And God waited

And God waited. Waited for Mary’s reply.

Most of us know our patron Saint’s story well. We know of the Angel Gabriel’s visit and Mary’s reply.
We know she went to see her cousin Elizabeth and the words of our Gospel for today that flowed from that encounter. We know of the birth of Jesus, his presentation and time in the temple.

These the stories in which Mary is in the foreground shape our understanding of her. We could go on to stories from Jesus’ adult life, the cross and beyond but I want today to focus in on that moment in her story when God waited.

Gabriel delivered his message and though he offered words of comfort to Mary there came and we cannot know how long it lasted a silence as God waited. Waited for these words ‘”Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”’

In other words God waited for Mary to say yes. Waited for this young unmarried girl, who was ‘much perplexed’ by what was being asked to say yes.

And her yes reverberates down the ages to us today as we give thanks today for how her story continues to speak to our own. Of how it we reflect on God’s love and God’s invitation to us.

For this love does not demand or compel obedience. It is a love that is infinitely patient that invites and waits for us to say yes in our lives.

And though Mary was caught up in the providential timing of God, something that Paul writes of in that first reading ‘when the fullness of time had come’ her initial yes was something she then repeated every day of her life.

A yes she repeated through her pregnancy, the birth, the early years of Jesus’ life – and we know how demanding that must have been. Into his adulthood, the cross and beyond. Mary kept saying yes to God.
But this ongoing song of yes grew out of that first yes, perplexed and unsure as she was no doubt was. And though the circumstances of our lives are rather different, her story speaks to ours.

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Brief Encounters

A friend of mine once wrote a series of plays based on memorable stories from the Bible. He called it ‘Brief Encounters.’ In these brief encounters he helped both actor and audience to see that these stories though centuries old, have an enduring quality to them.

These brief encounters came to mind because in these days of Easter, Jesus’ resurrection appearances are often brief encounters.They are mysterious and intriguing with an enduring quality that makes us stop and think time and again.

This evening is one example when Jesus meets some of the disciples through a brief encounter on the road to Emmaus. It’s a passage I know well, I chose it as the Gospel for when I began my ministry as a parish priest.

It spoke to me then and still does about how we might make Christ known.

How we should come along alongside people and listen, just as Jesus did.
How we should share our stories and talk to help make sense of this life, just as Jesus did.
Of how we meet Jesus the breaking of bread and of how ‘hearts’ are ‘burning within us’ when we meet Jesus along the way.

I could talk about any one of these this evening but instead I want to spend this time reflecting on some other words from the reading, ‘their eyes were kept from recognising him.’

I’ve always been puzzled by the mystery that surrounds the resurrection appearances. For in these brief encounters it’s clear that Jesus has changed.He is unrecognizable to people who knew him well. But then something happens, a word, an action and they know. Why though all this mystery?
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Remembrance Sunday Sermon

Let me begin with a statement of the obvious. We’re all different. Just take a look around, but we not only look different, we think differently too. This difference has consequences because no one sees the world quite like we do.

And so it’s inevitable as we go through life especially when we are sure about we believe and feel we are right that we shall sometimes disagree with people. In other words we argue.

We argue about little things, like leaving the top of the toothpaste, or socks not being unravelled before they’re put in the wash basket or Vimto Cordial not tasting like it used to.

We sometimes even argue with ourselves and whilst looking in the mirror give ourselves a good talking to.

We argue about big things too, like politics and religion, though we’re probably a bit more reluctant to make our views known mindful of the consequences.

So for example, here amongst us are Conservatives and Labour, Liberal Democrats, there may be UKIP members and for all I know members of the Monster Raving Looney Party. And yet here we are.

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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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Prayer is our Protest

Perhaps it’s something about being a reserved Englishman but I’m not a very good protestor.    I don’t really go in for marches or wearing lapel badges. Perhaps it’s something about a lack of passion in me or being kinder to myself a sense of being able to see many sides of an argument.

And so though I am privileged to have these few minutes in your week when you give your time to listen. l’m cautious about being too forthright about my opinions.

Preferring instead to open up ways for you to think about how this faith we share might impact the way in which you see the world around us. And that world is troubled, seldom can I recall in my own lifetime so much tragedy around us.

Tragic attacks in Germany, coups and purges, police officers killed are just some of the headlines from the last week. These ‘headlines’ are held alongside the ongoing tragedies unfolding around our world.

The problems of Syria and mass migration have not disappeared, the camp of Calais has not gone anywhere, and suicide bombers continue to take innocent lives. Faced with these things it is hard to know what to do.

We want to shout out. We want to protest that this is not right. That there is another way to live. A way rooted in the life and teaching, the death and resurrection of the Jesus who draws us here this morning.

That protest is expressed in some way through our prayers. For prayer, whether they be said here or offered quietly as you think of another with a cup of tea in hand is, in part at least, about resetting our focus. About lifting up our hearts, so often weighed down by our burdens to the God who renews our hope and restores our vision.

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The Queen and the Woman

As a child it didn’t seem fair. Why should the Queen have two birthdays? I like to think that on the day she was born she celebrates with her family and on her official birthday she celebrates with her people.

So we at St. Mary’s together with so many others are celebrating the Queen’s 90th Birthday. Yesterday we feasted and sang just as you should at any party and at 12 noon today the sound of bells shall be heard from the tower.

It is for her majesty another milestone marked amongst so many others, she is a remarkable woman and amongst us will be our own memories of her, those glimpses from a distance to close encounters.

Over the years she will have met so many people both here and overseas. Seen a good number of prime ministers and Archbishops come and go. In times of change she has been that constant figure in our lives.

There are many stories of her. Stories of how lives have been touched by a simple gesture or kindness.   In a moment I shall I read one taken from the book ‘The Servant Queen, A tribute for Her Majesty’s 90th Birthday’ published by the Bible Society.

It’s a story which draws together something of why we celebrate our Queen and also the Gospel passage for today and was told by the former Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks

‘Punctuality, said Louis 18th of France, is the politeness of kings. Royalty arrives on time and leaves on time. So it is with Her Majesty the Queen, with one memorable exception.

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Hope Filled Child

Many of you are Grandparents. In that role you take a keen interest in the lives of your Grandchildren. Some of you see them more than others, almost and maybe even every day, some of you less so, separated by geography and so on.

Grandparents in many ways have the best bits of parenting. They usually don’t work so can turn up as and when required, with little else to worry about except to concentrate on their charges.

That concentration can of course be demanding “Grandma can you do this or that” or “Grandad I don’t like those” or perhaps trying to respond to the most disturbing question ever asked “why?”

And yet though they can be exhausting Grandparents are invariably delighted by their Grandchildren.

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Brief Encounters – Moments of Revelation

We know so little of Jesus’ early years. What we do know comes to us in a series of brief encounters or moments of revelation in which something significant happens.

This morning as we recall his baptism, he is of course an adult and it does mark the beginning of his public ministry, when he steps out of life as a carpenter onto the mainstage.

He stepped onto a stage where ‘the people were filled with expectation’.

Something was happening.

John had stirred people up. They ask, is this John the Messiah?

John ‘answered all of them’ by saying he is not, that another is coming.

This other man is baptised along with others, and the Gospel tells us he is praying and at that moment his true identity is revealed, a voice comes from heaven and says

you are my son, the beloved; with you I am well pleased.’

It is a moment of revelation.

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