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?

Continue reading “Growing in our need of the one thing.”

The Patient Slow Burn of Love

At the risk of lowering the tone of Choral Evensong from the Book of Common Prayer, as the rock band Queen once put it in a mantra for our time “I want it all and I want it now.”

These words familiar to a child, who cannot understand why they have to wait for the ice cream they have been promised are about desire. And what we do with those feelings often deceptive feelings around our perceived wants and needs.

It’s something we all must learn to navigate as we live our lives, some rather more successfully than others.

Like the only child who has to learn beyond the nuclear family that their needs are not the centre of everything.

I can’t help feel that Herodias, the young woman who as the second reading put had learnt to ‘please Herod’ and I think we know what that means, had learned how to manipulate desire.

She danced in such a way that Herod was seduced. He was beguiled into offering her whatever she wished. She and her mother wanted the head of John the Baptist.

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Easter Day

Of all the theology books I have read the one which has had the most profound influence on me is probably The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis.

When I first read it at the age of 7 I had no idea of the Christian allegory behind it. But even without that knowledge it was clear that the heart of the story was Aslan’s death and coming to life again on the stone table. And I was always intrigued and mystified by this famous passage:

“You have a traitor there, Aslan,” said the Witch. Of course everyone present knew that she meant Edmund…

“Well,” said Aslan. “His offence was not against you.”

“Have you forgotten the Deep Magic?” asked the Witch.

“Let us say I have forgotten it,” answered Aslan gravely. “Tell us of this Deep Magic.”

“Tell you?” said the Witch, her voice growing suddenly shriller. “Tell you what is written on that very Table of Stone which stands beside us? Tell you what is written in letters deep as a spear is long on the firestones on the Secret Hill? Tell you what is engraved on the sceptre of the Emperor-beyond-the-Sea? You at least know the Magic which the Emperor put into Narnia at the very beginning. You know that every traitor belongs to me as my lawful prey and that for every treachery I have a right to a kill…that human creature is mine. His life is forfeit to me. His blood is my property…”

“It is very true,” said Aslan, “I do not deny it…Fall back, all of you,” said Aslan, “and I will talk to the Witch alone…”

Then we skip a couple of chapters forward. Aslan has been put to death and Lucy and Susan have kept watch with his dead body during the night.

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It Is Finished

Each of the four gospels gives us a different picture of Christ on the cross.

In Mark and Matthew, Jesus’ last words are dark and questioning: ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’

In Luke, his last words are confident and trusting: ‘Father, in your hands I commend my spirit.’ 

In John’s gospel, Jesus’ last saying is a single Greek word: ‘tetelestai’. In English it can mean either ‘It is finished’ – it’s all over. Or ‘it is accomplished’ – it is fulfilled.

And that is typical of John’s gospel. It is as though two perspectives of the same story are going on at the same time – the world’s perspective, and God’s perspective. In John’s gospel, Jesus talks about being ‘lifted up’. On the one hand this refers to the crucifixion, a terrible thing done to him through the wickedness of humanity. On the other hand, it refers to his glorification, a work of grace and salvation by God, by means of which we ourselves are drawn into communion: ‘when I am lifted up from the earth’ he said, ‘I will draw all people to myself.’(1)John 12.32; see also John 3.14

This is what is called literary irony. There are two levels of meaning. The characters in the story can only see one level, but the reader is invited to see another, deeper level of understanding.

So when Pilate says to him, ‘Behold your king’(2)John 19.14 and when the soldiers dress Jesus in a purple robe and place a crown of thorns on his head, they think they are mocking him – but we know their words and actions carry a much deeper truth than they realise. For we know he is not merely the king of the Jews but king of the universe.

So there are two levels of meaning to Jesus’ final words: It is finished – it is accomplished.  

Continue reading “It Is Finished”

References   [ + ]

1. John 12.32; see also John 3.14
2. John 19.14

Maundy Thursday

Today of all days is about communion. It is the day Jesus shared his last supper with his disciples which became the template for the Eucharist.

It is the day Jesus, knowing he was leaving his disciples, prayed for them: ‘Father, may they be one.’ And the unity they have with each other comes from communion with God: ‘even as you, Father are in me, and I in you, may they also be in us … that they may become perfectly one’

John 17.11,21

You could say that the whole of Jesus’ earthly ministry was about gathering people into communion. His first act was to gather disciples. He constantly sought out the excluded and the marginalised to bring them back in. So he lived out the parable of the shepherd and the lost sheep.

On one occasion when he healed a man who was blind and dumb he was criticised by the Pharisees. His reply is significant:

‘Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.’

Matthew 12.30
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To Love and Serve the Lord

It is a real privilege to be able to stand here and articulate some of the feelings in our midst this morning.

I guess one of my predecessor’s Fr Garrett had similar feelings when this building was finished in 1968.

Perhaps then it felt as it does today, a significant moment not just in the life of the church but of the wider community of Colton and Whitkirk in which St. Mary’s stands.

Over the years the doors of this building have been open for all sorts of events.

From parties to pantos.
From flower shows to funeral teas.

We hope and pray this will continue into the future and that alongside them new possibilities will be opened to us too, so that this will truly be a centre for our community.

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Risk it. God has, so should we.

The other day I came across a cartoon. It depicted a vicar stood by a font, holding a child and surrounded by the family. High above them, sat a lifeguard looking down. The caption read ‘He’s the result of our risk assessment survey.’

What comes to mind when you think about the greatest risk you’ve ever taken?
Perhaps when you launched a new business?
Perhaps when you made that charity parachute jump?
Perhaps when you set out to cross Selby Road?
These are all risks in one sense, however is not the greatest risk of our lives to love.

Hopefully we are born into this life knowing love from our first breath. The love of our parents, family and friends and this love shapes who we are and how we see the world. There’s nothing quite like the love a parent has for a child, and a child has for a parent.

But even this love isn’t risk free. Parents don’t live for ever and to have a child is to be well acquainted with risk, sometimes tragically so.

This parental love isn’t the only love we know though. We choose to love others too, friends, husbands and wives and partners.

Thank God we do, it is right and good to love another person. It’s what we’re here for but it comes with risk.
We risk that love not being returned.
We risk being vulnerable as we open our hearts to another.
We risk being hurt, when a relationship ends or when a loved one dies.

So for me the greatest risk we take in this life is to love. Yet this is a risk that’s worth taking, for without love we as St Paul wrote are ‘nothing’ .

Continue reading “Risk it. God has, so should we.”

Unwrapping the Truth

Jesus said ‘Sanctify them in truth, your word is truth.’ The word truth is a word that we find frequently in the Gospel of St. John. Let me give you a few more examples than the words we have just heard in our Gospel this morning.

In chapter 1, we read that Jesus is ‘full of grace and truth’(1)John 1.18. In chapter four that we are to worship ‘in spirit and truth’(2)John 4.23. That Jesus testified to the ‘truth’ in chapter five(3)John 5.33. That the ‘truth will make you free’ in chapter eight(4)John 8.23. In chapter fourteen that Jesus is ‘the way, the truth the life’(5)John 14.6.
That we will be led ‘into all truth’ in chapter sixteen(6)John 16:13 and so it goes on.

The contrast with the other three Gospels couldn’t be greater. In Matthew’s Gospel the word truth is never heard. In Mark once and in Luke we hear it twice. So we could say that the fourth Gospel is one obsessed with talking about truth.

So perhaps it’s not surprising that when Jesus comes before a rather bewildered Pilate he asks ‘What is truth?’(7)John 18:37

It’s this question I want to explore a bit this morning, as we ponder the words we’ve heard in our Gospel when Jesus prays that his followers may be sanctified ‘in truth’.

Continue reading “Unwrapping the Truth”

References   [ + ]

1. John 1.18
2. John 4.23
3. John 5.33
4. John 8.23
5. John 14.6
6. John 16:13
7. John 18:37