Into the wilderness

“My castaway this week…”

Even if you’re not a fellow radio 4 addict, I guess many of you recognised that as the opening of Desert Island Discs. First broadcast in 1942, it’s basically a clever way of finding out about someone’s life.

The premise is that the interviewee is cast away alone on an island with only 7 pieces of music, a couple of books and a luxury for company.

If there’s time at the end, the interviewer asks, “How do you think you would cope on the island?” Some discuss practical skills, but the more perceptive guests wonder about the solitude.

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The tree of the knowledge of good and evil

“There was a young man of Hong Kong

who thought limericks far too long…”

Some of you are smiling…either you’re humouring me, or you just did something very clever. You recognised that was a limerick – a silly sort of poem – then recognised it was only part of a limerick – and saw that the humour was in it being a parody of a limerick. Brilliant!

We do it all the time – we use type of language, length of lines, how it’s arranged on a page, to recognise what kind of literature we’re reading…and so how to respond. I guess you’re not wondering who the man from Hong Kong was, why he thought limericks too long, whether this should affect your view of limericks…you just enjoyed the joke – or didn’t.

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Choral Evensong Sermon

What made them wise?

Perhaps they were men of learning.   Professors of their day who devoted themselves to learning.

Perhaps they were mystics.    People who spent a lot of time in silence, thinking and praying.

Perhaps they were wise because they didn’t have their heads solely buried in books, or lived with their eyes closed and who lived Isaiah’s words from our first reading and lifted up their eyes and looked around.

It was just as well for when they looked around they learned of the star.   Whatever the answer to what made them wise, these days of Christmas draw to a close with their story.

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Sermon – The Baptism of Christ

It was summer.   A few mates who had worked together were going on holiday to Cornwall.   They were travelling in an old Ford Escort.   The journey didn’t last long for almost as soon as they joined the M6 the car was involved in an accident.   Thankfully they all survived, a little shaken, a memory they would not forget.   It was a near death experience.

This morning we heard of another near death experience in our Gospel, the baptism of Christ.   The scene is set.   Jesus steps into the river and John pushes him under the water.   If he’d stayed there, his lungs would have filled with water and he would have died.   Yet John pulled him out and his ministry began.

Our own Zach Higgins had a similar near death experience off the East Coast when he was baptised in the North Sea last year.   Then we did plunge him (his father said I had a look of glee on my face) under the water, we pulled him out a little breathless by the whole experience.

Being baptised should be dangerous.   It is a near death experience.

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‘In the fullness of time…’ a sermon for Christmas 1

Today’s reading contains the earliest version of the Christmas story – from Paul’s letter to the Galatians – almost certainly written before any of the gospels.

“When the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman’.

Compared to John’s poetry, or Luke’s story telling, it’s a bit tame. It wouldn’t make much of a nativity play – in fact it’s easy to miss altogether.

“When the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman’.

Actually, ‘God sent his Son, born of a woman’, sums up incarnation pretty well …but it’s the phrase, ‘in the fullness of time’ that’s stuck with me.

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Christmas Morning – Has anyone seen the baby Jesus?

With 4 different Christmas plays in rehearsal– and performance dates looming, that question often rang around school in the run up to Christmas. Each class had their own angels, shepherds, aliens (it’s amazing who gets into the Christmas story these days), but we shared the baby Jesus – a doll from the reception classroom.

Well we could hardly use a real baby…but it was rather ironic that the star of the show was so completely passive that he was frequently mislaid.

If we’re not careful though, it’s not only in school nativities that we reduce God incarnate to a passive object…very precious…but an object never-the-less.

Think of crib sets – often delicate as well as beautiful – unwrapped lovingly, set out on a shelf out of reach of small hands – admired, then wrapped up again just as lovingly and put away for another year.

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Many stories told. Many still to tell.

“And the word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth.”

Kirkgate Market has had a makeover. Over the last few days it will have been a hive of activity. Turkeys will have, not literally of course, flown out of the butchers. Enough fruit and veg purchased to feed an army. Amidst all the kerfuffle, some may have paused to notice some words painted on a wall.

The Kirkgate Market logo stands in the middle, on one side of it there are these words ‘Many stories told’ and on the other ‘Many still to tell.’

Many stories told. Many still to tell. Those words have stayed with me since I first saw them earlier in the year for they could equally be applied to Christmas.

What stories told accompany our Christmas?

Like the one when Dad went out on Christmas Eve to buy a Christmas Tree only to find them all sold out, and came back with what could be described as a Christmas branch.

Or the Christmas when the snow came down meaning that cars had to be left some way from the family home and walks made over snowy and icy roads to get home.

Or the time when plans were changed when an outbreak of illness meant that there were rather more at your house that you’d planned. These are some of mine, you will have your own.

Many stories told. What stories to tell from Christmas 2017 will seep into our family history?

We don’t know yet but something will happen. And the words we shall use to tell these stories will matter to us, for they become part of our story.

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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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