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