Some thoughts on the church year for the start of Advent

This last year – and particularly since my priesting in June – I’ve been initiated into the strange and wonderful world of Anglican vestments. And since they were all made for men, I’ve had to work on me wearing them – rather than them wearing me…

And it isn’t just one set – the liturgical year (and the glories of the Whitkirk cupboards) demand regular changes. Today we begin Advent – so having presided at 8.30 I now know there’s at least one chasuble of each liturgical colour that I can wear. Today we begin Advent, so the legendary four candles banner is also on show.

Why do we go to all that trouble? Well I guess for the same reason Matthew makes an effort to celebrate festivals on their correct day – with week-day Eucharists – and why as well as spurning your coffee, at this time of year he will also refuse your mince pies…

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Forgive our foolish ways.

At the age of seven I joined the Brownies.  It was a big deal, being part of a uniformed organisation.  I was proud of my uniform and the badges which I had earned.  Being a Brownie was important to me making my promise and following this law:

“A brownie guide thinks of others before herself and does a good turn every day!”

To this day those words have stuck with and even though my active guiding and brownie days have finished, the promise I made aged seven and the Brownie law have remained as part of my thinking.  Over the years, trying to be a good person will have amounted to a lot of good turns.

I might have tried for years but you see the thing is I’m not perfect.

I am impatient. I get cross, I can be rude. I am quick to judge.  As fellow human beings you are all sat there thinking, well I’m like that sometimes too.  Yes, we are all guilty of being in the wrong or hurting someone back because they have hurt us.

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Losing our life to gain our life

When faced, as we were recently, with the sight of white supremacists sporting swastikas and executing Nazi salutes, we are naturally horrified. We automatically side with their opponents. Surely if these are the sort of people rallying around a statue of General Lee – then that statue should go. After all, he fought to enslave people just because of their skin colour.

What about those protecting such statues – can we dismiss them all as driven by hatred? Are they always motivated by wanting to cling on to racial segregation?

I wonder. If we look beyond men in KKK costumes – there are perhaps many others afraid that they are losing their lives. Not that they are threatened with death – but that the life stories, the identities they have grown up with are being eroded – and they no longer know who they are. After all, an accident of birth or geography may have decided which side they were on in the conflict.

I was made to think about this when the debate widened to other statues around the world – including those to the explorer Captain James Cook.

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Leave your comfort zone – get outta the boat.

Words and phrases in the English language come and go. So what’s fashionable for one generation may not be for the next. I find that jargon words crop up all the time, some are easier to use than others.

So do you know what it means when someone begins a sentence with “hash-tag”?  Would you know what “eating the frog” means? Well it means exactly what it sounds like – doing the one thing you have been avoiding.  “Eat the frog” – getting it over and done with.

The opposite of eating the frog I suppose would be being in your comfort zone. So let me ask you. Where is your comfort zone?

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Evensong Sermon for the Transfiguration

On the eve of day of his assassination Martin Luther King gave his last speech.    It was filmed and watching it all these years on, it has lost none of its power.

As he draws to his conclusion, he talks of scripture.   “I have been to the mountain top” he says, he has “seen the promised land”.    He encourages his listeners no doubt wearied by the struggle for equality “we will get to the promised land” he tells them for “mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”

King was a man who had spent time with God.   He had glimpsed more and he knew that he couldn’t let the injustice of segregation and inequality go unchallenged.    Being with God had changed him.

Moses had, as we heard in our Old Testament reading been with God too, on Mount Sinai.   This mountain top experience had changed him too, so that ‘the skin of his face shone because he had been with God.

This morning we heard of how Jesus, together with some of his friends also went up the mountain to pray when ‘the appearance of his face changed’.

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The Transfiguration

Doreen was nice enough.    A faithful member of another St Mary’s, Walney Island where I served my curacy.   She lived with her husband Bill (who never went to church) in one of the posher terraced houses, built for the managers of Vickers Shipbuilding in Barrow.

From the outside theirs was a house like any other on the terrace.    Inside beyond the well cleaned hallway and polished statuettes I found Bill in the back room.    At first glance he looked rather crumpled, he wasn’t really very well, he had trouble breathing and so on.

If I’m honest I expected the conversation to be pleasant and friendly which it was yet there was more.    The large bust of Richard Wagner I glimpsed on the way in should have told me that.

When I spent time with that crumpled little man I was surprised time and again.    Here was a man who taught me always to look twice, to try and be attentive, to look beneath the surface.

He may not have looked much but this was a man who loved poetry and Dostoevsky and Shakespeare.   He might have been stuck indoors for much of the time, but his days were filled with the sounds of famous theatrical performances on audio tape or with classical music.    He loved music, Wagner yes, but more Mozart, Beethoven and so on.    Movies too.   We were never short of something to talk about.

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‘The Kingdom of Heaven is like…’

“The kingdom of heaven is like…”           How would you end that sentence?

It reminds me of a primary school lesson on similes and metaphors – ‘give 4 ways to end this sentence…’

And I know from experience that if you gave that task to a group of 7 years olds you would get some nice, predictable answers…’The kingdom of heaven is like angels singing’…or ‘a summer’s day’.

You would get some answers suggesting the authors were in a parallel lesson, if not a parallel universe – usually involving dinosaurs or sharks…

And then you’d get some that really made you stop and think.

And that, after all, is the point of parables. It’s easy to forget – because they are so familiar, or because they weren’t written for 21st century Leeds– but the point of parables is to put surprising things side by side in a way that provokes our imagination.

According to some of my books, parables…

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For the First Celebration of the Holy Eucharist by The Rev’d Alison Battye

What a joy it is for me to preach on this great occasion.     Alison was ordained a priest yesterday at Leeds Minster and this morning for the first time to use some words from that service she is presiding ‘at the Lord’s table’ and leading us in worship.

She has already declared ‘in Christ’s name the absolution and forgiveness of our sins and at the end of the service she will ‘bless the people in God’s name.’

This is the stuff of priesthood, forgiveness, presiding at the Eucharist and blessing.    So though Alison looks the same something has changed, she is a priest.    Thanks be to God.

I was ordained a priest in 2004 and I’m still trying to work out what it’s all about.   For whilst we can read something of what being a priest means in our service book, the ordinal, that’s just part of the story.

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