Sunday, 28 November 2010

View from the Vicarage December 2010

When I was young, I loved Fry’s Chocolate Cream. It was a good size, hard on the outside and soft white fondant when you bit into it. Just wonderful. I bought Rowntrees fruit pastilles and fruit gums with my pocket money – only I didn’t like the green ones. Big bars of Cadbury’s chocolate (a glass and a half of milk in every bar) were holiday treats and bribes. Being a big family we bought loose, broken Huntley & Palmers biscuits from tins you could peer in (if you were tall enough) and the grocer brought our purchases on his bike. My sisters and I wore the same type of sandals. Clarks – with crepe soles and a starburst cut out on top.

I’m not just reminiscing, or recalling a world long gone. No – all these products have something in common. They were all made by Quaker firms. There are many others – like Barclays and Lloyds Bank, Friends Provident, Bryant & May and so on.

I worked as a Factory Manager for Clarks Shoes early in my career. There were no licensed premises in Street. Clarks was efficient and tough as an employer, but caring and almost paternalistic. Everything was provided. You never needed to leave Somerset. All the houses looked the same. On Sundays, people volunteered to do communal tasks, helping the elderly, painting railings, or picking up litter. Clarks had 22 UK factories. Now it has none. It is no longer Quaker.

Bourneville railway station is painted purple, and the Arts & Crafts houses with neat little gardens and excellent public facilities still attest to the Quaker vision and values of the Cadburys. Like most of the brands so familiar from my youth, they have been subsumed into global conglomerates. Cadbury’s was acquired by Kraft Foods In February this year. Apparently a hedge fund was willing to sell out. They didn’t care about past history, values, or tradition. They didn’t even care much about chocolate. A premium of 20p per share was enough.

The loss of a proud heritage is sad, but is there something more important going on here? On Radio 4 recently I heard a discussion about values in business. Honesty. Treating employees fairly and compassionately. Sensible multiples of remuneration between high and low paid jobs. That sort of thing.

One politician deplored the death of Quaker values, and wondered how in the absence of a religious underpinning we might return to times past. The thing is, he added, these firms were incredibly successful. They treated people well, but made huge profits. People liked working for them, and enjoyed living in their model villages. Consumers loved their products. They still do, but something is missing and their futures are all now less secure. The discussion ended rather bleakly: someone quoted Voltaire. If God didn’t exist, we’d have to invent Him. Without religion, to return to these values that served us so well, we might have to reinvent it.

Everything has a price, so we are told. Even people these days are called human capital. Trading shares reduces chocolate bars to mere banknotes. Luckily not everyone thinks this way, and not everyone is prepared to sacrifice the goose for its golden eggs. The good news for our secular politician is that religion has not died. In our village, lots of people work tirelessly for each other, without thanks, sometimes without recognition, and usually without recompense. Our ‘big society’ is alive and well, and, like religion, does not need reinventing. Thank God for that.

Now – can we all settle down, and learn that like the banks, greed and avarice have led us astray? We can’t turn the clock back, but can we not adopt once again some of those kinder, compassionate, and highly successful values that served us well for so long? Oh yes – and whilst we are at it, can I have my Fry’s Chocolate Cream back, please?

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Destruction of Jerusalem

Holy Communion at St Giles

Reading Revelation 5. 1 – 10

The Scroll and the Lamb

1 Then I saw in the right hand of him who sat on the throne a scroll with writing on both sides and sealed with seven seals. 2 And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming in a loud voice, “Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?” 3 But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth could open the scroll or even look inside it. 4 I wept and wept because no one was found who was worthy to open the scroll or look inside. 5 Then one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.”

6 Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing in the centre before the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders. The Lamb had seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. 7 He went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who sat on the throne. 8 And when he had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of God’s people. 9 And they sang a new song, saying:

   “You are worthy to take the scroll
   and to open its seals,
because you were slain,
   and with your blood you purchased for God
   members of every tribe and language and people and nation.
10 You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God,
   and they will reign on the earth.”

Gospel Luke 19. 41 – 44

41 As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it 42 and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes. 43 The days will come on you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. 44 They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.”


Gospel passage headed ‘Jesus weeps over Jerusalem.’ Comes immediately after triumphal entry.

Jesus sits on a donkey, in fulfilment of prophecy. In Luke, only the disciples cry out. The people are silent. What disciples shout, echoes the song of the angels.

38 “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”

Luke wants us to see that what is to happen on earth follows from what happens in heaven.

Then comes today’s reading. Jesus weeps because of the judgement that will be meted out on Jerusalem. Because Jerusalem has rejected the messiah and followed her own determined path, so her destruction is inevitable.

What has Jerusalem rejected. It has rejected Jesus himself, and his way of peace. Israel is the cause of her own ruin.

Just after today’s passage comes the cleansing of the Temple.

By the time Luke’s gospel is written, Jerusalem will already have been sacked and destroyed by the Romans. That took place in 70AD.

So all this is seen as an interpretation of prophecy, so that by the time of Revelation Jesus is described in messianic terms:

“Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.”

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Remembrance Sunday

Cheddington, St Giles


God is our refuge and strength;
a very present help in trouble.
Psalm 46.1

I lift up my eyes to the hills –
from whence will my help come?
My help comes from the Lord,
Who made heaven and earth.
Psalm 121.1-2

This I call to mind,
and therefore I have hope:
the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases,
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning.
Lamentations 3.21-23

Those who wait for the Lord shall renew
their strength,
they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary
they shall walk and not faint.
Isaiah 40.31

What does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?
Micah 6.8


15 "If you love me, keep my commands. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. 18 I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 19 Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. 20 On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. 21 Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. Anyone who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them."

27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.
John 14: 15-21 and 27


What is Remembrance all about? Giving thanks for sacrifice of all those who served in armed forces for country to maintain and preserve peace and freedom and oppose evil. Our promise – ‘we will remember them.

What not about? – glorifying war? Glamourising conflict? Making out that armed conflict is somehow desirable. It is not. It is a failure.

My generation too young to remember WW2. Born 1947. Have been wars throughout my lifetime. When your age, fear of Cold War. Nuclear age. Arsenals big enough to obliterate human kind. Dr Strangelove. Bay of Pigs. Confrontation.

This feeling is back – ‘war on terror’ – fear of attack going about daily business – wars of religions.

Now added poignancy of tragedy of young men and women killed or maimed through war. Remembrance now as popular as Harvest.

But this service is not about all that. It’s about Peace. How to avoid war.

I don’t have the answer – but I can say something about our faith and what it tells us about Peace.

Book of James poses this question:
From James 4: 1, 6-7
What causes wars and fighting among you?
Is it not your selfishness at war inside your hearts? Greed, pride, envy etc.
But God opposes the proud and gives grace to the humble.
Submit yourselves therefore to God.
Draw near to God and he will draw near to you.

Peace is God’s gift to us. Those who work for peace are specially favoured by Him. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says:
9 Blessed are the peacemakers,
   for they will be called children of God.
Matt 6:9

As long ago as time of Micah, the prophet foretold a time when wars would cease:
He will settle disputes among the nations, among the great powers near and far. They will hammer their swords into ploughs and their spears into pruning knives. Nations will never again go to war, never prepare for battle again. Everyone will live in peace among his own vineyards and fig trees, and no one will make him afraid. The Lord Almighty has promised this. Micah 4

This time, which we call the Kingdom of God, is not yet come, or only partially here. My and my father’s and grandfather’s generation made a mess of the 20th century. Yours is the responsibility to do better.

If the answer lies in the peace of God, then the voice of truth must not be masked by a perverted view of religion, where a faith based on peace and brotherhood is used to justify terrorism and hate.

I’m not just talking about Islamist terrorism – Christians have been responsible for many acts of barbarity over hundreds of years as a perversion of their faith.

I said I don’t have an answer. Perhaps I do. Love God, and love your neighbour. Isn’t that what it all comes down to? Removing misunderstanding and fear. Walking in each other’s moccasins. Striving for the peace that comes from Christ.

21 Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. Anyone who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them."

27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

Monday, 8 November 2010


Sermon at St Giles – Sunday 7 November 2010

Gospel Luke 20.27-38

Some of the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to Jesus with a question. “Teacher,” they said, “Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies and leaves a wife but no children, the man must marry the widow and have children for his brother. Now there were seven brothers. The first one married a woman and died childless. The second and then the third married her, and in the same way the seven died, leaving no children. Finally, the woman died too. Now then, at the resurrection whose wife will she be, since the seven were married to her?”

Jesus replied, “The people of this age marry and are given in marriage. But those who are considered worthy of taking part in that age and in the resurrection from the dead will neither marry nor be given in marriage, and they can no longer die; for they are like the angels. They are God’s children, since they are children of the resurrection. But in the account of the bush, even Moses showed that the dead rise, for he calls the Lord ‘the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’. He is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive.”



If our greatest hope for eternity is heaven, you’d expect us to have a pretty good idea of what it’s like. What’s in store for us. What redemption brings. The hope of salvation.

If a child asks – what would we say? Wouldn’t we look in the Gospels? Find out what Jesus told us? Can you think, off-hand, of a few verses that come to mind? If not, that’s because Jesus said almost nothing about what heaven is like. Ever wondered why not?

By the magic of search engines, there are 140 uses of word heaven in Gospels. Many say nothing about heaven as a place or a state of being. Like your Father in Heaven… Just another way of saying God.

The references that actually say something about heaven reveal that heaven is:

· Place of reward

· Many will come from E and W – take their places with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob

· Everyone there is equal – but even least will be greater than John the Baptist

· Secrets given to little children

· Peter given keys

Most of descriptions are what heaven is like:

· Mustard seed

· Yeast

· Buried treasure

· Pearl of great price

· Net let down to catch fish

· Owner of house who brings out storeroom treasures old and new

· King who settles accounts with servants

· Owner of a vineyard who hires workers

· King preparing wedding feast

· 10 virgins with lamps

Reading passage – query by Sadducees about resurrection. Does not even mention heaven. But forget the trick question – response is closest we get to what heaven is like.

Heaven is where people

· neither marry nor are given in marriage

· can no longer die

· like the angels

· God’s children

· children of the resurrection.

Perhaps our imaginations are too limited. Our vision is too narrow. Our comprehension too small. That’s why Jesus gives us so little to go on.

Still people have dreamt. Let their imaginations run riot. Wonderful book of Revelation. Apocalyptic glimpse of heaven. In his dream, John looks, and there in heaven a door stood open. A voice invites him to come up to heaven and see what must take place after this. Then in the spirit he sees a throne and One sitting on it. He describes the wonder of what he sees.

Most people find this sort of literature hard. Challenging. Even threatening.

They prefer more homely account by Jesus in John 14 – no mention of heaven – comfort to those who are grieving.

Jesus Comforts His Disciples

1 "Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. 2 My Father's house has plenty of room; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. 4 You know the way to the place where I am going."

5 Thomas said to him, "Lord, we don't know where you are going, so how can we know the way?"

6 Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

Comforting words. Trust. Faith. Reliance on God. In a way, we don’t need more.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

All Souls

2 November 2010 All Souls

Reading Wisdom 3:1-9

The Destiny of the Righteous

But the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God,
and no torment will ever touch them.
2In the eyes of the foolish they seemed to have died,
and their departure was thought to be a disaster,
3and their going from us to be their destruction;
but they are at peace.
4For though in the sight of others they were punished,
their hope is full of immortality.
5Having been disciplined a little, they will receive great good,
because God tested them and found them worthy of himself;
6like gold in the furnace he tried them,
and like a sacrificial burnt-offering he accepted them.
7In the time of their visitation they will shine forth,
and will run like sparks through the stubble.
8They will govern nations and rule over peoples,
and the Lord will reign over them forever.
9Those who trust in him will understand truth,
and the faithful will abide with him in love,
because grace and mercy are upon his holy ones,
and he watches over his elect.*

Gospel John 11: 17 – 27

Jesus Comforts the Sisters of Lazarus

17 On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. 18 Now Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem, 19 and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother. 20 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home.

21 "Lord," Martha said to Jesus, "if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask."

23 Jesus said to her, "Your brother will rise again."

24 Martha answered, "I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day."

25 Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?"

27 "Yes, Lord," she told him, "I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who was to come into the world."


First 3 gospels – miracles. In John – signs. Raising of Lazarus – last sign in John’s gospel.

Usually, when Jesus performs sign or miracle – it is then followed by interpretation or discourse about it.

Here – events prior to sign receive bulk of space. Raising of Lazarus gets only 2 verses. Jesus comments on the sign before it actually happens.

Focuses our attention on the discourse, not the sign. Not to say raising of Lazarus is unimportant. One of only 2 examples in gospels. Only one where the person had been dead several days.

Discourse is with Martha. Mary stayed at home. Remember Lazarus had two sisters – in Luke, when Jesus visited their brother – Martha complained Mary sat listening to Jesus whilst Martha did all the work.

Martha again complains. Why did Jesus not come earlier? Maybe life saved?

Jesus’ does not answer her directly. He replies: “I am the resurrection and the life.” What sort of answer is that?

What he is saying is – eternal life more important than a few more years here on earth. Lazarus is dead – no doubt – but he will rise again.

Notice that Jesus makes two claims. One – resurrection is through him. I am the resurrection. That’s something we can understand. Many Jews believed in a resurrection – so did Martha. So do we.

Second claim is harder to understand. I am the life. Resurrection is promise of new life in the future. But Jesus also says there can be new life in him today. Right now.

Martha heard the first part clearly. Knew her brother would rise again. Did not hear the second part. What Jesus was actually saying to her was that even though Lazarus was dead, even he could share in the life Jesus offers to us all – not in the future but now, on earth, this evening, right now.

For Lazarus – that meant the dramatic event recorded later on. For us, if we thought I am the resurrection and the life meant essentially the same thing, as we celebrate the life of our loved ones departed, we can examine our own lives and consider what, for us, Jesus meant when he said I am the life.

In the next chapter, the anointing of Jesus takes place at the home of Mary and Martha in Bethany. We are told that Martha served, Mary anoints Jesus, and Lazarus, whom Jesus had raised from the dead, was one of those at the table with him. The raising of Lazarus gave him new life with Jesus.

So, for Lazarus I am the life did not mean something in the future, but right now. For us too, our intimacy with Jesus need not be something we can only enjoy after we die, after the resurrection, after the end of time as we know it, but here and now.

For the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and from his fullness we have all received grace upon grace. Amen