Thursday, 20 June 2019
Sunday, 16 December 2018
Readings : Zeph 14-end
Luke 3: 7-18
May I speak in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit
We have reached the third Sunday in advent, also called Gaudete Sunday. The more observant among you might have noticed that the advent candle we lit this morning is pink, rather than purple.
Gaudete means to rejoice, yet we are in Advent, which can be described as a mini lent, a season that is supposed to be about sombre reflection. Gaudete Sunday is if you like a light in the darkness, a sign that we have almost made it. Although whether you rejoice at it nearly been Christmas may depend on whether you have been super organised and got everything done,
or if you are in a mad panic at the thought of what you still need to do before the big day!
I don't know about anyone else but I can be rather impatient and find waiting quite hard, especially if there’s going to be something nice at the end of it!
Throughout the history of the people of Israel there seems to be a theme of waiting, but it is a waiting in hope and expectation,
that one day the messiah will come, the oppressive rulers will be thrown down.
Our first reading today was from the prophet Zephanianh,
he was alive in an era when Jerusalem and the people of Israel
had seen a great deal of upheaval. They had been conquered by the Assyrias. Their leaders had worshipped false gods in the Jerusalem temple. Zephaniah is a short book, only 3 chapters long and the first two and a half are about how evil the people are and how the trails and tribulations they are living through are Gods punishment on them.
Then half way through chapter 3 we get a change in tone. A remnant of Israel shall be left that can do no wrong, utter no lies. The song of rejoicing we heard this morning follows on from this vision of a better future.
Ultimately it is a song of hope, however bad things may seem God has not totally abandoned his people and one day all will be well.
In his letter to the Phillipans Paul sounds surprisingly upbeat
considering that he was probably writing it whilst under house arrest and with the prospect of being killed at anytime.
In those circumstances I am not sure I would be calling on people to rejoice! I would be more concerned with them putting together a plan to rescue me, but then I am not a saint.
Paul tells the phillipians to rejoice but he also offers some guidelines for how to behave, let your gentleness be known to everyone pray and don't worry, Reading those words today with all the uncertainty we seem to be facing over brexit, national and international politics and what seems a public political discourse that gets more angry and ill tempered by the day.
What Paul is describing sounds a million miles away from what we are experiencing.
Yet I think what both Paul and Zephanianh have to say is very relevant to us today, firstly, don't give up hope, empires may be falling, it may seem as if we are staring in to a cataclysmic abyss, but God still plans to redeem this mess. So whilst we are in a period of reflection and penitence during Advent, it doesn’t need to be all doom and gloom.
We can still rejoice because God is coming to redeem all things.
More importantly we can be a forerunner of that redemption
in how we live and how we treat each other.
At the time of John the Baptist the people of Israel were again experiencing being ruled by an occupying force. They were forced to submit not to God but to an occupying force, who were throwing people of their land, paying them a pittance for skilled work, there seemed little prospect of improvement.
This is why the people were so desperate for a messiah.
John the Baptist with his charasmatic preaching and counter cultural lifestyle was seen as a potential messiah, a figure of hope, that's why the people looked to him with expectation.
John however tells them that they need to look elsewhere, he is not the one, there is one that is greater that is coming.
Waiting in expectation for a messiah to come and save you from oppression is a bit different to waiting in joyful expectation when you are anticipating nice presents, good food and drink,
time with family and friends and possibly a break from work. Many Christians will be celebrating Christmas in secret, their lives in danger because of their faith. For others it may mean extra stress and worry. Children may be dreading Christmas because it means mum and dad will drink, and then fight.
How can we wait in joyful expectation in these situations? As I was thinking about this last week I came across two tweets,
the first was a response to someone having expressed amazement at how Theresa May could joyfully sing "O come, all the faithful", given her current political difficulties the reply was that's what Christians do.
The second was from the twitter account Slug Soup, a curious group of cuddly frogs and hedgehogs that tweet about soup and philosophical musings. They tweeted
"we have been thinking about joy.
It runs through your life like a deep, slow River;
like a stream of cool air.
It is crystal clear, you cannot always see it but it is always there."
There is a deep joy that comes from having a relationship with the God that gave himself to us as a tiny baby. It is a joy that doesn't need Christmas trees or presents, good food or other material things to be felt. Sometimes it may even be hard to find,
but it is always there if we wait and if we pray in joyful expectation it can be found.
Thursday, 31 May 2018
Things may not be what they appear, appearances can be deceiving, don't judge a book by its cover. There are lots of sayings that teach us not to rely on what we see. These sayings still exist despite the scientific age we live in, with it's quest to provide firm evidence for everything.
Tonight we are celebrating the feast of Corpus Christi, the body of Christ. During the reformation the Eucharist and what exactly Jesus meant when he said “this is my body” was a major point of debate. The reformers claimed that the bread and wine looked clearly like bread and wine so must be just bread and wine.
However, as I said at the start appearances can be deceiving. To help demonstrate this point, I have bought a friend with me tonight, meet Woolly the Sheep.
Andrew responded by pointing that he has a head, eyes, ears, four paws and body, it definitely looked like a cuddly toy. However if you look beneath the outer skin, you will find that Woolly here is missing something key to being a cuddly toy, he has no stuffing! Instead he has a hot water bottle. When Woolly is being put to his proper use you may pick him up and if you don't know the truth get an unexpected warm feeling, which tells you there is more to Woolly than meets the eye.
Receiving the bread and wine in the mass can have a similar effect. Sara Miles had no intention of being a Christian when one day she walked into a church where a service was taking place. She joined the service and in her book “take this bread” she describes what happened when she joined in receiving the bread and wine.
“I still can't explain my first communion. It made no sense. I was in tears and physically unbalanced: I felt as if I just stepped off a curb or been knocked over, painlessly, from behind. The disconnect between what I thought was happening – I was eating a piece of bread; what I heard someone else say was happening-the piece of bread was the “body” of “Christ”, a patently untrue or at best metaphorical statement; and what I knew was happening- God, named “Christ” or “Jesus” was real and in my mouth -utterly short circuited my ability to do anything but cry.”
Whilst we may not all have the same reaction as Sara Miles did, we all have feelings that go beyond what out five conventional senses may tell us. We may feel a sense of awe at some stunning sight of natural beauty, find ourselves moved by a particular piece of music, or just feel a sense of something other.
A few years ago I visited Medjugorje in Bosnia, in the 1980's a group of children claimed to have seen visions of the virgin Mary on the hillside there. The catholic church has not yet accepted the place as an official holy site. However, when we climbed up the mountain to the site, where there is now a statue, I had a sense of it feeling like a special, holy place. In the same way when receiving the Eucharist I often have a sense that this is more than bread and wine.
Thomas Aquinas writes about the concept of a spiritual eye, the idea that there is an instinctive or intuitive power in the human soul that can recognise the presence of the divine. It is this spiritual eye that allows us to perceive that there is more to the bread and wine in the mass than mere physical human sight would suggest.
If our inward sense is telling us that we are receiving something so special, so holy, what does that mean for us? For Sara Miles, who I quoted earlier, that experience was the first step on a road that was to lead to her becoming a church leader. That might not be the path we all take, but in the simple act of receiving bread and wine, body and blood, by accepting part of Christ in us, we can all be transformed.
Our spiritual senses experience the presence of Christ and that presence becomes part of us, strengthening us, renewing and reforming us until we all become part of His body, His feet, His eyes, His hands, His strength to go out into the world and do His work. Amen
Friday, 16 June 2017
Sunday, 20 November 2016
Jeremiah 23: 1-6
Colossians 1: 11-20
Luke 23: 33-43
May I speak in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Today is Christ the King, what do we think of when we hear the word King?
If, like me, you are a fan of Disney, you night think of the Lion King, if you are a bit of a fashionista you might think about the fashionable clothes a king would wear. If you are a bit of an egotist you might think about having people bow to you and obey you if you were King.
In general good Kings are seen as people to be respected, looked up to and possibly admired by the people they lead, and in return they expect their subjects to work with them to help build a good and just society. However, a bad king, or any bad leader can also spell disaster.
The people of Israel had a bit of a mixed experience of monarchy. To start with they had no king, but were ruled by judges and prophets. Then the people decided they wanted a king and Samuel appointed Saul, who started well but ended up a bit mad, he was succeed by David. Who after a bit of adultery and murder was succeeded by his son Soloman.
At the end of Soloman's reign Israel split into two countries Israel and Judah, both led by Kings. There were some good kings and some bad kings. During the time of Jeremiah, Jehoiachin came to the throne of Judah. Jehoiachin was generally considered a bad king as it was under his rule that Judah was conquered by Babylon and many Israelites were forced into exile.
At the start of our first reading this morning, Jeremiah is speaking out against this current king, whose decisions have led to the destruction and scattering of the flock, the people of Judah. However, it isn't all bad news, even when it seems like the world is ending, he also has a word of hope, whatever it may feel like, God has not abandoned his people but will come and gather them together again. He will provide for them a righteous and good leader.
Jeremiah's vision is of a king who will reign wisely, who shall be in charge executing justice and righteousness. As Christians we tend to read these lines as pointing forward to Christ. Yet the reading from Luke's gospel this morning isn't exactly a great description of a King. Instead of a crown of gold and jewels He has a crown of thorns. Instead of people bowing down and worshipping this King, they are mocking him. He isn't sitting on a grand throne, but is nailed to a cross. In the words of Luci Shaw “he wore purple only once, and that was an irony.” This doesn’t seem like the great king of Jeremiah's vision, or to fit into any expectation of what a good king should be. This is a King that looks defeated rather than one who is going to have a glorious reign.
Yet despite all this, he still shows certain signs of kingship. He speaks to the penitent thief with a voice of authority “today you will be with me in paradise.” No ifs, no buts, this is what will be. We may be in what looks like a nightmare situation but the King still has the authority to lead us through it to something better.
Another trait that is often associated with great Kings is mercy. Even when on the cross suffering unimaginable agony, Jesus still acts with mercy, saying Father forgive them. We have become so used to hearing this statement, this story, that I think, it has perhaps lost some of it's impact. God's forgiveness is available for everyone, everyone means everyone. It doesn't just mean the people we like and agree with, it means the people we hate, the people we think have done terrible things. It means Donald Trump, it means the leaders of Islamic State. I find this one of the hardest aspects of Christianity to deal with, that God, the God that I love and that loves me, can also love those that hate and want to harm others, that have committed crimes too terrible to think about. Our human nature wants revenge, we want what we see as justice, we want those that have caused pain made to feel pain. Yet the truth is that God's mercy can reach them to, we are all loved by God.
In both the US election and the UK brexit vote there seems to have been a splitting of people into “them” and “us”, everyone in the us group is right and good and only acting out of the best possible reasons, everyone in the them group is evil, nasty, racist and only acting out of stupidity or self interest. Coventry Cathedral has a famous litany of reconciliation, however I found another litany about forgiveness on the internet this week:
“Whenever we speak of them and us, Lord forgive us
Whenever we ignore speech about them and us, Lord forgive us
Whenever we don't condemn speech about them and us, Lord forgive us
Whenever we stay silent in the face of speech about them and us, Lord forgive us
Whenever we don't speak on behalf of the silenced in talk of them and us, Lord forgive us
Whenever we don't offer an alternative vision that re imagines the idea of them and us, Lord forgive us”
We need to seek to understand the concerns of them and work with them to address those concerns. It is only through forgiveness and the coming together of them and us that the fractured wounds of our society can begin to heal.
What does it mean for us today to be subjects of Christ the King? We seem to be living through times of massive change and upheaval, where the unthinkable is becoming reality. I know there are many people who are worried, scared and upset at the direction the world seems to be moving in. It's all very well to say God's in charge, it all work out right in the end, all we have to do is sit tight. Well, God may be in charge, but a king needs his people to help enact his will. As the subjects of Christ the King, we need to stand up for the values of the kingdom of Christ. Love for one another, including those we disagree with, justice that is tempered with mercy, help for our neighbour, and forgiving those whose actions and words have hurt us. Not an easy task, at times it might even seem an impossible task. Later on in this service we will pray the words, “your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” It is up to us the subjects of Christ the King, to try and make that line reality.
Christ is not King of this earthly world yet and that means we are also called to follow in the footsteps of Jeremiah, to speak out against those in authority, or those with a loud voice, when they act in ways that go against the kingdom values of Justice, mercy, forgiveness and love of our neighbour.
To be subjects of Christ the King means we all have a calling, to work and act, in whatever way we can, in the situations we are in, to bring the kingdom of Christ into reality.
from my LiveJournal, Jane Williams - The Wombling World of Madness
Wednesday, 25 November 2015
Morning Prayer 25th November 2015
Waiting in Hope
Readings: Isaiah 19
Over the past few weeks the lectionary for morning prayer has had readings from Isaiah, and I must admit a lot of it hasn't exactly been cheerful. As far as today's reading goes, well, I wouldn't want to be in Egypt at the time Isaiah is talking about.
War, drought, famine, unwise rulers leading the country out of the right path. Isaiah's prophesy was written to address issues thousands of years ago.
But how much has changed since then?In some ways lots, in order to find out recent news stories relating to Egypt I could use Google, something Isaiah couldn't do.
Yet the results of that Google search of news stories from the last month included stories of tension between different groups of people in Egypt, farmers concerned that their crops won't provide enough, and criticism of leaders for the decisions they take. It all sounds very like the Isaiah prophecy.
When surrounded by such an onslaught of bad news it would be easy to slide into despair to believe that things will only get worse.
That God has forgotten us, all that stuff about a loving God who provides for your every need if you only ask him, seems like an impossible fairy talevwhen faced with the world situation today. Extremist groups seem able to strike at will, and we only seem to care when it comes close tbo us.
There has been seemingly non stop news coverage of the Paris attacks and people pledging solidarity with France. Yet within days of the Paris attacksbthere were at least 200, possibly up to 2000 people killed by Boko Harem in Nigeria and I don't even know how may will have died in Iraq and Syria in the past week. There has been little news coverage of these terrorist attacks, I have seen no one pledge to stand with innocent Nigerians, or Iraqi's or Syrian's.
The start of our reading from Matthew isn't much better, we are told to go out like sheep amongst wolves.
I don't know a lot about looking after sheep but I suspect if I sent them out among wolves I would end up with very few sheep and a lot of well fed wolves. Not a very comforting image really.
We are then told, in an echo of Isaiah, that families will be torn apart, parents against children and siblings against each other.
People will be forced to flee, as they have been in Iraq and Syria, it all seems very dark and depressing.
Where is the God that cares for each of his children as much as he cares for a common bird? Does He really care that much that He counts the hairs on the head of each one of us, even as we are attacked and murdered. Even Justin Welby, the archbishop of Canterbury has admitted that recent events make him question God.
When considering all the problems in the world today it can seem a massive unsolvable mountain. A burden that is too heavy for us each to carry without it pushing us down into despair.
.Recently I have been reading the book Treasures of Darkness by Jane Grayshon. The author is someone who has suffered from repeated bouts of serious illness, requiring hospitalisation, surgery and on more than one occasion leaving her close to death. She writes about her struggles to find God in the darkness. In one section she realises that the real problem isn't the pain and illness but the despair that it brings
“ A flicker of new understanding dawned on me. Despair. YesvI thought to myself. Thats my real enemy. More than the pain which takes over my body. Despair eats into my very soul. Instead of thinking of my enemies as surgeons or pain doing nasty things to me. I should think of them as despair which does nasty things in me. Suddenly I saw that suffering was not my worst enemy. My enemies were those things which crept unseen into my soul and fed despair.”
Jesus cautions us that it is not what destroys the body that we need to fear but what destroys the soul. To counter act the despair which seems to be all around usbin these days of 24hr news we need to go out and clearly proclaim the gospel message of hope for a better future. The recent controversy over the Lord's prayer advert, that has been banned in cinemas, seems to say that there are those who would rather us religious types just shut up and stayed quietly whispering in the darkness, where the rest of the world can ignore us.
But Jesus calls us to go out and proclaim a message of hope. A message which may not be listened to and which to proclaim may have consequences for us, hopefully not include flogging, but may well include hostile reactions and verbal ridicule. We are to face this and to remember that God is with us and will empower us to live out our faith publicly in a world that seems to want less and less to do with it, but which has an ever greater need for the message of hope to combat the despair.
When we look around the world today it can be easy to find things that will feed the feeling of despair and hopelessness in us. Isaiah talks of the expectant hope that one day Egypt will be at peace and counted equal with Assyria and Israel .
A highway will exist between Egypt and Assyrian and people move peacefully between them. Assyria is in what is now northern Iraq, an area controlled by Islamic State. Peaceful travel may not be possible there at the moment, but Isaiah gives us hope that one day there will be peace.
As we move into Advent, the season of waiting for the saviours arrival, we need to wait in expectant hope, and share that hope with those around us, to feed the souls of the world with hope and not despair.
from my LiveJournal, Jane Williams - The Wombling World of Madness
Thursday, 22 October 2015
Recently with my speech therapist we have done some work looking at how my speech affects how I see things. This has made me see that some fairly small negative events from the past are still affecting me today. I was teased by a few kids at school, to this day I am still terrified of talking to teenagers. The teacher in charge of special needs told me that I shouldn't take performing arts GCSE as I would fail it because of my stammer. I took it anyway and got a C, but despite having proved him wrong I still have days when I feel my stammer means I will fail at something. Someone told me people won't want to talk to you because you stammer, I still struggle to start conversations because what if I stammer and the other person then doesn't want to talk to me?
My speech therapist set me the task of finding evidence to support these assumptions. How much evidence did I find to support these assumptions? None, not a thing, I stammered people still talked to me, teenagers didn't tease me, people know that I stammer and still have casual small talk conversations with me and don't run away screaming.
Despite this I still struggle with the thought that my speech has to be perfect and if I let even one stammer get in that will be all anyone will notice. The other week I was leading the intercessions at church, I stammered a little bit not much, but I still sat down thinking that I had messed it up. Then someone came up to me after the service and said thank you, your prayers were really good. To at least one person in that congregation the words that I had said had been more important than the way that I said them.
Sometimes when I speak I will get stuck and stammer, whilst therapy and techniques might help reduce it, it will always be there. However, I need to remember that that is not the defining thing about what I am saying. It is the words that I say that are important and should be listened to, not the way that I say it.
from my LiveJournal, Jane Williams - The Wombling World of Madness