Hadlow Parish Assistance Scheme

This scheme will cease to be operational from the 1st June although help can still be given if required. A big thank you to all those who volunteered their time to help others during the lockdown. If help is required, please contact Tonbridge and Malling Community Hub on 01732 876152 or Kent Together on 03000419292.

7th Sunday of Easter Sermon

7th Sunday of Easter 2020Acts 1: 6-14, John 17: 1-11

“…so that they may be one, as we are one”, Jesus prays in verse 11 of our Gospel reading this morning. “…..so that they may be one as we are one”.

On this last Sunday of Easter, we are invited to listen in as Jesus makes a “High Priestly Prayer” to his Father.  The setting for his prayer is the Upper Room on Maundy Thursday, and the mood in the room as Jesus talks to God is heavy and poignant.  After all He has just said goodbye to his disciples, and every word, deed, and gesture he has offered them is weighted with grief.  He has washed their feet, fed them bread and wine, promised them the Holy Spirit, and commanded them to love one another.  He has spoken to them with both tenderness and urgency, as if time is running out.  Because it is.

Now, in the last moments before his arrest, he looks up to heaven and speaks of his heart’s deepest desires to God. 

Jesus is praying, and he is praying to his Father. and our Father. He prays for us, and he asks our Father that we would all become one as he and the Father are one.

If Jesus is praying for our oneness, then he is also recognizing and rejecting the boundaries and differences that divide us. There are divisions within ourselves, our families, our neighbours, our churches, our nation. We live in a world full of divisions – male or female; rich or poor; gay or straight; Protestant or Catholic; north or south; conservative or liberal; educated or uneducated; young or old; heaven or earth; divine or human; sinner or saved; orthodox or heretic. I am sure you could all list many more divisions in our world than the ones I’ve just mentioned. We could probably go on and on listing the boundaries that we encounter, and all too often establish or promote. They are not just divisions though, as they have become oppositions. These divisions exist not only out there in the world, but primarily and firstly in the human heart. We project onto the world our fragmented lives.

For every boundary we establish, there is a human being. Ultimately I suggest, boundaries and differences are not about issues. They are about real people, who have names, lives, joys, sorrows, concerns, and needs just like us and I think we sometimes forget or ignore this. It is often easier to deal with an issue than a real person.

Whether or not we admit it, the boundaries we establish and enforce are usually done in such a way as to favour us; to make us feel okay, to reassure us that we are right and in control, chosen and desired, seen and recognized, approved of and accepted. In order for me to win, someone must lose, in order for me to be included, someone must be excluded otherwise winning and being included mean nothing. The divisions of our lives in some way become self-perpetuating.

We often deal with the boundaries and differences that divide us by writing agreements, covenants, treaties, and legislation that govern how we will get along with each other and behave in the midst of our differences towards each other. But that is not Jesus’ prayer. His prayer is “…so that they may be one, as we are one”, (v11)

Jesus does not pray for our tolerance, our getting along, or just being nice to each other. He does not even pray that our differences would be eliminated. Instead he prays for our oneness. He prays that we would be one as he and the Father are one so that our oneness would be the revelation of God’s presence to the world. Oneness in the midst of difference becomes a sacramental presence of God’s life in the world.

That does not mean, however, that we lose our identity or individuality. Jesus does not stop being Jesus and the Father stop being the Father because they are one. Oneness is less about numbers and quantity and more qualitative. Jesus and the Father are one because they love and give themselves to each other. Oneness is a quality of life – God’s life. Jesus’ prayer for oneness is ultimately that we would be and live like God.

Oneness is not about eliminating differences. It is about love. Love is the only thing that can ever overcomes division and over and over again, Jesus tells us that in his teachings.

  • Love God.
  • Love your neighbour.
  • Love yourself.
  • Love your enemy.

Our love for God, neighbour, self, and enemy reveals our oneness. And the measure of our oneness, our God-likeness, is love. In love there may be differences, but there is no division or boundary.

God’s love knows no boundaries. God loves male and female, rich and poor, gay and straight, north and south. God loves Protestant and Catholic, conservative and liberal, educated and uneducated. God loves young and old, heaven and earth, divine and human. God loves sinner and saved, orthodox and heretic.  All are loved fully, completely, and uniquely as each one needs.

God does not even draw boundaries between Jesus and us. If we think God loves Jesus more than anyone else, we have missed the point of the Gospel. God loves you the same as he loves Jesus. God loves your neighbour the same as he loves Jesus. God loves your enemy the same as he loves Jesus. If that is how God loves, how can we do anything less and still call ourselves Christians?

For far too long we have dealt with each other through our boundaries, differences, and divisions. And you can see the situations that has got us into. You need only look at the world, read the newspaper, or watch the news to see it. When we deal with others through our divisions we label, we judge and exclude, we can end up resorting to war and violence, and then take shelter to defend our position. There is no oneness in that.

Although Jesus is praying to the Father, you and I will in the large part, be the ones to answer Jesus’ prayer. That is because we answer his prayer every time we choose how to love, who to love, where to love. It is now time to really answer Jesus’ prayer and deal with one another in love. So, in these coming days, I wonder who are the boundaries, what are the divisions that await our love?

Amen

6th Sunday of Easter Sermon

6th Sunday of Easter 2020 – (Acts 17: 22-31, John 14: 15-21)

“I will not leave you orphaned” says Jesus in our reading from Johns Gospel this morning. I wonder what images come to your mind when you hear the word “orphan”. Perhaps an orphan like Annie as portrayed in the film or musical, or maybe a character from a Victorian novel like the ones written by Charles Dickens. After all his stories are full of orphans like Oliver Twist or Pip from Great Expectations.

Or perhaps when you hear the word “orphan” you think of the many orphans there are around the world now in places where life is still fragile and dangerous. Those living and sleeping on the streets with no family support at all, or those living in soulless orphanages abandoned and alone, or the places where children have lost one or both parents to some disease or other; leaving them to be cared for by their wider family. The word “orphan” can be a powerful and emotive one.

But in our reading this morning Jesus isn’t speaking to small children when he speaks those words. He is speaking to his disciples. They are grown adults, rough and ready fishermen who have battled the seas to fish, tax-collectors, people of the world living in hard times, women who have lived on the margins of their societies, excluded or shunned. Yet Jesus recognises that when they lose him, first to crucifixion and then again as he ascends to his Father in heaven, they will feel lost, bereft, uncertain. They will feel orphaned, just as we can feel orphaned in our own lives too.

So Jesus says, “I will not leave you orphaned.” At some point in our lives we all want or even need to hear these words. They speak directly to some of our greatest fears and challenges; those of abandonment and isolation, loneliness or vulnerability. They remind us that we are not destined to walk this earth without an identity or sense of direction. We do not stand alone.

However, there is no doubt that there are seasons within life. Moments, when the transitions, changes, and tragedies can leave us feeling like orphans. Whether spoken or unspoken the questions begin. What will I do now? Where do I go? What happens next? Who will love, nurture, and guide me? Who stands on my side? What will become of me? Those are the orphan’s questions. Those are our questions. Those are the questions I imagine were running through the heads and hearts of the disciples in this morning’s reading.

It is the last supper. The disciples have been fed, feet have been washed and the betrayer has left. It is night, dark, and Jesus announces he is leaving. The one for whom they left everything now says he is leaving. “We do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” “Show us the Father.” More orphan questions.

Anyone who has ever loved and lost – a spouse, a child, a friend, security, hope – knows the orphan’s questions.

We fear becoming orphaned. That fear points to the deeper reality that by ourselves we are not enough. It is not, however, because we are deficient. It is rather because we were never intended or created to be self-sufficient. We were never intended to stand alone as individuals. We were created to love and be loved, to live in relationship as persons giving themselves to each other, to dwell, abide, and remain within each other even as the Father is in Jesus and Jesus is in the Father; the direct opposite of being orphaned.

“I will not leave you orphaned.” That is the promise we hear today. Regardless of the circumstances of our lives, the turmoils, death, separation, we have never been and will never be orphaned by God. How strange that must have sounded to the disciples. In the same conversation Jesus tells them that he is leaving and coming. Leaving and coming most definitely sound like opposites! How can this be? What is Jesus saying?  If we are not careful, we will get struck trying to reconcile or figure this out. It is not, however, something to figure out. It is rather a means to see and live in a different way. What Jesus is trying to tell the disciples is “Even though we are apart I will never leave you.”

Leaving and coming. Presence and Absence. These must be held in tension, not as mutually exclusive. That is what Jesus has set before us in today’s gospel. That tension confronts us with the question of whether Jesus, for us, is a past memory or a present reality, a sentimental story that makes us feel good or a living experience that challenges, guides, and nurtures our life.

According to Jesus the answer to that question is determined by love that is revealed and fulfilled in keeping his commandments. The commandment to love our neighbour as ourselves, to love our enemies, to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. Whose feet do we wash and whose feet to ignore? What are the boundaries of love?

Do we keep the commandments? Is our love growing, expanding, transformative of ourselves and the world? If so, Jesus is probably for us a present reality and we know the fulfilment of his promise that we are not left orphaned. If, however, we are not loving so much. If we remain self-enclosed and isolated, we relegate ourselves and each other to the orphanages of this world. Jesus’ promise is still real, and he remains faithful we have simply not yet claimed it for ourselves.

Keeping the commandments is our access to Jesus’ promise that we will not be left orphaned. Keeping the commandments does not make Jesus present to us. It makes us present to the already ongoing reality of Jesus’ presence. The commandments do not earn us Jesus’ love they reveal our love for him, a love that originates in his abiding love and presence within us.

Every time we expand the boundaries of our love, we push back the orphanages of this world creating space within us where the Father and Jesus make their home.

“I will not leave you orphaned.” Over and over, day after day, regardless of what is happening in our lives that is Jesus’ promise. We have not been abandoned. So do not abandon yourselves or others to the orphanages of this world. Love with all that you are and all that you have, just as the Father and Jesus love us with all that they are and all that they have.

Amen

5th Sunday of Easter Sermon

John 14: 1-14

So on this fifth Sunday of Easter, the setting of our Gospel is grim and sombre.  After all Jesus has just finished a last supper with his disciples.  He has washed their feet, given them a new commandment, predicted Peter’s denial, foretold Judas’s betrayal, and told his friends that he is about to leave them.  “Where I am going,” he tells them, “you cannot follow now.”

Needless to say, the words of Jesus hit hard, and fill the bewildered disciples with fear and concern.  What on earth is Jesus talking about?  How will they survive if he leaves them now?  Where will they go and what will they do?  What will happen to their hopes, their dreams and their plans?  Why is the ground shifting under their feet?  Why is everything changing?  

Many people – you and me included I expect – in these last few weeks of lockdown and isolation due to Covid -19 pandemic, sheltering at home, reading the daily headlines or listening to the news, are probably fearing to varying degrees what life in general, and indeed our own lives are going to look like during the next few months or years. Therefore, we can all probably relate to the disciples’ questions.  Why is the ground shifting under our feet?  What’s going to happen to our families, our towns and villages, our nations, our world?  Will the centre hold and where is Jesus in all of this pain, fear, death, and loss? How will we find him if he’s gone to a place, we “cannot follow now”?

It is no surprise then that, the anxious disciples respond to their new predicament by demanding and wanting some certainty and security.  A natural reaction when we feel things slipping from our grasp or feel we are out of control. Thomas asks Jesus for a roadmap or some kind of pointer, a list of directions, as to where to go. He is looking to Jesus to tell him straight: “How can we know the way?”, he asks him. 

Then Philip asks for evidence and proof: “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.”  What they want — and what we all want, if we are maybe honest with ourselves — is the religion and faith with a Global Positioning System. The GPS that tells us the exact position on the ground that we want to be in or need to be in. The secure five point plan neatly printed off for ourselves, the twelve easy steps to get us where we need to be without getting lost, the ten commandments of direction.  The formula if you like that if you do A, followed by B, and then C, and you will unerringly arrive at the correct destination D that you were aiming for. 

But that wasn’t Jesus’s response.  “Do not let your hearts be troubled,” he says because “I am the way, the truth, and the life and if you know me, you will know my Father also.”   There it is. There is no roadmap.  There is no master plan or any form of satellite system to use for direction. There is just Jesus himself.  Just the messy, intimate, ever evolving, and often confusing business of relationship.  Of trust, patience, and vulnerability.

I expect most of us could come up with a whole list of things that trouble our hearts at the moment. Things that are close to home such as illness, family concerns, financial worries or in the wider world those of war, famine, and global warming.

Maybe it feels at this moment in time, the place you find yourselves in, like a tall order right now, to “not let your heart be troubled.”  To trust in the fact that you do in fact know the way — the quiet, unglamorous, risky, but ultimately life-giving way of Jesus.  But you do.  Like Thomas, like Philip, like Peter, like all the others, you do know Jesus.  You know his life and ultimately you know his love.  You know his death and above all you know his resurrection.  You know what it is to hunger for him, to seek him, to listen for him, to hope in him.  You do in fact know the way.  

No, the way is not what we thought it was going to be.  It is not a straight path free of any kind of obstacle, neatly signposted with clear sight of the destination. The way is demanding and costly to us.  The way is precarious sometimes taking us via the cliff edge, through the thorny wasteland, showing us many twists and turns and at times makes us wonder if we are just going round and round in circles.  The way takes time.  But the invitation of this Gospel reading we have heard this morning is still an invitation to confidence.  Not because we are experts at finding God, but because God has always, and already found us.  With every unknowing we embrace throughout our life’s journey, God finds us one more time and shows us the way.

In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places,” Jesus tells his forlorn and worried disciples.  And what does Jesus mean by this? Well he means that God is roomy.  God is generous.  God is hospitable.  God can handle your doubts, your fears, and your questions.  And God’s offer of belonging extends far beyond the confines of this mortal life.  “I go and prepare a place for you,” Jesus says this as he stands in the shadow of his own cross.  I am telling you that you have a place with me.  You have a place with God.  You have a place.

So, a grim and sombre setting.  There are real questions from real people.  Yet an offer of comfort.  The promise of home.  The Way.  

This is a Gospel for our time.  The story — your story, my story, our collective story of this precarious, overwhelming moment — will not end in death.  Though we might feel alone and frightened right now, the Way is open before us.  We know it.  We know Jesus, and because we know Jesus, we know God.  The Way will safely bear us home.  Do not let your hearts be troubled.

Amen