Tag Archives: Peace

A Glimpse of Heaven’s Glory

the-heavens-are-telling-the-glory-of-god

Based on the following readings: Luke 2:1-14 and Isaiah 9:2-7

Another Christmas and what a wonderful time this Advent and lead up to Christmas has been this year. Over the last few weeks at St James’ we have shared the nativity story with various groups of pre-school children; carolled our way through several nursing homes; taken part in a sheep-filled Knitivity before the culmination of Christmas Eve Crib and Christingle services and the pinnacle of Midnight Mass. It was my privilege to be able to preach at this first service of Christmas on what was a very special night…

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

How’s everyone’s Christmas going? Got everything prepared?  –  I hope so, because you know gentlemen, I think even the late night petrol stations are closed now… But, of course you’re all prepared, and what better way to begin our Christmas Day celebrations [looking at watch] – well it’s not quite morning yet but it will be by the time I stop talking – than to gather here together to hear again the timeless story of Jesus’ birth. And there is something rather special about being here, at this time and in this place, and you must admit that the church does look rather wonderful, full of light and mystery.

However busy we’ve been, all the rushing around trying to find the perfect presents; making sure we’ve stocked up on plenty of food and drink; and those little treats we can indulge ourselves with; despite all of that, something calls to us to take a moment, this moment, to remember what Christmas is really all about. We hear the story of a young teenage woman about to give birth; the reluctant fiancé whose done the right thing; the outcasts and rejected members of society in the persons of the shepherds privileged to hear the good news first… of a baby born in an animal shed, yet destined to change the world… all heralded by angelic messengers descending – to bring heaven so tantalising close to earth.

Tonight we’ve come together in what I believe the Celts would have called ‘a thin place’. They had a saying that ‘heaven and earth are only three feet apart, but in the thin places that distance is even smaller’. A thin place is where the veil that separates heaven and earth is lifted and one is able to receive a glimpse of the glory of God. Perhaps that’s why we’re here tonight, hoping to catch a glimpse of heaven’s glory

Indeed, there’s something about that story that seems to call to something deep within us, to draw us in so that just for a while we believe that all will be well with the world. A story that speaks of things so long ago and so far away and what wouldn’t we give for it to be happening right now; maybe like me you sometimes, just sometimes, wonder why it  doesn’t appear to be doing so nowadays. After all it’s good news of great joy for all people.

“”I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people”

What then was that good news that the angels spoke of to the shepherds, and how is it good news for us today?  Because let’s be honest, the news that’s beamed into our homes and phones and splashed across the newspapers doesn’t exactly fill us with confidence and hope that humanity has a common goal of seeking respect, harmony and love.

Respect, harmony and love, three key element of Jesus’ message for the world into which he was born…  and the world in which we live today; a message that is good news for us but also requires us to be good news to others; a message that allows us to glimpse heaven’s glory.

For Mary and Joseph their lives had been turned upside down and the baby that was now sleeping in the manger brought them joy as any new-born child would, despite the distance they had travelled from Nazareth to Bethlehem and the circumstances they found themselves in. Yet the fact is within two years they would be fleeing for their lives, trying to keep one step ahead of Herod’s henchman who would indiscriminately slaughter thousands of innocent children and bring misery to countless families; families who likes Joseph’s were valuable member of society, and who now had to rely on the country to which they fled to offer them security and compassion, to recognise and respect who they were.

Sounds a bit like a scenario that’s been happening around the world more and more lately? That even today there are people having to flee from their homes, seeking that same sort of asylum, escaping from violence and conflict. Do we recognised their value and treat them with respect? How do we welcome the stranger and alien in our land or into our homes? Do they hear good news from us?

So tonight, on this special night, it would be good to remember all those who are far from the country of their birth, who are missing the comfort of their own home and their families, and pray that with our help they too can envisage a future that allows them and us to catch a glimpse of heaven’s glory

We hear too in the story that the birth of Jesus was a herald of peace on earth and our reading from Isaiah confirms that the one who was coming would be known as the Prince of Peace. It was a peace that would come about not only through meekness and tolerance but through seeking justice and reconciliation in a land dominated by a foreign power and then through the ultimate sacrifice.

“Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace”

Most recently I believe we too are weary of a world in which violence and hatred seems to dominate, where mistrust and selfish power struggles offers discord rather than harmony, where acts of violence leave men, women and children in fear for their lives. How it jars with Jesus’ message of peace and how we so often feel powerless to do anything to bring about that peace?

Surely though it just needs to start with us, to be at peace with ourselves, our families and our neighbours, to reject hatred and discrimination and to stamp on injustice. So tonight, on this special night, let us be resolved to seek everything that speaks of harmony rather than conflict, not just in words, but in actions, so that we and the whole world might catch a glimpse of heaven’s glory.

Back to the story then; those shepherds were just the first example of Jesus’ determination that every single person would be valued, respected and loved. Throughout his ministry he actively sought out the poor, the homeless, the excluded – those rejected by a society that saw them as failures, inconveniences, worthless. He didn’t treat them as charity cases or patronise them in order to make himself feel better – he genuinely loved them. And he calls us to do the same.

Not just to love those who are lovable but those whom we consider unlovable. It’s too easy to create exclusive groups around us rather than to love inclusively. Perhaps though tonight, on this special night we can determine to open our hearts to love, to receive love and to give love so that all may catch a glimpse of heaven’s glory

As I said earlier, tonight we hear again in the Christmas story those three key elements of Jesus’ message for the world – respect, harmony and love, but there’s one more important thing that Jesus’ birth has to offer us – his death. It wasn’t until just over 300 year after his death that Christians began to remember and celebrate his birth. Up until then the good news had centred on the message of the cross.

A message of forgiveness, redemption and salvation for the world as a whole and for us as individuals; but we do recognise that as part of the Christmas message as well. When, later on we come to sing ‘Hark the Herald Angels Sing’ the last verse has these words, “Born that man no more may die, born to raise the sons (and daughters of cause) of earth, born to give them second birth”. So tonight, on this special night, we can believe that heaven really has come close to give us a glimpse of heaven’s glory.

“…born to give them second birth”

 

But the truth is we can’t just leave it there – the Christmas story cannot be just that, a story in history. You may have come this evening because it’s simply part of a family tradition, or maybe you’ve been coming for years, or perhaps you haven’t been for a while – and that’s okay, all are welcome here… or maybe something stirs deep within and calls to a discovery that his story is also your story, my story, our story.

 

Isaiah prophesied all those years ago that ‘the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness— on them light has shined.’ Tonight, on this special night, we can be certain that that light still shines brightly, dispelling the darkness and allowing us all a glimpse of heaven’s glory.

 

Love came down at Christmas, and may that same love come down and enter our hearts both tonight, this morning and for evermore. Amen

love-came-down

 

 

 

Called to Love

Brussels_Love One Another

Love One Another, As I Have Loved You

 On Maundy Thursday we are explicitly called to love one another. Sometimes though it’s not as easy as you think. This reflection was preached as a sermon at St James’ Church at the Maundy Thursday evening service and is shared with you now.

Readings: 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 and John 13:1-17, 31b-35

‘That you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another’

This week has for me been a week of great sorrow. In a week when we are following in the footsteps of Jesus to the cross, his words to his disciples have a great poignancy. A week in which we have once again witnessed the total disregard for the value of human life.

‘That you love one another’

On Monday we heard of the devastating effect that one person can have on one family, the Philip’s family, we heard of the anger and hatred that is justifiably felt as raw emotions are still very much on the surface.  Then on Tuesday, the indiscriminate attack on innocent victims in Brussels, as they went about their ordinary business; treated not as individual human beings but an in-distinguishable mass target.Still each of those who died or were wounded will be connected in a myriad of ways to others: wives, husbands, fathers, mothers , sons, daughters, friends. Connected to people who love them.

Brussels - Tintin

Herge’s Tintin weeps for Belgium

Far too frequently we think of ourselves as just individuals, separated from one another by race, culture and faith, yet we share a common humanity. Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela, when having to deal with the aftermath of apartheid in South Africa, choose to walk the way of love rather than retaliation. Tutu explained that one of the sayings in his country is Ubuntu – the essence of being human, and that it speaks particularly about the fact that you can’t exist as a human being in isolation. It speaks about our interconnectedness. You can’t be human all by yourself, and when you have this quality – Ubuntu – you are known for your generosity.

Our common connection means that what we do as individuals affects the whole world. When we love each other and recognise that common humanity and things go well, it spreads out and shows what the power of love can do; but when we disregard it we act in fear, creating hatred and violence.

 ‘That you love one another’

 That you love one another. Just as I have loved you’

If we want to know what that love should look like then we only have to look at Jesus. Love is never straightforward but he managed to show us the different sorts of love that are needed to unite us rather than divide us.

Love can be tough – we only have to think of the rich young man who when told that he had to give up all that he owned went away grieved.. Yet Jesus didn’t give him a get out clause. He looked at him and he loved him even though he knew how hard that would be

Love enables forgiveness as well as  demanding a change of heart. Like the woman caught in adultery, who was judged and condemned by those who were blinded to their own sinful natures. ‘Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. She was sent away with the instruction to sin no more, knowing that love enables us to forgive.

Love gives us a servant heart. What better demonstration of Jesus’ love for us that he stoops to wash our feet, not as master but as a servant and asks us to do the same. Amongst his disciple he was aware that one was going to hand him over, to be part of his inevitable death and yet he still washed his feet.

And that brings us to the greatest love of all, that he would offer up his own life in order to give us ours. A love that we celebrate each time we come to share at the communion table, and taste the bread and wine.  A sacrificial love that didn’t distinguish between the worthy and the unworthy but was poured out to encompass all of humanity.

Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another’

You also should love one another’

There is one more love that he calls us to emulate – to love our enemies. Jesus tells us that if we only love those who love us back then love has no real value. But to try and love those who perpetrate violence, surely this is the hardest love of all.

This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t hate the crime and that punishment must follow according to the agreed judicial system, and let’s be clear that in the case of the ISIS attacks in Belgium this has nothing to do with the Muslim faith in general, but is caused by a perverted religion of hate.

Even so we are called to show mercy and offer grace. We are called to look at each individual and imagine what has happened in their lives to make them turn to such hatred, to make them so blind that they forget their common humanity with their victims, to espouse causes that deny the power of love, and despite this to love them­­­­­­. How hard that is.

‘By this everyone will know that you are my disciples’

What has also been demonstrated, is that evil and hatred were not allowed to get the upper hand in Brussels, as Christian throughout the city offered practical help and prayers and the Belgian people rallied defiantly in the an open square to write chalk messages of love and hope.

The Archbishop of Brussels, Josef de Kesel, also announced that he had received messages from around the world, as signs of fraternity, and which he said, ‘let us feel how we are united in faith and humanity. He added that “We must stay faithful to our message of peace and go on promoting a discourse which appeals for acceptance, unity and coexistence’

So, as we continue to commemorate the passion, death, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ this Holy Week, let us all remember that God is the source of love and life, and ask him to bring peace to our troubled world.

Amen

Servanthood image

© ‘Servanthood’ by Debbie Saenz.

Mother God – Prayers for Mothering Sunday

A posy for Mothering Sunday

A posy for Mothering Sunday

Traditionally, on the fourth Sunday of Lent. particularly during the sixteenth century, people would return to their ‘mother’ church on Laetare Sunday for a special service of rejoicing. It is also known as Rose Sunday or more commonly nowadays as Mothering Sunday. In times past, it was a rare day off for many domestic servants; it enabled them to gather with their whole family and many of these young people would pick wild flowers along the way to either place in the church or to give to their mothers as gifts.

My own church picks up this theme of offering flowers by handing out posies to all those who have ‘mothered us’ either to keep for ourselves or to take to those who have done just that for us. It is also a time to offer our thanks and prayers .

Prayers for Mothering Sunday

We pray for all who have mothered and nurtured us; those who have borne the pain and joys of childbirth. May they be blessed with love.

We pray for all who have become mothers through new relationships and who have welcomed these children into their hearts. May they know patience and understanding.

We pray for all new mothers, who may be struggling to cope, who seek assurance as they gain experience. May they be supported by the wisdom of those around them.

We pray for all who long to be mothers and for whom this is proving difficult or impossible. May they find a peace and resolution to their longing.

We pray for all whose mothers  or children have died and for those who continue to grieve their loss. May they find compassion and mercy in their sadness.

As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you.
Isaiah 66:13

We pray for all mothers for whom family life has been shattered through war and conflict. May they continue to receive the strength needed to endure these trials.

We pray for all those who become mothers through acts of rape or violence. May any shame they are made to feel be directed at the perpetrators and not within themselves

We pray for all widows, whose children are no longer close to them. May they find solace in their memories and hope of reconciliation

We pray for all who act as god-mothers; who offer faith and spirituality through their prayers and guidance. May they be encouraged in their duty

We pray for each and every person that has been a ‘mother’ to us regardless of nature, status or gender. May they receive the grace of God our Mother and our Father. Amen

Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk, I who took them up in my arms;
but they did not know that I healed them.
I led them with cords of human kindness, with bands of love.
I was to them like those who lift infants to their cheeks.
I bent down to them and fed them.
Hosea 11:3-4

Thank you to our 'mothers'

Thank you to all our ‘mothers’

It’s Called Christmas For A Reason – The Shepherd’s Story

A Thousand Angels

A Thousand, Thousand Angels

Jonathan shivered and pulled the camel hair aba more tightly around his shoulders. It was still fairly mild for the time of year, but he knew that these clear skies would soon bring bitter, frosty nights. Tonight though, the stars seemed to be vying to outshine each other as they twinkled brightly overhead and the moon, a silver crescent, hung low in the sky westward.

They had been gradually leading the sheep down from the hills into the valley’s pasture, and the limestone cliffs at their back were providing some welcome relief from the dusty winds that had been blowing hard. He was grateful in some ways that the size of the flock meant that they could not all be gathered into the sheepfold around the Migdal Edar* but had instead been allowed to graze the cleared harvest fields; nibbling a few remnants that the gleaners had missed.

Anyway, he didn’t really like going into the town; they were forbidden from going into the synagogue and the people in the streets stared at them and often moved aside as if they were unclean – like lepers! No doubt they did smell a bit, but who wouldn’t after being surrounded by sheep all day. But it was more than that – they wanted to keep him out of God’s house, but he was pretty certain that God heard his prayers anyway.

Still, the town looked very peaceful and it’s residents no doubt dreaming as they slept in their comfortable beds. He looked over at his younger brother Caleb, laid on his back with his eyes closed, gently snoring… some shepherd he was at keeping watch! Yet he knew that at the first sign of danger he’d be up and ready to use his sling to defend the sheep. He’d let him sleep for a while longer as it had been a hard couple of days for his new apprentice.

Jonathan shifted his body slightly to look down the hill. It was uncomfortable sitting on the hard ground; maybe he’d take a stroll in a minute to talk to some of the other shepherds he could see sitting in small groups. He was just about to rise when the whole world disappeared – his eyes were open but a blinding flash had taken away his night vision. Then a clear melodic voice spoke somewhere above his head telling him not to be afraid. Without seeing him, he could feel Caleb clutching his arm.

The voice continued to speak, and by shielding his eyes he could just make out the hazy shape of a man surrounded by a halo of light, who seemed to be hovering above the field. The few words he caught were of ‘good news’ and of ‘a Saviour being born in David’s town’…… Bethlehem!  After he had spoken, the angel, for Jonathan was certain that’s who the figure was, appeared to expand, but then he realised that he had been joined by a whole host and that the entire sky was lit up as if it was daylight. Their ethereal song was full of praise and glory to God; of peace and goodwill.

As the last heavenly notes faded into the air, Jonathan realised that dawn was breaking and he got up and hurried with Caleb over to the other shepherds who were equally amazed. Wordlessly, they all made their way into the town, a few of the sheep and lambs bleating as they followed their shepherds. Without obvious direction, they found the open door of what appeared to be an animal enclosure, from which the faint glow of an oil lamp could be seen.

Looking inside they could see two people bending over what appeared to be a hay manger. The man looked up, slightly startled; then beckoned them to enter. Humbly, they made their way in and in the makeshift crib, Jonathan could see a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes, he gazed down at the child, still speechless. Meanwhile Caleb had squirmed his way through to the front and now put his hand out to touch the baby. Jonathan went to stop him, but the child’s mother nodded and smiled, and the infant reached out to grasp Caleb’s proffered finger.

The older shepherds began to tell the story of what had happened in the fields and why they had come. The man seemed to think it incredulous, but the baby’s mother, perhaps already aware of how special this child was, listened to all they had to say and pondered their words.

Afterwards, Jonathan and the others made their way back to their temporarily abandoned flocks, but what to do with the news of all that had happened that night? Who could they tell and who would believe them? Certainly not the rabbis or synagogue leaders. He, stood still for a moment to think, ‘We may be the despised guardians of the Pascal lambs but maybe we have just seen a new kind of shepherd who will lead us beyond the Temple sacrifices – a true shepherd of the sheep’

Then he turned  and ran to catch up with Caleb, who was already striding across the field. Right now these sheep needed him, and as he called out to them they answered with baas and mehs as they recognised his voice.

Agnus Dei (Lamb of God) by  Francisco de Zurbaran

Agnus Dei (Lamb of God) by Francisco de Zurbaran (1598-1664)

While shepherds watched their flocks by night, all seated on the ground; the angel of the Lord came down, and glory shone around. “Fear not!” said he, for mighty dread had seized their troubled minds, “Glad tidings of great joy I bring to all of humankind. To you, in David’s town, this day is born of David’s line a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord, and this shall be the sign. The heavenly babe you there shall find to human view displayed, all meanly wrapped in swathing bands, and in a manger laid.” Thus spake the seraph and forthwith appeared a shining throng of angels praising God on high, who thus addressed their song, “All glory be to God on high, and to the earth be peace; goodwill henceforth from heaven to earth begin and never cease!” Nahum Tate (1652-1715) based on Luke 2:8-14

Share the Good News!

*Migdal Edar literally means ‘Tower of Eder’ or ‘Tower of the Flock’ in Hebrew. Biblical records locate it near to the present day city of Bethlehem. It is mentioned in Genesis 35:21 and scholars interpret a passage in Micah 4:8 as a prophecy indicating that the Messiah would be revealed from the ‘tower of the flock’

It’s Called Christmas For A Reason – Mary’s Story

Mary and Child

Mary and Child

The day had been long and arduous, whether walking slowly along the dusty, gritty road or bumping along on the ass’ back; each step jolting the baby she carried inside her, as she gripped tightly onto the beast’s mane.

The town had looked such a welcome relief as they’d approached it, but it had soon become evident as they pushed and jostled their way through the narrow streets that they had arrived too late to find the comfortable guest house with its cool whitewashed walls and decent bed on which to rest.

Instead, “No vacancies, we’re full up!”

She had tried to smile as her husband looked apologetic, but he was determined to find them somewhere to stay. The last place they tried looked less appealing, a little shabby, but by then they were desperate; the baby was stirring inside her. The owner, must have sensed their anxiety as he led them down to the only room he had for them….among the animal stalls! Still there was plenty of clean straw and hay, and when her husband lit the oil lamp its glow had seemed to bring a tiny feeling of warmth to the room.

As darkness fell, she had tried to get some sleep, but it seemed to elude her tonight. She lay listening to the snuffling and soft breathing of the animals; a shaft of moonlight fell onto the earthen floor through a chink in the roof, and tiny motes of dust made it seem alive in the otherwise still air – there was a feeling of expectancy, not least from the child that moved more urgently in her womb. Through the open door she could see what seemed a million stars in the heavens, under which the rest of the world slept in deep oblivion of the future.

She felt the first sharp pain, but waited to wake her sleeping husband until she knew the birth rhythms were regularly and imminent. “The baby’s coming…”

Afterwards, as she wrapped the child in the swaddling cloths she had brought with them, she gazed down at him, cradled in her arms, and felt such an overwhelming sensation of love, that it made her whole body tingle, dissipating completely the few lingering pains of childbirth. She looked up to her husband, wondering what his thoughts were now that the child was here, but she saw only love and an unconditional acceptance, that here was a son; whom he would nurture and raise as best he could, A carpenter’s son or maybe he would choose another calling?

The baby, now content with a breastful of milk, lay quietly. He too held his mother regard as she scrutinized her perfect new-born infant and as their eyes met, she gasped slightly as she glimpsed briefly within them an ancient wisdom that spoke of creation and new worlds. Rocking him gently, she sang a lullaby “Let all creation join my song, for peace and love are born…” which stilled not only her own mind but that of the creatures around her.

“A virgin will have a baby boy, and he will be called Emmanuel,” which means “God is with us.” Matthew 1:23

Outside, Bethlehem and the rest of the world was beginning to awake as the dawn broke. As she laid him in a manger of sweet smelling hay she spent a while pondering the future, wanting this hushed moment of peace to last for ever, but somehow knowing that it would not last…

… at least not in her or perhaps her son’s lifetime. Maybe eventually though it just might….

Bethlehem Wall Graffiti by Pawel Rzyzawa

Bethlehem Wall Graffiti by Pawel Rzyzawa

With every blessing for peace this Christmas!

“Let all creation join my song, for peace and love are born” are lyrics from ‘Mary’s Lullaby’ by Jan Underwood Pinborough