Beauty surrounds us, but we usually need to be walking in a garden to know it - Rumi
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.
Appropriate words, you may think to describe the situation in the world today, yet they were written in 1859 by Charles Dickens. Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose!
It is obvious to everyone that climate change is to a large extent man made, yet we ignore the warnings, or even deny that it is happening at all. We desecrate God's Creation by felling trees at an alarming rate, deforesting large swathes of the world every minute of every day. We insist on using fossil fuels when there are other much more environmentally friendly, and cheaper, alternatives available. We ignore the basic human rights of many of our fellow citizens including the aged and infirm.
The coronavirus pandemic sweeping the world at present, has highlighted a truly ugly selfish side of human nature with panic buying and stockpiling by those who do not need to, leading to shortages of essential foods and other supplies for those who need them. In the UK those over 70 and those with serious health conditions are recommended to avoid social contact for 12 weeks, so that this kind of selfish behaviour not only impacts on them but also on the hard working NHS staff who after a long shift helping save the lives of others, find the supermarket shelves empty when they shop for their own families.
However, there are positive signs. Firstly, Greta Thunberg, a Swedish school girl has galvanized the youth of the world to confront politicians and those in power demanding that they take action to reduce carbon emissions and generally take responsibility for the care of the planet. Their efforts seem to be having some effect, for which I thank God. Again, this year the Church of England Lent reflections focus on care for the environment. A recent message asks us to encourage our church to plant a tree whenever someone is baptized. Secondly, earlier in the week two of our neighbours came across to offer help with shopping and etc., when we need it. Later others joined them in offering help. Thanks be to God.
The message I want to get across is to ask everyone to remember Jesus' words: I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. John 13:34 NRSV. But we must let that love translate into practical effort, after all 'faith without works is dead' James 2:26 NRSV. So, please ring your aged or infirm neighbour to offer help or just a friendly chat, and plant a tree to conserve God's Creation. Remember we are all one family in Christ. We all have a responsibility for each other.
May the Lord walk with you, and your family, in these trying times.
400 years ago the Mayflower carried the first English Puritans to the New World.
At the time England had a state church that everybody was expected to attend. Failure to do so meant breaking the law and so facing fierce state persecution.
Puritanism emerged under the Protestant regime of Elizabeth I. They believed that the Bible gives a blueprint as to what the church should look like, so that as church decorations, priestly robes, using the sign of the cross, or even bishops were not mentioned in the Bible these should be dispensed with. They wanted to focus on sermons and the Bible. Initially the state church tried to persuade people back to the 'right' way of thinking using relatively gentle methods but when these did not work harsher forms of coercion were used. To escape this persecution the Pilgrim Fathers, as they became known, chose to take huge risks by sailing across the Atlantic to North America. They were right to be afraid since half of them died in the first winter.
Christopher Martin and his family were among those Puritans who sailed on the Mayflower. As they once lived in our town a series of events will be held this year to commemorate the event. A Civic Service will be held at Most Holy Redeemer Roman Catholic Church on 6 March whilst we will hold our own memorial service at St Mary Magdalene later in the year.
Sadly Christians, and indeed those of other religions around the world are still suffering persecution for their religious beliefs. In this country we are perhaps a little more tolerant of other Christian traditions than 400 years ago but there are still factions and divisions.
Let us remember : yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist. I Cor 8:6 NRSV. But perhaps more importantly Jesus' words at the Last Supper: Just as I have loved you, you should also love one another John 13:35. Please let us hold in our prayers those persecuted for their faith, but also let us pray for peace and concord within the churches of the Christian community.
Last Sunday's Epistle came from St Paul's letter to the young Corinthian church. (1 Cor 1:10-18). He is writing to a divided church, urging them to heal their differences and focus their faith and worship on Jesus, the Christ.
Sadly, even today within the Church there is division as indeed there is in the wider community. I was able to pick up on this point in the Intercessions I led. Here are a couple of prayers that I offered:
Lord Jesus Christ, Prince of peace, break down the barriers which separate us from each other and from God. Teach us to love one another across the walls of colour,class and creed; forgive us, too, the excuses we make for our own prejudices, and lead us in your cause of peace and goodwill on earth; for your name sake. Amen. (This prayer was written by Ian Bunting and is published in the SPCK Book of Christian Prayer)
The second prayer is my own and reads: Heavenly Father, within the next few days the UK will part from our friends and neighbours in Europe. This whole Brexit process has caused deep divisions, pain and suffering across the nation. Bless Elizabeth our Queen and give wisdom to all in authority under her, that they may lead us to a healing of those wounds with humility and forgivness. Let us workto gether with other nations, including the EU in true partnership for the promotion of peace and the good of mankind. Amen
The last words of the Gospel reading gives us hope for in it Matthew tells us that Jesus commenced his earthly mission by healing the sick and curing diseases (Matt 4:23)
In Chapter 10 of Matthew's Gospel Jesus instructs his disciples to continue his work after he has left them. As baptised members of the Church it is our task to Take up our cross and follow him. That means doing what we can, with the help of the holy Spirit to healthe divisions within our church and our community. Let us pray for God's help that we may do so..
As some of you may know this year I will lead the intercessions at the Sung Eucharist service on a rota basis at St Mary Magdalene. Inspired by Walter Brueggmann, "This City....of God" Prayers for a Privileged People (Abingdon Press 2010) this is a prayer I am thinking of using for a coming Service. Let me know what you think of it.
'O Lord, the church of St Mary Magdalene is situated in the Borough of Basildon, a diverse community as many are, but this is our home. We pray for those living in the multi million pound houses north of the Borough and for those who have no home and will sleep tonight in a cold draughty shop doorway in the Town Centre. For those who make their purchases online from the most expensive shops, and for those who need to produce a voucher to collect their weekly necessities from the Foodbank. For those who take regular exercise, perhaps running marathons and for those for whom even standing up is an impossibility. For those surrounded by close friends and family and for those whose only contact with the outside world is the flickering images on the TV screen. For those born and bred in this country and for those recently arrived who are struggling to learn a new language and new customs. For those joyfully welcoming a new child into the world and for those mourning the loss of a loved one.
Teach us not to forget, Lord, that you have made each of us in your own image. We are all members of your family - neighbours whom you call us to love.
Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.
Sunday's Mass was a truly uplifting experience. Not only did we sing some of our favourite Christmas hymns and carols - and yes, the choir were in fine voice - but Father Michael gave an inspiring sermon. In fact he has given me permission to use his theme in today's blog.
His question to us was quite simple, but still thought provoking. "Are you a Christian?" he asked. Well, of course I am! I am here after all, and I have attended all the Christmas services, I read my Bible and say my prayers. What more do you want? And that was his point. Anyone can read a dusty old book; anyone can repeat by rote a few prayers half remembered from childhood, and the church is open seven days a week with Morning and Evening services everyday. "What I am asking," he said,"is what have you done? How do people outside these walls know that you are a Christian? What difference have you made in the world?"
At the very beginning of the Bible we read that God created the earth and all that was in it and it was good. Then he created man, who was to be His steward but in fact promptly proceeded to mess things up; something he continues to do to this day! The polar ice caps are melting at an alarming rate, the Amazonian forests are being recklessly destroyed whilst man's steadfast reliance on fossil fuel hastens global warming with disastrous effects on the planet. If you need any further proof just look at the bush fires that have been burning out of control in Australia for some months now.
Yes, someone should do something about that but there is nothing I can do. I am just one man. True, but consider that a sixteen year old Swedish girl addressed the world leaders at the United Nations in New York on just this subject recently. So what is your excuse?
New Year's resolutions have a habit of being forgotten after 31 January, but this year please make a commitment to get out of that comfortable pew you have occupied for so many years and do something that will make a difference to the world . You are not called to do extraordinary things but to do ordinary things extraordinarily. So pick up a pen write a letter; go out and protest, just do something. After all remember 'faith without deeds is useless' James 2:20(NIV).
At this time of year there is so much to do to prepare for Christmas. It is so easy to get caught up in the commercial aspect of the season. But do we need all that stress?
This Sunday, the third in Advent is also known as Gaudete Sunday, a time when we take a break from the preparations for the coming, or second coming, of Our Lord. It is a day on which we rejoice that the Saviour is coming, as John the Baptist foretold.
At St Mary Magdalene the Advent candles are lit by one of the children in the congregation. This Sunday the joy of Gaudete Sunday permeated the church when the young lady chosen skipped down the aisle, holding firmly to mother's hand, to perform her task. At that moment a ray of sunshine burst through the stained glass windows illuminating the Advent candles. God was truly with us at that moment! Later after the service we learned that it was Father Peter's birthday. His age is a closely guarded secret but he did hint that he might not see 21 again! Oh and the sun was shining and the birds singing in the churchyard as we left. It was a really joyful day. Any worries, doubts or problems vanished from sight. Thanks be to God for His presence with us and for the glory of His Creation!
The Gospel reading for Advent Sunday tells of Jesus instructions to his disciples. He says: Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming (Matthew 24:32)
Fortunately the years when my day (and night!) was ruled by the alarm clock are in the distant past. Yet I can recall being woken sometime before dawn to snatch a bite of breakfast before dashing out to catch a train. Then the meetings, the appointments, the deadlines - always far too short! It seemed as if I was chasing my tail. Even when arriving home the telephone would ring so that tomorrow's meetings would continue to race around in my head. The Jones visit will mean an early start. It could be difficult. Have I got everything I need? Do I need to phone the office for this or that before I leave? Eventually an exhausted sleep would take over, until the wretched alarm clock woke me! Staying awake, then, was no problem - sleep was! No doubt you can recall times like that. Maybe you are still going through them.
The reading continues: Hold yourselves ready, therefore Matthew 24:44(a). And this is the key surely. Just as I needed to prepare for the next day's meetings all those years ago, so we must all prepare ourselves for the second coming of our Lord. Advent is just the time to do that. There are plenty of resources out there to help. But don't put your preparation off for too long. Remember: because the Son of man will come at a time you least expect him Matthew 24:44(b)
So, Be Prepared. And remember God will walk with you on your journey in faith, have no doubt of that!
Last Sunday marked the end of one season in the Church calendar, a time Father John referred to in his sermon as "the interminable Trinity". This Sunday then marks the beginning, not just of a new liturgical season, but the start of a new year. As with every new year we look forward with hope and anticipation. "What will the new year bring?" we ask ourselves. We cannot know the answer to that question but we can prepare ourselves so as to be as ready as possible for whatever comes our way.
One thing of which we can be certain is that Christmas Day will fall on 25 December 2019 as it has every other year. Mother has already started preparing for the festivities of that day by making the Christmas puddings last week, whilst the retailers have been screaming at us, seemingly since last Christmas to buy, buy, buy the latest whatever it is that you never knew you couldn't live without. And now at massive discounts! Wow! What a not to be missed opportunity. Let's rush out to take advantage of their generosity!
But, let us rather take a step back, to quiet ourselves amidst the hurly-burly of our busy daily lives. Let us look beyond the meaningless,commercial hype, just for a few moments. You see, it is so easy to forget the real meaning of Christmas, marking as it does the birth of Our Blessed Lord and Saviour, that precious gift freely given to each and every one of us, even though we have done nothing to earn it, or even deserve it. For God so loved the world, that He gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life. John 3:16 KJV. Now that is a gift beyond price! A gift not discounted in any way, but freely offered to all. As Christians then may we use Advent as a time to prepare ourselves to receive it so that we may: Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify you Father, which is in heaven, Matthew 5:16 KJV.
Sunday 24 November marks the Feast of Christ the King. As the Collect for the day begins with the words:"Stir up we beseech thee, O Lord..." the day has become known as 'Stir up Sunday' In earlier times it was traditional to consume what food was in store before the Fast of Advent. But in our house, as I suspect in many others, it was the time when Mother prepared the Christmas pudding, cakes and other goodies for the Festive season. In the kitchen she gathered together the rich spices, peel and currants she had squirreled away through the year. Out came he biggest mixing bowl and in went all those rich ingredients. There was always great excitement in the house as we children knew that in due time we would be allowed to stir the mixture, and perhaps, lick the spoon! With any luck there would not be too much mess in the kitchen but then we were only children. Once we had finished stirring Mother would shoo us out of the kitchen so that she could get on. Father would then come in to drop a silver three-penny piece into the mixture. It was a valuable coin since its silver content far exceeded its face value and so was the only one he had. On Christmas Day one lucky person would find that silver coin in his or her piece of pudding.
It all seems so long ago now. I don't suppose anyone makes a Christmas pudding nowadays. After all, a click of a button on the computer will have a fully prepared one delivered to your door with the rest of the groceries in an instant. Ah well, as the prophet once said: Your old men shall dream dreams. Joel 2:28. You must excuse me.
Yet those old memories have an important message for us today. Remember that once the rich pudding has been eaten the silver coin remains. Now, think about that for a moment. All the apparent riches, the high position in society, the trappings of wealth of which we are so proud will not last. Indeed, like the silver coin, the one valuable thing that will last, for all eternity, is Christ the King.
Today, 11 November 2019, marks the 100th Anniversary of the signing of the Armistice bringing the Great War to an end. There is now no one left who fought in that war and the numbers of those who served in the Second World War are fast declining. Soon those wars will vanish into history, rather like the Battle of Waterloo or the Norman Conquest of 1066. The names of those who fought and died are recorded on the War Memorials in towns and villages across the country and overseas, and their memory is precious to their families, of course, but the events themselves will largely be forgotten..
Let us not forget, however those whose names are not recorded anywhere. Those who served on the Home Front, and whose service and sacrifice is not so often remembered: the hospital staff, the fire and ambulance crews who worked and gave their lives when enemy bombing and the resulting fires put them in, perhaps as great danger as those who served on the front line. Let us not forget those unsung heroes who drove the trains transporting vital supplies and material across the country nor those working in the docks to unload the precious supplies from ships arriving from across the world, nor those who worked to repair those damaged ships under constant bombing.
I remember this year an air force man whose plane was shot down over enemy territory and so spent the rest of the war in a POW camp in Germany. His ability to play the violin helped to cover the noise made by those digging a tunnel to escape captivity. The episode was made into a film called, I think, the Great Escape. You may have seen it. His wartime experiences did not leave him bitter for after the war ended he returned to teaching. He taught us German and Russian but he also organised and accompanied a number of Student Exchange visits with a school near Cologne in Germany. At the time of our visit the scars of war were still evident on the Cathedral and elsewhere in the city where a number of bridges across the Rhine had been destroyed, making life difficult for the general public.
One of the things we discovered from that exchange was that the German boys were just like us, with the same hopes and fears, and the same love of a good game of football! Equally amazing, given what had so recently passed and the disruption caused to their lives in consequence, was the warmth with which they and their parents welcomed us into their homes. All thoughts of war were forgotten, peace reigned, we were all friends.
Thanks for that lesson of peace and friendship, Tom. May you rest in peace.
Peter is a father and a grandfather who has been retired from full time employment for a number of years