Fr. Matthew Cashmore

Deacon in the Church of England. Trustee SPCK. Father, husband, son. Digital media & publishing consultant.

Category: god

Top Tips for starting Theological College

I’ve been moved to post this because of the excellent piece posted over at pickingapplesofgold.com ‘Top Tips of starting #vicarschool‘ – In part because I enjoyed the piece so much and also in part because I disagree with a small bit… and there’s nothing like a minor disagreement to urge me into writing. So here are my Top Tops on starting (or continuing) in theological college.

I’d like to say these are in order, but one of the big things I’ve learnt at theological college is that priorities are different – so take them in an order which makes sense for you.

1 – Figure out your prayer life – quickly.

Prayer life - it's different for everyone. Figure out what connects you to God.

Prayer life – it’s different for everyone. Figure out what connects you to God.

One of the biggest things that shifts in school is that you’re now expected to fit in with the prayer life of the community. This is amazing – it’s a real gift to sit in chapel or church with fellow ordinands and to experience corporate worship. But then, things start to niggle you. What was sweet when you first arrived starts to distract from the worship, those people that you loved to pray with at the start of term quickly become the people that stop you ‘getting what you need’ from the worship. The guitar grates, the organ is overpowering, the people who bow in odd places, the people who raise their hands… these things become all important – and distracting.

The hardest lesson to learn is that the corporate worship at theological college isn’t for you – in the person of YOU – it’s for everyone, all over the world. The fact that you have to sit through another 45 mins contemplating a conker and what that means to you on your journey should not distract you from the fact that corporate worship is there to bring us together in prayer and praise – and sometimes we get nothing from it – but that’s okay.

If you enter college and your ONLY path for prayer is the corporate worship you are going to find yourself frustrated very quickly. Figure out what you need to help develop your own relationship with God and build on it – take from other examples of worship and prayer – develop – but have something that helps you. For me it was the rosary – something I’d only prayed with in passing before I came to college but something that I now rely on when things get tough and I need time with God in prayer. For you – who knows – but figure it out and hold it dearly. Your own prayer life is not that of the community.

2 – Good enough – is not good enough.

When I first started I lost count of the people who told me ‘it’s okay, all you need is a 40 to pass and that’s good enough‘. Over the past two years I’ve watched as people have played chicken with the pass mark, ‘how close can I get!’ It’s tempting. To dismiss the academic work as unimportant, as a distraction from the ‘real’ work of formation. That another essay on a dead german theologian (we’ve all been there) will quite possibly kill your vocation.

Trying to do well academically is an outward sign of your inward attempts to connect with those who have gone before us.

Trying to do well academically is an outward sign of your inward attempts to connect with those who have gone before us.

The reality is very different. True, your pass mark isn’t going to determine where your Title Post may be – but it will certainly come to bare when you’re looking for an incumbency or in a few years time when you decide you’d like to study a specialist area in more detail – all of a sudden that 41% is a hindrance you could do without. But what if you have zero interest in academic matters and have no intention of doing further work – why should you bother to do more than the absolute minimum?

Because God doesn’t call us to be ‘good enough’. We are called by God to be Priests, to be ministers of The Word and of the Church and if we want to exercise that office to the best of our ability then we need to understand where we come from, what previous generations have thought, what other people have said about complex areas of doctrine. People have dedicated their lives to answering these questions and we are arrogant if we think that when somebody asks us if they are going to Hell because they stole something that we can answer them with integrity and humility if all we have to draw on are the bare essentials of a ‘good enough’ education in theological college.

When we were in school we were always told that you would never know when you may need this theory or that theory but some day we would. My experience in life has told me I have needed algebra, I have needed French I have needed a lot of those things – but most importantly I have needed a mix of them that I could not have understood whilst I was a student. Your theological education is the same. To be humble in the face of your office and your parish you should be able to draw on a depth of knowledge and understanding that has centuries of thinking behind it – and not what you can come up with in the five minutes it takes you to make a cup of tea.

*This is of course not to say that the rest of your life in theological college isn’t important – the important element is to have a good mix – your family life, your spiritual life, your prayer life, your academic life – and to dismiss any elements of that as unimportant and to only do the bare minimum is damaging to your formation. For full disclosure my floating average is somewhere between 55-60 – I’m desperately trying to get that up over 60, especially in my third year, but I also have to accept that I want to spend time with my wife and son and that I need time set aside for prayer.

3 – Find a balance – it changes.

Finding the right balance is important. Being with your family is as big a part of your formation as spending time in prayer.

Finding the right balance is important. Being with your family is as big a part of your formation as spending time in prayer.

When you start college the life becomes all encompassing. There is something to do all of the time – study in the library, go to worship, go to lectures, attend a tutorial, sit and pray. Often this means that your family get left behind. Be open with your family about your excitement and wanting to be part of the college life, but be open in return to your family and make sure that you are balancing things well. Only you, as a family, can figure out this balance. Advice from outside will always be from the perspective of another family and what works in one place may not work in another place.

Be open to your family and ask them to be open with you. Love them with all your heart and be there for them – even if that means spending an hour less on an essay than you’d like, or stopping reading something interesting, or skirting an optional prayer group.

4 – Counselling.

During theological college a lot of things will shift for you. What you thought was important before suddenly becomes unimportant, those things you dismissed six months ago are now shown in a different light. This can have a huge impact on your mental health and you should be alive to that. Most colleges offer counselling in one form or another as a separate discipline to spiritual direction – take up that offer and use it – your family will thank you for it – and so will your bar bill.

5 – Spirital Direction.

If you don’t have a spiritual director – get one. Your college can help you get hooked up and if that fails there are other organisations who can help. Spiritual guidance through formation is important – and it is vital that you get input from outside the college bubble.

You don't need to own ALL of the books. But a good and growing selection is a real help.

You don’t need to own ALL of the books. But a good and growing selection is a real help.

6 – Books.

Buy all of the books. I’m kidding. Books can be horrendously expensive but the joy of shelves filled with books is one of the greatest pleasures on earth! I am a bit of a book person and I love the physicality of them. I have a growing theological library that I index on LibraryThing. If I bought all of these books new I would have gone bankrupt last year – but you can buy most of the books you need second hand from places like AbeBooks for pennies. The vast majority of my library has cost no more than £1 and in may cases 75p.

There are book grants available from people like Sons of the Clergy or the Dearmer Society etc and you should make use of them. College libraries are for the most part excellent – but sometimes having a copy of the main book the course is being taught from is far more helpful than a copy from the library – especially if like me you like to write in the margins.

When it comes to essays I get most of the books I need from the library, then if one of them particularly grabs me I’ll go and buy a copy so I can pull it apart at my own pace without keeping it from someone else.

Try to buy your books from an ethical place. Try to avoid Amazon. Consider Waterstones, Blackwell’s, AbeBooks etc – all of these guys match Amazon on academic texts (especially Blackwell’s who are an academic specialist) and often they are cheaper. Keep your eye open for Church House specials – as they’ll often be significantly cheaper than Amazon.

The ability to pray for love is the greatest gift God gave us.

The ability to pray for love is the greatest gift God gave us.

7 – Love.

At some point over your time in college you are going to absolutely loath somebody. It could even be yourself. It’s going to happen, you can’t help it. In the rarified atmosphere of a theological college that loathing can spread and grow and deepen to the rest of the community. When you find that happening you need to do something that my spiritual director calls ‘aggressive loving’.

Aggressive loving means praying for that person every single time you pray. You pray for their love in return for yours and you pray that they are happy in God’s love. It’s amazing how quickly loathing can turn to love when you pray for somebody. It works. I do it a lot.

8 – There is more to this life than theological college.

Get out. Go. Do not for a moment forget that your life now exists in a bubble in a world that is very different from that going on around you. You’ll find your language changing, your outlook shifting – everything – and then when you re-enter the real world it can come as quite a shock. It’s like going to Hogwarts as a muggle but then finding when you leave you’re only allowed back into the muggle world.

So get out. Go out with friends who are not connected with the church or with the college. Read different newspapers and websites. Spend at least half a day outside of your college each week. Go away in the holidays – even if it’s just a caravan two miles down the road. Don’t lose touch with the rest of the world.

Understanding who your friends are - not just in college but before and what they may afterwards is a gift.

Understanding who your friends are – not just in college but before they came – and what they may be afterwards is a gift.

9 – You are surrounded by clever people.

Before you came to college you probably had a life doing something different. You may have gone to university, or had a job, or raised a family or any number of things. Remember that everybody else did as well. It’s easy to fall into the trap that leaves you thinking you are surrounded by people who are only measured by how good the last piece of worship they organised was. Get to know what people’s skills and abilities are and talk to them about it – share yours – you’ll be amazed at how many cool, clever people you are surrounded by.

The friendships you generate in college will support the rest of your life in ministry. Don’t allow yourself to only see people in one dimension.

10 – Leave the conkers where they are.

Conkers don’t need to be in worship. They are beautiful under the tree where they fell. Please don’t give me one as I walk into church.

 

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Sermon on Ephesians 1:3-14 – Spiritual Blessings in Christ.

This month I am on placement at St Mary’s in Princes Risborough. It’s an amazing church and this is the first time that I have preached a sermon there… I struggled a lot with this sermon because I couldn’t get my head around what Paul was trying to say – it took an incident in the previous week (you’ll have to listen to find out) to shine some light on what was going on.

I’m really pleased with my delivery and message here – I spoke far too quickly in places but.. being Welsh I am prone to that.

Please do listen and let me know your thoughts.

There’s no script as such for this sermon because it was delivered to an Evangelical congregation and it would not have been appropriate to stand in the pulpit – but below you’ll find my initial notes as I tried to pull together my thoughts. It has very little connection with the sermon that was preached so you’ll really need to listen to it to take away the message.

Readings: Ephesians 1:3-14

When I put this reading down it started me wondering about the world ‘blessed’ about what it means when community has discovered the depths of what it means to be ‘blessed’ – a joyful baptism, the deep joy of taking part in a community effort to help others in some way or forgiving others… it’s the joy we feel at a funeral – that’s an odd thing to say but it’s the deep sense of blessing we encounter knowing that despite the sorrow death does not have the final word.

What does it feel like when we live up to this God-given vocation as a community of blessing? We exist as Churches to bless our neighbours – near and far – a powerful powerful counter-testimony agains the widespread view that christians are only interested in judging and saying no to people – not blessing them.

It’s all very easy to say but what does that look like – what does a church doing this look like? Well it looks very much like this church that’s for sure – but let me give you another example. It’s full of sorrow and pain, the worst thing that could ever happen to a Church congregation – the shootings in charleston.

A man walked into a bible study group, to a group of people who had opened their arms to him and then he shot them. He opened fire and killed, maimed and damaged people that had held him in love.

In a country where this kind of thing happens far too often I was waiting for the inevitable responses. The hatred. The stone throwing. The political ‘debate’ whilst the Church that had been damaged was left to pick up the pieces.

They did that – they started to pick up the pieces but you know what they did? They recalled what it meant to be given the spiritual gifts of Christ, they remembered that we are all adopted by God – even those who are not ‘in our gang’ and they went to his initial hearing. In the states victims of events such as these are allowed to address the court as victims – these are usually extremely emotional. People tell their stories and then they ask the judge to put this person away for the rest of their lives or worse – they ask the judge to kill this person. I was waiting for this, I was waiting for the hatred – but what I saw was a spiritual outpouring that left me crying in front of my computer.

I watched as the man who was arrested for the shooting stood in front of the court via a big screen and I watched as each victim, each person who had lost someone stood… they told their stories and then they forgave him. Over and over and over again.

“I forgive you”.
“I forgive you”.
“I forgive you”.
“I forgive you”.

Every single person who stood in that court forgave him.

THAT is what it means to be blessed through Christ. That is what Paul is telling us in this reading. That is what we must live every single day in every single thing that we do.

I’ll tell you another story.

I was sat outside Lacy Green School. I was parked quite near a corner into a side road and I was early for our assembly. I was reading todays reading, starting to think about what I was going to preach about… a van pulled up next to me and he had a go at me for parking so near to the corner. I put my bible down and I just looked at him – he had disturbed me, how dare he- doesn’t he know what I was doing! I was doing work for the Church and this guy, this person who’s not in my church DARES to disturb me! So I replied calmly but incredibly rudely that he must be confused because he was talking to someone who didn’t care what he thought.

The guy hit the roof – he went nuts – he called me everything under the sun, he swore, he called me fat he went balistic – but I didn’t care – who was he to tell me what to do? who was he to shout at me – I just looked back at him smiled and waved – it’s fair to say he got even more mad… then he drove off and I picked up my bible again.

Then it struck me – um… what a complete… well what a dreadful person I had been… here, right here in this reading I’m being told we are all one because of Christ and here I was throwing things at someone – I wouldn’t have done that to any of you guys and none of you would have been rude to me in the first place because we are all nice to each other because we’re all part of this Church – but this reading tells us we are ALL one in Christ we should live that example every day with every person.

As I pondered this I reversed the car away from the corner and started to regret my behaviour, I said a prayer – in fact I took out my rosary and prayed for forgiveness…. I got forgiveness – the chap in the van came back. This time I had my bible on the seat next to me and my rosary in my hand – I looked up and here he was in his van coming towards me. He stops next to the car, gets out and… well… he says sorry for being so rude to start with and that he felt dreadful about it. I took his hand and I said sorry to him, then I gave him a hug and with tears in our eyes we remembered that we were both men and men don’t do this kind of thing so we nodded to each other got back in our respective cars and parted company.

When we open ourselves as Christians to the spiritual gifts given through Christ then we remember that these gifts are given to everyone and then maybe, with prayer, we’ll get to experience that blessing, that joyful blessing in Christ.

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Sermon on Doubting Thomas

I enjoyed giving this sermon today, I’m not overly happy with the narrative and I think I’m on dangerous theological ground – however – I’m in that wonderful position during training that means I know enough to be dangerous but am still blissfully unaware of a great deal!

So dig in and enjoy and please give me feedback – I am very open and accepting of any criticism on these sermons so do shout.

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In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Please sit.

Today is Low Sunday. It’s the first Sunday after Easter and I suppose we are all feeling a little low, the excuse to eat excessive amounts of chocolate is past, the party that was the initial celebration of Jesus Risen is over and we’re now, effectively, in the hang over period – a little ‘churched out’ perhaps.

However, Low Sunday isn’t called Low Sunday because of our self induced hang overs but because it closes the Octave of Easter – the eight-day period from Easter Sunday until today. It is also called St. Thomas Sunday and this Sunday the reading is always John 20 19-end and relates to the appearance of Christ to his disciples – this time with Thomas now present.

You’ll all have heard of St. Thomas of course – otherwise known as Doubting Thomas. Hardly a great title but there you go. Thomas is also referred to as Didymus (which means twin) and although the name Thomas is actually an ancient name (not as English as it may sound) we’re not really sure that was his name at all. In fact we don’t know a great deal about Thomas full stop. He only appears in Matthew, Mark and Luke when listed with the other disciples and he only appears three times in John.

What we do think we know is that St. Thomas travelled to India and spread the gospel there. For many centuries the Christians of Kerala have called themselves St. Thomas Christian’s. The information that he went there – and was martyred there – is the subject of a long document of the third or fourth century called the Acts of Thomas. It’s a terrific read and fascinating part of the Apocryphal writings (the books that didn’t make it into the Bible) and if you’ve not read it it’s worth digging out.

However, The Acts of Thomas is considered to be more popular romance than historical document and was probably written in the interest of gnostic teaching rather than an accurate record.

It’s certainly not impossible that St. Thomas went to India and that he also evangelised Parthia – it’s thought his final resting place, or at least where his relics are claimed to rest – is at Edessa in Mesopotamia – current day Turkey – although dangerously close to the Syrian border.

But, for the moment let us stick with the Thomas we’ve got to know in John, the Thomas that we’ve heard about in todays reading.

We meet him first in John 11, verse 16 – “Let us also go, that we may die with him”. He was referring to the death of Lazarus, a good friend of Jesus – the other disciples did not want to go – or for Jesus to go – to Lazarus – they felt it was too dangerous – but here is Thomas – at the vanguard and ready to go with his teacher to his friend and share his fate – even if that means death. More Loyal Thomas than doubting Thomas. He would rather face death with his Lord than to live without him.

Next, we meet him in John 14, verse 5 – “Lord, we do not know where you are going, How can we know the way?” This time Thomas is asking the question the other disciples do not.

Jesus is telling them that they shouldn’t be troubled (for Jesus already knows what he is to face) but to have faith and believe in God because in His house there are many dwelling places and if He were to leave them then they would know how to follow – not now, but later.

You can see the other disciples sat around the table nodding sagely as if understanding what Jesus was saying – but Thomas was the one who said – hang on a moment, what on earth do you mean? How can we actually know the way? You’ve not told us the way!

Thomas was confusing what Jesus was saying with an actual place – and that question leads to one of the most well known and most loved verses in the Bible – “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him”. Doubting Thomas? No, more like Honest Thomas. The Thomas who wont sit there and nod sagely but will ask the questions that need to be asked.

We meet Thomas for the final time in todays reading, in John 20 and sadly where he gets his nickname from – Doubting Thomas. Thomas was not willing to believe that Jesus was risen because he had not seen him.

The previous two times we’ve met Thomas he’s demonstrated that his is not fearful and doubting but loyal and honest. We don’t know where Thomas was the previous resurrection Sunday – we’re not told – but you can easily see that he must have been distraught – this loyal and honest man wasn’t there because his world had been totally shattered and torn apart – he wasn’t there because his heart was broken – his teacher was dead.

So now, he’s being told about the resurrection of Jesus, he’s being told about the Presence of the Lord, the Power of the Lord, the Peace of the Lord, the Praises of the Lord the Promotions of the Lord and the Provisions of the Lord – all these things happened on the day Jesus revealed himself to the other disciples – that’s a lot to have missed out on and hardly something that is easily told – it’s something you have to see for yourself. It’s easy to see why he responded the way he did – I don’t believe you!

He had not placed his fingers in the mark of the nails and had not placed his hand one Jesus side where the spear had torn into his flesh. Imagine, this loyal and honest apostle, this man who had been told that his teacher was dead, being told that he was alive – he really was low, this really was the ultimate low Sunday – why should he believe? Why should he just take their word? One last time Jesus replies, once again Jesus is there to hold the hand of this loyal, honest and questioning follower.

Jesus appears to the disciples, coming through locked doors and says to Thomas ‘Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe’.

And you know what? Thomas does! ‘My Lord and my God!” So Doubting Thomas? No, more like Faithful Thomas.

For me the story of Thomas through John is one that I wish more Christians would hold onto. It’s a story of a man who is not afraid to ask the difficult questions, a man who is not afraid to challenge or speak truth unto power – he is a man who does not leave his brain at the door when he encounters Jesus – he is a man who embraces his faith and continues to question.

It’s something the House of Bishops have asked us to do at the coming election – and so as I head to May 7th, perhaps feeling a little low and wondering what possible difference I can make, I will take Doubting Thomas’ example – I will ask the difficult questions, I will be loyal to my faith and I will be honest to myself and my Christian values.

I’m a little bit in awe of St. Thomas – I think he teaches us an important lesson and I think he opens the door for us to have a greater understanding of Jesus, so I’ll head back to my bible and read those passages again, this time without first thinking of Thomas as doubting, but thinking of him as loyal, honest and faithful.

Amen.

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College Intercession Prayers during lent

I wrote these from scratch using the Common Worship liturgy for prayers during lent. They are okay – the only feedback I had is that there is no need to keep saying ‘we pray’ – that’s implicit in what we’re doing – but I’m pleased with these overall and pleased with the thread of illumination. I’ll come back to these again and play with them I think…

In the power of the Spirit and in union with Christ, let us pray to the Father.

Lord, we pray for those preparing for baptism and confirmation. We pray that your Grace and Love shine through the door they are about to open and illuminate a path of Christian life in your service.
Lord, in your mercy…

Lord, we pray for our leaders. Those who serve through leadership carry a burden that is not always visible to us. Illuminate their burden so that we may help and support them in their service.
Lord, in your mercy…

Lord, we pray for those looking for forgiveness. We pray that we may be able to discern their need and help illuminate a path to you, to your love and your forgiveness.
Lord, in your mercy…

Lord, as we move forward in Lent we pray for those who are held captive by busyness, those held captive by a desire for more, those held captive by the false gods of consumerism and greed. Illuminate these false gods and empower us your servants to help others find your path.
Lord, in your mercy…

Lord, we pray for those who are hungry. Hungry for food or for your spirit. Hungry for love or looking for their next meal. We pray that we find a way to see into their darkness and illuminate a path to practical help and spiritual support and that we offer both with a kind word and a loving heart.
Lord, in your mercy…

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Sermon on St. Andrew

This morning was a little on the nerve racking side. At the 9am BCP Communion service I was preaching the sermon on St. Andrew and also helping serve communion (but not serving) and at the 10:30am BCP Matins I was leading the service and preaching the sermon… all a bit scary.

I think I came through it okay, I’ve had nothing but great feedback – but I always fear the bad feedback (and actually the most useful) comes later in the week and never at the door to the church as people are on their way out or over a cup of coffee and biscuit at the back.

So here’s the sermon along with a recording. I’m sorry the audio is a little off with errant noises – I was trying out a new app on the iPad that I was also using to read my sermon from… I need another method for recording I suspect.

Oh, and whilst I remember – here’s my parting column for The Bookseller on leaving publishing and bookselling and heading to train as a Priest.

The sermon I preached today is blatantly inspired and outright stolen in some cases from this fantastic short sermon given at Jesus College in Cambridge.

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Right click to download the audio of my St. Andrew’s Day Sermon

 

In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Please sit.

What an exciting day! Well I say exciting; it’s actually quite scary. As you all know I’m well into my first term at theological college and I’ve started to learn enough to be dangerous – which is why I was a little bit worried when our Scottish vicar suggested a good second sermon slot for me would be St. Andrew’s saints day. What could possibly go wrong?

I scurried away to the college library (my favourite place in the world) and pulled out all the books that mentioned St. Andrew, I was determined to give you a fully academic and exhaustive history of St. Andrew , his miracles, his life and his teachings .

I discovered some fascinating facts about him… I hadn’t quite realised how busy he is. As well as Scotland, he is patron saint of Greece, Romania, Russia, Poland, Ukraine, and the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople (where he was the founder and first bishop) as well as Saint Andrew in Barbados.

Now I get into the dangerous territory bit… I’m sorry Jennifer… It’s fair to say that his connection to Scotland is a little… well a little on the weak side. St. Andrew never visited Scotland, although sometime around the eighth or ninth century some of his alleged relics were brought to the town on the East coast of Scotland which bears his name and which became an archepiscopal see, as well as home to a University and golf course (a rather better connection for Jennifer perhaps as St. Andrew is also the patron saint of golfers?).

His patronage of Scotland was part of a deal by the then Pictish King – ‘give us this victory over the evil English St. Andrew and we will make you patron saint of Scotland’.  Scotland prevailed in the battle (despite weaker numbers) – the sign of St. Andrew’s patronage over the Scottish in battle was his cross appearing in the sky before everything kicked off. Hence the Scottish flag: the saltire – the method of St. Andrew’s  martyrdom – on a sky blue background forever granting Scotland victory over the English.

From there the facts get a little weaker still… Tradition on the continent suggests that if an unmarried girl puts basil under her pillow and prays to St. Andrew then the man who takes it in her dreams will be the man she will marry. Or putting the saltire on a post next to your fireplace will stop witches flying down it… the list goes on and I’ll let you do your own research if you want to find out more…

Clearly I was disappearing down a rabbit hole of stories about St. Andrew that came in later centuries and stepping away from the man who is mentioned so often in the Bible… so I went back to my Bible and went back to the man himself.

Who was the real St Andrew, behind all these later traditions?  St Andrew is one of the twelve apostles and brother of St Peter.  Like his brother he was a fisherman, from Bethsaida, and in St John’s gospel he was previously a follower of John the Baptist who discovered Jesus before his brother Peter, who he then brought to faith.

This relationship with his brother Peter is perhaps part of the reason for him being so popular with the Russians and the Greeks who see themselves as rivals to the see of Rome, which of course traditionally claims Peter.  But the account of how he brought his brother to Christ has also led to his saints day being particularly associated with the work of mission or evangelism, bringing people to faith in Jesus.

Andrew, just like the other apostles was taught by Christ to be a fisher of men. What does that really mean? It can sound a little creepy… going ‘out there’ and fishing for people – hooking them in and dragging them into church, where they’ll immediately see the light and become Christians and good Sunday church goers. But that’s not what Jesus taught his apostles to do. He taught them to bring people to Him through love and selfless acts. He taught the apostles, as he taught everyone that to come to God through Him was the greatest act of love there can ever be.

We associate the word evangelism with showmen pastors from the US who evangelise on TV and encourage you to open your wallet. We associate it with many things that most of us would not recognise as Christian. What does being an evangelist in England, in Wales… In Scotland mean today?

We should not consider evangelism and mission to be the creation of flashy lures that hide the hook underneath and hope that someone will bite. Flashy lures are only useful if they mirror the life beyond the hook. But the reality is that the Christian life is often a life of sacrifice and service. It is not flashy, it is not glamorous – it is the life of service to our fellow man – and through that service – to God.

It is the life of the Street Pastor who gives up their Friday and Saturday nights to help people by giving them water or flip flops with no sermon or judgment attached. It is the life of giving generously of your wealth to help those who are not as fortunate in money as you may be, it is the life of holding someone’s hand when they are dying and telling them that everything is okay, that there is something even more wonderful next – when all you want to do is hold onto them here.

That is not flashy. That is evangelism. Evangelism is not selfish, it is selfless. Sometimes evangelism is as simple an introduction, sometimes evangelism is being St. Andrew and introducing your brother to Christ.

So I want to use today to reflect on what that words means to each of us. What does it mean when we leave church today? What does being an evangelist for Christ mean for us here in Bledlow?

If our faith is real then we shouldn’t need to be ‘out there’ flogging it and trying to sell it like some dodgy second hand car salesman. If our faith is real then it will shine in everything that we do so that other people will want to know more about it and why it is so important to us – and when that happens we should be ready to answer. Why is my faith important to me? Why do I love Christ? Why do I go to church on a Sunday morning to praise His name? Why do I hold the hand of someone I love and tell them that everything is going to be okay?

So like St. Andrew – may the enthusiasm for what we have found shine through our lives and give us the boldness to share that love with those around us… and only then will we really understand what a fisher of men is.

Amen.

 

 

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My first sermon

Hi all – yes, I know – it’s been a little while since I last posted. I have a very good reason for that – he’s called Edmund and he’s rather taken over my life!

Now, before you read any further this post is not about camping, cooking or motorbikes. If you’re looking for that then I’ll have some posts very shortly about Europe’s biggest overland traveller event – HUBB – and the Adventure Travel Film Festival (I’m speaking at both). This post is very personal and concerns God. Now – given the last time I wrote about God here I had a bunch of comments along the lines of ‘great blog, shame about the God stuff’ I’m giving you fair warning – this one is about the God stuff.

Today marked a very import day for me. I’ve been on a journey over the last year or so that’s brought me closer to God and left me exploring a calling to vocation within the Church of England – I appreciate that means very little to most people – but it’s very important to me. One of the first steps on that journey was to deliver a sermon – to preach – to my church family today. I spoke about Christian Aid week and the unity which all people of faith share in trying to make the world a better place. I recorded the sermon and pasted the text below – I’d really appreciate any thoughts or feedback. Over to you.

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Sermon John 20 17 to end MP3

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Lord, grant us the peace and grace to hear your word, your message, both here and in our actions throughout the coming week.

We’ve heard this morning about Jesus praying for believers and praying that as believers we are one. That’s a very simple thing to say of course – in our faith in Him we are one – of course we are – through His word we spread the message and in spreading that message we bring new people into our faith and into our unity.

Each Sunday we sit and we listen to the word of Christ. We listen to His message and each Sunday someone stands here and helps us to try and understand what Jesus is trying to teach us. But ultimately God speaks to us directly. The message that we understand is very individual – God speaks to our hearts and minds directly and we take that message out into the world, outside our church, and spread His message. When we do that, we are bringing other people to God’s message – and as Jesus prays here: ‘I have given them the glory which you have given to me, so that they may be one, just as we are one.’ We have brought people into our unity with Christ and each other.

That’s not to say that we must all go out and evangelise on street corners or to our co-workers by quoting the bible on some profound, mature understanding of that we have come to. Our actions are just as important in bringing people to faith – and therefore to the unity of our faith – as our words are.

This unity isn’t just us here in this Church, or even in the Church of England – it’s the unity of every Christian around the world. The unity Jesus talks of is so profound that it mirrors the unity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. ‘So that they may be one, just as we are one’.

It’s interesting that in a report by the Charities Aid Foundation in February of this year it became apparent that religious respondents – of any faith – gave an average of £576 in the previous year, those with no religion gave £235. Religious people donate more than twice as much to charity as those who are not.

The director of research at the Charities Aid Foundation said that, “The survey shows that there is a link between associating with a religion and charitable behaviour, even when people aren’t actively practising their faith. Their giving is not uniquely focused on their own religious activities, if anything, people of faith broadly give in line with the rest of the general public – to a variety of different appeals – primarily medical and overseas aid.”

I would argue that donating to charity – whatever that may be – is an active practising of faith – going to Church on a Sunday is not the only way to hear the word, to listen to and spread the message – that can also be done through our unity – through our actions.

Through everyday acts of kindness and generosity to others we practice our faith. Every time we think of others first, every time we take a step to bring people into our unity with Christ we practise our faith.

It could be argued that all people of faith are held together in unity and when brought together by the love of Christ we see beyond borders, beyond race, sex, gender or other dividing lines and want to help where we can. Faith helps us see the world through unity – not division.

All of this is very timely of course – it’s Christian Aid Week. The stories from Christian Aid – from all over the world demonstrate that even in the midst of debilitating scarcity, people of faith work together and demonstrate they can transform lives for a common good.

Again and again we hear of lives being changed through the empowerment of those who are most vulnerable – of those most desperate. The bible shows us time and time again that God is not impressed by national or racial identity. Rather His concern is for those who are powerless, the starving and suffering, those living in fear and anxiety, those drained of time or energy.

Those of us blessed with wealth, with time, with food and comfort should, through our unity, help others with understanding, patience, and of course through financial donations!

Christian Aid Week starts today and runs to next Saturday. The focus this year is on hunger – indeed the tagline for the week is ‘bite back at hunger’ – I see what they did there! If all of us play our part, if all of us nibble at the problem then we can make a massive difference – see what I did there?!

There is more than enough food in the world that everyone can eat – that no one needs go to bed hungry. This isn’t about food parcels or hand-outs – it’s about intelligent ways of helping people in the long term. Christian Aid is about helping people to help themselves.

For example we all take the weather forecast for granted in Britain – in fact it’s almost a national sport, never mind the first refuge of small talk. But living here in rural Buckinghamshire we also appreciate how important the forecast is to our farmers. Without detailed knowledge of rain, wind or sun farmers would struggle to know when to plant – when to harrow – when to get the combine out! But in Kenya farmers are experiencing increasingly erratic weather patterns and without detailed, scientific forecasts they can be left unable to feed or provide for their families. Planting seeds at the wrong moment can be disastrous when you only have one sack of seeds.

Christian Aid, through their partners, have helped farmers in Kenya by providing detailed forecasts via mobile phone. Most families have no access to a radio or television – but nearly every family has some sort of simple mobile phone – it’s often the only means of communication a farmer and his family has.

By sending small-scale farmers scientific weather perditions and forecasts via text message, translated into their local language, they enable those farmers to plant armed with valuable information. Farmers can respond via text with follow up questions or to share crop information that they believe may be valuable to others beyond their own community.

With training provided alongside the forecasts, farmers have been able to adapt their farming techniques and crop choices to the changing climate and provide food for their families and community.

There are many many stories of this kind from Christian Aid – it allows us to remember that we are part of a broad Church, that we are part of a united world where our belief, our faith, our unity can help those most in need.

Through our actions this week, let us make Christ’s name known, so that the love which God has for Jesus and for us may be in them and in us – uniting us against social injustice and poverty.

We can make a difference – however small – we can donate this week to Christian Aid (£576 seems the right amount according to the research) or even by just filling in the Gift Aid details on our donation slips for collection.

As Jesus said, “I am praying that they may all be one” – today I ask us to pray together: Lord, through our unity in faith, through our fellowship with you and each other, enable us to give freely of our gifts so that others may be empowered to live in your glory. Amen.

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