Hefting

Wednesday the 14th April was a good day. It was the day when I packed my lunch and headed to the Lakeland fells. They were somewhat steeper than I remembered. But I was glad to rest awhile on the top of Wetherlam drink my tea and eat my biscuit.

There I took in the view and looked to where I was going next. I saw the valley below and small white dots – sheep.

And what I noticed this time, maybe because I’d not been up there for a while was the absence of walls. The sheep could wander where they liked, so I wondered how the farmer knew where to find them.

And then I remembered that sermon my Dad preached here recalling how he went from being an urban vicar in Southend on Sea to a country parson in Cumbria and learning about hefting.

Hefting is the means by which sheep don’t wander off. It described how they learn to belong. Doing a bit more research I discovered that it’s something learned long ago, when sheep on a patch of land were heavily shepherded and learned where their home was.

Once they had learned it, it became part of the sheep’s memory and so was passed on from ewe to lamb.

Consequently, all these years on it appears they are left to roam free. It looks like they can go wherever they want, except they don’t they know where their home is.

And hefting it seems to me has something to teach us as we ponder this Gospel in which Jesus describes himself as ‘the good shepherd’ and plays with that imagery to help his followers understand who he was.

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For fear.

Alleluia. Christ is risen.

He is risen indeed. Alleluia.

Keep your voice down someone will hear. At least that’s the response I imagine in the scene before us in today’s Gospel for ‘the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews.’

It was finished, or so they thought – they were still reeling from Mary Magdalene’s proclamation that she had ‘seen the Lord.’ Left wondering how could that be?

This morning we find them afraid of being found and facing the same fate as the man they had followed. So, ‘the doors were locked for fear’.

This image of locked doors seems so apt for us at the moment. Especially as we recall that tomorrow the locked doors of shops, and gyms and pubs (well, as long as you are sat outside) will be opened again.

And we, a little later than some churches will open our doors next Sunday for public worship, and it will be good to see some of you again, although facemasks and distancing and not singing will be with us for a while yet.

And as the vaccination continues to be rolled out, the locked doors of many in our neighbourhood will be opened again to family and friends. And yet I suspect we shall continue to live with some degree of fear.

For- some will fear what opening their doors will look like, having avoided supermarkets and trips out for over a year but beyond the pandemic we fear all sorts of things.

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Sometimes things don’t turn out as we expect…

Sometimes life takes a surprising turn. That can be a good thing. Think of Captain Tom Moore who at almost 100 years old started pottering about in his garden and then raised millions for the NHS.

But it can a bad thing too. Think of the last year, and the how plans made have been postponed or abandoned altogether.

Sometimes we can be surprised when but then things don’t quite work out as we expect, and here we turn to our Gospel this morning as we think of the PTC.

The PTC, the Parochial Temple Council who thought that a few tables selling things would both help those who went, and make a bit of money too – to help pay for the new roof or whatever it was.

But then it all got rather out of hand. A few tables became a thriving marketplace. And so coming to the temple became less about worship and more about an exchange of money.

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Living the Transfiguration

Train from Leeds to Edinburgh. Edinburgh to Glasgow. Glasgow to Oban. Ferry from Oban to Craignuire. Bus from Craignure to Fionnphort. Ferry from Fionnphort to Iona.

It would have taken less time to get from Leeds to Paris than from Leeds to Iona. But when I boarded the ferry for the short crossing to the island. Tears ran down my face. And I had a strange sense of homecoming.

Whilst I run the risk of being an Iona bore – I know this is not the first time I’ve mentioned my pilgrimage there. It is relevant for today because Iona has become for me a place of transfiguration because I don’t think I really got what it was about until then.

For it seems to me that this moment described in our Gospel this morning in which Jesus is revealed with startling clarity is not just a singular event but part of an ongoing revelation given to invite and encourage us to see things differently as we go about our daily lives.

And that’s why I began with Iona because there I learned about this. For there the normal pace of life is suspended; you stop rushing about and take the time. To truly see the person before you. To savour the bird song. To appreciate the light. To see more deeply. To listen.

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Step in. Step out to see the big picture.

Most of the time we live just getting on with life. Wake up. We get up. We step into the day with its tasks and challenges. We eat. We drink. We rest. We go to bed and so it goes on.

But then occasionally, hopefully we sometimes step back too and consider whether we are in the right career, or the right home, or even the right relationships. We step back to consider the big picture.

It’s true of our life with God too. Much of the time we get on with it, we say our prayers perhaps, read the Bible, come to church, receive the sacrament. e step into our life with God daily.

But then every so often, if we are wise we step back and consider how that life with God is going perhaps accompanied by a friend or counsellor, whether we feel God close or distant.

Sometimes this stepping back happens painfully when we are confronted by something specific our mortality, an illness or a grief for example.

But it can happen at other times too, when we reach a significant birthday for example, or as we pay attention to an underlying sense that we are not as fulfilled as we might be.

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Party People still?

If we were to undertake a survey to try and discover what people have missed most since we began this journey we are on. I imagine the answers would include, seeing friends and family, having a hug, family celebrations like christenings and weddings and anniversaries and birthdays and so on.

And we miss these things so because fundamentally we are made not to live isolated lives (as I am at the moment having tested positive for the virus on Wednesday last week) distanced from one another but to be together. To be in communion.

In the story of creation as we have it in Genesis we read that ‘the Lord God said, “It is not good that man should be alone;(1) We are meant to be together. 

And whilst the Gospel for today often comes round at this time of year, it feels a bit as though its rubbing salt into our wounds at the moment. For we have not been together, we have not had a party to celebrate for ages, birthdays of note have passed, anniversaries celebrated differently.

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References

References
1Genesis 2.18

Who do you think you are?

Who do you think you are? We are a people immersed in story

‘Who do you think you are?’ asks a television programme that explores some celebrity stories. From Judge Rinder to Ian McKellen. Mary Berry to Julie Walters.

What often makes the programme memorable is how relevant and helpful it is for people to learn how something of their ancestors’ story lives on in them. Of how they shared similar interests and motivations – knowing about them helps them know more about themselves.

As the youngest of six children I didn’t know my Mum’s parents at all. And though I knew my Dad’s indeed Nanny came to live with us for a time they were aged and not so interested in a youngster.

So, most of my sense of those who went before me comes in the form of the memories of others. Of hearing their recollections about what they were like, what they did and so on.

For example, there’s the entertaining Uncle. The not so nice Great Grandfather. The deaf Aunt with a lovely smile. I’m sure you all have similar stories to tell.

And to return to that beginning and the question ‘Who do you think you are?’

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Experiencing God

Why are we here? What’s the point of life? These big questions have been around since our beginnings and we all ask them at some point in our life.

Whether it’s the child becoming an adult, or the adult confronted by the cruelty of life as they grieve a loved one – why are we here is a question that persists.

In the ancient world the Greek culture was one in which these kinds of philosophical questions were discussed.

Learned men (as they were then) gathered at the Areopagus in Athens to engage in dialogue and it is where we find Paul in our reading from the Acts of the Apostles.

I imagine him to have listened to the different discussions learning about the different strands of Greek culture and belief. And yet he is there not just to listen but to speak and so is asked ‘May we know what this new teaching is you are presenting.’

Paul’s speech begins by identifying their devotion to the search for meaning. He directs them to consider an altar he has seen dedicated to an unknown God declaring that ‘what therefore you worship as unknown. This I proclaim to you.’ At the end some scoff but some want to know more.

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