Wantage Parish

Recent Sermons

Third Sunday after Trinity

by James Clarke, Parish Assistant

Zechariah 14.9, 16-21

Psalm 47

Romans 14.13-19

Luke 17.20-26


Thy Kingdom come…


What is or where is the kingdom that we pray for every day? Jesus tells us it is like treasure hidden in a field or a merchant in search of pearls. He even compares it to yeast, a grain of mustard or a fisherman’s net.


The subject of the kingdom has long been discussed by theologians, questioned by scholars and pondered by disciples like you and I. Theories presented include Heaven being the Kingdom of God or the Church as the kingdom here on earth. The kingdom has been used as a way of describing ethics, a call to social action.  Some might say it is a metaphor for the role of God in one’s own heart. Or is it just God’s sovereign rule?


The ancient Greek meaning for kingdom meant the spiritual realm over which God reigns as king. However, in Aramaic it referred not to a geographical area, but to the activity of the King himself.


So where does this leave us? What is the kingdom? Can we define the kingdom?


From Genesis to Revelation, one of the main aims of the Bible is to share news of the kingdom. You could argue that most of scripture is constructed around this thematic framework, with many other themes orbiting around it. By hearing and reading scripture we get to experience and learn more about the kingdom. We get to participate in Christ the King’s power, to hear how he uses that power over the people, and all in place we call the kingdom of God.


Jesus was rather cryptic about how he shared the kingdom with others. For example, in today's Gospel reading, we heard how He answered the Pharisee by saying “The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed”. So to use professor in New Testament and Biblical studies Patrick Shriener's way of describing the kingdom; “The Kingdom is the King’s power over the King’s people in the King’s place”.


In recent times, I have particularly enjoyed reading the gospels through the lenses of Place, Power and People to build an understanding of the kingdom. Exploring with these three words in mind, I’ve got to experience the vastness and intimacy of the kingdom. 


Starting with Matthew and just to confuse those less familiar with scripture, Matthew refers to the kingdom of heaven instead of the kingdom of God. This is thought to be out of respect to the jewish audience Matthew wrote for because they revered the Lord’s name, hence the use of Heaven, not God. There are contrasts made between heaven and earth, especially in Matthew 6 where Jesus juxtaposes the values of the kingdom of earth with those of the kingdom of heaven. We are told not to store up treasure that rusts and decays on earth, but to store treasure in heaven; placing spiritual richness above material wealth. This is followed by one of my favourite verses “Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be”. Here we have the heavenly kingdom and the earthly kingdom and Jesus unites these realms in his ministry through the incarnation.


Try reading the gospel of Mark through the power lens. Mark emphasises the power and authority of Christ Jesus from the opening line. We are told that Jesus is the Son of God. Just as Adam was made in the image of God to rule and shape the earth, so too is Jesus, completing Adam’s unfinished task. The authority of our Lord is further documented at Jesus’ baptism and at the transfiguration, where a voice from above claims Jesus as the Son of Man. Even the unclean spirits Jesus crosses paths with are said to acknowledge His Kingship and bow down before Him. Similar to Matthew, Mark speaks of the good news that “the kingdom of God is at hand” and it arrives in the person and power of Jesus. Jesus is the King who acts for the Father upon earth. As we read Mark’s gospel we get to hear how Jesus demonstrated, even in his early ministry, the authority he had on earth. Jesus exercised His power over nature in calming storms, commanding demons to leave possessed men, healing sick women and raising a young girl back to life. But of course these miracles were just a sign of things to come, for Jesus’ greatest moment, His resurrection, was to be the pinnacle in His authority and power.


Try reading Luke through the people lens. In Luke chapter 4, having stood in the synagogue of His hometown, Jesus speaks for the people by quoting Isaiah. He says He will care for the poor, heal the brokenhearted, proclaim liberty to captives and the oppressed and will recover sight for the blind. Luke emphasises how Jesus helps the marginal, the rejected, the poor, the tax collectors, the sinners who repent, women, Samaritans and Gentiles demonstrating that the people of the King are those on the fringe. To those who believed in Jesus and repented, they were and we are people who can and will be saved to experience freedom. 


In the gospel of John, compared to the other three gospels, John barely mentions the term kingdom. What John does use are the words life and eternal. John states that the purpose of his gospel is that “you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name”. John presents life neither as an individualistic concept nor as merely a spiritual one. Jesus the Word made flesh, is Life. Although you might be quick to relegate life to the future, life in John seems to be a reality lived fully in the present but also oriented toward the future. To “have life” in Christ is to have it now- and for eternity.


So what does it mean when we pray “Thy Kingdom come” and when is the kingdom coming? The answer could be that it is partly present and partly future. It has come in the form of Jesus, but there is still more to come. Many of its blessings are here to be enjoyed now; but many of them are not yet here. Some of its power is available now but not all of it. To illustrate, not long after the resurrection, a line from Jesus and one I particularly like at the start of Acts is when Jesus addresses the impatient disciples. After they ask Him if He is to restore the kingdom to Israel, He says “It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority”. Instead they are told they will be given power through the Holy Spirit and to share the good news to the end of the earth. They were and we are Christ’s ambassadors, advocates and agents here on earth.


In reading scripture, we are reminded to stand firm in our faith and be prepared as people of God’s Kingdom… that we are to wait in anticipation for the second coming. After all, at each eucharistic service, our reply of “Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again” to “Great is the mystery of faith” demonstrates our hope for the present and the future. So until Thy Kingdom comes,  let’s embody the virtues of Jesus, follow the power of a living God and do His will on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.

Second Sunday after Trinity

by Rosi Bartlett, Parish Assistant

Exodus 3.13-15

Psalm 138

Romans 8.14-17

Matthew 3.1-2, 7-17


"Our Father"


Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer.


How many of us have watched Long Lost Family? For those of us who haven’t watched it, Long Lost Family is a TV programme, hosted by Nicky Campbell and Davina McCall, who trace people’s long-lost relatives. Most often, the people who use Nicky and Davina’s services were adopted at birth, and wish to track down their birth family, and perhaps even meet their biological parents for the first time since their adoption as babies.

 

Although it is now easier for adopted children to keep in touch with their birth parents, adoption is still absolute. When adoption papers are signed, parental responsibility for a child is transferred from their birth parents to their adoptive parents, who become their parents in every way except biologically. When it comes to inheritance, children who are adopted lose all rights to their birth parents’ estate, and can make claims to their adoptive parents’ estate, just like biological children can.

 

In some ways, this is similar to becoming a Christian.

 

When God created the Universe, he also created us, to be in full relationship with him. God created us in his own Image, which means that we all bear a resemblance to him. God created us to be like him and he created us to be his children. But because of our wrongdoing, which we call sin, we became separated from God. We still bore his Image, which can never be rubbed away. But God is Love, and as a people, we became unlovely, and unlovable, except by him who is Love in all its fullness. God created us to be his, but every day, we still choose to walk away from him, and to walk away from the path of Love. And when we choose to live in ways which are unloving, we cannot be in perfect communion with God, who is Love.

 

In the 11th century, Saint Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury, wrote a work called Cur Deus Homo or in English, Why Did God Become Human? Put more simply, the title to Saint Anselm’s work could just be: Why Jesus? Why did the Second Person of the Holy Trinity – why did God himself – become Incarnate in our world? Why did he choose to teach among us, to let us crucify him, and to rise again three days later? Jesus was absolutely and totally sinless, even though he was tempted by satan. But Jesus also chose to identify with us. Jesus became human through his Incarnation, but when he was baptised, Jesus chose to take on our sins, and our separation from God. Therefore, in his dying and rising again, Jesus tore down the division between God and us. Jesus broke down the wall between God and humanity, so we could live in perfect friendship with God. As Saint Paul put it in his Letter to the Romans, ‘[Jesus] was handed over to death for our trespasses and was raised for our justification.’

 

Jesus cleared the path for us to be reunited with God, and for us to become like God. One way that happens is through the sacraments, particularly the sacrament of baptism. Through baptism, we are washed clean of our sin, and God adopts us back into his family. For many of us, baptism happened when we were infants, because rebecoming a child of God is not about somehow earning salvation, but about God and his parental love and grace. When we were baptised, we did not stop being part of our biological, human families, or our adopted human families. But we also became part of God’s big family, the Church. And Jesus – the God-Man through whom the entire world was made – became our much older and wiser brother.

 

When we say “Our Father” during the Lord’s Prayer, we are acknowledging God as our adopted Father, and we are confessing that we are a part of his family. Being family does not mean that we are just saying “yes” to the easy parts of being a Christian. We are also saying “yes” to the tough parts. We are saying “yes” to recognising that we cannot do life alone, that we need the Holy Spirit and other members of God’s family in order to live. We are saying “yes” to those among us who are hated by the world, those of us who are homeless, refugees, or marginalised by society. We are saying “yes” to standing with each other and sharing in each other’s struggles. When we do that, we are not just sharing in other people’s suffering. Christ suffers with us, so when we choose to share in each other’s suffering, we are suffering with Christ himself, and we grow closer to God, and closer to the wonderful vision of Heaven where we will fully share in God’s life.

 

So, let us pray together. God, we pray that we will understand more fully what it means to be your children. We pray that we will continue to say “yes” to you as our Father. And we pray that, as we name you as our Father, that you will give us strength to stand with those among us who are undervalued and hated by our world.

Amen.

First Sunday after Trinity

Katherine Price, Vicar


+In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


“Teach us to pray.”

The Lord’s prayer is one of the core texts of our faith and probably the one most familiar to those outside the church. For years, these words would have been amongst the first words a child would learn to read and write and they are often amongst the last words that stick in the mind of the very elderly, when other words have gone.


We’re told in the gospels that Jesus gives his disciples this prayer in response to their request: teach us to pray. And that’s something I also get asked a lot. So over the next few weeks, we are going to be going through the Lord’s Prayer line by line, in our Trinity Season sermon sequence.


This is what we sometimes call ‘ordinary time’, time to reflect on how we live out our faith in our ordinary lives, but also I think that the subject of prayer follows naturally on from our feasts of Pentecost and Trinity Sunday. So to start off this series of sermons today we’re going to think about the Lord’s prayer as a whole, what it is, and how it is the model for all our praying.


First of all, Jesus tells us how not to pray: we are not to pray like ‘those hypocrites’ who think they can earn or deserve something from God by their long-winded praying!

I remember in my own confirmation class many years ago I was keen to be taught how to pray but there was another chap there who was very reluctant to talk about prayer – and I think that’s often the case,  because when we talk about prayer we worry that we aren’t doing enough of it,  or we aren’t doing it right! And this other bloke who was confirmed with me suggested that prayer can’t be taught, that it just comes naturally.


Now after many years of praying, mostly very badly and not enough! I have come to the conclusion that this is both true and dangerously untrue. Prayer, like speaking, is a natural human activity but it is still one that we have to learn and practise. There is no one right way to pray and certainly not correct ‘quota’ of prayer per day – St Paul says we should be praying in everything we do – But there are definitely wrong ways of praying and Jesus identifies one of them right here, the people whose prayers are really directed at an audience not at God or who think they will get what they pray for because they use a lot of words!


You may have heard that smug Christian maxim that here are “no atheists in foxholes” –

meaning that everybody prays if they’re in a tight spot. Now I don’t believe that’s strictly true. But I do think there is a natural impulse to kind of plead with the universe – ‘please let this be okay,’ – let me pass this exam, let them get better, let me get away with this… 

Even for those who couldn’t say who exactly it is they are expecting to answer this plea.


So learning to pray is partly about unlearning our wrong ways of praying  which come so instinctively! Prayer is not ‘magic’ or ‘manifestation’ – saying the right words or using the right skills to get the right outcome but about drawing near to the true and living God.


So, secondly, our prayer needs to reflect what we know of God’s nature. Our prayers are not necessary to tell God something he doesn’t know and still less to cut a deal with him, or persuade him to do something he would otherwise think was a bad idea! Rather, every line of the Lord’s prayer tells us something we need to know: about our relationship with God, our relationship with others, our hope for the world. We don’t pray the Lord’s prayer for God’s sake but for our sake. By praying this prayer every day, many times in a day perhaps, and by making it the basis of all our praying, we are constantly being turned back towards God and towards the attitudes that we need to keep through our daily life of thankful dependence, of forgiveness and reconciliation, of hope for the future.

When we say the Lord’s Prayer, ‘thy kingdom come’, we are not trying to change God!

We may not even directly be expecting to change the world. But we are changing ourselves – we are opening ourselves to the possibility that we could be the answer to prayer.


Finally, this prayer is collective.  It is the Lord’s prayer, and the prayer that he gave to us his disciples. Even when we pray privately we always say ‘our father’, never ‘my’ father, ‘our’ daily bread, not ‘my’ daily bread. And in this parish we have a further tradition, of holding up our hands when we pray this prayer. That is how people prayed in the time of Christ. You will notice that I raise my hands in this way at many points during the service, whenever I am praying on behalf of the whole congregation but for this one prayer, the Lord’s prayer, we all do it, because this is not an individual prayer but a prayer we pray with and on behalf of the whole world even when we may be saying it privately.


The Old Testament reading I chose for us today is about the Shema, the special Jewish prayer which observant Jews say every day and which the Lord commands to be bound on hands, heads, hearts and homes – in the Rabbinic Jewish tradition that is taken literally, with the ‘phylacteries’ or little prayer boxes that are worn on the body. For us the Lord’s prayer has a similar function: It is the shared family prayer of the church, binding us to other Christians throughout the world and throughout the generations going right back to Christ himself – Binding us again and again to what we believe as the community of Christians, as the body of Christ.


But we do not just share in prayer with other Christians we share in prayer with Christ himself. We have called this season ‘ordinary’ time but it is also ‘Trinity’ season – particularly precious to this church! – Because our ‘ordinary’ life is life ‘in the trinity’.


You will notice that at the beginning of our intercessions we usually say the formula, “in the power of the Holy Spirit and in union with Christ let us pray to the Father”. That’s what it means to pray ‘in the trinity’, to pray in the way Jesus has taught us. So prayer is not just something that we do, that comes from us or we initiate. It is something that is already happening, and which we can if you like tune into or become part of.


So let us add our prayers into the great sea-swell of prayer that is the church praying, with Jesus Christ her beloved spouse, in his eternal offering of himself to the Father.

Amen.

Sixth Sunday of Easter

Katherine Price, Vicar


You are my friends.


+In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


On the night before he died, he had supper with his friends. It was the last thing Jesus chose to do in his life, something we’ve probably all done ourselves: he had a meal with his friends. And of all the things that he did in his life, this is the one that we repeat every Sunday to remember him. We gather as the friends of Jesus to share this meal with him. Over this season of Eastertide, the forty days between the resurrection and this week’s feast of the Ascension, we have been sharing stories from the Acts of the Apostles, the acts of the friends of Jesus in the years after his death and resurrection.


So today I want to reflect on what it means for us to say that Jesus is our ‘friend’ – because that can sound a little bit trite, can’t it, or even a little bit presumptuous. Oh yes this is my bezzy mate, the son of God! So I’d like to think about what it means that we can call Jesus our friends and also I’d like to reflect on what it means for us to be friends and to be a friendly church.


So I wonder now if you could think about what friendship means to you. I’m going to give you some examples and maybe they will resonate with you…


My little boy was at an event at school with some of his little girl friends, and the whole time these little girls were squabbling and going from best friends to ‘you’re not my friend’ and back again! Friendship matters enormously at that age and it can change on a daily basis.


Two weeks ago on Monday, in Chippenham, we saw friendship Benji-style: about half of Wantage in the garden eating soup and cake! Some people make everyone feel like they are their friends.


Friendship for my dad – maybe I’m being a bit gendered here, but I think this is true for a lot of blokes – is doing something together. He has his model helicopter friends and his woodworking friends.


In a couple of weeks I’m meeting up in Didcot with my old college friends: we’ve known each other twenty-odd years, and we maybe only see each other every six months, but we pick up where we left off.


At Betty Collins’ funeral last month, Jenny Gillespie spoke about turning up at her house with her whole family and her pregnant dog and nowhere to go, and Betty took her in.


Friendship.


I think it’s worth reflecting on how our friendship with Christ fits into our friendships. Is Jesus part of our life every day, sharing our hopes and dreams. Or is he just someone we do a particular activity with – church? Does he sometimes feel like one of those ‘friends’ we just send a Christmas card to and don’t see much the rest of the year? Do we know that Jesus will always be there no matter how often we fall out with him? Do we know we can turn to Jesus when there’s nowhere else to go?


Jesus in this Gospel passage tells us three things about the true meaning of friendship with him.


First of all, friends are chosen. We’ve all heard the phrase, “friends are the family you choose for yourself.” There is something very powerful about that:
Jesus doesn’t just love us, he actually likes us, he chooses to spend time with us. I think that’s important for how we treat one another in the church. We often use the language of ‘family’ to describe the church, but families can be very dysfunctional. We often treat our family members in ways we would never dream of treating our friends – and in churches sometimes we append ‘in love’, ‘I’m saying this in love’, as an excuse for almost anything. How might that feel different if we change it to, ‘I’m saying this as a friend’? I genuinely like you, I think you’re a good thing, and I respect you enough to say this…


Secondly, friends are equals. “I have not called you servants but friends” says the Lord. It’s the term the Quakers use for themselves, the Society of Friends, and historically one of the features of their life was radical equality – they called everyone ‘thee’ and ‘thou’ at a time when English, like French and German, had different words for the polite and the friendly forms of address. To be friends of Jesus is to relate to him on a level of equality and mutual respect. That may seem an extraordinary, even a presumptuous notion, to be equal to God the Son. But that’s exactly what this season of Eastertide and Ascension and Pentecost is all about: Jesus entrusting his disciples, his friends, with being part of his project, carrying on his legacy, bearing fruit for the kingdom, not as servants but as partners in the Gospel with the authority and responsibility to make decisions in his name. We see Peter here ‘commanding’ that the first non-Jewish believers be admitted to baptism – he is speaking with the authority that has been passed on to him by Jesus and doing something that had never been done by Jesus in his own lifetime.


So being the ‘friends’ of Jesus means trusting that he has our back as we make new decisions in new situations: we might think in our church of the ordination of women to the priesthood, which celebrates its thirtieth anniversary this year, or the ongoing deliberations about how to respond to same sex couples seeking to celebrate their partnerships in church, or we might think more locally of the decisions we are taking as a church in how we serve and reach out to our community. But that does not mean that each of us as individuals can speak with the authority of Jesus! Because being friends with Jesus also means being part of the church with the other people he has also chosen to be his friends. To love God involves the apostles in hanging out with some people they might not have expected: last week an Ethiopian eunuch, and this week a new influx of ‘uncircumcised’ or Gentile, non-Jewish believers. And that again is something for us to reflect on as church communities.


I’ve been reflecting on what it means to be a ‘friendly’ church. I think we are blessed with two ‘friendly’ churches or certainly churches with friendly people. But friendliness, like friendship, can mean different things to different people. Not long ago, I was visiting London and got chatting on the London Underground to a guy from Manchester, and we laughed about how you could tell we were northerners because we were talking on public transport! Northerners like to claim that reputation for friendliness… but if you’re a southerner going in for a hug and an air-kiss with a Yorkshireman, you might not find them very friendly at all! A ‘friendly’ dog might be one that doesn’t bite, or one that jumps all over you. A friendly friendly football match might involve fierce rivalry. And ‘Friendly’ fire is just as deadly as the other kind!


A ‘friendly’ church may not be a chatty church or a huggy church or an extravert church, but a church which longs for everyone to be friends with God, and for all God’s friends, old and young, long-established or just arrived, to use their gifts and to bear fruit, fruit that will last.
Amen.

Fifth Sunday of Easter

Rosi Bartlett, Parish Assistant


May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable to you, O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer.


When I was younger, I impulsively purchased a small plant from the Summer Festival in Stanford-in-the-Vale. I had no idea how to care for it, but when Mum suggested pruning it, I was a little bit unsure. Pruning plants had always seemed counterintuitive to me. If you want something to grow, why would you cut it back? Nevertheless, after being pruned, it grew back taller, and continued to flower really beautifully.


As preparation for this homily, I decided to find out why pruning works. I realise a lot of us here are green-fingered (hopefully not literally!), but for those of us who are not, this is what the British Trust for Ornithology says: ‘Perhaps the most common reason for pruning is to maintain balance within the border, preventing the bullies from taking over by controlling their growth rate and size. Pruning can also encourage desired growth.’

So… why does God prune us?


Firstly, God prunes back our pride, so that we can grow in holiness. Pride has different meanings depending on the context. When someone we love achieves something, we say “I’m proud of you!” But pride – in a Christian sense – means putting ourselves ahead of other people or God. In City of God, St Augustine wrote, ‘Pride hates a fellowship of equality under God, and seeks to impose its own dominion on fellow humans, in place of God’s rule’. Traditionally, pride is deemed the worst of the seven deadly sins. C.S. Lewis underscored its seriousness when he described pride as ‘the complete anti-God state of mind’. Pride and holiness are not compatible with each other. In order for us to become like God, we must be less proud, and more humble. We cannot grow in holiness if we are constantly setting ourselves up against God.


Unfortunately, being pruned of our pride is not easy – in fact, it can be incredibly difficult. Even though we have been washed clean in the living waters of baptism, Christians can be just as susceptible to pride as anyone else. And personally, I often take pride into confession. But thankfully, even though pride is a nasty sin, it is not the end of our walk with God. We can counteract pride by noticing when we fall into it, by doing intentional acts of humility and mercy, by lifting other people up, and, most importantly, by praying to God, and asking him to remove our sin. Like salvation itself, removing sin in our lives is not something we can do by our own strength. It can only happen when we cooperate with the Holy Spirit, who leads us into holiness.

Whilst we should be careful to not let pride into our lives, it is crucial to remember that having self-esteem is not pride. Although we are sinful, God created us as holy and good – we are made in his image. Seeing ourselves in a positive light is not sinful or wrong – it is healthy – and we should give thanks to God for our individual and corporate talents and abilities. We must cultivate a healthy sense of self-esteem, because we are often our own harshest critics. Loving ourselves and cutting ourselves some slack is essential to cultivating a positive self-image and making space for us to grow and be pruned, because we were created good, and we can become better.


Secondly, God prunes so that the most life-giving fruit has room to grow. When I was in a church youth group, I suggested to the leaders that we should set up a prayer group. They agreed, so for fifteen minutes before our group started, I would lead everyone in a prayer session. Or at least I tried to. We went into a side room, arranged like a living room with sofas, beanbags, and cushions, and we got into a circle to pray. In my mind, I would begin the prayer time, and everyone else would join in, leading to fifteen minutes in spontaneous prayer and worship. But instead, some people were shy and wouldn’t join in, while others had to be prompted to pray. After a few weeks, the youth group leaders discerned that the prayer group should end. We had a conversation, where they explained that sometimes things just don’t work and it’s not the right timing. And they were absolutely right. The prayer group needed to be cut back to allow the youth group as a whole to continue flourishing.


Thankfully, when it comes to starting something new, we don’t need to wait for the Heavens to open and a voice from above to direct our next steps. Nor do we need to be worried about following God’s exact will, because none of us know God’s thoughts, and he can work around us. But we must be attuned to our own gifts and our community’s needs. Last year, Father Benji and the founders of Around Table discerned that people in Wantage and Charlton would struggle with the rising cost of living. Using the resources at their disposal – a versatile space and willing volunteers – they set up a weekly free meal. And over a year later, it is clear that God has abundantly blessed Around Table.


But sometimes, we will begin something that just doesn’t work. A phrase which I often hear is “if it’s meant to be, it’ll be”. If something doesn’t work, instead of trying to force it, we should perhaps rethink our timing or try something a bit different instead.


Thirdly, when our pride is pruned back, others can step forward. God wants all of us to flourish in every area of our lives, including our relationships, our work, and our faith. But personal flourishing does not need to come at the expense of other people. We can all be given ample opportunity to try things and lead. When we give other people room to flourish, we begin to notice how their insights can enrich our own perspectives.


Not everyone is like Saint Philip the Evangelist, whose ancestors had probably lived in the region of Palestine for years, and who – according to tradition – served as a bishop in the Church. Many people are not included, and this is true of the Church today.


The Ethiopian in the narrative from Acts – whose name was recorded by Saint Irenaeus as “Simeon Bachos” – was probably not Jewish, even though he was reading the Jewish Scriptures. He was probably from modern-day Egypt or Sudan, and early Christian art portrays Simeon Bachos as Black.

As the Church of England, we are called to be the established church, and we often lead observances for civic occasions. Last Tuesday, the Church celebrated St George. This afternoon, Wantage celebrates St George’s Day in the Market Place, with stalls, farm animals, and other attractions. This will be an innocuous celebration of our country – which is open to everyone – and will be an afternoon of fun for all the family!


But sometimes, St George’s Day has alarming undertones. A day to celebrate and gives thanks for the patron saint of England has been co-opted to spread a message of white nationalist extremism. Although we are the Church of England, our faith is not European. Christians were present in India at least 1500 years before European colonisers “introduced” the Christian faith there. The eighth Archbishop of Canterbury was from modern-day Turkey. Irish monastic cells were designed to replicate the ones in Egypt, and the High Crosses of Drumcliffe feature camels. African Christianity influenced Christianity in the British Isles. To quote Father Jarel Robinson-Brown, a priest in the Church in Wales, ‘In the history of Christianity, Europe is peripheral to Africa.’ Christianity is not and never will be European. Explicit and implicit white pride and colonialism have no place in the Christian faith.

Interestingly, queer theologians have compared eunuchs in the Bible to LGBTQ+ people today. Because he was a eunuch, Simeon Bachos would have been unable to convert to Judaism, and he was barred from entering the Temple. His baptism encourages us to think twice about excluding people. And his inclusion in Scripture reminds us to centre voices which are not commonly heard. People with more power and privilege, whose voices are heard the most, sometimes need to step back, and let people with marginalised identities speak and lead, which can be life-giving for everyone involved. Whose voices need to be championed? Perhaps those people among us who experience racism, who are disabled, or refugees, or gay, bisexual, or transgender.


So, in this Easter season, let us pray that God will remove our pride and bless us with a healthy and positive self-image. Let us pray for the grace to let others take the lead, for the wisdom of knowing when to speak and when to keep silent, for wise discernment, and most importantly that we might grow in holiness and become ever closer to God. Amen.


Easter Vigil (Saturday)

Katherine Price, Vicar


He is risen, He is not here.

+ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


If you are, like me, a fan of mysteries You will know that very often the clue is in what isn’t there: the dog that didn’t bark in the night. And in the Gospel we are given for tonight quite a lot seems to be missing!


So approaching this as we might a mystery Let’s start by reconstructing the movements of our witnesses: Where were you, Magdalene, Mary and Salome, On the night of Easter Eve and in the early hours of Easter Day? And we learn something in this gospel that we don’t hear in the others: That immediately after the Sabbath is finished, That is, Saturday night, The women go out to buy the spices And then the next morning, shortly after sunrise They make their way to the tomb. So we right now, meeting on Saturday night, are like the women preparing the spices: the resurrection has happened but we haven’t yet seen it for ourselves. When we get to the tomb We come to the first thing that is missing: the stone. And when we come into the tomb something else is missing: Jesus is missing. He is not here. See where they laid him. The fact that his body is missing tells us something very important: That this resurrection is not something purely spiritual or subjective But has to do with the body. 


But Jesus is missing in another way too. In this account, in the gospel of Mark, The resurrected Jesus never appears. We’re just told that he will. And that led many readers in history to suggest that something else is missing: the end of Mark’s gospel itself. Did he die, leaving it unfinished? Did a page go missing? Was there meant to be a sequel? How can Mark start his gospel with “the beginning of the Good News of Jesus Christ” and end with the word “for they were afraid”? It is as unsatisfying and unsettling for us As it must be for the women, coming to see the beloved body and finding a puzzling absence.


There is another very obvious absence in this story: Where are the men? The women are worrying about having to move the heavy stone themselves Because the blokes haven’t even dared to come out of hiding. This message, “tell his apostles and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee” is all the more poignant because his apostles fled, Peter denied him, and now, these words tell us, they are preparing to head back home to Galilee in defeat. It was only the women who stayed at the foot of the cross, who laid him in the tomb, and who have now come to visit his grave.


This is something all the gospel accounts agree on: that the first witnesses to the resurrection are women. Everything changes with Magdalene. Before Jesus’ resurrection we are still in the Jewish world: there are twelve male apostles.  It doesn’t just matter that they are male but also that there are 12, like the twelve tribes of Israel. Their first response after Judas’ death is to pick a new disciple, Matthias, to keep this number twelve. It takes time for them to realise that what held true before the resurrection doesn’t hold true in this new world: That the distinction between Jew and Greek is no longer relevant And nor is the distinction between male and female. Mary Magdalene, in the garden, is cast in the role of the ‘new Eve’. As Eve in the Garden of Eden took the fatal message of the serpent to her husband Adam so Magdalene is entrusted with the words of life for Peter and the apostles.


But in this version from the Gospel of Mark it looks as though even the women have let Jesus down! If it was really the case that they told nobody about the resurrection… then we would be asleep in bed right now and this would be a normal working week! But perhaps there is something here about the hiddenness, the humility, of Jesus Christ That he was born in a cave-stable, worshipped by strangers bearing gifts of rare perfume, whilst his mother ‘treasured these things in her heart’ And he returns in the cave of the tomb, is visited by three women bearing spices and ointments, who keep the good news treasured in silence.


Perhaps there is a lesson for us here: that this Good News is heard not in loud acclamations but in silence? Maybe we are the ones who are missing. As darkness turns to dawn, the women enter into the tomb of Christ and emerge into the light. On the night of Jesus’ arrest, a young man has run off leaving his clothes behind – Here a young man sits clothed in white. So we are invited, in baptism To go down into Christ’s death And to rise again to his new life To put off our old selves And be reclothed by his spirit to write a new chapter and to continue the story.


And so I invite you all to turn from death to life As we renew our baptismal vows.

Good Friday

Katherine Price, Vicar


Who are you looking for?

They are the words of Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane to the men who have come to arrest him. They are the words he will speak on Easter morning in another garden to Mary Magdalene. They are almost the words – ‘what are you looking for?’ – Which are the first words he addresses to the men who will become his first disciples.


It is very characteristic of Jesus to address people with a question: to be more interested in what they have to say and what answers they might find for themselves than in simply telling them what he has to say.


Who are you looking for?

There is an obvious answer, for the men who have come to arrest Jesus. They are looking for Jesus of Nazareth. But which Jesus of Nazareth? Jesus the criminal, Jesus the radical, Jesus the wanted man Jesus the dangerous suspect who needs to be apprehended with swords and clubs. Or Jesus the Messiah, Jesus the king of the Jews, Jesus the one who is to come.

Who are you looking for?

Who do you think that Jesus is?

Who do you want or need Jesus to be?



Pilate washed his hands saying, I am innocent of this man’s blood. Yesterday we heard of the washing of feet Today of the washing of hands. The washing of feet represents love: the absolute investment in my neighbour. Other people are my business, my care, my responsibility. The washing of hands represents the opposite: This man’s fate is not my business. His guilt, his innocence, what is that to me? What are the things or the people of which we are trying to ‘wash our hands’? Who are the people who, as in the words from Isaiah, we ‘turn our faces from’?


Perhaps… our collusion in the convenience of consumerism and capitalism our complacency or our helplessness in the face of environmental degradation our compassion fatigue in the face of so much suffering and war in far of countries of which we know little or perhaps closer to home the phone call we haven’t made to a friend facing bereavement or a terminal diagnosis because we don’t know what to say or the person we’ve averted our eyes from – homeless or disabled or disfigured – because we don’t like to be reminded that it could be us in their place.


In this story of the Passion it feels as though Jesus is being passed around like an unwanted parcel shunted from pillar to post everybody hoping that he will turn out to be someone else’s problem. Does he die because everyone with power wants him dead Or because nobody with power cares enough about keeping him alive to stop it happening? Is he so much of a threat that he must be destroyed? Or is he just too much trouble? Is it just easier to get rid of him?



The mount of Olives where Jesus spent his last night in prayer before his arrest

is just East of Jerusalem in what is now the West Bank, Palestinian territory. It is impossible to read or hear the stories of Jesus’ life and death Which took place all within these few thousand square miles of territory  on the edge of the mediterranean world soaked in blood and memory and holiness – it is impossible to follow the footsteps of Jesus in our imagination without being aware of the fracture lines which now cut through those places.


What are we to make of so much suffering? We can say that more than thirty-two thousand people have been killed in Gaza But suffering cannot be measured in numbers Or we can look at the desperation of those whose loved ones have been taken hostage: A number of relatives were arrested this week in Tel Aviv for protesting after the breakdown of talks. But suffering cannot be compared in its intensity either. It is not a competition; It does not help to measure and to analyse and to weigh up how much suffering to assign a metric, to create a hierarchy of grievance. On the cross we see the death of one man standing in for all the brokenness of all the world and we can only lament.



What is truth?

That is the verdict of Pilate. In Jesus’ trial, he is judge – it is for him to determine truth but faced with the tangle of Judean politics, the baying of the crowd for blood, the religious tensions and loyalties which he, the Roman Governor, only partly comprehends truth is a very early victim. We have seen this past year how truth becomes whatever those with power need it to be: We think of the death of Alexander Navalny, who spoke truth to power in Putin’s Russia. We think of the information wars being fought in Russia and Ukraine, in the middle East, and elsewhere; The propaganda, the fake news, the twitter bots.


Pilate’s question – if it is a question, since he doesn’t wait for an answer – comes in the context of an interrogation about whether Jesus is a King. Truth and power, for Pilate, cannot be separated.

Is Jesus a king?

That is a question for us too, more than we might like to admit. What is truth, if a naked and powerless man can be called a king? What is truth, if God is king and yet the world over which he reigns is a world of suffering where good seems to have no power or authority at all? Who is in charge round here? What is truth if kingship is exercised in weakness and God can die at human hands? It is our question too but it is not the right question because truth is not a ‘what’ but a ‘who’. Who is truth?



Surely, he has borne our iniquities… These two passages which we hear today

Isaiah 53 and Psalm 22 Are very important to the first generation of Christians

those who were trying to answer that question, who is this Jesus? One answer is,

he is the suffering servant. It is perhaps impossible for us today to hear these descriptions of the enigmatic figure, the suffering servant, without thinking of Jesus Christ. The one who was silent before his accusers, Who by a perversion of justice is taken away,  Who is beaten and pierced, Whose death is with the wicked – the crucified criminals –  And his grave with the rich – Joseph of Arimathea. It raises of course for us other questions about truth. Are these details evidence that Jesus fulfils the prophecy of scripture? Or are they literary devices used by the gospel writers because of their resonance? Maybe neither and both: Maybe Jesus himself chooses to walk this path to fulfil this role of suffering servant on behalf of his whole people. To ask whether the suffering servant in Isaiah ‘is’ Jesus or whether it ‘is’ the whole people of Israel or both or neither is to ask the wrong question. The suffering servant is not just one character in Isaiah: It is the theme woven into the whole of the Old Testament. Every time God chooses the weaker or the younger or the more excluded over the rich and the powerful. What Jesus is fulfilling in his death is not one line here or one line there but the whole of God’s salvation story just as the ending of a book determines the meaning of the whole story to that point so Jesus’ death and resurrection give a new meaning to the whole scripture and to suffering in our own lives.



My people, what have I done to you? How have I offended you? These are the traditional words of the Reproaches, the words we will hear sung as we venerate the Cross. In Christ, God is put on trial before the court of humanity. We speak our piece and he listens. The cross is not just God’s judgement on human sin

It is the human judgement on God. This, this, is God’s answer, God’s response to all that suffering with which we reproach him: to take on himself the responsibility

for all the sin and the suffering and the brokenness of the world he has made and to accept the ultimate, fatal judgment of his people.



It is finished… It is accomplished Jesus is ‘made perfect’ And the story is complete.

As the Father finished his work of creation on the sixth day And rested on the seventh So today our Lord completes what he began.

Maunday Thursday

Katherine Price, Vicar



+In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


Take off your shoes for this is holy ground.


One thing I’ve noticed about working from home In my study at the Vicarage is that when people come into my house to meet me they nearly always offer to take off their shoes – or even take them off in the hall without asking! – something they would never do if I was meeting them in the parish office. Now I always say not to bother. Frankly smelly socks is going to be more awkward than a bit of dirt on the hall carpet. But I had a Swedish friend at theological college and in Sweden, the no-shoes thing is not optional. If I turned up to a party in pretty party shoes I had to take them off! But they went one step further: they gave you slippers to wear. So if you go into a Swedish home, it’s very different from coming into an English home. You can’t be ‘on show’ with your shoes; you have to be ‘at home’.


In the world Jesus lived in Washing your feet was part of being welcomed into someone’s home. Generally the actual washing – if it was a well-to-do household – would be carried out by a servant or a slave But there is also something of trust and intimacy here letting someone see and touch and yes be close enough to smell your feet.


When we enter into someone’s home, or into church we are always bringing something in with us. There is always dust on our feet: whatever we’re carrying with us something from outside, from what we’ve been travelling through today or in our lives right now. 


When Jesus washes our feet it is an acknowledgement, an acceptance, that we bring this dirt in with us but also a choice to deal with it, rather than treading it into the carpets!


This episode on the last night of Jesus’ life when he first washes his disciples’ feet and then shares with them the meal of bread and wine, is the model for us as the Church. “Unless I wash you,” says the Lord, “you have no part in me”. There is the same relationship in the church between our ‘washing’ – baptism - and our ‘meal’ – the eucharist. There is no ‘qualification’ for receiving the Lord’s Supper other than baptism. We will demonstrate that powerfully this Sunday when several of our children in the parish family receive communion for the first time alongside the adults. All are welcome at the table of the Lord, but we need to wash first!


So Maundy Thursday is a day on which we particularly reflect on and celebrate the Church. This morning the Chrism Mass took place in the Cathedral: a celebration and rededication of particularly ordained and also other ministry. And every Thursday, by tradition, we pray for the unity of the church and the healing of her divisions. Very often it seems as though the church is not very good at keeping this ‘new commandment’ of our Lord, to love one another. It has made me very sad this week to learn that two clergy I know and respect have left active ministry because they do not have confidence that the institutions of the Church of England have acted lovingly. It makes me sad when clergy feel the need to respond in this way in the same way that it would make me sad to hear of a doctor or a teacher had left their calling out of frustration with the policies of the department of health or the department of education.


The Church of England is not an institution; there is no such institution; but there are a number of human organisations national and local which exist to serve the Church,  and do a better or worse job of it but the Church is the Body of Christ. You may not have known this but when I place the bread in your hand and say, ‘the body of Christ’ I’m not only talking about the bread. I’m addressing you. You are the body of Christ. That is the mandate you, we, have been given.


This day is called ‘Maundy’ Thursday from the Latin ‘mandatum’ meaning commandment, mandate, commission, obligation. And this commandment is, ‘love one another’. Maybe that sounds glib.  I mean, who would say, ‘don’t love one another’? But in fact it is important to emphasise that the Christian faith values attachment. We are not advised to protect our inner peace by avoiding emotional entanglements and minding our own business; We are exhorted to be absolutely involved and invested in other people’s lives: who is my neighbour? Everyone.


Love should not be a content-free word, a truism. “Love is love” is as meaningless as “Brexit means Brexit” – For one thing, English only has one word for love, when many other languages have several,  including the Greek of the New Testament But also, because we all know that the feelings of love – the intense attachment and vulnerability of love – are just as likely to manifest in behaviour which is volatile and destructive as that which we call ‘loving’.


There is another commandment, or at least request,  which Jesus gives this night and which his disciples signally fail to meet: “wait with me here while I pray.” They fail to watch with him even one hour not because they do not love him but perhaps because they are too close to him, it is too painful.


Sadly many people going through the experience of bereavement, terminal illness, or other heartbreaking life circumstances know this experience: of going through it alone or relying on the support of professionals. The behaviour we often see in churches is not ‘unloving’; on the contrary it’s exactly what we see in families. We don’t care too little, but too much. It is easy to be ‘tolerant’ of others when you frankly aren’t that bothered about them. It’s a little harder when you are deeply invested in the life of your child, your parent, your sibling, your spouse, your brother and sister in Christ. 


That’s why Jesus does not tell us to love one another.  He tells us to love one another as he has loved us. To love one another as completely as to know you would die for them But also to love one another well and skillfully. We are called to love one another by washing one another’s feet. We are to bare our feet to one another but – as Jesus says clearly to Peter – not our whole bodies.


To share in vulnerability and trust, but also in boundaries and respect. We are to take into our hands their dusty, their muddy, their calloused feet – wherever they have been, whatever they have gone through, whatever dirt they may have picked up, whatever they may have brought in with them - and we are to let others see our dirt and dust as well. But we are not letting them trample across the carpet,  or shrugging that their dust is their business; We are to be actively involved in the transformation of others And let others be involved in our transformation. We are to accept people as they are  and love them enough not to let them stay that way.


So now I invite you, in the name of Christ

Take off your shoes – and your socks! – for this is holy ground.

Lent 5 

Benji Tyler


“Sir, we wish to see Jesus”


Imagine you are tied up in a cave. You are with others and you’ve only ever known life in this cave. You’re facing down into the depths and all you can see is shadows on the walls. Those shadows are, for you, your conception of reality – life is shadows. 

And if you were to turn around you might see who or what is casting those shadows which would give you a further dimension of reality. Suddenly you find your hands untied and you decide to leave the cave , discovering that there is an outside world there illuminated by sunshine, itself the ultimate form of goodness and truth. 

You re-enter the cave and tell your companions, who have still only ever seen life as shadows on a wall, what the ‘outside world’ is really like. They would have no understanding of what you were talking about, probably telling you that you are quite mad and encouraging you to remain where life is known and comfortable.


This is the Greek philosopher Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, which he used to explain the theory of forms – an understanding that reality often relies on a human’s first-hand observation.


The Greeks were a curious lot. By the time of the first century CE they had built an empire as well as a world-view over several thousand years, and our modern world still relies heavily on their thinking and writing. 


One of the keys to wisdom is recognising that our own world-view and biases are not necessarily everyone else’s. And recognising this is a healthy first-step towards seeing what we do not see. 

If we truly wish to have an understanding of the transcendent we have to purge ourselves, with God’s help, of those things which blind or blinker us in life. Christianity in its ancient and traditional wisdom provides us with nearly a tenth of a year- Lent – in which we can bring into focus all those little things that hinder us from fuller communion with God and with our fellow human. 

If, in week four of lent you have started to notice that actually you aren’t now craving those things you pledged to give up on Ash Wednesday then you are doing good work. If you are still craving them, or you’ve given in on occasion – may I encourage you to persevere on in these final two weeks as Lent becomes intensified in this Passiontide.


Following his baptism, when the heavens opened and the spirit descended as a dove and said “You are my Son, today I have begotten you”, Jesus’ own experience of reality came sharply in to focus. He began to talk about a new reign of God, a new reality – something that can be thought of as the really real. 

This reign – the Kingdom of God – was something that all religions had been trying to grasp at, trying to comprehend. They each, in their way, contained something of the Truth yet none, not even the one in which Jesus was formed, had  entirely grasped it. 

And to understand this kingdom, it is perhaps helpful to say what it is not: the modern contemplative theologian Father Richard Rohr reminds us that the Kingdom is not heaven. Many Christians, he says, have mistakenly thoughts that the reign of God is “eternal life” or where we go after we die. 

But Jesus’ own prayer, “thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as in heaven, debunks that. Jesus, as usual, joins earth and heaven. 

Thy Kingdom come, then, means very clearly that God’s realm, like the rays of sunshine you met the moment you first left the cave, enters into this world. And it enters it when you and I are close to God.

So when the Greeks in our Gospel reading said “Sir, we wish to see Jesus” they were not only being inquisitive Greeks searching for wisdom, they were recognising that in this Jesus there was something Really real. 

We don’t know if Jesus actually met with them the narrative only records what he said to Andrew and Philip, and to us:

That humankind is glorified only when a person allows their lesser self to die and in that dying, enabling new life to spring forth as grain from a buried seed living into a greater, fuller, realer life.


When we touch our deepest image of self, are confronted by deeper image of reality, or discover a new truth about God, and allow ourselves to be transformed by the experience, we’re touching something that opens us up to the sacred. We might want to run away from it, or curse it or belittle it for, as T.S. Elliot wrote “human kind cannot bear very much reality”.


So, your viewpoint is important. But what is vital if you are to grow both as a human and as a man or woman of faith is that you recognise that oftentimes it is ourselves which do not allow us to experience the fullest meaning and greater truth because we have become too accustomed to watching shadows on a wall.

In two weeks, we will be celebrating the rising again from the dead of this Jesus who the Greeks wished to see and who imparted so much wisdom whilst he was alive. But before we get there, we have first to DIE with Jesus and descend into that place of quiet contemplation and introspection. Then, and only then will we be able to have the tombs of our sealed hearts opened by God, rising with Christ and experience the fullest reality of the universe – 

that of glorious Resurrection. And we’ll want to tell the world 

WE HAVE SEEN JESUS.

Thanks be to God.

Third Sunday of Lent 3/3/24 

James Clarke, Parish Assistant.

Exodus 20:1-17 || Psalm 19:7-14 || 1 Corinthians 1:19-25 || John 2:13-22


May the words of my mouth and the meditation of all our hearts be acceptable to you, O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer.


A “Long time ago in Bethlehem, so the Holy Bible say…” I am reminded of just how long ago Advent and Christmas feels as we sit here on this third Sunday of Lent. The announcement of ‘a new king born’ in the crib service is replaced with a new anticipation of the risen Christ. The festive ambiance of candlelit carols and midnight mass is substituted for a more sombre repentance purple. And long gone are the opportunities to blame the time of year for over indulgence in sweet treats, intoxicating liquor and pigs in blankets!


At times, the journey of Lent can be a drag and now in week three, we hear the Exodus version of the ten commandments. 

‘Kick us while we are down’ you might think as we abstain from certain dubious luxuries. First response might be “Yes Lord, we've been in the midst of Lent for three weeks now. We’re well aware that we have broken your laws and strayed from your path like lost sheep. Can you not cut us some slack?” Perchance some listeners, upon hearing words such as law and commandment, may start to only half listen with eyes glazing over as we register a familiarity with said passage.


We are actually more than halfway through Lent, (Lent from Olde English Lencten meaning ‘spring season’ is also thought to have derived from an old germanic word meaning ‘long’ or ‘lengthen’) It really can feel like we’ve been in this season for a long time. Yet it is a  season of change. Days are getting longer with an extra 3 minutes of light each day. The weather is changing. Creation is changing… Nothing is static in God’s world. So too are we changing as we journey through the metaphorical wilderness. Searching diligently for sins of mind, body or heart we are encouraged in this period of time to take personal stock, a chance for an honest self-appraisal.Or it could be a season of struggle in battling temptations and cravings of chocolate biscuits, packets of crisps or a glass of something strong to take the edge off a testing day, that we suddenly realise how powerless we are; we are spirit led to overcome such minor weaknesses or eccentricity in one's character.


Ten is the magic number here. Not because we may first learn in multiples of ten as infants or that we have ten fingers or ten toes or even living at number ten behind the famous gloss black front door which carries such responsibility. The most influential Ten, believed by millions of Christians around the world to represent God's divine vision for humanity, is also a sign of positive change and the guiding power behind thoughts. Our thoughts can truly shape our reality and that can be an essential source of comfort when facing challenges in life.


Now, Christians are not free from getting distracted and lost. We are not free from making the wrong decisions. Our sinful nature fights against us every day. Because of this, we need guidance, and who better to give that than the Son of God.


Positive actions bring positive results, and when we surround ourselves with positivity we need not sin or transgress. Positivity can become a magnet as it draws us closer to God our Father, Jesus our redeemer and to each other.


The law given to Moses on Mount Sinai, etched into tablets of stone describes a vision of how the covenant between God and Israel is to be ordered. God has just led the people out of Egypt and fed them manna in the wilderness. We too are led and fed daily as we trudge the road to freedom from self or self slavery, by practising Christian discipline and a way of life laid out in the commandments. Discipline I have read is simply ‘training expected to produce a specific character or pattern of behaviour, especially training that produces moral, mental or spiritual improvement’.


Who among us knew that in Saints Peter and Paul Wantage Parish Church, the ten commandments appear in gold, gothic style font to the left of the high altar? Parallels can be drawn between the two tablets in which the original laws were written. The first of two panels, the left panel, is God-centred, keeping us in check if you will. These commandments are directed toward the individual in relationship with God as we are reminded to not make wrongful use of His name, nor are we to worship any other God or create idols of any description. The second panel on the right reflects the second tablet and how we are to be neighbour-focussed, forbidding murder, adultery, stealing, lying and yearning for possession of something someone else has got: coveting as it is written. The Ten commandments we perhaps take for granted or follow without consciously thinking about. How often does one stop and say “yes, I just fulfilled commandment number five, aren’t I good!”.


Psalm 19 verse 7, clearly expresses that “The law of the Lord is perfect…” inevitably leading to a “...reviving [of] the soul”. There is fluidity in the commandments, in that by adhering to the first five (the way we attend to God) shapes the way we fulfil the second five (the way we attend to our neighbour). This is eloquently summarised in the words of Jesus telling us to 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind’ closely followed with ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’. Yet, the ‘Thou shalt nots…’ conjure a negative stereotypical view of the Christian, rendering us as boring, goody goodies. A very bold and generalised statement to make perhaps. But, ironically it is by following the commandments in discipline, penitence and faith that we experience freedom, are reasonably joyful and for the most part content.


What interests me most is what’s behind the ten commandments, perhaps not for the individual christian trying to navigate this world as it is, but of what it could be like. In our own small way, by every small act of love, by God’s grace and infinite wisdom, we can share a way of life where positivity equals positivity or taking it one step further, a behaviour breeding behaviour culture. Paradoxically it’s in our weakness and transgressions, that is to say acts against law, rule, or code of conduct; we are at our strongest to make a change for the better.


These commandments are a gift from God, a blueprint for life, a design for living. “Rejoicing the heart”, as penned by the Psalmist. The commandments are gifted to us out of Love. It’s not some moral hand-slapping, divine finger-wagging or lecture. Just picture the delight and glee on a child's face as they receive a gift. It is in this gift, in this covenant with God, we are freed. Changed, liberated people by means of feeding on the commandments as the source of nourishment to shape and lengthen, in depth and width, our relationship with God and community near and far. 


Love encompasses all the commandments. Therefore, somewhat controversially, I propose… All you need is love. Love is a big yes to belonging… belonging to God, belonging to life, belonging to ourselves and each other. To say yes and follow commandments through spiritual discipline, we hold a powerful contemplative tool that offers a matching of vision with action.


Now, I have said the word ‘change’ a lot, so let me introduce the money changers, the upturned tables and the driving out at the temple from John’s Gospel that we have listened to today. First I ask you, who are you when you read or listen to the Bible? Or I might put it more simply, who do you identify with in the retelling of Jesus’ cleansing of the Temple? Do you identify with Jesus? Do you relate to the disciples? Or could you be the money changers? Initial response is to side with Jesus’ surge of righteous adrenaline as he shifts into prophetic action or could we, somewhat queasily, have more in common with the recipients of Jesus’ actions? Let us identify with the money changers for a moment and reflect on the upturned tables. 


There's an opportunity here to see the tables as our sins, the bits we are not so keen on about ourselves, our character shortcomings you might say. We could imagine Jesus coming into our internal world, our very own temple, that is the body, and giving us a good overhaul, releasing us from the bondage of self. We are transformed from money changers to life changers. Just one of many ways in achieving this is by means of practising the spiritual principles as laid out in the ten commandments. 


Hopefully a domino or ripple effect occurs. We change, people see us change, then they change, the people who see them change change and so on and so forth. After all, nothing changes if nothing else changes!


Perhaps you feel you are lagging behind on Lenten discipline, feeling burdened or just feel like a change. Why not take this opportunity to start something new and celebrate all the good each of us has. Our parish, just before Christmas, launched the Personal Discipleship Plan. In short, this is a program that allows individuals to explore unique personal gifts and what God might be pointing you towards. We have a team of encourages who can be contacted through the contact information on the pew sheets and church notice boards. It is not just for those who are new to the parish, but open to anyone and everyone at whatever stage of faith they may find themselves at.


I’d like to share something which I personally take inspiration from. Viktor Frankl, Austrian psychiatrist, Holocaust survivor and author of Man’s search for meaning writes “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” That space between is where God resides. The space where the formative ten commandments sit, offering community change and profound individual development. The transformative commandments which tailor and fashion our relationship with Him, ourselves and our community. The space where Jesus moves and changes our internal world if we allow it. Space where a power that is not made of our own wisdom, but of divinely inspired wisdom.


I leave you with a concept that I like to call the three P’s. Pause, Pray and Proceed. In that pausing moment, the space between, that’s where we find the wisdom of God, the moment that dictates our response to a command, that window of opportunity where God can ‘speak words’ or maybe, just maybe, the moment our tables are upturned. Amen.

18th February 2024

Rosi Bartlett, Parish Assistant

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of all our hearts be acceptable to you, O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer.


He was in the wilderness for forty days.


There are many local charities which rely on public donations to provide vital services to the local community. One of these is the Thames Valley Air Ambulance Service. Air Ambulances respond to a variety of emergencies in the remotest locations in the British Isles, and they save countless lives each year. If we become injured or unwell in a physical wilderness, the pilots, doctors, and paramedics of the Air Ambulance will scramble to rescue us and bring us to safety. In the same way, God helps us when we are stuck in wildernesses. God created community so that we can journey together and the Holy Spirit comforts and reassures us whenever we need God’s help. It is Jesus’ time in the wilderness and our sense of community which we will be reflecting on this morning.


Today’s Gospel reading tell us that, after Jesus was baptised, ‘the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. The word translated into English as ‘wilderness’ is the Greek word eremon which literally means ‘lonesome; a waste’. According to tradition, this wilderness is the Judaean Desert, which is located to the west of the Jordan River and is now part of Israel and the West Bank. During the day, the Judaean Desert is oppressively hot, without any breeze to cool the air. But at night, temperatures drop, and the Desert becomes freezing cold. Water is scarce, which makes dehydration a real possibility. The Desert is also home to dangerous animals, like snakes which go HISS and leopards which go ROAR. This would be a challenging environment for Bear Grylls to live in, let alone a carpenter who probably had nothing with him except the clothes he stood up in.


As Jesus went into the wilderness, I think he was filled with trepidation. Jesus is God and he is also ‘completely human, with a rational soul and human flesh’. Any human would feel terrified if they had to live in the desert for forty days and nights without any food or water. And this includes the Saviour of the world, who on the night before he dies, will be so agitated by his coming death that he will sweat blood. But Jesus’ feeling fear does not mean that he doubted that, in the words of St Julian of Norwich, ‘all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing [sic] shall be well’. And having grown up in a Jewish environment, Jesus would have been familiar with the Flood narrative we heard earlier, which uses allegory to show God’s mastery over human nature. Jesus was anxious, but he was also secure in his identity and his future.


Hopefully, none of us will be stranded in a physical wilderness, and need rescuing by an Air Ambulance. But all of us will go through spiritual, emotional, and mental wildernesses, which can make us feel lonely and cut off from each other and from God. Unfortunately, there are no easy answers to this feeling, and there is no cure-all that can bring us out of this place of desolation, as St Ignatius of Loyola put it. But when we are in desolation, one thing that we can reflect on, to comfort our minds if not our hearts, is that Jesus also suffered and went through times of wilderness. He can understand all of the pains and troubles that come with being human, and we can know that he is always in perfect solidarity with us, no matter what we go through. Jesus alone is the One who understands all of our problems.


As social beings, humans cannot live in isolation. We need other people to thrive. Not everyone is called to marriage and family life, but nobody can go through life without human contact, and lonely people are at a higher risk of health conditions like heart disease, stroke, and type two diabetes. Our human need to be in community is one reason why we have the Church.


Christianity is often assumed to be an individualistic faith. In my experience, if you ask someone why they don’t go to church, they will probably say something like “well… I pray in my home. I don’t need to go to church”. But any Catholic – and I use that word while recognising that not everyone is comfortable with it – any Catholic conception of Church must be social. Our salvation is brought into reality through baptism, which happens as part of a community. Being a Christian – being united to Christ – means being grafted into his Body, the Church. Becoming and being a Christian is not just an individual affair, but a corporate one as well, because being united into Christ means being grafted into his Body.


Our culture as a whole also seems to have become more individualistic. Although people still come together in troublesome times, as we have seen during the pandemic and the rapid increase in food banks, too often we wonder what we can do just for ourselves rather than how we can serve and support others. As humans, we experience limitations. Many of us will go through traumatic experiences, and there are no easy answers or shortcuts to healing. But, in general, going through these experiences with a community is a lot less difficult than trying to live life as a solitary individual. This is why the Church has divided us into geographical parishes. Being part of a parish is the easiest way for most people to engage with the wider Church, to worship and pray together, to experience fellowship with one another, and to be there for each other throughout our lives. As St Ignatius of Loyola taught, spiritual consolation (a term that means “when everything is going well”) is a time to prepare for spiritual desolation. Becoming more involved in Church is always a good idea – and helps us to avoid accidentally isolating ourselves when we go through our personal wildernesses.


I find that I feel closest to Christ through his Body and Blood, which we feed on during the Eucharist. Thus, I would like to invite you to come along to our new Holy Half Hours on Wednesdays at 12pm in the Lady Chapel. This is an invitation to worship and adore Jesus who is in the Blessed Sacrament, to gaze upon him, to let him see you, and to leave your worries and troubles with him. Coming to Holy Half Hour could even be your Lenten discipline. Perhaps, if Adoration is outside your comfort zone, you could challenge yourself to come, and see how God speaks to you. Or maybe the Holy Half Hour could be your oasis of calm and stillness in the midst of the wilderness of daily life. You are more than welcome to come as you are on Wednesdays, to look upon the Body and Blood of Christ, and to spend some time in reflection and prayer in God’s Presence.


My prayer is that, through reflecting on Jesus’ sojourn in the wilderness, and as we walk alongside each other as a church community, we might be strengthened to walk through our own wildernesses, and come to a deeper understanding of our salvation, in God and through his Church.

Amen.

11th February 2024

Fr Benji Tyler, Curate

Let Light shine out of darkness.


In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

Today’s readings teach us something about something extra-ordinary. Those things which we find hard to believe can happen, according to our understanding of, and the evidence given us by, nature. Yet there have been countless examples throughout history, and continue to be so, of the supernatural. One description goes like this: a miracle is a less common kind of God's activity in which he arouses people's awe and wonder and bears witness to himself.

 

I remember meeting a young family standing outside the vestry door. As I engaged with them in conversation I discovered that the parents had married in the church and that their little two and an half year old had recently developed a fascination for the building. Twice every day, they said, he asks his grannies to take him for a walk to see the church. It would be a dream-come-true for him to see inside -was there any way that might be possible? How could I refuse such a request?

 

As he entered the gloom his eyes were as bright as buttons as he exclaimed at the pretty colours of the windows, gazing around, awe-struck at the columns, pews, pulpit and organ. I was impressed by the delight he displayed at the very things that I simply take for granted. I thought how wonderful to be able to view all that I find so ordinary with a child-like awe as though seeing it for the first time.

 

As we stand on the precipice of Lent, perhaps viewing it with trepidation or as a chore to get through in order to lose a bit of weight, it is worth pausing and contemplating what is the purpose of it. What is the hoped for achievement? 

St Paul’s letter to the Corinthians encourages believers to remember something that has come, yet often, through sin or through unbelief we fail to recognise within ourselves, or in our lives show forth: The Glory of God.

The Glory of God. 

And glory has two parts: firstly, a showing forth and secondly an active response. 

 

In Psalm 50 the speaking God reveals himself in Zionicbeauty, in consuming flames and in raging storms. And in Corinthians Paul’s own Damascene experience of the transforming power of light is surely in his mind here.  The glory of God is shewn forth in God’s action.

 

Twice in the epistle Paul explains the nature of glory:

Speaking of unbelievers he says “…the god [small g] of this world has blinded them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God”.

Then he speaks of the humility believers should embody when faced with the glory of God, for once they too were unbelievers. It is a before and after situation. 

 

The divine glory is seen in the way God exists and acts – and thus, in Jesus, in his teachings, and in his actions - is revealed all that is divine, as the miracle of the Transfiguration showed. That event which prefigured, to a favoured few, the greater miracle of the death, resurrection, enthronement and mediatorial ministry of Jesus. Because this is the true glory of God the Father, embodied and reflective in God the Son, who suffered, who identified with humankind even to death and showed us that what lies behind the ordinary is as much of a reality to god and it ought to be so for us. 

 

If glory is both a showing and a responding, what then of our response?

Well, we have all of Lent to gaze towards the fullest reality of God which will be revealed at Easter. During the coming penitential weeks I invite you to re-evaluate your relationship with, and knowledge of, the glory of God. Remember the little boy who entered this building for the first time and was overawed by the splendour – the glory - of our ordinary? Yes, he saw the building of stone, the wood and the glass, but he also say, it seemed, something beyond that, something which revealed the glory of God, and he marvelled at it and it excited him.

 

Today, as you come to worship, as you receive the blessed Lord Jesus, light of the world, into your bodies, and as you work your way through Lent you are pressing onwards to the light: to that light of the eternal Resurrection – the brightest of all the lights revealed by Jesus Christ. But for now, in this life, we can be content to know that it is in the temples of our converted hearts that the light of the glory of God finds its homeliest dwelling. 

 

The great sixteenth-century hymn ‘O Nata Lux’ has it like this:

 

O Light born of Light, Jesus, redeemer of the world,

mercifully deign to accept the praises and prayers of your suppliants.

O you who once deigned to be hidden in flesh on behalf of the lost,

grant us to be made members of your blessed body.

 

Our response, then, to the revealed Glory of God is to continually prepare a home for him, that he may become one with us, so that we, the church and the whole world might be transformed from darkness into light, and be brought safe to our everlasting home.

11th February 2024

Katherine Price, Vicar

A new teaching, with authority!

 

+In the name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

The great preacher and civil rights leader the Revd Dr Martin Luther King Jr would have been ninety-five years old this month. He is a pretty intimidating example for any of us in the preaching business: he spent many hours – at least fifteen hours a week – honing and perfecting, drafting and redrafting, memorising and practising his sermons and speeches. But he also over time developed an equally impressive talent for improvisation. The words “I have a dream” were not in the script but you could say he had been preparing for that speech all his life.

 

What gives a speaker authority?

Machiavelli said that an unarmed prophet is always defeated and yet experience tells us that isn’t true: that it is possible to get authority without having the power of violence or of money. That’s perhaps particularly true today because of the nature of our media – think of the kind of people who become influencers! And it is a perennial preoccupation of politicians especially right now in both the UK and the US as we approach an election year.


What does it take to be taken seriously, to be listened to, to speak ‘with authority’? 

Part of it, of course, is knowing your stuff – Martin Luther King was a prodigiously well-qualified preacher. But it’s also about being trusted, about being recognised – in the words of our Old Testament reading – as a prophet ‘from among your own people’.

 

In this season of the Epiphany we recall the ways in which Jesus was made known to the world. In John’s gospel, which we heard last week the story of his public ministry begins with a miracle, at Cana in Galilee but Mark’s account begins twenty miles away at the fishing village of Capernaum and it begins with his teaching and that is of course the way in which he is most obviously revealed to us now.

 

What impresses the people of Galilee is that he gives them a ‘new teaching’.

He is not like ‘the scribes’ or legal scholars, meticulously analysing obscure points of Jewish law, weighing arguments and precedent. There is something fresh and direct in how he speaks. He can use people like that, people from if you like the academic establishment – St Paul for instance is proud of having studied under Gemaliel, a renowned teacher of Jewish law – but Jesus himself seems to come out of nowhere. We don’t know what he was doing for most of the thirty years of his life before this point, but if he was studying under a Torah scholar he doesn’t choose to say anything about it.

 

In fact, Jesus even makes mistakes in quoting the bible! That sounds shocking to us, but remember most people wouldn’t have had easy access to a Bible to just flick through – they would learn the stories by hearing them repeated. If we believe that in Jesus, God emptied himself to become truly human, then he takes on all the limitations of human life including the limitations of the world and culture in which he lived.

 

This new teaching is sealed or validated by a miracle: casting out an evil spirit from a man in the synagogue. That’s an important reminder to us that Jesus’ teaching and Jesus’ miracles are two halves of the same whole – we can’t take seriously his teaching without taking seriously the divine claims he is making.

If we pay close attention to this miracle, Jesus is not ‘driving out’ the spirit in some supernatural arm-wrestling contest. On the contrary, the spirit – however reluctantly – recognises and obeys his voice. This is not about power but about authority. And I think we need to be very careful about this because there are troubling parallels for us with contemporary preachers and so-called healers

but who are seeking exactly the kind of fame, wealth, and comfort that Jesus rejected.

 

There are other similar miracles in the gospels in which Jesus heals someone from demon possession. But this is not exactly a healing. We are not told in this instance that Jesus was motivated by compassion for the person possessed.

Rather, the demon recognises Jesus – and he wants to shut it up! Maybe this is because, according to Mark’s gospel, Jesus was very reluctant to be famous.


But maybe it is also that he does not want the testimony and witness of an evil spirit!

In our Old Testament reading, God promises the people who have followed Moses, that he will send them another prophet. What is missed out from this reading is the alternative, which is discussed in the previous section: That the people of Israel are not to rely on other types of supernatural power or knowledge from magic or fortune-telling or talking to the dead, as practised by other people around them. The people of Jesus’ day would have taken it for granted that such types of magic were genuine – it is the evil spirit who recognises Jesus as the Holy One of God! - and yet we are taught that these sources of power and truth are forbidden to us both because they are believed to be demonic but also because we should not seek to rely on a source of power or of certainty that does not come from God. This is worth remembering, given the recent revival in popularity of tarot, astrology and mediumship. And it is also worth asking ourselves whether there are other sources of power and knowledge which Christians should choose to abstain from – perhaps certain types of technology.


Perhaps some uses of Artificial Intelligence might fall in that category. For instance, Replika – the most popular AI companion app – started as a way for its designer to virtually ‘bring back’ and talk to a friend who had died By programming it to mimic the style of her late friend’s emails and texts. And perhaps there is a similarity between AI chatbots and mediums or tarot-cards: they provide a plausible simulation of truth and consolation onto which we can project our real feelings and insights. But if we are looking for a ‘new teaching’, we won’t find it in technologies which only rehash and replicate our human limitations and biases.

 

It was through this ‘new teaching with authority’ that the people of Galilee recognised Jesus as something different, something special, something new: ‘one of them’, an ordinary man from Galilee, yet saying something that seemed to come from a place of greater power and insight than a carpenter’s workshop in Nazareth. And it is through his teaching today that we continue to encounter God in the person of Jesus Christ. Through the scripture, through our study and our Lent groups, and through the Church, the body of Christ - this community baptised into his risen life which continues to have authority in his name to declare new and timeless truths for each generation so long as we continue to be rooted and grounded in the word of God and in the community to which we speak.

 

 

Not many of us may be a St Paul or a Martin Luther King. But just as Martin Luther King could spend fifteen hours writing a speech and then go off script in a moment, it is also our calling as a church both to be diligent and faithful in seeking Christ’s truth in all that has come before and courageous to speak what is needed in this moment that the world may be astonished anew by the freshness of God’s truth in Jesus our Lord. Amen.

17th December 2023, the day the Church of England commended the Blessing of Covenanted Friendship

Fr Benji Tyler, Curate

John 1, 6-8, 19-28


Who are you?

Today, the 17th December 2023, after a process of listening lasting seven years, the house of bishops has commended the use of Prayers of Love and Faith for those who wish to mark a Covenanted Friendship throughout the Church of England. For many, this is a special day, and for others it is a day of deep disappointment. At their heart these prayers seek to honour a commitment of love and faithfulness between two people, regardless of their sexual orientation or their gender or their marital status, and to invite God to bless that which it is possible for God to bless.

 

Most people of faith and none would agree that the central precept of the Christian faith, of the teachings of Christ, is love. If anyone was asked to sum up an individual Christian they know, they may say ‘love’. If anyone was asked to sum up the Church of England, having witnessed recent synod debates and heard of threats of churches – including in this very Diocese –  withholding funds, creating alternative bishops and distancing themselves from churches who DO wish to celebrate “covenanted friendships” I doubt that ‘love’ would be the word that would first spring to mind…

 

As the Church is given the grace to continue this Advent, we might ponder what it is we are being called ‘to be’.

 

I began Advent by focussing our attention on the verb ‘to be’ - the most complicated of all English Verbs - ‘to exist’ (I am here), to occur (The Lord is coming), or to have the characteristics of something (The baby Jesus was a quiet child).

All our readings are saturated with verbs but it is this narrative from the Gospel of John about the revelation of John the Baptist and the Messiah which has to do with being: John says “I am not the Messiah, I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness “Make straight the way of the Lord””

So John invites us to consider our relationships, using the verb “to be”.

The Pharisees are asking this strange yet compelling man in the wilderness who he was. Was he the Messiah; was he Elijah, come back from his assumption into heaven; or was he a prophet. Who ARE YOU?!!

 

In these winter months we might wonder about this question ourselves? Many of us may be finding that we are not feeling quite ourselves, some of us are experiencing episodes of being that we don’t recognise. Some are suffering in mind or body or spirit.

Suffering is a reality of life. Pain is here, pain will come. Suffering and pain will try their hardest to make us conform to their ugly pull. Yet this is where miracles can happen. When we are weak and helpless, when we are in our own wilderness saying “I am not worthy”, then God comes in and raises us up, gives us new dignity and that leads us to discover that the self is not limited and confined to a narrow way of being, but rather possesses the potential for development and growth, for that eternal delight of becoming. [As Nietzche put it.]

Suffering leads to growth, to new life, to resurrection.

And resurrection is ‘coming to be’.

 

John was crying out of the wilderness, a natural wilderness and a wilderness of separation. He confesses that he is not the Messiah, he is not Elijah, he is not the prophet. In fact he admits to being even lowlier than the lowliest slave – he is not EVEN worthy of untying a sandal. This to me speaks of someone who has experienced suffering. Who has been brought to the position of feeling utterly helpless in the face of trial that he now lives self-less resurrection glory. The menacing Pharisees who have come to intimidate him do not threaten him. He simply, and with the solid conviction borne of his own resurrection journey, points towards the light.

 

His prefiguring witness is that suffering leads to growth and “all growth, both in the natural and the spiritual world, is a continuing miracle of creation; a calling of things that are not, into existence”.[1] We worship a Saviour who leads us through suffering and death and who calls us into new existence that we may learn the way of living in love and faith. Isaiah puts it like this: I was mourning, now I am comforted; I was faint in spirit, now I will praise; I was broken hearted, I will be bound up; I will be clothed with the garments of salvation, I am covered in a robe of righteousness.

 

So, today’s readings encourage us to embrace the way of pain, to embrace suffering when it is thrust upon us.

We are not to crave it or pray for it, because it will surely come and when it does allow the demons of pain to contribute to your glory even as much as now they hurt and bruise you. The more you allow pain to lead you to resurrection, the more you will be able to love.

But, like John the Baptist, we are still becoming, still living in the ‘not yet’, still waiting for that final calling “to be with Christ, which is far better”.

 

The prayers of Love and Faith commended by the house of Bishops feel to me like a “not yet”. Granted, they are not marriage, but neither do they seem to honour or recognise the experience of LGBT people who believe that what they wish to invite God into is so much more than a friendship.

 

I am acknowledging pain, pain felt by me and by many others though not all – and I am sure even in this congregation beliefs will vary.

But through this pain and suffering, the Church IS becoming, the Church IS learning what it is to be patient in what we now are, and who we truly desire to become. And that is what we learn from Christianity, from Christ, that we might more effectively prepare the way of the Lord, by becoming, through pain, who HE is calling us to be.

Question: “Who are you?”

Answer: “I am coming to be”.

 


[1] Harry Williams, True Resurrection, p. 160

5th November 2023 - All Saints

Katherine Price, Vicar

Revelation 7.9-end || Psalm:  34.1-10 || 1 John 3.1-3


+ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.


Who is your hero?

Who are the people who you would look up to as ‘role models’?


Your hero might be someone who is actually ‘heroic’ such as a fictional superhero – I asked this question in the school this week and spiderman and batman were particular favourites! Or a historical hero. Last weekend we were celebrating King Alfred, and the weekend before was Trafalgar Day when we commemorate both the victory and the death of Admiral Lord Nelson and next week of course we will be remembering members of the armed forces. Many people look to the world of sport – Figures such as Sir Bobby Charlton who died this past week. But more likely our real role models are closer to home people who make us think,maybe I could do that, maybe I could be like them.


There is a phrase “if you can’t see it you can’t be it”: The argument that we won’t see girls going into jobs in the tech industry, or people of colour being called to the bar, if we don’t have public role models showing them that ‘people like us’ do ‘things like this’ – although there is also something to be said for the bloody-mindedness of wanting to be the first! But certainly it’s something that I’ve been thinking about in my role as Women’s Vocations Champion for this area – there’s a big difference between knowing it’s possible and being able to imagine what it would be like for you. We know that the lack of positive role models can have harmful consequences. Young people who don’t see positive, relatable examples of how people like them can live a good life can end up turning to toxic role models online, such as those who espouse violent extremist ideologies, who glamorise eating disorders and self-harm, or who normalise misogyny.


Christianity is sometimes described as a religion that is ‘caught not taught’ – it’s all about following the example of our supreme role model, Jesus of Nazareth. The Beatitudes, which we hear in our gospel passage today, are a particular focus for this diocese under the leadership of Bishop Steven, and were the basis for our Lent course earlier this year. What really struck me about the Beatitudes is that they take the place of commandments

but they are not commandments. We are not told “thou shalt be merciful, thou shalt be meek”. Instead, blessed are those who are merciful; blessed are those who are meek. It encourages us not to think about our religion as a list of do’s and don’ts but rather in terms of, what kind of person do I want to be? What kind of life leads to blessedness? We don’t learn to live as Christians by following a list of rules or a recipe but by being around the blessed and learning to be more like them.


Now generally, we don’t generally consciously pick someone, and say, you are my role model. They might actually be rather embarrassed if you did that! Rather, it is those who happen to be around us in our own family and acquaintances who are our role models, for better or for worse – in fact when I asked the children for their heroes, even more than superheroes, they mentioned their parents and their friends. Whether we realise it or not, we are role models to others around us –  and that is especially true for parents. Whether consciously or accidentally, we are teaching our children what matters and what doesn’t, what it means to be an adult, a human being, a man, a woman.


One of the things I really value about bringing my child up in the church is that he gets to meet lots of different grown-ups and to learn that there are lots of different ways of being a grown-up – that it’s okay to not live your life exactly the way your parents have done. It’s also a good argument for why Christian children have godparents as well as parents. If friends are the family we choose for ourselves we might say that the saints are the family God has chosen for us.


We’ve just finished our preaching series on the creed but if you like today we are revisiting the clause on ‘the communion of saints’. We believe in the communion of saints: that we are one family, one community, uniting those of us who are alive today with the generations who have gone before. Many of us have pictures of our ancestors: that might be a black-and-white snap of your great-grandparents wedding or it might be the grand family portraits – Sir Winston Churchill, we are told, had a portrait of his own role model: his ancestor the Duke of Marlborough, the first owner of Blenheim Palace, who was himself a famed war leader in his time.


If we were in an Orthodox church, we would be completely surrounded by pictures of the Saints, on all the walls and in front of the altar; here in our more English church, the saints are to be found mostly in the stained glass. But the effect is the same – we are surrounded by reminders of our ancestors in the faith.


But this is a family which does not limit what we can be or imagine ourselves being: rather, the saints are from “every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages”. Within this great multitude there are as many different ways of being a saint as there are saints: St Elizabeth of Hungary, a mediaeval princess who spent her money on building a hospital where she cared for the sick and leprous with her own hands or St Janani Luwum, Anglican Archbishop of Uganda, who was murdered in 1977 by the notorious regime of Idi Amin;

St Symeon Stylite who spent his entire life living at the top of a pillar in a desert or St Thomas Aquinas, Dominican friar and scholar, a famously well-padded saint who liked his grub and his creature comforts! St Claire who fled from the prospect of marriage and family life and St Monica whose sainthood was exercised in putting up with her son St Augustine!

There are saints who lived brief lives and saints who lived long lives, Saints who were celebrities in their own days and saints whose lives were quiet and hidden. Saints who were celibate clergy and monastics, and saints who embraced marriage and family life.


Occasionally you even meet them: I’m pretty sure that Fr Timothy Stanton, who was a member of the community at Mirfield when I was a student and had formerly been imprisoned in apartheid South Africa is among the saints. Because the saints are not fictional superheroes with special superpowers or even with the exceptional abilities of a great sports player or military leader but people of every type and in every walk of life who are used by God.


Right now, it seems as though the examples set before us show us the worst rather than the best of human potential: every day the news is filled with mutual hatred and violence in the middle east, in Ukraine, in many parts of the world and closer to home we are being treated to the unedifying spectacle of the covid inquiry: whilst perhaps none of us were at our best during the pandemic, it has certainly been a stark reminder that our leaders too have feet of clay. Also on this fifth of November,  we ‘remember, remember’ the violent, divided, and sectarian heritage of this nation, and how religious conflict, terrorism, and torture, have been part of our story here too.


It seems more important than ever that we choose our heroes with care and that we remember that our citizenship is in heaven. Our family, our tribe, our nation – the communion of saints - is drawn from every people and culture. There are as many ways of being a saint as there are people: haloes come in every size! – indeed if you are in the children’s corner, big people and little people – you can try making your own tinsel halo!


So as we give thanks for the communion of saints and look to their example let us pray that we too may be saints in this generation. Amen.

Clothe yourselves in love.

Sunday 29th October 2023 (Bible Sunday)

Katherine Price, Vicar.

Nehemiah 8:1-12 || Psalm: 119:9-16 || Colossians 3:12-17


+In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


Last week I paid a visit to the Jane Austen House in Bath. Much as I am a fan of Jane Austen’s writing, I have to admit that my main motivation for visiting was simply that it’s the only museum in Bath which is open on a Monday. It is rather a silly place with lots of dressing up in Regency attire – although now I’ve appeared on the cover of the local paper pretending to be a Saxon, maybe I can’t really comment!


Jane Austen can perhaps take much of the credit – or the blame – for our conventional romantic idea of a happy ending. In every one of her novels the ‘happy ever after’ in the final chapter is a wedding or an engagement. It is rather ironic, of course, that the only happiness she could imagine for her characters was marriage, since she herself not only never married

but indeed, as I learned on Monday from a tour guide purporting to be Captain Wentworth,

she actually broke off an engagement.


Jane Austen may be associated with a classic romantic stereotype but in fact her characters are very pragmatic about what makes for a happy marriage. She recognised that it wasn’t just about romance but about the life that you choose to have, the person you choose to be,

and most of all about family. Marriage for Jane Austen is never just two people’s business but the foundation of family and community.


The Bible is also a love story. Over the past several weeks we’ve been studying and reflecting on the creed - our statement of faith as the Christian family and community. But what has struck me about the creed is that it also has, like a story, a beginning, a middle and an end. It’s not just a list of things we believe. It is if you like a synopsis, a precis, a back-cover blurb for the whole story of the Bible. Our faith is a story: the story of what God has done, what God is doing now, and what God will do in time to come.


The Bible is a love story, but unlike a Jane Austen novel this story doesn’t end with an engagement but begins with it. In Christian tradition, we split the books of the Bible into two sections which we call the Old Testament and the New Testament. And that word Testament means the same as ‘Covenant’ – it means a commitment, a promise, a vow. It is the story of God’s loving commitment to his people and how that has been lived out over the generations.


If the Bible is a love story, then of course, as in any good love story,  the course of true love does not run smooth. Time and again, human behaviour threatens to rupture that relationship with God, and time and again God’s faithfulness remains steadfast. The Christian understanding of marriage is that it is a covenant not a contract –  it is not conditional on each side fulfilling their part of the bargain but rather it is an unconditional commitment which endures in spite of the inevitability that we will fall short. Covenant means that God never simply gives up on us – not that we can never mess up his plan but that there is always another plan; that God’s creativity, God’s imagination, God’s resourcefulness

is never spent.


I’m reminded of another book – rather less elevated than Pride & Prejudice but perhaps equally well-loved: Michael Rosen’s “We’re going on a bear hunt!”


In that story, every obstacle the family comes to is greeted in the same way: we can’t go over it, we can’t go under it, we have to go through it! And that is true of the obstacles in our own family lives, In our marriages, in our relationships, and also in our relationship with God: we cannot bypass our struggles  but only find a way through them together.


In the words of St Paul from our reading today, “bearing with one another, forgiving one another”. It’s not so much that marriage is a model for our relationship with God as that God is our model for how we should approach marriage and all our relationships: with hope, and creativity, and an openness to the possibility that not all happy endings look alike.


But there is also a very specific and perhaps a surprising model of marriage which is to be found within the Bible,  and it is the story of Mary and Joseph. In light of the ongoing debates about so-called ‘biblical marriage’ It might be instructive to take a look at this particular marriage which is perhaps uniquely biblical because it brings together the threads of this love story that is the Bible.


Mary is often depicted in art, reading the bible: Reading the bible as a child with her mother Anna, and reading the bible in the garden when the Archangel Gabriel comes to call.

In mediaeval tradition, it is often speculated that she is reading the book of the Prophet Isaiah

from whom we will hear a lot during Advent and who most of all foretells God’s promises for all the peoples and nations of the earth.


And then we have Joseph – the descendent of King David. David the hero of the books of Samuel and Chronicles and the traditional author of the Psalms.


In this marriage of Mary and Joseph is found the archetype of God’s plan of salvation: that the people of Israel, God’s chosen people, are to be the guardians and protectors of his promises for the whole world.


The story of Mary and Joseph could not be more unlike the romance of a Jane Austen novel, 

or indeed our modern notions of what marriage is all about and yet this is the family God chose to be born into and Joseph is the stepfather that he chose for himself. The relationship of Mary and Joseph is not exactly what we would expect of marriage, and to be totally frank it probably wasn’t exactly what Joseph was expecting either! but it was no less ‘made in heaven’ for all that: a marriage not for the personal fulfilment of two individuals but in the service of others and the service of something greater.


The Bible is a love story, the story of a very long engagement, an engagement which is never broken off in spite of everything and which awaits its final fulfilment in the glorious marriage banquet of the lamb. And whilst we wait for that glorious fulfilment there is some dressing up to do - not in Regency bonnets or indeed Saxon cloaks – but that we clothe ourselves with love. May we choose each morning to ‘put on’ the character of Christ and to take our place in the ongoing drama that is our love story with God. Amen.

Abiding power: The Holy Spirit in the church

Sunday, 15th October 2023 Benji Tyler, Curate.

Acts 2:1-11 || Psalm 122 || 1 Corinthians 12:3-7/12:12-13


In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.


“We hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power”


Attached to the side of the Norfolk Church of St Nicholas, Blakeney is a tower that rises up in miniature imitation of the great, west-end tower. Its original purpose is unknown and it may have had several functions – including acting as a lighthouse for the nearby port. One theory that I find particularly persuasive is that it is a form of tunnel that, when a flap is  opened, allows a rush of wind to enter the building at the precise moment that the priest invokes the Holy Spirit over the elements of Bread and Wine, thus causing the candles to flicker and the incense, thick in the air, to stir. 


This is just the sort of liturgical theatre for which we go in for here, on occasion. And whether it be Blakeney towers or Wantage party canon neither are the Spirit, but both help us to imagine the reality of the Spirit, even as the scriptures say “there came a sound like the rushing of a violent wind”.


The verses we have heard together today challenge us to hope for, and work for, the fulfilment of all that is good and of the Kingdom, through the power of the Spirit in the time to come. 

As the atrocities in Gaza have unfurled these past few days the Church becomes ever more conscious of the need to pray continually for peace, for the kingdom of God to come in earth as in Heaven. In Jerusalem. And being in this church today, we must remember that every Church outside of Jerusalem is built as a Jerusalem. From the earliest of times, the meeting places of Christians were in loco parentis of Jerusalem, and so we should feel that it is not just the physical Jerusalem that is suffering now, but every manifestation of that holy place, ‘whither the tribes go up… to give thanks to the name of the Lord’.

As we gather here today, we stand in solidarity with our Jewish neighbours and we pray for peace to abide in that land.pp


Today’s theme of the ‘abiding power of the Holy Spirit’ invites us to consider two things in relation to the Holy Spirit. 


Power, and his abiding-ness, his with-us-now-ness.

Firstly let’s look at what is this power. 

After attempting to describe the way the Spirit came from Heaven, Luke records more than fifteen different jewish and non-jewish nations and languages who all heard them speaking in their own language ‘about God’s deeds of power’. Nothing could have demonstrated more clearly than this the nature of God’s power in Christ than that the new Kingdom of Christ was multi-racial, multi-national, multi-lingual. 

The power on which Luke chooses to focus was not the like-wind, or like-flame of the Spirit’s coming but on the significance of the breaking down of racial, national and linguistic barriers.

So the power of God was made known then as a new unity within incredible diversity. Something which the letter to the Corinthians reiterates: that the body of Christ is made up of a variety of gifts, services and activities all of which emanate from God, by the power of his Spirit and are held together through a common baptism into one body.


It is important to notice that St Paul does not say the members make up ‘the church’ but rather that they make up Christ. However, in order to accomplish his saving work, Christ had to have flesh and blood at a moment in time. And in order to complete that work today he has to have a body of human beings, the church, who are all in effect, baptised by Christ through the ‘element’ of his Spirit.


This is the abiding-ness, the now-ness of that power. The Spirit re-presents Christ in real time on earth.


To live as a Christian is to recognise that we are living -in real time’ with Jesus Christ and to allow the indwelling Spirit of God to speak and pray within us as though we were in that same room with the Disciples who first received the Spirit. For with the Spirit in us, God is in immediate communion with us. And to live as a Christian now is to remember that, through the Spirit, we are connected to those first Christians who received the Spirit in Jerusalem, which binds us inextricably to that nation now, in all that they are suffering. Their pain, must be our pain. The prayers of the Spirit-inspired Psalms, must be our prayers – pray for the peace of Jerusalem.


At Pentecost, Fifty days after the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, the Spirit was given to his friends and followers with the promise of perpetual indwelling of the Church. 

Today, you may not be feeling totally overwhelmed by the Spirit. You may wonder if you have ever ‘had an experience’ of the Spirit. You may be wondering if the Church, and in particular the Church of England, is genuinely experiencing the holy Spirit as it fights out same-sex blessings. 

Well, just as we need air around us to survive, we also need to take that air within ourselves to live. And that air we breathe comes to us naturally. We aren’t taught to breathe – the act of breathing is innate. So it is with the receiving of the Spirit. We accept it as the reality for us because Jesus the baptizer has given him to us and if we long to be more like Christ, and point others to love Christ too, we will be taken into the deeper daily - continuous – now of the fullest life. 


As I finish, let me leave you with a challenge. That challenge is as fresh as the day of PENTECOST. It is to be heard to speak about God’s power. Speak about that power in your prayer, in your conversation, in your workplace, in your home and in your church. Become thte person, become the church that is known to be ALWAYS oing on and on about God’s power to transform life. 


Be like that tower on the side of the church in the cold, coastal village of Blakeney - a reminder to the people both inside and outside the church that the power of the Spirit is abiding in you in everyone giving us ears to hear God speaking to our hearts, anointing the winds of our prayers –  at this time especially for the peace of Jerusalem - and preparing us to dwell together, in all our rich diversity, as one body, in Christ, his Church! Amen.

He will come in glory to judge the living and the dead.

Sunday 24th September 2023 by Katherine Price, Vicar.

Ezekiel 33.10.20 || Psalm 75 || Hebrews 4.9-16 || Matthew 25:31-36


+In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit


Judgment Day has come – at least this week for one man.

If you watch or read or listen to any news, you won’t have escaped the story about the former comedian and presenter Russell Brand and how his past has finally caught up with him. But for Christians in this country, our reaction to this sad and sordid spectacle may be rather ambivalent. On the one hand, I recall when Brand was at the height of his fame being infuriated that such a man was being given a platform for his ego and his deliberate offensiveness and it is a cause for hope that we may now be in a time when the women who have made these allegations may finally get justice.


And yet, more recently, it was reported that Brand had repented of his past behaviour.

More than that, he was using his fame to promote prayer and spirituality, most of it at the least Christian-flavoured. Only just over a year ago - in an article I expect they will now be in a hurry to take down - Premier Christianity magazine described Russell Brand as someone that church leaders could learn from.


So is he a repentant sinner or just a sinner who knows how to cash in on the spirituality bandwagon? The jury is still out… Not that it is likely to come near an actual jury.  It is sad and significant that these women looked for justice in the court of public opinion, because they did not expect to get it from an actual judge. That is itself a sad judgment on the justice system we are supposed to rely on.


We seem to be living in a time which is quite confused about the whole idea of judgment.

On the one hand, we pride ourselves – in the twenty-first century – on our tolerance. It is a compliment to call someone non-judgmental and an insult to describe them as judgy. And yet we are hardly a non-judgmental society. Quite the contrary. Some would say we are living in a time which is particularly quick to condemn and slow to forgive. We are not very inclined to give the benefit of the doubt.


As Christians, we are on the receiving end of this contradiction. One of the main criticisms levelled against us and our faith, and indeed our God, is of being ‘judgmental’; people who otherwise give no authority to the Bible like to quote the verse ‘judge not lest ye be judged’! And yet one of the main reasons people often feel unable to accept the Christian God is that bad things happen to good people whilst bad people go unpunished. In other words, God is not judgmental enough. For many people’s tastes, there is rather too much smiting in the Old Testament and rather too little in our own day.


The idea of God as judge seems obvious – The idea of Jesus as judge, perhaps less so.

It has been one of the ways in which we have sometimes risked straying into heresy as we try to hold together the perennial tension of justice and mercy: We think of God the Father as the judge, only with a long white beard rather than a long white wig! Whilst God the Son gets to take credit for all the nice modern stuff about forgiveness and not judging one another.

But our creed doesn’t let us get away with that. As usual, and as perhaps we are beginning to see in this series on the Creed, the Fathers of the Church do not let us get away with believing something that is easier than the full truth. We are told quite explicitly that Jesus will be our judge.


In the Old Testament, one of the key characteristics of Israel’s God is that he is a God of justice, a God who cares about right and wrong. We are even told that his intention for his people Israel is that they should be known as his people by their system of justice. By their law codes, and by the protections they give to the poor and weak, they were to witness to God’s justice before the face of the other nations around them. To say that God judges us means that God takes us seriously: That human sin, and human choice, and human accountability matter.


If you are suffering injustice, then a judge is exactly what you long for! Someone to uphold the rule of law, to protect the weak, to bring the truth to light. When the people of Israel longed for their Messiah they longed for him to come with judgment. A desire for fairness seems to be part of human nature. We want the good to be rewarded and the bad to be punished - whether we are children, resentful that we got told off when it was someone else who was talking to adults protesting against global inequality, but perhaps even more than good things for good people and bad things for bad people, what we want is understanding: for the truth to be known, and to be taken seriously;  for an acknowledgement of the wrong that has been done and the pain that has been caused. 


The letter to the Hebrews tells us that the Word of God judges ‘the thoughts and intentions of the heart’. Justice is not just the application of law but finding fairness in the complexity of real human situations.


One of British history’s most celebrated judges, Lord Denning, was famous or perhaps notorious for his creative ways of making the law fit what seemed right! And at its best, our legal system in this country – which is sometimes described as ‘judge-made’ law – reflects that incarnational principle, that the law has to be built not on abstract ideas but on real cases and real people.


And another principle of justice as it is understood in this country is that we are to be tried by a jury of our peers. So in the same way God has promised that we will not be judged by one who does not know what it is to be human, or who has not been held to those same standards. And so the God who judges us also pardons us. This isn’t the kind of ‘presidential pardon’ used by Trump and his ilk to get his cronies off the hook – The pardon and forgiveness we receive from God and the pardon and forgiveness which he expects us in turn to show to others is not about ignoring or denying that any wrong has been done. Quite the opposite. God’s judgment and his pardon happen in one and the selfsame act: on the cross. What could expose more vividly the seriousness and consequence of human wrongdoing than that it took the death of God himself to deal with it and what could show more clearly his mercy than that he was prepared to accept that cost to set it right? It is this costly forgiveness we are called to share, when we are commanded to ‘judge not’: to utterly reject vengeance and all forms of ‘justice’ which are built on the proliferation of violence but not to shrug off human wrongdoing as ‘not my business’. Rather, we must start from the costly recognition that we ourselves have been pardoned. 


But Jesus is more than the judge who hands down sentence based on law. Jesus is the judge and the law and the sentence. As the model human being, Jesus is the ‘plumb line’, the standard by which we are measured, the representation of the best that we can be.

And this is the judgment: that that light came into the world, and the world loved darkness more than light. On the cross, Jesus suffered the death penalty – But it was the world and not him who stood condemned. If a judge is one who makes the truth known, then what could shine a starker light on the wrongness of human thinking than the execution of a truly good man? And that is the same judgment we each face: Whether we embrace Jesus Christ in the hungry, in the sick, in the stranger, in the prisoner, and so embrace the pardon he offers or whether we choose to reject him and bring judgment on ourselves.

It is we who must make that judgment and every day is judgment day. Amen.


One Lord, Jesus Christ: part 3 in a sermon series on the Creed

preached on 10 Sept 2023 by Fr Benji Tyler, curate


Imagine, if you will, for a moment that – a bit like when you go to the supermarket to get milk only to find that there is now a worldwide shortage of milk – you have come to church this morning to be told that Jesus Christ really is dead. He has been discovered to be all just a complete hoax; that there really was no such person who rose from the grave and ascended into heaven…

“Jesus Christ is DEAD!” read headlines all over the world. “2000 years of gullibles proved wrong!” “the Good news is a lie: Church is no more!’

What would you do? What would we do?

Would we meekly believe it, having had a hunch all along that this was really true? Would we close the doors on our buildings and nail a sign across them reading “no use for this building – push off”?
Our heads might, in time, receive this, but our hearts? Could our hearts simply cut off everything we had known, felt, experienced since first we were introduced to the Christian Faith?


[This has, of course in one way or another, been the experience for many people throughout history – one has only to think of Japan in the 19th Century or Russia in the 20th where the state forbad private or public worship and belief.]


Because, for Christianity to be real you need a Christ. Christ is 100% the essence of Christianity – not 33.3%, shared with the other two persons, God and the Holy Spirit but 100%. You may have heard me quote Archbishop Ramsey before when he said that “in God there is no unChrist-likeness”.
And this essence of Christ is found in the first and shortest of all creeds – that found in Philippians 2:11 : “Jesus Christ, is Lord” “Kyrios, God”. Every tongue should confess it, to the glory of God the Father.


The simple reality is that it is impossible to be a Christian without confessing that Jesus Christ is the son of God, revealed in human flesh – God incarnate. And for Christian teachers it is not simply enough to know about Christ but to know Christ. Knowing Christ is what has ensured the remarkable continuity of faith throughout the world, knowing that Jesus really happened and knowing the effect that this happening was to have on the universe. For if it really happened, it is the greatest love story that ever entered the universe. If it did not really happen, then it is the greatest fantasy that ever entered the universe of human thought.


I want to be clear. No one is truly converted to Christianity by the reasonableness of the incarnation. Impossible. Because the incarnation is, in itself, not a reasonable story! But rather generation after generation is converted by being introduced to relationship with the Person of Jesus Christ.

The creed, as the statement of faith of the ecumenical Church, is keen to introduce this person pretty quick and then to dwell on him, as in for example The Apostles’ Creed, for nearly two thirds of the words.

This is because of that love story – the story of God’s love for humankind. It is the crazy story of the one, creator God, infinity perfect and lacking in nothing, becoming mortal flesh, suffering torture, death and hell for our sins.


Our sin can be summed up as a lack of love.
Redemption can be summed up as an EXCESS of love.


Which is why, when we look at Jesus on the Cross, either on crucifix or in mind’s eye and know who that is what he is doing and what love made him do it, we ourselves melt into a fervour of love.


So there I have focussed on the why we might believe in God as revealed in Jesus Christ and I want to now say just a little on how we might come to be in relationship with God through Jesus Christ.

And the how is so simple. For the how is how about prayer. God has reached out to us in Jesus Christ to enable us to come to him, in prayer.

When we begin to utter any prayer we must already have recognised something of the beauty of God and been attracted to it, attracted to God’s beauty as revealed in the face of Jesus Christ.


And for us to respond to this, we recognise that it is God who has initiated this response; it is God who first reached out to us in Jesus; it is God who calls us out of self-involvement, self-centredness into dynamic relationship with true love, true beauty.

Another Archbishop, Rowan Williams, said that “prayer is what God does in us when we are close to Jesus”. Being close to Jesus, reciting his name, claiming his name in prayer brings to us a taste of eternity but also accustoms the pray-er to an acceptance of all that this life brings too.
The name of Jesus is not just to be invoked when we need that car-parking space or when we are sick, but we invoke it in order to bring us into a transformative relationship with him and with the world around us.


Each time we repeat the name of Jesus, be that in prayer, in Liturgy, in hymns, in music we are opened up to the possibilities of transformation. Our time, becomes God’s time. We surrender our all to his all, we become bound up in his love and we are sent out to do His mission, as his hands and his heart.


[Now the creed, of course, is concerned with the communication of right belief, of doctrine, of universal truth. And truth, like goodness and beauty, is understood most fully when we look at Jesus. Jesus, sent by his Father and receiving sonship in the Spirit to return to the Father. It is in that sonship, that becoming human, that WE are caught up into relationship with God. This dynamic energy of the Trinity is given to the world in the sending of the Son]

“And the Word became flesh and lived among us” to draw us into the goodness, the beauty of God.

Put simply, God’s love is a giving of nothing less than his being, since his being is love.

Next week we will begin to turn our attention towards the details of the life of Christ whilst on earth and the crucifixion which is that vivid demonstration that even suffering can be turned to blessing when the heart is filled with God’s goodness.

So. I’m pleased to tell you that, even if we DO turn up to Church one day and suddenly discover that Jesus Christ is DEAD! I for one would find it impossible to believe.


For the testimony of faith that is inherited and lived out by each and every saint, living and departed, has built up too compelling a story for it NOT to be true, And, even if, at times I/we struggle to confess that “Jesus Christ is Lord” or to pray “Lord Jesus Christ, son of the living God, have mercy on me a sinner” it is in the repetition of that blessed, Holy Name that we come to know, and will be assured, that there is no greater story of Love than that Jesus Christ became man so that we might become fully alive, now and for all eternity. Amen.

 


The Maker of Heaven and Earth: part 2 in a sermon series on the Creed

preached on 3 Sept 2023 by the Vicar, the Revd Katherine Price

Genesis 1.24-end || Acts 17.24-28 || Mark 4.35-41 || Psalm 19


God saw everything that he had made, and indeed it was very good.

 

I wanted to share with you today a book I’ve been looking at: God made the dinosaurs! It’s a book aimed at primary aged children, all about the story of how dinosaur fossils were discovered and the role of Christians in that story. And I actually ordered it because there is a little boy being baptised later today who is absolutely fascinated by dinosaurs.

 

I can just about remember being into stegasaurus and triceratops, but nowadays to keep up with the dinosaur crowd you need to know the difference between an allosaurus and a carnotaurus! When Jesus teaches us that, to enter the kingdom of heaven we should be like little children, I think of children just like that, who are fascinated by the natural world, who are hungry for knowledge, who never stop asking questions.

 

Far too often we imagine that the dinosaurs are an embarassment to Christians in relation to the doctrine of creation, and in general that curiosity about the natural world – what we now call ‘science’ - is somehow a problem for our faith, and especially for our faith in God as creator. That couldn’t be more wrong. Professor Tom McLeish, who died earlier this year, had the rare distinction of being a professor of Physics, a lay minister in the Church of England, and a medieval historian. He wrote a lot about the history of the relationship between religion and science. It is worth knowing, by the way, that early Christians didn’t interpret the six days of creation literally, and that they never thought the world was flat! Tom McLeish says we’re wrong to think science is all about having the answers. Scientists are people who ask questions, who are fascinated by the wonders of the universe. And very often what has motivated that questioning and that wonder is the faith in a creator God.

 

To say we believe in God the Creator is not just a statement about God, or about something that happened in the past, but more significantly a statement about the universe and about ourselves: that we are created. It is because we believe that the universe is created by a creator that we believe it is worth studying: it isn’t random or illusory or irrelevant. Rather, it makes some kind of sense and we have some chance of understanding it better through the use of our God-given senses and our reason.

 

I read once in a book on childrearing that the first thing a child needs to know is that they are loved. And the second is that the world is interesting,

because if they do not take an interest in what is around them, they are not going to learn. The first thing our creed teaches us is that we are loved – God is our Father. And the second is that the world is interesting – the good creation of our good God.

 

And we can see something of God through his creation. “The heavens are telling the glory of God” – so says our psalm today. If you are a classical music fan you might be familiar with these words, set to memorable music – if rather mangled English! – by the composer Haydn in his oratorio ‘The Creation’. One day pours out its song to another: it’s an amazing image of the world around us joyfully shouting the truth of God, if only we take the time to hear it.

 

St Paul says something very similar in his sermon in Athens, which is recorded here for us in the book of Acts. Speaking to a Greek audience, people who did not believe in “one God, the Father” and had never heard of Jesus Christ, he tells them that God is nevertheless close to them, that they too have a relationship with him as their creator, and that he is already making himself known in their lives through the beauty of the world around them and in their own human nature.

 

In Genesis we hear a hint of our world’s extraordinary biodiversity: ‘every kind’ of beast, ‘every kind’ of creeping thing, ‘every kind’ of tree with the seed in its fruit. In the middle ages, the cutting edge textbook on animal biology would be the ‘bestiary’ or book of animals: each animal would be described both according to what was then known or believed about its physical characteristics and behaviour, but also what it might teach us as Christians. Amongst my favourites are the entry for the cat: the enemy of mice, likes to sit in hot places and is often too lazy to move! Or that for ants: they are given both as a good example of co-operation but also – in the way they select and store food – an analogy for the critical and intelligent way we should approach the ‘nourishment’ provided for us by the Bible! Modern biologiests estimate there are 8.7 million distinct species of animals and plants… of which a surprisingly high proportion are beetles. This is a wonderful and often strange universe which speaks of a wonderful and strange God.

 

To believe in creation is not just to believe that the universe was created, but that it is created: that it is God’s good creation. The Christian and Jewish creation story is not the only creation story which humans have told but many of the older stories involve some kind of conflict: squabbling Gods, sacrifices, murders. The world might even be created out of a dead body! By contrast, the stories that Jews and Christians tell of what it means to be created are of a God who brings order out of chaos, complexity and diversity out of the swirling void. Jesus’ friends know him to be more than mortal not so much by his miracles of healing as by his stilling of the storm. Creation obeys its creator, and peace is brought out of violence.

 

Paradise, as it is described in our reading from Genesis, is so peaceful that even the animals only eat fruit. This is not nature ‘red in tooth and claw’. Christians can never use ‘nature’ as an excuse for violent or selfish behaviour. Rather, to believe in creation, is to recognise how far we have fallen from all God hoped for his creation, and to long for its fulfilment.

 

Just as God did not create the universe in some kind of competition, nor did he create it to serve any need of his own. Again, St Paul is absolutely clear about this, “God is not served by human hands as though he needed anything.” In fact there is no reason for God to create the universe except out of the sheer love of creation. This is a universe created not for violence nor as a means to some other functional end but purely out of love and for love. And it is in this love that we find our meaning and our purpose: that God made us and delights in us.

 

We said last week that the creed says nothing about our behaviour or morality, about how we should live. That’s true. But the answers to those questions have to start with creation. Because it is only created things that can be said to have a meaning or a purpose, or to be good or bad.

If you pick up a rock, you cannot say whether it is a ‘good’ rock or a ‘bad’ rock or whether it is doing its job as a rock. But you can say whether a kettle or a printer or a car is good. I wanted to buy a new kettle I might look at online reviews, or I might check out Which? Magazine, where I could find kettles scored against all the things a kettle is meant to do, such as heat water quickly and not leak and look cool in my kitchen. And in a different way you can say whether a book or a TV series or a painting is good.

 

So if I am to ask, am I a good person, I first need to have an idea what is a person, what I was created to be. And fortunately our Creator has given us an example – the prototype, if you like – of exactly what a human being is meant to be. That is what we will be exploring in next week’s sermon

When the creed introduces us to Jesus Christ.

 

So today let us pray that as we adore God as the creator, we may be filled with wonder and curiosity and delight in our world, and in ourselves as his creation. Amen.