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A reflection for Sunday 26th July by the Rector

Submitted by Dean on Sat, 25/07/2020 - 11:40

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
 And sorry I could not travel both

And be one traveller, long I stood

And looked down one as far as I could
 To where it bent in the undergrowth;



Then took the other, as just as fair,

And having perhaps the better claim
 Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
 Though as for that the passing there
 Had worn them really about the same,


And both that morning equally lay

In leaves no step had trodden black.
 Oh, I marked the first for another day!
 Yet knowing how way leads on to way

I doubted if I should ever come back.


I shall be telling this with a sigh
 Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,


I took the one less travelled by,

And that has made all the difference.

Robert Frost

How often have you faced a similar dilemma in your life?

Whatever choice you make will have consequences and will change your life and perhaps the life of others as well. Choosing between what our conscience tells us is right or wrong is easy but choosing which path to follow when either path is equally good is incredibly difficult. One can often be overwhelmed by indecision by the fear of making a poor choice.

When the choice is between two sides of the same right the choice is almost impossible. Sometimes you will need to ask for an objective view by a detached observer to help you in your choice. Solomon obviously realised this:

“O Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David, although I am only a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in..... Give your servant, therefore, an

understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil..”

1Kings 3:7-9

and sensibly knew to ask God to grant him wisdom in his decision making. Wisdom is perhaps the greatest gift from God, far more valuable than riches or power:

“It pleased the Lord that Solomon had asked this. God said to him, ‘Because you have asked this, and have not asked for yourself long life or riches, or for the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern what is right.... In deed I give you a wise and discerning mind..”

1Kings 3:10-13

I have never wanted to belong to a church that dictates to me what to believe, what to say, how to vote or whatever. This desire for independence is the thing that has kept me as an Episcopalian and any suggestion of being dictated to fills me with abject horror.

I respect the views of those whose interpretation of scripture and the traditions of the church are different to mine. Their faith may tell them that X is X and I believe they have the right to hold those views. I may not agree with them because for me X could perhaps be interpreted as Y or Z depending on the circumstance, context and theological understanding. It is the interpretation of Scripture that leads to debate and sometimes sadly conflict but it can also lead to wonderful conversations and God given insights.

Scripture, for me, contains the essence of God written in human language codes which are in themselves inadequate vehicles to explain God and God’s ways and thus therefore need to be interpreted through the guidance of the Holy Spirit. For others Scripture should not nor cannot be interpreted. To say this or even to adopt this stance is in fact a choice not to interpret Scripture.

It is this dilemma of ‘interpretation’ that takes me back to the beginning of this homily and Solomon’s request of God to grant him:

“ an understanding mind, able to discern between good and evil.”

All of us need to pray for discretion and discernment and that these gifts will be poured by God upon all of us today. We all need to be able to think clearly and logically in these days as we come out of lockdown. We all need to be blessed by the Spirit with wisdom as to how we can move forward and to re-build our society in ways that will ensure each individual's dignity and worth.

Pray to God for discernment of his will for us in these coming days, months and years that we will always be able to tread the right path.

A thought for the week from the Rector

Submitted by Dean on Thu, 23/07/2020 - 15:27

Gardening

Are you a gardener? Do you love the feel of the soil running through your hands? Do you have ‘green fingers’ and seem to get anything you plant to grow? Or do you just enjoy sitting in a garden that somebody else has created as a little bit of heaven on earth? I fall into both categories. I always thoroughly enjoy sitting in my garden or visiting gardens such as Saughton Park or the Botanics but I love above all, actually gardening. Tending and tilling the soil encouraging plants to grow, especially roses and other flowers. Whenever I garden I often think of the earth’s first gardeners. Adam and Eve in that fabled Garden of Eden.

“11Then God said, ‘Let the earth put forth vegetation: plants yielding seed, and fruit trees of every kind on earth that bear fruit with the seed in it.’ And it was so. 12The earth brought forth vegetation: plants yielding seed of every kind, and trees of every kind bearing fruit with the seed in it. And God saw that it was good. 13And there was evening and there was morning, the third day ... 2:15 The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it.”          Genesis 1:11-13 and 2:15

As we know, all went well in that garden until the gardeners were tempted by forbidden fruit. I bet they wished that had not eaten that ‘apple’ and had just continued to care for the garden as God intended. Those of us who are gardeners are following in Adam and Eve’s footsteps and I like to think that we are daily sustaining that Garden of Eden, that has now spread across the world.

Creation is a wonderful thing and we are called to share with God the stewardship of the Earth. So by gardening we do just that. By caring for plants we care for the Earth and the whole of Creation in the little bit of God’s Kingdom that we live in. What we need to do is to encourage those who don’t garden to do so, or to care for Creation in ways that do not exploit it or damage it. We can turn the climate crisis around by gardening more, by planting more trees and flowers and sustainable crops and we do it for future generations as well as for our own enjoyment. Imagine planting a sapping tree today, none of us will see it come to maturity but the generations below us will thank us for our foresight and efforts.

Lord God, Creator of heaven and earth, and of all living things, please bless our gardens and the gardens of the world that have been so carefully and lovingly prepared. Bless the seeds we have planted, that they will bring forth a plentiful crop. Bless the sun and water you provide to us, so our crop can be nourished. Bless our labour that we may continue to learn and grow through this experience. Amen.

 

Reflection for Sunday 19th July Trinity VI Proper 11

Submitted by Dean on Sat, 18/07/2020 - 11:14

Faith & Doubt 

Trinity VI  Proper 11 19th July 2020 Year A

“Slipping into Evensong, like good quality chocolate biscuits and George II side tables, was one of the luxurious tastes Mummy has acquired in widowhood. She claimed she has simply been exploring the cathedral one afternoon during her first year in the city when the service was announced. She was making her way to one of the exits along with other flustered godless when the choir began singing an introit. The beauty of the music forced her to take a seat to listen, if only from a distance. She had come back several afternoons after that, always sitting well outside the quire so she could enjoy the music and words but not feel implicated in the act of worship.

‘But then I thought, this is silly. Who am I so scared of? I don’t care what people think; my faith or lack of it is entirely my affair.”

  Writes the author Patrick Gale in his novel, ‘The whole day through’. He book charts a day in the life of four characters; an elderly mother and daughter and two brothers and how their lives cross and intertwine with each other. It is an excellent read but it was the paragraph I have just read that set me thinking.

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? To have certainty of faith, to know, without question what you believe or know to be God must be comforting. Never having to question what you believe 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.

Gale writes later in the same chapter of his book:

“But you know all the words! Of course, I was a nicely-brought up girl. I attended confirmation classes at St.Swithan’s for a year when I was twelve and confirmed at thirteen, by the Bishop of Winchester in this very cathedral. ‘But you don’t believe it now? ‘I am not sure I believed it then. I was just being obedient. You get confirmed in the same spirit that you got married, in the fond hope that something solid would follow on the heels of faith.” 

Like many teenagers I got confirmed and then promptly left the church, struggling as I was with puberty, teen-aged angst and the death at 52 of my grandmother. Apart from attending school chapel, when like Gale’s characters I went through the motions I did not darken the church’s door until I left school. Then with two solid years of studying Reformation History I returned and became totally convinced and assured of what I knew to be the ‘true faith’. I became a fundamentalist, conservative, catholic Anglican and like all fundamentalists looked down on any other poor soul who wasn’t aware of the truth about Christianity and its practice of worship as I was. My arrogance appals me now, but it was the starting point for my journey into an adult faith – a faith that includes doubt as well.

What I believed at 19 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 19 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’. Like the sower, we have to be prepared to sow seeds, some which will come to harvest and others which will flounder or die.

The faith (or seed of faith) of Christ that I want to share is a one 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.’

In Ariana Franklin’s novel; ‘The Mistress of the art of death’ the heroine Adelia says this of the church in the 12th century:

“It wasn’t that she had anything against the faith of the New Testament, left alone it would be a tender and compassionate religion ... no what Adelia objected to was the church’s interpretation of God as a petty, stupid, money-grabbing retrograde, antediluvian tyrant who having created a stupendously varied world, had forbidden any enquiry into complexity, leaving his people flailing in ignorance.  P.221

As a description of the church in the late 1100’s it is apt but to many people out with the church today it would ring true. Someone once asked me if being a priest meant that I left my brain at the door of the church? That is what some people think and that is what we need to counter in life today.

We are not people of a book of rules. 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.

To have it all mapped out would I believe exclude most of us. Once upon a time I did believe that there was only one prescribed way to God through Jesus. Now I believe that Jesus offers us a multitude of different ways to God. So many and so varied that there is a way for everyone to journey no matter how full of doubt or faith they may be. As seeds of faith we all germinate and grow in different ways. Sometimes our growth is strong and vigorous and at other times it is weak and fragile but if we try to nurture our seeds they will and do survive, even if at times those seeds of faith become dormant.

Doubt is nothing to be afraid of, it too paradoxically, is a healthy seed of faith! It is a healthy progression along the journey of life. What is scary is a church that does not allow this. I want to see and to try and build a church with Christ at its centre but one that is not confined by rigid walls of rules and regulations, of do’s and don’ts but one that says come along let’s journey together. Let’s explore what the way of Christ means for you, for me and for your fellow beings. A church that does not depend on rigid statements of faith but one that allows and encourages questions and the searching through doubt. And, to be a church that will support you while you do so.

This is the message I would like to share with those out with the church today, as well as to you who choose to be part of the church. I want the world to know that here is a place where you will not be expected to believe or know everything about faith, nor will you be expected to say things you don’t believe. Here is a place to think and be - a safe place to share your insights, a place where you will be respected and encouraged. A place where your tender shoots of faith will be lovingly nurtured and cared for.

Sermon for Sunday 12th July 2020 Trinity V by the Rev' David Warnes

Submitted by Dean on Fri, 10/07/2020 - 16:33

Trinity V Year A 2020

As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing.

The Gospel writer tells us that when Jesus speaks of “the cares of the world” as choking off the development of faith, the Greek words that Matthew uses literally mean “being drawn in different directions”. So not the “cares of the world” in the sense of the trials and tragedies that challenge our faith. Those are referred to earlier in the parable, when Jesus speaks of the seed that falls on rocky ground. By “the cares of the world” Jesus means the kind of distractions that were bothering Martha while her sister Mary was paying single-minded attention to him; the dissipation of attention and energy in many directions. Jesus’ words here, and his words to Martha, are a call to singleness of mind and heart; a call to turn from the things which distract us.

The pandemic has in some ways simplified our lives by ruling out many pleasures and activities, and that has not been easy. We have learned to place a greater value on people of whose company we have for a time been deprived, on the creative and restorative activities that we miss and perhaps on the mundane tasks that, in normal times, we would have rushed through in order to see friends and family and pursue outdoor activities. Singleness of mind and heart is difficult at the best of times, and particularly difficult when it comes to domesticity. I have been missing the energetic young man who, until lockdown began, cleaned our house every Monday morning. Deputising for him, not always enthusiastically, and discovering that it takes me three times as long as it took him to do the work, has led to the temptation to see the dusting, polishing and hoovering as a distraction. It has also been a useful reminder that there’s a Christian tradition of seeing mundane tasks not as distractions from the spiritual life, but as a spiritual discipline. St Benedict taught that “to work is to pray”. Brother Lawrence, the 17th century Friar whose wisdom is preserved in a short book called The Practice of the Presence of God, wrote that:

“We ought not to be weary of doing little things for the love of God, who regards not the greatness of the work, but the love with which it is performed.”

George Herbert also understood that wisdom.

“A servant with this clause 

Makes drudgery divine:
Who sweeps a room as for Thy laws,

Makes that and th' action fine.”

The poem from which that hymn is drawn is all about that singleness of mind and heart which is the opposite of “being drawn in different directions. Singleness of mind and heart is not necessarily a good thing. In today’s Gospel Jesus is telling his disciples that those who single- mindedly pursue “the lure of wealth” will not lead fruitful lives. And you only have to tune into the news to be reminded that there are plenty of single-issue fanatics in the world, terrorists willing to kill innocent people to further their cause, and internet trolls turning their scorn and hatred on those who disagree with them on a particular issue. The Parable of the Sower is an invitation to be single-minded in a different way. It is an invitation to hear, receive and understand “the word of the Kingdom”.

Why is that kind of single-mindedness not only acceptable, but desirable? How is it the key to the abundant living of which Jesus is the exemplar and to which he invites us? Those who single-mindedly dedicate themselves to a cause in a way which devalues or demonises people who do not share their opinions are seeking to change the world but see no need for change in themselves. Christians believe that before we can work to change the world, there is a need for change in us, for a healing of our brokenness, for the “turning around” of which Jesus speaks, and which is sometimes translated as “repentance”. That translation isn’t entirely helpful, because by “turning around” Jesus meant more than acknowledging our misdeeds, though that is essential. He invites us to a new way of living, turned towards God, and turned towards our neighbour.

That is the change that George Herbert explores in his poem The Elixir, most of which (though not quite all) has ended up in hymn books as “Teach me, my God and King.” He uses alchemy, the mediaeval and renaissance belief that it was possible to turn base metals in gold using a mysterious substance called the Philosopher’s Stone, as a metaphor for spiritual change. That is the “famous stone” to which the poem refers.

This is the verse that hymn book editors left out:

Not rudely, as a beast,
To run into an action;
But still to make Thee prepossest, And give it his perfection.

You can see why they omitted it. The meaning is far from clear to a modern reader. Herbert did not mean “rudely” in the sense of lacking good manners, but rather acting by instinct and without thinking about the consequences. “But still” means doing whatever we are doing quietly, reflectively. This is what pleases (“prepossest”) God and perfects what we do.

The poem can help us to make sense of what St Paul means when he writes:

“To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.”

This passage from Romans has sometimes been misread in a puritanical way, as though Paul was expecting his readers and us to set aside physical pleasures. It is more helpful to think of “the flesh” as the human tendency to be drawn in different directions. That might mean being so busy fuming at the lunchtime news bulletin that we eat without really enjoying our food. There’s much to be said for mindful eating and, indeed, mindful housework. Christians take mindfulness an important step further, for our calling is to be mindful of God and our neighbour in all that we do, so that activities which might once have seemed to be distractions become acts of love and service and we are enabled to find, as George Herbert put it in another poem, “Heaven in ordinary”.

Reflection for Trinity IV Sunday 5th July 2020

Submitted by Dean on Sat, 04/07/2020 - 11:16

Trinity IV 5th July 2020 Year A Proper 9

You open the lid of the box and your eye glides around the selection of individual chocolates. You pause for a moment and then you pick the one you think you want and bite into it. THEN you either savour the delight of tasting that dark chocolate caramel or grimace that you had mistakenly taken the strawberry creme. Sometimes we make the right choice and at other times our choice totally dismays us.

St. Paul in today’s epistle extract (Romans 7:15-25a) is struggling with the act of making a choice; of making the right choice. He is quite despairing of himself:

“I do not understand my own actions. ... I can will what is right, but I cannot do it.”

We all make choices every day, in fact probably in every hour of our waking day. We make so many choices daily that most of the time we will be unaware of the process. Do I want tea or coffee? Shall I watch Fr. Brown or Grand Designs? Shall I have potatoes or rice with my meal? At the time these are important decisions or choices but in the bigger picture they are rather insignificant and even if one regrets one’s choice it is not really a disaster that can’t be rectified, the next time we face a similar decision. There are also the rather more important choices we make.

Who is the one I love the most? Shall I take that job offer or that one? Do I really want to move to that flat or to that house? These choices are significant and they are not, for most of us, decisions we have to make on a regular basis. Yes, our choice will have consequences but even if they prove to be the wrong choice in the long-run they can often be corrected.

Then there are the choices we make that are very important and can affect us at a profoundly deep level. These are the choices between good and evil, sin and not sin, good and bad. As St.Paul expressed two thousand years ago:

“For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.”

Paul is really struggling with some of the actions he has done and decisions he has made in the past, just as we do. This is Paul at his most human. Like him we can despair of ourselves at times when we have committed an act that we immediately regretted and one that we felt soiled our souls. We are all guilty of these actions but thankfully, for most of us they are not something we often do. We don’t often offend because we have a sort of rule book or code of conduct that we follow.

For those of us of faith we have Scripture and the example of Christ to follow. They both give us a path to follow that we can choose to walk along or not. Most of us for most of the time walk that path and because we do so we always know when we have stepped off the path and gone another way. Our faith gives us a framework around which we can build and live our lives with thought to God, others and ourselves. We are not dictated to by God but freely offered a ‘life giving way’ by which to live happy and contented lives.

Paul refers to this as the ‘Law’:

“So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self.”

He rightly expresses his joy in the Law as a guide to life but he acknowledges that with every major decision the opportunity to ‘sin’ or not to get it right is always there. This is the dilemma we all live with.

A dilemma many of us are facing as lockdown eases and we seek to re-enter ‘normal’ life. Good intentions may not always be the right decision. Yet, that is the ‘normal’ life we lead. The best prayer we can send to God is always:

“Lead us not into temptation...”

For in doing so it makes us question the choices we make and can help us live with the outcomes of that choice. We can be assured that in making any decision we are not alone. God is with us and the example of Christ is there to guide us, should we choose to follow him.

We can also be assured that even when we muck it all up and rue the choices we have made, we can try again and that God will forgive us if we ask him. None of us are perfect and we will all continue to make choices good and bad but it is in the trying not to make the wrong decision that can keep us out of the temptation of sin.