Hefting

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”

For fear.

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”

“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.

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Grace Abounds!

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!”

Big and Small – Pentecost is for All

Sometimes I struggle a bit with this great day for I sometimes feel as though I’m celebrating a birthday of someone or rather something I don’t know that well. Yet though that’s where this sermon began, I’m thankful that as my words today will show, it’s not where I end up.

So why the struggle?

It’s something about that feeling of being excluded.

Often we human beings are good at finding ways to divide ourselves. It’s understandable enough I suppose, we’re all different with different gifts and abilities. No use trying to say we’re the same when we are not. Continue reading “Big and Small – Pentecost is for All”

The Brief Encounter Patchwork

The God who draws us here this morning is the God of brief encounters. In that, although God’s presence is constant we are limited to glimpses and hints of his life and love in the world, brief encounters.

And the God of brief encounters is present in the lives we lead and the patchwork of brief encounters that make up our lives. Of course some of these brief encounters turn out to be rather more, the first date that turns into marriage for example.

But sometimes they are just a few minutes and I guess all of us if we think back over our lives we can all recall brief encounters which have shaped our lives. Moments that have enriched our living as we are encouraged or inspired.

Let me share one example from my story. I remember meeting the great jazz and rock drummer Jon Hiseman, who at a concert made eye contact with this young drummer and then spoke with me, made me feel important.

But there are also difficult brief encounters are also often vivid memories. When we receive bad news from a medical professional for example. These few minutes in a life of thousands of minutes, are vivid and often perfectly recalled.

Just this last week I was with someone as they recalled with great clarity some of the most traumatic few days of her life.

Brief Encounters good and bad are etched on our minds. Continue reading “The Brief Encounter Patchwork”