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?

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.

St Andrews Kildwick – Sermon for 11 October 2020

My first sermon preached at St Andrews, Kildwick on Sunday 11 October 2020 at Holy Communion.

Readings: Phil 4: 1 -9.       Matt 22:  1 -14

In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit

Wedding invites, getting ready

I suspect there are few here who have not been to a wedding at some time or another. Often told well in advance so that there is plenty of chance for a person to look in their wardrobe and say “I have nothing to wear …” Many years ago I worked in the menswear trade and one of our regular lines was as an agent for Moss Bros which ensured that those attending a smart wedding were correctly attired in morning coat and grey topper.  Men would come in several months before the event to be measured up, then a day or so before the big event collected their attache case with the correct clothing.

Most weddings are not rushed and lot of planning goes into them. 

Context of Parable

A similar passage in Luke but with differences. But in both accounts  the religious leaders were being targeted about their failure to recognise Jesus as the Messiah and their continual rejection of him.

These later chapters of Matthew abound with run-ins with the priests, scribes and pharisees – those in positions of power and influence but many were also ensuring that their personal power was maintained by compromising with the occupying Romans. 

Jesus reached out to the leaders who repeatedly ignored his message and tried to malign him.

This story refers to the coming of the Messiah that would herald in God’s Kingdom.  It immediately follows on from the parable about the wicked tenants who kill the owner’s son so the leaders knew exactly whom he was targeting.

[Worth remembering the gospels were written 30 – 40 years afterwards, each writer being selective according to their angle. It is possible that the verse about burning the city would be very apt if written after 70 AD when Jerusalem was destroyed, especially for a Jewish readership whom Matthew was primarily writing for.]*

Meaning of the parable

Some see this as looking forward to the end times when there will be a judgement but we can learn from it for today as well. It is about the kingdom of God which can be understood as a future event when we are in heaven, but is also about living a life of Christian service here and now and we should all be conscious of God’s standards in our lives.

The king represents God, the son is Jesus and this story is about God throwing a party for his son; the leaders of Israel were invited but they had refused. They had waited for the promised Messiah for hundreds of years and yet refused to acknowledge him because he was not what they wanted -his message was too uncomfortable for them.

This message was primarily aimed at the leaders, scribes and the priests. However they, by rejecting Jesus and his message are depicted here was those who snub the wedding invite. The king actually labels them as unworthy (v8). So we have picture of the invites being extended to all the people around – the everyday people, good and bad alike. Look at the people Jesus mixed with we have tax collectors, prostitutes, the poor and despised – those on the margins of society.  All we welcomed and it seems they flocked into the wedding hall.

I understand that it was normal in those days to let people know there was to be a wedding and then a second invite much closer to the actual day.  Most people even now, have plenty of notice of the occasion. So last minute excuses are not really understandable – they were going about their everyday work or trade.  They even killed those bringing the invitation much as prophets had been killed and Jesus himself.

The wrong clothes

Then there is this unfortunate who is not wearing a wedding suit. Not been to the Moss Bros agent!  This part is not in the Luke version – and seems to create a discordant note against the love of God for all. There is this sense of God demanding all to be invited and none shut out, even those we might exclude or those on the edge of society yet here we read of one being sent away for not having the right clothes.

Since we get an idea that these people were brought in some haste, we could ask would any have had wedding garment. Some suggest that the host would have provided these.  For some reason this individual was not wearing his.

Something marked him out: and I would venture that there is something wrong inwardly rather than literally the wrong clothes. Was it a wrong  attitude or arrogance – I am not sure but something marked him out. It is a stark reminder that the bible does mention judgement – and sadly not all accept the offer of God’s love.

We are loved, God redeems us but then there is, an expectation that how we live changes. True repentance involves change. God takes us as we are, no question about that, but his love and care for us wants us to change. We read of Jesus forgiving, healing individuals and telling them to “go and sin no more.”

Example of the “right clothes”

The bible abounds in examples of the way we should behave: how belief modifies what we do.  We need to be aware of barriers that prevent us from becoming all we can be in Christ. Paul in the Philippians has such a list.

Paul tells then to “stand firm in the Lord”  and writes about “guarding your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” which I take to mean that you belong, you believe so this leads to behaving in the right way.

A reproof to two ladies to agree, and an admonishment to all to rejoice, just as we heard in the music of the first hymn; also to be  be gentle and avoid worry. How many find it hard to even think of rejoicing in the present changing world full of restrictions due to the Covid 19 crisis? How many need to embrace such a view in these days of rising health concerns in the present pandemic? Then Paul follows this up with a list of the sort of things that we should think about: true, honourable, just, sure, pleasing, commendable. Many will have their own favourite passages which speak to them but this exhortation to think in a good way is one that was consistently pushed at us when I was in a bible class as a teenager.  We are all invited to share in the good news of the Kingdom, and may we all be wearing the right spiritual clothes when we are confronted by God.

May we be ready to respond to God’s invitation and put on the righteousness that underlies our faith. Amen

[….]* this section was in my notes but not used due to time constraints

Harvest – St Mary’s Bradley

The following is the text of my first sermon at St Mary’s, Bradley – one of the three churches in the Parish where I am now ministering.

The readings were 2 Corinthians 9: 6 – end and Luke 12: 16 – 30

In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit

Harvest

Harvest very different this year to ones I recall thirty years ago – lavish displays of fresh produce complete with a sheaf of wheat – more than hint of competitiveness about whose offering looked the best.  If you were into canned produce then it had to be Sainsbury’s not Morrisons! Here cash donations to Skipton Food Bank have been suggested – a sign of the times.

Food banks are now very important parts of the economy for many on low income or have insecure work. Hardly heard of in the UK prior to 2008: now right across the country and bring together those in need with those who can provide. Many are faith based – such as Skipton Food bank: up to last year I was in Keighley where the principal  agency was the Salvation Army. The need for them in some instances has doubled in 2020 compared to previous years.

Change

We are in a period of incredible change – social and economic with profound repercussions on emotions and health, especially the disadvantaged.    Changes we expect or plan for – such as moving house or marriage – can still be stressful although rewarding; I know I did both last year! But alongside the joyous family events there are changes that are unexpected or undermining often forced on us by necessity or something entirely outside our personal area of control. 

The events of the last seven months have meant significant changes for all.  A year ago if I covered my face in a shop they would have thought I was up to no good – now mandatory and even advisory walking along the street. But many of the changes have been far more crucial than that: work, travel, leisure and socialising even within a family have all altered and for many have impoverished their lives.

And the changes around the world are equally startling and disturbing which I shall not dwell on at this time but one that is important when thinking of God’s provision.

Parable

Jesus is responding to a question asked about inheritance – possibly trying to catch him out and so he tells this parable that they “would be on their guard against greed of every kind”.  The rich man was making his plans and his solution was to create more storage so he could be at ease and live luxuriously. But his plans are thwarted – suddenly and without warning he has died.  All his assets and wealth are, for him at any rate, from that point of no importance.

This was a fundamental change and I think the lesson here is less about change itself but our priorities. There is this summation in the parable (v 21) about treasure for themselves rather than treasure in heaven.

There is the sense that Jesus is being counter to the culture of his day when what he wanted to do was point people to the Kingdom of God which is about God’s sovereignty sweeping across the world in love and power (Tom Wright) which involves all of us in a practical and positive way.

There was as much need, if not more, in the time of Jesus as we experience today. No welfare state, no government funded furlough scheme – if you were not working then no money and no food except through begging or family and friends. The harvest time was important as that was your security for the year ahead.

The rich man had not considered giving some of his surplus away? 

Cheerful giver

Paul is writing about a cheerful giver: and is quoting three Old Testament scriptures in support of his thoughts. For example the last quote in v 10 is from Isaiah 55:10  –  “the one who supplies seed … will supply and increase your seed and multiply the yield of your righteousness” (N T Wright paraphrase).

There is an implication that this is part of our inheritance as children of God which involves sharing in what we have been given. We are called to be generous in our faith – nor just in words of witness but in acts of kindness and care and our giving.

Harvest is a time to thank God for provision and we can use the occasion to help others -as in a food bank.

Kingdom of God

I would commend the concept of food banks as a worthy initiative for Christians. I am aware of a number of projects which have sought to use the giving of individuals with surplus produce from supermarkets such as Pay as You Feel cafes. Sadly their need is not going to diminish soon – so we will need, as a people of faith, to continue to be a light and source of comfort for many.

Our individual  donation may not seem a great deal compared to the expressed need but it indicates where our heart, where our faith is located. [I have just re-read a science fiction book by C S Lewis who is well known as a Christian moralist and thinker. In it he depicts a picture of a planet where there are three distinct races living peaceably together and caring for each so that there is always sufficient to eat and hunger and want are unheard of. It is an allegory of what is possible in a world where it is ruled by God.]*

Some I know have seen the Kingdom of God as referring only to a future time when they are safe in heaven. It is more than that – it is about living out God’s commands amongst our neighbours, our environment, this world in accordance with God’s values and following God’s commands, looking to the example we have in Jesus.

The second part of the gospel reading looks at some of the spin-offs of trusting God – living according to God’s kingdom. Perhaps you can read it again when you get home as I am running out of time!

This is not to say that possessions are, in themselves wrong, but the attitude. The rich man was intent on storing it all for his own personal use – ignoring those in need, those hungry, destitute. We may not all be farmers who directly produce food – although some in this area are – but those in work or with adequate pensions may be able to appreciate Paul’s words about God providing us with every blessing in abundance .. so that we can share abundantly. (2 Cor 8:9) To those of us who are able here is a clear injunction to be generous in our giving. So although some of the surface trappings of harvest thanksgiving may be different it is still a time to remember and thank God  for his provision in our lives.

May we all seek to live out God’s kingdom in our hearts and minds and in our giving that we may truly witness to our faith. Amen.

  • The section in parentheses [] was not used but is included here – as there is less pressure on content. I aim to preach for no more than 10 minutes as, over the years, I have found this is what individuals can take in comfortably within the context of an Eucharistic service.

Scripture -a continuing revelation

An outline of my short sermon for Sunday 16th August 2020 broadcast on social media for All Saints Keighley

Reading:  Matthew 15: 21 -28

Helpful to set this story in some context of its time and customs.

Jesus had been engaged in critical encounters with the scribes and pharisees – they were questioning his authority and he challenged their approach to the application of the Law, or Torah. Each are quoting scripture and Jesus using what we now call the  Old Testament to emphasise that he is called to the people of Israel first and foremost.

The use of the word “dog” was a common enough description of a non-Jew or goyim as I recall from my days in Leeds they would say in Yiddish.  It was a common term and widely understood although has derogatory overtones and emphasises the separateness that had defined the Jewish faith.

This is not the first time in the gospel accounts he is confronted by a gentile: and this woman skilfully challenges Jesus to see the full implications of his message. He seems unable to respond at first but she is only asking for the left over crumbs. In the context of the previous chapter there is the feeding of the five thousand – and there were twelve baskets of crumbs as leftovers.

But people often want to keep us strictly within the constraints they imagine to be there, possibly marked out for a long time,  – Jews, gentiles and so on. I have recently been sorting out a lot of books I have: I came across one with a comment from a Jewish rabbi who was at an event with some Roman Catholics. An onlooker seed why he, `a Rabbi was mixing with Catholics stating”  “you did not even share the same scriptures.”  With respect to this lady part of the Christian scripture is the same as the Jewish ones although the new testament is certainly an extra.  So the questioner was not entirely right but I can sense her sense of puzzlement nonetheless.

The writer made the point that the people there “were combining truths of their traditions with the truths of their own experience: piecing together the public scriptures from the past with the private scriptures of their own lives.   Because our own lives are a sort of scripture too: God did not stop speaking at some date in the past but continues to work in us, refining  his revelation. So over the years slavery was abolished, the status of woman has changed – despite finding scriptural warrant for keeping slaves or subjugating woman in the past.  … The continuing revelation mean that we no longer torture old women as witches, permit interest on our building society accounts, and teach us to respect other faiths not fight them, why majorities no longer burn minorities but tolerate them even if they find them hard to accept.”  Although in the last twenty years since that quote was written I have seen less toleration in some areas.

We need to appreciate the universality of God’s love.  To avoid stereotypes. To not judge. God is for all of creation and welcomes those whose faith is weak or strong, whatever their background or experience and he will teach them his ways if they let him.

Jesu was Jewish but he was for all – gentiles as well.  We are living in the revelation of God’s love now but must be challenged about our assumptions. May we live out the Scriptures in our lives that God reveals to us – both those written long ago and those revealed now.

Sermon for 28 June 2020

My sermon for today, recorded on Thursday and just broadcast on social media from All Saints Keighley.

 

The readings were Jer. 28: 5-9. and Matt 10: 40 -43

In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit

As no doubt many have stated over the last few weeks and months, we are living in a time of unparalleled change and adjustment. However some alterations we encounter in the UK are quite slight in the wider context of world poverty and inequality.  An example of a less important matter: we now know that live streaming of material on the internet can be fraught, when the signal fails a loss of continuity. This is true of virtual meetings I attend each week which seem to need ten minutes each time to ensure everyone is hearing and seeing and can be heard. We notice it too in services such as this one. I could suddenly be silenced by the power of the world wide web but hopefully my thoughts will get through. Yet such concerns are essentially peripheral.

However for some all the best intentioned policies have had unintended consequences. As some of you know I have a particular role in dementia awareness and in the last week I have heard of two separate cases – one on Essex, one in Keighley – where  a person living with dementia has gone down hill rapidly in the last three months as the lockdown rules meant they were isolated from family and without the necessary support. Nobody’s fault, doubtless never intended but the damage done for individuals with dementia will be permanent and could hasten their eventual demise. Another casualty, howbeit indirect, of the Covid-19 pandemic. Difficult to see what else could be done as decisions were being made for the greatest good for the greatest number.

At the other end of the age range I read of large numbers of children missing out on education because they have no internet connection in the house: can give them a laptop but it will not help if they can not access the web. And the poor may not see that as a priority especially as they may well move on again in six months time; use of a mobile dongle is not always effective. These are children from already disadvantaged backgrounds often in overcrowded accommodation and some feel that their outcome may be rather gloomy.

Many providers of services, such as child care, are stating that the business model they are working to is unviable with new restrictions in place. It asks all sorts of questions about our priorities – for so long much has been driven by economic expansion. To have a safer, caring world needs something different.

As I prepared this I noted that it has been announced nationally that services can soon be held in churches but with no singing! For some that will be a major blow for others less so – a lot depends on our personality and what we are comfortable with. The rules appear fluid and can be daunting. Earlier today I read on Face Book a discussion from a Christian minister questions about whether the 30 maximum for a wedding was to be applied to all services. Locally there are many constraints in our churches and towns before such relaxations can become a reality. 

In my community rail company our treasurer asked one of our staff who is an engineer by training – could he make a 1 metre plus ruler to check that social distancing was being maintained in our community projects!

There is much in our headlines that shows it is not just the restrictions of Covid – 19 but other long standing issues that have again surfaced: racialism – The Black Lives Matter campaign or terrorist activity in Reading which have been in the news this last week. No doubt there will be more in the next two days between this being recorded and broadcast.

What is our reaction to these news headlines as people of faith?

We read in Jeremiah about the gloomy, dire predictions which seemed to be the norm: prophesied war, famine, and pestilence against many countries.  It is easy to be negative, partly because we are not comfortable with change. We are fearful of it. Yet it is inevitable and for some, our cosy routines have been shattered and life may never be the same again. Some things lost since March 23rd probably are best that way, some changes may be better – but it will be different. It is a time of discovery and opportunity – easy to see the threats and the weaknesses but we should look for the positives and strengths that have emerged. Very easy to predict doom, gloom says Jeremiah but not so easy to predict peace.

However let us rejoice that there have been countless accounts of individual and community efforts to help those disadvantaged. My old Post Office has a note on the window from its owner, Bal, offering support to any with the statement “… Nobody should go to bed hungry … we need to stand together …” 

Normally I would be talking to you from the chancel steps at All Saints, moving up and down the aisle asking questions and jettisoning my script as I respond to your comments or queries. That can not be for the present, perhaps for quite some time so  instead I now can stand here in a quiet rural place with a natural backdrop to bring you some thoughts about how we mange change and accept that some things may never be the same again but in everything we trust God and exercise our faith. Perhaps this will be the new ‘normal’.

You may be like myself: not really sure of what will ultimately happen, how things will resolve or when but my only guess is that the new ‘normal’ will not be the same. So we need to accept the reality of where we are. Being thankful that we have faith in God. It is his created world, sadly marred and exploited and subject to all manner of disasters and events which seem to keep us exposed and fearful. But God, good and loving, will be with us through the darkness, the despair, the despondency, the disease, destruction and damage.

Naturally we prefer comfort to challenge. An expression our faith if not just the idea of the power of positive thought but a belief in God working through us and in us.Tom Wright sums up the gospel reading as “remarkable chain reaction of those who serve their fellow human beings out of love for Jesus. Serving the least significant means you are serving Jesus and whatever you do for Jesus you are doing for God.”

whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.’ 

We need to be prophets of peace and look for a society that better illustrates teaching of Jesus. We need to look carefully, for example,  at the balance of care against finance and the accumulation of riches. New approaches are needed and this is where we should ensure a christian voice is heard, and loudly.

As we do things in his name we will be acknowledged before God, we will be rewarded. We need to keep that prophecy of peace before us, praying that we will all be part of its proclamation – however that may turn out – and trust God that all will be well.

 

Amen.

Sunday after Easter

In the name of Creator God, Redeemer God and Sustainer God

Strange times.  Thinking of asking for a refund on my diary as everything in April has been cancelled! I have probably only cancelled about three things in the last 40 years so this wholesale change of plans is, for me, unusual.

This Sunday,  April 19th, I was on the rota to preach at All Saints but that will not happen.  Given my inability to get some of the new technology working on this computer I am likely to remain on the sidelines – observing.  However this means that I have been offered a rich choice of online material from many churches to view and hear.  A bonus is that I can replay those parts I have heard less well.

The readings for this Sunday include: Acts 2: 14a, 22-32, I Peter 1: 3-9 and for the gospel John 20: 19 – 31. The gospel tells us of the well known story of Thomas with some doubts about a risen Christ. Yet what I also notice is that they were together – a frightened, bewildered and unhappy community. Jumping ahead to the Acts reading we see something quite different. Peter standing up publicly being bold in his promulgation of the gospel message that Jesus was victorious over death. Interestingly this passage is one which we are told “must be read as one of the lessons at the principal service” so I guess that makes it important. The disciples were a changed community who collectively were sharing their faith, their understanding, their  hope that through Jesus the world might become a better place.

We are in a changed world. Will we revert to the old patterns once a vaccine is found, once immunity is established? Or are the changes so profound that life will never be quite the same again? I do not know. But right now we are all living with unprecedented change and for some that is difficult, depressing and demoralising,  whilst others relish the challenge and chances for creativity. So what does our bible reading have to say to us in our present situation?

We all need to be aware of the power that can be hidden within our faith in a resurrected Christ. Some people argue about whether some miracles actually happen as recorded and their are explanations that can explain many within the parameters of modern day physics quite satisfactorily – by which I mean they are not impossible occurrences but merely highly improbable. However if we deny the ultimate miracle – that of resurrection then we are chopping away at the very root and substance of our belief.  The power over death displayed by Christ.

This is also seen in the epistle of 1 Peter. Writing in a time of persecution for their faith, things were hard for the young Christian community in a world where they stood out for reason of their faith. Our present concerns are not because of our faith but possibly our faith can make a difference in the world we live in.

This power is still there, this concept of a Messiah victorious over death, over sin and over the power of evil is a fundamental part of our faith. Faith which trusts God that it will not always be so dark and drear. It is so easy to be introspective at present rather than looking outward.

On a trivial example I am beginning to realise that I am missing wearing “proper” clothes! I am actually less comfortable continually in casual clothes! My routine and regular cycle of business meetings, workshops and trips by train with my community rail work and dementia awareness have all ceased for the time being. When they can resume I do not know: as I often have cold like symptoms I could be isolated for some time – not a virus but date back to a laboratory accident in 1970 which did no favours for my respiratory system. Yet there have been benefits: I have been able to do a lot in the house that would have taken many months with all the usual array of interactions. 

Some time ago my sisters set up a WhatsApp group to exchange messages and photographs on their Smartphones. What is apparent is that they are beginning to feel the effects of social distancing – not meeting people, and although able to see one another and their grandchildren via modern technology I am picking up that it is not the same as being able to be physically with them. The six of them on this group represent many more who are finding the restrictions becoming harder to endure.

Also I have begun to reflect more on my faith and realise that I do have a circle of people whom respond to my internet based Christian writing which has almost vanished over the last twelve months during my courtship, marriage and house move. 

Many individuals are in need of a word of faith that helps them develop their trust in God – a God who created, redeems and also sustains. As an example is a recent message asking for prayer for a daughter with a Covid-19 diagnosis, then followed by news that he is hospital being treated for Covid-19.

So a simple prayer: that we all trust God to help us to live with the changes we are experiencing, and sustain us in the current difficult times;  accepting that in some things we can not alter anything of ourselves but seek to be Christians living out our faith within the world. Christians, as I have stated before, should be prepared to be counter cultural – being different.  Often prayer does not of itself alter anything other than our understanding of the events and giving us a more balanced longer term view, a view more in line with God’s ways.  

May each of us live with the hope of the resurrected Christ within us.

Amen