Clay and Friendship

‘We are the clay and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.’

What a wonderful image to have in mind as we begin this blessed season of Advent

It made me ask that when a potter takes a lump of clay, sits at the wheel whether they know exactly what they are going to make.

Sometimes that must be true and the potter Edmund DeWaal is famous for producing hundreds of what appear to be exactly the same pots.

Likewise a potter may sit and want to make a bowl because they have received an order for them and so they make six.

However I have dwelt on the idea that on some days the potter my simply sit at the wheel and see where their imagination takes them.

Maybe Isaiah had seen a potter at work one day and seen the work being done as a metaphor for God’s relationship with us, and it’s still a lovely image ‘we are the clay’ he wrote ‘and you are our potter.’

God has created each one of us, we are the clay, the same in terms of physical components but each one of us unique in terms of looks, size and shape, mind and imagination.

God moulds us in our Mother’s womb, we take our first breath and live and in living we learn that as we grow and experience life, we are re-moulded through it again and again.

Life is the potters’ wheel that turns. We are the clay shaped by that life and we are in the business of discerning God’s hands at work in our lives, revealed to us in all kinds of ways. Reshaping and remoulding us as we seek to live to his glory.

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The Election Manifesto

Not sure if you saw it, but a few nights ago there was a party political broadcast for Jesus. Just kidding but just imagine for a moment if there was.

Election Fever will, I fear, build over the next few months as we prepare for the general election next May.

Each of the parties will vie for attention, every word will be picked over and analysed. Political commentators working overtime. Party Leaders will worry about what to say and do.

But let’s stay with that though of Jesus standing for election, what would his policies look like? Would we vote for Jesus? The man whom this day we acclaim as king.

In conventional terms his manifesto would look strange.

He doesn’t seem worried about money ‘sell your possessions and give to the poor(1).

He doesn’t much care for status or palaces ‘the son of man has nowhere to lay his head(2)

He doesn’t engage in spin for when before Pilate he could have saved himself he ‘makes no reply’(3)

He doesn’t do power instead he washes his disciples feet and talks of serving each other(4)

He doesn’t really do grand arrivals but instead is ‘born in a stable’(5).

Jesus’ manifesto looks strange yet St. Paul writes of ‘the immeasurable greatness of his power.

A strange sort of power then is revealed in this give it away, homeless, sometimes silent, foot washing servant who is born in a shed.

Strange Power this yet Christ is the King. We’re here this morning because that’s what we believe and each of us, in our own way desires to follow this King wherever he leads us.

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1 Luke 12.33
2 Luke 9.58
3 Mark 15.5
4 John 13
5 Luke 2

The Radiant and Unfading Wisdom of God

They are not so common now, but in some schools alongside those rather grand boards that celebrate achievement. You know the sort of thing Rugby 1910; First XV Captain, H.P.T. Madforrugger.

Alongside these boards for achievement are war memorials. We like so many churches have one here in St. Mary’s. Yet for me there is something about a war memorial in a school, a place of learning and life that seems particularly wrong.

Most of the time, as indeed it should, life goes on the children run past and pay little attention to it. Maybe though, once a year that old dusty board becomes a focus for the life of that community, as they remember.

Those in sixth form especially might just imagine what it must have been in like in 1914 to enlist, to be so filled with zeal for king and country that this is what you had to do.

And as we know so many young men didn’t come back.

One hundred years on, it’s still the sense of waste that prevails in my mind. The waste of young life and the potential they still had to fulfill.

And I want to think about fulfilling our potential a bit this morning, through silence and encountering the wisdom of God.

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A vision for living – The Good Life

One of my favourite sitcoms was and still is ‘The Good Life’. You remember it, Tom Good, fed up with his life, of the rat race, to and from work, the pressures that go with it, leave him longing for another way, so with the lovely Barbara they decide to become self-sufficient in Surbiton and live what is for them the good life.

At some point they’d grasped another vision of how their lives might look, no longer dictated by external demands in being self-sufficient they were singing their own song. This morning we remembered Lady Richeldis and her vision of the Holy House at the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham but what of us?

So let me begin tonight by posing three related questions. What would you describe as your vision for life? What would be the factors that inform that vision? And have those factors changed?

And vision is also on our minds because of that first reading from Ezekiel when in verse 27 we heard ‘The vision that he sees is for many years ahead; he prophesises for distant times.’

So how would you describe your vision for life? For many of us I guess it’s something we don’t think about it that much. We just get on with living.

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Place and Thanksgiving

This is a day to celebrate St. Mary and of how her life as our patron is in some weaved with our life as the body of her son in this holy place.

And this is a holy place, many of you have told of how within these walls you feel enfolded in love, the ‘Whitkirk Blanket’ is how some describe it.

Perhaps that feeling is something about the prayers of the faithful seeping into the walls over the years and creating a place where the veil between heaven and earth, however crazy it might sound, seems that little bit thinner.

Holy Places like this are special and thinking about Mary as we are today another special place came to mind – The Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham.

If you’ve ever been, as I know some of you have, you’ll know something of the story, of how Lady Richeldis saw a vision of the house where Mary was invited to become Christ’s mother. That vision was made real in a small building, the Holy House which became the centre of the Shrine.

In one way the Anglo-Catholicism and Marian devotion of Walsingham is all a bit weird and I’d always say don’t take some of it too seriously. Yet in another and I wouldn’t want to be precise about what, there is something special about the place, little miracles happen there, once tired faith is rejuvenated and renewed.

It seems a strange coincidence but a spring of water, a symbol of new life, was discovered just by the holy house. So for many Walsingham, where Mary is the focus of thought and prayer is a place where the veil seems thin.

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Heart Speaks To Heart

An archaeologist was digging in the Negev Desert in Israel and came upon a casket containing a mummy. After examining it, he called the curator of a prestigious natural-history museum.

“I’ve just discovered a 3,000 year-old mummy of a man who died of heart attack!” the excited scientist exclaimed. To which the curator replied, “Bring him in. We’ll check it out.”

A week later, the amazed curator called the archaeologist. “You were right about the mummy’s age and cause of death. How in the world did you know?” “Easy. There was a piece of paper in his hand that said, ‘10,000 Shekels on Goliath’.”

I wanted to use that to introduce my theme for today which is to talk in three little connected sections about the heart. Not that beating organ that keeps us alive rather the word that in faith goes someway to describing our very essence, who we are, our deepest, truest selves.

And I do so because the heart takes centre stage in both our readings. St. Paul writes ‘The word is near you on your lips and in your heart.’ Then a little later ‘One believes with the heart and so is saved.’ And then in our Gospel Jesus says to the disciples ‘take heart it is I.’

So where to begin?

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He had compassion on them

What made him do it? He’d taken his little boat and found a nice quiet spot. Maybe it was time for a bit of carefree day dreaming rather than the earnest prayer we might usually think of, but his peace didn’t last.

The crowds he’d left behind were there again. All he wanted was a bit of peace of quiet yet there they are like lost sheep. Maybe he was tempted to say “Go away” or “Get lost” but he doesn’t, instead ‘He has compassion on them.’ He sees their need. They are hungry. So he has compassion on them, feeds them and in so doing reveals to them something of the nature of God’s love.

But what is compassion? How might we define it? Well for me, putting on one side precise dictionary definitions it’s something about both see another in need and how that need brings forth from us a change of heart. Let me give you some examples of what I mean.

Now you’re all much nicer than me but I’m afraid I can think of times when I’ve been arguing about something or other. In the midst of it I can certainly be angry but then often something happens for when I see the distress caused something changes, so that I don’t want to be angry and argue anymore.

For me that’s something about compassion taking over and changing the situation.

Think also for example of how you might once have held very strong opinions on things, like divorce or abortion or race or religion. Maybe once you were clear about what you believed until that is you become emotionally involved in a situation through family, friends and neighbours.

For when you walk alongside someone who is struggling, our compassion for them and therefore our understanding of those kind of situations changes.

Compassion changes things.

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A word sown with love can never be fruitless

I spend a lot of time dealing with words. My own words written to be spoken, looking at words to be read, words in an email or letter and so on. And if you think about it unless we are called to a life of silence, every one of us will use an awful lot of words every single day, even if it’s just arguing with ourselves.

When I think about words, though I love them, much of the time I can echo the philosopher Winnie the Pooh’s words when he said ‘I am a bear of very little brain, and long words bother me.’

During the last week especially words have been on my mind a bit more as I’ve been thinking about that lovely passage from Isaiah we heard a few moments ago. In those words we heard that the word of God ‘shall not return empty (or as another translation puts it fruitless) but it shall accomplish that which I (God that is) purpose and succeed in the task I gave it.’

I live this vivid and dynamic picture of the word of God going out into the world with a purpose of bringing all into an encounter with God’s love. We can think of that word, as the Eternal Word, the Christ but also the more mundane and ordinary, the words of life.

It seems to me that words are everywhere, inevitably so perhaps, they are how we communicate, but maybe it seems that nowadays there are more words flying about, perhaps it’s something about instant communication through text messaging or emails or through social media.

I came across some information the other day that said there are 1,280 million, users of Facebook, 644 million users of qzone that’s seems to be in the Far East and 255 million users of Twitter. Even if you don’t use any of them you can at least see from those numbers what a powerful tool they are.

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