Tag Archives: Christ

Righteous Anger – A Necessary Emotion

The righteous anger of Jesus, Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Washington DC

Mosaic of Christ in Majesty, Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Washington DC. Often known as ‘The Angry Jesus’

The third Sunday of Lent sees Jesus clearing the temple in Jerusalem. It is one of the few times that we see him displaying such raw emotion as he angrily removes the ‘thieves‘ from his Father’s ‘house of prayerMatthew 21:13. Often we consider anger as a negative emotion but there are undoubtedly times when it is right to be angry. It is how we use that feeling and who we direct that anger to that can be important.

The sermon I delivered this morning reflect some of the nuances that I had heard in an Oxcept Lecture by Diocesan Canon Angela Tilby entitled ‘Fragile Selves: Shame and Healing in an Age of Envy‘ and an informal talk given by Reverend Joseph John from St John’s Cathedral in Peshawar, Pakistan

May I speak and may you hear through the grace of our Lord; Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen

Let’s imagine I am driving down one of the side streets in Hedge End. There is a long row of parked cars on my side of the road, so glancing ahead, as it’s all clear, I pull over onto the other side of the road and start to overtake them. About fifty yards down the road another driver suddenly decides to pull out of their driveway and turn towards me. I can see they are determined to have their right of way. They gesticulate repeatedly that I should reverse back down the road, the whole fifty yards. I in turn glare and gesticulate that it would be easier for them to simply reverse back up their drive, but they are having none of it and start to shout something, which luckily is unheard through the windscreen; and which is also lucky because they can’t hear the words coming from my car either! Eventually, after what seems like several minutes of stalemate, I decide it is easier to simply reverse, and do so rather slowly and erratically as I can feel my heart beating rapidly and tears pricking at the corner of my eyes. The final hand gesture as the other car whooshes past, its driver’s eyes fixed straight ahead, was I feel unnecessary and I have to sit there for a few minutes to regain my composure and let the angry feelings subside.

I knew I’d ‘lost it’, rather like a toddler, kicking and screaming on a supermarket floor, and the whole incident served no real purpose other than to raise my blood pressure and make me feel slightly ashamed. The trouble is that when we ‘lose it’ then our anger, as an emotion, is selfish, destructive, and amoral… However, as Paul tells us in his letter to the Ephesians ‘Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger’, which tells us that anger in itself is not an emotion we should avoid altogether

Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger
Ephesians 4:26

This morning we heard of Jesus’ very vivid and public display of anger and it comes as something of a shock… although not as much of a shock as it must have been for the animal traders and money changers. We much prefer to think of Jesus as meek and mild, gentle and loving, but as with all of his actions, his anger had a purpose.

And it wasn’t the first time he had displayed this emotion. In Capernaum, with the Pharisees waiting to accuse him of breaking the Sabbath by healing the man with a withered hand, ‘He looked around at them with anger; deeply grieved at their hardness of hearts’. Even his own disciples came in for a tongue-lashing occasionally. When Peter rebukes him for foretelling his death and resurrection, Jesus then rebukes Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things’; hardly said with a mild sigh of, ‘Oh Peter, Peter, Peter. Let me explain it one more time’

Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things
Matthew 16:23

When Jesus gets angry he is angry for the right reasons. It is not a selfish anger but focussed on the behaviour and injustice involved. He is not angry about the ‘weaknesses’ of others, but arises out of his concern for their spiritual well-being; they are defiling God’s holiness and in the case of the temple, God’s worship. It does not involve hatred or ill will. He is also fully in control and knew that when he had achieved the desired result of accomplishing God’s will that there was no need to become bitter or to hold grudges

Sometimes we need to become angry about things that are happening around us and in the wider world, at the injustices we see being inflicted on innocent victims, the abuse of children and violence against those who are defenceless, but we need to do so for the same reasons and in the same manner that Jesus has demonstrated. We need to make our voices heard in certain situations where no other voices are speaking up, in other words we need to raise awareness of situations. People are very quick to complain about the church and Christians in general when they ‘poke their noses’ into social situations, but at least it shows we care enough to state an opinion that might upset someone! And we shouldn’t underestimate the effect that holding regular prayer vigils, such the monthly ecumenical world-wide prayers for the Middle East or the annual Women’s World of Prayer can have on bringing issues to a wider audience.

However, should we not be in a position to interact with the public sphere then taking our concerns to God in private can create a safe space in which to express our anger about a situation. As the psalmist points out, ‘With my voice I cry to the Lord; with my voice I make supplication to the Lord. I pour out my complaint before him; I tell my trouble before him’. So there are occasions when we are justified in being angry and there are some things we are justified in being angry about. But what about when we are angry with God? What should we do then?

With my voice I cry to the Lord; with my voice I make supplication to the Lord.
I pour out my complaint before him; I tell my trouble before him
Psalm 142:1-2

Maybe we have to ask ourselves why we are angry with God. We often live our lives believing that life is supposed to be easy and that God should prevent tragedies from happening. When he doesn’t, we get angry with him. Sometimes we forget human involvement, with all its flaws and weaknesses and instead think that God has lost control of his creation and consequently our lives, so we blame God. It’s then that we realise our inability or unwillingness to acknowledge that in fact we are not always in control and that when things happen, it is then we have to trust that God understands the reason and that he will give us his peace and strength to get through any difficult situation. Trusting him in this way is an incredibly hard thing to do… but God is a God of compassion and hope, as well as being full of grace and love.

And God does understand when we get angry through frustration and disappointment. He knows our hearts and he knows how difficult and painful life can be in this world. Perhaps instead of being angry with God, we should pour out our hearts in prayer, and trust that he really is in control and that he already knows how these things fit into his ultimate plan for the world

Recently it was brought home to me how this trusting was more powerful than any acts of anger or retaliation could ever be. The Reverend Joseph John is currently on sabbatical at Cuddesdon College. He is a cathedral vicar at St John’s Cathedral in Peshawar, Pakistan. When Pakistan achieved independence in 1947 a lot of its schools and hospitals were Christian institutions and even after 1956 when it was declared an Islamic Republic, the Christian communities, which now make up only 3% of the population, were successfully integrated as freedom of religion and equal citizenship was guaranteed to all citizens.

However, on the 22nd September 2013 two Taliban suicide bombers killed over 147 of the congregation at All Saints Church, Peshawar; among several of Joseph John’s close relatives. There was a lot to be angry about

Nearly two years later, whilst still seeking justice from the government, the Christians there have a wish is to be recognised and supported as the church that God called them to be. They know that they cannot simply expect God to produce peace, but must pray and work for it. This means listening deeply and trying to understand people who are different and also seeking to resolve differences without conflict and violence. The work that the church undertakes is not exclusively with Christians, in fact 95 percent of those benefitting from their education, development work and health care are Muslims.

They know that it requires courage and humility, and that it often requires sacrifice; but they continue to serve their neighbours, as Joseph John puts it, ‘by washing their wounds’. Their anger has been channelled into seeking justice and continuing to act faithfully because they trust that God is with them in this work and has a plan for all the people of Pakistan, even if they don’t know exactly what it is at this moment in time.

When Jesus speaks of the temple being destroyed and rebuilt in 3 days, those with him are also unable to see the connections to the bigger picture until it is revealed through Christ’s resurrection; then the pieces fell into place. Their knowledge and wisdom is limited to what the human mind tells them is logical. So are we foolish to proclaim Christ crucified, in order to save all who would believe its message? Human wisdom appears weak because it requires proof and concrete knowledge, but God’s wisdom and power dwarfs our understanding and therefore we just have to hand over ourselves to him and trust that eventually that wider vision will be revealed in all its glory. Amen

Concrete things as against those only glimpsed dimly

Concrete things as against those only glimpsed dimly

Trust in the Lord with all your heart;
don’t rely on your own intelligence.
Proverbs 3:5

Lent And How To Give It Up

The 40 Days of Lent

The 40 Days of Lent

This morning I finished my Parochial Placement with St Thomas’ church in Fair Oak and Horton Heath. It has been a useful and at times challenging experience with much to reflect on; but more of that in a later blog. However, today, Ash Wednesday, I was given the opportunity to preach at their 10am morning communion service and I took my reading from Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

May I speak and may you hear through the grace of our Lord; Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen

Today sees the beginning of the Lenten season, when we concentrate our thoughts on the journey toward the cross. I would hope that our focus is always centred on the passion of Christ and ultimately his resurrection, but for the next few weeks we are asked to try to set aside and deny ourselves some of life’s worldly pleasures. But how might we do that?

Well I wonder how many of us have started the day having already been shriven? … In order to be shriven we need to have made a confession – a confession that we’ve not always got things right; that we’ve held back our love from those most in need of it; that we’ve failed to live up to what is expected of us as followers of Christ.

Do we need to shout out how sorry we are from the rooftops? No, our confession is to be done quietly, honestly and simply between God and ourselves and although he already knows everything we’ve done, by admitting it before him he will know just how repentant we are. We need to have done this so that we can approach Lent unburdened, forgiven and with open hearts and minds.

Of course a good many people have translated this unburdening to mean an emptying of the larder… To deny ourselves all the goodies such as sugars and fats in chocolates, biscuits, cakes, etc.  I suspect that fewer people would have known yesterday as Shrove Tuesday – rather it was Pancake Day – and jolly nice they were too!

But we shouldn’t feel smug that we know it more than as a chance to lose a few pounds in weight, because it is hard to give up things we love; and don’t you find that the more we deny ourselves the more the shops, magazines and television seems to be full of images and examples of our favourite treats – no wonder we might look dismal instead of joyful.

I wonder also if we don’t – and you’ll pardon the pun – ‘make a meal of it.’ How many times when we’ve been offered a forbidden treat have we answered ‘Oh I can’t eat … I’ve given it up for Lent’ thus declaring to the world how good we’re being, rather than a simple ‘No thank you.’

This period is also a time for considering offering financial support with a donation to a charity or cause – perhaps with the money we’ve saved on buying all those goodies?  Maybe there’s a special Lent appeal, or Lent programme that puts a cost against the many blessings we already receive – and there’s absolutely nothing wrong in doing something like that – in fact I would encourage us all to take this opportunity to review our sacrificial giving – but an anonymous donation will mean so much more than an official thank you note.

We undertake this journey with Christ just as his disciples did on that first Lenten journey and I don’t expect Jesus was worried about how much sugar the disciples were putting on their breakfast cornflakes. He was more concerned that they understood what was going to happen, what they needed to know about and how they were going to continue his work – because time was running out.

We also only have a limited time, and I don’t just mean these six weeks, the rest of the year or even our lifetime, in which to make a difference and to really appreciate what we are being called to do. That time starts right now when we need to draw closer to God and so begin to gather up those imperishable treasures of goodness, mercy and love. In that way we will not only discover our own hearts but God’s as well.

Amen

I would like to finish by reading you a poem called Lenten Days

Lentern Window

Lenten Window – from the old to the new – from death to life

Let’s Talk About Money

Generous Giving

Generous Giving

I was recently asked to preach a sermon on giving. Not that our giving isn’t already generous in so many ways, but from time to time it’s useful to be reminded not only why we need to give as a response to a generous God, but also how we need to respond to requests to review our level of giving. This topic can be quite a tricky one for lots of churches and so I thought it would be good to share a slightly adapted version. The readings that informed these ideas were Deuteronomy 15:1-11; 2 Corinthians 8:1-3, 9:6-12 and Matthew 6:19-34.

May I speak and may you hear through the grace of our Lord; Father, Son and Holy Spirit

Today, on Bible Sunday, as on any day really, we are asked to think carefully about how important the bible is in helping to bring us closer to and to know God better; about his plans for us and for his world and just what our part in those plans might be, as followers of Christ… and it’s important to remember that ALL of us have a part to play.

The passages above all have a common theme running through them – they speak of the generosity of a God who knows no limit to his blessings for us, and they help us see the response that is expected on our part… to be equally generous in our giving, both of ourselves physically and our prosperity materially. So, I could say that I’m not going to ask you to give serious thought as to what and how you give – but quite honestly that would be as blatant a lie as those telephone calls you get from time to time….

‘Hello madam. How are you today…. now don’t worry, I’m not trying to sell you anything…..’

Now perhaps, like me, you occasionally want to slam the phone down immediately, because you know that that’s exactly what they do want to do, and it’s annoying that they don’t just say straight out what they want from you; so perhaps you will choose to stop reading at this point and click off of the page. But what I am asking you to do… in fact what I’d rather you did, is to carry on and discover some of the reasons, all revealed and supported within the bible, as to how and why each of us needs to be as generous as we are able, and afterwards to spend some time reflecting and praying about your levels of giving and what you might do about that.

We hate talking openly about money, it makes us feel uncomfortable, sometimes we feel a sense of indignation or even guilt but that doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be talked about. As church members it can seem that the Church is always asking for more… more of our time, more of our money… so that we’re never left in peace. There’s always some job that needs paying for; the parish share to be met, the books to be balanced. So why then should we give?

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also – Matthew 6:21

If we drive a car we know that we have to pay out to maintain it, if we don’t then eventually the car will stop working and it will be very expensive to repair or replace. If we have a hobby we have to invest a bit of money setting ourselves up with materials and equipment and as we get more proficient at it we may have to spent a bit more on different tools. The buildings in which we sit for church, have been dedicated and sanctified as a place where Christians can gather. If they fell down around our ears we could still gather there, because they’re not just buildings. They also aren’t buildings that should be preserved as pristine museums, so that people can drop in and visit it and say how wonderful it must have been to worship there; so it seems sensible that we try and ensure that we and future generations at least have a roof over our heads.

Therefore, our giving enables worship – whether we are giving of our time on Sunday to be with God, sing his praise, hear his word, share his sacraments, which is the first part of our giving. Or the second part, that our giving of money helps maintain the holy place where we worship, a place of history, a place of beauty, a place of peace and challenge, a place to glorify God.

Our giving of money also helps provide wages and resources for those who minister to us, who lead us in worship, for our music and others who enrich our worship. We need people leading us who are trained and knowledgeable and dedicated to helping us grow in our knowledge of Christ both in word and deed. If we are to sustain and enable that leadership we have to understand that it costs. The early church often paid its leaders in kind – in Matthew’s gospel for example:

Go and preach, ‘The Kingdom of heaven is near!’ … Do not carry any gold, silver, or copper money in your pockets; do not carry a beggar’s bag for the trip or an extra shirt or shoes or a walking stick. Workers should be given what they need – Matthew 10:7, 9-10

Likewise, the medieval church, who asked for donations of bread, wheat, mead and vegetables; although we’ve moved on from that now and use money instead, which is much better because quite frankly I don’t think our ministers or anyone else we have to support could cope with vast quantities of eggs and butter and pots of jam landing on their doorsteps and I’m pretty certain the gas board or the petrol station or the local council wouldn’t understand either when they tried a bit of bartering for their bills.

Our giving enables discipleship – Our giving of time and talent can help children and young people grow in the Christian faith and help those who study together to understand the gospel more fully, so that all can learn how to live faithfully. But it is our giving of money that can help provide resources for this learning, both in our own congregation and throughout our dioceses.

I wonder though how many of us use our own money to provide resources for the church? We think we are being generous… and we are, but we’re actually hiding the true cost of discipleship. We should be coming to the church and our treasurer and saying in order to do this it’s going to cost this, please can you reimburse me. Of course it may be that after having received the money you decide to offer it back as a donation, and you can say that that’s a load of faff, but it’s more valuable that we do realise the true cost. However, we don’t have a bottomless pit of money, but if we all become more aware then we can make sure that we can all contribute to that.

Our giving enables service – our giving of time and talent can assist our congregation in its service to the community, caring for some of those who are most vulnerable in our society. Every single church member can say that they give to the church, in so many different and diverse ways, you serve at his altar, you sing in the choir, you make cups of tea, you comfort the sick, the lonely and the bereaved, you clean, you organise, you lead, you turn up each week; and that’s absolutely wonderful and very sacrificial, but that can’t be treated wholly as a substitute for financial giving

One of the hardest passages in the bible to read is that of the young man who wants to follow Jesus, he knows exactly how he should behave and treat others, he does all those things that we can all do it without dipping our hands into our pockets, but Jesus says it’s not enough, you have to shed your reluctance and reliance on making sure that your nest egg is large enough and instead trust God that he will provide for you.

Therefore do not worry, saying, “What will we eat?” or “What will we drink?” or “What will we wear … your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well – Matthew 6:31-33

I can almost hear you thinking, ‘Yes, but it would be super if we actually got to use the money that we give, on things that we want to happen and support,’ and it’s true that over the last few years I’ve got tired of thinking that every penny we give is often not quite sufficient to meet the demands of the diocesan Parish Share and has to be topped up by such hard work by the fundraising and social committees.

However, giving to an overarching hierarchy is nothing new either – the early churches were doing it when collecting for the church in Jerusalem, and they appears to do it with a spirit of generosity like the churches in Macedonia; but I believe things will change, particularly in the Winchester Diocese over the next few years, and that hopefully we might be in the more joyful position of deciding exactly what we want to spend our money on with the Parish Share review; which doesn’t mean that we have less to raise but it does mean that we can really get stuck into thinking of way in which the Good news can be brought to more people.

And there’s the nub… Our giving reflects our faith. We could say ‘why can’t the church do less, cut its cloth according to its means, and be content with what we already do, with what we already give’. Well, I suppose that’s one way to go – we could become more inclusive, look after our church; our people, but that would be like ‘storing up for ourselves, ‘treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal -Matthew 6:20

Surely, we have to realised what the real treasure is – that God has given us life and love, that he has shown us the extent of this love in the life and death of Jesus and that he has promised us new life through Jesus’ resurrection. Right now we can hear the good news of the gospel… and it certainly is good news for ourselves; it’s good news to know that we have personal salvation, it’s such good news that we almost what to hug it and keep it close to us. Yet, if it’s such good news for us why aren’t we bursting to share it with other – the gospel that we proclaim by word and example is a gospel for the world, a gospel for everyone. As Jesus said to his first disciples:

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age – Matthew 28:19-20

I think sometimes we forget that each us of is individually called to proclaim the Gospel, not just a special few, but everyone. So our giving enables mission – our giving of time and talents assists in providing outreach to the community, providing a Christian presence in every part of life, while our giving of money helps to fund projects to bring the gospel to those who have yet to be challenged by it, and enabling the wider Church to comment on the social, moral and political issues of our time.

How more effective it is, when the world takes notice because it sees a group of people who are willing to make generous investment of their time, energy, gifts and money to share and spread the gospel…

The Widow's Mite by James C. Christensen

The Widow’s Mite by James C. Christensen

God calls us to be infinitely generous, like the widow and her mite in Luke’s gospel:

For the others offered their gifts from what they had to spare of their riches; but she, poor as she is, gave all she had to live on – Luke 21:4

That’s a really hard message to hear and live out, but what about making a start by at least considering what we have to spare…maybe we’re still reluctant sometimes to increase our giving because we honestly don’t think we have any money to spare

A Hotey Money Box

A Hotey Money Box

I actually surprised myself the other day when I looked at my ‘hotey’ money box. ‘Hotey’ – as in Don Quixote? Yes, I know he’s lost an ear, but it steadfastly refuses to stick back on… We made these at the beginning of Lent. So every time I come back from the shops and have those small coins that make your purse or wallet bulge I pop them in the box, and I also help my husband David prevent himself from wearing holes in his trouser pockets by relieving him of his pocket shrapnel as well…

As you can see it’s pretty full now, and looking at it I think there’s at least £50 in there – just made up of the small amounts of money that was spare and that we haven’t really missed – on average £3 a week … and it doesn’t have to be saved up to be given as a one off gift. Those are great for specific purposes, but it’s much more valuable knowing as a church that you are receiving a regular income, so that you can plan and budget for all the things you want to do and support. That’s not to say that we all have a lot to spare, all of our circumstances are different, but it was interesting to realise that perhaps if we do have some spare capacity to consider what we could do with it. Just imagine if everyone only had a spare 50p a week to increase their regular giving – an average congregation of 70 people could be equally sharing an increase of £1820 per year – a £1 would double that to £3640.

At the beginning, I said that I wanted this to be an opportunity to hear how and why each of us needs to be as generous as we are able, using the bible as our guide. It was not my aim to make anyone feel angry or guilty, but for you to go away prepared to review and reflect, and to then come to a decision, so that the next time you are approached to consider increasing your giving you know what your answer will be. At the end of the day, as Paul said to the Corinthians:

Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver – 2 Corinthians 9:7

Our giving of time, talent and money is a giving for the Gospel… for the Good News, and this fact was brought home to me the other day when I was privileged to be able to look through and choose some books that Sheila and Gordon Rose’s family had passed on to the church; among them were several bibles, and in many of them were personal greetings. One that stood out for me was this one in the front of  a Good News bible.

Gordon had written ‘To Sheila, hoping that it will always be “Good News”’

However on this Bible Sunday, I’m going to let Sheila have the last word, with a prayer that she had written and that was tucked into the front of her bible

A Prayer on Opening My Bible
As I settle for this time of quiet, O God, hush my heart and quicken my understanding.
I bless you for scribes, scholars and translators who have served your holy will.
I bless you for the great Bible Societies that have made this book available in my language.
I pray for a living expectancy, as I wait to learn what you will say to me as I read.
I pray for courage to face new challenges and to embrace new truth
For Christ’s son
Amen

Sermon delivered on Bible Sunday, 26th October 2014

Sant’Egidio – An Example of Cheerful Giving

Comunità di Sant'Egidio

Comunità di Sant’Egidio

The second in a series of reflections following a visit to Rome to discover its links with the early Christian church and the church as it is today

Up until a month ago I had never heard of a saint called Egidio, and even when I found out that it was the Italian translation of St Giles I had to look up who he was. Having done so I discovered that Giles was a hermit monk who lived deep in a forest with only a hind [female deer] for company. One day when the king and his retinue came a-hunting, an arrow, intended for the deer, struck and wounded Giles and thereafter he became the patron saint of those who were physically and mentally challenged and as a consequence were often those cast out from society.

It was therefore entirely appropriate when a community of lay Christians chose the church of Sant’Egidio in the Trastevere area of Rome to become a centre for continuous prayer and welcome for the poor and pilgrims. This was back in 1968 and since then the work that the community has done since and is still doing amongst the poor, the homeless, the dispossessed and quite frankly the unloved has been amazing.

Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly
or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver – 2 Corinthians 9:7

 When one thinks of giving it is often in the sense of a monetary capacity – donations to various charities, towards the upkeep of our churches, payrolling the official ministry team – but at Sant’Egidio’s the giving is from the heart, entirely voluntary and selfless. All of the volunteers are lay members of the church, often with full-time paid employment or family commitments who agree to be part of the community as regularly and as often as they can; not simply as an occasional act of philanthropy but as an inclusive life-choice.

Christmas Meal in the church of Sant'Egidio

Christmas Meal in the church of Sant’Egidio

Their main work is in solidarity with the poor and homeless who end up for a multitude of reasons on the streets of Rome,  and who each day are welcomed into the Centre for a meal, use of the washing facilities (both bodies and clothes) and healthcare through the medical centre. The meals themselves are not simply doled out – care and attention is paid to offer a proper substantial meal, with fruits and drinks, presented on cloth-covered tables, proper cutlery and served by the helpers with smiles and respect. At Christmas time this meal turns into a huge banquet served in the church itself with personalised… yes personalised  presents for each and every person there.

‘When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbours, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you’ Luke 14:12-14

Prayers are offered each day

Prayers are offered each day

The Community also provides spiritual support to those in need because the heart and the life of the community is in communicating the Gospel both in word and action. Each day prayers are offered at both morning and evening worship. However, it is often spiritual matters of a more practical nature that are of concern. Many of the street people have been abandoned by or lost touch with their families and they are worried about what will happen to them when they die. Here the community steps in to reassure them that even at this moment they can rest assured that as part of the community family they will receive a proper funeral and their memories will be treasured through continuing prayer.

Just some of the Amicos who work in the Sant'Egidio sponsored restaurant

Just some of the Amicos who work in the Sant’Egidio sponsored restaurant

The work of the community doesn’t stop at acting responsively, it is also proactive and its project in setting up and running a restaurant staffed by a unique mix of ‘amico and amica’ – some of whom have learning disabilities – is a great success which is drawing comments from neighbouring establishments who are now beginning to be more inclusive in their own choice of staffing – and the food is delicious too!

Other projects that the community is involved in are working with immigrants, refugees and the Roma people to overcome language barriers where bureaucracy is involved and running ‘Schools of Peace’ for families and children. They are also active in ecumenical dialogue, which is just one of the reasons we were welcomed so warmly during our visit.

All in all I came away from the experience feeling incredibly uplifted by the sheer demonstration of what can be achieved when we choose to live our lives wholly sacrificially –  because joy certainly abounds when Christ is placed at the centre of everything.

The interior of the church of Sant'Egidio, Trastevere, Rome

The interior of the church of Sant’Egidio, Trastevere, Rome

More information about the work of the community can be found here: http://www.santegidio.org/

Shining Through The Glass

 

Detail of the Transfiguration Window at St John the Evangelist, Hedge End

Detail of the Transfiguration Window at St John the Evangelist, Hedge End

One of the most beautiful and interesting crafts is that of creating stained glass. Over the years I have visited a great many cathedrals in which this art form has been displayed in the incredible and intricate windows that allow light to enter in a myriad of rainbow hues; but I’ve never really been able to capture with my simple ordinary camera, the extraordinary details and colours that my eyes can discern, of those high and lofty kaleidoscopes.

Even small country churches have their own special windows, and closer to home the church at St John the Evangelist, Hedge End has several, including a series of six tableaux of the life of Christ in the curved apse at its East end. In other windows around the church, these Victorian masterpieces in glass work also tell the stories of the saints whose names are lent to the church building.

St John the Evangelist Window with close up details of the serpent in the chalice

St John the Evangelist with details of the serpent in the chalice

However, as intricate and as detailed as the windows are, it is not really this aspect that fascinates me, but rather the effect they produce as light shines through them; when it falls on white walls and altar linen, the pools of colours shimmering in mirror image

Stained glass reflections

Stained glass reflections

But it is also most effective when everyday objects  such as flower stands,

Flower Shadows blog

Flower shadows

and an aumbry holder…

In the shadow of the aumbry light

In the shadow of the aumbry light

…create ethereal shadows that are wreathed in colour and patches of light.

Even when that light is blocked in some way, what appears to be an ordinary clear glass window reveals its secrets. The imperfections of each pane revealing its own beauty

Imperfections reveal their own beauty

Beauty revealed in imperfection

Perhaps though, the most beautiful example of nature’s own stained glass windows was the one that I glimpsed when I walked in the arboretum at Wolvesey Palace in Winchester the other day…… This then is the light of nature and creation flooding into the church.

Light from nature's stained glass window

Nature’s stained glass window

Still we must be careful not to just allow ourselves to simply bathe in that light, soaking ourselves in its warmth and colour; but instead to remember that before it gets to stream in through those windows into our eyes and hearts, it has already shone on all those outside; where Christ is waiting to for us to join him in helping to build up the kingdom of heaven; and where we can all become living stained glass windows that reflect the rainbow colours of God

A man that looks on glasse,
On it may stay his eye;
Or if he pleaseth, through it passe,
And then the heav’n espie.

The Elixir from The Temple (1633) by George Herbert

Consolation and Desolation

Light and Shadow together

Light and Shadow together

Consolation and Desolation… two words that I came across during a Spirituality Day recently held in college. In relation to Ignatian Spirituality they are used to help us discern which direction our life is taking us – is it toward God (consolation) or away from him (desolation).

Consolation also brings us closer to people, so that we are aware of their joys and sorrows and shows us where God is active, both in our life and theirs. It charges us with energy, so that we become more creative and our focus is away from ourselves. Whereas desolation, cuts us off from people, so that we turn in on ourselves. We are bombarded by negative feelings and become withdrawn, totally drained of energy and unable to sustain an interest in those things that previously had meaning for us.

It’s deeper than just being aware of the things that make us happy and trying to do more of them and avoiding the things that make us sad.  It’s more about having an understanding that there will be both moments of consolation and desolation in our lives; but that in wishing to draw closer to God, even if negative doubts seem overwhelming, God’s will for us ensures that our hearts, both God’s and our own, continue to beat in harmony.

It is also possible that these moments will occur simultaneously. This fact was brought home to me as we listened to a piece of music. The choir were singing a psalm and the different voices oscillated between the clear high notes of the trebles and resonant, low tones of the baritones and basses as they exchanged verses. Yet even as the one range sang, the other did not remain silent, but was still audible if muted

As this thought occurred my eye was also caught by one of the trees outside, its leaves filling the frame of the window, as the wind shook them and light and shadow danced together. On a sunlit day this produced a feeling of warmth and happiness as the large leaves absorbed and reflected the light, but I could also imagine on a wet, winter day, the dark bare branches would be oppressive and shadowy. Yet in both scenarios neither light nor dark was completely absent

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it
John 1:5

My mind then raced to think of other examples where the presence of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ might not only be present, but might be necessary for us to appreciate the need for both to exist concurrently. Things such as batteries, where positive and negative terminals have to be present in order for power to flow through it. Or when racing a car on a track, where the exhilaration of driving at high speeds needs to be tempered by a fear of the consequences of crashing and so teaches us to develop braking and manoeuvring skills. Of maybe even a margarita cocktail where the combination of saltiness and sourness adds to the whole experience!

The thrills of racing

The thrills of racing tempered by the need for safety

We only need to think of the disciples at Easter. Theirs was utter desolation as they abandoned Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane and had to deal with their fear and response to what they had done; yet just like Peter, they kept their focus on God,  so that their and our consolation came through the cross.

Yet even as we acknowledge that there will be consolation and desolation in our own lives, if we continue to maintain our focus on looking toward God then our consolation should never remain self-centred – there are many other directions in which God is trying to catch our eye!

Oh Master, grant that I may never seek,
So much to be consoled as to console,
To be understood, as to understand,
To be loved, as to love with all my soul

Make Me A Channel of Your Peace – Temple
© Copyright 1967 OCP Publications

A Chinese Legend

 

The Noble Bamboo

The Noble Bamboo

In the church, we have just celebrated Ascension, when the risen Christ traditionally ascends to heaven, having been crucified on the Easter cross. Ahead, we look forward to Pentecost; when the promised Advocate or Holy Spirit will be given to his followers. Without these things happening we would have nothing distinctive about our faith. 

If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised;
and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain
and your faith has been in vain.
1 Corinthians 15:13-14

So for his death not to have been in vain there had to have been a purpose. The son of God, who came to earth, and set aside his divinity to take on earthly flesh had to die in order that he and us might live and there is no doubt that giving your life for the greater good is the ultimate sacrifice anyone can make. Throughout history men and woman have made this sacrifice, as martyrs, as servicemen and women and civilians serving their country, as ordinary everyday people; in the hope that it helps others to live.

At Morning Prayer in college recently a fellow student read a beautiful story which illustrated this selflessness perfectly. However, it also made me think that God does not contain himself to our slightly arrogant assumption of exclusivity. For example, I have always been amazed at the fact that creation stories from around the world contain so many similar attributes. For those who believe in a creator God, this is not so strange, as we cannot be so precious that we think God only revealed the story of creation,  based on a Mesopotamic myth and passed down in verbal form, before being adapted to Israel’s belief in one God, by a group of Yahwehist writers in the late 7th or 6th century BC

God indeed reveals himself time and again in all of his creation, both physically and linguistically and so I hope you enjoy reading this legend from China and draw your own conclusions about where God could be working his purpose out in the world right now

A Chinese Legend

Once upon a time, in the heart of the Western Kingdom, lay a beautiful garden. And there in the cool of the day was the Master of the Garden wont to walk. Of all the denizens of the garden, the most beautiful and most beloved was a gracious and noble bamboo. Year after year, Bamboo grew yet more noble and gracious, conscious of his Master’s love and watchful delight, but modest, and gentle withal. And often, when Wind came to revel in the garden, Bamboo would cast aside his grave stateliness, to dance and play right merrily, tossing and swaying and leaping and bowing in joyous abandon, leading the Great Dance of the Garden which most delighted the Master’s heart.

Now upon a day, the Master himself drew near to contemplate his Bamboo with eyes of curious expectancy. And Bamboo, in a passion of adoration, bowed his great head to the ground in loving greeting. The Master spoke:

“Bamboo, Bamboo, I would use thee.”

Bamboo flung his head to the sky in utter delight. The day of days had come, the day for which he had been made, the day to which he had been growing hour by hour, the day in which he would find his completion and his destiny. His voice came low:

“Master, I am ready. Use me as thou wilt.”

“Bamboo ” — the Master ‘s voice was grave — “l would fain take thee and — cut thee down.”

A trembling of a great horror shook Bamboo. “Cut. . . me.. . down! Me… whom thou, Master, hast made the most beautiful in all thy garden. . . to cut me down! Ah, not that, not that. Use me for thy joy, 0 Master, but cut me not down. “

“Beloved Bamboo” — the Master’s voice grew graver still — “if I cut thee not down, I cannot use thee.”

The garden grew still. Wind held his breath. Bamboo slowly bent his proud and glorious head. There came a whisper:

“Master, if thou canst not use me but thou cut me down.. then… do thy will and cut.”

“Bamboo, beloved Bamboo, I would . . . cut thy leaves and branches from thee also.”

“Master, Master, spare me. Cut me down and lay my beauty in the dust; but wouldst thou take from me my leaves and branches also?”

“Bamboo, alas, if I cut them not away, I cannot use thee.” The sun hid his face. A listening butterfly glided fearfully away.

And Bamboo shivered in terrible expectancy, whispering low.

“Master, cut away.”

“Bamboo, Bamboo, I would yet… cleave thee in twain and cut out thine heart, for if I cut not so, I cannot use thee.”

Then was Bamboo bowed to the ground.

“Master, Master. . . then cut and cleave.”

So did the Master of the Garden take Bamboo and cut him down and hack off his branches and strip off his leaves and cleave him in twin and cut out his heart. And lifting him gently, carried him to where was a spring of fresh, sparkling water in the midst of his dry fields. Then pulling one end of broken Bamboo in the spring and the other end into the water channel in his field, the Master laid down gently his beloved Bamboo. And the spring sang welcome and the clear sparkling waters raced joyously down the channel of Bamboo’s torn body into the wailing fields. Then the rice was planted, and the days went by, and the shoots grew and the harvest came.

In that day was Bamboo, once so glorious in his stately beauty, yet more glorious in his brokenness and humility. For in his beauty he was life abundant, but in his brokenness he became a channel of abundant life to his Master’s world.

Living Water

Living Water

The Empty Tomb

The Empty Cross

The Empty Cross

Alleluia! Christ is risen
He is risen indeed. Alleluia!

It was with this greeting and response; as we sat down to share our evening meal that a new term began at college. It was only two days beforehand that I had sat next to the Easter cross in my home church, celebrating Easter Sunday and here I was, back to my studies but with new tasks to complete and new challenges. It seemed the same, but then again it also seemed different

I suspect it was the like that for the women, who approached the tomb on the first day of the week. Yes, a dreadful thing had happened and yes, they were probably a bit disorientated and shaken, but they were coming to do what they would always have done if someone died – that at least was normal, but what happened next was very different

Each Gospel gives a slightly different version of accounts. In Mark there are several women together to who arrive to anoint the body, only to find that the stone sealing the tomb had been rolled back and inside was a young white-robed man telling them not to be afraid, but that the body wasn’t there. Despite his call for calm, they are terrified and flee from the tomb, too afraid to tell anyone what they have seen

In Matthew, it is two Marys who go to look at the tomb, only to experience an earthquake, caused by an angel’s descent from heaven; who puts the guards into a stupor and then shows them that Jesus is not in the tomb. He sends them fearfully, yet joyfully, to deliver a message to the disciples that they are to return to Galilee, only for them to meet Jesus himself who confirms what they must do.

In Luke we again hear about a group of women, who meet two dazzlingly dressed men and after being reminded of what Jesus had previously told them, return to the disciples only to be accused of idle talk until Peter runs to look for himself.

Finally, in John, it is Mary Magdalene who, on seeing that the stone has been removed, runs back to tell this to Simon Peter and the beloved disciple, who both then set off towards the tomb, the latter outrunning Peter to reach the tomb, but respectfully waiting for Peter to enter it first, only to be met by discarded linen wrappings. However, it is after this that Mary in a bitter-sweet moment encounters Jesus and can report this back to all the disciples.

All of these accounts add to the story of what happened, but the one fact that they all substantiate is that the tomb was empty.

‘Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified.
He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said.’ Matthew 28:5-6

I often wonder if it shouldn’t be the tomb that is used more as an image of Christ’s resurrection, a permanent reminder of the defeat of death – but equally it is the empty cross that is a powerful and iconic symbol of transformation to which we are drawn.

This is his blood which he shed for you

This is his blood which he shed for you

The truth is that in a way this transformation is what was happening on Sunday, as I watched people, coming forward to place a flower around the cross. The blooms themselves were fresh and vibrant, and everyone placed them as carefully as they could, trying not to bruise the petals. However, some found it difficult to push  them into the ‘ground’, while others knew exactly the spot they wanted in relation to the position of the cross. One flower in particular caught my attention – a beautiful cream tulip, streaked with red, that was placed right in the centre  at the very foot – which looked this morning as if its cup had opened up to catch the blood that would have fallen from Jesus’ body

Yet, as beautiful as this display had become, each single representative bloom was already dying; just as we are called to die to Christ in order to be transformed and given new life. This truly is the joy of the Easter message and yet not everyone chooses to respond to it. That, no doubt, is the greatest regret as far as God is concerned as he tries, in love, to reconcile all of his creation. However, it still doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try and do our part by sharing the Good News

Alleluia! Christ is risen
He is risen indeed. Alleluia!

He is risen as he said

He is risen as he said

 

 

 

 

 

Bearing the Cross

Embroidered cross on altar frontal, St Peter's, Dyrham

Embroidered cross on altar frontal, St Peter’s, Dyrham

As a man of sorrow and acquainted with grief
your only Son was lifted up
that he might draw the whole world to himself.
May we walk this day in the way of the cross
and always be ready to share its weight,
declaring your love for all the world.

The above forms part of a prayer of thanksgiving for Morning Prayer during Passiontide, and as we move into Holy Week and having this morning been given a palm cross,  my thoughts have moved towards just exactly what it might mean for each of us to bear our cross… or even crosses.

If we are incredibly lucky, we might feel that our lives are pretty carefree, we have everything to meet our basic needs; food, water, shelter. Our emotional needs are also met through our families and friends  and we may even have a sense of financial security – a bit of spare cash to indulge in treats from time to time. Our crosses, although apparently light, are still with us however.  Outward crosses that carry responsibility to everyone around us. How can we not declare our love to the world?

Often, as well, we carry internal crosses. The things that we choose to bear alone; things that we are ashamed of doing and saying; things that might diminish us in other people’s eyes; things that are not hidden away from God, and who alone knows the sorrow in our hearts and our desire for repentance. How can we not allow ourselves to be uplifted?

For many people though, the cross they have to bear, like Jesus’, is an enormous weight of worries, hurts and strains. Often it is borne in situations that are not of their making or problems from which they can see no way of escape. Daily life is a struggle and at times unbearable. How can we not offer to share their load?

For Jesus the way of the cross was one that he decided to take willingly. Yet even as he made his way up to Calvary, his human frailty caused him to stumble, allowing another, Simon of Cyrene to join him in bearing the great physical weight of the wooden cross. What was even more incredible was the immeasurable weight of the world’s wrongdoings, sorrows, grief and hatred that he also chose to bear. How can we not be grateful?

We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you;
by your holy cross, you have redeemed the world

The Way Of The Cross To Calvary - embroidered panel by Sue Symons. One of 35 panels that form the Bath Abbey Diptychs

The Way Of The Cross To Calvary – an embroidered panel by Sue Symons from her exhibition “One Man’s Journey To Heaven”, one of 35 panels that form the Bath Abbey Diptychs*

*Sue Symons explains that the large black circle depicts the weight of the cross and the white circle is Christ, diminished in size as he bears its horrendous weight. http://www.bathabbey.org/whats-on/events/bath-abbey-diptychs

 

The Body of Christ

We are the body of Christ

We are the body of Christ

The New Testament module I have just completed was interesting in many ways. Its main focus was on several of the Pauline letters, including the epistles to the Galatians, Romans and Corinthians. New insights were gained into the background, setting and context of these letters as well as the character of Paul himself. This was particularly challenging as my natural tendency is to regard Paul with a small measure of annoyance and a gritting of teeth.

Don’t get me wrong, I have learned to love and admire St Paul; for his sheer hard work and determination in setting up the early churches, his zealousness for spreading the message of Christ and his genuineness in his beliefs. It’s just that sometimes I wonder, ‘Is that really what you meant Paul?’

One passage though, in which he explained the metaphor of ‘the body of Christ’ brooks no argument from me and we were asked to prepare a sermon on it as part of the course. Here then is a copy of that sermon, intended with my own church congregation in mind, but here delivered hopefully to an equally receptive, varied and open online congregation.

The passage it relates to is 1 Corinthians 12:12-26

As the writing on the barn wall stated, “All animals are equal…” This declaration by the animals in George Orwell’s novel Animal Farm laid down a rule which many democratic societies have upheld as a basic principle. However, if we are all equal doesn’t that mean that we all have to be the same? Not physically the same but doing the same thing, thinking the same thoughts, making everything neat and uniform, because in this way we will surely achieve unity. Won’t we? And isn’t uniformity the thing that we as a church strive for in our liturgy, church management and doctrine?

Well equality is not the same as uniformity and uniformity is actually not really helpful to true unity. As the animals later discovered when they added a codicil to the rule – “All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.” There is something more that needs to happen and Paul points to it in one of his clearest and least controversial statements in his first letter to the church in Corinth, when he identifies what it means to be the body of Christ

We could so easily just look at the analogy of each of the members of the church being represented as different body parts. We all have different roles to play which could equate to a particular limb or organ within a body – the choir representing the harmonious vocal chords; the sidespeople as helpful hands; ‘Jonathan’ [in my own church], who likes to disagree with every sermon, as the grumbling appendix!… Each of us creating a complete and unified metaphorical human being that is wonderfully made, but which can occasionally stumble and fall, but invariably picks itself up again.

 Still is this what Paul really means and is this the only way we can think of being one body?

For a start we are all different, and that’s great; because it would be an odd shaped body if we were all the same part. After all, like a body, we need the unique gifts offered by all of the various members. These various gifts provide diversity, a diversity that is God-given; and coming as they do from such a source they need to be used for the good of all. Paul recognises that the thing that unites us is the Holy Spirit and it is through the work of the Holy Spirit that believers become bound together into one body.

However, our diversity needs to be based on interdependency rather than independence… Just as we use different parts of our bodies to perform different tasks, we all have particular talents which make us very good at the jobs we choose to do; and sometimes we can jealously guard those jobs that we like doing, thereby preventing others from a chance of receiving equal recognition. In addition, if we perceive that these are highly skilled tasks we can begin to give them a superior status, which often leads to pride. Yet the work we perform in God’s name cannot be based on a belief of self-sufficiency – our successes are built on the grace of God and the shoulders of those that support us –this sermon would be pretty pointless if the church and its people weren’t present – and a lot has happened in the past and behind the scenes to bring everybody to this particular point in time. Just take a moment to think why and how it is you are here today?

Moreover, who are we to judge the worthiness of each role played within the church? Just as our limbs depend on muscles, and tendons; nerves and microscopic synapses to function efficiently, and would be useless without them, so we have to ensure that every role a person has is equally valued. Furthermore, we need to realise that if we are working towards a common purpose – a united body – then we have to recognise that there will be some within that ‘body’ who may be vulnerable and therefore need to be nurtured and cared for.

Often, living in a society that prizes outward signs of power and achievement, we can despise weakness and vulnerability, but Paul turns this on its head, so that as Christians we should honour those ‘less respectable members’ and instead afford them mutual respect. It could be anyone of us that fluffs their lines in the readings, or takes a long time to get up to the altar rail or forgets the milk for refreshments…If we learn to be more accepting then the church will truly function as the body of Christ

Of course there are going to be time when we do disagree with each other, but it will be how we deal with this that counts. If our disagreements are forever aired publicly, rather than quietly and with concern for the other person, then we run the risk that we lower the respect that we need to have for each other as well as the respect that others have for us. We devalue the whole

What then should the shape of the whole look like? Well, in a world that is forever dieting and primping to maintain the body beautiful, we need to put that image aside. Our body should be fluid and growing, accepting new members so that every part of the body can grow stronger. We shouldn’t pick and choose what sort of parts or people we might need more of, or reject what might be to some insignificant or worthless. We have to allow people to be what they are; love each other unconditionally and rejoice in our unity – because if we don’t then we not acting as the body of Christ; and In the words of a song by the music group Casting Crowns – “Jesus paid much too high a price for us to pick and choose who should come… and we are the body of Christ”

Amen

Lyrics from If We Are The Body – Casting Crowns

It’s crowded in worship today
As she slips in trying to fade into the faces.
The girls’ teasing laughter is carrying farther than they know
Farther than they know

A traveller is far away from home
He sheds his coat and quietly sinks into the back row.
The weight of their judgemental glances
Tells him that his chances are better out on the road

But if we are the body
Why aren’t his arms reaching?
Why aren’t his hands healing?
Why aren’t his words teaching?
And if we are the body
Why aren’t his feet going?
Why is His love not showing them there is a way?
There is a way

Jesus paid much too high a price
For us to pick and choose who should come
And we are the body of Christ

Jesus is the way

© Casting Crowns 2003
https://www.castingcrowns.com/music/lyrics/if-we-are-body

Disclaimer: Any names mentioned within this sermon have been changed to protect people’s anonymity and because I would still like to worship there. They know who they might be!