Priest in the Church of England. Trustee SPCK. Father, husband, son. "Small acts of Good change the world."

Category: god (Page 3 of 4)

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.

Click to listen on mobile or right click to download the MP3

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However, The Acts of Thomas is considered to be more popular romance than historical document and was probably written in the interest of gnostic teaching rather than an accurate record.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

Sermon on the Cleansing Of The Temple

I really enjoyed writing this one – it’s going to form the basis of the sermon I am going to submit for my course – but as the visiting lecturer told us in our preaching weekend the best time to fix a sermon is after you have given it… so here you are, here’s my Cleansing Of The Temple sermon at its midpoint- it’s first presentation and before it has been re-written and re-presented. So please, take a moment and give me your feedback.

Click to listen on mobile or right click to download the MP3

We’ve heard from the gospel this morning the story of the cleansing of the temple. We know this event is important because it’s one of the few that are in all four gospels. It’s quite a sedate title really – ‘the cleansing of the temple’ – as if Jesus came in with his disciples and spotted that someone had missed their turn on the cleaning rota and got the Henry out to lend a hand.

In fact when you’re reading the majority of John you’re presented with such a divine vision of Jesus – more God, more Divine than human it’s incredibly jarring to see an angry Jesus.

If this were Luke I wouldn’t bat an eyelid. But this is John – Jesus is always calm, collected, and thoughtful – everything he does reflects previous prophecy or is incredibly well thought through with an eye to his immediate future.  But here – just two chapters in we get this angry Jesus – and not just angry actually – but thoughtfully angry – a sustained anger.

He walked into the temple – this was Passover so it would have been HEAVING, he saw people selling animals for sacrifice, saw people changing money so they could buy the temple coins to gain entry, saw the priests making big profits from this market place, saw the Temple selling for money those things that can not be bought with money.

He saw people BUYING their way into Grace (or so they thought), into Heaven, and worse… the Temple was enabling it – actually not just enabling it but becoming rich by it. The Temple authorities were not worried about worship or becoming closer to God they were worried about money in the here and now, they were worried about the rules and the letter of the Law. They had lost sight of what they were there for. They were buying and selling an imitation of God’s Grace.

So Jesus doesn’t just fly into a rage – he sits and makes a whip of cords – can you imagine the scene? Can you see how angry Jesus must have been to see all of this and then to sit and to take the time to make a whip of cords before letting lose that anger? Can you see Jesus pacing meaningfully around the Temple flailing his whip and driving out the people and the animals? He treated both in the same way – as far as he was concerned there was no difference between the moneychanger and the sheep destined for sacrifice.

And then we get to the nub of why John has this incident at the stark of Jesus ministry rather than at the end as the other gospels do… “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up”. This is textbook John, a wonderful picture and story that helps us start to understand the change that is occurring here.

This is the end of the old world of sacrifice and of only being a good Jew if you worship at THE Temple, what John is showing us here is that Jesus is destroying the old Temple, the old way of doing things and he is showing us that HE will become the Temple. When Jesus is resurrected three days after he is crucified his body becomes the sacrifice, later Jesus body is bread and Jesus body, not the lamb, is sacrifice. This allows John to point to these words from Jesus afterwards and demonstrate that He knew exactly what was coming – but of course the disciples don’t understand that until after the resurrection.

But so what? I’ve just given you a textbook explanation of what John is doing here story wise, why it was important and I hope I’ve given you a picture in your mind of an angry Jesus because for me, one of the biggest things we sometimes forget about Jesus is that he got angry.

It’s easy for us to picture Christians as people who should take Jesus example and always be nice, head tilted 45 degrees to the right and listening as you demonstrate how understanding and Jesus-like you are – but actually you’re raging inside. This story shows that Jesus wasn’t always nice – it shows that when things were wrong he got angry and that actually, if we want to be more like Jesus then we should get angry when things are wrong.

For me right now this lesson is one of authenticity. This is why I love the Bible. Two years ago I could have read this lesson and taken from it a story of prophesy, or I could have taken another more practical lesson but this week I’ve taken authenticity as a church as what the Holy Spirit is trying to show me.

The Bible isn’t something you read through once, these stories are not just something that you read through once and tick off and say ‘okay, I’ve read the Bible’ they are something that we should live with daily. Previous generations understood this better than us – perhaps it was the lack of TV but they read the Bible together every day… Now, once something is done it’s time to move onto the next thing – but the Bible gives us a framework within which the Holy Spirit can work in us to help us discern those things that we would otherwise not see – or worse would actively avoid – and for that to work, for us to have a door open to the Holy Spirit we need to sit with the Bible as much as we can – reading the same stories, the same examples, the same lessons over and over again and each time getting what we need right then, or rather what God needs us to get right then.

So right now, this week, I’ve been reflecting on why it is that I keep coming to this passage every time I walk into a Cathedral and I’m charged for entry, or every time I see the exit through the gift shop sign on the way out of a Cathedral. I see Jesus walking in and turning over the coffee shop tables, pulling the books and olive wood statues from the shelves and smashing the glass donation boxes asking why it is we have turned the Fathers house into a market place. It’s an easy picture to paint isn’t it – especially when our nose is out of joint at having to part with £15 to walk through the door so we can pray.

The conclusion I’ve come to is that this story is not about those petty things, those things that wind us up because we feel that these buildings our OURS and we should be able to wander in and out as and when we want with no barrier to entry – actually the reason I feel uncomfortable about these things is because it puts into start contrast for me the difference between the building and worship. The Cathedral, our church buildings in general, are just places we come to worship when we are called. We expect God to turn up here and to hear our prayers, but what this story shows us is that God doesn’t inhabit a building – no matter how grand – God inhabits us and our worship can happen anywhere. The point of our church buildings is that they can offer two things:

1 – A place to come and worship as a community
2 – A hook upon which we can engage others in the mission of the church

And that’s where I come back to authenticity. Our church buildings have practical things that need to be paid for. Beyond that we have things that we need to buy to make our worship more comfortable – there’s nothing wrong with that – there is nothing wrong with spending money on a new roof, or a new tower in a Cathedral so a lift can be put in – because that is being done to authentically enable our churches to be either a place of community worship – a beacon in our communities – or to enable broader mission work.

Our Cathedrals and churches have become places of hope and support for a vast number of people who rely on the services – both spiritual and practical – that they offer – our churches have become places where food banks operate and credit unions are formed – we are starting to relish in the church being a force for good in the world – we are starting to relish the fact that that means DOING things not just raising money to do things. We are starting to realise that selling things in our foyer is not an invitation for Jesus to be angry with us but an opportunity to fund a homeless shelter, a food bank, a credit advisor, a way to keep the building open, warm and well lit so that it can be a sanctuary, a place of divine peace and worship.

We are being authentic in our call to build the Kingdom here on earth.

So next time we cringe at paying for something in church or when we see a new coffee shop in the cloisters of a Cathedral – just ask yourself if it’s being authentic – and if it’s not, then be like Jesus and get angry!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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…

Sermon on The Baptism of Christ

I’ve really struggled with this sermon. It was given to celebrate The Baptism of Christ this morning – but amid horrific events in Paris. I sat with the text most of the week, read widely and googled even more widely – but nothing. In the end this was what came, line by hard line. I had good feedback from the congregations this morning – other than people saying it was short at only six minutes!

Right click to download a copy of the sermon on The Baptism of Christ.

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

Please sit.

It’s very hard to stand here today and talk about a celebration – a festival – after this weeks horrendous events in Paris. But today is the festival of the Baptism of Christ. We celebrate the Baptism of our Saviour – the moment that he decided, he made a choice that the time had come for him to face his ministry. He had decided that the time had come to follow his vocation. For thirty years he had lived in Nazareth, now was the time to step forward. Jesus made a choice and took up his inheritance.

In Mark’s gospel there is no nativity story. No story of where Jesus came from or where he was born other than to say he had come from Nazareth of Galilee. We barely get 4 verses into the gospel before Mark is telling us about his baptism – I think that’s very striking – the start of Mark’s gospel is about a man making a choice, not a man being born into a destiny already before him.

We are faced with choices all the time. Not all of our choices result in the heavens being torn apart and God speaking to us telling us he is well pleased with us. But those choices are no less important.

In our modern Baptism service the priest asks those who are being baptised, or via their parents and God Parents – Do you reject the devil and all rebellion against God? Do you renounce the deceit and corruption of evil? Those questions are not just for that moment, are not meant to be discarded and forgotten about as soon you as leave church and head for the party. Those questions should sit with you every time you make a choice. Every time you make a decision you should ask yourself if you are turning your back on evil and facing Christ – because in that choice you mirror the decision that Jesus took that day – or in the lead up to that day – to face his ministry, his vocation – perhaps knowing exactly what lay in front of him.

So what can we take from Jesus decision, the example of the choice that he made? We know that because of our Baptisms we have made a promise – a choice, that we confirmed during our confirmations – to turn to God and turn our back on evil – and we have to do that in every single choice – every single decision we ever make – even when we may know that that decision will lead to a personal loss or challenge.

After Jesus was Baptised he was immediately driven (you have to love the language and style of the Gospel of Mark, if you wanted to make a gritty Norwegian version of the story of Jesus you’d surely start with the Gospel of Mark) ‘and the spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness for forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.

We are in the wilderness with the wild beasts – every day of our lives. We’ve seen this week what happens when people make the wrong choices, when they let evil into their hearts.

For us, here and now on a smaller scale, one small bad decision leads to another, and then another and then another – before you know it you’re in a cycle that is almost impossible to break out of. ‘Oh, I’ve done this before and it was okay’.

This is one of the reasons we confess our sins each Sunday – doing what people were doing on the banks of the Jordan all those years ago. They were being baptised in the name of God, they were being washed clean of their sins and to be washed clean of their sins they had to face them and repent. Our confession on a Sunday shouldn’t be something we mumble through and read without thinking. Our time for confession is to allow us to seek out those choices we’ve made that week that were perhaps bad ones – and we all make bad decisions all the time – decisions that may have been good for us – but bad for others. A chance to break the cycle of bad choices and turn afresh to Christ.

I think that when we confess our sins, when we face our choices, when we turn our backs on evil and face Christ we perhaps try to be like Jesus that day. We make that declaration to ourselves and when we truly do that, when we truly ask God to wash us clean of our sins we invite the Spirit to descend on us – like a dove from the sky – a sign of peace and love, not war and hate – and in that moment God speaks to us and in our hearts says he loves us, and that he is well pleased with us.

So what do we do with that love and peace that we have been granted by God? Do we just bask in that glory? No, we take the words of the dismissal at the end of the service to heart… go in peace to love and serve the Lord… a good friend of mine in Wales used to say at the end of his services…. “go in peace to love and serve the Lord – the service has ended and now the worship begins”.

Amen.

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.

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.

 

 

Intercession Prayers 27th July 2014

Begged, borrowed and pinched from a few places – including the Church of England Topical Prayers page but broadly my own.


 

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

The response to God of love is Hear our prayer:

God of love
Hear our prayer

Lord Jesus Christ, we pray for your Church.
We pray that all those embraced by the love of the
Church continue to cherish and mirror your love.
We pray that all those embraced by the love of the
Church welcome others into the tender Grace you taught us.
We pray for our leaders and we pray for unity in difference and love in diversity.
God of love
Hear our prayer

Lord Jesus Christ, we pray for peace,
bring near the day when wars shall cease
and poverty and pain shall end,
and that earth may know the peace of heaven.

We pray for peace in Gaza and Israel:
for an end to hostilities,
for comfort and help for all who suffer,
and for reconciliation between Palestine and Israel.

We pray for the Christians of Mosul,
a city where Christian and Muslim have lived together for over 1400 years.
We pray for healing, peace and restoration.
Bring light out of this darkness and hope from despair
that guided by your Holy Spirit, all your children may find a new way forward together based on your love for us all.

We pray for those damaged by the fighting in Syria.
To the wounded and injured:
To the terrified who are living in shock:
To the hungry and homeless, refugee and exile:

Give strength Lord Jesus Christ
To those bringing humanitarian aid:
To those giving medical assistance:
To those offering counsel and care:
For all making the sacrifice of love:

God of love
Hear our prayer

Lord Jesus Christ, we pray for those in pain or suffering.
We pray for those who are ill in our community

God of love
Hear our prayer

Let us commend ourselves, and all for whom we pray,
to the mercy and protection of God.

Amen

Intercession Prayers

I’ve read intercession prayers quite a few times in church – but I’ve never written my own. I often borrow from a wide source of books and websites. This sunday however I decided it was time I sat down and wrote my own prayers to read… here’s my first attempt. All feedback very much welcome.

Lord, we come to you in peace, calm and prayerful meditation this morning.

Lord, as we stop and pray for others, we ask you to guide us over the next week so that we may understand what it means to come as we are into your Kingdom. Help us to understand the gifts you have given each of us and how we can best use them in God’s service.
Lord, in your mercy.
Hear our prayer.

Lord, we pray for the unity of all christians in Christ.
We pray that whatever church we belong to you help us see what brings us together, rather than what divides.
We pray for those christians who are persecuted and for those that are forced to hide their faith.
Lord, in your mercy.
Hear our prayer.

Lord, we pray for peace in our world and especially ask you to support and care for those involved in difficult and complex peace talks for Syria. The opposing sides in Ukraine, South Sudan and Egypt and for those caught up in war, conflict and division wherever they may be.
Lord, in your mercy.
Hear our prayer.

Lord, we ask you to be near Judy Kidd and Ann Lees this week. Unite us in your wonderful love and be near all who are sick, or in need of comfort. We pray for Bill Nicholson who has passed into your care and for his family and friends.
Lord, in your mercy.
Hear our prayer.

Lord, we bring these prayers to you as we are, ready to embrace your love and to take your Church forward in the spirit of ministry you taught us in such a short time. We take a moment now in silent prayer to bring to you those people and things that need your infinite love.
Lord, in your mercy.
Hear our prayer.

The Gospel reading for today was Matthew 4: 12-23

The Five Marks of Mission

The question posed for me to answer (on no more than two sides of A4) was:

Assess myself and my Church against the five marks. Where are we?

The five marks are: (via)

  • To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom
  • To teach, baptise and nurture new believers
  • To respond to human need by loving service
  • To seek to transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and to pursue peace and reconciliation
  • To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth

Again I struggled to answer this on two sides of A4 and ended up editing quite heavily. I did leave the first mark, for the most part, unscathed. You’ll see why as you read on.

Cross, Sunset, Holy Island, Northumberland by Ian Britton

To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom

This is the central, most important aspect of these five marks for me – everything else is either derivative or carries this first mark with them in action. By carrying out the other four marks you are, through your actions, proclaiming the Good News of the Kingdom.

As the website of the Anglican Communion also points out this first mark is a summary of what all mission is about, because it’s based on Jesus’ own summary of mission. The website points to several readings on this point, but the one that best describes this first mark for me is Mark 1: 16-19.

Jesus calls his first disciples
16 As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 17 ‘Come, follow me.’ Jesus said, ‘and I will send you out to fish for people.’ 18 At once they left their nets and followed him. (NIV 2011).

To now sit and assess myself and my Church against this first mark is to assess all marks of mission. Do I proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom? Am I a disciple of Jesus? Does my Church proclaim the Good News? Does my Church create disciples?

I could write several pages on just the first question. I am humble in my belief that I do proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom – I say humble because whilst my calling, my sense of mission is so wrapped up in this first mark I am also horribly aware of how far short I fall. I believe the best way to proclaim the Good News is through action. I so often find myself asking where God is in my actions, where he is in my decisions. Too many nights I sit and pray and seek forgiveness for actions that do not proclaim His Good News.

My Church is somewhat different. Bledlow connects with the parish in proclaiming the Good News of the Kingdom in the way one would expect. There are a wide variety of services – both liturgical and some new non-liturgical options that connect with people in a way that opens the doors of the building to hear the Good News – but also stay with you afterwards. I love the pew sheets because they allow you to take the readings away and re-read them – I’m sure most people don’t do this, but it’s there when people need it. Jennifer is tireless in pursuit of this first mark – supported by a community that loves Christ and the parish, it’s people and it’s Church.

Throughout the Gospels we are told of Jesus proclaiming the Good News to the poor,

“So he replied to the messengers, ‘Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.” Luke 7:22 NIV 2011.

Bledlow has its share of people who may be considered poor – but on the whole we are a very wealthy parish. Mission here, for me, is about bringing the Church to the door of the poor and letting them see the challenges people face every day. It’s about opening the doors of our Church so that those inside can see out. It’s about proclaiming the Good News to those already within the Church – it could be argued that this is a more challenging job!

To teach, baptise and nurture new believers

I strongly feel that by proclaiming the Good News we nurture new believers – and with that in mind it is fair to say that I nurture new believers where I am able. I actively demonstrate my faith and welcome conversation about the Church and about Christ wherever I am – in work, in the pub and in Church. I pray that I teach when I lead the odd service for families and when I talk to people about Christ in a less formal way – I think I can get a great deal better at that. Each time I visit a new Church or see a teacher I’ve not seen before I am mentally scribbling notes to help improve my teaching. This has now manifested in a ‘ways I can be better’ document, and an ‘ideas for church’ document I keep on my phone.

Holy Trinity certainly teaches, baptises and nurtures new believers in a way that is consistent with the type of parish and the congregation. Jennifer & Matthew are incredibly welcoming and through events like the village Fete, high-days and holidays engage with the wider community to enable nurture for those on the edges of faith.

To respond to human need by loving service

How can you teach, nurture and proclaim the Good News without responding to human need by loving service? You cannot teach without an understanding of the person or people in front of you; you cannot lead without serving and you cannot proclaim the Good News unless you offer loving service in the name of Christ.

Do I respond to human need by loving service? I hope I do – I hope that my vocation with the Church mirrors that of my time spent nursing, working in care homes and with other vulnerable people. This is at the heart of my faith. This is where I find God most easily.

My Church is a loving community of people who really care for each other. They come together in times of pain and in times of celebration – they hold each other carefully and prayerfully. There is so little politics, so little of the expected cliques and gossip that can harm a congregation. I am blessed to be part of this Church.

To seek to transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and to pursue peace and reconciliation

Christians throughout the world combat unjust structures and challenge violence every day – as a family we are strong and by supporting charities and other NGOs that work in these areas we can have a large impact. I try to support these through both financial donations and by alerting others to the work that they do – as does my Church.

Beyond that we have work to do in our every day lives – do I, as a Director of Blackwell’s ensure our structures are supportive, ethical and ‘good’? I believe I do and I work hard with the board to ensure that fairness is felt throughout the company. I’m not always successful and it’s easy to be ethical when you’re profitable. When you’re a company that loses money, and has done for several years, that can be more of a challenge.

To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth

This mark very much falls into the field of ‘looking after God’s creation’ for me. Taking care of our world and the people in it. On a personal note I ensure I recycle, encourage others to do so and to also think about their impact on the world. I do this in a very typical English middle class way – I recycle – therefore I take care of the world. It is of course a great deal more complicated than that and this mark is the most difficult for me to asses as I do so little to uphold it. I need a good deal more thought and prayer on this.

My Church carries out recycling, promotes charities that care for the world – but I’m sure there’s more we could be doing in this area.

Note on bible verses. 

At this stage in my Biblical study I can’t say that I have a favourite Bible. I skip between whichever is nearest to hand and I have to say that my little travel NIV Bible from Hodder Faith is nearly always within reach so tends to be my first port of call. Most of this piece was written in Starbucks in High Wycombe so that was the Bible I had with me. At home I tend to use the Collins NRSV Anglicised Version for the Church of England and if I’m preparing something for the children in church I fall back on old faithful – The Good News Bible.

What does the Nicene Creed mean to me?

Taking into account what I wrote here – here’s my second piece of writing for my Area Director of Ordinands.

What does the Nicene Creed mean to me?
What would I change in the Creed if I had the opportunity?

It would be very easy in this short essay to explore the theological meaning and history of the Nicene Creed. I spent the first two weeks after you posed these questions reading deeply into the history and theology before returning to the questions of my view of the Creed and what I would like to change given the opportunity.

I’m not sure that at this stage in my faiths maturity and development I am in a position to offer any coherent view of the Creed and what I would want to see changed. I have found this essay difficult to complete. I would be far more comfortable writing an in-depth academic piece. However, part of the discernment process and my training will require the exploration of areas in which I feel comfortable and force me to engage in areas where I am not comfortable — and the Creed is as good a place to start.

For a very long time the Creed was something I read on Sunday mornings in Church with Grandma (it’s not something I read in chapel). I always had to read it — it never stayed with me — and over time it began to stick and it disappeared into the background dogma of a Sunday service. When I met Catherine and we decided to marry I was required to attend lessons with her at the Catholic cathedral in Birmingham and at her parish Church in Newport. During those lessons we spent some time examining the Creed and it came as a surprise that it was word for word the same Creed I’d been saying in the Church in Wales with Grandma for so many years — indeed I found it surprising that so many of our services appear to follow much of the same liturgy at times.

I was surprised at how much of the Creed had passed me by each Sunday morning — despite the number of times I had read it I still did not appreciate the depth of the Creed or even begin to understand its implications.

As I learnt more about the Creed and its history it became apparent that the aim was to bring people of differing — you could say, arguing faiths and schools of theology together. It is at its very heart, indeed at its very inception, the definition of an ecumenical declaration.

When you sit and read the Creed it stands out as a declaration. Here we are, this is what we believe, and we believe this together. We are one Church, we are one family and we believe in the Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. That’s incredibly powerful and the more you study and read the Creed the more that settles on you and demands to be taken more seriously. Reading it on a Sunday morning does not engage you in the same way as studying it does.

The first verse is wonderfully simple. It’s not even a full verse; just a simple, single, sentence — a pure declaration of faith. It is comfortable and easy to remember. A simple introduction to the Creed.

As we move forward from the pure declaration of the first verse into the second we are again presented with a firm collective declaration ‘We believe…’ before moving onto the most important narrative of the New Testament – that of the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This is the most central tenet of our faith and reminds us — along with the word ‘we’ that we all believe this, that our church — along with others all over the world — hold this central tenet to be self evident.

It doesn’t stop there. The second verse moves beyond the resurrection of Christ to outline — to declare — that Jesus is sat at the right hand of the Father and that he will come again. The beginning of the thread of Trinity within the Creed.

The third and final verse again starts with ‘We believe…’ and adds the final element of the Trinity – the Holy Spirit. It anchors our belief in the Holy Spirit and makes clear that the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son – very clearly stating the Trinity as one in the Father and not as a separate divine presences.

For me the final few lines of the last verse are the most important — the least clearly stated but the most important ‘We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church’ — catholic as in all embracing and again the ‘We believe…’. Given the history and birth of the Creed this seems to be the verse that brings everything else together. We accept that there are many facets of church, we accept that there are many different ways of seeing and worshiping Christ but here are the central tenets, here is what our faith is, here is what we’ll stand together for.

We come together in this declaration of our faith — we are Christians in a worldwide family. Every Church that says this together on Sunday morning is declaring their part in the family of Christ and in the worldwide family of Christians – that is the most powerful aspect of the Creed in todays Christianity and one I think is perhaps lost on the vast majority of people who recite it.

What would I change?

The only time I ever get frustrated with liturgy, just as I do with work projects or documents, is when the language gets in the way of the meaning. The Creed is not terribly onion like — there are not many layers of understanding going on here. You could theoretically argue the theology of the declaration but the meaning is very clear to everyone who reads or speaks it. But whilst the meaning is clear — the understanding is not — without context.

I would argue that the Creed should not be altered, but would suggest that perhaps some more explanation should be offered to the congregation before the Creed is said. In the same way that each Sunday I lead the Children’s talk or the family service I talk of our ‘family prayer’ the ‘prayer that Jesus taught us to say together’ I would suggest that the Creed could use some placement — some context — an understanding that people all over the world are saying this same Creed at their Churches. A way to ensure that the repetition of the Creed does not push it to the back of peoples mind, a way to ensure that the dogma of the words slip from understanding but retain some importance in the liturgy each Sunday.

After writing this essay I’m going to work on a session for the Children’s Explorer mornings on the Creed. I’m not sure what shape that will take yet but I feel that the youngest members of our congregation need to grasp that we are one holy catholic and apostolic Church – wherever you chose to worship, wherever you are in the world.

 

 

What is a priest and why do I want to be one?

I’ve been trying to figure out if this is the right thing to do or not (posting my work that is!) The reality is this blog gets between zero and one hit a week (and I suspect that one is Google) – I think that’s a good thing and this is really a personal diary of a journey that at some point in the future may help others on the same path but also provide a place for me to re-discover what I was thinking and doing as I stepped through the process.

So if you are reading this please take these posts as they’re intended and offer your feedback, thoughts and prayers.

Part of the selection  process involves writing short essays on certain topics. The first I was asked to write was to help me understand if my calling was towards offering as a Deacon or as a Priest. I’ve posted what I wrote below – I’ll continue to post these but only after I’ve presented them and had feedback on them from my Area Director of Ordinands. Your thoughts are very welcome on them. They are designed (from what I can tell so far) to encourage me to think and pray about a certain topic in detail.

What is a priest and why do I want to be one?

This is a more difficult subject to write on than I first imagined. I needed to separate the titles from the practice – the words from the action. I feel this exercise has helped me understand the differences between a ‘deacon’ and a ‘priest’ and what my calling is pointing me towards.

The difficulty I had with the title of priest is the almost incessant use of the word ‘leader’. I made the mistake of confusing the leadership of a priest with the secular meaning of the word – something I’m very familiar with. I lead people on a daily basis – I write and help people understand large complex strategies and how that translates into tactical work each week. It would be easy to draw a parallel with the role of a priest as leader; a role that requires him or her to help people understand a complex big picture and what that means day-to-day.

I think this is a mistake. I don’t see, and I certainly can’t discern my calling into the role of ‘translation of faith’ – a diktat on what it means to be a Christian and engage with the Church. In trying to write this short essay I have searched for a way to answer this question – the more I think and pray on it the more I see the role of priest as a farmer.

A farmer is responsible for his farm – it can be 1,500 acres, or just a small plot – regardless of the size his duties remain the same. He needs to care for everyone within his farm – from the gentleman who comes to collect the milk, to the poacher hiding in the woods. He is a good neighbour to other farmers (even if they are growing crops he doesn’t think are worth while), he is part of an ecosystem that needs to be cared for in partnership with a large number of other people.

He needs to care for his stock, plan for their care and lead them with gentle kindness to ensure they are safe and can find what they need. A farmer does not chain his horse to the trough because he knows the water is good for him, rather he ensures that the trough is clean, available and always full to the brim with water. He can show the horse where the trough is and help the horse by making sure his field is clear of obstacles.

I understand that this may appear quite trite; a rather obvious metaphor for a priest, but one that does help me to voice my understanding of a priest. A priest needs to lead a congregation in worship, he needs to lead his congregation in prayer and he needs to lead his congregation in a maturing of their faith. A priest does not dictate to his congregation what they must and must not do – he gives them the tools to discover those truths for themselves.

A priest’s congregation is not limited to those sitting in the pews on a Sunday morning – or if you’re lucky at morning prayer! A priest in today’s society is a farmer without land. He must connect with people outside his church building – he must see Church all around him and help others to see that as well. Importantly he must help those inside the Church to see those outside – this is a part of priesthood that feels much more diaconal in service rather than priestly in leadership. Through this work I have come to understand to a much greater degree the role of deacon in every priest.

This is where I see my role as a priest being. On the edges of Church offering people with faith – who may not be ready to come to church – an opportunity to discuss their faith, an opportunity to find faith – an opportunity to have a conversation with someone who won’t respond with a raised eyebrow and question their reason.

I work in an industry based on science, on hard research and on not making decisions based on gut feeling or intuition. Digital research and development requires firm evidence before moving forward, if you don’t have that evidence then you stop re-assess and retest before trying again. It means people with faith can be left feeling like outsiders. There is no-one in their work life that they can talk to or mature their faith with. Talking about faith is seen as a weakness. I want to reach out to those people, to that congregation if you like, to be a visible person of faith who is also a working member of their industry. I want to show people that you can be an evidence based professional and a person of faith – that whilst science answers our questions on how – faith helps us answer questions on why. Science and faith are not enemies; they are brother parts of the same journey towards understanding.

As a priest I will be able to fully engage with this community – and importantly, something I’d not fully understood – play a full role within my parish. Leading worship, leading prayer, helping people of a parish marry, take communion and mature their faith is something that will ground my ministry and enhance it – it’s not about being a manager of a church building. This is the heart of ministry and I had not fully grasped that until I walked through this process.

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