Beauty surrounds us, but we usually need to be walking in a garden to know it - Rumi
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.
Although Friday marked the Feast Day of All Saints we remember them each time we say the words: I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.
So what do we mean by communion of saints? Well, I understand that the word communion derives from a Greek word koinonia which implies connection, relationship, working together. But what does the word saints conjure up in your mind? Perhaps a load of very holy, otherworldly, beardy old men dressed in white sheets sitting on clouds in the sky somewhere, playing harps all day? Certainly you don't have to go far to find a church named after a long dead saint, or a stained glass window that does not depict the image of one (often with a long white beard).
On 13 October 2019 Cardinal John Henry Newman was canonized by the Pope so joining the ranks of the saints. St John Henry Newman was a remarkable man who in his college days at Oxford was an evangelical member of the Anglican church. In due time he moved from that position so that his work with other like-minded priests in arguing against the increased secularization of the Church of England in the mid to late nineteenth century and seeking to recall it to its heritage of apostolic order and to the catholic doctrines of the early church fathers had, and still has a profound effect on the future of the Church of England. On his later conversion to the Roman Catholic tradition he rose to the rank of Cardinal. He was certainly musical, but whether he played the harp or not, I do not know. In any case I have never seen a picture of him with a beard.
St Paul saw the phrase communion of saints rather differently to the above perception. In writing to the young churches at Corinth, Phillipi or Ephesus he often addresses them as saints, yet they were just like us, very ordinary people, not particularly holy at all, despite his best efforts! To him all who embraced Christ as their Saviour were saints. Now since at the Sacrament of our Baptism we were welcomed into the fellowship of the Church that must include each of us. We are all saints and thus all members of the communion of saints.
As part of that communion we are called to pray and to care for our neighbour in whatever way we can. To pray for those less fortunate than ourselves, those who are homeless, or in prison perhaps suffering persecution for their faith. To care for those in need, the sick and suffering amongst us, those who mourn the passing of a loved one and those who are lonely. And of course we are called to take a greater care of the planet on which we live than we have before.
So, my question is: For whom can I be a saint today? For whom will you be a saint?
On Sunday British Summer time came to an end so that the clocks were put back one hour to Greenwich Mean Time. That meant an extra hour in bed of course but it also means that the nights are drawing in and that winter is on its way. Soon Christmas will be upon us! Will it be a white Christmas this year? Only God knows the answer to that at this stage!
Have you ever wished you could turn back time? I expect you have. I know I have, sadly more than once. A rash word spoken in anger, or nowadays perhaps an intemperate tweet or post on social media. Sound familiar? What about engaging in gossip, whether face to face or on a social media site. Perhaps it seemed harmless at the time but should you really have got involved? Unfortunately it is all too easily done but impossible to take back once the word is uttered, the gossip spread, the post posted or the tweet tweeted. The damage has been done and however much you might wish to undo it, it cannot be undone.
Of course this is not a new phenomenon. Nearly three thousand years ago Solomon recorded a number of wise proverbs, some of which are included in the Old Testament book of that name. There we find that he had plenty of advice about keeping the tongue under control. For example, among the six things the Lord hates is 'a false tongue'.(Proverbs 6:17). Gossip was obviously well known in his day for he says: 'Gossip is sharp as a sword'(Proverbs 12:18 ) Perhaps he anticipated the coming of social media when he said: 'The tongues of the wise spread knowledge, the stupid talk a lot of nonsense'(Proverbs 15:2) Turning to the New Testament James in his letter 'to the twelve tribes dispersed throughout the world' has much to say about the use and abuse of the tongue in Chapter 3. The whole Chapter is well worth reading, or re-reading, but I will simply quote two verses: 'We use it[the tongue] to praise our Lord and Father; then we use it to invoke curses on our fellow men, though they are made in God's likeness. Out of the same mouth come praises and curses. This should not be so, my friends.' James 3:9-10. However the best advice the Bible has to offer comes, once again from Solomon: Keep a guard over your lips and tongue and keep yourself out of trouble.' Proverbs 21:23.
So please, my friends, take that advice to heart; think before you speak and pray before you think because once the words have tripped from your tongue they cannot be recalled.
Last Friday marked the Feast Day of St Luke the Evangelist. What an amazing man he was! Doctor, writer of the third Gospel and its sequel the Acts of the Apostles, missionary and companion to St Paul on his perilous journey through Asia Minor and into Europe. In a letter that many people believe was written at the end of St Paul's life he says "Only Luke is with me" 2 Timothy 4:11 NIV. Luke then was a constant and faithful companion right up until the end. Truly a charitable man.
Many of us will feel that we do not have the many talents or indeed the strength of will that Luke had and thus we are unimportant and not called to do God's work as he was. Yet we do have God given talents that we can use in His service. St Paul lists a few: 'Now you are the body of Christ and each one of you is a part of it. And God placed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, of helping, of guidance and of different kinds of tongues'. 1 Cor 12:27-28 NIV. "Well yes,you may say, "but even so I am not qualified,. I don't know enough theology for a start and I am not confident when talking to people about God. I attend church every Sunday. Is that not enough? Someone else can do the evangelizing bit." Regular church attendance is of course important with the celebration of the Sacrament of Eucharist essential in my view but as St James says: 'In the same way faith by itself, if not accompanied by action, is dead.' James 2:17 NIV. So what to do? The clue lies in the word 'action' in St James' Epistle. What is important is what you do and what you say; in other words how you live your life. It may be helping a neighbour in trouble, maybe spending time listening to her troubles, getting involved in a community project to help the homeless or helping out at a food bank.
Whatever it is remember that you are called to do it for the greater glory of God, just as St Luke did all those years ago.
In the summer, after a busy day in the garden, I often sit to relax with a cup of coffee on the bench beside the fish pond. The pond is always alive with a myriad of tiny, and some not so tiny, creatures, all dashing about finding food where they can. But there is one creature in the pond that has fascinated me from childhood. It is the little pond skater. You may know him as water strider, water skeeter, water bug or water skipper; he is known by a variety of names across the country. What makes him so interesting is that he is anatomically built to transfer his weight to enable him to run on top of the water's surface. In other words he can walk on water! Now, reason and logic will dictate that this is impossible, yet he spends his life doing just that.
That always reminds me that reason, logic ,experience and even reading scripture can only go so far in proving faith. Beyond these it is a matter of belief, you just have to trust that there is something there to support and sustain you, which of course there is.
You may recall the Apostle Peter seeing Jesus walking towards his fishing boat across the lake. In response to Jesus' invitation Peter jumped out of the boat to walk to meet him, even though reason and his experience as a fisherman told him that it was impossible for him to do so. Still he tried but soon sank crying to the Lord to save him. (Matthew 14:29) But in that moment he discovered that Jesus was the support he needed to stay afloat, just as we Christians can be sure that Jesus is the foundation on which our faith is built. With that in mind, I can only say, when watching the tiny pond skater: 'I believe Lord, help thou mine unbelief' Mark 9:24.
There is yet another name by which our little pond skater is known in some parts; the Jesus bug! Now you can see why.
In St Matthew's Gospel we read that Jesus' disciples had asked Him, who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. I suspect that His reply was not what they expected to hear: "Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.." Matthew 18:4-5 NRSV
Like the disciples we may be puzzled at that answer. What exactly did Jesus mean? After all any school teacher will tell you that humility does not rank highly with children nowadays. And in receiving that scruffy obnoxious troublemaker into her classroom is she really welcoming God? Well since we accept that God is in everything and everyone then yes, she is; unlikely as it seems! Yet within each child is an innocence, a lack of knowledge, a lack of preconceptions. I believe that it was this to which Jesus was referring.
He was, I think, pointing out to the scribes and Pharisees, and indeed to all His listeners that 'the Way', as early Christians were known, was not a religion of the book. The rules and regulations set out in the Old Testament are important guidelines, and elsewhere Jesus said that He did not come to abolish them (Matt.5:17). However, the religious authorities of the time read Scripture in a literal way allowing no deviation from what was written there. Jesus was showing His listeners,and us, that rather than being a religion of the book, Christianity was a religion of the "Word", that Word of whom St John writes: In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. John 1:1-5 NRSV. The authorities of the time could not identify Jesus as the Messiah because they were locked into their texts with closed minds, which led them to view Him as dangerous and a threat to their authority; all leading to His arrest, Passion and Crucifixion.
Reading Scripture with a closed mind has been a problem down the ages and remains so to this day. It is very easy to find a verse or passage to justify our own preconceived (prejudiced?)view of situations or people. But we are not called to read Scripture in that way rather with humility and an open mind. It is only this way we will discover the living presence of Jesus in all whom we meet; even the scruffy obnoxious troublemaker. If we were all prepared to put aside our preconceptions of our neighbour and his views then I believe the world would be a happier, more peaceful place. Let us make a start today. After all is it so important to be right every time?
By now the harvest has been gathered in. We celebrated Harvest Festival last week at St Mary Magdalene. No doubt your church has done so or will be doing so shortly. Our Jewish friends celebrate Sukkot , the Festival of Ingathering on 8th October this year whilst other religions of the world will celebrate according to season. Wouldn't it be wonderful if all religions could come together for a day of thanksgiving for God's good harvest? Just one day would be a wonderful start.
Here in the northern hemisphere the leaves are beginning to change colour as they put on their beautiful red, gold and russet clothes for the final glorious autumn dance before the icy fingers of winter are felt. Then they will settle down to slumber. Yet how magnificent they look in that dance ! Meanwhile having fattened up on the food autumn provides many animals will hibernate whilst some of the birds will already have migrated to warmer climes. The harvest is gathered in, the birds and animals have eaten their fill and now all will be silent as if the whole world has died. Of course, death will come to us all but we know that the death of our earthly body is not the end. The death and resurrection of Our Blessed Lord and Saviour made sure of that.
The theme of death and resurrection occurs regularly in both Old and New Testament writings. Just think of Noah and the ark or Jonah and the whale for example. Of course, St Paul devotes much of chapter 15 of his first letter to the Corinthians to the subject. In verse 42 he says: What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And as for what you sow, you do not sow the body that is to be, but a bare seed' Exactly so, for our farmers are already ploughing the fields to plant winter wheat seed to be harvested full grown around July next year. However St Paul goes on to say that: What is sown is perishable , what is raised is imperishable'1 Cor 15:42. I take heart from that and from his letter to the Romans where he says: I am certain of this, neither death nor life..... will be able to come between us and the love of God, known to us in Christ Jesus. Romans 8:38-39. How wonderfully reassuring is that?
Let us hold fast to that blessed assurance as we wonder at the glory of autumn's final dance .
Peter is a father and a grandfather who has been retired from full time employment for a number of years