Tag Archives: respect

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

 

 

 

The Beehive Church

Collaborative Honey Bees

Collaborative Honey Bees

Having just finished and handed in one of my final portfolios, it has given me an opportunity to reflect on the sort of ministry I would hope to engage with in the future – and it’s all to do with bees! Now before you succumb to an image of a wild apiarist reverend roaming the parish bedecked in a wide-brimmed veil touting honey as a cure-all, think instead about collaboration.

We have much to learn about working together collaboratively, and by that I don’t mean working well as a team under the authority and  expertise of a ‘good’ leader. No indeed, because for so long we have had a hierarchical model of leadership in the Church, where decisions are filtered downwards and authority is shared amongst those deemed to be ‘worthy’ or competent; but it doesn’t have to be like that.

The fact is we already have the ultimate authority in God, and collaborative ministry is nowhere better demonstrated than through the Holy Trinity, which acts as an example of synergy, the whole being greater than the parts and yet each part is distinctive and committed to working together both internally as well as externally

One true leader

One true leader

True collaboration can only take place when we place God at the pinnacle of the leadership tree, and when every ministry that is revealed through the gifts or charisms imparted by the Holy Spirit to each person are equally esteemed and valued. These gifts are all undoubtedly diverse, but the leader that facilitates opportunities for all to be heard, establishes lines of communications between different groups and safeguards accountability, while at the same time recognising that others may be better equipped to undertake various tasks is surely one that will succeed in fulfilling their primary role of reminding the community whose initiative they need to follow and who the source of their mission and unity is.

Not an easy task for someone whose personality tends towards natural introversion, who will often carry out a task independently to simply get it done quickly. However, over the last few years I have been introduced to more and more examples of collaborative ministry and have come to realise just how important it is; and above all I truly believe that in order to progress the work that God asks us to undertake, we need to use Christ as our example and the Holy Spirit as our guide,

What then has this to do with bees? Well the writer Tolstoy spent a lot of time musing philosophically about the collaborative nature of bees within a beehive, often comparing it to the Christian church, not always in a kind way. However, what we can learn from honeybees is that they collaborate together almost unconsciously to ensure that the colony not only survives but thrives.

The fruits of the hive

The fruits of the hive

Foraging bees will continuously collect nectar, often being led to new sources by any one of its apparent insignificant members, whose dance can influence the rest of the hive to venture to new and plentiful supplies, whilst the worker bees use this raw material to construct complex precise honeycombs all without the need for supervisors, each contributing a small piece of beeswax before moving aside to allow a co-worker to add their contribution. At the same time the bees respect nature by giving back to their habitat the gift of pollination.

Admittedly the drone bees could be considered the lotharios of the bee world, but hey-ho it takes all sorts; and at the very centre of the hive is the queen bee, without whom the colony would not survive and yet who selflessly gives herself to ensure the next generation of bees is produced and nurtured*.

What then of the product of this collaboration – surely there is nothing sweeter than being prepared to share with others the glorious fruits of all this shared ministry.  It’s just a thought, but maybe the ‘beehive church’ is one that we could all be striving toward. Why not let me know what you think?

The collaborative church

The collaborative church

*Within this analogy, God the creator is wholly represented through all of his creation, whilst the Holy Spirit provides the wisdom, energy and drive. At the centre is Christ, the selfless example of whom the minister is called to represent and emulate.

The Public Face of Christian Conflict

Heart blog

‘Love at the heart of faith is visible’

On Monday (20th January 2014) I came up to Ripon College, Cuddesdon to hear Christopher Landau speak on “Who cares what the church is saying? Christian disagreement and the credibility of public theology.”  Christopher is a former student of the college and is presently a curate at St Luke’s, West Kilburn. This interesting lecture was part of the OxCEPT series and gave me pause to reflect further. The following is based on some of the points and ideas that Christopher put forward

Sometimes it’s hard being a Christian. Not because of my beliefs or the way we are called to live our lives (although I so often fall short in many ways). Not because it can feel that what I understand as basic common standards of respect for self and others appear to be being been gradually eroded in our society. Not because I expect anyone to listen to me and instantly recognise that I have all the answers – I don’t!

What is really hard is the ‘face’ of Christianity that the general public gets to see nowadays

By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another
John 13:35

If, as a voice in the public domain, we are to be more and more portrayed as nonsensical, irrelevant fools, then maybe we need to consider not only what is being said, but how it is being said. How many times do we cringe when the press pick up the views of individuals with ‘extreme’ theologies and opinions; when they misquote or home in on the more sensational expressions of people’s religion, ignoring the mundane yet essential work carried out by millions of Christians each day in the name of their faith? Yet our own worst enemies may just be ourselves.

I think I should make it clear from the start that we should always be prepared to speak out loudly and clearly against injustices; that we have a duty to expose falsehoods and to stand firm on undeniable principles, but the tone and the way in which we do so needs to come from a deep-rooted love and regard for all those involved – to exercise ‘gracious restraint’ as advocated by the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams.

Where better then, to start showing that respect and restraint, but among fellow Christians. I am sure we have all come across situations in our churches where the love of God seems to have been divorced from hearts and minds; being swept aside by petty arguments and disagreements; where it appears acceptable to snipe and carp against our brothers and sisters in Christ; to turn a deaf ear to anything that doesn’t resonate with our personal views. If this is what the outside world sees is happening, then why should they think we have anything relevant to say?

‘Gracious restraint’ should mean that we must not only be prepared to share our own views with each other, but that we should also be prepared to listen; though certainly not to remain silent so that we give the impression that we unquestionably concur, yet all the while dismissing the other as misguided. We need to find arenas where these conversations can take place; to provide room for mutual disagreement; for them to be undertaken using gentleness in speech and manner and to leave space for the Holy Spirit to guide us.

As Christopher pointed out, if we can achieve this at personal and parish levels then we can create a ‘trickle up’ effect and honestly speak as the body of Christ. Perhaps then our words and actions will become more relevant and our public theology more engaging and news-worthy. In this way we will also ensure that ‘love at the heart of faith is visible’

Christian Conflict

Christian Conflict