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Sunday 16th January 2022 Epiphany II - a reflection by Canon Dean Fostekew

Submitted by Dean on Sat, 15/01/2022 - 11:06

Under the Tree  by John Mole

At least it s not an oven glove

From Cynthia and Ron - with love.

Affectionate regards - Aunt Grace

Something she broke and must replace.

The shop will not take this one back

To all of you from Uncle Jack.

From everyone here at the Grange

A wrong size Harrods might exchange.

Shapeless, rustling soft and nice

Respectfully - the Misses Price.

When shall I see you? Till then - Jane

In last year's paper used again.

Under the tree, without a sound,

The parcels pass themselves around

And smile inside, not unaware

Of all the reasons they are there.

"Smile not unaware of all the reasons they are there."

By now your tree will have been long gone. The presents? Well almost forgotten except the unexpected one, that was what you really wanted.

The decorations have been put back in their box, in the attic, the cards have been re-read and now recycled, the house seems a bit bare. Yet, Christmastide is NOT over. The 40 days of celebration until Candlemas (2nd February) are still unfurling and we have time and space, again and again to celebrate the Incarnation and to reflect upon the spiritual gifts that God has bestowed on us. 

Last week we celebrated the Epiphany and admired the gifts the Magi brought or handed over. Gold for kingship, frankincense for priesthood and myrrh for anointing. Costly, rich gifts for the Christ child and the template for our present giving at Christmas. Yet, in the frenzy of Christmas gifting we are often apt to forget the presents that God regularly and freely bestows upon us.

St.Paul reminds us today, that we should not be ignorant of the gifts and talents we have each been blessed with. How did you come to discover that you had them? Who helped you to this discovery? How do you use your talents? And are you using them to their best advantage? If not, I suspect that you are feeling somewhat frustrated. If this is the case, then do something about it because not to use your God given gifts is to deny God s creative force within you. You will have been given your talents for a reason; and once you find that reason your talents will flow.

Using our gifts is vital, not only to our own well being but for the well being of our friends, families and communities. For when we use our gifts we spark the gifts of God within others and encourage them to be creative as well. In doing so we learn how to work together and encourage each other in enabling each other to reach our full potential as human beings. St.Paul says:

“To each of us is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.’        1Cor 12:7

We are not all given the same gifts or talents nor are any of us given all the spiritual gifts. We are given those which are right for our individual personalities and those which we can share or use with others to benefit our sisters and brothers in God s world:

“All these (gifts) are actuated by the one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.” 1Cor 12:11

None of us have chosen the talents that we hold, they are a gift from our Creator. What we are called to do is to use them to build up the Kingdom of God.  And use them we must. For we have not been given our gifts to ignore them. We are called to use them constructively and in co-operation with each other. But in order to do this we first have to learn:

What our particular gifts are and how we are to use them in conjunction with the gifts of our companions, in this life. To begin with we all discover our particular talents by initially following our own desires and interests or by responding to the suggestions or pushes that others give us.

I am quite a practical and creative person but for years I despaired and mourned my lack of ability with paint, pencils or oils only to discover; when a friend suggested that I give it a go ; that I could paint in threads. I discovered that I could stitch the images I longed to draw. Likewise my passion for cooking has enabled me to sculpt in food. Neither of my two  artistic or creative gifts are the obvious ones I wanted but they give me hours of pleasure and fulfilment. I hope they bring others pleasure as well.

‘No man is an island’ wrote John Doone and he was right. Not one of exists in isolation. Think how difficult it is to get the motivation to anything on your own when you have no one to share it with. Cooking for one, for me is a chore when William is away and I often opt out; deciding that a sandwich will do. How better it is to do things for others and with others.

At the Good Shepherd we are blessed by a wide and rich variety of individual gifts and calls to ministry. How we are to use these gifts in the service of Christ is part of our continual discernment of vocation. Each of us need to ask ourselves and each other what it is that God wants us to do with our gifts and skills and what we are to do as the church  corporately with our combined skills in this bit of God’s Kingdom.

No discernment or questioning process ever easy you have to work at it but also be prepared to be surprised as well. God may have gifts ready to bestow on you that you did not expect to be given and you may be called to use your existing gifts in ways that you did not contemplate.

Listen to God s promptings over the coming weeks and months and then respond to them as you become aware of the reasons why your gifts are there and as the poem says; ‘smile’.

Epiphany reflection by Canon Dean Fostekew Sunday 9th January 2022

Submitted by Dean on Sat, 08/01/2022 - 11:10

'We look for a star' Anon
Saviour and Son, the star the Wise Men knew Led them to thee: at Christmas now, we too look anxiously into the silent night,
Lit by God's stars, where man's own satellites Spin between the shining spheres:
O Christmas Child, let hopes, not fears
Upon the aching world prevail,
That we, who set our smaller suns to sail
In the bright firmament of thy design,
Seek out a star divine
To follow - and on Christmas night,
Find grace and peace in sight.

As a historical event the feast of the Epiphany is hard to prove. It is only recorded in the Gospel according to Matthew. In that account we are told of the visit of the Wise Men or Magi from the East and after initial references to them Matthew does not mention them again. Was Matthew making the whole thing up and if so why?

Matthew's Gospel narrative is the most Jewish of the four accounts and he seems to be writing in a way that will convince the Jews that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah. For example the Gospel begins

with a very Jewish genealogy of Christ, tracing his origins through David, Solomon and Abraham and drawing upon Isaiah's prophesy that:

'..a virgin shall conceive and bear a Son ..' Isaiah 7:14.

Matthew uses the account of the visit of the Magi - gentiles from the East - to emphasise to his Jewish audience Christ's ‘Jewish-ness’. The Magi are searching for the 'King of the Jews' and in stating that Jesus is the King of the Jews Matthew shows his readers that Jesus Christ is their Messiah and that he comes for both Jews and the gentiles, for as he writes, it was the gentiles who first recognised him for who he is. The Magi those representatives of the gentiles came and worshipped the new born king. The Jews represented by Herod were afraid and sought to destroy the child. In the visit of the Wise Men we also see Christ revealed to the whole world as its Lord and saviour. Yes, Jesus was born a Jew but he was not born for Jews alone.

This day also has another poignant symbol associated with it, the Star. Astrological research seems to suggest that there was a comet in the heavens at approximately the time of Christ's birth, and the comet is thought to have been so bright that it would have stood out from the other stars.

The Magi were probably astrologers and possibly magicians. Matthew is at pains to emphasise that from the point of the birth of Christ the Magi’s powers are made redundant. In finding and accepting the Christ the Magi obviously abandoned their magic and divinations. For magic is a means of getting something done when the doer lacks the strength to do it alone. It depends on the belief that in order to achieve that which the individual cannot do alone, there are forces that can be called upon to help - good or bad. What magic does is to extend one’s will and the power one has over a situation and other people. In recognising the Christ and accepting his ways one has to do away with self- will.

We are called to love our enemies, to do good, to put an end to self-centredness. Like the magi who left the tools of their trade - gold, frankincense and myrrh in Bethlehem, we too have to leave the tools of our self-will in that stable as well if we are to become true followers of Christ.

Matthew uses the story of the Magi's visit as a means of encouraging us to say farewell to all the

tricks we use to get our own way – the flattery, the deceit, the lying. We are warned to be suspicious of the magic of our personalities and to adopt as our role model the God who loves us unconditionally and indiscriminately.

The Magi were led to the one with power greater than their own, to the one who put away the need for magic. The child whom Herod feared was more powerful than any of us could ever comprehend for his influence is always good. At the visit of the Magi to the Christ child the world learned that Jesus was born for all God’s people regardless of who they are; Jew or gentile, male or female, black or white for all without exception.

Eternal God
who by the shining of a star
led the Wise Men to the worship of your Son; Guide by his light the nations of the earth, that the whole world may behold your glory. Amen.

A reflection by the Rev'd Russell Duncan for Christmas II 2nd January 2022

Submitted by Dean on Fri, 31/12/2021 - 12:03

Luke 2:41-52

Jesus said to his parents “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” But they did not understand what he said to them (Luke 2:49-50)

How many times have we asked the question “Did you not know?” to  family, friends and colleagues and vice versa? Did you not know that I would be away?  Did you not know that they had died?  Did you not know that I have never spoken to them? immediately come to mind.  I am sure that we can all think of such occasions, such questions and how we felt.

Years ago when I began my legal traineeship I dealt with my first executry sale. An elderly client had died with no immediate family. All was going very smoothly until the day before the transaction was due to settle. For some reason I decided to go along to the house and check that everything was in order.  In particular that it had been cleared of all its furniture and personal effects. Much to my dismay nothing had been done. There had been a lack of communication. The executors had assumed that the lawyers were dealing with this. I had assumed that they were.  Thankfully we were able to instruct a removal firm at short notice.  Everything settled on time. A great relief. Ever since, in similar circumstances, I have always made sure that someone took responsibility and confirmed that it had been done. A lesson, however unexpected,  had been learnt.

Our gospel from Luke marks an important point in the life of Jesus. It was laid down by law that every adult male Jew who lived within fifteen miles of Jerusalem must attend the Passover

Professor William Barclay reminds us that “it was not through carelessness that his parents did not miss Jesus. Usually the women started out much earlier than the men. The two sections would not meet until the evening encampment was reached when they realised in horror that Jesus was not there”.  After rushing back to Jerusalem it took them three frantic, anxious and no doubt harrowing days to find him in the Temple.  We are not told who looked after Jesus during this period, who fed him, where he slept, how he felt  or if he was concerned in any way. All we know is that Jesus seems genuinely surprised that his parents would not have known that he was in “his Father’s house”.

Professor Barclay comments further “See how very gently but definitely Jesus takes that name “father” from Joseph and gives it to God. At some time Jesus must have discovered his own unique relationship with God. At this first Passover, with manhood dawning, there came a sudden realization that he was, in a unique sense,  the Son of God”.

At the beginning of this new year may we not only ponder and treasure, like Mary,  the question raised by Jesus “Did you not know?” but take encouragement and hope from Isaiah when a similar question was asked about God:-

Have you not known?

Have you not heard?

The everlasting God, the Lord,

The Creator of the ends of the earth,

Neither faints nor is weary.

His understanding is unsearchable.

He gives power to the weak,

And to those who have no might He increases strength.

Even youths shall faint and be weary.

But those who wait on the Lord

Shall renew their strength;

They shall mount up with wings like eagles,

They shall run and not be weary,

They shall walk and not faint.

A reflection for Christmas I 26th December 2021 by Canon Dean Fostekew

Submitted by Dean on Fri, 24/12/2021 - 14:39

It came as a bit of a shock the time I looked in the mirror and saw my mother looking back! When did I start looking like a badger? When did my hair start falling out – well apart from the 10cm long ones sprouting from the top of my ear. When did I become middle-aged and approaching 60?

Mentally, I still feel as though I’m 18 – my mind butterflying from one thing to another BUT my body with its aches and cracks certainly doesn’t feel 18 anymore. So this is what it feels like to ‘mature’?

Well, I am not sure that I really know what it does feel like to mature. All I know is what it feels like to be me. Me, a man stuffed full of memories and experiences half of which I have forgotten and much of the rest lying half-submerged in my sub-consciousness. Things that once seemed to have substance and great importance have gone passed away like; ‘Mists we on mornings see.’  to quote the poet John Clare.

Things that have in the past hurt or wounded me have dissipated and now I can’t think why they upset me so at the time. This probably sounds a bit depressing but actually I am not depressed at all by the changes in my body and mind.

One cannot halt the ageing process or even remember what one has forgotten, or regain the body one had as a youth. All one can do is celebrate who one is NOW and to give thanks to God for what is important, and what gives one joy while maintaining a desire to grab life by the lapels.

I suppose it is at this time of the year when I become conscious of what’s past. For all of us much will have happened over these past 12 months. There will be the events one wants to remember and the events one actively wants to forget. In this time of Covid memories seem a bit slippy - time has sort of expanded and contracted in different ways and what was months ago can seem like yesterday and yesterday can be long forgotten. Perhaps this is a good thing in these strange times?

The past may be remembered in a way that wasn’t quite as it was, for we do tend to remember selectively and often in our recall of those events we do embroider them. The Gospels are a good example of this. None of the four accounts are quite the same as each other. To get the full Christmas story as we know it you have to take bits from all four:

The Annunciation by Gabriel from Luke

The visit of the angel to Joseph from Matthew

Shepherds from Luke

Kings from Matthew

The Word made flesh from John

And bits of John-the-Baptist from Matthew, Mark and Luke

Each Gospel writer is sharing bits from the memories and stories about Jesus handed on to them. The bits they believed were important in helping them (and us) come to some comprehension of who Jesus Christ was. Today’s Gospel is a good illustration of what I mean. It is commonly believed that Luke was recording the memories of Jesus held by Mary, his mother. Verse 2:51b seems to be evidence for this:

“His mother treasured all these things in her heart.”

Mary was obviously remembering a time when she felt guilty for losing her son – leaving him behind in the temple. She was perplexed and amazed by what he said to her and Joseph when they did find him:

“Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my father’s house?”

Luke 2:49

This memory probably helped her come to terms with his later death but at the time it more likely confused her, so she just ‘tucked it away’ as many parents might. The fact that Mary and Joseph ‘lost’ Jesus is not that surprising, they probably assumed that he was with other members of the extended family and party of friends who would have journeyed with them to the temple at Jerusalem. The fact that Jesus wasn’t in the guddle of the pilgrims speaks of a rebellious spirit on his part – almost the behaviour of teenagers today. ‘I’m gonna do what I want to do, not what dad and mum want me to do.’ Well! Jesus certainly did his own thing.

Yet, once Jesus had been found and he had explained why he had been disobedient he dutifully went home and would appear to have been more considerate to his parents’ feelings for the next couple of decades. Apart from this account we don’t know much about Jesus’ childhood and young adulthood – his so termed ‘hidden years’. Obviously, he had a life but the Gospel writers did not think it of great significance that they needed to record it.

As I said earlier, we remember that which we believe to be important and that which we believe to be important and that which helps us make some sense of the jumble that life is. In fact, I find it quite comforting that the Gospel accounts, well all scriptural accounts, are selective in what they say and don’t say – you can’t take what they say as literal, you have to interpret them and read them in context – but also it tells me that it is okay for my memory to be selective too.      

What is important is what the Gospels, actually do say, for if only things of significance are recorded then they are recorded for a reason and it is that ‘reason’ that we spend our lives exploring. Theology is really nothing more than the exploration or thinking about of God but what a rich and exciting adventure that is and it is a journey of discovery that we live as much as think.

As we live our lives, our experiences help shape who we are and how we interpret the world around us and how we discern who God is, in it all. Jesus is the key to our understanding because he like us lived a human life, exploring who he was and who God is. If Jesus is the template for humanity that we Christians use to make sense of it all then we should pay close attention to what he said, did and has inspired others to do and say. St.Paul, in the Epistle to the Colossians encourages us to:

‘Let the Word of God dwell in you richly.’    Luke 3:16a

and to do everything in the name of Jesus. Paul had sussed that by following Jesus we are given a framework around which to build our lives - a framework that could enable us not to make too much of a hash of it either:

'To love one another with patience, fore-bearing and forgiveness..’

and to love oneself as well. For unless you can begin to do that you can’t fully love anyone else including God.

There is one thing more, as I read them, today’s readings also tell us that we can always start again, that we can wipe the slate clean of past mistakes and have another go. Like Jesus being forgiven for wandering off, we too are always give another opportunity to get things right, to start afresh – why? Simply because we have worth, we are valuable to God and loved unconditionally.

Let the coming year be a new start for you, another opportunity to have ago at making sense of this life we live. Go into 2022 with hope and an expectation that you might get it more right than before, but don’t worry if you don’t – you’ll always have the opportunity to have another go. Because we have a God who loves us so much that we are always given a second chance again and again to get things right. Jesus learned his lesson and didn’t distress his parents again until began his ministry as an adult and his parents learned that their son was more than special and was someone who would always surprise them.

A reflection for Christmas Day for the Rev'd David Warnes

Submitted by Dean on Fri, 24/12/2021 - 14:35

Luke 2:1-20

My father was a legendary wrapper of presents. We learned over the years that he would put as much trouble and artistry into the wrapping of a tiny gift, including the single walnut whip which he knew was my mother’s favourite Christmas chocolate treat, as into any more elaborate or expensive offering. We came to understand that the size of any parcel which he presented to us was not necessarily a guide to its contents. One spectacular example, a feature of either my seventh or my eighth Christmas, was what appeared to be an enormous package. Excited investigation, constrained somewhat by my mother’s view that Christmas wrapping paper should most definitely be recycled, revealed a sequence of nested gift-wrapped parcels, one inside the other and each, like Russian matrioshka dolls, smaller than the last. The enormous package eventually turned out to contain my very first wristwatch.

Christmas presents us with a gift which is the opposite of the one I have just described, the gift of a new-born baby. A tiny parcel, easily underestimated, but with world-transforming potential. The importance of his birth would not have been apparent to the shepherds had not the angel given them a sense of its cosmic significance, a glimpse into the future.

“…to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord.”

The angel’s message to the shepherds, and to us, is that this is a gift which will grow in greatness and significance. Every stage of the life and ministry of Jesus presents us with a larger and more wonderful gift, culminating in his self-giving on Calvary, his Resurrection and Ascension and we shall unwrap and contemplate these gifts in the coming months.

Returning to my first wristwatch, that gift seemed to offer a kind of certainty about time. From now on, wherever I might be, a glance would show me what time it was. I was soon to discover that Time is more mysterious than that. For a child, anticipated joys, the end of term, birthdays, Christmas itself, always seem a long time coming. As we grow older, time seems to pass more rapidly though certain experience, notably enjoyable holidays, seem to slow it down and other experiences, including the present pandemic, can make the recent past seem oddly remote.

Time is a mystery which we inhabit without understanding it, and our only way of engaging with the mysterious is through metaphor. There are two metaphors concerning time which can help us to celebrate Christmas, God in Jesus coming alongside us in time and experiencing its changes and chances as we experience them. Both these metaphors can, I believe, help us to grasp why the birth in obscurity of a particular baby just over two thousand years ago is an event that changed the world, an event that shapes and sustains us.

The first metaphor is music. The French philosopher Henri Bergson likened every human lifetime to a melody – each unique and distinct, containing more than a few bum notes and yet contributing its voice to something much greater, the whole music of creation. The minutes and hours in which our days are measured slip irretrievably into the past but when we listen to music, we experience time in a different way. We don’t think that the first few notes of a tune are lost to us, for we experience them as part of a whole. In Jesus we see the perfect human life, the perfect melody. Nothing can silence that melody, and we who are willing to listen can be enriched, encouraged and strengthened by it. The baby of Bethlehem, the man of Nazareth, the preacher and healer of Galilee, the victim on Calvary and the Risen and Ascended Christ are part of our present.

And so are the rejoicing angels of today’s Gospel:

“Still through the cloven skies they come
With peaceful wings unfurled,
And still their heav’nly music floats
O’er all the weary world;”

Edmund Sears, who wrote that carol, also offers us the second metaphor:

“beneath the angel-strain have rolled

Two thousand years of wrong.”

For the verb “rolled” suggests a stream or a river and I think it is very helpful to think of time in that way. Wristwatches may divide time artificially and conveniently into seconds, minutes and hours, but rivers cannot be thus divided. They flow continuously, and the water we taste is flavoured by whatever has entered the river upstream of us.

The coming into the world of Jesus, his life, ministry, death and resurrection are upstream of us in time but nourish and sustain our present.

Contemplating the mystery of Time, the poet W.H. Auden wrote these words”

“Time is our choice of How to love and Why”

At Christmas we welcome once again the coming of Jesus, who supremely shows us how to love and why and, in so doing, encourages us to make best use of the gift of Time.

May your Christmas time be blessed and may it lighten the obscurity of a future which is safe in the loving hands of God.