which I have chronicled elsewhere in this blog on previous occasions.