Articles

A reflection for Sunday 19th September by the Rev'd David Warnes

Submitted by Dean on Sat, 18/09/2021 - 11:09

Mark 9:30-37

Some years ago, an interviewer asked the comedian Ben Elton a rather fatuous question:

“Have you always been a comedian?”

Without hesitation, Ben Elton replied.

“No – I used to be a baby.”

It’s a trap into which we all fall from time to time: “I’ve always liked this…”, “I’ve always enjoyed that.”  Well, we haven’t always had those preferences, those experiences. We too were once little bundles of extraordinary potential. We have changed and developed, realized at least some of that potential.

“No – I used to be a baby.”  In today’s Gospel, Jesus confronts a bunch of people who are stuck in a particular way of thinking, and reminds them that they used to be and still have the potential to be more open, more flexible, more humble, more willing to learn, and also more dependent, more vulnerable.

And they needed reminding. Jesus has just predicted his suffering and death for the second time, and the disciples have reacted with much the same bafflement as Peter did on the first occasion. And, despite what Jesus has told them, they have spent the rest of the journey back to Capernaum arguing about which of them is the greatest.

Jesus does not despair of them. He knows that they are educable. He also knows that repetition works. Today’s passage is one of a series of lessons that he gives the disciples in St Mark’s Gospel, all of which are directing them towards a single great truth – “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Understanding that they have fallen into the trap of feeling special because they feel chosen, he explains to them that greatness is not a matter of being chosen, but rather a matter of service:

“Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.”

He then decides to give them a demonstration of the kind of choosing that God does. He places a child at the centre of the group – and it’s important to remember that children in the ancient world had no legal status, protection or rights and were little better than slaves.

It’s a parable without words – God choosing not the special, the powerful, those with impressive CVs, but rather choosing the weak and the vulnerable, the person with no status at all.

“Look at the kind of people God chooses” is his message to men who are preening themselves because they feel that that are the chosen few. And then he reinforces the message with words:

“Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”

Jesus chose vulnerable and inadequate disciples and challenged them to realize their potential to live lives of love and service. He challenged their “God chose me so I must be special” mentality and encouraged them to think “If God chose me, despite my shortcomings and weaknesses, then everyone must be special.”

One of the great Jewish poets of the 20th century, Yehuda Amichai, wrote a poem entitled Tourists in which he reflects on our human tendency to be blind to the specialness of people. The poem ends like this:

...once I was sitting on the steps

near the gate of David’s citadel

and I put down my two heavy baskets beside me.

A group of tourists stood there around their guide

and I became their point of reference.

“You see that man over there with the baskets...

a little to the right of his head

there is an arch from the Roman period”…

…So, I said to myself,

redemption will come only when they are told

“do you see that arch over there from the Roman period –

...it doesn’t matter,

but near it a little to the left and then down a bit

there is a man

who has just bought fruit and vegetables for his family.”

It’s a poem about the specialness of people whom we are tempted to think of as ordinary, a plea for a child’s view of the world, for children would instinctively be more interested in the man with the baskets than the Roman archway. Yehuda Amichai is calling on the tour guide to see people in the way that God sees them and that is the lesson that Jesus is trying to teach his disciples and us in today’s Gospel. And the right response to the specialness of another person is the desire to love them and be of service to them, and since everyone is special, that means, as Jesus said, being the servant of all.

 

A reflection for Sunday 12th September 2021

Submitted by Dean on Sat, 11/09/2021 - 12:54

Who do you say I am?

How much should, we the church, worry about what people believe or not? Do you need to ‘sign up’ to a statement of faith in order to take part in the journey of faith? Do you have to ‘know’ who Jesus is? To have certainty of faith, to know, without question what you believe or know about God or Jesus must be comforting. Never having to question what one believes would make my life so much easier because the older I get the more questions and doubts I seem to have and I know from conversations with some of you that you feel similarly.

What I believed at 20 I do not believe now, except that the ways of the man Jesus, still offer an excellent template by which to live and lead one’s life. At 20 I liked the ‘thou shalt nots’ and wished that if everyone followed the 10 Commandments they and the world would be perfect. Perhaps it might, but the world does not think that way. In today’s 21st century society I believe that we need to find ways of helping each other make sense of life and the big questions it poses and to seek answers not proscribed by ‘shalt not’ but by ‘try this and see’.

The faith of Christ that I want to share is a faith that is confident enough to allow doubt, questioning and exploratory thinking without fear. Not a faith that says – ‘I’ve got all the answers and this book will give them to you too.’

We are not people of a book. We are people or followers of the Word made flesh. For Christians our faith is expressed in the life of Jesus and in the ways that we witness to his way of being. He offers us guidance and direction but not a mapped out path that we all have to slavishly follow and I thank God that he does not. For it enables each of us to begin to answer his question - who do you say I am? And, to explore what that means for us and how we live our lives.

A reflection of the Sunday readings 5th September 2021 by Canon Dean Fostekew

Submitted by Dean on Sat, 04/09/2021 - 09:34

In the foundation phase of Mission 21, (a missional programme I used to co-ordinate) known as 'Making Your Church More Inviting’ or ‘MYCMI’ for short there is an activity entitled: ‘Who is welcome in our congregation?’  Time and again when I posed that question to any church group the almost immediate answer was: ‘Anyone and everyone’. It is a good response and one that you might expect from a Christian community but the subsequent question needs to be: ‘How realistic is your answer?’

The exercise, asks a congregation to rate the welcome different people might receive in their church. There are different types of people listed, such as:

Young couple with small children

Woman with visible tattoos

Gay couple

Unaccompanied teenager

Elderly man

Person with personal hygiene issues

Each individual is asked to score low, medium or high as to how they think that type of person would be welcomed and accepted in their congregation. The exercise is designed to highlight the fact that we ALL have our own preferences and prejudices in relation to other people. It then goes further, in that it challenges the individual to confront their personal prejudices and preferences – it makes them be honest about their feelings.

In introducing the exercise I used to preface it by saying: ‘As you score the different types of folk ask yourself if you would be prepared to budge up on your pew to allow that person to sit next to you.’ It is a tough exercise to do honestly but it has so often been THE event that has changed a congregation’s attitude towards who is and who is not actually welcome to worship with them. For what the exercise does is to highlight that as individuals we might have problems with particular types of people but as a corporate body we need not. Just because I find welcoming a particular person difficult it does not mean that others in the congregation will. What we are called to do as fellow Christians is to support those who can welcome those we can’t and to welcome those we can and not to leave them outside the body of the Church.

The writer of the Epistle of James reminds us of this in today’s epistle reading:

“….. if you show partiality, you commit sin.”   James 2:9

The church should not be in the business of showing partiality the well dressed young woman should be no more or no less welcome than the scruffy young guy, or the married couple no more or no less welcome than the elderly, single lady. We are called as Christians not to judge our neighbours but to love them. As it so elegantly says in our Prayer Book:

“Our Lord Jesus Christ said: Hear O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord: and thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: This is the first commandment. And the second is like, namely this, thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: there is none other commandment greater than these.” SPB1929

In our congregation I see good examples of how all sorts of people are welcomed into our community, me included, but we must never be complacent for there is always more that we can do. For there are many more of God’s people outside the walls of our church building than there are within. The questions we need to continually ask ourselves are:

How are we making Jesus real to the people out with this place?

How can we touch their lives and share with them the love of God?

How can we make them comfortable and truly welcome, in our congregation?

As James tells us:

“What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works?” James 2:14

These are challenging questions and they will not leave us feeling comfortable. But, how are we to put our faith into action?

The ways are myriad but as a church we need to be ever seeking to discover what these ways are, to be ever open to the prompting of the Holy Spirit and to get actively involved in the lives of those around us.

The church continually needs to ask itself; ‘What difference are we making to the lives of God’s people?’ Yet what does the church do?

It spends time and energy squabbling and self-harming as to who is or who is not actually welcome. We are not all the same as each other in the church, we are the ‘rainbow people of God’ to quote Archbishop Desmond Tutu. As such the church needs to become a rainbow fellowship, a church that reflects the whole of God's creation and welcomes all into that fellowship. Our works must be ways in which we can change people’s lives, fuelled by our faith.

Our faith is not contained within a book alone. It is contained in the person of Jesus – our living Lord. When we Christians start to exclude or judge people on the basis of scripture alone, we forget that The Word took flesh – that it became incarnate and that it is to the loving and welcoming Jesus that we should look to, for our answers. Look at the way in which Jesus responded to the Syrophoenician woman, he did not reject her plea, although to many she was seen to be out with the chosen community.

None of us live perfect lives and none of us are perfect but in remembering to support each other in welcoming, we can welcome ALL God’s people into Christ’s Church. As James told us we are to be impartial in our attitudes to people and to do this we have to act as a corporate body and as the old Mission 21 exercise taught me – no one person can welcome everyone but we can do so together.

This is faith with works – supporting all in their outreach to the rainbow people of God - and challenging ourselves to ‘budge up’ in our pews to welcome those beautifully hued people into fellowship.

Reflection for Sunday 29th August 2021 by Canon Dean Fostekew

Submitted by Dean on Sat, 28/08/2021 - 15:04

Three, quite tough and dogmatic readings this week and all seeking to tell us what to do and how to do it. They are the sort of readings that might make some of us rebel, especially those of us that don’t like being told exactly what to do or believe. These readings are a bit like a stern parent saying:

Just do as I tell you!”

When what we might want to say is; ‘Why?

‘Why?’ is a good question. These three readings are just gob-bits from larger texts of the Bible and we really can’t take them as they are without trying to see them in context. The context from which they come and were written in.

For a start in the Deuteronomy reading God is telling the Israelites to follow his ways; ‘to the letter’ and not to follow the ways of other gods or peoples. This reading has all the tone of an exasperated but loving parent, one who has repeatedly seen their child or children run astray. The Israelites were good at going off the rails and following their own desires rather than the ways of God. In this passage God is trying to give them a few guidelines as to how to live their lives in ways that take note of the community as well as the individual. God says:

“Take care and watch yourselves closely.”

God is advising them to look at how they live their lives and we too can learn from his words. For it is all too easy for us, like the Israelites, to follow our own devices and desires and to forget the needs of others as we seek to fulfil our own wants and desires.

In the Epistle of James the author is at great pains to point out that we cannot be passive receivers of God’s word:

22 … be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. 23For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; 24for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like. 25But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act—they will be blessed in their doing.”

                                                                                                                                James 1:22-25

Be doers of God’s word NOT just listeners. I know that some translators have problems with this epistle as it can at times seem to contradict the concept of ‘Justification by faith alone’. Personally, I have never been able to comprehend that doctrine for unless our faith acts as a basis for our actions towards others then what do we mean by living our faith? I can see that faith alone is enough for salvation, but if that means you can say that you believe something and then ignore the needs of those around you and fail to live by the ways of God. You, then, I think, become simply a hearer of his words and not a doer. Faith for me is something one lives and lives out in practical and humanitarian ways; helping others as you follow the ways of God. So the command to be a doer as well as a hearer of the Word of God speaks more deeply to me than simply the command to hear God’s word.

This theme is picked up in Mark’s Gospel account where he says:

“This people honours me with their lips but their hearts are far from me.”

                                                                                                                      Mark 7:66

It is very easy to; ‘talk the talk’ but a lot harder to live the talk. God is aware of this but we are encouraged to try and live his ways and to do so in non showy or ostentatious fashion. We are called to do what God expects of us quietly and naturally, day by day, helping and encouraging others gently along the way. Our faith is shown by the example we set.

The Christian faith is not about individual pietism alone but about the Christian community and our way of life. British Society was founded and influenced by our collective Christian faith and philosophy. It led to the welfare state, free education and the NHS wonderful institutions available to all. But, I do now wonder how much of our faith influences successive governments and their polices. Can we claim today that we are a Society based on Christian principles? I would like to think so but I am aware of rather too much ‘honouring by lips alone’ and not enough of living and doing God’s will.

We Christians and other people of faith and goodwill who believe that our Society needs to be founded on Christian or God’s principles need to speak up and speak out a bit more. Perhaps some of our favourite hymns should become our battle cries?

Our faith has repeatedly changed the world in the past and can do so again today and in the future. What we need to do is to live an active faith and not just a lip-service faith. What small step could you take to put your faith into action? You might give a donation to a charity or sign an on-line petition or volunteer to do something to help others. Whatever you do live your faith and never be just a hearer but a doer as well.

 

Sunday 22nd August 2021 - a refection by the Rev'd Russell Duncan

Submitted by Dean on Sat, 21/08/2021 - 11:33

Jesus said to the crowd: Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.

If I was to ask you what have the common themes been from our gospel

readings each Sunday this month, what would you say? What words

come to mind or resonate?  They would, I expect, include eating, living,

sharing, life giving and abiding. All active words. All referring, in some way, to

Jesus, the living bread, the bread of life. There is something attractive about

those words.  Something that makes us think, ponder and reflect.

 

Today’s gospel is widely known as “John’s eucharistic discourse”. It is the

clearest reference that John makes to the ritual practice of the Eucharist. The

mystery of the incarnation is seen through the metaphor of eating and

drinking.

 

Some find the language of the Eucharist too stark and shocking,

with its imagery of eating Christ’s body and drinking his blood. We are not

alone. Some of the disciples in today’s gospel struggled too. They said

“This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?”. It is bread that sustains and

nourishes our whole Christian life, spiritually and sacramentally. Through the

bread and wine that we receive in this eucharistic community, we are fed with

his life.

 

The American theologian, Loye Bradley Ashton comments that “John suggests

that we abide with God by abiding with Christ and we abide in Christ by truly

abiding with ourselves. In other words, by not separating our flesh and spirit

from each other”.

 

The founder of the L’Arche community, Jean Vanier (1928 – 2019) comments too that “to become a friend of Jesus, is to become a friend of God. Jesus comes through something tiny, a little piece of bread or wafer, consecrated by the priest, which becomes his Body. He will leave us physically, but through the bread he will be present with us. The sacrament becomes a real presence for each one of us; it is not just a moment of grace but a sign of a covenant of love, a friendship offered to us.  By it, He is truly present to us and in us”.

In recent weeks our hymns have included the words “Jesus, true and living bread” as well as “Alleluia, Bread of Angels, here on earth our food to stay”.  Our choir would no doubt have sung the beautiful Eucharistic chant, Ave verum corpus, to settings by William Byrd, W A Mozart or Edward Elgar, if here.

 

What encouraged me was Simon Peter’s words at the end of today’s gospel when he said “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life”.

As we receive the consecrated wafer this morning may the familiar words of the “Prayer of Humble Access” re-focus our minds on God’s great love and mercy. May they remind us of the great privilege of receiving Christ, the living bread, the bread of life.

We do not presume to come to this thy holy table, O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercies. We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy table; but thou art the same Lord, whose property is always to have mercy. Grant us therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the flesh of thy dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink his blood, that our sinful bodies may be made clean by his most sacred body, and our souls washed through his most precious blood, and that we may evermore dwell in him, and he us.