Sermon – 2nd Sunday of Advent

2 Peter 3:8-15a, Mark 1:1-8

One of the wonderful things about being a vicar is the sheer variety of people that you get to meet. When dealing with people who are not part of the church, but who may be arranging weddings or funerals or baptisms, I find myself sitting in a millionaire’s drawing room one moment and an hour later in the midst of such poverty which you would not believe exists in the midst of this village.

And there is also a huge variety of people within the church, and I want to think about two particular types of Christian this morning.  I should emphasise from the outset that I am thinking about the whole Christian community that I encounter, not just you lovely people in Hadlow, so don’t sit there trying to put names to descriptions.

The first is the type of Christian who is absolutely convinced that God did not exist within a particular church or community until they showed up.  They are certain that only they have encountered God properly, that only they know how to worship properly, that only they know the bible properly.  Everything which has happened in that church or in that community before they showed up is worthless, that all the other people there claiming to be Christians aren’t Christians really, they are only church-goers, and they will never be proper Christians until they have encountered God in the same way as they have.  God’s blessing, they believe, rests on them solely and uniquely.  In them God is doing a new thing.

The second type of Christian I want to mention today is the complete opposite of the first.  They personify the first half of the prayer of humble access – “I am not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs from under your table.”  They hardly believe that God notices them, let alone believe that God has a unique plan and purpose for them and their lives.

So we have the hubristic Christian who is here to save the world on their own and we have the ever-so-humble Christian who doesn’t think that they matter in God’s plan for the world at all.  In my humble opinion I think that both of those extremes are missing something important and that something may be hinted at in today’s readings.

Our gospel reading this morning came from Mark.  Interestingly Mark’s gospel does not start with the nativity story about Jesus, there are no angels or shepherds or magi or Joseph or Mary here, rather Mark begins his account of the story of Jesus not with Jesus, but with John the Baptist.

Actually it is not quite true; Mark actually starts much further back than that, with chapter 40 of the prophet Isaiah:

I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way.  A voice of one crying in the desert, ‘prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him;”.

So, Mark is saying that John the Baptist represents the fulfilment of the prophecy in Isaiah that someone will be sent to prepare the way for the Lord.

Now, if anyone were ever qualified to say that God’s blessing rested richly upon them, that God wanted them to do a new thing and that they were, in fact, the very incarnation of God on earth, it would, of course, be Jesus.

Jesus is the one person who could, legitimately, have turned up and said “You’ve messed up big time, nothing you’ve done in the past has led you to where you need to be but don’t worry, God the Son is here and we’re going to start again from scratch.”

But that is not how Jesus arrives and starts his ministry at all.  Although it becomes clear throughout the gospel that in Jesus God is doing something amazing and new, although in unexpected ways, here Mark goes to great pains to show that Jesus is part of the continuing story of God, which reaches back into Israel’s past relationship with God.

John the Baptist is placed squarely as the fulfilment of Isaiah and his role is to prepare the way for Jesus by calling the people to repentance and baptism and, although I don’t want to spoil January for you, by baptising Jesus himself.

Here we are shown in the space of a few short verses, that John’s roots lie in Jewish prophecy and tradition and, of course, so too does the Lord for whom he is preparing the way.

This rather begs the question of why Jesus needed the way prepared for him.  A more hubristic God wouldn’t need messengers or forerunners, he would simply get on and do things and heaven help those who don’t get into line.

I believe that Jesus needed the way prepared for him not for his benefit but for the benefit of the world.  People move on sometimes in small steps and the world would not be ready to receive the baptism of fire and the Holy Spirit until it had first seen and experienced John’s baptism with water.  In God’s plan the world simply was not ready for Jesus until John had been, and both were part of God’s continuum.

And after Jesus, and the first Pentecost, that continuum continued with the history of the church – the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church of the Nicene Creed.  One of the most obvious features of the most hubristic Christians is that they dismiss the vast majority of church history as a history of errors, which they have now arrived to correct.

But I take seriously the belief that the church is a holy body created by God for the purpose of continuing the work of Christ on earth.  That is not to say that the individuals within it are without sin, as is all too obvious and awful from so many stories of abuse, or that the church itself is incapable of sin, which is shown most obviously in the sin of schism and division between denominations.  But despite our sin and humanity God continues to work in the world through the church and we all stand in an apostolic line of succession, going back to Jesus and John in our baptisms and to the earliest days of God’s relationship with the world.

I constantly give thanks to see my name at the bottom of the list of vicars of Hadlow, not only because that is an immense privilege in itself, but because it reminds me in no uncertain terms that I stand here not alone but as part of 800 years of documented priestly ministry, and I hope and I pray that one day in the distant future my name will simply be another rung in the ladder, another small part of God’s story in this place.  Those who were here before me each prepared the way for those who would come after and I hope to prepare the way for those who come next.  In a small way each of us on that list acts as both John and Jesus.

But, of course, that doesn’t simply apply to vicars – all Christians stand in that continuum of God’s story.  None of us are doing this on our own and none of us can pretend either that no one went before us or should be proud enough to believe that all that has gone before is wrong and only we have the answer – that’s not what I see in Jesus.

So, what about those with excess humility – the person who thinks they are of no import to God or the world?

The good news is that the same answer applies.  If being part of God’s eternal story should curb too much pride in our own importance, then it should also build up those who think they are of no value.  Every single baptised person is part of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church and we are all part of the body of Christ.  There is no one whom God did not know from the beginning and there is no one who is not of immense value to God.  To feel or believe that you are too small or insignificant is to forget that God created you in his image and that he wants each of us to be his adopted children of light because of our relationship to him through Jesus.

There is a part in God’s plan for the world and his kingdom unique to each and every one of us.  Don’t be so humble that you miss it or so proud that you forget those who prepared the way for you.

Although, rhetorically, that may be a good place to finish, I need to take one final but important step.  If we are each called to recognise those who have gone before us and to prepare the way for those who come after us then it may be worth asking for whom are we preparing the way.  The lessons of the last few weeks remind us that the story of God does not conclude with his church going on ad infinitum.  The big picture is that God’s story concludes with Christ’s return – Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again.  

John prepared the way for Jesus,

Jesus prepared the way for us and

we prepare the way for Jesus.

Amen. 

Sermon – Advent Sunday

Sermon at St Mary’s Church Hadlow
on Advent Sunday 29th November 2020

Isaiah 64 vv 1 – 9   A prayer for God to intervene
Mark 13 vv 24  – E The distress of the last days

  1. Introduction.   “O that thou wouldst rend the heavens and come down”.  Perhaps many Christians, and others would echo that prayer of Isaiah at the beginning of our first reading, to come down and save us from this plague or as we prefer to call it in modern times, pandemic.   We long for an end to the restrictions associated with Covid19, especially having just been put in Tier 3. We may be fearful of the impending effects of climate change.  As I write a robin settles in the hawthorn bush at the end of our garden, and bobs up and down in agreement.  Birds, as well as humans, are under threat. The world seems to be in turmoil.   We long for God to come and sort out our mess, to save us in every sense of that word, remembering the words of the Psalmist, “God saves both man and beast” (Ps 36 v 6).

          Jesus, in our gospel reading, warns us that cataclysmic times not only on earth, but in the heavens above, will preceed his return to earth.  

          Today we begin not only the season of Advent, but the beginning of the Church’s year.  In the Book of Common Prayer there was not so much consideration of Christ’s return, going straight from the last Sunday after Trinity to Advent Sunday. The Alternative Service Book introduced us in 1980 to the Sundays before Advent and this has been continued into Commom Worship.  We have had quite a lead in to the climax of Advent Sunday, not only on the last few Sundays but also in weekday Morning Prayer, reading right through the book of Daniel and much of Revelation.  Today we begin Common Worship Year B with a focus on Mark’s Gospel in our Sunday readings.   In our Gospel reading today Jesus warns us to be prepared, to watch, to which Luke adds Jesus saying, ‘and pray’ (Lk 21 v 36).

2. Be prepared.           ‘Be prepared’, but for what?  As three of the evangelists, Matthew, Mark and Luke, were  writing the their gospels, there were two events that were still in the future for them.  The first was the destruction of Jerusalem, and in particular of the Temple and the second was Jesus return to earth.  One needs to read the whole of Mark 13 to understand what Jesus is saying.   As Jesus and his disciples leave the temple, one disciple draws Jesus’ attention to the magnificence of temple stones.  You may have seen some of these huge stones in the Western Wall, where Jews today pray individually and conduct religious ceremonies such as Bar Mitzvah.  Jesus, whilst having a great respect for the temple, prophesise that the temple will be destroyed in the lifetime of many of them.  This may explain the difficult verse at the end of today’s reading, where Jesus says emphatically, “I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.”  The temple was destroyed by the Roman army in 70 A. D, following a 4-year siege of Jerusalem, some 40 years after Jesus was speaking and so within a generation. However the verse is difficult because it seems to refer to his Second Coming, as this preceeds it in today’s reading.  I would like to think that Jesus is saying,  “I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have been generated.”  I am told that neither the Aramaic nor the Greek texts support such a translation.   The Greek word for generation is ‘genea’, which actually can be translated ‘age’.   It could well be that Jesus is saying of the destruction of the temple that it will happen within a generation, but his coming will happen at the end of the age.    There is a link between the two, for the destruction of the temple is symbolic of the end of the Old Covenant and Jesus’ return will be the climatic end, the full accomplishment, of the New Covenant.    It is of course Jesus’ return for which we must ‘Be prepared’, to use the motto of the Scouts, or to ‘Watch and pray’ to use Jesus’ words.  

3. Signs.            ‘Watch’ for what? Jesus gives us the parable of the fig tree.  He tells us to watch out for the leaves coming, because soon the young figs that have over- wintered as little lumps, no bigger than my little finger nail, will start growing, then in summer to develop into full-grown ripe figs.  Last Autumn I cut down our fig tree, as in 19 years it produced no more than about 5 edible figs.  What though are the signs of fulfilment that we should be watching out for?   As I mentioned earlier, in weekday Morning Prayer in the pre-Advent season we have been reading through the books of Daniel and Revelation.   Not easy books to read and I am wary of trying to select from them precise signs of the coming fulfilment of  the Kingdom of God at the return of Christ.  I will just point up two signs from Jesus’ own words in the gospel accounts of the end of the age.

Firstly, Luke records Jesus as saying, “Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.” (Lk 21 v 24).   This time, I suggest, clearly began with the sack of Jerusalem in 70 A. D.  From that time forward Jerusalem was under Gentile control right through to the 20th Century, when in 1919, the UK was given a League of Nations mandate to establish in Palestine a homeland for the Jews, with finally Israel becoming an independent state in 1948.

Secondly Jesus says, as recorded by Mark, “First the Gospel must be preached to all nations.” (Mk 13 v 10).   You may say, hasn’t this now happened?  I think there is not a country without Christians.  Perhaps North Korea is the only country without an established Church, but the Gospel has been preached there.  Let me though just amplify this a little from the book of Revelation.  John says, “After this (this refers to the 12 tribes of Israel), I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb.” (Rev 7 v 9).  Several chapters on, John says, “I saw an angel flying in mid-air, and he had the eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth – to every nation, tribe, language and people.” (Rev 14 v 6 ).  In Mission Aviation Fellowship’s book, ‘Above and Beyond’, in the final section, entitled ‘To the end of the age’ it states, “ According to the Joshua Project, today over 40% of the world remains unreached with the Gospel, and our teams remain committed to going above and beyond to make sure those living in extreme isolation are given the best chance to thrive in the fullness of Christ.”   So this second sign may take another 100 years to be fulfilled.  Very appropriately the book concludes by saying, “It is our hope that you will join us in the Great Commisssion, knowing that our Heavenly Father will always be with us, to the end of the age.”

4. Prayer.        Finally, I will take up the point made by Jesus as recorded in Luke’s gospel, that we should not only watch but pray.  When we talk of prayer, we so often think of asking God to do something for us or for other people.  There is nothing wrong with that. I began with Isaiah’s prayer, “O that thou wouldst rend the heavens and come down”.  Let us though put a stronger emphasis on prayer as aligning ourselves with the will of God.  We pray in the Lord’s Prayer, ‘Your will be done on earth as in heaven, your kingdom come.’  The kingdom of God will not come in all its fulness by us trying to twist God’s arm, praying for him to hurry up, but rather by us seeking his guidance, being open to the Spirit, in His prompting about the little things of life, as well as discernibg the way forward in the big decisions of education, career and life partnerships.

5. Conclusion. In conclusion, Jesus warned us that the end of the age would not be an easy time.  We are still passing through the the restrictions, the heartache and the myriad impacts of the coronavirus, Covid 19.   As the writer of a recent article in the Church Times, wrote (Voice from out of the rubble by Anna Carter Florence, Church Times 20th November 2020 p15) “We can choose to walk through the pandemic, dragging the carcases of our predjudice and hatred, our avarice, our data banks and dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies behind us.   Or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world and ready to fight for it.”  Let us go into this Advent season, this new year of the Church, trusting in Our Lord Jesus Christ, in hope of a wonderful future.   I conclude with the final verse of Stuart Kine’s hymn, ‘How great thou art’.

When Christ shall come with shout of acclamation
And take me home – what joy shall fill my heart!
Then shall I bow in humble adoration
And there proclaim, my God how great Thou art.

Christopher Miles

Sermon – Christ the King

22 November 2020

Today is the 22nd November which means that Christmas Day is only just over a month away. Given our current uncertain and parlous state I expect that many of us are thinking about Christmas with varying degrees of joy and apprehension.

But, as I alluded to last week, although Christmas is not far away chronologically there are still two important Church seasons to come first.  One is Advent which starts next week, and Advent, like Lent, should be season of prayerfully waiting and preparing ourselves to remember Jesus’ birth into the world.   Sadly, it almost goes without saying that most of the world tramples over the true purpose of Advent and are so bored with Christmas by the time it actually arrives that they chuck out the tree on Boxing Day.  It should not be so with us.  Regardless of how locked down we are in December let us keep Advent properly this year.

But there is another season to complete before Advent, and that happens today. 

Although it is easy to miss it because of special events such as Remembrance Sunday, for the past few weeks we have been travelling together through the Kingdom season and we have been listening to and thinking about Matthew’s parables concerning watchfulness, patience and using our God-given gifts to best effect so that we shall not only be ready to greet the master when he returns but so that we shall be ready to give a good account of the time and talents that have been entrusted to us.

And today we reach the end of that particular journey as we come to the feast of Christ the King and we see Jesus not as a baby in a manger, nor as a preacher nor even as a resurrected man but as a King sitting on a throne in heavenly glory. But not only as king of a renewed creation but also as the judge of us all.

Now I accept entirely that this is an image of Jesus and an aspect of Christianity that does not feature too highly in our church or our society at present.  After all we live in a post-modern world in which all values are relative, no values are absolute and therefore no one can be judged one way or the other. On Facebook I saw a story about a man of 45, i.e. 7 years younger than me, who had just become a great-grandfather. You heard that right – a great-grandfather – his grandchild had themselves just become a parent at the age of 12. I made some quite innocuous comment about this and one of my vicar friends chimed in and said that I was being too judgemental.

In a society which has only a constitutional monarch it is hardly conceivable to think about judgement being handed down by an absolute monarch and, therefore, the image of Christ returning as King and Judge can be side-lined either as medievalism or as belonging only at the crankier ends of the church.

But in my view to side-line Christ as King and Judge does our faith a grave injury for at least 3 reasons:

Firstly it ignores the fact that this image is not merely the product of a few random verses of the bible that have been leapt upon by the nutty brigade – rather it is a central tenet of our faith which, as I said last week, we proclaim each week in the Nicene Creed and shall do so again in a moment.

Secondly to ignore Christ as King is to take away the end of the Christian story – admittedly the end of the story does not always make comfortable reading, and I will come back to that in a moment, but to ignore the end because it makes us uncomfortable is surely the ultimate wimping out not to mention a betrayal of our baptismal calling to be transformed by our communion with Christ; and

Thirdly, but in many ways most importantly, to ignore the whole concept of judgement is to let ourselves off the hook – if we buy into the concept of Jesus as no more than a spiritual indulgent uncle who will simply usher us into the presence of God regardless of how we have lived then what possible incentive do we have to change from what we are to what we are called to be?

Without judgement what is the point either of repentance or transformation?  Yes, God accepts us all as we are, but he does not want to leave us where we are.  Rather we are called into God’s presence precisely in order that we might slough off our sin, be changed into his likeness and do the things he would have us do.

Gosh, I have mentioned the words sin and judgement in the same sermon. If I disappear during the week you will know that I have been taken to a CofE political re-education camp – please send bread and wine!

So on what basis does the returning Christ the King judge us – how does he separate the sheep from the goats – those who belong to his flock and have heard his voice and those who have not?

In today’s gospel reading the people are judged and sorted using one simple criteria – the extent to which they have loved and cared for the poor and disadvantaged in society.  Have they fed the hungry, given drink to the thirsty, welcomed the stranger, clothed the naked, taken care of the sick, visited those in prison?  Christ is clear – those who have done those things for the least in society have done them directly for him and they will be rewarded with eternal life.  Whereas those who have ignored the needs of the outcast have effectively ignored Christ and he will ignore them for eternity.

What is especially interesting about this basis for judgement are all the things that are not included, but to which we often ascribe such importance – the debates about sexual orientation with which the church ties itself up in knots about would make you think that it is a primary issue directly related to salvation and yet it receives no mention here at all. There is no mention here of denomination or even religion, no mention of worship style or belief about particular issues.  There is certainly no mention here that we are saved on the basis of who we are against which is how many Christians sadly seem to treat their faith.

The sole basis for Jesus’ judgement here is the extent to which we love others and how we demonstrate that love in practical action – that is the salvation issue – not what we believe in our heads or profess with our mouths but what we do with our hands for those most in need.

The more theologically minded amongst you may now be thinking that this all sounds a bit like salvation by works rather than by faith.  Surely, you may say, if we have faith in Christ then we don’t need to do any good works such as looking after the poor and needy in order to be saved.   The answer is that faith in Christ is in many ways a prerequisite for being part of this story but if that faith does not lead to the fruits of love for others then to what extent was faith ever more than skin deep?  As St James, the brother of Jesus, said in the second chapter of his letter: “faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead” and as St Paul said in 1 Corinthians 13: “…if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.”

Our love of God, our faith if you will, is one half of the equation and it is our desire to worship and encounter God that brings us here on a Sunday.  But our love of others, especially the poor and needy and those most unlike ourselves, is the other half of the same equation and it is that love which should empower and motivate us to serve Christ in those around us when we are not here.

I know that as individuals and as a church there is lots of good charitable work going on here.  We have certainly sought to feed the hungry locally with our foodbank here, our support of the Paddock Wood foodbank and supporting the needy internationally with our support of MAF, the Delhi Brotherhood and others. 

But I wonder whether we sometimes think of such charitable work as merely an optional extra to our faith – a nice thing to do if can afford it and if we have the time.  Is our charitable giving, not to mention our charitable thinking, the first thing to go when pushed?

Today we are reminded, as boldly as it could be put, that our charity for others is not an optional extra but is a primary salvation issue and the basis on which we shall all be judged.   If we believe that Jesus was born into the world as a baby and are happy to celebrate that next month, then we must also believe that Jesus will return to the world as our King and Judge and we shall face him and he shall ask – ‘did you feed me, did you clothe me, did you give me water?

What is your answer?  What is our answer?

AMEN.

Paul White

Sermon – 2nd Sunday before Advent

15 November 2020 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11, Matthew 25:14-30

I don’t know whether you have ever seen it but there is a T-Shirt available which expresses in a very succinct way the message that it is possible to take from this morning’s readings – the T-shirt says: Look busy – Jesus is coming,! 

Now, of course, that slogan is meant as a joke but it contains both an important truth about our faith as well as a significant misunderstanding.

The important truth is that God, in the person of Jesus, is coming, and that with Jesus comes judgement – especially judgement about how we have lived our lives in response to the Gospel – and that judgement has consequences that last for an eternity.

In this post-modern era in which all values are relative and no values are absolute the image of Jesus as judge is not one that seems to receive much prominence or even much credence in today’s church.  And, if I am being brutally honest with myself, that image is not one that features at the forefront of my theology on a day to day basis.

However the concept of Jesus returning to judge the world is not limited to just a few passages of the bible and of interest only to the hellfire and brimstone brigade – it is, in fact, one of the central tenets of our faith and one that we repeat each week in the words of the Nicene Creed:

“He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead and his kingdom will have no end.”

Now if you are told that someone is coming to see you it is not unnatural to ask when?   If Vivienne and I have someone coming over for dinner, which we don’t anymore for obvious reaons, we like to know when they are coming firstly so we can have some food ready and secondly so that we can make the place look a bit respectable.

So, if Jesus is coming back, when is it going to happen?  That was a question that exercised the early Church a great deal as the first disciples believed that it would be during their lifetimes and when that didn’t happen the church had to work out what it meant to be a church-in-waiting, a church that exists between the first coming of Christ that we will be celebrating at Christmas and the paruosia or the return of Christ.  This led to the two main answers that we saw in today’s readings and which also appear elsewhere in the NT:

The first answer is that it is futile to try and guess when the second coming will happen – it will happen in God’s time and, put simply, God does not work to our timetable! 

As it says in Psalm 90:4 “For a thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night.” 

Some Churches (not Anglican ones in the main) do spend an inordinate amount of time working out and then announcing the exact time and date of Christ’s return – but of course those dates pass and the followers get disillusioned and Christianity as a whole is slightly embarrassed by the whole activity.  As it said in the reading from 1 Thessalonians: “…about times and dates we do not need to write to you, for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.”

The second answer is that because we don’t know when it will be we have to remain watchful and faithful at all times and that we will be judged at least in part on extent to which we have continued the work that has been entrusted to us.

Importantly we should also not lose sight of the fact that whether or not Christ returns to judge the world during our physical lifetimes is actually of supreme unimportance – because even if that does not happen for another 100,000 or 1,000,000 years as far as each of us are concerned we will experience the moment of judgement after our own death and, of course, like the return of Christ the moment of death is likely to come as a thief in the night without making an appointment.  As it says in Psalm 90:12:  “Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.”

But what are we to do whilst waiting for the day we meet Christ, whenever that will be?  Well, whilst parables should always be handled with care, perhaps we are given some parabolic hints in the gospel reading this morning.  As we heard the owner of the three slaves was going away on a long journey but he knew that he will be coming back and he wanted his wealth to increase whilst he was gone – so he gave some money to each of the three for them to invest and grow.  Whilst these men are slaves they are not the menial labourers that we may associate with that word but, rather, they are obviously highly trusted stewards as the sums involved are surprisingly large.  The average days wage for a labourer in Roman era Judea was 1 drachma.  100 drachma equalled 1 mina and there were 60 minas in a Talent.  This means that 1 Talent was equivalent to 6,000 days or 16 years wages for a labourer – and the most senior of the three was entrusted with 5 talents which would have been 82 years wages!     We are not quite talking A Rollover Jackpot on the National Lottery but we are still talking about very large sums of money and the slave owner wanted that money to be wisely invested while he was gone.

The first two slaves kept themselves busy and they both doubled their master’s money while he was away – we are not told exactly how long he was away for but 100% return is good in anyone’s books.  The master congratulated and rewarded the industrious slaves saying that they will have charge of even greater things and can now “enter into the joy of your master”. However, the third slave failed in the task given to him – he simply dug a hole in the ground and put 16 years of someone’s salary into it and later handed it back to his master without even receiving any interest on it.  This man was deemed a “worthless slave” and his investment fund of 1 talent was handed over to the more productive fund manager and the worthless slave was thrown out of the household into the outer darkness.

On one level the moral of this parable is easily accessible – if we use the gifts that God has entrusted to us wisely then those gifts will increase and we can offer the growth back to God and we will share in the joy of our master by entering into the kingdom of heaven; conversely if we bury and neglect our gifts out of fear or laziness then we will have no part of the kingdom as we have done nothing to increase the kingdom.

Given the message of this parable it is easy to see where the “Jesus is Coming, Look Busy” mentality comes from and we can probably all sometimes be guilty of thinking that the more we do the more acceptable we make ourselves to God.

Of course, the point is that it is not about looking busy nor is it even about being busy for the sake of busyness.  God is not fooled by our outward appearances or by any good works that are motivated out of making ourselves look good. 

Rather God looks first and foremost at the motives in our hearts – if we live every day in genuine expectation of meeting Christ, and in the knowledge that any moment could be our last before we face judgement, then I believe that that constant contemplation of the reality of Christ in our day to day lives will transform our hearts and that purified hearts will lead, inevitably, to a transformation of our actions and motives.  Our desire to put God’s gifts to good use by loving action towards others will then become a fruit of our ongoing salvation and not a cause of our future salvation.

Unfortunately that sentiment does not fit quite so easily on a T-Shirt.

I said a moment ago that we need to treat the parables with some caution as they are not meant to provide straightforward answers or, if they are, we may not be asking the right questions.  It is easy, if we are not careful, to form the impression that the return of Jesus is coming at an unexpected time in order to catch us out in order to cast us out.  I don’t think that God wants to jump-scare us.  I believe that God’s greatest desire is for us all to enter into his glory and that is why we are told be diligent and vigilant. 

As it says in the 1 Thessalonians reading:

“For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.  He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him.”

Amen.

Paul White

Sermon – All Saints Day

Sunday 1 November 2020 Revelation 7:9-17,  Matthew 5:1-12

Today is All Saints Day; All Hallows Day to give it an older name, which immediately follows All Hallows Eve, or Halloween.  I can’t claim to be too sorry that Halloween was a lot quieter this year than it normally is.   Although it may not be good theology, I always like the idea that today the army of all the saints rides into town and chases out the army of mischief from last night. 

I do have a certain fondness for All Saints Day, not only because it reminds us that we are part of a story which is much larger than we can fully know this side of heaven but, more prosaically, because I served my curacy at All Saints Church in Woodchurch, who are therefore having their patronal festival today – many blessings on them, especially as they welcome their new Rector.

This time last year, give or take a week, the family and I were just starting our half term holiday and had motored our narrow boat from Alvechurch up to Birmingham.  Lots of people in the South have all sorts of preconceptions about Birmingham but, let me tell you, when you arrive there by boat and can tie up in the city centre it is a great place to be.  On Sunday 20 October we all went to church in the morning to a new church in a converted warehouse in Gas Street.  The family loved the modern worship there, although I did feel a little bit sorry that none of the worship leaders could afford jeans that didn’t have rips in them.

How old does that make me sound?

Anyway that evening, as a slight antidote from modernity, I decided to seek out Evensong at the Anglican Cathedral.  On my own.

After Evensong one of the vergers said that if I fancied going to a rather bigger and fancier service then they were all going straight down to the Roman Catholic Cathedral to celebrate the beatification of Cardinal, I should say Saint, John Henry Newman, who had been made a saint just the week before in Rome but who had long connections with Birmingham.

Let me tell you, dear listener, I went to that service.

If the morning worship at Gas Street was a bit like having Rice Krispies for breakfast and evensong at the Cathedral was a bit like having a bacon sandwich then celebrating the making of a new saint at the Catholic Cathedral was a three course meal, with the finest wine.  It was a sumptuous affair.

For those that don’t know St John Henry Newman started life as an Evangelical Anglican having had a conversion experience at the age of 15.  This was in about 1815.  He went to Oxford and was ordained as an Anglican clergyman at the age of 23.   However the Anglican church was in something of a parlous state at the time and it’s worship life had been reduced to a rather lacklustre prayerbook services.  Newman and his contemporaries at Oxford wanted to revitalise church life, to make communion a more central part of worship, to beautify the churches and to recapture the sense that the Anglican church was a branch of the Catholic church, in fact a via media, a middle way, between Protestantism and Catholicism.  Through a series of Tracts, written to the church in order to educate them about such things and through the Oxford Movement which placed clergy in parishes open to such ideas, the Church of England underwent something of a seismic shift, although not without legal battles including clergy being prosecuted.    Most of the things we take for granted here at St Mary’s are a direct result of the changes wrought at that time, and therefore at least the indirect result of the work of that new saint. 

Over time, however, the Church of England itself took other steps which increasingly disillusioned St John Henry Newman that there could ever be a middle way between Protestant and Catholic and he eventually decided that Catholicity could only be found in the Roman Church and he converted.  He was later ordained as a Catholic Priest, became a Cardinal and now a Saint.  He gives me some small hope that an Anglican Priest can become a Saint, no matter how unlikely it may seem.

I’ll come back to that in a minute. 

Although St John Henry Newman is one of the newer Saints of the Church, in many ways he fits a mould which at least looks a little bit saintly and ‘other’ and does not bring saintliness too close to home.  Which I why I want to mention an even newer one who was beatified on 10 October this year.

This is Carlo Acutis, who was born in 1991 and died in 2005 at the age of 15 of leukaemia.  Although his parents were Italian he was born in England.  So we are essentially talking about an English schoolboy who was both born and died within all our lifetimes.  Which I think brings the possibility of saintliness a bit closer to home.

Like many boys of his age Carlo was a bit of a computer geek.  However, unlike most other such boys, he used his computer skills to promote the gospel and he was particularly dedicated to the Eucharist saying:

the more Eucharist we receive, the more we will become like Jesus, so that on this earth we will have a foretaste of heaven”

When he was diagnosed with leukaemia he wanted to go on pilgrimage but became too ill too quickly; when the doctors asked if he was in pain he responded that “there are people who suffer much more than me” and when he died he asked to be buried in Assisi, as he was dedicated to St Francis. 

It is easy to feel that the internet is the opposite of holy, and in many places it is, but the Bishop of Assisi said of this young man:

“This is a youngster of our time: a model of holiness for the internet age,”

When we think about Saints we don’t just have to think about people from long ago and far away – here we have a former Anglican clergyman and a computer geek schoolboy, both elevated to Sainthood. 

However, I do have a slight reservation about the way in which the Roman Catholic Church measures saintliness which is this: in order to be canonised as a saint in the Catholic church there needs to be evidence of two or three miracles either performed by the person or as a result of prayers of intercession made in the name of that person, and these were provided in both the new Saints we have just mentioned.

Personally I think that this sends the wrong message about the nature of sainthood because if sainthood is confined to the makers of miracles then this puts the saints into the same category as super-heroes – we may look up to them but we can never aspire to be them because we know that we do not possess super miracle powers.

But today, I want to give a very simple message: everyone in this church is called to be a saint. The word saint comes from sanctus which means holy and the bible says that we are called to be holy, because God is holy. And the word holy comes from the word whole (with a w) – we are called to be whole people because our God is a whole God.

Interestingly the Eastern Orthodox church does not proclaim its saints in the same way as the Catholics. Firstly the Orthodox church makes it clear that it does not make saints at all, because saints are made only by God, but the church merely recognises that a person has co-operated with God’s grace to such an extent that his or her holiness is beyond doubt. And that one sentence holds the vital clue to how each one of us can progress along the path of holiness – to co-operate with God’s grace. When we do what God wants us to do we become whole people, holy people, saints.

Throughout the beatitudes Jesus makes it clear that we are blessed by God and draw closer to him and his kingdom when we confound the expectations of the world. The world respects strength, a stiff upper lip, for us not to suffer fools gladly. But the way of Jesus, recognises that we are closest to God not when we are full of ourselves but when we are empty and acknowledge our need for him, when we confront a world of war with the way of peace, when we seek justice and pursue it. There is nothing here about possessing super powers of healing but everything about allowing God’s ways to take precedence over our own. To co-operate with God’s grace.

And then in the reading from Revelation we are given an image of the multitude of white robed saints standing in the presence of God, who have come out of the tribulation of the world and from whom God will wipe away every tear.

Do not make the mistake of thinking that they are somehow in a totally different category to you and I and that we can sit here and think about them in an abstract sort of way. As baptised members of the Body of Christ in this place you and I and everyone here are called on the journey to sainthood, to standing in the presence of God amongst the multitude.  And that does not mean that you have to try and copy the lives of the saints from the past. On the contrary you can only become a saint by co-operating with the grace of God in your life in the here and now. And don’t tell me that you are too old or too young or too busy – God can transform you in an instant or in a lifetime. He only needs your co-operation with his grace.

Don’t forget I never said that the call or the journey to sainthood was easy – but I did say that it is for everyone!

When you exchange the peace this morning, however socially distanced, let the scales fall from your eyes and recognise not only all the saints in heaven but all the saints gathered here today.

Amen.

Hadlow Advent Windows

Do you have a window that could help light up Hadlow this December?

PressReader - Country Living (UK): 2017-12-01 - LIGHTING UP THE LANES

We are looking for homes to take part in an Advent calendar with a difference.

We need up to 24 windows in the village that can each be seen from the street, decorated with a scene on a Christmas theme. On each day a new window will be revealed – just like an Advent calendar.

Get the family involved! We want to make this a real community effort.

For more information or if you are interested in taking part, please contact Janice Massy or email: hadlowadventwindows@gmail.com

Advent Windows 2017

All Souls – Remembering Those We Loved

Monday 2 November

All Souls Day is when the church traditionally remembers all the dear departed.  In recent years we have celebrated a Memorial Service in the Spring, not least because the imagery of remembering our loved ones in the Springtime always feels more uplifting than doing so as the nights draw in.

However, it was not possible to hold that service last Spring and it would be a shame to miss it entirely this year.  We also don’t know what will be allowed next Spring!  

We are therefore intending to celebrate a Requiem Mass for All Souls at 12 Noon on Monday 2 November at the main altar in St Mary’s.  The Eventbrite link for this service is:

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/requiem-mass-for-all-souls-tickets-126113018433

40 tickets have been allocated for this service, but it will not possible for everyone to be in the choir stalls so it will be necessary for people to exercise discretion and normal social distancing.

During the service the names of everyone to be remembered will be read out as part of the intercessions.  

If there is anyone you would like us to remember, please either email Rev’d Paul at pauljohnwhite@gmail.com or Janice at the office email address: office@stmaryshadlow.org.uk . We are happy to remember anyone you would like, regardless of how long ago. We are also happy to remember them whether or not you are able to come to the service.

Sermon – Luke the Evangelist

Sunday 18th October 2020

Acts 16:6-12a, Luke 10:1-9

Today, October 18th is the day traditionally kept to remember St Luke the Evangelist.

The title ‘Evangelist’ comes from the word ‘Evangel’, which means the gospel, and is a title given to St Luke as the author of one of the four gospels.

However it is sometimes easy to forget that he did not just write the gospel of Luke but he was also the author of the Acts of the Apostles.

Although I have not counted the words I understand that as the author of both Luke and Acts this makes St Luke the biggest single contributor to the collection of writings we call the New Testament, writing even more than St Paul. And we know that the same person wrote both Luke and Acts because in the introduction to Luke the author addresses himself to ‘the most excellent Theophilus’ saying that he has investigated everything and written an orderly account for him and in the introduction to Acts the author opens with the words ‘in my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do…’

So Luke and Acts are essentially a two volume work by the same author but they are different in character because the gospel is a careful reconstruction of events as told to Luke by eyewitnesses but a great deal of Acts is written from Luke’s personal experience of life as an early Christian and as a companion to Paul on his missionary journeys.

So, if Luke wrote more of the New Testament than Paul then how come it is always Paul that is referred to when we debate the more controversial areas in church life?

I think it is simply because Luke recorded events and stories in a quite self-effacing way and, although he let his priorities shine through those events and stories, as we shall see in a moment, he never wrote using the doctrinal voice that Paul did in his letters.   Paul was writing as a pastor to the churches in his care expressly telling them what they should and shouldn’t be doing and so his personality and his doctrine are unmissable in his writings, whereas Luke’s presence as the unseen author of Luke and Acts is much more subtle.

Nonetheless he was obviously an incredibly important figure both in the development of the New Testament and in the life of the early church and so it is right that today we should think a little more about him and some of his priorities that did shine through his writing.

He is said to be a native of Antioch and must have acquired some considerable skill in contemporary medicine, and was referred to as a Physician . We know nothing about his family background but he was probably a gentile convert possibly first to Judaism and then as a follower of Jesus. He became attached to St Paul as his diarist and recorder but also his personal doctor. Luke joined Paul on his second missionary journey, their story beginning about 50AD – and took them to Philippi, Rome, Caesarea and ultimately to Jerusalem.

In 2 Tim 4 v 11 we read Paul’s rather lonely words: “I have no-one with me but Luke”- and we can assume that Luke was not only his medical advisor but a friend who gave him much needed support and advice.

As a physician Luke is the patron saint of doctors, as you might expect.

However, you may not know, that Luke is also the patron saint of Painters and Artists and he is often depicted as a painter with brushes and a palette and is even said to have painted the first icon of Mary. Whether or not that is literally true it is certainly true that Luke displays an artistic eye in his gospel writings as he beautifully depicts scenes from the life of Jesus and it is also true that some of the greatest paintings in the world have been inspired by Luke’s description of the birth of Jesus, or the shepherds coming from the fields to the stable after the vision of the angels, or of the visit of the Magi.

I said a moment ago that Luke’s gospel was written as a result of his enquiries of those who were eyewitnesses to the events and traditionally, it is thought that it contains the reminiscences of Mary, Jesus’ mother. Bible scholars tell us there is clear Jewish style and flavour about the language of the early episodes – the annunciation, visitation, birth, visit of the Magi, the presentation and Passover pilgrimage to Jerusalem, which may all reflect the influence of Mary. And in case you think that is mere fanciful piety don’t forget that Mary was present at the start of the book of Acts and if that book is a first hand account by Luke then he would have been present too and speaking to the mother of Jesus could well have been a primary source for him.

Imagine, for a moment, this cultured, educated physician and gentile convert speaking to an older Mary about the events of the annunciation and the nativity while he scribbles away with his writing implements, and then perhaps he goes to speak to Simon Peter about how he was first called to be a follower of Jesus, and so on until his orderly account is written.

Now each of the four gospels has their own particular flavour or style and it is clear that Luke emphasised some aspects of the message of Jesus more than the other Evangelists.

It seems that Luke has a special concern for the poor. It opens, very nearly, with Mary’s song which talks about filling the hungry with good things, the birth of Jesus takes place in the humblest of circumstances, Joseph and Mary are shown are poor when they present him in the temple, there is the parable of Lazarus and the rich man. There is the suggestion that if we give a party we  should always include some poor people among the guests and Luke’s version of the beatitudes ( 6 v 20-36) also reflects sympathy with the poor.

It is also interesting to notice Luke’s account of the early Christian communal living (Acts 4 v 32) – and the heavy punishment visited on Ananias and Sapphira because they hold back part of the sale of their property from the common fund.

Many women are introduced into Luke’s gospel and Acts. We can note his account of the women who travelled with Jesus and his disciples – Mary Magdalen, Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward, Susanna and many others. Luke portrays Jesus as addressing women with courtesy. Luke’s gospel carries more stories that involve women and children than the other gospels.

It was women who went to the tomb to anoint Jesus but found his body gone. It was Mary Magdalen and a small group of women who went and told the disciples that Jesus body had gone.

As a gentile convert it is also clear that Luke had a special heart for those who found themselves outside the bounds of mainstream Judaism and it is within Luke that we find many stories of the calling and redemption of Zacchaeus the tax collector, the Roman centurion who had faith, the story of the prodigal son which has so much to say about God gracious patience for those who have left the fold.

And, as a physician, Luke also has many, many stories of healing – although not of physical healing done by fellow professionals but of a much deeper healing that can only be brought about by God through faith in Jesus.

There is a strong tradition that Luke lived into old age, dying aged 84 years and was buried at Thebes from whence his relics were transferred to Constantinople in the year 357.

So, today we celebrate the Feast of St Luke – physician and evangelist. These roles are inseparable – for an evangelist tells the good news of salvation and salvation means healing. The root of the word salvation is the Latin word salvere – to be well, to be in good health, to be whole. Salvation is not just of spirit in the world to come, but salvation is of body and mind as well.

But although we celebrate St Luke we should also be sensitive to the fact that he was self-effacing, that the stories he wrote down were not about him and his ministry. As an Evangelist he was about the Gospel and the Gospel is all about the good news of Jesus Christ. That because of who Jesus was, God born on Earth, and because of what he did for us in his life, in his death on the cross and in his resurrection we can be made whole once again. I suspect that if he were here now, St Luke would not want today to be all about him but he would point beyond himself to the ultimate healer and physician Jesus Christ and he would urge us to heed the words of his gospel to us this morning:

“The kingdom of God is near you.”

So. draw close to the kingdom of God as it draws close to you, know that you are deeply loved, deeply forgiven, deeply healed and when you leave this building later this morning go out like the apostles to take the good news of Jesus Christ and his healing love to all those around us.

In the name of Christ,

Amen.

Sermon – Trinity 18

11 October 2020

Isaiah 25: 1-9;   Matthew 22:1-14

Last week we celebrated Harvest Festival and, as is traditional here, many of you and many others brought bags full of offerings for our food banks.  In a normal year they would have been brought up to the altar and blessed and placed on and around the altar and the building and we would have seen how much there was.  But, of course, we are not in normal times and we didn’t feel able to do that. 

However, after the service, when I saw how much had been brought and left around the font I was truly amazed.  There were dozens of bags and boxes, literally overflowing with your generosity. 

I let everything decontaminate for a few days, no offence intended you understand, and then I took everything over to the Community Storehouse in Paddock Wood.  I don’t mind telling you that they too were overwhelmed by the amount delivered – and they were doubly amazed that it came from one congregation and one service.  A real testament to the fact that despite everything which has beset us in recent months there is still a vital Christian community in this place, eager to love and serve those around us.  I give thanks for that, the Community Storehouse gives thanks for that as do every single person who will be able to eat because of your gifts.  Thank you.

Who are the people who use the Foodbanks?  Well, this week I have also delivered food to two people in Hadlow for the first time.  One was a lady in her early 60s who had worked all her life but is not yet able to claim a pension.  Sickness has now prevented her from working but is not yet in receipt of universal credit.  Despite living in a supposedly civilised and wealthy country this lady had no money and no food and it took a string of phone calls from one agency to another before the vicar arrived with enough food to keep the wolf from the door for a little while.

The other were at the other end of their lives: a young family – husband and wife and a few young children.  The husband is self-employed and seeking to build his own busines but the collapse in the economy means that there is little business for him and, because he is self-employed he wasn’t able to be furloughed and the process for claiming benefits is more complex.  So, again, a family living in Hadlow who are trying to work hard for a living and yet their cupboards are bare and they have to ask for a handout to stop themselves literally starving.

The people who use the food banks are us.  In the event of illness or divorce or unemployment or a simple downturn in the economy each and any of us could end up in that situation – an empty bank account, an empty cupboard, an empty stomach and perhaps even hungry children.  Having to make a string of calls until you can get a modest handout of tins and pasta. 

As a Christian I am honoured and delighted that we as a Christian community can care for our neighbours by feeding them – it is a deep part of our call and our outreach.  But, as Christians, we should also be outraged by the fact that this is necessary in our society at all.  People in our own village are not on the brink of going hungry because we as a society cannot afford to feed them, it is because political choices were made to make people wait before their claims were paid out, and those decisions were made by politicians who have no idea how most people live.  Yes, we should feed the hungry, because Jesus tells us to, but we should also challenge why they are hungry in the first place.  As a Church I want us to support the Food banks to the hilt, but as a Christian I want to live in a society that doesn’t need food banks for anyone.

Today, and not co-incidentally, our readings talk about both banquets and tears.

The gospel story is not just about a banquet, but it is a wedding banquet – and not just any old wedding banquet but a royal wedding banquet, which Jesus offers as a parable for the kingdom of heaven.

You would think that receiving an invitation to a royal wedding banquet would be a cause of joy and pride and might even provoke a bit of dressing up.  But this does not appear to be true today, in fact the invitations were treated with scorn, even by some of those who turned up.

In this parable the king was giving the banquet for his son and he invited lots of guests, no doubt the great and the good of society, but it seems that none of the great and the good responded to their invitations.  So the king sent out his servants to gently remind them that they had been invited to this marvellous occasion but, despite this first, gentle, reminder, they still would not come.

Although they had ignored both the original invitation and the first reminder, which let’s face it is the height of rudeness, the king sent his servants back out to the great and the good, and this time he sent them with the menu, to try and tempt them in:

“Tell those who have been invited:  Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.”

I don’t know about you, but I would definitely have gone at that point, although it does sound a bit like the Atkins diet, but never mind.

But those invited would not come even when told the menu. What is worse they did not make even attempt to make polite excuses – rather they made light of it – they treated the invitations like a joke and some went off to their farms and others went about their business.  And, get this, others seized the king’s slaves, mistreated them and killed them.  Sometimes you hear people say that they are bringing bad news but “please don’t kill the messenger” – Well, these slaves were bringing good news – you are invited to a brilliant party with loads of good food and, still, those bearers of good news were killed.

Until now the king has been patient and gracious, and he cannot be faulted for trying again and again to get the great and the good to come to this banquet – but everything has been thrown back in the king’s face, and he is enraged and he destroys those who killed his servants and even burned down their city.

Many commentators see this as Jesus’ prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem itself in 70 AD and, by extension, the fall of Jerusalem as being God’s judgement on Israel’s rejection of his messengers, the prophets and, of course, Jesus himself, who was killed for bringing good news.

But this is not the end of the parable.  The king then sent out more messengers into the streets with instructions to invite everyone they find to the wedding banquet, and the messengers do exactly that, gathering both the good and the bad until, we are told, that the wedding hall was ‘filled with guests’.

So far, this sounds like a wonderful parable of God opening up the kingdom to everyone and, from one point of view, it would be jolly handy if the reading just stopped there and we could all feel good, but without being unduly challenged in any way.  But the parable does not stop there and we are challenged to think a little harder.

The king comes into the wedding banquet to see the guests and they have all put on their wedding garment; all except one man. Immediately on entering the banquet the king’s eye fell upon him. Calling him ‘friend‘ he asked him why he was there. It is the same question Jesus asks Judas when they come to arrest him on the night of the agony: ‘Friend, why are you here?’

But the man without the wedding garment was speechless and the king ordered that he be bound and thrown out into the darkness.

On first reading this sounds harsh and unjust, but it is useful to know that it was the custom at this time for the host of a wedding feast to provide all their guests with a simple white wedding garment and all the guests had to do was to slip it over their heads in order to graciously accept their hosts hospitality and play their role in the banquet.  The fact that this man was not wearing the garment suggests that he was actually treating the king’s invitation to the banquet with about the same level of seriousness as those who had originally mocked the invitations – he may have refused the garment at the door or perhaps even thrown it to the ground rather than put it on – he was at the banquet in body, but he was certainly not there in spirit, in fact he was sitting there as a continuing insult to the king by refusing to join in and the king responded by ejecting him.

In the Book of Revelation being clothed with the white robe is a symbol of being washed clean by the sacrifice of Jesus, and therefore of fully and completely accepting God’s invitation to the banquet to end all banquets.  We are all invited to that banquet and God’s greatest desire is for each of us to accept that invitation.  And yet, it is still always up to us to accept – and accepting doesn’t just mean not killing the messenger and it also doesn’t just mean turning up in body but not in spirit.  Accepting God’s invitation to the banquet means putting on the wedding garment, the white robe, and taking our place at the table and honouring the king and his son.

In the reading from Isaiah 25 we are also given the image of God hosting a fine banquet for all peoples, with the best wine and the best meat, and in verse 8 we are told that: “The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces” and this may also remind us of the promise in Revelation 21 of another wedding and another wiping away of tears:

 “I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband…Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them…He will wipe every tear from their eyes.”

The marriage supper of the Lamb is a feast of reconciliation; Sharing in this banquet is about becoming part of the grand work of reconciliation that the heavenly bridegroom inaugurates on the cross and which will be consummated in the heavenly banquet of which our Eucharist is a sign and anticipation.

For many people, even here in Hadlow, life can be a veil of tears and rather than having a banquet the cupboards may be empty.  But today, if you are crying, whether on the outside or the inside, know that God wants you to join him around the banquet table of his kingdom and if we accept the invitation and put on the wedding garment then his greatest desire is to feast with us, to be with us always and to wipe away every tear.

We are invited to gather around the Lord’s table and share in his banquet.  I can think of no greater invitation.  And it is not a plus one, it is a plus everyone.

 Amen.                                                                                     

   Paul White