Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Had to reflect on yesterday

I had to do a lot of brain work and a little less leg work yesterday! I spent most of the morning with our 'acting Team Rector' discussing what God is doing in this team of thirteen Churches and to think about what is going on generally in our parishes.

It was encouraging and daunting to do this. Encouraging because for a group of rural parishes we are actually together doing as much or more than many larger suburban and urban parishes. Daunting because there always seems more and more to do. But these are good stresses, in the sense that much of this is about growth, about stability of leadership and ministry (to a certain degree), about vision and about moving forward. i have to put together today a document which sums up the areas we covered - mission, pastoral events, weddings, baptisms and funerals (also known as 'hatch, match and dispatch', prayer, worship, involvement in community life etc etc - it will be, i expect, quite a long document. So i had better get on with the visit i have to do now, then get back to this.

At the end of the day yesterday the clergy, their spouses and our team administrator (also known as 'the linchpin') met for our belated Christmas meal, which - as always happens when we get together) involved lots of laughter and stories. Another reminder of why, despite any strains and stresses, this is a good place to be and a good team to be a part of.

Some kind of record

This is my 45th post this month, though I am glad to say i haven't really spent any more time blogging, it just seems that little and often has worked! (Things like sermons were already written anyway). It seems that 2007 has begun with the most number of posts in my blog since i started two and a half years ago...

Talking of which, I was wondering if New Kid on the Blog is needing a name change - having been at this for a while now it is maybe time to think of something else?

Opinions?

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The epitome of West Country Cool

If my rather obscure ramblings about Devon have whetted your appetite for finding out a bit about the Westcountry of England then I present The Wurzels - 'scrumpy and western music for the discerning yokel'. Or see what they look like here (or 'yer' as we say)

Thuk yer's moi past, baint it

Having now discovered the delights of the BBC Devon website i must point you towards the way i am meant to speak, having been born and brought up in 'Deer Ol Debbun' - so here is a link to the Local Lingo page for true Devonshire Dialect.

I baint laughed so much in yers, watch out for thuk chuggypig yer gert mump-aid.

Yer tiz

This is my history


Found this picture on the BBC Devon Website and it had a profound effect on me.

It will mean nothing to anyone else but the white building on the right of the Church tower is where i spent much of my youth and childhood. The top window is, or was, the living room of my grandparents - who for much of my young life were dominant, inspiring, loving features and died when i was still in my early teens. (Dominant in a good way, meaning influential! With a bit more thought i may well do a 'things i do because of my granparents' post to follow up on the earlier 'things i do' posts here, here and here)

I've never seen a picture of this before, and it's quite striking - for me anyway!

Incidentally, the building on the left of the church is the Angel Hotel where my mother worked when i was a baby, and the low grey building behind the cross is the chapel of the old All Hallow's school which is now the Honiton Museum, which i used to help my mother clean when i was in my teens (I was a good lad). As for the Church, I never went to it until after I left home - I was never a member of the Church of England, so I used to attend the Congregational Church and then the Baptist Church...

Monday, January 29, 2007

Leave a comment...

having said i wasn't going to buy into any of the 'wordless wednesday'/freaky friday/manic monday etc etc schemes, i have decided that I should nonetheless consider today 'make a comment monday' - so i challenge you all to think of something to say about this post - which says nothing apart from 'please make a comment' or any of the recent posts here, or even an old one if you feel like ambling around my musings for a bit. I recommend the 'things i learned...' and 'it was inevitable...' posts at the start of January, i really enjoyed doing those. Or don't if you feel like lurking, it's all good.

i'm just adding another post to see if i can break my own record of 43 in one month ;-)

Another Monday

Of course the week begins on Sunday - at least in the Christian calendar - but Monday is the day when, having prayed together, my colleagues and I get together to check up on what we need to do, how the service rota is looking (with 13 parishes this is quite and endeavour), make sure we are all OK (relatively speaking) and talk about what we need to keep an eye on in the coming week.

Now most people probably would dread a weekly staff/business meeting, but this is one of the highlights of my week! As well as praying together, which is always a good thing to do, there is a sense of sharing together and a lot of laughter in our meetings. We've had some rough times over the past few years, and there continue to be pressure points which cause us all stress at one time or another, but there is a sense of not being alone in any of this. The life of a minister can seem a pretty lonely furrow to plough some of the time, and the idea of being in a parish where it is just me with the final say in everything and the minister is the 'Lord High Grand Executioner' and all kinds of leader rolled into one seems a recipe for going either completely power-mad or simply just mad. Of course us ordained types work together with all the people in the Church, and we are fantastically supported (on the whole) by our Churchwardens and Parochial Church Councils - but in so many parishes there is still a 'Father knows best' mentality (even with a woman minister!). To have a feeling of shared responsibility with other lay and ordained ministers, and to have structures which seek to build up lay involvement and lay responsibility may seem like harder work when we get to setting them up and getting them running, but in the long term this shared ministry is liberating for both Clergy and those who are empowered to perform their own ministries through them.

Wasn't planning to write any of that, but that's often the way with blogging.

What I was going to write is that I have a growing sense of anxiety because we are down to two full time ordained ministers for the time being to cover 13 parishes - one of our number is off long-term sick and another on maternity leave - so there is quite a task ahead of us, because even with the able and gifted laity we have in many of those parishes much of the everyday work, and certainly many of the pastoral tasks will fall to me and my colleague. We do have two very talented and hardworking voluntary ministers (known as NSMs - Non Stipendiary Ministers, ie unpaid) but as they are in their first year of ordained ministry they are also being trained 'on the job'. So it comes down to the two of us to take on much of the day to day responsibility for running and supporting these parishes. I've done this before, when it was down to me and the team Rector to cover for about 10 months, and i remember just how much hard work it was, and how things got somewhat stretched and certain things fell through the net. Something tells me that prayer will be an (even more) important part of the coming months...

Sunday, January 28, 2007

This week's sermon - Epiphany 4

As I spent so long trying to put this together, i thought i would share this sermon. It's pretty contextualised, in that I wrote it for one particular parish and a lot of the stuff in it speaks to that Church, but there may be some stuff of value in here that you can draw from...

Epiphany 4 (2007) Year C RCL Principal

Readings

Great is Thy Faithfulness – and love

God is faithful. That’s why we gather here today, that – I hope – is why we meet together for worship any week. We bring testimony as to times in our lives when we remember God is with us through thick and thin. We praise God for his love and faithfulness towards us through, as one hymn says ‘all the changing scenes of life’.

So I want to take a theme which comes, I think strongly, from our Scripture readings for today – the theme of faithfulness.

Now it is easy for us to miss the importance of the story from our Gospel reading taken from Luke Chapter – we probably know of the story, some of us will know the song of Simeon very well from our Evensong upbringing – indeed we have already said it this evening ‘Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word…’ - commonly known as the Nunc Dimitus.

But if we take time to look into the story, we will see that it is a story about faithfulness, firstly as Mary and Joseph bring their infant son to be presented to the Lord – obeying the law, the standards set out in the Hebrew Scriptures regarding the firstborn. These are the standards that we catch a glimpse of in our first reading for this evening, where the glory of the Lord fills the temple in response to the people’s faithfulness. This law is there to encourage the people to be faithful – something which the prophets remind them of again and again. The law is not there to bind people in regulations, but to inspire them to serve God with the whole of their lives. Within these traditions we see that observance of the law becomes more important than the God who graciously gave the laws, and this is something which Jesus so often rails against.

Then the Gospel passage, we hear about these two older people who were at worship in the temple, both of whom have something to say about Jesus. But have we really considered what Simeon and Anna were doing there at the temple?

They were waiting. Faithfully, watchfully, waiting for the fulfilment of God’s promises to them. Simeon expected to see the redemption of Israel and the promised Messiah before he died, and believed that God had promised this, and went to the temple to wait on the fulfilment of that promise.

Both of them, we read, were faithful, spending their days in prayer and worship. They were obedient to the law in their religious observance, yet they were inspired beyond the law to be open to God’s voice through the Holy Spirit. They were patient, knowing that God had something for them. They were expectant, it wasn’t just a case of hanging around for something to happen, they knew that they were going to meet God in a new way, and to see the fulfilment of God’s promise.

We seen in Simeon someone who was filled with God’s Spirit – the Gospel writer makes the point that this is why Simeon was there in the temple. Likewise it is implicit in the way that the Gospel describes her as a ‘prophetess’ and in the way that Anna begins speaking about this newborn baby that she too has that gift of the Spirit which enables her to discern the truth and to speak out in faith.

But more important that all of this was their obvious love for God in their openness to God’s plan, and their patient waiting and lives of prayer. And just as they were faithful, so too we see that God is faithful – he allows both of them to see the promise fulfilled, the one who is the Messiah, the Saviour of the World, right in front of them. God allows them to see the love He has for the world in the form of God made flesh in Jesus.

It is this faith, hope and love which abide for Anna and Simeon. It is this faith in God, hope in his promises and love of God which must be the benchmarks for our life together in Christ, in this Church.

As we celebrate and share God’s love and faithfulness together, as we hope for our shared life in Christ to grow and to spread that life to those in our community we are gathered to praise God for his faithfulness and to offer ourselves again to him.

My hope is that our worship is week by week, month by month, year by year, is a celebration of God’s goodness towards us and also a time to commit ourselves to our living God again, and to ask what he would do with us. God has shown us in the past that he will be with us, God will be with us in the future.

And it is to that future that we now turn together. We are I believe called to seek a vision for this Church, for our journey together. I believe God wants this Church to grow and move forward together. I don’t know what shape that will take, but I do know that in order hear God’s voice we need to pray, to wait expectantly on him, to continue to trust in his faithfulness, to trust in his promises, and to love one another, our neighbours, our selves and our God without reservation.

Like Simeon and Anna we must remain faithful – holding fast to the promises of grace that God has given in Scripture. Holding on to those traditions which build us up, and being willing to boldly move together where God is calling us. We cannot just hope that our Church will continue as it always has done, but we together must work to serve our community in our expression and living of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I say again, we must pray, we must be open to God’s love and guidance and we must continue to serve our neighbours and friends in the name of Christ.

It has been a hard few months for our Churches in this team, and looks like things will be difficult, particularly as your clergy are stretched more and more by the demands of our parishes and by being down on Clergy numbers. There have been some particularly demanding pastoral situations in some of our parishes over the past few months, and I will confess to being somewhat tired myself after all that has happened. But I can say that I know that God has been with us, he has been with me, and that God is faithful and continues to be faithful.

The same God who has sustained us through good and bad in our lives, the same God who has sustained this Church through many generations of worshippers and many struggles in its life in this parish is the same God who will be with us whatever we encounter next – the same God who we must trust to guide, lead, strengthen, encourage, sustain and bless us as we face whatever the future holds together.

As Anna and Simeon were faithful, expectant, and open to God, let us ask for the grace, for the touch of God’s Holy Spirit, to inspire this faithfulness and love in our hearts and our lives. Let us be overwhelmed by such love. Let us again turn to the God who loves us with such complete self-giving love. In our daily lives of prayer and Christian living, in our relationships with those within and outside the Church, let us seek to be those who are faithful and open to the calling of God and the voice of the Spirit as we seek God’s guidance.

ha ha ha

Thanks to Margaret for posting this...

More of the same at Reverend Fun

Favourite Poem

What am I, After All?

What am I, after all, but a child, pleas’d with the sound of my own name? repeating it over and over
I stand apart to hear—it never tires me.

To you, your name also;
Did you think there was nothing but two or three pronunciations in the sound of your name?

Walt Whitman (1819–1892)

I love this poem - but like any good work of art, i couldn't explain why.

Not sure whether or not this is copyright - i got it from a poster on the London Underground! If I need to acknowledge copyright or remove this please let me know.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

meme-ing with a vengeance

Thanks to 'the old fart' i have another meme, and liked it so much i decided to overwhelm my blog with two in one day... here goes

Twenty Five Questions


1. If you could build a house anywhere, where would it be? France, probably in the Dordogne

2. What’s your favorite article of clothing? my T-shirt which says 'fat bikers bounce better'

3. Favorite physical feature of the opposite sex? Eyes

4. What’s the last CD that you bought? Can't remember, might have been Frank Zappa - Have I Offended someone

5. Where’s your favorite place to be? Home

6. Where is your least favorite place to be? In the car, in a traffic jam

7. What’s your favorite place to be massaged? Shoulders

8. Strong in mind or strong in body? Mind, body getting stronger

9. What time do you wake up in the morning? about 7am, though by choice it would be about 9am, but the world doesn't work with my preferred hours (late at night, late in morning)

10. What is your favorite kitchen appliance? Cafetiere

11. What makes you really angry? Injustice, bigotry

12. If you could play any instrument, what would it be? Piano

13. Favorite colour? Purple

14. Which do you prefer…sports car or SUV? Motorbike - just to be awkward.

15. Do you believe in an afterlife? Yes.

16. Favorite children’s book? Professor Branestawn

17. What is your favorite season? Summer

18. Your least favorite household chore? Ironing

19. If you could have one super power, what would it be? Not sleeping

20. If you have a tattoo, what is it? Yes, cross on my right bicep

21. Can you juggle? No

22. The one person from your past that you wish you could go back and talk to? Grandfather

23. What’s your favorite day? Sunday

24. What’s in the trunk of your car? guitar & music stand

25. Which do you prefer, sushi or hamburger? burger

Shoutout to The Old Fart and Quilldancer

No more memes for a while, i promise

New books on sidebar

Have had a little changeabout, added a couple of links and changed some of the books under my reading and recommended list. I still recommend Brian McLaren's Generous Orthodoxy despite many people seeming to get all hot under the collar about it - I thought it was well written and engaging and thought provoking. Like most books I read I didn't agree with everything in it - but then i don't tend to choose books just to re-inforce my prejudices, but to widen my perspective. The books in the sidebar link to Amazon UK, you obviously don't have to buy them from there, but the reviews are sometimes quite helpful and prices good. If you get the chance, go and check them out at your local SPCK or Wesley Owen stores... or any good bookstore!

Stuff people do in blogs

having done my first meme (below) I have been thinking about all the stuff people do on their blogs as little rituals which come up again and again. Recently encountered 'wordless wednesdays', 'leave a comment Monday', and 'weekend winks' - I know there are more, but I can't remember them offhand. I wondered if I should start anything like this. I have already mentioned copying Dr John's 'leave a comment Monday' - mainly because all though lots of people visit this blog and quite a few stay some time - comments seem to be few and far between. Other ones I thought of copying were 'wordless wednesday' - but that might involve finding some interesting pictures and might be far more effort than me and my stream-of-consciousness typing. How about 'Theology Thursday' or 'Freaky Friday' - though I tend not to write on Friday's as I am off with the family that day (so 'family Friday' it is!). Ummmm - trivial Tuesdays (some completely random fact)? Saucy Saturdays (a picture of a different condiment posted regularly)? Sabbath thought Sundays (something extremely holy each week)? Manic Mondays (my diary list)? Wobbly Wednesdays (a different picture of me at the gym weekly - yeuchhhh!)?

Maybe I will just stick with my general randomness

But every day can be 'leave a comment day'!

Never done a meme

So here's my first....

taken from Dr John, who likewise took it from Catch

A quick translation - we don't have high school here in the England in the same way, we have secondary school and in some areas of the UK we have sixth form colleges (16-18 year olds) - at 16 (or so) we take GCSEs (we had 'O' (Ordinary) levels) in various subjects which are chosen aged 14. Mine were English Lit and Language, Religious Studies, Biology, Maths, History, Art, Drama. Then lots of kids leave school, but if (like me) you could stay on and do 'A' (Advanced) level subjects. I did Religious Studies, History and English. There were also 'AS' levels (Advanced Specialist) if you were really quite good. I did a religious studies AS. I should also say that I stayed in the same school for all my exams up to the age of 18 as we had a 'sixth form' as part of our secondary school.

It's all changed since i were a lad (makes me feel really old saying that) - there are many more vocational qualifications available now, and wheras you could do 'CSEs' instead of 'O levels' if you weren't necessarily up to doing o levels now the whole system is one GCSE qualification with more levels and layers than we had... Also higher qualifications are now split into AS levels as an initial qualification which can be continued up to 'A' standard. There are many further complications to the system such as NVQ's, Vocational qualifications, International Baccalaureates, Highers and more...

All this just to get this meme done...

Grad Year: 1987

1. Who was your best friend? Mark Gibson

2. What sports did you play? Bad at everything. Liked Hockey and Swimming, discovered weight training in 6th form which I wish I had kept up,

3. What kind of car did you drive? None - didn't learn to drive until i was 23. Parents had a selection of old bangers including a 'Vauxhall Victor' which was memorable for being like a tank.

4. It's Friday night, where were you? Church youth group (more fun than it sounds)

5. Were you a party animal? Yes

6. Were you in the "In Crowd"? I was an in crowd all by myself, unfortunately no one wanted to join... Actually i was part of various groups who were all 'in' in some way or other.

7. Ever skip school? Only with good reason - though sometimes I would use free periods to go to the local town and play pool

8. Ever smoke? Yes, but not much, and took it up when i got ordained!!!

9. Were you a nerd? Not really.

10. Did you get suspended/expelled? No, was a bit of a goody-goody, though did get threatened by a teacher for sending a letter to a local TV station which mentioned his baldness.

11. Can you sing the alma mater? Is that like the Macarena?

12. Who was your favorite teacher? Crosby Chaksfield. Great name, great bloke!

13. Favorite class? Religious Studies or drama

14. What was your schools full name? The King's Grammar School, Ottery St Mary

15. School mascot? No, I wasn't.

16. Did you go to Prom? No, we don't have that kind of thing. Did like school discos though.

17. If you could go back and do it over, would you? Probably.

18. What do you remember most about graduation? Don't do graduations for secondary school. Graduated from university and I remember being stuck in the back of a very small car (my mother's mini) with my then girlfriend Jo (now wife) to get the ceremony.

19. Favorite memory of your Senior Year? Being allowed to go the drama studio when there was no one there and play music loud through the music system.

20. Were you ever posted up on the senior wall? No idea what that means, but don't remember being posted on any wall.

21. Did you have a job your senior year? Yes, i tended bar at a pub in my hometown.

22. Who did you date? Mandy.

23. Where did you go most often for lunch? School cafeteria

24. Have you gained weight since then? And then some.

25. What did you do after graduation? After 'a' levels I moved to the North East of England to be a school's minister (a Volunteer Assistant for Scripture Union in Schools) then went to University to study Theology and Drama for my Batchelor's degree.

That's it.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Issues based religion

I don't get to spend a lot of time surfing, usually i read the blogs in the sidebar every few days/weeks and a few most days. When I do surf a bit - as i did between taking my daughter to school and going out on my first visit of the day this morning - i am amazed and disappointed by what people narrow faith down to - as if God's only concerns were the teaching of sex education in school, or homosexuality, or whether Creation happened in six days, or whatever - this kind of issues led religion seems to me in direct contrast with a Christian faith which believes that God is somehow intimately involved with all of creation.

I can see the need to raise awareness of certain political, social, ecological etc issues as part of our faithfulness to the standards of the Gospel, but to judge whether or not someone is a 'sound Christian' by their response to one or two issues is to miss the diversity and disagreement that comes from God calling us to be ourselves within the body of Christ not a homogenous blob of humanity who all think, act, believe the same. I would probably be considered very liberal by some of my Christian sisters and brothers, and very conservative by others - I like to think that this is because through my own prayer, study of scripture, intellect and faith i have come to some understanding of what I believe.

There are certain issues where I would say that I have come 'under the authority of scripture' or 'under the authority of the Church' where my own inclination might be to do things a different way. There are, I believe, many issues where I can't just say 'well you believe what you want' because I think the standards of the Gospel and of Christian faith give us certain principles to live and act by - but at the same time I am willing to listen and respond to different viewpoints, to integrate this within my own understanding and interpretation of the Bible and the teachings of Christian faith - and not judge others by their disagreement with me or my own opinions about Christianity. And though I think i am quite a tolerant person, i am intolerant of intolerance - and bigotry and prejudice...

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Why would i need to study?

For the grand total of $29 I could get a doctorate from the Universal Life Church - all those hours of thinking and writing cut out and a lovely certificate to boot...

Thanks to Nick Page for the link...

Blink and you'll miss it

Sun's come out, snow's gone.

Snow

Admittedly a rather pathetic dusting of snow on the ground, but enough to get the kids v excited! It also meant the first 'wrap up warm' day of the year, so out came the hat, gloves and scarf which very rarely make it out of the cupboard (I have the wrong shaped head for a hat as fashion accessory, gloves and scarf get in the way usually - but when i need to wear them all i really enjoy it, odd, eh?) .

Jack, who was two last week (oops, forgot to mention that) was very distressed that I kept him in his pushchair all the way to school and back whilst taking Katherine there. He's now off with the childminder who has promised to let him play with the snow in her back garden. I am just about to prepare the assembly for the juniors (8yrs+) at the school as we continue the theme mentioned a couple of weeks ago, Jesus' job description, this week on the theme of 'comforting the sad'.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Needing a good clear up

One of the positive things about having our small youth bible study group meet in my study is that I need to get down to clearing up my paperwork, sheet music, guitars and general bumpf at least once every two weeks. I would also like to air the room out a bit but it is too cold to do that and the heating here isn't the most efficient or useful - need to retain every bit of warmth i possibly can.

The temptation is to take that form of clearing up called 'Zen Pilemaking' - which involves creating a sense of serenity by ignoring everything that needs sorting and just making piles of papers around the room. It keeps the mind clear of pesky admin and enables the pilemaker to feel that there is a certain order within his or her universe. This is the path which i have chosen for this afternoon.

I'd better get a move on, though, as the children will need picking up in about 20 minutes, and once they are home there isn't much chance of getting much done - and then i have to go out for a meeting early this evening which will go on until quite late.

I don't really want to go out at all, because some form of winter seems to have finally arrived in East Anglia and though it's not really much of a winter - chilly rather than cold - i am feeling quite comfortable at the moment and will reluctantly have to leave here. 17 minutes to go now before the 'operation child retrieval' kicks into action.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Not done myself a mischief...

I thought i might be blogging as i tried to prevent myself slipping into a coma this evening - but my trip to the gym was fun, and involved no injury, strain or damage to myself at all. Not even my ego was bruised, as I managed a fair showing on all the equipment without either falling off or not being able to complete assigned tasks. I was by far the most large and wobbly person there, but it didn't matter, I enjoyed it and look forward to trying to fit in regular visits over the coming months. When i turn all svelte and sylph like i will plaster my blog with pictures of the new me...or maybe not.

I did manage to fit in a working day around this, so please don't think i was slacking off!

Pastures new...and old

No, I'm not planning on finding a new position (though I jokingly mentioned looking at the jobs section in the Church Times newspaper to my colleagues this morning). I am off in a moment to the gym for an induction into the wonderful world of 'on track for fitness' or something like that... I've not actually been for a workout more than twice since my daughter was born (over five years ago) wheras i used to go three or four times a week - of course i was about sixty pounds lighter then, its piled on over the past four years or so. So now I have decided (with the support and encouragement of Jo) to try and get back to some kind of fitness. The nice thing is that I've not felt any 'compulsion' or pressure to do this either from myself or my wife, its more that this would be a good thing to do and i have always enjoyed working out... It is a new gym, or health club, or whatever it's called and it is quite different from my last one, which always makes me nervous - i have been a member of about half a dozen gyms over the past fifteen years and there is something about going new to one which always makes me anxious.

Also, I sent off last night for details of a Professional Doctorate course at the local theological federation in Cambridge. I have been considering trying to get back into academic study for some time and really enjoy it and the feeling of being stretched by it, so this very exciting course - which involves study alongside ministry, would be good if it seems the right thing to do. It would again be something that i have done before (Academic work, my Masters was from the same place) and a new approach. So pastures new and old indeed.

I'd also like to play the piano and get some proper guitar lessons, but that will have to wait I think...

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Today

Been a good day today, after a grumpy 24 hours or so i apologised to my wife, who bore the brunt of my lack of sleep a couple of nights before - no big bust up just a general bad temper on my part!

Services this morning were rewarding - good turnout for the 8.30am Communion and a good response to the sermon (printed below). 10.30 not such a good turnout, but a relaxed yet fun family Communion service which even the traditionalists seemed to enjoy.

This evening's duties shared out as mentioned previously I got to go and play guitar for the evening worship session at which the Curate spoke well, as always. I gave her the subject of 'Jesus and relationships', as we continue our series on the nitty gritty of what Jesus said and did, expecting her to talk about juicy stuff to do with sex and sexuality, and she actually spoke on the whole attitude Jesus had regarding his relationships with others as shown through his parables, teaching and lifestyle. Very well done, but it has made a later talk in the series redundant 'Jesus and family' because it was covered well this evening... Perhaps I should change it, as I mentioned to someone after the service, to 'Jesus and family planning' and give the subject to one of my colleagues...

Did have fun playing the guitar, too!

Well worth a listen

Jeff's Weddle's sermon on why Church building's aren't as important as they are often made out to be is great, it's challenging and well expressed IMHO. Go listen to it here. But (particularly if you have a Church building you are proud of) expect to feel uncomfortable.

Forgot to respond

to Dr John's comment on Saturday's post...

Wouldn't want anyone to think i don't think comments are important!

I am an Anglican Minister - and think that in lots of ways I'm pretty conventional, though apparently I'm not. Perhaps worth giving a bit of my background here... Some of this may be repetition, as i think some time ago I gave a potted history. Or as i like to say, my life in links...

One of 17 kids (spread over two families) I was brought up in a 'non-religious' home
but was sent off to Sunday School at our local Congregational Church (part of the Reformed movement, most of which are now officially linked with the Presbyterians to create the 'United Reformed Church', though Honiton has stayed independent and called itself an 'Evangelical Congregational Church) I stuck with it even when my parents said I was free not to go (which my older siblings took advantage of as soon as they could) as long as I kept out of their way on a Sunday morning and gave them some peace and quiet.

Came to faith at 11 years old with the 'Covenanters' in that Church, and got more involved in Church life. Moved to Independent Baptist (Charismatic) Church at 15, then went off at 18 to be a Schools Minister with 'Scripture Union in Schools'. Whilst there i joined an Evangelical Church of England Congregation which led, whilst i was off studying Theology and Drama as an undergrad, to being confirmed into the C of E and there have i stuck! In my time as an Anglican I have been part of Chaplaincy to Imperial College, London (both as a lay and ordained minister), Curate of a Suburban Church (Hampton, on the outskirts of London), Assistant Priest in an Anglo-Catholic (High Church) C of E parish (South Kensington), and Team Vicar in Rural Cambridgeshire. I studied Theology for Ministry at Westcott House Cambridge, and did an MA in Pastoral Theology to keep my BA in Theology and Drama company whilst there...

That's me in a nutshell. I am an Anglican, mainly because of the diversity in my own denomination and a pastoral setup that gives us the responsibility for all people in our communities, not just believers (as a point of interest I am not meant to turn away anyone who comes with Children for baptism, or anyone who wishes to be married (for the first time) or anyone who wishes me to do a funeral service, as long as they live within my Parishes).

But, inasmuch as denominations matter, above all else I am a Christian!

Here's the more later

At the end of my last post i said i would probably say more later - so here it is! Actually, here is the sermon i preached this morning at the early communion service.

Readings for this Sunday

Epiphany 3 (2007) Year C RCL Principal

Agendas

The idea of agendas is something of a preoccupation with our society. We constantly hear in the news that ‘The Government has placed such and such at the top of the political agenda’, or that ‘Mr Blair has the general election as his only agenda’, or that people have hidden agendas, that there is a ‘globalisation agenda’ operated by some multinational companies. The word and the idea of ‘agendas’ is bandied about constantly.

It’s not a bad idea, it gives an idea that there some reasoning behind the actions of those in authority. It has negative connotations when it is associated with secrecy or conspiracy, a way of manipulating and deceiving.

Well, the Church has an agenda too. It’s not hidden, it’s not devious and it’s not complicated. That agenda is to show the love of God to the world in which we live and to make Christ known.

And in our readings today there is a clarity about what is really important in the Christian Faith. It’s a sort of ‘no-frills’ stripped down approach to Christianity – and as such it’s appropriate to start with Jesus’ statement of intent made to the synagogue in Nazareth at the beginning of his public ministry – as recorded in Luke’s Gospel.

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,” says Jesus, reading from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. This is an echo of the Baptism of Christ which we celebrated just two weeks ago, where the Spirit of God descended upon Christ and showed God’s blessing on him. That same Spirit had led Jesus into the wilderness and sustained him through the temptations. The same spirit is mentioned at the very beginning of today’s reading – “Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee.” Luke tells us. This repetition of the same phrase is a constant reminder firstly that God’s blessing was upon Jesus, and that he did nothing apart from the sustenance and guidance that His Heavenly Father provided.

Jesus continues with the Prophet Isaiah’s message saying that
“…he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”

It is a simple message, and one that draws us back to the foundation of all that Christian Faith is about – but at the same time it works on two levels.

Firstly Jesus did indeed bring good news, release, recovery of sight, freedom – he performed healings and miracles that were signs of God’s kingdom. He proclaimed a message of justice and righteousness that moved beyond simple religious observance to an everyday faith that was to affect all that his followers did and said. This Good News is about the way we live our lives, about making real the values of God’s reign – about helping the poor, caring for those who are in need, working to free the oppressed.

On another level Jesus came to bring Good News to those who are impoverished in Spirit, release to those who are bound by sin and captives to the way of the world, to bring new vision to those who are spiritually blinded or blinkered, and to free those who are oppressed by the evil that exists in our world.

It’s a double message, one of practical action and spiritual hope. It sums up the ministry of Jesus – a man who was unafraid to speak out and act against that which bound people physically and spiritually. It reminds us as Christians that the very basis of our faith is found in lives of faith and action, of being Christians who put their words into deeds.

And that leads us on to the life of the Church. Jesus left the disciples with a message to go to all the world and proclaim this message. Just a matter of weeks after he left his disciples the Church began, and was meant to be the model of how this message could be made real. The Church is called to be an example of these principals spelt out at the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry.

But how does this begin? How does the Church make this real?

Well it starts with community, with loving one another. The reason the Christian Church grew and grew can perhaps be summed up in this phrase – look how these Christians love one another!

St Paul is keen to stress this. He uses the intimate illustration of the Church being a body, bound together, knit together, as closely as the parts of any body are. This body, he says, has one head, and that is Christ himself. But within that body every single part is essential – not one part lower than any other.

For St Paul this message is paramount, that Faith in Christ, the Faith of Christ, makes a new community, a community of love and of shared Faith. This community is to be without division, it is to respect each and every member, it is to be filled with those who rely on one another, who trust one another and who love one another. There is to be no division based on race, or background or status – all are equally valued, all are equally needed.

And this offers us food for thought regarding the Church today – and indeed the Church in our Villages, in the Papworth Team. It should make us think about our unity, and whether we are truly living out the ideals which are meant to characterise the body of Christ.

This has implications for our worshipping life, for our social action, for our social interaction, for our life in these villages, for our relationships with other denominations, for our prayers, for every part of our Christian life.

We have been called to be a body, not distinct entities who just happen to turn up in a Church building once a week or so. So we must start considering what that might mean for us. Is there any way in which we can make the ideals set out by Jesus and by St Paul any more real in our lives? Is there any way in which we need to move forward in order to achieve the standards which are set before us?

I am constantly pleased to find the amount of commitment that many have to the life of these villages communities and to the place of the Church within that life. I am constantly cheered by the goodwill that exists towards the Church in these villages – but we need to think about what we should be doing next. How can we reach out? How can we draw people in? How can we be a genuinely Christian Community?

It will begin with us here, committing ourselves to each other and to the message that we began with. It will start with a love that is genuine – and then we will be able to speak without embarrassment about the faith which is the foundation of this community.

We don’t need to be ashamed of our faith, we have a Gospel to proclaim – Gospel, meaning of course ‘good news’ – why should we be worried about how people might react to that? Let’s be bold about our faith, and honest about our hopes and fears, and move forward together in the faith which binds us together in love. Let us ask for that anointing of God’s Spirit that will allow us to do all that God calls us to do, and to be all that God longs for us to be.

And let us, in our own lives and in the life of our parish Church, become the answer to the prayer we pray whenever we gather, and one which we pray constantly ourselves.
“Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
It is only through us, the body of Christ, that we are going to
“…bring good news to the poor…
proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
… let the oppressed go free,”
and
“…proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”

That’s the agenda of the Christian Faith…

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Saturday...

Not a terribly interesting name for this post, but am feeling a slight creative block at the mo...

Yesterday spent, as days off should be, with family, mooching around Cambridge with wife and son, then when daughter came home we had supper together and played for a while until bath and bed time. Quiet evening in. Very relaxed, very enjoyable. Needed some peace after this week.

Didn't sleep well, though, and woke up with sore shoulders, neck and back due to tossing and turning and general wakefulness. I've finally got that cold which has been hanging around for ages and waited to come out until i had a restful day!

So feeling a bit tired and grumpy today - not at anything in particular, just run down, i guess. Have to do all the usual planning and preparation for services tomorrow. A couple of Communion services, one of which is a 'family communion' and our informal service in the evening. Another member of the ministry team is speaking in the evening, and one of our lay leadership team is heading up the preparation and leading for that service so i will enjoy playing guitar and generally joining in for that.

Tomorrow's readings are good ones to prepare a service on, certainly the Gospel reading which i mentioned a few posts ago, some of which thinking may well crop up again in sermon preparation. Let's just pray that 'the Spirit of the Lord is upon me' as i prepare! More later, i expect.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

A good farewell

The funeral this afternoon went well, at least as well as these things can. After being blown around a bit by the gales which are currently besetting the British Isles, about 280 or so people filled the chapel at the crematorium to capacity, showing how popular this young man whose life we celebrated was.

My concern was that we balanced our sense of loss, which was very palpable, with a sense of gratitude for all that he had given in his nearly 16 years in our lives. I think I managed to do that as best I could, and the contributions from the other full time ministers in our team, who both took part in the service, meant that it was an appropriate and meaningful farewell, and commendation of this young man into the arms of God.

i was very moved at the slideshow which was projected onto the wall of the Chapel where we had the 'wake' after the service. What made it all most real to me were pictures of this lad and his sister playing together when they were the same ages as my own daughter and son, and I realised just how real this all was. That's not to say that i was detached or unconcerned before that point, but that the reality of the love we feel for our children and the pain of losing them became a very visceral thing at that point.

i was encouraged, though, by the depth and strength of support for the bereaved family shown at the funeral and by many in the lead up to the service. These local communities have really shown their best side by the complete self-giving that has come about as a result of this tragedy as in both great and small ways people have sought to offer comfort and help to this family. If anything good can come out of such a tragedy this is it.

The funeral and wake was followed by some time at home, where i made a great fuss of my children, and then a Parochial Church Council meeting, followed by a trip to the local hostelry, where a pint or two was much appreciated.

So, that was my day. how about you?

Well, it's here

The funeral of the young man killed on a local road is in an hour and a half and i have managed to get some thoughts together. One of the joys and privileges of the Church of England setup, especially in villages, is that we get to know people in our communities in a way that not all ministers have the opportunity to. I am still very much a 'parish priest', out and about spending time in people's everyday lives, being there at important times in life, in celebration and in sorrow.

Having been here for six and a half years it means i am now doing weddings of young people who were teens when i arrived, and baptizing their children. It also means that i am taking funerals of people who i know quite well. Today's funeral is one of those.

Thanks Louise for your comment on my last but one post, the problem i have had is not one of being distant from this young man and his family but actually knowing them well. It is also the second funeral of a young person who has died in tragic circumstances in the last six weeks or so. Even those of us who are used to seeing death and its effect on those left behind relatively frequently can't become immune to the sadness and loss that comes with it - I guess if i did it would be time to give up what I am doing! So now i am off to the local crematorium to lead this service to say goodbye to a quite remarkable young man.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Another Dave Walker classic


cartoon from www.weblogcartoons.com

Cartoon by Dave Walker. Find more cartoons you can freely re-use on your blog at We Blog Cartoons.

Can't think of anything to say

Heading says it all really.

But this is not just with regards to putting a post up, but concerning a funeral talk i have to prepare for tomorrow. It has been quite a wait (nearly two weeks) but we have the funeral of the lad killed in a road incident tomorrow and having spent the morning putting the shape of the service together i am now trying to get some thoughts together. It isn't often i suffer from writers/speakers block on such an occasion but today the thoughts aren't flowing. It's not that i have nothing to say, but almost that i have too much...

Will have some breakfast (not got around to that yet) then go and visit the family, perhaps that will help.

Is it just me or does the word 'siezing' not look quite right in my post heading a couple of days ago? Seizing doesn't look right either, but my spell check tells me this is correct. Perhaps i should have checked before posting! Can't be bothered to change it, to be honest.

Comment, if you like...

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Interesting reflection?

When I mentioned recovering lutheran's comment in my last post i realise that i responded only to the negative implications - what was actually said was 'In my opinion, the best and worst adverts for Christianity are frequently pastors.' and i responded perhaps in a slightly defensive way to the idea that pastors are a bad example of christian living, wheras the comment implied we can be good examples too!

Perhaps this says something of my perception of other people's perception of ministry...

Thanks again for the comments! By the way, I do like comments! Dr John has a 'leave a comment Monday' - and is honest about his desire to have people comment even if it is inane or odd, I would echo that and say, please comment - I will try to respond, you might even get a post of your own in response! Perhaps I should start a leave a comment day? Or just beg every day?!

Just another day

Actually there is no such thing! This morning I went to the assembly put on by the senior class in the local primary school. Every week there is a 'community assembly' to which all parents, and the local villagers, are invited...

Actually, that phrase 'local villagers' does have connotations of pitchforks and torches turning up late at night, not that i am at the stage of deserving that quite yet.

Anyway, lots of people turned out for today's assembly despite that fact that it had been moved from its normal Friday slot to a Tuesday in order to show the Ofsted inspectors (Government educational standards inspectors) just what we do in terms of opening up to the community every week. It was well supported, and a very good assembly put on by class 5. The only hitch was that everything they tried to project from the laptop came out blue for most of the assembly.

At coffee afterwards I got chatting to one of my fellow parents, and we found ourselves talking about 'religion' and 'faith' - not unusual when i wear my clerical collar out and about. It was a very worthwhile conversation, and i really enjoyed it - as i always do when anyone shows a desire to ask questions and consider important issues in life. It also makes me think about what I do believe and why I care about what I care about! Hopefully this conversation will continue...

Thanks to Dr John for comments on my last few posts, and for saying nice things about the sermon! Thanks too to Recovering Lutheran for the comment, I agree about pastors often being bad examples of christian living - recently on Jeff's blog he was saying how annoyed he gets at whining pastors (he's a minister himself) - and there are lots of reasons why pastors may 'distill disfunctionality' in terms of what being a Christian can mean. I do think, though, that the public nature of the pastor's office means that people will criticise ministers for being relatively normal: getting angry, not having all the answers, being tired etc etc in a way that isn't actually a reflection about a pastor's faith, but the expectations laid upon her or him.

But I know there are bad ministers too. And I do not pretend to be particularly good at this ministry lark, but by the grace of God I keep going and keep hoping that I'm doing the right thing some, or most, of the time. Other than that I keep in mind the magnet on our fridge 'if you can't be a good example - you have to be a terrible warning'

Monday, January 15, 2007

Sermon

So you thought you'd got away with it - aha, no such luck. Here's my sermon for my early service yesterday. A bit about John 2.1 - 11...

Epiphany 2 (2007) Year C RCL Principal Service

Feasts & wonders

As you will know by now, in me you have a very human Vicar! In the past three years rural ministry has presented me with a very steep learning curve, and I’m still learning (and still making mistakes!) – but that’s all part of what it means to be a human being.

And being human is an important part of being a Christian. That may seem a strange, or obvious thing to say, but I don’t know if you’ve ever had the experience of doing or saying something that has had the reaction from other people ‘and you call yourself a Christian’. As if being a Christian meant that we didn’t feel angry, or hurt, or confused, or have a sense of humour. As if being a Christian made us into ‘religious robots’ who all think and act in a certain way.

Nothing, of course, could be further from the truth.

Being a Christian is about being human, indeed it is about becoming human. It is about becoming the people God wants us to be. It is about discovering the truth about ourselves, about our world, and about that which is beyond this world.

And the reason I say that being a Christian is about being and becoming truly human is that by the very name we take – Christian – we dedicate ourselves to following the one who called himself the son of man – or the human one as it says in some translations.

And in the story we have today, the very well known story of the wedding in Cana of Galilee we are given, at this the start of Jesus earthly ministry, a glimpse of the one who shows us the example of being human, and who shows us what God looks like when God becomes man.

Whilst preparing this sermon I found some notes from John Wesley’s commentary on John’s Gospel, and concerning this theme he writes
From Wesley's Notes
"Christ does not take away human society, but sanctifies it. Water might have quenched thirst; yet our Lord allows wine; especially at a festival solemnity. Such was his facility in drawing his disciples at first, who were afterward to go through rougher ways."
Jesus celebrates what it means to be human, by encouraging the celebration to continue. Not only did he allow the celebration to continue, he improved it with the best wine in vast quantities (someone who is much more mathematically minded than myself once told me that the six stone water jars represent about 1200 bottles of wine in our measures) In a way it seems to be God’s seal of approval on something that is rather everyday, a marriage – it offers a blessing to human life and human society that reflects the value God gives to human beings.

Of course the greatest sign of how important God believes us to be is to be found in the next chapter of St John’s Gospel – Ch 3 v 16, I expect you all know by heart.
“God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life”
Yet it is amazing how many people see Christians as something less than human. As if we don’t know how to enjoy ourselves, as if we aren’t affected by the trials of this world in the same way as them, as if we are distanced or separate from this world by virtue of our hope for the next world.

I have to say that I think some Christians don’t do the Christian Faith any favours by presenting a front of ‘being saved’ in a way that won’t let them admit to being disturbed or hurt by the world around them. In my own experience the best and worst adverts for Christianity are Christians themselves.

Another commentary I read on this passage, by someone called Jerry Goebel, said that Jesus didn’t stage this event, he was called on to act, and did so somewhat reluctantly – but he took the situation and turned it around. It seems to me that this is very good description of what it means to be human.

I don’t believe that Jesus knew in advance what was going to happen to him – as if everything in his life were mapped out and he just had to fit into the plan. Though I know a number of people who are quite shocked when I say that. Some people cannot believe that Jesus didn’t know what was going to happen – because he was God and God knows everything.

Well I don’t disagree with the statement that Jesus was God (I’d certainly be in the wrong job if that were the case) – but the Bible is absolutely clear that Jesus was completely human, like we are but without sin – as the letter to the Hebrews puts it.

To be like us Jesus had to deal with life as it appeared, hence the response to his mother ‘woman, what concern is that of mine, my time has not yet come’. Jesus was discovering his own mission and ministry – believing that there was still something to happen before he started on his public work. It turns out that this sign, the changing of water into wine, was going to be the beginning of his work – and through which his disciples had their faith strengthened and believed all the more. It turns out that Jesus learns along the way, and that his time had come and he acted.

Of course, in reflecting the nature of God in human form Jesus acted in a way that mirrored God’s extreme generosity and love of humanity, putting into a very human format the infinite love that God is. This abundance of wine is like the abundance of grace God lavishes upon each one of us, like the gift of the spirit that is promised to everyone who believes.

Still this is a very human story, the ordinariness of a wedding, the eating and drinking, the way that Jesus and his friends are sharing in the celebration, even Jesus’ reactions all seem to reflect very human experiences.

And the great sign of water being changed into wine, points towards God’s grace and also gives a foretaste of the heavenly banquet. In the same way that God through his grace and love, gives us a glimpse of the celebration which we will all share in at the end of time here, today, in this Eucharist!

In Christ God draws us to himself. Through the life, death and resurrection we are also drawn into being who God truly wants us to be – we are drawn to being fully human – saved, sanctified, renewed and filled with God’s grace. That calling should draw us into a fuller appreciation of all that God has given us here on earth, and should also inspire us to draw others to share in that fuller humanity which God offers to each one of us. And we should celebrate! I want to finish on a lighter note with something I found on a biblical scholars website whilst I was researching some more ideas for this sermon – it is a paraphrase:
Mother! Here you go messing in my business again. They don't need any more wine. After all, they have been drinking over a week. This is precisely the kind of occasion for which God made grape juice. After all, this scene must look very proper, because the stories will be here to preserve it as an icon for Christian marriage. Now leave me alone.
-- Jesus did not say this at Cana

Siezing the moment

You have to grab the time you have, i think. Yesterday after a good early Communion service (very traditional, small but attentive congregation) we had a Baptism service for a child in a local village (anyone want to debate the merits of infant baptism?) It was sparsely attended by the regulars, most of whom were taking a post Christmas break or recovering from the enjoyable but exhausting 'praise party' led by Children's minister Doug Horley (aka duggie dug dug), but we had a friendly and slightly bemused but willing baptism party consisting of about forty folk. It all went well (though I think my sermon was a little on the incoherent side) and I then found, surprisingly, that I was free for the rest of the day - very unusual on a Sunday - so i spent the rest of the day with my family - hooray!

We went out for lunch, then we had a visit from family for a couple of hours, then we had some supper together, then I got to do the kids baths and stories/prayers with daughter (mum did stories with son!), then a some relaxing, a bit of telly, and generally a chill out.

For most people this may not seem a terribly interesting day, but for anyone in ministry to be able to go to church then relax is a treat. So much so that i thought it was worth posting about. Again, another reminder of how much the ordinary can be special. But that's a sermon in itself.

Friday, January 12, 2007

The joy of reading

I didn't get to post yesterday as i was rather caught up in preparations for the funeral of the young man who was tragically killed in a road accident at the end of last week and for whom we had a time of memorial and prayer in one of our local churches. I was glad that we had decided to do this as over two hundred of his contemporaries, friends, teachers, family and those who had known and grown up with him in our local communities came to pray, chat, light candles, leave flowers and messages and sign the book of condolence for the family. It was a moving and inspiring time, and a reminder of how even a short life makes an impact upon so many.

Anyway, this morning has been something of a treat - my wife has taken smallest offspring off to see grandad and retrieve one of our dogs from its seaside holiday for the day and my little girl is in school for another couple of hours so i had the morning to myself - and i just sat down and read. Now, as regular visitors will have grasped, I read a lot, and often wade through some quite powerful and solid theology in order to keep my brain ticking over amongst all the 'must do' demands of everyday ministry. But it is rare that i get to sit and plunge into a novel for three hours straight and get about two thirds of the way through a story in one sitting. This morning was, therefore, exceptional. It wasn't a worthy novel, or very funny, in fact it was quite a departure from my usual fare, being one of the Tom Clancy 'power play' series called 'bio strike' - something of what we brits would call a 'ripping yarn' - with sometimes overly great detail of everything from molecular biology to cryptology (it feels a bit like the author feels the need to use the shed loads of info given by his junior research assistants and smacks of being 'too clever by half'.) That said, the pleasure of diving into another world for a few hours, albeit one of intrigue and shadowy dealings, made me think just what an amazing gift the written word is, and how the imagination can be fired and inspired by well written story. There's something about about our calling to be gospel storytellers in that, but as it is my day off I will leave any theological thoughts until later...

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Drawing attention

I have to draw attention again to Dr John's blog link in sidebar. Pigeon Falls has a touch of Lake Woebegone about it and is always worth a read and always brings a smile. Dr John already has quite a following and doesn't need my help, as such, but the blog is such a gem I have to encourage you to visit it...

Got me to thinking

I am preparing my assembly for the local school this morning, and it is called 'Jesus' job description'. The job description it uses is this statement at the beginning of Jesus' ministry - that he read in the synagogue concerning himself.

Luke 4
16 When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:
18‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
19to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’
20And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21Then he began to say to them, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’


And what I thought, and am thinking, and will continue to think is -
How well does the Church fit into that role? What good news do we bring to the poor? What captives are we releasing? Who is it that is blind that we are giving sight to? Or whose oppression are we addressing? And what does it mean to proclaim the Lord's favour?

It strikes me that we spiritualise everything in that list and seem to act in terms of bringing life to the spiritual poor, sight to the spiritually blind, freeing people from captivity and the oppression of sin (or at least trying to point people to the one who does). But actually Jesus didn't qualify it in that way - and in his life and ministry set about doing things which changed people's real, solid, physical lives as well as opening their eyes to the deeper life which God offers. I think by only looking at the spiritual implications of this we are impoverishing the Gospel message.

My thoughts for today. I am happy to get comments on this - even if you disagree (or perhaps especially if you do).

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

My brain hurts again

Not through reading incredibly dense theology, just trying to keep up with all that needs doing at the moment. I have a visit to do this afternoon, to the family who lost their son, but i also need to prepare the materials for our youth group meeting this evening, and get to the supermarket to get refreshments for that group, I've spent the morning doing publicity for our continuing series of talks on Jesus as well as publicity for the youth group and for the family service and baptism which takes place this Sunday.

Alongside this my study really needs a good tidy up, and i need to get some filing done, and i need to do my expenses for december before i really annoy the treasurer (again). I should note that we have an incredibly helpful and patient treasurer!

All in all this is just an explanation as to why i am not posting anything of depth and significance today. Its not a complainy type post, just an informy type one.

Hope you are all having a good day...

Monday, January 08, 2007

Did i tell you?

The pointless drivel church podcast is now up and running with our first three nattercasts (a more accurate description than podcast). We've not actually posted anything since the end of October, but an hour and a half is probably quite enough of us warbling on for now...

We aim to post regularly for 2007 when we just find enough time to record the next ones.

www.pointlessdrivelchurch.org.uk

Theology to make your brain melt



I am reading a book at the moment which is serious stuff! I haven't read a book like this for some time and it is incredibly challenging and very rewarding indeed! If you've never read any academic theology this is not the place to start. If you like Barth's writings and want to look at things in an even deeper way then this is a great book to be going on with.

I am preparing a review for this book, which is one of the books it has taken me longest to review since I started reviewing for Christian Marketplace magazine. I will not use the brain melting phrase in that review, nor am I going to give too much away now. It is a good read and worth the effort.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

A sermon for Ephiphany

We have transferred our celebration of Epiphany to this Sunday as it is an easily neglected festival in the Church year, so here is a sermon I wrote for Epiphany a couple of years ago, as I had a baptism as my main service this morning and didn't need to write a full sermon for that - I spoke about being a light in the world instead (appropriate for Epiphany and Baptism)

Anyway, in order to prompt (perhaps) a little thought here is that sermon...

The wise still seek him…

I don’t know if you noticed a few years back, but there was a glut of car stickers and posters outside Churches all over the country with silhouettes of men on camels and the words ‘Wise Men still seek Christ’ printed in large letters.

There are still a few of the stickers and posters around, but they’re not so popular now – apart from the fact that something that seems clever at first soon becomes hackneyed and slightly wearing – they are also slightly dated by the fact it talks about ‘wise men’. Perhaps an updated version should say ‘The Wise still seek him’.

Anyway, the reason for thinking about the ‘wise men’, or ‘Magi’ as these travellers are known is because, as I’m sure we all know, today is the feast of the Epiphany. This is the day we usually remember the coming of the Magi to worship the new born Jesus, and a the time where we ‘wrap up’ the Christmas season (no pun intended) – this being twelfth night, it’s time to take the decorations down, get rid of the tree and hoover up the pine needles. It is the end of Christmas-tide, and we look towards the next feast, the presentation of Christ in the temple at the beginning of February.

Epiphany itself means ‘coming of the light’ or ‘the revelation’. It is actually a reminder of the Christ the light who comes into the world, and as such goes back to the words we hear from St John’s Gospel on Christmas day, about the ‘true light which illuminates all people’ coming into the world.

The feast of ‘Epiphany’ is used to remind us that Jesus was revealed not just to the Jewish people as their Messiah, their saviour, but to Gentiles – represented by these travellers from the East. It is a reminder that God’s message of hope was, and is, for all people. It is a reminder that none are excluded from God’s plan, that all humanity are invited to be a part of the life of Christ that comes from the revelation of Christmas.

But there’s more. Epiphany reminds us that this revelation is not something to be taken for granted, something that comes lightly or easily. I mentioned in my Christmas talks that it was only through the faithfulness of these ‘magi’ that they had the opportunity to share in the great events we remember each year.

The journey these wise men undertook would not have been easy, to come ‘from the East’ to Israel is a long and difficult trek – through difficult terrain, much of which was unknown. The hazards were many, exposure to the elements, passing through strange and unusual cultures, being open to attach from bandits – the list goes on.

And what was it that drew these travellers? Did they have proof of what would be at the end of their journey? Were they given cast-iron guarantees about what they would find? Promises of bounty and reward for all their effort?

Well, the Bible says that all they saw was the single, miraculous star. The interpreted it as a sign that an ancient promise had been fulfilled, and set out to find the meaning there. They were willing to risk all they had, to leave behind all that was familiar, to open themselves to something new and different, all because they believed that God had made a promise.

Their story is one of seeking, of searching. Which is why I started with our car sticker. ‘The wise still seek Jesus’. Seeking suggest being active, Christian faith is something that does not just land in our laps, it involves seeking and searching. Christian faith involves being willing to move from where we are to where God is leading us. It means being willing to let go of our securities to set out on a journey of faith, which will be an adventure, which may well change our lives and indeed change us.

For those of us who have been brought up in the Church this can come as a bit of a surprise. Many of us believe ourselves Christian because of our Church attendance or because that’s how we were brought up. But Christian faith is all that and more, we must commit ourselves to the journey, to taking the risk of faith, to being open to God. We don’t absorb faith by osmosis, but we need to take that step of faith that sets us on that journey to seek and know God, through his son Jesus.

The difference today is that we will not be considered ‘wise men’ (or women) by many of those around us. Those who take the Christian Faith seriously are not seen as wise by the standards of our society or the standards of many of our friends and colleagues.

To be a Christian today is to risk being laughed at, to risk being an outsider in a world that is more concerned with money, power, prestige and popularity than with repentance, Christian discipline and learning to listen to God’s Spirit.

To be willing to ‘take up our cross and follow Christ’ is beyond the understanding of many people who share our lives. Being a Christian is not an easy option, and on the face of it, not one that seems sensible. And being willing to stand up for what is right, even when it opens us up to criticism and ridicule, might even seem to be a stupid option.

But the wisdom of Christian faith is deeper than conventional wisdom, it’s the wisdom of doing things the way God calls us to, and in the process of doing God’s will we will become closer to God, and reflect the life and love of Christ. It’s a wisdom that confounds convention and that turns upside down the values of the world we live in.

And unlike the magi, we do have an idea of what is at the end of the journey, the reward of meeting Christ, of seeing him face to face. We can share the life of Christ here and now, we can have the faith, hope and love that only God can give. This is more precious than anything else our world has to offer – it’s not as obvious as all of the things that society seems to think is important, but it is infinitely more valuable and worthwhile. There is nothing that compares with knowing God, and sharing in the depths of his love – with being a part of the life of the Spirit and of being made one with Christ, one of the family with God as our heavenly father.

And so this new year, my prayer is that we can all commit ourselves again to seeking Christ, to learning God’s wisdom, and to being open to the life of the God’s Holy Spirit – that our Christian life in these parishes may grow and blossom and that more and more may see the truth and the life which only God offers.

Amen!

Saturday, January 06, 2007

There's a painful irony here...

Having spent my past few postings reflecting on my family and the positives of that (not so many of the negatives, though like all families there are difficult times) I had to go this afternoon and visit a woman whose 16 year old son was killed yesterday in a hit & run. Of course there are no words to say, and having known the family for a few years now all i could do was say (repeatedly) that I'm here.

It just makes you reflect on how precious people are, and how fragile.

Enough for now.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

It was inevitable, really

Thanks to Tom and Louise for comments regarding the last two posts, especially for the really encouraging one from Louise about the blog generally - sometimes I wonder why I do this - whether it is about ego (probably), keeping up my writing (definitely) or just to reach out and say 'hi, lets look at things a different way'. I don't spend a huge amount of time blogging, and quite often use stuff I have prepared for other contexts, but now I feel a renewed sense of purpose and value to it!

Now, as was becoming obvious, time for the third instalment:

Things I do because of my kids

The influence, over the past five years or so, that having kids has had on me is tremendous. I know that parents go on and on about how it changes your life and there are lots of jokes made about lack of sleep or lack of sex life or lack of freedom (i think most of these jokes are more about expressing angst re: parenting than actually having anything funny to say!) but there are some things which come from not necessarily having children but working with them, listening to and sharing with them and generally taking note of them. These may seem a bit more obvious than some of my previous thoughts over the past couple of days, but i am going to write them anyway.

Be open to wonder - the world is an amazing place, remember this at all times
Laugh - a familiar theme, methinks, but I love the amount of laughter there is in our house, over anything and everything.
Cry - no point repressing everything.
Dance - even if you are round and not at all co-ordinated. It's not about looking good, its about having fun.
Take risks - everything is scary to start with, but the more you try, the more you get out of life
Reject things which taste nasty - even if someone tells you it is special. But be willing to try them a couple of times before making your mind up.
Ask questions - and keep asking them if the answers don't make sense, no matter how annoyed the person you are asking seems to be getting.
Sleep well, and whenever possible - clear consciences and a willingness to conk out when you are tired are invaluable.
Let people know when you think something is unjust - be willing to say 'it's just not fair'.
Eat together - meals alone, even with the TV on just aren't as good
Value rituals - even little ones - a candle lit at supper time, books read before bed, prayers said before sleep.

Give me a few more hours and I could go on even more. Reflecting on this stuff over the past few days has been a really moving experience, and made me realise just how fortunate I am to have had to the life I have, and the people who've shared it. I may well have more of these 'things I do because' to do, but for now I will leave you with these three...

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Things I do because of my wife

As part of what is now a mini-series...

I hope she realises it (I've probably said these things over the years, but one wonders how explicit one has been) but my wife has been a good influence on me. So here's some ways in which she has changed me in her own subtle way.

Respect for people - listening to what they say, and what they don't. Concern for how others feel, think and what their needs are.
Being prepared - knowing that things need doing and being ready to do them.
Lists - they are, despite my protestations, a good thing.
Laughter - there can never be too much.
A passion for justice - a love of the planet, for the disadvantaged and for fair trade
Hope - my wife is a person who continues to hope and inspires me to do the same
Honesty - always
Grappling with doubt - about faith, life, people. It's never something to ignore or pretend isn't happening.

Again, this is a list which could go on and on - but these are a few of the things which make me who I am, and perhaps you might be inspired to think about what makes you who you are too!

I should say that anything that seems to contradict my last post doesn't really (the being prepared my wife inspires me to and the not planning that comes from the chaos of a huge family sometimes conflict, but they are different sides of the same coin - I could go on about something Jungian like shadow-side inclinations etc but won't)

I should also mention as an (important) afterthought that I also now remember to put the toilet seat down when I've finished!

Things I do because of my parents

OK, have no idea where this came from, but thought i would share a few things about things that, on reflection, i can pinpoint in my life which are due to the influence of my parents...

Accept people as they are - have an only slightly cynical approach to life, but will try never to jump to conclusions about people
Not bitch and moan about life in general - stuff happens
Put on weight - damn genetics and calories in beer!
Love my kids completely and utterly - which also means, i now know, not letting them act like little so and so's
Not plan things - as I grew up in a house with 9 kids and mum and dad (8 of the kids had moved out) there was no real hope of having anything sewn up, but life was taken as it comes (see stuff happens above)
Think seriously about life, whilst enjoying every minute wherever possible - 'nuff said
Want to celebrate Christmas in a certain way - not going into detail about this, but it has taken me 14 years to convince my wife that stockings are for grown ups (I mean Christmas Stockings) and selection boxes are an appropriate part of Christmas giving, this year was the first year it worked.... All the other stuff would take a lot of postings to get through.
Laugh, a lot - you've got to laugh, really
Love honestly - no pretence
Be willing to deal with the unconventional, especially in human relationships - a selection of relationships, marriages, children etc in my family life growing up means that the whole nuclear family thing isn't the norm in my experience, and it means that i have no problem accepting whatever works for folk. It makes me somewhat non-judgemental (and in the eyes of some 'moral Christian folk' completely unsaved) in many respects.
Drink alcohol - the irish side coming out
watch TV too much - well, too much is a relative term
Cut up the plastic things that hold beer cans together - this was, i remember, what set me off thinking about all this to start with, my mother has always cut up the plastic that holds together cans (not just beer, soft drinks and, um, other stuff too) because birds that forage at landfill sites can get their beaks stuck, or something like that, anyway, i now do it as a habit

So that's a little bit more about me, makes a change from theology at least, now, tell me a bit more about yourself...

PS this list could be much longer, but i need to go to bed

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Didya miss me?

That's a rhetorical question, so don't bother answering. Actually, looking back over the comments for the past few weeks, there's little danger of anyone saying anything anyway! Have I offended someone?

So, Happy New Year and all that. Having had a few days off I am raring to go, but not for another day or two... Tomorrow is sorting out day, when i put all of the Christmas services, sermons and 'stuff' either a) in files, b)in the recycling or c)in the bin. It takes a day to get things back together, as in the last week or two leading up to Christmas things just get dumped as i dash between services and events and I then have all the joy of working out what needs keeping or throwing before getting back to work after Christmas.

Over this past week or so i have made a real effort to read a book which threatens to melt my brain due to theological overload. The title 'Job and the distruption of identity: reading beyond Barth' doesn't seem like necessarily the most gripping, and i should have read this months ago as it is a review copy for Christian Marketplace magazine, but the book itself is fantastic. I've not done such sustained theological reading and thinking for some little while, not in this style anyway. Most of my theological reflection is practical and pastoral, with a fair amount of reading about the nature of 'church' and lots of consideration as to how we express being 'church' today. I don't often get back to barth, but have remembered how much I like and am stimulated by his theology - so am on the lookout for a set of the Church Dogmatics, just to keep the grey cells working.

You may hear more of this or it may, like so many other subjects i mention, vanish into obscurity over the coming days and weeks.