Four Weddings and a Funeral

In the early 90’s the film Four Weddings and a Funeral was a great success. It was the movie that launched Hugh Grant’s career as he tries to find love.

It was successful, it seems to me, because it wasn’t just a conventional chick flick. It was a film which alongside the joy of life, the weddings; recognised that every story no matter how we might wish otherwise doesn’t always have an apparently happy ending.

If you remember at one of the four weddings, which is taking place in the picturesque Scottish Highlands, one of the main characters collapses and dies. It was a moment when to use some words often used at funerals ‘in the midst of life we are in death’ ring true.

I guess we all know something about that of how in the midst of life, when everything else seems to carry on as if nothing has happened, something profound has happened. Life has been wrenched from someone we love and nothing will be the same again. Continue reading “Four Weddings and a Funeral”

The Brief Encounter Patchwork

The God who draws us here this morning is the God of brief encounters. In that, although God’s presence is constant we are limited to glimpses and hints of his life and love in the world, brief encounters.

And the God of brief encounters is present in the lives we lead and the patchwork of brief encounters that make up our lives. Of course some of these brief encounters turn out to be rather more, the first date that turns into marriage for example.

But sometimes they are just a few minutes and I guess all of us if we think back over our lives we can all recall brief encounters which have shaped our lives. Moments that have enriched our living as we are encouraged or inspired.

Let me share one example from my story. I remember meeting the great jazz and rock drummer Jon Hiseman, who at a concert made eye contact with this young drummer and then spoke with me, made me feel important.

But there are also difficult brief encounters are also often vivid memories. When we receive bad news from a medical professional for example. These few minutes in a life of thousands of minutes, are vivid and often perfectly recalled.

Just this last week I was with someone as they recalled with great clarity some of the most traumatic few days of her life.

Brief Encounters good and bad are etched on our minds. Continue reading “The Brief Encounter Patchwork”

And what now?

Those of you who have heard me preach at weddings will know that one of the things I often say is around the love they proclaim for each other at these steps being made real in the ordinary sometimes humdrum stuff of daily life.

The wedding day has occupied much of their thinking over the last few months and it is when things return to normal that they really work out what marriage is all about loving and cherishing each other amidst the dishwater and the to do list.

Now there is a parallel for us here when we think about the great Christian festivals we celebrate year after year.

At Christmas we’re invited us to renew our understanding of the miracle of the incarnation. Of how God in Christ took flesh and lived as one of us.

Then at Easter we journey with Christ through his passion, his death and ultimately his resurrection. A Holy Week indeed inviting all who believe in him to see the depth of God’s love, a love that even death cannot defeat.

Continue reading “And what now?”

Addresses from St Mary’s Quiet Day at Ripon Cathedral

Address 1: Bread as Story

As some of you may already know from the age of 7 to about 14, I lived in Skelsmergh, it’s a small community made up of a few scattered houses and one village just outside Kendal on the edge of the Lake District.

Looking back it was a great privilege to spend some of my formative years in that place, though of course you don’t realise it at the time.

One family had a particular place of esteem in the church and wider community. I spent a good deal of time with during these years. They were farmers and so as a young boy I would spend days and afternoons with them up at Burton House.

What more could a young boy ask than the chance to learn to drive tractors or play in barns and be well fed?

 For food was always plentiful and one of the highlights was Sunday tea. To a boy like me mountains of fly pie, other cakes and especially bread and jam was a glimpse of heaven.

Perhaps heaven might be afternoon tea and the most amazing thing was because they had it early about 4, I could get another tea when I got home. Is it any wonder I am the shape I am? Simply white bread, thick with butter with jam on top, simplicity itself but close to heaven.

For most of us bread, such a staple of our diet, the staff of life as it’s sometimes called is in some way linked to our stories. It’s interesting that the food writer and chef Nigel Slater’s auto-biography is entitled ‘Toast’ for him, as for me, as for many of us memories are formed around this simple food, yeast, water, salt and flour.

So what of your memories, do you have similar memories to me? And what about now, is bread or toast or a teacake the thing you turn to when you need a bit of comfort.

Indeed perhaps the best comfort food might be bread pudding or bread and butter pudding, the best of both worlds but that’s another story.

For now think about how bread is woven into your story, how the smell of toast or a teacake or of freshly baked bread takes you to another time and place. Continue reading “Addresses from St Mary’s Quiet Day at Ripon Cathedral”

Good and Acceptable and Perfect

‘Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God – what is good and acceptable and perfect’
Romans 12:2

At Christmas we Christians are the party animals. We do Advent, full of expectant waiting and then when Christmas comes we sing our carols with hearty voices.

And yet to many we do seem strange indeed, for we don’t conform to this world that has moved onto Easter already (eggs are in the shops – I saw Hot Cross Buns and Mince Pies side by side in the co-op) consequently, we or at least me, we can seem really miserable.

I shall not forget the look of incredulity as I turned up at B and Q on the 23rd of December hoping to find a cut price tree only to find that they had sold them all off the day before for a pound a tree.

The shop assistant said to me “what would you want a Christmas tree now for, mines been up for ages.” I just went aha and left it at that.

I have determinedly not been conformed to this world which celebrates Christmas earlier and earlier but sometimes I end up feeling a right humbug.

I suppose in some way it is a reminder that being a follower of Jesus Christ is in some way about seeing things differently. Continue reading “Good and Acceptable and Perfect”

Our Hopes and Fears

It’s dark outside… The darkness, for some a place of fear… What fears do we carry on our hearts tonight?

For ourselves (health, job, relationships, school)

For our family and friends,

For our nation and world (ebola, global warming, ongoing war, terrible scenes from Pakistan in the last week)

Fear can be a prison, trapped by it yet fear can also be a positive thing…

The Christmas Story doesn’t bypass fear, think Mark, The Shepherds, Joseph

Encounters with God always seem to induce fear

Big moments in life can be a mix of fear and excitement…

when a baby is born… bundle of life… fear of what to do next, when it coughs or cries or whatever…

yet excitement too, sense of awe and wonder and the hopes expressed in that miracle of life

We all have fears, we all have hopes too

What about your hopes? maybe hopes that it will all be ok, that things will work out differently in the next year, that the child we worry about will be happier more fulfilled, that once tired relationships will blossom again.

Continue reading “Our Hopes and Fears”

He’s not the Messiah – he’s a very naughty boy

“He’s not the Messiah. He’s a very naughty boy.” Words from Brian’s Mother in Monty Python’s Life of Brian. Maybe the inspiration came in some way from John’s words today ‘I am not the Messiah.’

The Messiah was the one who was going to come and sort things out, restore the Jewish people and assure them of their special status as God’s chosen people. They didn’t quite get what they expected. We’ll be thinking more about that in a few days.

In the meantime however we think about John mistaken identity and being a witness to another who is to come. For there are parallels between us and John.

Maybe we don’t wear the latest range of camel’s hair clothing at least not in public but we are like him in that in our living we are called to point to the one who is to come. It’s challenging work and so it can sometimes feel that we are like voice(s) crying out in the wilderness. Yet God has and does call and use us to be as Isaiah so wonderfully put it ‘oaks of righteousness.’

The oak, such a venerable tree has deep roots. We come here Sunday by Sunday to worship, pray and have our roots nurtured. So that the branches of our lives, the witness that we offer for Christ can be spread far and wide over our city and beyond.

A 16th century mystic and poet, St. John of the Cross, whom the church remembers today offers us some words to ponder as we think of our witness:

‘for each one of us is the midwife and there under the dome of your being does creation come into existence, through your womb dear pilgrim, the womb of your soul and God grasps our arms for help.’

This is an intriguing image, midwives bringing God’s love into this world. And in faith as God grasps our soul John of the Cross helps reminds us that our arms are like the branches of the oak stretched out in love and service to our neighbours wherever they may be.

That love and service takes many forms but I want to think about two.

At the PCC on Tuesday night as we journey to fashion a vision for our parish for the years to come, a recurrent theme was an anxiety about our limited resources in terms of people.

However our churchwarden Shelagh was able to identify a significant number of people on our pastoral roll who are already involved in all kinds of work, serving our neighbours in our community and beyond. There is much to give thanks for.

Continue reading “He’s not the Messiah – he’s a very naughty boy”

What We Want to Hear – What We Need to Hear

You’re all wonderful and amazing. God loves you. It will all be alright in the end. That’s what most of us want to hear. The words are true but are they what we need to hear?

Last Sunday morning I spoke of the role of friends who act as God’s hands, helping mould our lives and part of that friendship is about them saying to us what we need to hear rather than what we want to hear.

Inevitably hearing what we need involves some kind of challenge or question. It’s not just saying “yes it’s all fine” because sometimes it’s not.

Sometimes we need someone no matter how uncomfortable it might be for us to say “hang on a minute, think about what you’re doing, what you’re saying, this really isn’t ok.”

That is the great merit of Sacramental Confession. It’s a place where we name those things of which we are most ashamed. A time for spiritual honesty.

One of my friends worked with addicts of various kinds and the most important step they take, is to name their problem.

We too, sometimes need to name our sin because that’s what God is interested in redeeming and works with, not who we think we should be, but who we really are.

So whilst we may want to say everything is wonderful really sometimes it isn’t and we need to be honest with ourselves.

Continue reading “What We Want to Hear – What We Need to Hear”