The narrow way leading to…

Over the last few weeks our outlook on life has shrunk. Whereas just a few weeks ago we could come and go as we pleased, not just here in our country but around the world.

Nowadays that world seems different, smaller and somehow more fragile. It brings into perspective how despite all our apparent progress how vulnerable we really are.

For us here at St. Mary’s our church is closed.

And all of us spend our time at home, our freedom is restricted.

Consequently, the world looks different and our outlook on life has shrunk. Perhaps it’s inevitable for though wonderful acts of kindness and generosity have been manifest amongst us, at a time like this we tend to focus on our own concerns and worries.

From the practical – will have enough food to eat?

Will I have work, get paid, pay the bills.

To the profound – what shall I do with all this time, or even will I survive this?

These questions are seldom asked for we have become accustomed to a life of plenty and an abundance of opportunity.

Whilst we hope and pray that these days will soon be forgotten the feelings kindled by them find echoes in the story of Jesus.

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“Not a very tactile Vicar!”

“You’re not a very tactile minister are you!” were the closing words after visiting someone a few years ago. Perhaps they expected a hug when I left. And whilst I know I’m not a ‘hug a vicar’ type of cleric, I’m really not averse to a hug or putting my arm around someone as a sign of my support for them.

Over the last few weeks as we have struggled to cope with how to respond to Covid 19. The handshake which in our Eucharist symbolically expressed our desire for reconciliation and to be at peace with our neighbours was suspended.

It’s felt strange not to enact the words with that simple gesture, for actions in some ways do, as saying goes speak louder than words.

In the Gospels many of encounters Jesus had with people involved touch.
He touched people to heal them.
He washed people’s feet.
He was a very tactile Saviour.

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Nomads, chameleons, pilgrims.

“Thank goodness that’s over with!” a colleague of mine said that as one year we packed away the Christmas decorations in our office.

Christmas has gone in the blink of an eye, the retailers know it, the programme schedulers know it. The lights and decorations may have been packed up for another year (or will be ) but still, the crib scene remains.

The season does not end so abruptly here. We still have an opportunity to gaze at the crib scene. Today marks not an ending, but a beginning of another journey.

Today we begin the Epiphany season – shifting from rejoicing at God’s coming among us to reflecting on what it means – to us and to the life of the world.

We know well the story from the gospel of the Wise Men or Magi who first visited the Christ Child to “pay homage”, but what did it mean then and what does it mean for us now?

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Intended for good and pursuing love

There are two strands, that I hope connect at least a little that I want to explore a little this evening. The first is about Joseph and his remarkable story.

He was a beloved son, adored by his father but hated by his brothers. They beat and abandon him in a ditch. He is sold into slavery.

He ends up in Egypt and becomes the trusted number 2 to Pharoah. He meets his brothers again who come to him for help. He is reconciled to them, and is reunited with the father who thought he was dead.

In the reading this evening Joseph is looking back over his life following the death of his father Jacob.

He reflects on his betrayal by his brothers who fear that once their father is dead he might seek retribution. But he says these remarkable words to them ‘even though you intended to do harm to me. God intended it for good.’

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Faith is…

‘We believe in one God, maker….of all that is, seen and unseen.’ These are words from the creed that we shall say in a few minutes.

I often dwell on these words for it’s encouraging to me that in the midst of words that seek to define and pin down something of what we believe about God there is still a space for the unknown.

‘We believe in one God, maker….of all that is, seen and unseen.’

The first sentence in our first reading from the Letter to the Hebrews says something similar ‘Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

Here the writer of that letter wrestles with the nature of faith, and writes of a ‘conviction’ that the presence of God is pervasive, even in the ‘things not seen.’

So, both those who fashioned the creed and the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews knew that whilst they wanted to say something about God, that which is ‘seen’ they also needed to leave space for that which is unknown about God ‘the unseen’.

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Beatitudes, Wilberforce, Greed and Changing the World

On Thursday night over the last few weeks I’ve been leading a small group sharing in one of the Pilgrim course modules. We’ve been thinking about the Beatitudes and had some interesting discussions.

One of the most interesting things for me has been how I’ve carried those remarkable few verses from St. Matthew’s Gospel around with me over these last few weeks. I’m not quite sure why they’ve got so under my skin, but one reason might be because they set before us Jesus’ vision of a world transformed.

A world in which we are not slaves to our base instincts, needs and desires rather a world in which all have a place to flourish and grow.

Spending time with the Beatitudes has reminded me how often my life doesn’t reflect the challenge to transform the world contained in those few short verses

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Joseph – Jealousy, betrayal and us.

From our first reading Reuben said ‘So now there comes a reckoning for his blood’(1)Genesis 42.22.

Joseph’s brothers of which Reuben was one had seen ‘that their father loved him more than’ them so they ‘hated him(2)Genesis 37.4. This hatred once kindled likely grew over the years.

Then there comes an opportunity to rid themselves of this ‘dreamer’(3)Genesis 37.19. And though he survives, Joseph is beaten and thrown into a pit, sold to the Ishmaelites and taken to Egypt.

There in a strange land he forges a new life. He grows in favour with Pharoah who puts him ‘over his (my) house’, so that ‘all his (my) people shall order themselves as Joseph (you) commands’(4)Genesis 41.40.

It’s a remarkable reversal of fortune. But the story doesn’t end there. Joseph and the brothers who abandoned him are destined to be reunited.

And that’s where we pick up the story in our first reading this afternoon and in these my words, I want us to reflect a little on the emotions likely present in that reunion, and how they might speak to us today.

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References   [ + ]

1. Genesis 42.22
2. Genesis 37.4
3. Genesis 37.19
4. Genesis 41.40

Growing in our need of the one thing.

Mention the word growth to a group of Vicars, and you will see some whose hearts sink, and some whose ears prick up.

I have certainly been at the meetings when my heart sank, mainly because it tends to revolve around a rather narrow vision of what growth means at least in the church. But beyond the dear old C of E as an institution, what might be the signs of growth amongst us.

Waistlines, yes some of us can point to growth there. The number of tablets to be taken, yes that too is probably growing for some of us. The numbers of children and grandchildren, yep more signs of growth.

But what about knowing, loving and following Jesus? How many of us would say that this is an area of growth for us? What might we say if confronted with one of those dreadful multiple-choice questions? How are things with Jesus for you?

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