Saturday, 31 December 2011

A View from the Vicarage

January 2012

View from the Vicarage

January 2012

It was time to lock St Giles after the last of the Church Mice had left. I inserted the huge key in the ancient lock. It turned a short way then jammed. The key would not move either way and remained stuck in the lock.

When the specialist locksmith removed the mechanism, tucked inside was a browning fragile piece of paper. Written in pencil were these words:

“This lock was taken off & cleaned &oiled in June 1936 by F N Read, Churchwarden. And also vestry lock Sept 30 1954.”

Frederick Reed was church warden for 45 years. During that time he must have lovingly cared for this precious ancient monument, and been proud enough of his work to leave a record behind for us to discover long after his death. Until then, we had considered changing the locks for more modern ones. Finding this note encouraged us to have the locks cleaned, oiled and fixed so that now we can look forward to many more years of good service in the future. We might even leave a note of our own. I have the precious note in front of me now, and will be scanning it for our records.

St Giles is by far the oldest building in the village. I often think about the changes it has seen over many centuries. Many occasions of joy and sadness. Many dangers and threats. If the world changed out of all recognition between 1936 and 1954, just imagine its witness over many lifetimes.

It’s wrong that the cost of maintaining this ancient monument should fall solely on those who are regular members of the church, and that is why we are asking for help from the village. At some time or other, very many of us look to the church or its vicar and church wardens at significant moments in our families’ lives. What we really need are covenants of small amounts paid monthly to support the fabric and the work of the church in our village. If you would like to participate in any way, please email me with your name and address and I will send you a sponsorship form.

St Giles is of course not just a building but a community of faith. St Giles is your parish church, regardless of your own religious beliefs. There is an apparent permanence to its presence on the hill outside the village. It is a testament to the faith of those countless folk like Mr Read who served the church faithfully and are now at rest in its graveyard. But its continued existence in its present form is not guaranteed, as we know from the number of redundant churches in villages and towns around the country.

As a community we are in rude health, but financially we need help. The fading, brown note is evidence of faithful service, but faith itself is not certainty, nor is the future of our building assured. Faith is the courage to live with uncertainty. It is never easy. All of us wrestle with our faith, but the reward is that we find a life with meaning. Please consider joining us.

Robert Wright
01296 661358

Sunday, 25 December 2011

Christmas Day

Holy Communion at 8.30am

Gospel Luke 2.1-14(15-20)

Alleluia, alleluia.
The Word became flesh and dwelt among us,
and we have seen his glory. John 1.14

When the Gospel is announced the reader says

Hear the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to N.
All Glory to you, O Lord.

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to his own town to register.

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

There were shepherds living out in the fields near by, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace to men on whom his favour rests.”

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

This is the Gospel of the Lord.
All Praise to you, O Christ.



I wonder if you remember some of the cinema films from the 1960s filmed in soft focus, improving the appearance of Doris Day or Grace Kelly on giant screens filmed in unforgiving 70mm? Still photographs were painstakingly airbrushed to hide the blemishes on models’ faces. More recently, anyone with a computer can make people look slimmer, smooth out teenage spots, or enhance selectively any aspect of an image. There’s one free program called Perfect 365 which with one click will make eyes bigger, touch out lines, and even apply make up automatically. It makes portraits conform to some sort of ideal.

Have we done something like that to Christmas? Our picture of the holy family is softened. Mary in her blue robe gazes lovingly at a rosy cheeked blond baby tucked up nicely in fresh straw. Shepherds gaze on in respectful wonder, their charges all fluffy like balls of cotton wool. The floor of the stable is well swept and Joy to the World plays from an unseen orchestra.

In our heart of hearts we know it wasn’t like that. Imagine the stench and risk of infection. Mary a frightened teenager. Joseph out of his depth. And the shepherds – the undesirables of the 1st century, on the lowest rung of the ladder in the hickest backwater of a remote and fractious part of the Roman empire.

Why do we airbrush the scene? Is there anything wrong if we do? My hunch is that for many of us life is increasingly hard, and we struggle to hold it together amidst the threat of chaos that threatens to overcome us at work or at home. We’ve had enough realism on the daily News, thank you. Can’t we look forward to something good, pure and beautiful, just for once, at Christmas, before we have to return to the grittier stuff in January? After all, we put a lot of effort into managing our turbulent lives and it’s understandable that we want a break to sooth our beleaguered souls. Where’s the harm in that?

The answer’s not so obvious. You might say the census arranged by Quirinius provides the order amongst all that chaos. Yes King David in the OT was punished by God for making a count of his men. The birth of Jesus could have been well ordered and controlled, but God clearly chose the opposite. Luke’s nativity scene is telling us that something beautiful, precious and wonderful can be seen in conditions that are vulnerable, fragile, dirty, chaotic and downright dangerous.

God breaks through into our space in the incarnation at the very margins. Not in bright ethereal light, but a flickering candle. Not well-ordered, hygienic, and tranquil but in the blood, sweat and tears of labour in a filthy environment surrounded by squalor and livestock.

Something in this scene speaks to us of our quest for financial security, a comfortable home, a better job with prospects, or an enjoyable retirement. These aspirations may be good, but they don’t ultimately satisfy. We don’t look back on time spent on the sofa with joy. Our real achievements are bought with greater hardship and sacrifice than that.

God comes to us at Christmas amidst the ups and downs. He speaks to us not in our ordered lives, but in the blood, sweat and tears. His voice is the sound of sheer silence. Easily overwhelmed by the noise of our daily existence. He comes to give us abundant life. That does not mean more of the life we know. Not more of the same, but something more. God speaks to us of his love. He says Unto you this day is born a saviour, Christ the Lord. In the busy time ahead, pause to reflect on this message, and make sure it can be heard. Amen

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Midnight Mass

Christmas Eve at 11pm

Gospel John 1. 1 – 14

Today [This night/day] Christ is born:
Today [This night/day] the Saviour comes:
Today [This night/day] the angels sing on earth:
Alleluia. Glory to God in the highest.

When the Gospel is announced the reader says

Hear the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to N.
All Glory to you, O Lord.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.

Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.

There came a man who was sent from God; his name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world.

He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognise him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God – children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

This is the Gospel of the Lord.
All Praise to you, O Christ.


Like many people I’m a fan of Professor Brian Cox. I don’t understand much of what he says. At school I had to study Latin instead of the sciences, so all I have is General Science at O Level. And m y lack of any real maths ill equips me to solve his most basic equations. But when he points to the galaxy and confidently tells us it contains a billion stars, I am duly impressed. When he then claims to know there are a billion galaxies my brain overloads.

For some people, Science and Religion are opposed. For me it’s the opposite. I see God in the night sky. I hear him in Mozart and Dvorak. I read about him in John 1.

A few years ago, I walked inside the Large Hadron Collider. It stretches for several kilometres under Switzerland and a bit of France. It wasn’t switched on at the time. It was a huge machine which spoke to me of human engineering. There was nothing sublime about it.

But when we read about the Word that was in the beginning, the finger of God is all over it. It attests to his involvement in history from the very beginning. Perhaps when we know more of the Higgs Boson, if such a particle exists, we will find out more about what happened in the first few moments of the Big Bang. In the meantime, I’m happy to assert there was a creative force that existed before time and space, and that from outside our dimension everything that was and is came into being through his word. I can understand creation that way much more easily than a cataclysmic explosion with no known origin or cause.

This same God might have endowed us with freewill, but that does not mean he has abandoned our world to its fate. It is a mystery to me why God seems to get involved with his creation in some ways, but not in others. But the gospels reveal that God shows up with people whom the world counts as nothing. The circumstances of the birth of Jesus. The shepherds who were mistrusted outcasts from society, yet were chosen to hear the news first. Then right throughout his ministry Jesus speaks to the marginalised and rails against respectable authority.

Tonight we hear again about the light coming into the world. How can we possibly become involved? God is transcendent – outside of time and space – yet we can listen to the music in which he is present – we can meditate on these mysteries as Mary did “pondering these things in her heart” – we can hear and receive the message that God brings to us in Jesus – and we can receive him through holy communion which we are about to share together.

God is present though, not only in the transcendent but also the mundane. As Publius Sulpicius Quirinius made plans for his census, who might have been aware of the way God might be working through this insignificant Roman aristocrat? So we must see God in the greatness of creation, but also in the people and the events that in human terms seem to matter least.

The shepherds were the most untrustworthy witnesses to a great event anyone could have possibly picked. Yet their evidence reaches down through the ages.

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.


Saturday, 17 December 2011

9 Lessons and Carols

If you are at our service, and have scanned the QR code on the back of your service booklet, Welcome!

Our services at Christmas are:


7pm “Carols on the Green”
Join us on the Green at Cheddington with 400 people from the village to sing carols. What better way to start Christmas 2011?

11pm Midnight Mass
A short communion service with carols.


8.30am Holy Communion
Sung Holy Communion for Christmas Day. Why not come to church, then send the family to the All-Age service whilst you get ready for a family feast?

10am All-Age Service for Christmas Day
Carols, quiz, cards, more carols and a few prayers. Family friendly, and genuinely suitable for all ages from babies and toddlers to 90+
It’s not quiet, but what better way to start your Christmas Day?

Sunday, 11 December 2011

John the Witness

St Giles Cheddington – Advent 3 – 11 December 2011

Second Reading 1 Thessalonians 5.16-24

Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

Do not put out the Spirit’s fire; do not treat prophecies with contempt. Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil.

May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it.

Gospel John 1.6-8,19-28

Alleluia, alleluia.
Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.
All Alleluia.

When the Gospel is announced the reader says

Hear the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to N.
All Glory to you, O Lord.

There came a man who was sent from God; his name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.

Now this was John’s testimony when the Jews of Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was. He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, “I am not the Christ.”

They asked him, “Then who are you? Are you Elijah?”

He said, “I am not.”

“Are you the Prophet?”

He answered, “No.”

Finally they said, “Who are you? Give us an answer to take back to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?”

John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, “I am the voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’”

Now some Pharisees who had been sent questioned him, “Why then do you baptise if you are not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?”

“I baptise with water,” John replied, “but among you stands one you do not know. He is the one who comes after me, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.”

This all happened at Bethany on the other side of the Jordan, where John was baptising.

This is the Gospel of the Lord.
All Praise to you, O Christ.


As you probably know these words, addressed to the believers in Thessalonica, are taken from the oldest text in the New Testament. It’s Paul’s first letter, and is addressed to a community he loved. At this early point in his ministry, everyone believed in the imminent return of the Lord. He tells them how it will happen. God will bring with him those who have died. Then those who are still alive will be caught up, together with them, to be with the Lord forever.

In the meantime, the Thessalonians are reminded how they should behave. What life in a Christian community should be like. Do good. Help the weak. Do not repay evil for evil. It sounds straightforward, but it was, and still is, radical.

The standard governing life in the 1st century world familiar to Paul and the Thessalonians was very different to that ideal. It was about receiving respect from others. Maintaining your position in society. It was about pay back. Receiving the respect of others – not giving it. Yet here was Paul advocating something entirely different. He was counselling believers to be weak. To risk being taken advantage of at every turn. Not repaying evil for evil, but good. Instead of everyone being out for himself or herself as the world is, the believers were to be out for others.

How like what we have become today! Now that most people no longer profess a strong faith, they lack external standards in their lives. Their behaviour seems to be governed not by a fixed moral code but by copying others. If someone else is looting a shop, then it must be OK for them to do the same. The only restraint that is left is not the police – they can’t be everywhere – but the eyes of CCTV. The big question is not “Is it right?” but “Can I get away with it?”

Paul’s advice is equally radical when he talks of people’s personal lives. He commands three things. Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. Give thanks in all circumstances.

Command is probably the wrong word. They are not really commands that must be fulfilled. Why? Because no one can, in their own strength, achieve any of them. Who can always rejoice, whatever the world throws at them? Who can give thanks all the time? Who can pray without ceasing?

No – these are not commands but fruits of the Spirit. You can find them listed in Galatians. And if fruits, they are surely also signs of the presence of the Holy Spirit, not only in us but in our community of faith.

Paul is saying that, if the Holy Spirit is in our midst, there will be rejoicing, thanksgiving and prayer at the heart of our life together and individually. But if these things are signs, they are also surely imperatives. We must be open to the work of the Holy Spirit in order for these signs to be manifest in us.

Openness is all that is asked of us. We cannot claim anything for ourselves. It’s rather like today’s reading from the beginning of John’s gospel. Nowhere does John the Baptist say who he is or what he claims for himself. Read the chapter carefully. Nowhere is he even called John the Baptist.

John says he’s a witness to another. He himself isn’t the Light. He’s not the Messiah. He’s not Elijah. He’s not even a prophet. He’s just the finger of God, pointing towards another. “Behold” says John. “Do you see him? The Word made flesh. The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the World. The light.”

Have you ever visited the Kango Caves in South Africa? Or any other deep cave system I suppose. Cavern after cavern. Stalactites and stalagmites. And in this case, heat, humidity, 4 metre shafts to climb and letterboxes to wriggle through. At one point, they turn out the lights. The darkness is total. You could wait for hours, and still not see your hand in front of your face.

That’s what John is talking about. The darkness of sin. For John, sin is not just wrongdoing. Not immorality. Not transgressions we can all count up on a daily basis. No – sin is unbelief. The light has gone out. Sin is a tragic separation from God himself.

The tiniest of light in Kango caves would be seen for miles. That, for John, is the Light coming into the world. It banishes darkness by its very existence, however strong or weak it may be.

In darkness, we have a desperate need for light, and our need is satisfied at Christmas. As we light our 3rd Advent candle we are reminded of John the Witness, who declares the incarnation, who points to the light shining out where darkness should prevail. He speaks to our fundamental need as human beings for that light.

And at the end of Advent, before there is the Word made flesh, there is the promise that in the midst of all of the darkness of humanity, that light will now light will shine. Amen

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Who is this Jesus?

Mid week communion service at St Giles

Gospel Matthew 11

Alleluia, alleluia.
Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.
All Alleluia.

When the Gospel is announced the reader says

Hear the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to N.
All Glory to you, O Lord.

11I tell you the truth: Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.

12 From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it.

13 For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John.

14 And if you are willing to accept it, he is the Elijah who was to come.

15 He who has ears, let him hear.

This is the Gospel of the Lord.
All Praise to you, O Christ.


On Sunday next, the gospel reading is all about John. It’s from the first chapter of John’s gospel. John is never actually called John the Baptist in John’s gospel. He’s John the Witness. In answer to men sent by the Pharisees to find out about him, John the Witness tells us what he isn’t. He is not the Messiah. He is not Elijah. He isn’t even a prophet. All he will admit is he is a voice crying in the wilderness. He points to the Christ who is to come.

In Matthew he is John the Baptist. Jesus says he is Elijah who is to come. An obvious contradiction for the fundamentalists to explain. A minor matter of detail to the rest of us.

Now it’s John who sends messengers. His ministry is over. He’s in prison awaiting his fate. He hears all sorts of things about what Jesus is up to. He’s clearly worried. All this peace and love does not square with John’s notion of what the Messiah should be like.

So he sends his disciples and asks Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another? Jesus does not give a straight answer. When does he ever? No – he tells John’s men to report back what they have seen and heard. Jesus makes no claims for himself. But what he they report back to John is clearly messianic. The blind see. The sick are healed. The deaf hear. The poor receive good news.

Jesus is constantly asked questions about his identity. John’s question is the same as the one people have asked down the generations. It’s the same question we are challenged to answer during Advent. Is he the One?

John had expectations, and it’s reasonable to assume Jesus was not fulfilling them. The Romans had not been thrown out. People were still suffering. The world was still an unfair place. Evil still had the upper hand.

We can say the same. We can ask the age old questions about why the innocent suffer. Why there is disease. Why evil seems so prevalent. Why the distribution of the earth’s resources is so unequal. Why the rich are super rich and the poor lack the basic essentials of life. How much of all this is our fault – and where is the promised Kingdom of God when all will be made right?

At the start of his ministry John seemed so confident. Now he’s not so sure. For Matthew, blessings are the key mark of discipleship. The flip side is that we are scandalised by what he says. The key question this Advent is whether the good news of God’s blessing in Jesus takes root in us and produces the fruits of faith. Or whether it will be the cause of our turning away.

Jesus asks Are you willing to accept the good news? He who has ears, let him hear. Amen

Monday, 5 December 2011

Cheddington Scouts learn about homelessness the hard way

On Friday night, a representative from Watford New Hope Trust discussed homelessness, its causes and effects, with a group of Cheddington Scouts.

Some of them then spent a windy, wet night sleeping rough in the church yard at St Giles.

My own choice of bed was cardboard city inspired. Two removal company boxes taped together and waterproofed with cling film.

scouts sleepout Dec 2011 -0635

Quite cosy really, but getting in and out took more flexibility than my aged body now ideally likes to boast.

scouts sleepout Dec 2011 -0640

Cheddington Rectory goes green

Oxford Diocese installs 16 panel photo voltaic cell array

In two weeks the panels have generated 32 kWh of power fed back into the grid.

solar panels-0641

Thursday, 1 December 2011


Thursday 1 December 2011 Holy Communion at St Giles

Gospel Matthew 7

Alleluia, alleluia.
Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.
All Alleluia.

When the Gospel is announced the reader says

Hear the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to N.
All Glory to you, O Lord.

21 Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.

The Wise and Foolish Builders

24 Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.

25 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.

26 But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand.

27 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.

This is the Gospel of the Lord.
All Praise to you, O Christ.


Another great story. Children sing “Wise man built his house upon the rock”

Simple. Graphic. Right and wrong. Wise and foolish. Storms, destruction. Clear message.

What is the message? What is true meaning of parable? Not about health & safety.

Jesus gives us a clue. Wise builder is the one who hears these word of mine and puts them into practice. Foolish builder also hears his words, but does not put them into practice.

What words are we talking about? This little parable comes at end of Sermon on Mount. Jesus could be referring to whole sermon. Most of his teaching is summarized in SM.

Or maybe he is talking about the last section. How to treat one’s neighbour. Here we find judging others – seek and ye shall find – the narrow and wide gates – a tree and its fruit .

This last refers to false prophets. So he might be telling us to listen to his words of truth, and not be diverted by wrong and misleading interpretations.

Why should he restrict his counsels to just one particular section? Surely he is warning us to be wise to everything he has taught?

I suppose we all learn something different when we hear this parable. For some, it’s about permanence and hard work. Studying Jesus’ words and striving to apply them with vigour to our lives. Not taking the easy way out, but struggling to understand when things are unclear.

Of course it’s harder to carry building materials up from a sandy flood plain than unload them from a river and build nearby. The rock is found on higher ground. You have to climb in the hot sun, then labour to dig down to the bedrock. That way your foundations are safe and secure.

What then are the storms? Perhaps Jesus is talking about false teaching that might lead us astray? Perhaps it’s easier to believe that the Christian life is more straightforward than it is? That’s to follow the wide path. Or maybe our faith, if not well grounded, sustains us when times are easy, but come the crisis in our lives, we can easily fail. That’s the message of the sower. Only those seeds than put down strong roots can survive the hot sun and drought. Then they will produce fruit.

Like all parables, first impressions can be misleading. Sometimes what we get out of a parable depends on the state of our hearts. That’s why we tell children in Godly Play what a precious gift lies hidden inside our parable box. Ready to be opened and unwrapped. A pearl of great price, the key to understanding.

After the great crash comes the last words of the entire sermon. They are not included in today’s lectionary reading. But they give the reaction of his hearers.

28When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching,

29 because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.

May we, like them, not take these words for granted, but be amazed at his teaching. May we build our lives on solid foundations, ones that last and remain standing whatever life may chuck at us. Amen

Sunday, 27 November 2011


Reading 1 Corinthians 1.3-9

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

I always thank God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. For in him you have been enriched in every way – in all your speaking and in all your knowledge – because our testimony about Christ was confirmed in you. Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. He will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful.

Gospel Mark 13.24-37

Alleluia, alleluia.
Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.
All Alleluia.

When the Gospel is announced the reader says

Hear the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to N.
All Glory to you, O Lord.

Jesus said: “In those days,

“‘the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light;
the stars will fall from the sky,
and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’

“At that time men will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And he will send his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens.

“Now learn this lesson from the fig-tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that it is near, right at the door. I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.

“No-one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come. It’s like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with his assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch.

“Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back – whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the cock crows, or at dawn. If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’”

This is the Gospel of the Lord.
All Praise to you, O Christ.


Let me ask you – what are the signs of the coming season? Christmas, I mean. And when do you start seeing them?

When I was in retail, we planning Christmas Stationery from the beginning of May. It opened on September 7. Many people thought that was too early. But there were queues on the first day. Some folks just lived for Christmas. Others had to catch the last posting date to new Zealand, which was surprisingly early.

What other signs are there? TV ads for gifts from October. Christmas lights from mid November. Christmas markets. Santa hats everywhere. Increasing panic – like the man who rushed in as the shop was closing on Christmas Eve and bought his wife a vacuum cleaner. Bet he had a good festive season.

Cards in the post. Happy Holidays for the politically correct. All those tedious annual descriptions of the children’s achievements.

Today is Advent Sunday. It signals a period of waiting for the coming of Jesus.

Mark describes the drama of the Son of Man played out in 3 acts.

Act 1 starts on Palm Sunday. Jesus enters Jerusalem and is hailed Son of David. He moves in and out of the Temple, and is challenged by the authorities, both religious and secular. Pharisees, Sadducees, Herodians, scribes.

Act 3 is the Passion narrative. It starts at the Last Supper and ends as the body of Jesus is taken down from the cross and buried before sundown.

That leaves Act 2. Chapter 13 of Mark’s gospel. Today we read the last few verses. Jesus teaches his disciples the truth of God’s presence. They ask when the end of time will come. Jesus tells them the signs to look out for, but warns them only the Father knows the time of the apocalypse.

This reading inaugurates the Advent season for us. All around us we hear silver bells. Ho ho-ing Santas. Jollity. Christmas carols. The faces of smiling children.

The church, on the other hand, offers us this text:
“But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken”

What chance does that have against Santa Claus is coming to town? What relevance do all these cosmic signs and dire warnings have for the Advent season?

Well, one could be forgiven for thinking a secular Christmas is a lot more fun, but as we know, so many of its signs and portents are empty ones. About a third of the whole year’s profit in department stores comes at Christmas. But what does it signify? What is Christmas really all about? Sweaters you would not buy for yourself. Toys that break down before Boxing Day? Kids who prefer to play with the wrapping than what was inside?

What is inside Advent? What presents are we offered? The incredible promise within this passage is that which expresses the very heart of what we preach in Advent. "Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away" (13:31).

Amidst the chaos of this time of year, we hear a promise that transcends the cultural focus of our time. The transitory frenzy of our preparations for this grand secular event offer nothing truly meaningful. But this is where our word of the coming of the Messiah should, and does mean so much more. It is permanent and will not let us down. It will not disappoint. It will keep on, even when the decorations come down and once proudly lit up trees wait collection lying on the pavement.

During Advent, we are commanded to remain alert. Keep awake. We are told this three times, in case we were not alert enough to hear it once. What are we waiting for? Well, the coming of Jesus, naturally.

At the end of Advent, Jesus comes as a child in Bethlehem. But he comes also, not as a baby, but as the Son of Man. He comes as the Messiah. He comes in the evening. He comes at midnight. He comes at cock crow. He comes at dawn. All these times are given us in Mark 14 and 15. The cross is present during the Advent season, because of the coming of the Son of Man. This is as important as the coming of Jesus as a baby, born in Bethlehem. The two are inseparable. This is the real Advent message, which remains permanent and vital as the emblems and icons of secular Happy Holiday wishes die away, and reality intrudes on our consciousness.

Hear the closing promise of Jesus, the Son of Man, in light of all that has been said in this marvellous Advent text: “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away” (13:31). Likewise, the final word of our Advent text is a word of urgency and watchfulness: “And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake” (13:37).

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Christ the King

First Reading Ezekiel 34.11-16,20-24

“This is what the Sovereign LORD says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them. As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness. I will bring them out from the nations and gather them from the countries, and I will bring them into their own land. I will pasture them on the mountains of Israel, in the ravines and in all the settlements in the land. I will tend them in a good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel will be their grazing land. There they will lie down in good grazing land, and there they will feed in a rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. I myself will tend my sheep and make them lie down, declares the Sovereign LORD. I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice.

“Therefore this is what the Sovereign LORD says to them: See, I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. Because you shove with flank and shoulder, butting all the weak sheep with your horns until you have driven them away, I will save my flock, and they will no longer be plundered. I will judge between one sheep and another. I will place over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he will tend them; he will tend them and be their shepherd. I the LORD will be their God, and my servant David will be prince among them. I the LORD have spoken.”

Gospel Matthew 25.31-46

Alleluia, alleluia.
Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord.
Peace in heaven and glory in the highest heaven.
All Alleluia.

Hear the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to N.
All Glory to you, O Lord.

Jesus said: “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

“The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’

“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

“They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

“He will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

“Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

This is the Gospel of the Lord.
All Praise to you, O Christ.


Luke Woollard is about to be baptized. The words we use are as up to date as we can make them. But still they have a very ancient flavour. Baptism is a joyful occasion, and there are words of welcome and joy. It’s not a naming ceremony, but still we give thanks for Luke’s safe arrival and make promises to care for him and start him on his journey through life.

As Luke is not of age to answer for himself, his parents and god parents make promises on his behalf. Luke can then choose to confirm those promises if he wishes when he is of an age to do so. Meantime, his friends and family are asked to protect him from evil and live their lives in such a way as to give Luke a good example to follow. The wording is ancient, but the promises timeless.

So, whilst baptism is a time of rejoicing, there is a dark side to life which we must all acknowledge. We see it all around us. And it would be wrong if we did not make mention of the bad things as well as the good when we welcome Luke into membership of the Church, which is the body of Christ.

Today in the church’s calendar is called Christ the King. It’s the last Sunday in the church’s year. Advent starts next week. During Advent, we look forward to the coming of Jesus, born at Christmas.

Just as there is a serious intention in our baptismal service, so on the feast of Christ the King we see a different side to Jesus and the implications of right and wrong, of love and neglect, of selfishness and selflessness. Much of what is in the gospels is about love. Jesus, as God incarnate – God in bodily form – at the end of times will be the judge, and we will all have to account for the way we have lived our lives.

Matthew 24 and 25 concern the end of the age. Christ the King is asked about what signs there will be to herald the end of time. The day and the hour are unknown, he replies. Only God knows. So we must be ready. We must keep watch, for none of us can tell when we will be called to account.

Jesus uses the example of sheep and goats. The good and righteous are separated from the bad. He tells the bad that they have neglected him. They have not fed Jesus when he was hungry. They have not taken care of him when he was destitute. They did not visit him in prison. They did not offer him a glass of water when he was parched.

When was this? They ask indignantly. The answer come back that when they did not take care of the underprivileged and needy here on earth, they were neglecting Christ himself. Because we, as Christians, must see the face of Jesus himself in all humanity, and act accordingly. Giving when there is need. Making personal sacrifices to help others. Feeding the world’s hungry, and selflessly doing good.

It’s such a clear and simple message, yet it comes with a sting in the tail. That’s the message of Christ the King. So it’s appropriate that we adopt this lifestyle and accept this faith for ourselves, so we can impart it to Luke as he grows up. Every week, I see him changing. Getting bigger and stronger. Doing more for himself. It’s a pleasure and a joy for me to watch all the Church Mice as they progress from one step to the next.

Every baptism we attend offers the chance for us all to restate our own baptism vows. Let us affirm the service says together with the one who is being baptized our common faith in Jesus Christ. As we come to that part of today’s service, let’s make it count. Not as witnesses of an event taking place in front of our eyes. But as participants and supporters, who each rededicate ourselves to that way of living which Jesus describes in Matthew 25.

Where else can I finish, but with the words of Christ the King:
‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’ Amen

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Remembrance Sunday

Remembrance 2011


Reader 1
Hear these words of the New Testament from John’s gospel
Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you. I do not give you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.

Reader 2
Hear these words of the New Testament from the letter of James

The wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace

Reader 3
Hear these word of the New Testament from the first letter of John

This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him is no darkness at all.

This is the word of the Lord.

Gospel John 15

9 As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love.

10 If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father's commands and remain in his love.

11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.

12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.

13 Greater love has no-one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.

14 You are my friends if you do what I command.

15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master's business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.

16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit— fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.

17 This is my command: Love each other.


Jesus in John 15 is talking about love. He says God loves him and he loves us. If you love someone, you want to do what pleases them. If you know something upsets someone you love, you want to try not to do it. That’s what love is all about. That’s what follows from loving another person.

And so, when Jesus asks us to love him, it follows that we will want to do what he commands us to do, just like he himself does God’s will. Love each other, he says, as I have loved you.

Christianity is not complicated. It’s not hard to understand. Doesn’t take months of study, or a degree to discover what it teaches. No, it’s simple. Love God. Love one another. Treat others just as you would want them to treat you. Simples – as the meerkat would say.

Sadly, life doesn’t always work out as it should. Instead of love, there is conflict in the world. Instead of friendship and neighbourliness there can be misunderstanding. Instead of love, there can be resentment, even hatred.

In these situations, Jesus still asks us, out of love for him, to follow his commands. What are they?

In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus says this:

38 You have heard that it was said, 'Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.'

39 But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.

40 And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.

41 If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.

42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.

War, then, is a failure. Not something to be glorified or desired. But that does not mean we should not remember those who fought for the freedoms we all enjoy. We should give thanks for their sacrifice. We should remember them. Not only those who fought in WW2 but all the other conflicts that have occurred since then with unfortunate regularity.

So when Jesus says:

13 Greater love has no-one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.

…he is not saying that dying for others is a good thing. He is not glorifying martyrdom. But he is recognising that the ultimate sacrifice sometimes has to be made, through the sin of us all in failing to live as he would have us live.

He himself is an example, being tortured and dying on the cross. He did not have to die. Salvation and atonement was freely offered by God through grace. But, through the sin of evil people, Jesus did die, and the result for us is forgiveness of sins, through faith in him.

So that’s the message of remembrance Sunday. Not glorifying war, but remembering the sacrifices of those caught up in it, so that we may be free, and hopefully work to avoid it in future.

So now let us affirm our faith, and pray for those who continue to suffer as a result of conflict. Amen


Let us pray for all who suffer as a result of conflict,
and ask that God may give us peace:
for the service men and women
who have died in the violence of war,
each one remembered by and known to God;
may God give peace.
All God give peace.
For those who love them in death as in life,
offering the distress of our grief
and the sadness of our loss;
may God give peace.
All God give peace.
For all members of the armed forces
who are in danger this day,
remembering family, friends
and all who pray for their safe return;
may God give peace.
All God give peace.
For women, children and men
whose lives are disfigured by war or terror,
calling to mind in penitence
the anger and hatreds of humanity;
may God give peace.
All God give peace.
For peacemakers and peacekeepers,
who seek to keep this world secure and free;
may God give peace.
All God give peace.
For all who bear the burden and privilege of leadership,
political, military and religious;
asking for gifts of wisdom and resolve
in the search for reconciliation and peace;
may God give peace.
All God give peace.

O God of truth and justice,
we hold before you those whose memory we cherish,
and those whose names we will never know.
Help us to lift our eyes above the torment of this broken world,
and grant us the grace to pray for those who wish us harm.
As we honour the past,
may we put our faith in your future;
for you are the source of life and hope,
now and for ever.
All Amen.

All Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name;
thy kingdom come;
thy will be done;
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation;
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
the power and the glory,
for ever and ever.


God grant to the living grace,
to the departed rest,
to the Church, the Queen, the Commonwealth and all people,
unity, peace and concord,
and to us and all God’s servants,
life everlasting;
and the blessing of God almighty,
the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit,
be among you and remain with you always.
All Amen.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

The Wise and Foolish Bridesmaids

6 November 2011 at St Giles

First Reading Wisdom of Solomon 6.12-16

12Wisdom is radiant and unfading,
and she is easily discerned by those who love her,
and is found by those who seek her.
13She hastens to make herself known to those who desire her.
14One who rises early to seek her will have no difficulty,
for she will be found sitting at the gate.
15To fix one’s thought on her is perfect understanding,
and one who is vigilant on her account will soon be free from care,
16because she goes about seeking those worthy of her,
and she graciously appears to them in their paths,
and meets them in every thought.

Gospel Matthew 25.1-13

Alleluia, alleluia.
Stay awake, praying at all times
for the strength to stand with confidence before the Son of man.

When the Gospel is announced the reader says

Hear the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to N.
All Glory to you, O Lord.

Jesus said: “The kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise. The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. The wise, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep.

“At midnight the cry rang out: ‘Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’

“Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.’

“‘No,’ they replied, ‘there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.’

“But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut.

“Later the others also came. ‘Sir! Sir!’ they said. ‘Open the door for us!’

“But he replied, ‘I tell you the truth, I don’t know you.’

“Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.”

This is the Gospel of the Lord.
All Praise to you, O Christ.


Whoever wants to be wise, says Solomon, should get up early in the morning. Wisdom is easily found by those who seek her. Wisdom seeks out those who look for her. She graciously appears to them. She meets them in every thought. Wisdom, notice, in Scripture is feminine.

The parable of the bridesmaids in Matthew 25 is part of what theologians call the eschatological discourse. It covers two chapters – 24 and 25. Eschatology literally means studying the end. The end of time. The return of Jesus. The last judgement. The coming in fullness of the Kingdom.

As usual, Jesus teaches in parables. His disciples find him alone, on the Mount of Olives. They have a question for him. “What will be the sign of your coming, and of the end of the age?” He replies with a long list of cosmological signs, and warnings about what will happen on earth. Scary stuff. But then Jesus tells three stories. First the bridesmaids (or 10 virgins); then the 8 bags of gold; and lastly the sheep and the goats.

Our story today is a very feminine one. The bridegroom makes a cameo appearance. All the other characters are young women. Wisdom is feminine – but only half the 10 bridesmaids are wise.

The story’s setting is significant. The prophet Zechariah says the Lord will return and will be recognised as King over all the earth, and will stand on Mount Olivet. Jesus starts with a familiar phrase: “The Kingdom of Heaven will be like this…” So there’s no doubt what his teaching is all about. There’s a wedding feast, a banquet, a big celebration – all signs of the Kingdom throughout the gospels.

You can retell the story for children in terms they understand. Imagine the 10 young women are driving in their cars to a big family get-together. Half of them fill up with enough fuel to get them there. The look at Google Maps. They know the precise distance.

The other half fill their tanks. They allow for delays and hold-ups. They know how misleading a Tom Tom can be. So, when it turns out the destination is much further than the reckoned, half the drivers are running short of petrol. They need to fill up urgently. But they know if they divert to the nearest garage, they will be late and miss the beginning of the party. So they stop and ask the others to spare some of their fuel. But the ones who filled up know that if they share, all of them will run short, and none will make it in time. So they refuse to stop and the party gets under way.

The foolish bridesmaids, on the other hand, find fuel, fill up, but are very late. The doors are locked. The bridegroom refuses to let them in. Their invitations are not recognised. They are shut out in the cold. Tough.

The story is about endurance. Remaining faithful to the end. Many of the faithful will fall away, Jesus is saying. They will not endure. I pray that we will not be like the foolish bridesmaids, but will rise up early and seek wisdom.

The point is that in Jesus’ day it was almost certain the bridegroom would be delayed. Why? Because he had to go and fetch his bride from her home, and she, of course, was never ready. And even if she was, there was often last minute negotiations with the bride’s father about the gifts to be exchanged. The price paid for his daughter. Hours might pass, in Middle Eastern weddings, before all was ready. It was predictable.

The bridesmaids had to wait, but their job was to greet the bride and groom with a procession of light. So the oil lamps were an integral part of the marriage. They should have planned for a delay. It was virtually certain. That’s the whole point of the parable.

Nor is the choice of lamps incidental. Jesus is the light. Jesus comes into the world as the light, banishing all darkness. So it’s right and proper the end of time is signalled by a procession of light. Jesus himself, I think, is the bridegroom.

There’s a clear message, for us, at the end of the story in verse 13. “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.” Keep awake. Be vigilant, it means, because Jesus could return today, or tomorrow, or next week. Like the parable, his timing is uncertain but like the bridesmaids we must be awake, prepared for any eventuality, primed and ready to greet him with our lights trimmed and burning brightly.

Some of you may, in the past, have felt secretly sympathetic towards the foolish maidens. But maybe that’s a lesson in itself? The church, and many Christian people, behave as if there will be aeons of time. Do they, and does the church behave like the foolish bridesmaids, who are unprepared and are caught unawares? Have they fallen away? Are their lamps dimmed, or even running out altogether?

To live in vigilance means that we are to be busy doing those tasks we have been appointed to do in preparation for the Master’s coming. In Matthew's Gospel, those tasks include bearing witness to God’s kingdom by welcoming the stranger, feeding the hungry, visiting the sick and imprisoned (25:31-46), and making disciples in all the world (28:19-20).

Today’s Old Testament reading finished at verse 16, but goes on like this:

Wisdom of Solomon 6.17-20

17 The beginning of wisdom is the most sincere desire for instruction,
and concern for instruction is love of her,
18 and love of her is the keeping of her laws,
and giving heed to her laws is assurance of immortality,
19 and immortality brings one near to God;
20 so the desire for wisdom leads to a kingdom.

So let us choose Wisdom, for the desire for her leads to a Kingdom – the Kingdom of God. Amen

Friday, 4 November 2011

All Saints

First Reading Revelation 7.9-17

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. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice:

“Salvation belongs to our God,
who sits on the throne,
and to the Lamb.”
All the angels were standing round the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures. They fell down on their faces before the throne and worshipped God, saying:

Praise and glory
and wisdom and thanks and honour
and power and strength
be to our God forever and ever.

Then one of the elders asked me, “These in white robes – who are they, and where did they come from?”

I answered, “Sir, you know.”

And he said, “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore,

“they are before the throne of God
and serve him day and night in his temple;
and he who sits on the throne will spread his tent over them.
Never again will they hunger;
never again will they thirst.
The sun will not beat upon them,
nor any scorching heat.
For the Lamb at the centre of the throne will be their shepherd;
he will lead them to springs of living water.
And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

Second Reading 1 John 3.1-3

How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure.

Gospel Matthew 5.1-12

Alleluia, alleluia.
You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood,
a holy nation, God’s own people,
called out of darkness into his marvellous light.
All Alleluia.

Hear the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to N.
All Glory to you, O Lord.

1When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:

3‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

4Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

5Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

6Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

7Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

8Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

9Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

10Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.’


4 before Advent. All Saints – transferred from 1 November.

Picture of saints – we think of martyrs, those who have lived unique, special and blameless lives and died for their faith. These are the saints.

Revelation portrays them. Wearing white robes. Standing before the throne, and the Lamb. A great multitude no one could count. From every nation and language.

These are the saints who have come through great tribulation and been purified. Their white robes sign of cleansing, through blood of Christ. But is this the only picture of the saints we have? I have another picture here. I’ll pass the picture round...

Mirror – these are the saints as Paul describes them.
. . .to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, together with all those who in every place who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ . . .” I Corinthians 1:2

The word Jesus uses is makarios. Those with long memories may think of Archbishop Makarios, primate of Cypriot orthodox church, later president of republic of Cyprus. Name means blessed, fortunate, happy, privileged.

Makarios – the happy ones. That’s how the early church described themselves. Saints and martyrs, rather than church members.

It all sounds rather farfetched when you consider what they went through. Many were persecuted, killed for their faith, shunned. Yet they called themselves happy ones. Jesus in the Beatitudes does not strike a happier note either. Blessed are the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, the hungry and thirsty, those who are reviled and persecuted. Even they are to rejoice and be glad, he says. Why? Because their reward is great in heaven.

So whatever happens to us here on earth, however difficult life might become, regardless of the way we are treated because of our faith, we are makarios because of what is in store for us after the curtains come down on our short time her on this earthly stage.

Our blessing, and theirs comes through the Kingdom of Heaven. As we know, the Kingdom does not exist only after the end of time but here, on earth, right now. It is present to us now, here in this place, where we are gathered together. Why? Because we all share and display the values of the Kingdom. Providing we live in poverty of spirit, we are blessed and sanctified as Jesus has promised in the Beatitudes.

The Kingdom of heaven has come near. That’s what John the Baptist preached. Those same words were given to the disciples when they were sent out on mission. That was the message Jesus gave them to preach.

Living the values of the Kingdom helps bring about the Kingdom in the here and now. Those who show mercy. Those who work for peace. Those who are poor in spirit, who do not lord it over others, those who are pure in heart – to them belongs the Kingdom, and it is those people who are sanctified by Christ and called Saints. Through them, Jesus brings about the possibility of goodness.

What does all this mean to us, the latter day saints, those of us who are at this service today? It means we align ourselves with all the saints of the past. Those who have run their course. Those who have gone before us. Those who now enjoy their reward in the nearer presence of God in heaven. We carry on the work they carried on from those who went before them.

We like them live according to the Kingdom values Jesus outline in the Sermon on the Mount. Our blessings reside both now, as well as in the future.

It’s not that we look only to the future, or look back to those saints of the past. No, we are living even now within and under the reign of God. We don’t fully understand what this means. It’s enough to accept we are fully in God’s hands, and trust in him.

We are blessed to share in the Kingdom right now, whilst moving towards a new creation in the future. And at the end time, we will receive the rewards of those who have remained faithful to the last. Past and present, not just a hope of things to come.

All this is fine in theory, but where can we get inspiration from? Who can we follow? In the past, people tried to emulate the saints. They were examples of sacrifice and sanctity. But if we are all saints, we need to be on the lookout for people who bring alive the Kingdom of God in our midst. Those who endure hardship themselves whilst dedicating their lives to others. Those who have selflessly found their ministry in the service of their fellow human beings. Very often, such people are almost invisible. They work in the background. Their whole lives are spent helping the sick, frail or others in need. They are the true meek whose trumpets are unheard, yet whose Christian sacrifice is well known to God. Think for a moment of anyone you know who is like that. Instead of admiring them, can you not follow their good example. The Big Society is absolutely the wrong description for such as they are. Yet these are the saints we should all aspire to copy. And by seeing in their faces the likeness of Christ himself, we are copying Jesus.

The other reading set for today puts it rather well. It’s from I John:

How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure.


All Souls

Reading Romans 13. 8-10

Love, for the Day Is Near

8 Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellow-man has fulfilled the law.

9 The commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not murder, Do not steal, Do not covet, and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: Love your neighbour as yourself.

10 Love does no harm to its neighbour. Therefore love is the fulfilment of the law.

Gospel John 6

35 Then Jesus declared, I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.

36 But as I told you, you have seen me and still you do not believe.

37 All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away.

38 For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me.

39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day.

40 For my Father's will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.


I have just started reading a new book by Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. It’s called The Great Partnership. The book is all about the two rival positions. The New Atheists, like Richard Dawkins, who say you must be sad, mad or bad to have a faith and believe in a God. And that half of the world’s population who are Christian, Jewish or Islam and have faith in one God.

Most people see this a Science v. Religion, but it really isn’t. Many scientists are open to debate and reason concerning what cannot be seen or proved. Equally most of us who have a faith do not for one moment regard science as incompatible with it.

The new atheists have launched an aggressive assault on religion, and it’s a pretty bleak picture they paint.

For them, there was nothing before the Big Bang. The universe emerged 13.7 years ago from an unimaginable vast explosion for no reason whatsoever. Everything else that developed just happened despite massive improbabilities and coincidences. And at the end of all this, there will be nothing, just as there was at the beginning.

If the new atheists are asked “Why are we here?” or “What is the meaning of life?” the answer is silence. Faith, to them is fiction dressed up as fact. We have no souls.

On All Souls’ Day, when we have all gathered together to celebrate and remember with gladness and joy all those who have meant so much to us and whose lives have touched our own in a particular and special way, in faith, hope and confidence we prefer a very different picture.

The universe was called into being by One who is outside the universe. Eventually life formed and evolved, and messages broke through now and then from this creator to his created beings. Jonathan Sacks stops at Abraham, Moses and the Prophets, of course, but for Christians we don’t have to be content with the God who called himself I am who I will be but we can see him more directly and clearly in Jesus through the gospels.

This is profoundly important to us, especially on a day like this. Our hope for the future is that at the end of time, and at the end of our time, there is meaning and not just nothing. Let me read you again what Jesus said in John’s gospel chapter 6:

38 For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me.

39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day.

40 For my Father's will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.

In one sense, what awaits us remains a mystery. In another sense, what Jesus promises couldn’t be clearer. I go to prepare a place for you he says later in John’s gospel. It’s a reading often given at funeral services.

2 In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told 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. I am the way and the truth and the life. No-one comes to the Father except through me. 11 Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me

Monday, 24 October 2011

View from the Vicarage

November 2011 Village Newsletter

Behold – a Mystery. The Turn of the Screw…

…and not the one by Henry James

‘It’s a mystery’ said the plumber, and he wasn’t referring to his bill. ‘How did THAT get in there?’ For several weeks, the water in the vicarage had been making moaning noises. Alone in a big house, as nights draw in, the sounds were disconcerting to say the least. Then in the cloakroom, the water stopped running altogether. Armed with a screwdriver, I tapped a joint through the wall in the garage. Some water was restored, and the moaning disappeared. For the time being.

The diocese sent a tradesman. He drained the system and dismantled the limiter valve in a pipe. ‘Guess what it was?’ he asked. ‘Can’t’ I replied, as I tried not to lose my place in next week’s sermon. He showed me the limiter valve, and inside the pipe was a cross-headed screw. Moaning resolved. Water flowing freely again.

Here’s the mystery. How did a ¼” cross headed screw, now entombed in limescale, get into a pipe in the Vicarage garage, and when? We’ll never know. It’s a mystery. One of my favourite bits from Handel Messiah is A trumpet shall sound. It begins with a bass who sings Behold, I tell you a mystery. One of the prayers said during Holy Communion starts ‘Great is the mystery of faith.’ The response concerns the death and resurrection of Jesus.

You see, some things defy rational explanation. We talk about them with youth groups, at confirmation classes, and when tragedy strikes. Why did this happen? Why is the world the way it is? How can we have faith in what we are asked to believe?

I do find the word ‘mystery’ something of a comfort. I’m in the minority, I know. These days we expect not only chapter and verse, but live video and learned analysis too. Nothing defies explanation. Someone is responsible and must be held to account.

The trouble is, life is not like that. It seems to me that we can only scratch the surface of knowledge. We know more than we did, but much of our so-called ‘knowledge’ is mere speculation. Even the Big Bang theory is being abandoned in favour of something called Inflation, and heaven knows there’s enough of that already. And even the most erudite are unwilling to speculate on what occurred before whatever it was that went bang in the first place.

Now you might be the sort of person who sits worrying how a cross-headed screw might find its way into your plumbing, and whether there might be more of them lurking and ready to start moaning at dead of night. Me? It’s just a mystery, and will ever remain so.

Faith is a continuum. There is a big overlap between mystery and faith, whatever some people would have you believe. We all range along that continuum. Sometimes we are high in faith and low on mystery. Other times, we are doubting Thomas. That’s the mystery of faith.

The church, of course, can help with our struggle. Being a Christian separated from others is not impossible, but very hard. It’s like practising football alone. You look a little silly when the opposing team turns up. When young, we ask lots of questions, but look for certainty. When older, we ask less but are more willing to explore, to reflect, and to accept that much of what we don’t understand comes down to a matter of faith – it’s a mystery.

Robert Wright

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Division and Conflict

Gospel Luke 12. 49-53

When the Gospel is announced the reader says

Hear the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to N.
All Glory to you, O Lord.

Not Peace but Division

49 I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!

50 But I have a baptism to undergo, and how distressed I am until it is completed!

51 Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division.

52 From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three.

53 They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.

This is the Gospel of the Lord.
All Praise to you, O Christ.


Fire and water – two most destructive elements. Paraffin on stove. Paper warehouse in Liverpool. Exploding incinerator. Water in house – leaking pipes, blocked gutters, flat roofs.

Yet here is Jesus talking of fire and water as desirable. He has come to bring fire on earth. How I wish it were already kindled he says. And about the baptism he will undergo how distressed I am until it is completed.

The baptism might of course be through water, but I suspect he is here referring to a baptism of fire. Does Jesus want to bring fire, division and conflict as this passage seems to imply? No – but what he is saying is that these things are a likely consequence of his life here on earth. Like us, whenever a painful and distressing experience lies in the future, we are keen to get it over with and not allow it to hang over our heads.

The words of today’s gospel reading were addressed to the disciples, not to the crowds or to religious authorities. So Jesus is reflecting on his own fate, and he is probably more prepared to be honest about his feelings in front of his friends, black though they are, than he would be in public.

I expect, like me, you will find it odd that Jesus speaks in this way, especially as all this talk about division and conflict runs counter to so much of what he preached about love, peace and harmony. But clearly Jesus was aware it was not love and peace that awaited him, nor will the end times and the last judgement be so for many. You only have to read Revelation and some of the apocalyptic literature in the Old Testament for that.

For Christians, persecution may come, but the baptism of fire is baptism by the Holy Spirit. And Jesus’ suffering and death brings about our own atonement, as we discovered last week, so that we may know pardon and peace both now and in the world to come. Amen

Friday, 14 October 2011

Nature of Prayer

Cheddington Sunday 9 October 2011

Trinity 16

First Reading Exodus 32.1-14

When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered round Aaron and said, “Come, make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.”

Aaron answered them, “Take off the gold ear-rings that your wives, your sons and your daughters are wearing, and bring them to me.” So all the people took off their ear-rings and brought them to Aaron. He took what they handed him and made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf, fashioning it with a tool. Then they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.”

When Aaron saw this, he built an altar in front of the calf and announced, “Tomorrow there will be a festival to the LORD.” So the next day the people rose early and sacrificed burnt offerings and presented fellowship offerings. Afterwards they sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry.

Then the LORD said to Moses, “Go down, because your people, whom you brought up out of Egypt, have become corrupt. They have been quick to turn away from what I commanded them and have made themselves an idol cast in the shape of a calf. They have bowed down to it and sacrificed to it and have said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.’

“I have seen these people,” the LORD said to Moses, “and they are a stiff-necked people. Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them. Then I will make you into a great nation.”

But Moses sought the favour of the LORD his God. “O LORD,” he said, “why should your anger burn against your people, whom you brought out of Egypt with great power and a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians say, ‘It was with evil intent that he brought them out, to kill them in the mountains and to wipe them off the face of the earth’? Turn from your fierce anger; relent and do not bring disaster on your people. Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac and Israel, to whom you swore by your own self: ‘I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and I will give your descendants all this land I promised them, and it will be their inheritance forever.’” Then the LORD relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened.

Gospel Matthew 22.1-14

Hear the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to N.

All Glory to you, O Lord.

Jesus spoke in parables, saying: “The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his servants to those who had been invited to the banquet to tell them to come, but they refused to come.

“Then he sent some more servants and said, ‘Tell those who have been invited that I have prepared my dinner: My oxen and fattened cattle have been slaughtered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding banquet.’

“But they paid no attention and went off – one to his field, another to his business. The rest seized his servants, ill-treated them and killed them. The king was enraged. He sent his army and destroyed those murderers and burned their city.

“Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come. Go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.’ So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, both good and bad, and the wedding hall was filled with guests.

“But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes. ‘Friend,’ he asked, ‘how did you get in here without wedding clothes?’ The man was speechless.

“Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

“For many are invited, but few are chosen.”

This is the Gospel of the Lord.
All Praise to you, O Christ.


A common worry – almost universal amongst Christians – nature of prayer. How to pray. What to say. Listening/speaking. What to expect by way of answer?

Promises in Scripture – whatever in my name I will give you. Mountains moved. Everyone who asks, receives. One who seeks, finds. Knock, door opened to you. You know the references. You’ve heard them often, and probably pondered them.

Did Jesus lie? One web site called Evil Bible is headed by that question. What should be a comfort and reassurance can become a major challenge to our faith. Often we face this question when we are most in need.

Children have a simpler faith – they believe the promises. This makes it harder when they pray for success in exams and feel badly let down if they fail. What to say to them? Your faith was deficient? You have to ask in my name. Two or three must gather together. God does not micro manage. etc

Is it a coincidence? – both readings about revelry and unworthiness with an implacable God as chief protagonist? Maybe – but we can learn a lot from both accounts.

There are several illustrations in NT of Kingdom of Heaven depicted as great feast. It’s clear from the start what the parables are about, and that God is represented by the King. The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son. Probably Jesus is referring to himself – like God’s servants the prophets, mistreated, abused and killed just for doing their duty and asking invited guests to the banquet.

Matthew’s account only one with this parable within a parable. Man who turns up not properly dressed. Point is not that he is poor, or cannot afford the proper attire. No – everyone else has the right clothes, even though they are rounded up from the streets. No – this man is unworthy. He has disqualified himself by his unpreparedness. God is implacable faced with abject sin and deliberate unrepentence. It’s too late now for the man to turn around. This is one picture of the final judgement.

Different picture of God altogether in Exodus. In OT you would expect to find a steadfast and wrathful deity, and a loving, forgiving one in Gospels. Seems to be wrong way round.

Moses has been absent 40 days and 40 nights. Moses went up Mt. Sinai to receive “the tablets of stone, with the law and the commandments.” Before leaving, he told the elders to wait for him and said they should consult Aaron and Hur if there is a dispute.

There certainly was a dispute. The people gave up Moses for lost. Moses a determined and forthright leader. Aaron an appeaser. Moses would not compromise. Aaron went along with the people’s wishes. For a quiet life.

Prepared to misunderstand what the people wanted. Come, make us gods who will go before us. It’s clear the people were abandoning God of Israel as well as Moses. They declared the golden calf to be the gods who brought them up out of Egypt.

Aaron goes along with what they want, but declares tomorrow will be a feast day to the Lord. It’s the same word for God that Aaron and the people use. But for the people, gods is plural. For Aaron, God is singular.

Although the rebellion could not be much worse, how does God react to Moses’ pleas? At first, He threatens wipe out civilisation and start again, as he did in the Flood. Noah was the only trustworthy man and was saved. Likewise, only Moses will survive.

But Moses argues with God. He reasons. He debates. He uses the relationship with God that he has built up. A relationship of trust. Moses is not sycophantic. He challenges.

God relents – returns to his desire for salvation. Determines to engage more with the children of Israel, not just through Moses. Provides intermediaries. The Law. Books of Scripture – the Covenant, that the people can hear read to them. The tabernacle. The priesthood. No longer are they to be terrified by direct, powerful presence of God as they were by Mt Sinai. A better way is found for them to encounter God.

All this has been achieved through prayer. Moses interceded direct. God changed his mind. It’s an encouraging picture as we make our own intercessions to the Father. Whatever we ask of God in the name of Jesus, He will grant.

It was too late for the man who refused to wear his wedding garment. Or maybe had he repented even at that very last moment, he might have been saved. The King was not implacable. He tried again and again. Everyone was invited to the feast. They had many chances, but refused. They were undeserving. Even at the very last, they could have been rounded up from the streets. God invited both good and bad, it says. Only at the very last was anyone truly lost. Many called, but few chosen. Not exactly the portrayal of a hard hearted, implacable, unforgiving God. No – a Father who scans the horizon for his lost creation, then runs to greet him, kisses him and forgives his grave offences without even asking for any remorse or apology.

So this encourages us to try again and again in our prayer. Like the parables of the Unjust Steward and the Persistent Widow.

12 Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. 13 And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.. Amen

Made Righteous through Faith

Cheddington Thursday13 October 2011 Midweek Communion

First Reading Romans 3

Righteousness Through Faith

21 But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify.

22 This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference,

23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,

24 and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

25 God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished

26 — he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.

27 Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. On what principle? On that of observing the law? No, but on that of faith.

28 For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law.

29 Is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles too? Yes, of Gentiles too,

30 since there is only one God, who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith.

31 Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law.

Gospel Luke 11

Hear the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to N.

All Glory to you, O Lord.

47 Woe to you, because you build tombs for the prophets, and it was your forefathers who killed them.

48 So you testify that you approve of what your forefathers did; they killed the prophets, and you build their tombs.

49 Because of this, God in his wisdom said, 'I will send them prophets and apostles, some of whom they will kill and others they will persecute.'

50 Therefore this generation will be held responsible for the blood of all the prophets that has been shed since the beginning of the world,

51 from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who was killed between the altar and the sanctuary. Yes, I tell you, this generation will be held responsible for it all.

52 Woe to you experts in the law, because you have taken away the key to knowledge. You yourselves have not entered, and you have hindered those who were entering.

53 When Jesus left there, the Pharisees and the teachers of the law began to oppose him fiercely and to besiege him with questions,

54 waiting to catch him in something he might say.

This is the Gospel of the Lord.
All Praise to you, O Christ.


Hard to overstate importance of this reading, both as a foundation text for the Reformation, but also as an aid to our understanding of what was accomplished by Jesus on the cross.

Paul starts by affirming that all have sinned and fallen short of the righteousness and glory of God. No works of the law can change this sorry state that we as humanity find ourselves in.

Yet God comes to our aid. Through the death of Jesus God accomplishes three things. He justifies, he redeems and he effects atonement. It would take too long to explore these three, but here’s a few thoughts.

Justification does not mean that God stamps ‘not guilty’ on our heavenly passport. Instead, God repairs the breach between humanity and God through his grace and the death of Jesus Christ. Justification means we are ‘made righteous’ not through anything we have done, but freely by the grace of God himself.

Secondly, redemption. Bonds can be redeemed. Slaves are redeemed. Glass bottles used to be redeemed – you took them to a recycling centre and got back a few pence for each one. Redemption is a liberation. It brings freedom, and ownership passes from one person to another. This is how God has redeemed us. Once we were slave to sin. Now we are free.

It’s not, I think, that Jesus had to die in order to redeem us. He did die, through the evil of wicked men, but still, that was the path God chose for our redemption.

Thirdly atonement. At-one-ment. A purely invented word to suit the purpose. Here we have the language of sacrifice. Like in the Old Testament when an animal was sacrificed. This is not a debt paid to an angry God. But through its action, we are made one again with the God from whom we were estranged through sin. We are at one again.

How this came about it’s hard for us to begin to grasp, and certainly too complex a notion for us to explore in a few minutes on a Thursday morning. It’s enough today for us to be thankful, as we join together in our communion with each other, and as we tell again the story of what God’s grave has done for us, freely, undeserved and abundantly.