Prize open the purses and wallets of the faithful of St. Mary’s Whitkirk and as well as the debit and credit cards, the membership for the gym and the wadge of hard-earned pound notes there will be reward cards.
You know the sort of thing, buy 354 coffees and get one free. Those cards that reward you for shopping at a centre retailer – one not too far from here.
And we have them because we like the idea of something for free. A good reward scheme in a way motivates us to buy from one shop rather than another – “oooh, I can get my reward points there”.
I wonder if we live a bit of a reward card faith? I wonder if there is a bit of us that thinks if we store up enough good deeds we’ll be ok. So that when we come to the pearly gates and present our loyalty card, we can proudly say to God “look at all I have done for you” and so are ushered off to endless bliss.
Well, if so – then hear the Gospel for today. It’s a story in which James (our Saint for today) and John’s Mum – we don’t know her name wants the best for her sons, wants Jesus to promise a reward for them if they follow him.
It’s understandable enough a Mum who wants the best for her sons. Except Jesus refuses to give her what she wants. Instead, he tells her that what she asks is not his to grant.
He goes on to say to both her and the disciples who become part of the conversation that ‘whoever wishes to be great amongst you must be your servant.’
So in this Gospel Jesus makes no promise of reward. But instead offers a way of living and loving rooted in mutual service.Continue reading “Rewards”
Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
Which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
But seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children
As living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
And He bends you with His might
That His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
So He loves also the bow that is stable.
These beautiful words of poetry, words of truth – were written by Kahlil Gibran. They are much loved by my mother who came across them when learning what it is to be a parent.
And she has shared them with us her children in one way or another, and each of us – now parents ourselves have pondered them as we try and make our way bringing up our children.
The words remind us that though children might be born of their parents, they are not to be treated as a possession but to be let go for ‘Your children are not your children’.Continue reading ““Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth””
Jesus said ‘I have called your friends.’ It was a testament to the power of friendship, and perhaps the insulating properties of alcohol that on the May Day Bank Holiday with the wind blowing and the rain falling that there were still people sat outside the Brown Cow having a drink.
It’s good news that doors that were once closed are opening again. We have missed those gatherings with friends we once took for granted.
Perhaps we have re-learned through this pandemic the value of friendship. Maybe old friendships have been re-kindled as we have rediscovered their value and along the way we have found new ways to nurture our friendships. For friendship matters.
My cell group made up of four dear friends and fellow priests whom many of you know is hugely important to me. And though we have had to meet remotely over the pandemic we have re-made our rituals. So instead of going out for a curry at the beginning of our twice yearly 48 hours together, we’ve had a virtual curry via the internet.
The friendship I share with them is one of the treasures of my life, it is priceless in its value. We have shared so much. Carried one another’s burdens. Loved and laughed. Challenged and consoled. We hope to meet in person again soon and there will likely be tears I have missed my brothers.
So, friendship is a great gift that is hard to define yet means so much. It is then no accident that Jesus in this remarkable 15th Chapter of John’s Gospel reflects in part at least on this theme of friendship.Continue reading “Friendship with God”
‘Abide in me, as I abide in you’ and ‘become my disciples.’ Abide and become. Two words from the Gospel I invite you to ponder with me this week. Abide and become.
And I want to begin by making a couple of assumptions connected to this Gospel reading. Firstly, I assume, that you are here, or watching at home because you are interested in Jesus.
There might be other reasons too, you like hymns, or ceremony, or this building and community. Yet I assume and hope that there is something about Jesus too.
And though we might not use the same language perhaps this is something about wanting to ‘abide’, to live in, with and through Jesus.
And the second assumption relates to the first because surely if we want to ‘abide’ in him then part of what that means is wanting to know more about him so that we can ‘become’ his disciple.
Abide and become.Continue reading “Abide and become”
Wednesday the 14th April was a good day. It was the day when I packed my lunch and headed to the Lakeland fells. They were somewhat steeper than I remembered. But I was glad to rest awhile on the top of Wetherlam drink my tea and eat my biscuit.
There I took in the view and looked to where I was going next. I saw the valley below and small white dots – sheep.
And what I noticed this time, maybe because I’d not been up there for a while was the absence of walls. The sheep could wander where they liked, so I wondered how the farmer knew where to find them.
And then I remembered that sermon my Dad preached here recalling how he went from being an urban vicar in Southend on Sea to a country parson in Cumbria and learning about hefting.
Hefting is the means by which sheep don’t wander off. It described how they learn to belong. Doing a bit more research I discovered that it’s something learned long ago, when sheep on a patch of land were heavily shepherded and learned where their home was.
Once they had learned it, it became part of the sheep’s memory and so was passed on from ewe to lamb.
Consequently, all these years on it appears they are left to roam free. It looks like they can go wherever they want, except they don’t they know where their home is.
And hefting it seems to me has something to teach us as we ponder this Gospel in which Jesus describes himself as ‘the good shepherd’ and plays with that imagery to help his followers understand who he was.Continue reading “Hefting”
Alleluia. Christ is risen.
He is risen indeed. Alleluia.
Keep your voice down someone will hear. At least that’s the response I imagine in the scene before us in today’s Gospel for ‘the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews.’
It was finished, or so they thought – they were still reeling from Mary Magdalene’s proclamation that she had ‘seen the Lord.’ Left wondering how could that be?
This morning we find them afraid of being found and facing the same fate as the man they had followed. So, ‘the doors were locked for fear’.
This image of locked doors seems so apt for us at the moment. Especially as we recall that tomorrow the locked doors of shops, and gyms and pubs (well, as long as you are sat outside) will be opened again.
And we, a little later than some churches will open our doors next Sunday for public worship, and it will be good to see some of you again, although facemasks and distancing and not singing will be with us for a while yet.
And as the vaccination continues to be rolled out, the locked doors of many in our neighbourhood will be opened again to family and friends. And yet I suspect we shall continue to live with some degree of fear.
For- some will fear what opening their doors will look like, having avoided supermarkets and trips out for over a year but beyond the pandemic we fear all sorts of things.Continue reading “For fear.”
“You want the impossible.” Even if you’ve never seen the Star Wars films, you probably know at least some of the characters. Han Solo, C3-PO, Yoda and Luke Skywalker whose words they are.
He says them when he’s learning to be a Jedi Knight and faced with one particular task, a task he cannot imagine being able to complete, he says to his teacher “You want the impossible.”
Perhaps these were words muttered amongst the two tribes that we heard of in our reading from Ezekiel. Two tribes, each with their own identity likely forged to some extent by their differences, them and us.
We know something of this ‘them and us’ too. Think Lancashire and Yorkshire, Leeds and Bradford, Newcastle and Sunderland, Arsenal and Tottenham and so on. There’s a bit of us that likes belonging to a tribe and it was just the same in Ezekiel’s time.
God’s people had ended up in two tribes and yet these two tribes or two sticks as Ezekiel memorably describes it are, impossible as it may seem, to become one ‘in order that they become one in my hand.’
And it was impossible too that a man who for some, a person to be hated would became an apostle and evangelist for Christ.
In the reading Paul tells his story and is unflinching in his truth telling. He says that he tried to ‘force’ the followers of Jesus ‘to blaspheme.’ Yet this same man speaks words of grace and truth that are still being heard today.
Continue reading ““You want the impossible””
The crowds gathered. Will there be enough seats? Will there be enough service sheets? Can everyone see? These are some of the questions around when we host our monthly baptism service at 12 noon. Hundreds of people come, a moment to celebrate, except that if I’m honest they’re hard work.
Its hard keeping that many people engaged and trying to be serious alongside the celebration.
Consequently, I can often go home disheartened and drained in a way it feels as though the sacrament is being abused. And yet there is more, as an email I received last week reminded me.
Prior to last month’s service, an enthusiastic photographer spoke to me before the service asking for some guidance about what was and was not appropriate. We had a chat and I asked if he could email me some of the photos because they would be useful to us for publicity and so on.
I’d forgotten about the request until an email came with some photos attached, one of which is one of my favourite ever photos. In the foreground I’m holding the Riley-James. In the background is a row of smiling joyful faces, beaming at the child and maybe even me.
That photo has served as a little reminder to me that though I might sometimes feel a bit indifferent about baptisms, God’s grace is still at work and that that grace will be revealed to us in all sorts of people and events.
It’s a photo I shall treasure for the rest of my days and is certainly one to turn too if I feel a bit grumpy and thinking it’s a waste of time.
Perhaps Jesus needed moments like that too. We might like to think of Jesus being meek and mild, all calm and collected but the reality I suspect was rather different. It must have been frustrating to be surrounded by followers who for much of the time just don’t get it.
Continue reading “Grace Abounds!”