Choral Evensong Sermon for All Saints

One of my jobs before ordination was working in the Parts Department for a firm of Agricultural Engineers.    Aside from getting to know the inner workings of tractors and diggers I spent a good deal of time with farmers.

Now farmers are in my experience pessimists.   And they’re seldom happy.   If it’s wet they want it to be dry.   If it’s dry they want it to be wet.   If it’s cold they want it to be warm.   And always, always they’ve no money.

I understood a bit why they’re like this for making a living from the land is precarious.   Indeed since then things seem to have got more difficult for farmers.

Yet there was a bit of me that thought their experience, especially those farmers who had tilled the same land for generations, might have a bit more confidence.

Confidence that the harvest would be safely gathered in.     Confidence that they would make a living.    In other words that, even if the tractor did conk out, it would be alright in the end.

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Joy and Gladness

If you’re anything like me, you might sometimes look at others and think that they seem happier than you. They seem to be always cheerful and positive, at least on the outside. Maybe we think they’re an image of happiness and want to be like them.

Except we know also that appearances can be deceiving. Smiles sometimes mask great sadness rather than happiness. We all try to put on a brave face and keep smiling. So when someone asks “How are you?” seldom do we give an honest answer, by smiling away giving the impression of being happy, we keep them happy too.

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Good and Acceptable and Perfect

‘Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God – what is good and acceptable and perfect’
Romans 12:2

At Christmas we Christians are the party animals. We do Advent, full of expectant waiting and then when Christmas comes we sing our carols with hearty voices.

And yet to many we do seem strange indeed, for we don’t conform to this world that has moved onto Easter already (eggs are in the shops – I saw Hot Cross Buns and Mince Pies side by side in the co-op) consequently, we or at least me, we can seem really miserable.

I shall not forget the look of incredulity as I turned up at B and Q on the 23rd of December hoping to find a cut price tree only to find that they had sold them all off the day before for a pound a tree.

The shop assistant said to me “what would you want a Christmas tree now for, mines been up for ages.” I just went aha and left it at that.

I have determinedly not been conformed to this world which celebrates Christmas earlier and earlier but sometimes I end up feeling a right humbug.

I suppose in some way it is a reminder that being a follower of Jesus Christ is in some way about seeing things differently. Continue reading “Good and Acceptable and Perfect”

He’s not the Messiah – he’s a very naughty boy

“He’s not the Messiah. He’s a very naughty boy.” Words from Brian’s Mother in Monty Python’s Life of Brian. Maybe the inspiration came in some way from John’s words today ‘I am not the Messiah.’

The Messiah was the one who was going to come and sort things out, restore the Jewish people and assure them of their special status as God’s chosen people. They didn’t quite get what they expected. We’ll be thinking more about that in a few days.

In the meantime however we think about John mistaken identity and being a witness to another who is to come. For there are parallels between us and John.

Maybe we don’t wear the latest range of camel’s hair clothing at least not in public but we are like him in that in our living we are called to point to the one who is to come. It’s challenging work and so it can sometimes feel that we are like voice(s) crying out in the wilderness. Yet God has and does call and use us to be as Isaiah so wonderfully put it ‘oaks of righteousness.’

The oak, such a venerable tree has deep roots. We come here Sunday by Sunday to worship, pray and have our roots nurtured. So that the branches of our lives, the witness that we offer for Christ can be spread far and wide over our city and beyond.

A 16th century mystic and poet, St. John of the Cross, whom the church remembers today offers us some words to ponder as we think of our witness:

‘for each one of us is the midwife and there under the dome of your being does creation come into existence, through your womb dear pilgrim, the womb of your soul and God grasps our arms for help.’

This is an intriguing image, midwives bringing God’s love into this world. And in faith as God grasps our soul John of the Cross helps reminds us that our arms are like the branches of the oak stretched out in love and service to our neighbours wherever they may be.

That love and service takes many forms but I want to think about two.

At the PCC on Tuesday night as we journey to fashion a vision for our parish for the years to come, a recurrent theme was an anxiety about our limited resources in terms of people.

However our churchwarden Shelagh was able to identify a significant number of people on our pastoral roll who are already involved in all kinds of work, serving our neighbours in our community and beyond. There is much to give thanks for.

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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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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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