Articles

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.

A reflection for Sunday 15th August 2021 by the Rev'd David Warnes

Submitted by Dean on Sat, 14/08/2021 - 10:36

I am the living bread

In the Soviet Union all shops were owned by the state. Shopfronts did not bear the names of companies or individual proprietors, and most of them only had one word in large letters – it might be Clocks,  Knitwear or Shoes.  It was the simplest form of advertising, almost stark in its simplicity. What you see is what you get.

Out in the sticks, that starkness and simplicity survived the collapse of Communism for some years. I remember in the year 2000 spotting two adjacent shops in the main square of a provincial village. One was labelled Books and the other Bread. I pointed them out to my host, a Russian writer and a devout Orthodox believer. “That’s all we need” was his response.

Today’s Gospel has the same kind of starkness and simplicity. Jesus says:

“I am the living bread”

Some of the starkness of those words is lost on us because bread is only part of the rich and varied diet that we are privileged to enjoy and we have lost some of that sense of its being “the staff of life”, though there are contemporary cultures which preserve that. The Arabic word for bread, aish, also means life.

Jesus forcefully identifies himself with what was the main source of nutrition for his hearers, and goes on to say something equally stark and simple:

Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life”

This language shocked many of those who heard him. Some who had followed Jesus deserted him as a result. The words still have the power to shock and to puzzle. Jesus was, however, speaking within one thread of the Jewish tradition, as today’s reading from Proverbs reminds us. Wisdom invites people to a feast, and the people who are invited are those who are simple, even those without sense:

“Come, eat of my bread
and drink of the wine I have mixed.”

That passage from Proverbs helps to remind us of one of the most important themes in today’s Gospel – for what Jesus is doing here is to issue an invitation, and invitation to participate in his life and thus to participate in the life of God.

But there is more to this passage than a simple invitation, for Jesus is also showing  what God is like and what participation in the life of God means. What you see in Jesus is what you get by entering into a relationship with God.

By speaking of himself in terms of food and drink that can be consumed, Jesus is telling us that God is completely free from the defensiveness and individualism from which we humans, broken as we are, suffer. God’s self-bestowing in creating and sustaining the universe is absolute and complete. God in Christ shares God’s self and God’s love without limit or reservation, a sharing and a giving which involve the laying down of his life. Those disciples who heard Jesus say

Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life”

and who continued to follow him cannot fully have understood what he meant, and would only come to understand it in the light of the Crucifixion and the Resurrection.

In his simple, stark invitation, Jesus is teaching that eternal life comes through accepting the invitation to be nourished and transformed by him. Though this requires a personal response from each of us, it is not an invitation to enjoy a closer and deeper companionship with God as individuals. And it’s worth remembering that our words “companion” is derived from two Latin words which mean “with bread” – companionship is literally the sharing of bread. To be nourished by Christ, as we are in the Eucharist, is to be drawn into companionship with one another as well as companionship with him, and it is the companionship that is transformative, for it enables us to experience something of eternal life in the here and now. Behind the stark and apparently simple challenge of Jesus’ words is a profound wisdom, the insight that what truly nourishes and sustains us is our relationships, the relationship with God made possible by the Incarnation and the right relationships with other people that become possible when we acknowledge that they too are children of God.

A reflection for Sunday 8th August 2021 by Canon Dean Fostekew

Submitted by Dean on Sat, 07/08/2021 - 10:56

The extract from Paul’s epistle to the Ephesians this morning is entitled; ‘Rules for the new life’ and I think it is worthwhile reading that passage again:

“So then, putting away falsehood let all of us speak the truth to our neighbours, for we are members of one another. Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil. Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labour and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy. Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption. Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”           Ephesians 4:25-5:2

My grannie always insisted, when we children stayed with her, that we never went to bed without sorting out any problems we might have had with each other or making up after an argument. I asked her why one day and she told me the following story.

When her parents Frank and Phoebe were first married her father went to work one morning, not talking to his wife after a horrendous argument they began the night before. My great-grandfather did not even say goodbye as he left the house and walked to work as a blacksmith with Huntley and Palmer. Many couples argue and sometimes the bad feelings can be left unchecked and grumpiness is the order of the day, as it was for my great- grandparents.

During the day at work Frank was involved in a nasty accident. A hammer head came off its shank as another blacksmith was using it. It hit Frank on the side of the head. He was lucky not to be killed by the blow or blinded. Phoebe was, as you might guess, devastated and they both realised that if Frank had been killed then Phoebe would have spent the rest of her life regretting the fact that she and Frank had not had the sense to make up before he went to work. From that day forward they never went to bed on an argument.

Actually, it is a good policy; you never sleep well if you go to bed on an argument. Having the sense to make up is the sign I think of a healthy relationship, a relationship in which you are both prepared to make the first move and say sorry.

It can be all too easy not to put things right as soon as possible and that can lead quite easily to estrangement or malice; neither of which are healthy. Paul tells the Ephesians, and it applies equally to all of us too, that they should always:

  • Speak the truth
  • When angry not to be malicious
  • To be honest
  • To share what they have
  • To hold their tongues and to think before speaking
  • To be kind and compassionate
  • To be ready and willing to forgive

These rules Paul suggests are the hallmarks of living a life based on the doctrine of loving in the love of God. For once I think Paul is right, in fact unusually for me, I wholeheartedly agree with Paul’s teaching and I suspect it is based on his own experience.

Many Christians try to follow a ‘Rule of Life’ that tends to address the spiritual aspects of one’s being. I attempt to follow the ‘Rule of St.Benedict’ – which is not only about one’s spiritual life but about the whole of life. It could however be summed up in those words of Paul written two thousand years ago to the Ephesians.

Having a few rules or guidelines in one’s life is a good way of trying to live a good life and a life that is not selfish or hedonistic but based on love. Over this coming week try re-reading St.Paul’s words. Let them seep into your being and refer to them every so often to remind yourself that we Christians are called to live a life based on love - the love of God as shown to us in Christ Jesus.

Love that encourages us to forgive and to forget, to seek to do the best for others and to respect oneself as well. Paul’s verses in Chapter 13 of his First Epistle to the Corinthians will help you alongside his words to the Ephesians to work out your own rules of life:

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant 5or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. 7It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never ends.”         1Corinthians 13:4-8