Sermon for Pentecost 10C – 14th August 2022

Jeremiah 23:23-29Psalm 82; Hebrews 11:29-12:2; Luke 12:49-56

After hearing this morning’s Gospel, I wonder how you feel? Perhaps you’re thinking ‘if that’s Good News, please spare me the bad news’. Perhaps next week Jesus won’t have just got out of bed on the wrong side and be in a better mood and all will be well. But is today’s passage really out of kilter with the general thrust of Jesus message and teaching?  Is the Jesus of the Gospels really meek and mild – I don’t think so?

Where do we get the “Gentle Jesus meek and mild” image of Jesus and His teaching from? In short from the work of hymn writers trying to conjure up a human image from the very scanty details of Jesus’ childhood. 

At least some of “Away in a manger” is attributed to Martin Luther and I suspect that “the little Lord Jesus no crying he makes” is perhaps wishful thinking rather than the reality of a household with six of his children and six of his wife’s sisters children. “Gentle Jesus meek and mild” was written by Charles Wesley who was the 18thof 19 children and had eight of his own, he ought to have known better than to write “Thou art gentle, meek and mild; Thou wast once a little child”.

So who exactly was Jesus? What was his message? What did He mean by: 

I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! … Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three;”?

Luke 12:49, 51-52

How worried should we be?

In the news over the last few years, we’ve heard about ‘catastrophic’ wildfires, exacerbated by rising How worried should we be?temperatures and drought, bring devastation, most recently in parts of the south of England. But wildfires are a natural part of many ecosystems, leading to new life, creating the conditions for habitat diversity and helping plants adapt to changes in their environment. Wildfires aren’t universally bad or good.

The fire Jesus wants to kindle is a fire of change, the fire of God’s active presence in the world. No wonder he’s so eager to strike the match. Fire in scripture of course doesn’t provide us with a consistent image. There’s the burning bush of God’s revelation in Exodus – positive, and the fiery conflagration of sin in Genesis – negative.

Jesus’ cleansing fire of change may be very necessary, but it isn’t supposed to make us feel comfortable – there’s nothing “meek and mild” about it. Jesus’ fire isn’t like the fire in your fireplace or stove, safely controlled and providing warmth on winter evenings. The fire of love is intended to burn away our obsession with self-preservation, our idolization of family and relationship, and our false sense of control. It’s a fire, like Simeon’s prophecy to Mary

to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed”.

Luke 2:34b-354a

The fire Jesus describes is costly, but it serves the purpose of life and love.

If you hear today’s Gospel as a description of God just aching to wreak some vengeance on some unfortunate sinners, you’ve absorbed some very bad theology. If that’s the case, you’re probably hoping that if you sit quietly, Jesus’ll have calmed down by next time and we’ll get a much nicer more comfortable passage. But thatwould be to misunderstand, both God and the message of Jesus. 

Luke’s already told us, through John the Baptist, that Jesus is coming with a fire of purification and refinement. Fire that signifies God’s presence, and His power to achieve change even in the face of formidable resistance. In Mary’s and Zechariah’s canticles in Luke, Jesus yearns for “the kingdom of God” to break forth in the world. The transformation and justice that the saints have worked for are the things he wants too. That means that oppression has to go; greed has to go; idolatry has to go; as do exploitation, dehumanization, and everything the might prevent all people and all creation from flourishing.

Jesus reveals an intense desire here – desire for the world’s well-being, desire for our well-being. If any of us can’t appreciate that desire, even in the harsh image of a consuming fire, then it’s likely we’ll need help in perceiving the world from the perspective of the suffering, the powerless, and those who are grievously sinned-against. When these groups pray “thy kingdom come” it’s with a different kind of longing.

Of course, the world’s well-being doesn’t just happen because a few people in Churches want it. First, the truth must be told. Fire is, after all, about refining. And refining hurts, especially for those of us who’ve a lot of impurities to refine out. Why? Because we sometimes mistake impurities for purity, we resist what Jesus really stands for, in favour of an image of Jesus meek and mild, no challenge, no confrontation, we just all need to be a bit nicer to everyone. But Jesus speaks of the division his message will bring.

He’s not against peace, but neither is he afraid to point out that his message of transformation is bound to be divisive. His words about families divided will have spoken poignantly to Luke’s community who would’ve included members who were estranged from some of their kin because of their commitment to Jesus.  

I’ve no idea how his words might have spoken to the 650 Bishops of the Anglican Communion as they met over the past couple of weeks, but suffice to say there was plenty of division and calls for refining fire there, even though they couldn’t agree as to who needed it.

Jesus asks us “do you know how to interpret the present time?” This talk of the breaking through of the kingdom of God? “It’s not a difficult test”, he says. You already know enough to observe the weather and predict reasonably accurately what’s coming next (thunder storms this afternoon). With those basic powers of observation you should be able to tell, from what He himself has been saying and doing and what’s going on in the world around them. So, what is it, both for them and for us?

Jesus doesn’t tell us the answer, bit teaches about repentance and the urgent circumstances in which humanity finds itself. As we as individuals stand at the threshold of our own mortality and the promised arrival of God’s kingdom. 

So right now is a time of repentance, because God’s coming and our days are precious few.  Fundamental aspects of our corrupted world system need to change and no more so than in our present times. Repentance is what happens when we look at ourselves and our world from God’s perspective; according to God’s commitment to justice, God’s concept of peace, and God’s pledge to meet us all in the love and solidarity we share with our neighbour and that’s pretty much everyone.

Life can be difficult and a Christian life is no exception. In fact, discipleship entails new challenges and unanticipated costs. The key is that faith helps us: discern where real life is to be found, knows which values are true and which are false, and endures hardship in the face of the divine promise of hope.  Amen

Sermon for Pentecost 9C – 7th August 2022

 

  • Genesis 15:1-6;  Psalm 33:12-22Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16Luke 12:32-40
  • CERN Large Hadron Collider – image copyright CERN

    Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

    Hebrews 11:1

    “At CERN, the European Particle Physics Laboratory, a huge and extremely expensive accelerator was constructed so that experiments could be conducted into, the sub-atomic world of energy at the heart of seemingly solid matter. This massive accelerator was assembled from parts made across the world with a precision that enabled them to fit together perfectly – human cooperation that’s startling in a world so often divided. When lowered, again with wonderful precision, into a circular tunnel, 27 kilometres in circumference, near Geneva, this extraordinary machine enabled physicists to search for, and ultimately find, the Higgs particle – a particle which at the time was believed to exist, but which hadn’t yet been demonstrated to exist. So from beginning to end this experiment, and the huge cost ($4.6B), was a work of faith. For a scientist to test a new hypothesis they have to have faith in that hypothesis. “Faith seeking understanding” is as true of science as of religion.”

    Words written by the late Geoffrey Rowell Bishop of Europe after a visit to CERN in 2010.

    A question to think about. Is God’s Kingdom something that’s now or is it something that’s in the future? 

    In the Eucharistic prayer in a little while, we will say:

    We recall his blessed passion and death, his glorious resurrection and ascension; and we look for the coming of his Kingdom”.

    SEC Eucharistic Prayer

    That sounds as though the Kingdom’s in the future, but not so far away as to be something that we shouldn’t look out for. 

    A little later, we’ll ask that:

    we may be kindled with the fire of your love and renewed for the service of your Kingdom”.

    SEC Eucharistic Prayer

    Does that not sound like a request for something immediate not something way in the future? Maybe my question’s a trick question and maybe the answer’s perhaps both. So how might that work?

    People, sometimes say, the Church should be out in the community doing this or doing that. The church is the Body of Christ, and that’s you, and that’s me, all of us. Where do we spend the majority of our time – pretty much anywhere else but in this building, in our homes, in places of work or study, in the community doing many many things.

    Could it be that the Kingdom is potentially all around, everywhere where there are people, but the reason we don’t see it is we’re not sufficiently watchful, we don’t notice all the possibilities that God presents to us, because we’re too busy doing other things. Certainly in the end God’s Kingdom will be established, but what about:

    Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.”?

    Lord’s Prayer

    The writer of the letter to the Hebrews puts it like this:

    Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” … “By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible.

    Hebrews 11:1, 3

    Could we perhaps do more to help make the love of God seen in situations that are far from promising, where God might at first sight seem to be completely absent.

    A little while ago, I read for the first time Graham Greene’s novel, “The Power and the Glory”. The central character is a priest, in a state where religion is banned. A one point, he finds himself in a prison cell, because he’s found with a bottle of brandy, also banned. The cell’s crowded, it’s a hot night and the toilet facilities are shall we say primitive.

    The lack of space, the stench, the airlessness, make this a very unpleasant place to be, but in this unpromising environment, there’s a sort of community, composed of very real people who’ve all the faults you expect people to have. but somehow in the way that they relate to each other there are hints of the Kingdom of God and the priest feels that.

    He feels it sufficiently that he’s comfortable revealing to the others in the cell that he’s a priest – an admission that would bring him in front of a firing squad if anyone revealed it. In this squalid little community there’s no betrayal, no jealousy, they’ve all lost pretty much everything and have nothing else to lose.

    Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.

    Luke 12:32

    At the moment, in the middle of summer, there are many in our communities who are already struggling to make ends meet, who are having to choose between feeding themselves and paying their electricity bills. How much worse is that going to become when the electricity price cap is increased and the weather has become rather colder? The food banks are already busy, but when your energy bill exceeds your total income what do you do, who do you turn to?

    The parable of the doorkeeper, that we heard in today’s Gospel, is found in all three of the synoptic Gospels. In all three accounts, its primary concern is with watchfulness. In Mark this watchfulness is confined to the doorkeeper alone, but in today’s passage from Luke it extends to all the servants. They have a collective responsibility to watch. So our Gospel is about the collective responsibility that we have as a community, as well as as individuals, to be ever watchful for the coming of the Son of Man and the Kingdom of God.

    The Kingdom of God can be glimpsed wherever there’s the opportunity for the love of God to be shown, but we need to be constantly vigilant to realise it, and to seize the opportunities. There’s an urgency in this watchfulness, which is underlined in the parable, by the reference to the house being broken in to. You only need to stop being attentive for a moment and you risk missing the thief breaking in or more importantly in our context, the opportunity to welcome in the Kingdom of God.

    Simon and I regularly meet to discuss what the shape of ministry in this part of the world might look like. Ministry isn’t just for the clergy though, whichever congregation we’re part of, whatever role we have, we all need to share in the collective responsibility to be watchful and so we all need to be united in praying that we’ll be able to discern how God would have us reveal His Kingdom and His love in our communities. How do we reveal the Kingdom to those less fortunate than ourselves? We don’t need to be Bishops like Geoffrey Rowell or the 650 Bishops of the Anglican Communion meeting at the Lambeth Conference this last 10 days, or a top particle physicist like my friend Austin at CERN.

    We just need to:

    Be dressed for action and have our lamps lit, be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that we may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks.

    Luke 12:35-36

    Amen

    Sermon for Pentecost 8C – 31st July 2022

    Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14; 2:18-23 • Psalm 49:1-12  • Colossians 3:1-11  • Luke 12:13-21

    Herod the Great began construction of the third Temple in about 20 BC; it was finished in 63 AD, and destroyed by the Romans only seven year later at the end of the Jewish revolt.  Herod wished the temple to be an everlasting monument to himself. In Percy Shelley’s poem Ozymandias, we see the folly of such an enterprise

    I met a traveller from an antique land,
    Who said -“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
    Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,
    Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
    And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
    Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
    Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
    The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;

    and on the pedestal, these words appear:
    My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
    Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
    Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
    Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
    The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

    “Ozymandias” – Percy Bysshe Shelley

    Herod wasn’t the first, nor will he be the last to seek to immortalise himself in something which has the illusion of solidity, but the enterprise is in vain.

    Ecclesiastes was written by a man Qoheleth (or teacher) “the son of David, king in Jerusalem” who’s seen it all, done it all and tried it all – and concluded at the start of today’s reading:

    Vanity of vanities, says the Teacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity. I, the Teacher, when king over Israel in Jerusalem, applied my mind to seek and to search out by wisdom all that is done under heaven; it is an unhappy business that God has given to human beings to be busy with. I saw all the deeds that are done under the sun; and see, all is vanity and a chasing after wind.

    Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14

    In essence Qoheleth, the teacher says that applying wisdom leads to the conclusion that God’s left ushumans with a hard task. That task is livings, and sometimes, life is just hard. Things happen over when weve no control – sickness, job loss, the end of relationships, the death of someone close. Life can be very tough indeed and it could, if we let it, rather get us down. Our toil is, as Qoheleth calls it, “hebel” (translated as vanity but perhaps that doesn’t capture the concept fully). It means that which is fleeting, like an ephemeral puff of wind that can’t be grasped, held on to or hung on the wall.

    But let’s look at this from another perspective.  What if paying attention to the tiny details of one’s life makes even the most tedious activities a prayerful reflection on life and on being fully human. We could dismiss the life we currently live and yearn for one that’s more spiritual. But what if, say, walking the dog or washing dishes in a thoughtful way, living in the moment leads to wonderment rather than weariness? What if travelling by bus or train could provide us with insights on human life, rather than the feeling that you wish it were over?

    Is there not a different kind of “getting wisdom.”?  Perhaps Qoheleth is right that gaining wisdom brings vexation and more knowledge increases sorrow. An unexamined life, lived in an unconscious or even selfish way chasing after doing things which will ultimately fade away and leave no tracemight lead to the conclusion that it’s all futile, a waste of time, a chasing after wind, but that assumes that life’s about status and accumulating all sorts of ephemeral things, which will be for future generations to decide on the value of.

    Set alongside our Gospel ‘The Parable of the Rich Fool’, one can’t help imagine that Qoheleth would say that storing up treasure and using one’s reason to solve the conundrum of what to do with such treasure, is “hebel”. According to Qoheleth, one can’t win. Doing as the rich fool does and building larger storage bins is “hebel.” Even doing so for the enjoyment of future generations is “hebel.”:

    I hated all my toil in which I had toiled under the sun, seeing that I must leave it to those who come after me and who knows whether they will be wise or foolish? Yet they will be master of all for which I toiled and used my wisdom under the sun.

    Ecclesiastes 2:18-19

    So much for ‘leaving a legacy’.

    Later in Ecclesiastes, Qoheleth’s contends that the only thing left to do is to eat, drink, and be merry, but how does that square with the seemingly foolish plan of the rich man 

    I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’

    Luke 12:18-19

    It’s true that if we work hard, then die, someone else benefits from our labours (not least the tax man). But despair isn’t the only possible response to the fact that we’ll all die sooner or later and leave whatever we’ve accumulated for someone else to enjoy.  What we leave also includes thewisdom we’ve gained from our living and what we’ve done for others. It could be hebel (in vain) or it could be a part of joyful living. 

    Death is of course inevitable and no amount of work will change that. So, working to enjoy the fruits of our labour, whatever that might be, and to make peace with our eventual death and with God would seem to offer a way out. We may not be able to work our way to joy, but we could try tofigure out if satisfaction or dissatisfaction with our current life is all there is, or if there’s a dream, a wind worth chasing.

    Yesterday, I met someone who had a vision which became increasingly powerful over a few years and when he shared that vision with others, they were also caught up with it and it’s now bearing fruit – a dream and a wind worth chasing.

    What we do with the hard places and times, dreariness and sameness, is for each of us to work out – to dismiss as drudgery or to make something of. I think reflecting on what Qoheleth has to say is important, especially for people who might have been brought up with an ethic that doesn’t see “joy” and enjoying life in a wholly positive light, a wind worth chasing.

    Qoheleth ultimately comes to the conclusion that we shouldn’t worry,

    It is God’s gift that all should eat and drink and take pleasure in all their toil” …“Go eat your bread with enjoyment, and drink your wine with a merry heart; for God has long ago approved what you do

    Ecclesiastes 3:13 and 9:7

    After his initial scepticism about life, he’s won over to the view that the solution is to “enjoy life”, because life is the ordinary and constant gift of God and we should honour that gift and make the most of it.  So here’s the important distinction: for Qoheleth, to eat, drink, and be merry is an act of faith towards and in God and although he does at times struggle to believe it, ultimately, he’s faithful.  For the rich man his foolishness lies in storing up treasures for himself and not for God, that’s where his vanity lies as it does in Herod and Ozymandias’s attempts at immortality. Amen

    Screeching U-turn or Repentance?

    When politicians change their mind about something, their opponents (and sometimes their supporters also) lambast them for doing so. Rishi Sunak was accused this week of a ‘screeching u-turn’ for suggesting that he might help people with their energy bills by temporarily removing VAT, when last year he refused to do such a thing. Liz Truss meanwhile has been criticised for changing from a ‘remainer’ to a ‘brexiteer’ and from a Liberal-Democrat to a Tory. Boris Johnson once said that Keir Starmer has ‘more flip flops than Bournemouth Beach’. The presumption is that changing your mind is a thoroughlybad thing to do, even when circumstances change.  This is all very adversarial and as the current Tory leadership race implies: “Whoever is not with me is against me”.

    In the New Testament Greek the word that is generally translated into English as ‘Repent’ is ‘Metanoia’, which literally means “to change the mind”. Repentance is therefore concerned with fundamentally changing your mind about something.  Whilst the word Metanoia was actually a military term that described a soldier marching in one direction and then doing an about-face or to turn around, in the context of faith it means a whole lot more.

    Contrary to the way that changing your mind seems to be viewed in political circles, repentance has a much more positive sense. A change in the way you think that leads to achange in the way that you live. When you really change your mind about something, it leads to change in the way you think about it, talk about it, feel about it, and the way that you act. Repentance is a decisive change in direction; it’s a change of mind that leads to a change of thinking that leads to a change of attitude that leads to a change of feeling that leads to a change of values that leads to a change in the way you live.

    When John the Baptist appeared on the scene at the start of the Gospels, it was as one who was preparing the way for Jesus the Christ and he called everyone to repentance. In the Gospels of both Mark and Matthew, Jesus begins his public ministry with a call to “Repent”, for people to turn their lives around. In addition, the Apostle Paul when preaching to both Jews and Gentiles/Greeks urged them to “turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus”. That is what we are all called to do and to keep doing as part of being Christian.

    As I write, Anglican Bishops from across the globe (including the seven from the Scottish Episcopal Church) are meeting at the Lambeth Conference. After a slightly shaky start, the organisers had the courage to have a change of heart in relation to the call on Human Dignity to be discussed next week and rather than deriding them for their ‘repentance’ we should applaud the fact that in the revised call they have opened up the possibility for genuine dialog between bishops who disagree to allow them to hear each other and disagree well. As Mark writes in his Gospel: “Whoever is not against us is for us”.

    Let us hope and pray that as people in our communities and across the country face very difficult times ahead, that politicians can learn to have the humility to both change their minds, as situations and people’s circumstances change, and at the same time applaud others who do so. Now wouldn’t that transport us to a better world?

    Blessings
    James

    Sermon for Sunday 24th July 2022

    Do you remember the first time you prayed? Maybe it was a prayer in assembly at school or perhaps a prayer taught to you by a friend or relative. As with many things in life, it is by observing their relatives and other significant adults that children often learn to pray.

    Mrs Cameron invited some people to dinner. When everyone was sat at the table, she turned to her six-year-old daughter and said, “Would you like to say grace?” I don’t know what to say,” the little girl replied. The guests all smiled politely in order to encourage the little girl. “Well Just say what you hear Mummy say, ” her mother said. The little girl bowed her head and the guests all did the same.  “Right – what mummy says –  ok- Dear Lord, why on earth did I invite all these tedious people to dinner?”

    In another household a five-year-old said grace at family dinner one night. “Dear God, thank you for these cream cakes.” When he’d finished, his parents asked him why he thanked God for the cream cakes when they were having chicken. The five year old smiled and said, “I just thought I’d see if He was paying attention tonight.”

    How do we know what to pray? And what should we expect in return for our prayers? The little five year old was obviously expecting magical transformation of chicken into cream cakes – and I’m totally with him on that! And sometimes such innocent expectation can appear to be rewarded.

    During the intercessions one Sunday in one particular church, there was a loud whistle from one of the back pews. Calum’s mother was horrified. She hushed him into silence, and after church, asked: “Calum, whatever made you do such a thing?” Calum answered soberly: “I asked God to teach me to whistle… And just then He  did!”

    If only it was as simple as that.

    In our gospel passage this morning we find Jesus teaching His disciples about prayer. In fact, verse 1 tells us that the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray. They wanted to learn from their teacher as John the Baptist had taught his disciples.

    The Gospels record for us again and again that Jesus Himself prayed daily and it was His practice to go out early in the morning and pray.

    His disciples wanted their Master to teach them to pray. Jesus provides for them the model prayer which we call the Lord’s Prayer.

    He showed them that prayer should be respectful of God and yet very personal.

    He showed them that prayer should be full of thanksgiving and yet with requests.

    He showed them that prayer is asking for forgiveness of sins and also asking to resist sin.

    All of these different elements are part of Jesus’ prayer… but He does not stop His teaching there. He continues with a parable.

    As we look at this simple parable, it seems to be a story about neighbours and the need to borrow. And that certainly is what the story is about on the surface.

    Jesus’ story tells of crowded village life in His day. Bread was always baked in the morning and so if the day’s supply ran out, borrowing was the practice.

    The east doors of many homes were usually open during the day and shut up at night. Knocking on a closed door meant that it was an extreme emergency.

    Now many people in Jesus’ day travelled at night to avoid the heat of the day and so to have guests arrive at night was not unusual.

    We hear that one neighbour had guests arrive and there was no bread. So what do you do? You ask your neighbour if you can borrow.

    In his story Jesus tells us that the neighbour did not want to rise and wake his family, but did eventually get up and provide for his neighbour. That’s human nature.

    There is more to the story of course. Jesus is teaching about prayer and this parable is meant as an illustration and as insight into prayer. Jesus teaches us two lessons in regard to prayer in this passage. First, that we must be persistent in prayer and second, we ourselves may in fact be the answer to prayer.

    BE PERSISTENT IN OUR PRAYERS

    Persistence is not something that we usually associate with prayer. I think that our habit in prayer is to ask for something or to pray for someone once or twice and then stop.

    Perhaps we then pray for something or someone else. We are instant kind of people and are used to things happening as we ask for them.

    We have instant coffee so that you do not have to wait for your hot drink in the morning. There is instant replay at sporting events where referees can look at play again to make the right call.

    Many competitions offer an instant prize so that the person does not have to send for it. We are used to an instant kind of life. And sometimes that attitude leaks into our prayer life.

    The word that is mentioned in this passage in verse 8 is actually, “boldness.” It is because of the “boldness” of this person that the neighbour consents to rise and provide the bread.

    This word is meant to make us think of persisting without regard to time or place or people. It is the same word (used twice in the New Testament) in Acts 4:29 when Peter prays for those preaching the Gospel, “Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness.”

    Peter wants the messengers of God to speak about Jesus at all times and to all people without any fear or question. He wants them to be bold.

    And so it is with us in our prayers.

    The parable shows that a bold and persistent person receives help from his neighbour.

    The example in verses 11-13 are meant to be a logical argument for our persistent prayers before God. Jesus knows that when a child asks for something from a parent, they obviously do their best to accommodate their child.

    If the child asks for a fish, the parent will get a fish. If the child asks for an egg, usually the response is an egg. It is absurd to think that a parent would give their child a snake. It is absurd to think that a parent would give their child a scorpion. If that is true for us, then how much more true of our Heavenly Father (11:13).

    Jesus wants us to know that when we boldly come to God in prayer, He hears us and desires to answer.

    Colossians 4:2 commands us, “Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.” The King James Version says it a little bit better, “Continue earnestly in prayer, being vigilant in it with thanksgiving.” This word “continue” means being steadfast and to continue being devoted to something. Acts 1:14 and Romans 12:12 uses this word in connection with prayer and continuing to pray with others. God wants us to be persistent in our prayers.

    WE MAY BE THE ANSWER TO PRAYER

    When I read this parable, I can imagine myself as the person in need, but I can also imagine myself as the other person in the story.

    I can see myself as the one asleep and a neighbour comes knocking on my door in need of something.

    I am the father that is asked for bread or an egg. I am the one that has the opportunity to help.

    God certainly answers prayer and perhaps he uses me or you to answer someone else’s prayer. James 2:15-16 says, “Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?”

    What good is it if we say we will pray for someone, but do nothing to help if we have the means? What good is it to pray that someone will get a job if we know of jobs available and do not communicate such information to them? What good is it to pray for someone’s financial situation if we keep extra money to ourselves? What good is it for people to go without clothing when we have wardrobes full of clothing in our homes? Sometimes we might be the answer to someone’s prayer if we are willing to be used by God.

    So, be persistent in your prayers – but also be prepared to be the answer to other people’s prayers. Be diligent, be steadfast – God hears us and He wants to answer us.

    I just want to end my sermon by sharing one final prayer from a little boy-

    “Dear God, please take care of my daddy and my mummy and my sister and my brother and my doggy and me. Oh, and please take care of yourself, God. If anything happens to you, we’re all gonna be in a really big mess.” Amen.

    Fr Simon

    Sermon for Sunday 17th July 2022

    Luke 10.38 – 42

    I wonder if you have a hobby? Or maybe you used to have a hobby that you really miss.

    Recently one of our national newspapers published a list of the top ten hobbies in the UK. I wonder if you can guess what the top three were?

    At number 3? Gardening

    Number 2? Reading

    And taking the top spot at number 1? Walking

    Like many of you, I have and have had all sorts of hobbies –  cross stitch, model railways and making jigsaws to name but a few.

    I’ve sometimes had a go at some hobbies like researching my family tree or writing stories for children, but that takes focus and those of you who know me well will know that I’m not great at staying focussed for longer periods of time, preferring to flit from one activity to the next. The other day, I sat down to write. And . . . oops.. I’d left my cup of tea in the kitchen; it’s cold—needs reheating. Back I come, fingers poised over the keyboard. And all I can think of is everything I forgot to add to my to-do list. The friend I promised to meet for coffee; the laundry I need to hang on the line, etc, etc.

    Distraction is the name of the game. If there were a flesh and blood Devil, I’d see him grinning as he tossed all these diversions my way. I remember when I was a brand-new deacon, nervous and wanting to be perfect at everything. Standing to read the Gospel, I worried that my voice wouldn’t be heard—as if I hadn’t been in a career that was all about talking to large groups of people – albeit rather shorter people! I worried about setting up the altar just right – suppose I put the chalice where the paten was supposed to go?

    It took a while – and a lot of patience on the part the clergy team I trained with – but I learned something important.

    What counted was not reading or setting the table itself: it was that those actions had the deeper purpose of helping everyone to be fed, fed by the Word and the bread.

    I learned to gather up all my worries and offer them to Jesus. When I did that, I calmed down and all was well.

    The broader lesson is to focus not so much on actions, as on their meaning. So, let’s try to do that right now by focusing on the meaning of our reading from Luke.

    I’d like you to imagine something uncomfortable. Imagine, that you are in a group where you simply don’t feel welcome. It’s happened to me, and I imagine to just about everybody.

    Worst of all is when this happens at church. You feel as if you’re sitting in someone’s seat or wearing the wrong clothes; perhaps you are not ‘in the know’ with the order of service or maybe you even speak a different language. The list is endless. (And, by the way everyone is welcome here in this church, no matter where they sit, what they wear or where they have come from)!

    Anyway, begin by putting yourself in Mary’s shoes. Remember—she is a woman, and according to the “rules” at that time (notice I said “at that time”!), she belongs in the kitchen. She is not supposed to be in a room full of men learning life lessons from a well-known teacher. In the accepted social framework of the day, she cannot be a disciple, since women were not thought to have the intellectual ability to understand preaching and teaching.

    And yet, she can’t help it. There is Jesus, and she is mesmerised by his words. So, she quietly draws closer and closer. I’d guess that some frowned and looked the other way. What I hope is that at least a few never even noticed her because they were paying such close attention to what Jesus was saying.

    Now, put yourself in Martha’s shoes. Imagine what the situation is like for her – a house overflowing with guests, food to prepare and serve. And then, on top of it all, she is admonished by Jesus that Mary, who looks as if she is sitting, doing nothing, is in fact doing the right thing.

    For centuries commentators have struggled with this passage and I am not going to attempt to solve the many issues that have arisen, but here’s what I think.

    I think Martha is like her sister Mary, who breaks a major cultural rule. In fact, they are both like Jesus, who himself is a rule-breaker. To begin with, Martha is a widow. That means there is no husband to back her up, just her brother Lazarus. And yet that doesn’t stop her from inviting an itinerant preacher and his whole entourage into her house. And in so doing, she performs a dangerous act, since Jesus is himself at risk. Martha breaks a cultural rule so that she can keep a moral one: she goes out of her way to practice hospitality.

    But then, not surprisingly, with all of those people to take care of, she is overcome by distraction.

    And Martha is clearly annoyed with Mary! There Martha is, with the pot of soup boiling over, the bread ready to be shaped, the salad waiting to be washed and the dishes to be wiped. And where’s her sister?

    You can just imagine Martha, holding a dishcloth in one hand, her apron still on, marching into the room full of men. She knows that her sister will ignore her, so she goes directly to the heart of the problem. “Lord,” she says plainly to Jesus, “do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me!”

    Listen closely to what she’s really saying. She feels forgotten, rejected – if Jesus cared about her, surely he’d send Mary into the kitchen. In effect, she orders him, who is her guest, to embarrass her sister! She orders him to conform to social expectations.

    But Jesus doesn’t do that. I imagine him settling back and looking deeply into Martha’s eyes. He doesn’t take either of the sisters to task – in fact, since Jesus knows that he is about to speak a hard lesson for Martha, he begins in what would have been seen in those days – and today, too – as a gentle way. He uses her name twice.

    “Martha, Martha,” he says, as if to be sure of her attention. And I think he must have looked at her with compassion and perhaps shaken his head slightly as if to say, “My dear, you don’t understand. Here’s the point . . .”

    Focus. Focus on what is important. That’s what he’s telling her. He’s not saying—”we’re hungry, where’s dinner?” He’s not saying, “you shouldn’t be here in this room.”

    No. He says this: “You are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.” That is what he says not just to Martha but to all of us too. There really is only one “better part,” so to speak.

    And so we need to focus. To choose to listen. To choose to be a disciple. No matter how we serve, whether it is by rolling up our sleeves and working, or sitting quietly in worship, we need to focus on the reason for doing it.

    Martha has taken the first step in opening her home; now she needs to open her heart, her mind and her soul. And there’s no doubt that that means taking a risk. It means breaking rules. It will certainly mean a major life change.

    Choosing the better part means that I, that you, that all of us need to focus on the message of Jesus Christ, no matter what we are doing, no matter where we are.

    And then what? Choosing the better part means, quite simply, that we will love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind and soul, and that we must welcome and love our neighbours as ourselves.

    Fr Simon

    Sermon for Sea Sunday – 10th July 2022

    Deuteronomy 30:9-14; Psalm 25:1-10; Colossians 1:1-14; Luke 10:25-37

    Who is my neighbour?’ – a question which is at the centre of the Christian’s faith and about how we are to live, faithfully, with others in this world.  A story about what happened on a desert road miles from the sea might seem a strange Gospel for Sea Sunday.

    Who is my neighbour?’ – is an interesting question to ponder on Sea Sunday, a day when we think about the sea and those who work on it and our connections with them and how they’re supported and ministered to by amongst others, The Sailor’s Society, The Mission to Seafarers and Stella Maris.

    In 1856 Revd John Ashley, was on holiday near the Bristol Channel. As he looked out over the water, he saw hundreds of sailing ships at anchor far out from shore and he realised that the seafarers working on those ships had no one to minister to them. However he recognised that these peoplewere his neighbours and he became a chaplain for seafarers, devoting his life to ministering to them.

    Sea Sunday is important because it’s a day set aside in the year for churches to remember seafarers. These are the people who work on our oceans, sailing ships across the seas often in difficult circumstances, bringing us the goods we need to live and the materials for industry. Seafaring is a hidden world. It’s generally invisible to mainstream society, but the people who work on these ships are our neighbours and it’s important that we remember them.

    The war in Ukraine might be 1,500 miles away, but many seafarers are Ukrainian and the terrible destruction and separation has ripped apart families.  Many shipping contracts are very long – sometimes 10 months or a year in duration. This means being separated from home and family for very significant periods of time. This can bring many stresses – and often feelings of intense isolation or powerlessness, particularly when crew become aware of problems at home.

    A chaplain in Sheerness met with the Ukrainian captain and first officer.  He writes: 

    We sat together in the captain’s mess and I said to the captain, ‘How are you?’ He looked at me with tears in his eyes, unable to speak. And then the first officer said, ‘We are at war.’” 

    It was for the chaplain a very painful moment as the reality of what he’d said really hit home.  He continues: 

    After a few moments the captain said, ‘I don’t know where my wife is. We don’t know if our children are well.’ We all sat together in silence but in solidarity for some time.

    The chaplain was able to give the captain and first officer mobile phone SIM cards, which he always carries with him when visiting ships, so that they would be able to keep in contact with their families back home.

    Both Ukrainian and Russian sailors are shocked and horrified by what they’re seeing and hearing. As the chaplain says:

    I spoke to the Russian captain of a vessel with 13 Russian crew members. His mother was half Ukrainian and he was almost apologetic, as were the crew members, simply for being Russian. It struck me that there may be many more seafarers feeling the very same.

    Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan teaches us that our neighbour is the one who does something for us.  Clearly the chaplains are neighbours to those sailors who call in at the ports where they work, but think about this.

    Those who work the shipping lines give virtually everything to us. The 40,000 mostly container ships and tankers on the seas today between them carry 80% of the world’s trade and 90% of its energy. Nearly everything we eat, wear and work with has spent some time on a ship. Although it’s almost invisible the trade that takes place on the sea is enormous, andshows us how dependent we are on our international ‘neighbours’ whose work ensures that our material needs and desires are met.

    Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan also teaches us that our neighbour, the one who does something for us, is often the one we’d least expect to.

    Of all the occupations in the world, sailors aren’t the best regarded. Their hard living, social isolation and general poverty has always put them on the margins of society, and when they come ashore they have on the one hand been prey to the exploitation of opportunists and on the other often looked down as drunken good-for-nothings.

    Life at sea is often lonely, difficult and dangerous with long anti-social hours and the risk of shipwreck, piracy, or other accidents. Seafarers find themselves far away from home, often sailing to countries where they don’t speak the language and where people can sometimes be hostile or unwelcoming. This can make them feel isolated and vulnerable.

    How we answer the question ‘Who is my neighbour?’ will depend on our answer to another, more fundamental question, ‘Who am I?’ For there are deep-rooted reasons why we see others the way we do, and it’s to do with the stories of our own lives. Part of the answer to the question ‘Who am I?’ rests in how I ‘love my neighbour’ – how I behave towards the other – and especially, towards the one I’m least connected to, or comfortable with.

    This Sea Sunday we’re asked to pray for seafarers, who work in hazardous conditions, all types of weather, and even during war, to bring us many of the goods we rely on in daily life. 

    Sometimes seafarers are left in dire situations, just like the man who was left half-dead on the road to Jericho. In our world today some governments, ship owners and other organisations and people involved in the shipping industry find it very easy to pass by on the side of the road and ignore the needs of seafarers.  We have only to think of the way that P&O treated employees on the ferries that serve these islands recently and the lack of compassionate and helpful action from our governments. 

    They might pass by on the other side we can be like the Samaritan and respond by showing compassionate action and prophetic leadership and not turn aside from situations of injustice where seafarers are abandoned in ports or where they haven’t been paid.  Organisations such as The Sailor’s Society, The Mission to Seafarers and Stella Maris, are only able to exist and serve our seafaring neighbours because of the generosity and support from people across the world, people who have decided that they are not going to pass by or ignore the seafarer, people who have decided to recognise the seafarer as their neighbour, people such as us who are responding to the question ‘who is my neighbour’?

    Amen 

    Sermon for Pentecost 4C – Sunday 3rd July 2022

    Isaiah 66:10-14Psalm 66:1-9; Galatians 6:(1-6), 7-16; Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

    Most of you here this morning will know that for most of my working life I have been a primary school Head Teacher and I have absolutely loved being in the classroom and supporting children to become the best they can be in so many different ways. The bright little sparks who know everything there is to know, the shy retiring types who need coaxing out of their shells and the rambunctious attention seekers who simply must have your full attention – they are all just fantastic!

    As your skills develop as a teacher you learn many different strategies to help individuals focus on what they need to be doing and to regulate their more ‘exuberant’ behaviours – and sometimes these strategies can result in unexpected surprises. Let me tell you about little Lewis. A little stick of dynamite with freckles and shock of bright red hair – full of energy and enthusiasm – a happy-go-lucky chap who, when he needed to tell you something, just could not wait for others to finish their conversations with you.

    I remember one day when I was talking to Lewis’ teacher and he shot towards us across the classroom obviously eager to tell me something. He tried to interrupt the teacher as she was talking to me. Now one of the strategies that you learn is to acknowledge the presence of such a pupil without directly speaking to them – letting them know you are present with them, but that they need to wait until you are finished to get your full attention.

    As Lewis was blurting out something about his dad’s cows, I placed my hand gently on top of his head, but continued to listen to the teacher. Lewis, knowing that I was coming to him next, stopped talking and waited. After the teacher had finished, I turned to Lewis and he told me all about his dad’s latest calf. I took my hand away from Lewis’ head to find it covered in a sticky, thick liquid. “Oh goodness Lewis” I said, “I’ve got your hair gel all over my hand”. “That’s not ‘air gel” Lewis corrected, “It’s nit shampoo…. mi mam drowned me in it this mornin’ – me ‘eads crawlin’!    

    Teachers know that being close to a pupil holds a lot of power. Good teachers move around the room a lot, getting close to pupils as they work. The teacher’s nearness does two things: it raises a child’s level of concern enough to encourage them to pay closer attention to what they are doing, but more importantly it also makes the teacher more available to answer questions and offer children encouragement and support.

    Closeness to the teacher offers safety, and at the same time it holds children accountable for what they are doing. Closeness to the teacher increases the probability that the pupil will learn. And maybe this is why we almost always see the disciples staying really close to Jesus. He holds them accountable, but at the same time he offers them safety.

    But of course, at some point, pupils have to leave the safety of the school they know. P7s and High school leavers across our Highlands have done that this week. They have to take the lessons they’ve learned on into the next stage of their lives and practice those lessons on their own. The safety net of the school and people they know is gone.

    Last week, Jesus began his long journey to Jerusalem. His face is set with determination to accomplish his mission. We saw his disciples, James and John, fail in their first attempt as the advance team for that mission. Instead of reaching out to the Samaritan village effectively, they were ready to call down fire from heaven to destroy it.

    So, you’d think Jesus might want to change his strategy because maybe his pupils aren’t quite ready to leave the classroom. But instead of having a re-think, rather Jesus expands the same strategy. Instead of a couple of disciples, he sends seventy (or in some translations 72) ahead on the road to announce that the kingdom of God is near.

    So here we are in our gospel this week, traveling toward Jerusalem as Jesus sends an advance party to the places he plans to go. He tells them to offer healing and peace, and to announce that the Kingdom of God had come near.

    It sounds like a contradiction: Jesus sending his followers … ahead of him. You’d think he’d have them working as the clean-up crew, but instead, he sends his followers out ahead, to heal and offer peace.

    Would it not be better for Jesus to go first and for the others to follow? Wouldn’t the disciples be more readily welcomed if Jesus had gone on ahead, performed a few miracles and explained that he’d deputised them to do likewise? Wouldn’t a showier display of power get people’s attention and move the cause of salvation ahead with greater speed and efficiency?

    It seems a little bit backwards, but this is the order of things that Jesus chooses: sending an advance team of 70 or so followers. This is how the disciples become the apostles – 70 or so people who are given the task of spreading peace, healing the sick and announcing the Kingdom of God.

    Each Sunday, I usually welcome you to worship with the Apostle Paul’s words, “Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” This kind of greeting or peace is exactly what Jesus taught his disciples to offer. But notice that this kind of peace is never wasted. It rests where it is welcome. If it isn’t welcome, it returns to the one who offers it. God’s peace means wholeness is constant.

    When Jesus sent out the seventy, he warned them that the work they were to do, this Kingdom work, might not always be easy. We might consider that he made it even more difficult with the instructions he gave: take nothing with you, accept whatever hospitality is shown to you, and don’t go looking for the softest bed or the best cook in town.

    In other words, allow yourselves to become vulnerable and trust in God to provide for your needs. When people welcome you, receive their hospitality with grace. And isn’t it interesting that Jesus expects hospitality from the same people who will be the recipients of the disciples’ ministry?

    Instead of thinking of themselves as the givers of grace, Jesus is telling the disciples to receive grace from the very people to whom they will offer God’s peace and healing. Vulnerability and humility are to be the marks of true discipleship and apostleship.

    And therefore such vulnerability is important to Christ’s mission: opposition to that mission is a given. Not everyone is going to want to hear this good news.

    “Sometimes,” Jesus tells them, “your message will not be received very well. When people don’t welcome you, move on. But whether they welcome you or not, the Kingdom of God has come near, and there’s nothing you can do to stop it.”

    When Jesus tells us that the Kingdom of God has come near, he says “near,” not “soon.” You can reach out and touch it, it’s so close to you.

    This is the power of closeness: When the kingdom of God is near, you get a front row seat to watch it at work. When the kingdom of God is near, you are empowered to be the kingdom to others. When the kingdom of God is near, your own weakness and vulnerability are exposed. But Jesus says, “Go anyway. Heal and proclaim the nearness of the kingdom.

    But my friends, we need each other to fulfil Christ’s call on our lives. Jesus sent out his followers two-by-two because he knew how important it is to have others around you on who you can depend.

    Being ‘church’ together holds us accountable for keeping the work going – just by being present with one another.

    We must offer encouragement when other’s need it most, when we recognise that they are feeling weary, and when we feel rejected and that our work is in vain. Being church together helps us to stay focused on our mission: to offer healing, to spread peace and to share the good news that the Kingdom of God has come near.

    Jesus sends us out into the world like sheep in the midst of wolves, making ourselves vulnerable, allowing ourselves to be touched by the need around us. He gives us authority to act in his name, encouraging one another, rejoicing that our names are written in heaven, where we will feast at Our Lord’s Table in the company of all the saints. As we anticipate that joy, Jesus invites you to his table.

    Come to this sacred table, not because you must, but because you may; come to testify not that you are righteous, but that you sincerely love our Lord Jesus Christ and desire to be his true disciples; come not because you are strong, but because you are weak; not because you have any claim on the grace of God, but because in your weakness and sin you stand in constant need of God’s mercy and help; come, not to express an opinion, but to seek God’s presence and pray for his Spirit.

    Adapted from Winward & Cox, Worship Manual, World, 1969; p. 14.

    Come, for the Kingdom of God has come near to you, and Our Lord Jesus Christ invites you to be part of it.

    May God Bless you and and all those you hold dear in this coming week.

    Fr Simon

    On Ritual

    In our tradition, we are very used to ritual. Our services of course contain many familiar ritual elements, but there’s considerably more to ritual than just elaborate religious ceremonies. In our lives rituals play a number of roles: rituals in the face of loss can help us with grief and dealing with the loss, rituals in our families can make us feel closer, and rituals with a partner or friend can reinforce the relationship. In short rituals can help us to express things that can’t easily be expressed in other ways and that is why we find them so useful in relation to God.

    Recently it’s been brought home to just how important rituals are. For the most part the Sunday morning rituals that are a feature of our worship are very familiar, because they’re how things have been done for a long time. However that isn’t true for all rituals. For instance, the past couple of years have made a lot of what we took for granted and that was once familiar newly unfamiliar. We’ve made changes to the way that we meet in Church, how we greet each other and how we share the Eucharist. The purpose is still much the same, but the manner has changed in both small and in larger ways, the rituals subtly different. In the same way we’ve adapted the rituals to reflect changes in our congregations and the circumstances of our gatherings.

    Many of us have found some of these changes unsettling and struggled a bit in the face of it.  However what’s really started me thinking more broadly about ritual, is not those ‘internal’ rituals of our weekly gatherings for prayer, praise and the breaking of bread, but the outward-facing rituals in which we help the wider community to find ways of engaging with events in the wider world. These are really important in our world right now, when we are all facing both actual and anticipated grief, joy, sadness, fear – virtually any emotion. In this rituals can help to restore our sense of control over our lives, however illusory this may be.

    When we hear about war, the climate crisis, covid and almost any other change, we canexperience loss – we didn’t want it to happen, but there was nothing that we could do aboutit. That’s not a very unpleasant feeling, that sense that you’re not in charge of your life or most of what’s happening in the world around you. As Christians, it’s at times like this, when we can’t do anything ourselves that we turn to God, but what about those for whom ‘God’ has little obvious meaning?

    Over the last few months, we’ve tried to offer a number of rituals to our wider communities, to help with expressing ‘difficult to express’ emotions (both negative and positive ones) in relation to climate, the war in Ukraine, world peace, the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee and the marking of the Centenary of war memorials in our communities. We’ve marked these in planting trees, reading out names, placing small wooden crosses in flowerbeds, in singing and prayer, in music, in silence, with shells, with candles, with stones and in simply being there.

    In all these circumstances people need some sort of ceremony and ritual to bring them together, so that they can share the emotions that they, and others around them, are feeling with each other. The numbers taking part in these events are frequently much higher than they are in our church services, but where’s the surprise in that?  That’s mission in action, just what Jesus urged us to do!

    Ritual’s part of the rich heritage of our Church and something that we understand the importance of. People in the wider community recognise the truth of this and that’s why they ask us if we can help them to produce an appropriate response to whatever the situation is. It’s why people still come to us for funerals, weddings and the other occasional offices.  For my money it’s one of the most important parts of what we as the Church are here for – making God possible beyond our walls and in the lives of those in our communities.

    Blessings
    James

    The Feast of Corpus Christi

    The Feast of the Thanksgiving for Holy Communion, commonly called, Corpus Christi was first celebrated in the 14th Century. It began as a local custom to celebrate the Mystery of Christ’s presence in the Eucharist and slowly spread throughout the Church, finally being added to the Kalander in the 15th Century.  In our Kalander we calebrate Corpus Christi on the Thursday after Trinity.

    William Harry Turton’s hymn “O thou who at thy Eucharist didst pray” sung to a lovely tune (Song 1) by Orlando Gibbons.

    Perhaps the most famous aspect of Corpus Christi (literally the Body of Christ), that people associate with this feast day, is the great processions through cities, towns and villages.  The Blessed Sacrament is held aloft by a priest, in a monstrance, as a public statement that the sacrifice of Christ was for the salvation of the whole world.

    Monstrances are one of those liturgical curios that appear sometimes, but in our tradition not very regularly.

    The Host (the consecrated Bread) sits in the glass plate in the centre with ‘rays of glory streaming out from it‘. A reminder of the Glory of Christ, present in the Eucharist, and the glory of the Heavenly Banquet that we join when we take Communion together.

    Traditionally, at the end of the Mass on Corpus Christi the Host (the consecrated Bread) is placed in a monstrance and the congregation spend some time reflecting on this Mystery of Christ made present in the bread and wine.

    The officiating Priest would then take the monstrance and carry it aloft down through the church and out into the streets – with servers throwing rose petals down in front of it to make a carpet – a bit like confetti at a wedding – with bells ringing out to tell everyone that Christ was walking among them in the Eucharist

    Corpus Christi represents more than just the Church giving thanks for the way that Christ remains, with us always – even unto the ends of the Earth. It’s a celebration that we, the Church, are united in and as the Body of Christ.