All Saints Sunday

When you take funerals as I do, you soon discover that though it might sometimes seem otherwise we are surrounded by Saints.    I have buried hundreds of them!

Often when I go and see families they will speak of their loved one describing all that was good about them.   Sometimes though gaps will appear in the story, or I can sense that something has been left unsaid, and so will gently probe a bit deeper.    They might then tell me but then add “But we don’t want that mentioning at the funeral.”

What they’re doing is I think wanting to present the person who has died in the best light.   Telling me what was good in their life rather than dwell too long on what wasn’t.

Of course that’s important.    Funerals are not so much for the one who has died as for those who are left behind.    And so remembering all that was good in someone’s life helps punctuate the inevitable sadness with thanksgiving.

However I’m also there to help them be honest and remind them that these edited highlights are certainly not for God’s benefit, the one ‘from whom no secrets are hidden.’     Perhaps that’s where All Souls Day comes in later this week.

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Holy Hands

Have you ever wondered what Jesus’ hands looked like? I don’t think I had until last week. I was sat in Leeds Station waiting for a train and found myself thinking about this sermon, looking at peoples’ hands.

So as I looked around, I saw children’s hands, holding onto their parent. Hands grasping baggage; holiday or business. Lovers holding hands and there was even a gentleman with a prosthetic hand.   And I had been thinking about hands for three reasons.

Firstly the post communion prayer from last week that had been in my mind since we prayed it last week ‘strengthen for service, Lord, the hands that have taken holy things’.

Secondly because of that demand at the end of the Gospel, when those who have followed Jesus, heard his teaching on the bread of heaven and say to him ‘Give us this bread always.’ The bread Jesus talked about was himself and we when we come here we open our hands to receive him.

And lastly because of that connection between strengthening our hands for service, receiving Christ and the theme of that first reading from St. Paul where he writes of growing up and of ministry used in the service of Christ to build up his body.

Put together, they seem to be telling me that we are invited to see our hands as holy.

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More than Meets the Eye

If you’ve ever listened to Saturday Live on Radio 4, you’ll know that every week someone gets to choose their inheritance tracks.

These two tracks comprise one song or piece of music they cherish, usually because it reminds them of a particular time, place or story together with a track they would like to pass on to the next generation.   For both we hear why they have chosen them.

Listening to it recently, with Elliot Peter Christie’s baptism in mind, made me ask what would be the inheritance track of my faith. What words rather than a song would I want to pass onto him that might accompany him through his life?

I decided that for me, the one thing, the one phrase, in a slightly obtuse way, about the faith so central to my life, would simply be this, that there’s more to life than meets the eye.

There’s more to life than meets the eye.

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What’s it to be; Paranoia or Hope?

‘It’s sometimes been said that if someone came up to you in the street and whispered, ‘They’ve found out! Run!’, nine out of ten of us would.’ These are the words which Rowan Williams began his Enthronement sermon as Archbishop of Canterbury in 2003.

I want to begin there because I think that by the time Kind Herod reached the end of his days he had come to embody the kind of paranoia that sees people out to get him at every turn. When he thinks that every conversation in hushed tones is part of a plot to overthrow him.

And so stripped of all his defences, mindful of the choices he made to protect that power, I think we can be pretty sure that if Herod were in the shopping centre at Crossgates and someone crept up behind him and said run – he would.

We meet him this morning as he begins to hear rumours about Jesus, another threat to his power. No doubt the order he gave to murder John (to preserve his popularity after a foolish promise) has worried him, so in his paranoid state he thinks ‘John whom I beheaded has been raised’.

History tells us that the traits which defined Herod have defined despotic leaders ever since. Even today we can look around the world and see those who will do almost anything to protect their power. But in some small way we all know a bit of what it is to be paranoid, to be anxious and fearful to think that others are talking about usand plotting our downfall.

In contrast to Herod’s paranoia that defines the Gospel St. Paul in our Epistle gives a different vision for life. A life lived ‘so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live to the praise of his glory.’ Paul invites us to live in hope.

And as we think of his words I think we know enough about Paul to know that he wasn’t immune to worry and anxiety, those things which left unchecked lead to paranoia, rather his security wasn’t bound to what other people thought of him. Continue reading “What’s it to be; Paranoia or Hope?”

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.

Continue reading “The Election Manifesto”

References   [ + ]

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