Glastonbury and Abiding

Ten days ago I spent a couple of nights in Glastonbury.    Aside from the music festival, a quick walk up the Tor years ago and the existence of an Abbey, I didn’t really know much about the place.    I left feeling it was a strange place.

For I’d never seen someone hug a tree before – I did at Glastonbury.    My friend watched as someone poured water on a random stone and proceeded to march around it making a droning noise.   I learned too, about ley lines which are I quote ‘spiritual and mystical alignments.’

At Glastonbury there is a strange mingling of pagan, Christian and all kinds of other practices in one place, a place for searchers.    For those who might be described as spiritual but not religious.

Perhaps if Paul were there today he might have begun with similar words to those we heard in our first reading.    “People of Glastonbury (rather than Athens), ‘I see how extremely religious you are in every way.’

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Sermon Easter 3

‘Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened.’

These words began the Gospel reading for today, a Gospel which as I’ve thought about it has shaped me both as a person, but also as a priest.    For the themes of the reading have seeped deeply into how I understand ministry and the church I’ve been called to serve.

So it’s perhaps not surprising that it finds echoes in our vision statement here at St. Mary’s, words written first on the back of an envelope that you find everywhere, on our posters, on our newssheet, on our website and so on.    It’s one of those things the incumbent bangs on about.

Hopefully you know what I’m talking about, so please can you join me and say the words (if you’ve forgotten the words are on the Sunday Sheet) that St Mary’s is a place ‘Where all find a welcome and are nurtured in their journey with Christ.

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Not a happy ending, but a new beginning

Have you heard the one about the couple who decided to go to church on Easter morning? When they got there a sign on the door said, “He is not here – he is risen”.

When I taught RE, we used ‘The Miracle Maker’ – a fantastic film of the gospel story, which the children loved watching in installments week by week. One year I had a new child in my class – who hadn’t already done 4 Easters in a church school. She watched the crucifixion scene with real horror, on the edge of her seat – and then rushed up to me saying…”It does have a happy ending doesn’t it?”

A happy ending – it is easy to see Easter morning and the resurrection as a happy ending. In churches the world over the liturgies of Holy week have helped Christians journey with Christ. We move from the triumph of Palm Sunday to the quiet meditation of the beginning of the week. To Maundy Thursday with its sense of Jesus’ approaching death, the uncomfortable beauty of foot washing, the awareness of impending betrayal. Through Good Friday when we can only kneel at the cross in awe at the depth of God’s love for us. Through the emptiness of Holy Saturday…

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Good Friday Sermon 2017

Last night I said that the addresses for then and now would be about hands and feet.   Last night we thought about hands Jesus’ hands broke bread and passed the cup.

Jesus hands washed the disciples’ feet.    St Paul handed on to us what he himself had received, the Eucharist in which we recreate that last night and receive Christ into our hands.

And then comes today, Good Friday.   On this day we turn our attention to feet, to journeys, to the cross, on those who fled the scene and those who stayed.

In the three and a bit years of Jesus’ life we know something about he spent a lot of time on his feet.    He lived the life of an itinerant preacher, walking from town to town.    There were no cars or buses.    Riding on a donkey was about as luxurious as life got, so he spent an awful lot of time on his feet.

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Maundy Thursday Sermon 2017

I want to use hands and feet as the glue to bind together these my addresses for tonight and tomorrow.

And though it may be feet that are foremost in our minds tonight, its hands I really want to think about, for they are mentioned in both our readings.

St Paul said ‘I received from the Lord, what I also handed on to you.’

Then in the Gospel ‘Jesus knowing that the father had given all things into his hands.

Hands of course tell something of our story.   Sherlock Holmes would likely be able to deduce more or less everything about us from them.   They certainly tell what we do for a living.

I used to work for a firm of Agricultural engineers, in the stores.    So I know that farmers and mechanics have hands that tell what they do.   The hand cleaner could never get rid of the muck or the calluses.

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Choose Life

“I wanna tell you a story” are words forever associated with Max Bygraves.    And though his is an unlikely name to hear in church, these were words that came to mind as I spent some time with that familiar story from the Book of Genesis we heard earlier.

All of us have been weaned on stories of one sort or another, if we were lucky we had parents who read to us, perhaps at bedtime.    It’s a shame I don’t get to read to my boys any more, I used to enjoy it and the stories we read often help us to understand the world and our part in it.

The story of Adam and Eve is a good example, it’s a story that speaks of deep truths about what it is to be human, and so it is especially appropriate to hear it as we begin this season of Lent.

It describes what came to be known as the fall, when Adam and Eve fell from grace as they choose to disobey God’s only command and eat the fruit of the tree.

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Hope from the ashes

Ash – so often a sign of destruction, of despair even. Justin Welby and Rowan Williams have written movingly of their experiences of ash in Rwanda, in New York on 9/11. The ovens of Auschwitz also come to mind. All experiences of ash without hope, ash as witness to human evil but with no promise of anything better.

But I would like to turn to another hero of mine, David Attenborough, for a different picture. “In the forests of Australia fire travels fast, consuming dry leaves and twigs. But the tree trunks are so tall and free from low branches that the flames do not reach the crowns of the biggest. After only an hour or so the fire has passed, the ground is black. Where once there was a tangle of shady green leaves, there is now open space and for the first time in decades, sunlight strikes the ash-covered ground.

And now in a slow and gentle rain, the seeds drift down to earth. They had hung in the branches for years but the heat has cracked them open. They have few competitors and within a week they germinate and begin to grow.

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Never good enough

Fools and hell fire.   Insults and council.   Anger and judgement.  Look and lusts.   Adultery.   Divorce.   Cutting off hands and tearing out eyes.   Yes or no and nothing in between.

What are we to make of this challenging Gospel reading?    None of us can hear these words without feeling uncomfortable.    Indeed one might say these instructions are impossible and place them in the file marked Jesus having an off day.

And yet there is something here, for is not the point that they are indeed impossible.    Maybe Jesus never intended these words to be taken literally.

Maybe instead they were given to remind those who sought to guard faith by rules that however well we think we are doing, it’s never going to be enough.

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