Category Archives: News

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

Sermon – Trinity 16

Sunday 27th September 2020

Phillipians 2:1-13, Matthew 21:23-32

Today, there can be no doubt, we are all experiencing a huge range of emotions.

Firstly, and most importantly, I am sure Nicky will agree, we are gathered with joy as the church in this community to hear God’s word, to celebrate Sunday as the Day of Resurrection and to embody and experience Christ’s presence amongst us, between us and within us.  Despite the trying times which lay both behind and before us the church, and all Christians, should always be filled with joy, not only because it is a gift of the Holy Spirit, but because Christ is risen and, because of that, we shall shine like stars before His face.

But joy is not the same as happiness and nor does the presence of God’s joy mean that we can never experience or express sadness, anxiety or any other emotion and, as I say, I am sure that there are many different emotions here this morning. 

Personally, there is happiness at seeing Nicky again, and I am sure that is shared by us all.  I haven’t celebrated with Nicky since February, (wow, that is 7 months ago now), and most people here haven’t been physically present with Nicky since the start of lockdown and then, of course, her departure to the remote shores of Mereworth, West Peckham and Wateringbury.  A far-off place in a distant deanery. 

But today, a bit like the Rolling Stones on a pension fund tour, the old team is back together again, and it is great for us all to see Nicky and for me to minister with her this morning.

I remember vividly the first time I spotted Nicky here in St Mary’s.  I have no doubt that Nicky is already very good at this but, as a Vicar, you tend to get very good at spotting new faces in the congregation. 

Anyway, one day I saw Nicky, and her hair, sitting about halfway back on my right-hand side.  This was in February 2016, which is not that long ago, but also feels like several lifetimes.

As soon as the service ended, I made a point of saying hello to this new young person, and I quickly learned that Nicky was a student at St Augustine’s College, studying for ordination.  Not only that, but she was looking for a church to come and do a placement as part of her ordination training and she was checking us out as a possible candidate.

Well, listeners, I snapped her up and her placement started here that September. 

But as we met to discuss and plan Nicky’s placement our conversation also turned to what came next for her in terms of curacy.  I don’t think I am giving anything away if I say we felt this may be a good place for Nicky to serve her curacy and we both started putting out feelers to both the diocese and the college to see if it could be done.  It could.

Nicky joined us first as a lay worker over the Summer of 2017 and she was then ordained deacon on the 30 September that year.  Almost three years ago to the day.  Although it is always the plan that curates will serve three years before moving onto their own parish I wonder how many of us believed on that wonderful day in Rochester Cathedral that almost exactly three years later we would be saying goodbye now, especially in these circumstances.  But I am getting ahead of myself slightly.

During Nicky’s deacon year she preached, she did all the roles in the liturgy which are reserved for the deacon, and which I am doing for her today as she presides at this service which is rather wonderful, she continued with her post-ordination studies, she learnt the things she would have to do later as a priest but, most of all, she settled into the life not only of this church but of this community, and she did so admirably.

On the 29 September 2018, nearly two years ago today, many of us returned to Rochester Cathedral once again to see Nicky be ordained to the order of Priest or Presbyter.  The next day, back here at St Mary’s, Nicky celebrated her first communion, and I preached, much as we are doing today.  I’m sure Nicky won’t mind me telling you that she was a little bit nervous that morning, because there is a lot to remember and think about and hold together whilst also worshipping and leading others in worship, but hold it together she did, as she continues to do.

Curacy is a time to learn and experiment and start new things, all of which I am delighted Nicky was able to do whilst with us.  Nicky brought her crafting skills to bear on things like Knit and Knatter, which became Café Plus, and her love of children to Messy Church, which were good for old and young alike.  She also reached out to the village with things like the thousands of woollen poppies which were created for an amazing display at Remembrance Day that year.

This is in danger of sounding like a Eulogy but Nicky found a place in the heart of Hadlow, and that is a wonderful thing.

The grand plan was that by the start of 2020 Nicky would be coming towards the end of her curacy and would cover my Sabbatical with Mission Aviation Fellowship to Africa, that we would continue to minister together on my return whilst Nicky then started her hunt for a place to be Vicar.  That sort of worked and sort of didn’t.  We didn’t expect covid to wipe out my sabbatical and we didn’t expect the diocese to ask Nicky to look after Mereworth on my return.  But the good news is that Nicky did apply to be Vicar of Marden and they did have the good sense to appoint her.

Which is where the mixed emotions return, because although we are happy to see Nicky here again today it is tinged with sadness because we are also saying goodbye and God bless as she is transformed from one degree of glory into another and departs this diocese and crosses the border into Canterbury and into a new parish, a new church and a new community.  Marden’s gain is our loss and it is OK to acknowledge that and be sad about that.

But, as I said and as you know, a curacy is always meant to be temporary and the ultimate goal is always to train and release someone into the place where they will minister as Vicar.  Saying goodbye is sad but doing so in circumstances where they are moving on to the place where they are obviously called marks the end of a successful curacy and so we can bid Nicky farewell also with real gladness in our hearts, joy if you will, that God called us all together for a season and a reason, but He continues to call and to work out his purposes in us and through us. 

It has been a delight and an honour to minister alongside Nicky during this time of her curacy and it is with sadness that this chapter in all our lives comes to an end but it is also with joy and some pride that we dispatch you to Marden and I look forward to being at your licensing service there next month.

I am sorry that I haven’t addressed our readings this morning, so I am just going to offer one small final reflection.  Although curates and vicars dress the same – although Nicky’s DMs are much more exciting than mine – and most people outside the church don’t have a clue about the difference, nonetheless there is a big difference in the way people treat you in church, both for good and for ill.  One of the big differences is that people look to the vicar as the person with all the answers in all sorts of matters from the spiritual to the much less spiritual.  It is too easy for some vicars to let that go to their heads and to start thinking of themselves as someone who knows all the answers.  This morning’s reading from Philippians reminds us that Christ himself, who is equal with God the Father, humbled himself to the point of an ignominious death when he came amongst us and, therefore, we ought not to think too highly of ourselves but continue to work out our salvation with ‘fear and trembling’ for it is God who works in us to fulfil his good purposes.  I am sure you would never do either of these things Nicky, but never be overwhelmed by your new role, nor let it go to your head, and think that you can do everything or know everything because we can only do what we do with God’s help and to fulfil his purposes.  And God’s purposes may not always be the same as our purposes or the purposes of the dozens of different interest groups you will encounter in and out of church. Always be yourself before God and not who other people want you to be.

So, I wasn’t kidding about mixed emotions this morning.  We have Christian joy, we have the happiness of seeing Nicky today, we have the nostalgia of her curacy, we have the sadness of saying goodbye mixed with the pride of seeing her going to a good home, mixed with the fear and trembling of working out our salvation day by day but, when we do that, knowing that God continues to work his will through our lives wherever he calls us to be which, I hope, brings us back to joy.

It has been a real joy being with you Nicky and I offer you every joy and blessing as you journey on.

Amen.

Paul White

Sermon – Trinity 13

Sunday 6th September 2020 – Romans 13:8-end, Matthew 18:15-20

It is a great joy for me to be preaching with people gathered here in Church this morning.  Although you will all have seen more than enough of me on your computer screens for the last three months, and some of you have been able to attend on Wednesdays, this is the first Sunday I have been able to celebrate and preach in front of real live people since my last pre-sabbatical service at the end of February.  An unprecedented and unexpected gap which I hope will not be repeated in my lifetime.

I mentioned the word ‘gathered’ just now, and it is a word which has been on my mind quite a lot for the last couple of months.  When lockdown first began, and when churches first had to get to grips with what it meant to be church and to do church in a different way, there was a great deal of talk about whether ‘church’ was the building or the people.  Whilst much of the debate was nonsensical, with people being accused of worshipping buildings, I think we have learned some important lessons which I hope we can continue to draw on as we go forward:

  1. For a traditional church I hope that we have learned that worship can still happen in non-traditional ways.  Over the years I wonder how much time has been spent discussing which hymn books to use, which musical settings to use, how the church should be decorated, which bibles to use, who should process where and when even, dare I say it, which coffee to have after church.  Suddenly, literally overnight, all that was swept away and our experience of church was stripped down to daily prayer and a weekly Eucharist celebrated remotely.  And yet somehow, despite all the shortcomings and difficulties that has presented, especially for those without the internet, we have hung together as a church and worship has still happened week by week, in dozens of homes, including those who are on Zoom today. 

I hope that we have learned from that the difference between the externals of worship and the eternals of worship.  A great deal of what we do in church, and what we talk about and what we worry about, has to do with the externals and, as we return to church, it would be too easy to become fixated on them once again.  However, I hope we remember that it was the eternals of prayer, God’s word and the Sacraments which kept us going. 

I pray that going forward our identity as a church can be founded from the ground-up on those eternals.  If we are solid in our relationship with God then the externals can come and go and change or be withdrawn entirely and we are still the church.  Although we are all keen, in one sense, to get back to ‘normal’ I genuinely hope that this experience has given us permission to hold the externals lightly, to be more nimble in our approach to change and therefore to be more willing and able to share the eternals of who and what we are with the wider world. 

2. There is another side to this coin, which I hope complements rather than contradicts what I have just said.  Whilst we have continued to be the church whilst dispersed in the world and meeting only virtually I hope that it has made us appreciate the importance and the strength of what it means to be the physically gathered church.  Being with other people makes a difference to the experience of worship.  I have used the analogy before but watching a play on the television or on YouTube is an entirely different experience from being in the theatre and in the audience.  There is something important about being in the same room not only where the action is taking place, but also with other people who are experiencing it with you.  This is a limited analogy because worship is never meant to be about watching a performance but about a collective action but there is something fundamentally human about being gathered together for a shared purpose which cannot be replicated on a screen.  So, if absence makes the heart grow fonder, I hope that the experience of being dispersed will help us to appreciate the privilege and the importance of what it means once again to be the gathered church.  Being the gathered church means we need to meet in a building, and that building should be fit for purpose, but that does not mean that we worship the building any more than those who go to the Oast Theatre worship the Oast buildings.

And today’s reading, as a matter of sheer providence, talks about the importance and even the power of the gathered church.

“For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”

I hear so often people tell me that they can have a relationship with God, on their own and experience Him out in nature.  There is a long tradition of people living as hermits which suggests that it is possible to be a lone Christian, but everything else I encounter about the relational nature of God himself in the Trinity to the communal nature of worship which exists throughout both the bible and the history of faith, tells me that the default practice of our faith was never meant to be a solo activity but was always meant to be a gathered, communal, community, church-family event.

“Where two or three gather in my name…”

People can obviously gather for any purpose but here we are told that there is something important about naming Jesus as the purpose, the instigator, the focus of our gathering.  There is nothing accidental about the fact that our services always start by saying that we meet in the name of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.  We are reminded that for that time we are not random people gathered for a random purpose but that we have come together as the people of God and in the name of God.

When we do that Jesus says: “…there I am, with them.”

To gather in the name of Jesus is to make Jesus present.  We hear Jesus speak today in the words of the bible, the people of God are themselves the body of Christ and bodies work better when they are assembled rather than disassembled, we encounter the presence of Jesus in the eucharist, as each of us becomes more Christlike we should make Jesus more present to one another and the church which is gathered makes Jesus present to the world. 

The gathered church is the people of God, meeting in the name of God and assured of the presence of God.

That is why theatre analogies soon run short – a theatre audience of two or three is a pretty poor audience but two or three Christians gathered in Jesus name have the power to change heaven.

I beg your pardon, I hear you say, what was that little leap you just made?

A few weeks ago we heard the reading from Matthew 16 in which Jesus established Peter as the rock on which the Church would be built and told him that whatever Peter bound on earth would be bound in heaven and whatever Peter loosed on earth would be loosed in heaven.   Roughly speaking, that the decisions and the actions Peter took on earth, whether it is healing, pronouncing the forgiveness of sin or whatever, would be honoured in heaven.  As the representative of Jesus on earth that Peter could speak in his name and his words would have effect on earth and in heaven.  As you might expect there is a great deal of theology in the Catholic church about the authority this bestows on Peter’s successor the Pope.

However, today, we hear those words again – whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.  Only this time they are not directed at Peter individually, but at the church local and militant. 

Two or three gathered Christians, meeting in the name of Jesus, make Jesus present and have the power to affect the life of heaven.  Whilst our worship life here may be a pale reflection of the eternal worship in heaven, and whilst it may feel even more pale either wearing a mask or via a screen, we are reminded today that this is not nothing, this is not incidental and neither it is merely social or external. 

We are truly the body of Christ, gathered around the word of God in the bible and encountering Jesus the living Word of God in his spirit, in his sacrament and in one another, and are reminded that what we say and do here matters, not only amongst ourselves but in heaven itself.

Sisters and Brothers in Christ.  This matters, more than we may ever appreciate this side of heaven.  Let’s not get hung up on the externals, but focus on the eternals in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen. 

Sermon – Trinity 12

Sunday 30 August 2020 – Exodus 3:1-15, Matthew 16:21-end

The world, by which I mean in this case the tabloid press, love a good ‘naughty Vicar’ story.  If a vicar is caught cheating on their partner or committing any kind of crime then you can bet that the press will be all over the story in a way that wouldn’t apply if the perpetrator did most other jobs. 

Politicians and celebrities get similar treatment but, even with them, that sort of behaviour is more expected and cheating on your wife is no bar to the highest of political offices these days.

I suspect that people love to read about Vicars going wrong either because it confirms their view that the church is hypocritical, preaching one thing whilst doing another, or they have a salacious interest in seeing those who hold themselves out as being ‘pure’ fall from grace.

How we love to put people in categories and, woe betide them, if their behaviour does not fit into our categories.  What clearer distinctions could be made than between pure and impure, between sacred and secular, between saint and sinner, between heaven and hell, between human and divine.  Surely, we tell ourselves, that these categories must be mutually exclusive and that to cross between them is either impossible or unforgivable. 

However real life is often messier than the categories we seek to impose upon it and, perhaps even more challengingly, the characters and the events we find in the bible, even the most celebrated and foundational, often demonstrate that God has no choice than to work his purposes through fallible, broken, human beings because that is all he has but, and here is the good news, being broken and fallible is no bar to also being forgiven and lifted up into God’s presence, indeed that is the whole point of God’s saving work on earth.

Our first reading this morning recounted the call of Moses to become the saviour of the Hebrew people, leading them from slavery and into the land flowing with milk and honey.  Moses is obviously one of the towering figures of the Hebrew scriptures and, along with Elijah, is one of two who also appear in the New Testament at the transfiguration of Jesus.  We know that Moses spent time in the presence of God, that he received the ten commandments directly from God and that the Red Sea parted before him as they fled from Egypt. 

By any reckoning and on any scale Moses must count as a ‘holy’ figure?  Of course, he does, but today we are reminded of some of the messiness of life.

The Moses we encounter today does not look particularly holy.  He is employed as a shepherd.  Nothing wrong with a bit of honest agricultural work, of course, and we often think of Jesus as a metaphorical shepherd or we may think of the shepherds of Bethlehem who were honoured to hear the heavenly choir announce the birth of Jesus. 

But the reality of being a shepherd, is one of hot, boring and probably often smelly work and quite different from the ‘holiness’ of being a priest like the owner of the flock, his father-in-law, Jethro the priest of Midian. 

Nothing about Moses the shepherd looks particularly holy and it is worth remembering how he came to be working as a shepherd at all.  In the preceding chapter of Exodus the young man Moses had witnessed an Egyptian beating a Hebrew slave and Moses killed him and hid his body in the sand.  He then fled to Midian in fear of his own life. 

Not to put too fine a point on it, Moses was a killer and a refugee and employed to look after a bunch of smelly sheep.  I doubt he looked or felt or smelt holy in any sense.

And yet God wasn’t confined by human categories or preconceptions.  When God chose to call someone into his service and onto his holy ground, he did not call the priest of Midian but this most imperfect of characters.

We know that Moses did not feel worthy of this call because his response was not “At last I have been recognised for the true person I am below this shepherding exterior”, rather it was “Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh?”

Who am I?

I often encounter ordinands both in real life and on Twitter who are awaiting ordination and I always have more confidence in the ones who say: Who am I? those those who say: Here I am, Lord!

God’s response to Moses’ question is the same as the assurance we are given in the service of ordination: “I will be with you” or “With the help of the Lord, I shall.”

It seems to me that God can do more good through the imperfect who know their need for the continual presence and help of God then those who think themselves perfect in their own strength.

Moses’ imperfection was no bar to being called to stand on Holy ground and to do the work of God.

In the Gospel reading this morning we also encounter the reality that holiness and imperfection often interact in ways which defy our comfortable categories.

Simon, like Moses, had also been employed in difficult, smelly and ‘unholy’ work although as a fisherman, rather than as a shepherd.  As God called Moses so Jesus called Simon and, in last week’s gospel reading, we heard how Jesus called him Peter, the Petrus or rock upon which the church would be built, that he would be given the keys of heaven and that whatever he bound or loosed on earth would be bound or loosed in heaven.  This should have been the apogee of Simon Peter’s transformation from unholy to holy.

But this week how things have changed.  The rock on which the church is built has become a stumbling block to Jesus.

Having just acknowledged that Jesus is the Messiah, Jesus now teaches the disciples what that actually means.  It does not mean the defeat of the Romans, it does not mean earthly success, it does not mean any kind of triumph.  For Jesus to be the Messiah means, first to suffer many things and to be killed and, only after that defeat, to be raised again to life.

It is clear that despite Peter’s ‘ordination’ as the rock of the church that he doesn’t yet understand the true purpose of Jesus and he tries to use his new-found authority to bind Jesus himself “Never Lord!” he said.  A far cry from “Your will be done.”

Jesus response is quite shocking – he not only calls Peter a stumbling block but he actually calls him Satan.  This bring to mind Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness when Satan offered Jesus the easy way out of suffering and, of course, that is exactly what Peter is doing – he is tempting Jesus to avoid the suffering, go straight for the triumph. 

You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”

Then Jesus tells all the disciples, not just Peter, that the way to follow him does not include the easy path, the avoidance of suffering, but that they must each carry their own cross and lose their own life, because that is the only way to find their true life.

Do we seek the cross or do we seek success or do we seek the true success that only comes on the other side of the cross?

There are many lessons to be learned from today, and from our imperfect situation at present.  But, for me at least, the lesson is this: perfection is not a pre-requisite for being called by God.  If God can call Moses then he can call you or I.  And being called by God, and even being given the keys to the kingdom of heaven, is no guarantee of never getting it wrong.  If Peter can be called the rock one moment and Satan the next, can deny Jesus and yet still be forgiven, then rest assured that you are unlikely to annoy Jesus more than Peter did.

Our present situation as a church and as a world is messy and imperfect and often feels far from holy. 

Which means that it is probably just right for God to call us and use us and ask us to follow him.  But we have to be prepared to pick up our crosses and walk.

Amen.

Paul White

Sermon – Patronal Festival

Sunday 16 August 2020 – Revelation 11:19-12:6,10;  Luke 1:46-55 by Rev’d Paul White

There can be little doubt that 2020 has been an unexpectedly challenging and difficult year for everyone and, although some things are gradually opening up again, you only have to watch the news to know that we are not out of the woods yet.  We proceed but we do so with caution.

Personally, the lockdown started about three weeks into my sabbatical and only a few days before I was due to fly out to Kenya.  I had had my jabs and even started my security training, learning which people with guns to be wary of and that if the bullets started flying not to hide in the car but to take shelter behind a mound of earth if possible. That could come in handy at the next Deanery Synod.

But, as we know, lockdown happened, the flights were cancelled, Nicky was keen to continue the experience of running things on her own and so I was left wondering what to do in a world which was suddenly closed.

Apart from finally getting around to reading Proust I did two main things during April and May, one physical and one spiritual.  On the physical front I worked in my garden virtually every day, clearing a really overgrown border and planted a rose and lavender bed.  On the spiritual front I sought to enter more fully into the rhythm and discipline of daily prayer and to broaden my diet of prayer.

I had been aware of a group of Anglican priests, male and female, called the Sodality of Mary, Mother of Priests, for a couple of years previously, not least because one of the people I trained with is a founder member.  I had made contact with them in that time, but their meetings never quite fitted with parish commitments here, and so it didn’t happen.  But, one of the unexpected side-effects of lockdown has been the rise of online worship and the Sodality started meeting and praying together online, and that made it possible for me to participate. 

So, I entered into an almost Benedictine rhythm of daily prayer and physical work and I discerned that I wanted to be a part of this Sodality.  Fortunately, the Superior, Fr Richard, agreed and I was admitted as a member on the last Sunday of my Sabbatical.  I mentioned broadening my diet of prayer and this included praying the Rosary, which I did every day during May in preparation for my admission. 

Of course the reason I am speaking about this today is because we are thinking about and celebrating the Blessed Virgin Mary as the patron saint of this our church of St. Mary’s.

But, I am acutely conscious that this is a topic which splits opinion.

I suspect that as soon as I even mentioned that we are celebrating Mary today that a number of you thought something along the lines of “What is all this Popish nonsense?”.

Some Anglicans appear not to want to think about Mary at all, despite her huge importance in the story of our salvation, and her own discipleship which went from conception to the cross and beyond. 

If you are tempted to dismiss any thoughts about the importance of Mary then you should probably start with the person of Jesus, because what we think about Mary must be affected by what we think about Jesus. 

One of the central tenants of Christianity is that Jesus is both fully divine and fully human. We talk about Jesus being the Son of God, or God the Son, so frequently that it trips off the tongue.   We sometimes also remember that Jesus was the Son of Man, or a human being. But how often do we think of Jesus as the Son of Mary? Perhaps we do at Christmas but, to be honest, most nativity plays are, thankfully, short of realism and there is little real sense that Mary has given birth to Jesus and even less sense that this same person will feed, clean and look after this baby on their dangerous flight to Egypt to escape Herod’s slaughter of the innocents, that on their return to Israel she will continue to raise him through childhood, adolescence and onto adulthood, that she will sit at the foot of the cross and watch her son die when nearly all his followers had fled and she will still be with the church at the day of Pentecost. Jesus’ divinity comes from God, and from being God himself, but his humanity came from his mother Mary – Mary is humanity’s link with the humanity of Jesus.

We should also remember that Mary was chosen by God the Father to give birth to God the Son. The Angel Gabriel told Mary that she had found favour with God.  Out of all humanity, she was the one chosen to carry God in her womb.  Who are we to dismiss whom God has chosen?  In Orthodoxy Mary is often called the Theotokos or God Bearer and in the Rosary she is called the Mother of God. Whilst that may cause some uneasiness the theology is completely sound – Jesus is the Son of Mary, Jesus is God the Son, Mary is the Mother of God the Son.

 By any measure the Mother of God should feature in our faith and we should not be embarrassed that the Virgin Mary is part of our story. God the Father choose her to bear and to raise God the Son and her response to God of “May be unto my according to your will” is one that she passed onto Jesus as we see from the prayer that he taught us “thy will be done” and one that we would do well to take to heart in every aspect of our lives.

But it would be wrong to see Mary as purely submissive. The song of Mary, the Magnificat that was today’s reading from Luke, is not a song of quiet submissiveness but is one of exuberant joy: 

My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour.”

How wonderful both to magnify the Lord and to rejoice in God – what a soul to be so alive to the love and blessing of God.

 But there is also a recognition that what God is doing through her and through Jesus will upset the status quo and will turn accepted values and norms of society upside down:

 “…he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich empty away.”

The person who says such things is no mere submissive vessel, but is a powerful person in her own right.  This is the person who brought Jesus up.

 Over the years and at various times and places Christianity has been the faith of the wealthy and the powerful but that is changing. The biggest growth area for Christianity is in Africa and in Asia where converts to Christianity are often the poorest and are often persecuted for their faith. They would recognise the power behind the song of Mary, they would recognise that by joining himself to humanity through the person of this poor girl God is doing something new and radical and for us to recapture something of that radical ness may revitalise something important about our faith.

The Magnificat is not just something nice to sing at Evensong but it was Mary’s revelation that the baby she had been chosen to carry was going to change the world forever.

The reading from the Revelation of St John also contained the imagery of a pregnant woman about to give birth.  Interestingly, unlike the nativity plays I mentioned, this reading does not shy away from mentioning the agonies of giving birth.  I should know, I have stood near someone doing that twice. 

Revelation is obviously a challenging read, because it is written in a very different genre from, say, the gospels, and there is no doubt that it can be read in many ways and on many levels.  However, the mistake some people make when reading this book is to think that it is only talking in a prophetic way about things to come in the future.  Another way it can be read is the heavenly view of things which happened on earth.  On that basis the gospel accounts of Mary giving birth to Jesus and then fleeing from Herod tell the nativity story from the human perspective whereas St John’s vision tells the same story but from the perspective of the birth of Jesus being part of the battles in heaven.  That reading would make Mary into the pregnant woman in Revelation and it is on that basis that Mary is sometimes referred to as the Queen of Heaven and shown wearing a crown of 12 stars.

You may be quite happy to accept Mary as the Mother of Jesus and all that entails, but you may still wonder about the Mother of Priests thing.  Whilst there is much else that could be said there I was really intrigued by a part of Revelation 12 which immediately follows todays reading, but does not form part of it.

There is a battle between the woman who has given birth to the child who has been taken up to the throne of God and the dragon, but the dragon cannot overpower the woman because of the help she is given both by God and even the earth itself.  Then, it says, that the dragon was so angry that it went off to wage war against the rest of the woman’s offspring – and her offspring are those who keep God’s commands and hold fast their testimonies about Jesus.  (Rev 12:17).  This is something really worth pondering, and is not something I had really thought about before.  If we interpret this story as being about Jesus and Mary then this verse says that this woman’s other offspring are those who follow Jesus, i.e. the church.  If we are sisters and brothers with one another and with Jesus then what does this make Mary?  The mother of the church, the mother of priests, because we are a kingdom of priests. 

We should not be afraid of Mary. We should liberate her from the confines of the nativity play and recognise her as a fellow human being but one who was chosen by God to give birth to God. Without her story, both human and divine, our story would be very different.

My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour.”

Amen.