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A reflection by Canon Dean Fostekew for Pentecost and the Platinum Jubilee 5th June 2022

Pentecost Sunday 2022 HM the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee

Come Holy Ghost, our souls inspire

and lighten with celestial fire.

Thou thee the anointing Spirit art,

who dost thy sevenfold fits impart.

Words from the ancient hymn we have just sung calling upon God to send the Holy Spirit, with all its gifts upon us. Ten years ago when I preached on the Diamond Jubilee, it fell on Trinity Sunday. Never an easy Sunday to preach on at any time but how to incorporate the Queen’s jubilee? My sermon on that day began:

“How on earth, I hear you say, can Dean manage to link the doctrine of the Holy Trinity and the fact that we are also celebrating the Diamond Jubilee of her Majesty the Queen? What insights can both give to the other? These have been questions I have been pondering for weeks and I have come to the conclusion that the ‘diamond’ might be the key to the conundrum.”

As a decade ago, I have been pondering on what to say this time but in some ways my task has been easier as today is not Trinity Sunday but Pentecost Sunday or Whitsun. The Sunday at the end of Eastertide, following Christ’s ascension into heaven when we remember the coming of the Holy Spirit upon Mary and Jesus’ disciples in that upper room.

The Spirit did amazing and surprising things to those followers of Jesus; inspiring them and filling them with a spirit of mission and evangelism, giving them the ability to speak new languages in which to share the Good News of Christ and reassuring them that although Jesus had departed from them they would never be separated from the love of God because of the Holy Spirit.

At her coronation on the 2nd June 1953, well over a year following her ascension to the throne after the death of her father George VI, Elizabeth was consecrated monarch and prayed over by assorted clerics all of whom invoked the Holy Spirit to come upon her and to bless her with the gifts she would need to govern and reign as Queen. One of the many prayers used was this:

‘O Lord and heavenly Father,
 the exalter of the humble and the strength of thy chosen, who by anointing with Oil didst of old make and consecrate kings, priests, and prophets, to teach and govern thy people Israel: Bless and sanctify thy chosen servant ELIZABETH, who by our office and ministry
 is now to be anointed with this Oil, and consecrated Queen: Strengthen her, O Lord, with the Holy Ghost the Comforter; Confirm and stablish her with thy free and princely Spirit, the Spirit of wisdom and government,
 the Spirit of counsel and ghostly strength,
 the Spirit of knowledge and true godliness,
 and fill her, O Lord, with the Spirit of thy holy fear, now and for ever; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.’

It is a prayer that calls upon God through the Holy Spirit to bless the Queen with wisdom and strength to govern her people in accordance with God’s holy ways. It is a commandment that the Queen has always taken seriously. This prayer was followed by a more specific prayer that blessed the oil of anointing and (as in Baptism) sealed the Queen with the Holy Spirit:

‘Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who by his Father was anointed with the Oil of gladness above his fellows, by his holy Anointing pour down upon your Head and Heart the blessing of the Holy Ghost,
and prosper the works of your Hands: that by the assistance of his heavenly grace you may govern and preserve the Peoples committed to your charge in wealth, peace, and godliness;
 and after a long and glorious course of ruling a temporal kingdom wisely, justly, and religiously, you may at last be made partaker of an eternal kingdom, through the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.’

It is perhaps a poignant prayer for it not only speaks of the Queens life and rule but of her death too. It is a prayer for life long service to the people she has been called to reign over and a reminder that to do so is a life-long commitment only relieve by entry into God’s eternal Kingdom. I wonder how much her Majesty ponders on these words after 70 years of rule?

When we pray to the Holy Spirit we do so with trepidation or we should do. Because the Holy Spirit will do as it wishes and seems correct not as we think we want it to do. We may wish to be blessed with certain gifts and abilities the Holy Spirit may have other ideas. Praying to the Holy Spirit is a dangerous thing to do but a life-giving experience none-the-less. The Holy Spirit is God’s creative and restorative force. It really changes things and can open our eyes to new vistas and dreams we had not expected. At Baptism we are blessed with oil and the Holy Spirit in the hope that the Spirit will guide us throughout our three score and ten (or more).

We do not know the path we will tread through life at that point but we can be assured that we will never be abandoned by the Holy Spirit while we journey on. We may choose to ignore or reject the Spirit’s support but it will still be alongside us patiently waiting for our return or openness. It might even ‘niggle’ us long the way to change course and to pilgrimage into new places. If we are open to the Spirit then we will grow and develop a little more each day into the person God calls us to be. The person made in God’s image and sharing bits of God’s character. We all come from God and we spend our lives returning to God with the Holy Spirit as our guide and support if we let it.

On this Jubilee Sunday ponder a while on your journey through life and where you can see the influence of the Holy Spirit has been give thanks for gifts received and pray for more revelation to come. In our worship this morning we give thanks for the reign of Queen Elizabeth, we pray for her in the latter years of her life and we pray for our country that the Holy Spirit will bless it with abundance and a willingness to share all the good things God has given us.

Come Holy Ghost, our souls inspire and lead us ever closer to your coming Kingdom.

A reflection for the Sunday before Pentecost by the Rev'd David Warnes

There’s a church in the town of Madison, Wisconsin where new members are welcomed by the singing of a somewhat modified version of a song from Lionel Bart’s musical Oliver! It starts “Consider yourself confirmed…”

This seems, on the face of it, an odd choice, since, as those of you who have seen the show or the film will know, the song is sung by the Artful Dodger and his gang to welcome Oliver into the criminal fraternity run by Fagin. The original version starts like this:

“Consider yourself at home
Consider yourself one of the family
We've taken to you so strong
It's clear we're going to get along.”

“Consider yourself one of the family…”

As Dean explained to us last Sunday, if the head of a household was baptised into the Christian faith, sometimes the whole household, including family members and slaves was also baptised. Last week it was Lydia, the dealer in luxury purple cloth. This week it’s the jailer who was responsible for Paul and Silas, and who was terrified when he thought that they had escaped.

Some people find the idea of collective conversion difficult. We live in a very individualistic culture, a culture which prizes personal choice and the thought that servants and slaves may have been unduly influenced or even coerced into changing their beliefs is troubling. However, we read that Paul and Silas

…spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house.

The whole household heard the good news were united in their response to it. That doesn’t sound like an imposed uniformity of belief but individual members of a household responding positively to what they had heard. Their responses would, of have been personal, rooted in very different life experiences. They came together from different directions to form a household of faith. Just like us.

Unity is, of course the theme of today’s Gospel and when Jesus speaks of unity, I don’t believe that he is speaking about uniformity, though a literal reading of the Gospel might suggest that, especially when you read those words in verse 23 when Jesus prays that his disciples

“…may become completely one.”?

It’s always important to place particular sayings of Jesus in the context of all of his teaching. He spoke of the God who numbers the very hairs of our heads, the God who marks the fall of a sparrow, the God whose house contains many mansions, who knows and loves our individuality and prepares to welcome us individually when our earthly life is over, and welcome us into the closest relationship possible.

So for what was Jesus praying when he asked that his followers

“…may become completely one.”?

As is sometimes the case, English translations of the original Greek don’t serve us as well as they might. A literal translation would be:

“…so that they might have been made complete as one.”

The verb that is used for “to make complete” is only used in four other places in St. John’s Gospel. The other four uses of it refer to Jesus completing or finishing the work that God has given him, and the best known of the four is the sentence “It is finished” – the last words spoken by Jesus before his death on the Cross. Again, the translation is misleading for the Greek verb doesn’t mean finished in the sense of “it’s all over”. A free but faithful translation would be “Mission accomplished”.

Our unity, today’s Gospel teaches, isn’t about everybody worshipping God in exactly the same way or having the same church rules and structures. It’s about something much more profound. The unity which Jesus prays that we may have is the same unity that he has with God the Father:

“As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us.”

 

It is a unity that will only be fully accomplished when we find ourselves in the closest presence of the God who loves us, but it is also a unity which we can and do begin to experience in our earthly lives. We experience it in our families, in times of joy and of sorrow, and the pandemic, when the full and proper sharing of those times was not possible, was a profound reminder of the value of that. We experience it in our church families, just as the first Christians did. We read in the second chapter of Acts that

All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.”

Or, as Lionel Bart put it in the next verse of the song which I quoted at the beginning of this sermon:

“Consider yourself well in
Consider yourself part of the furniture
There isn't a lot to spare
Who cares, whatever we've got we share.”

Jesus’ prayer for unity was richly answered in the early church. That prayer was also prayed for us, for

“…those who will believe in me”

in the future.

We are the community for whom Jesus prays, and his prayer for us is that we may all be one, not uniform but united in love and action and showing a divided and suffering world the way of unity and love. We are the community for whom Jesus prays, and that is something to think about as we prepare to celebrate Pentecost and the power of the Holy Spirit to draw people into loving community one with another.

A refection for Sunday 22nd May 2022 Easter VI by Canon Dean Fostekew

I wonder what it was that Paul said that converted Lydia? It must have been telling because I suspect that Lydia was no push over. We are told that she was a worshipper of God, obviously not a Hebrew because she lived in Macedonia but none-the-less a God-fearing gentile, woman. She was a business woman - trading in purple cloth. Two interesting things here; one she is a woman in commerce and two her trade is in an expensive commodity, purple cloth. Both of which might have put her beyond the pale in the eyes of Paul and his companions had they not been challenged by the Holy Spirit to go to Macedonia.

Under the Hebrew Law, women were not counted as part of God’s chosen people, as I’ve said before that was only adult men. Women could worship God, but obviously God took no notice of them because they were not male! Also purple cloth dye was made from crushed shells and the families making it were often at the bottom of the social hierarchy simply because the process stank and the dye stained the skin of those who made it. Yet the dye and the cloth produced were highly valued as being the colour of royalty and the elite. Lydia, might have been stained with the dye or she might have been dye free but trading in the cloth the dyers made. Either way she was a woman engaging in trade and that was a bit dubious!

Whatever she heard Paul say obviously had a profound effect upon her,  so much so that she and her household converted and were baptised. Lydia is obviously wealthy and could instruct her household to do as she wished and if she was baptised then so would they be. They may or may not have had little choice in the matter especially if they wished to retain their jobs or were slaves. Lydia, might have been a bossy, hard woman but I think not because of the end of verse 15 in that 16th chapter of Acts:

‘If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home.’

Lydia, I feel is a pious woman, who has been changed and influenced by God and the message of Christ’s Good News. This influence has led her and those she cares about to be baptised and she invites Christ’s ambassadors Paul and his companions to say with her. There are echoes here of Christ’s command to the 70 to go out and share the Good News but without any money or belongings to help. If their words are good then people would be moved to care for them. The same applies to Paul and the others, let the Good News feed you. In more ways than one!

But I still wonder what words Paul actually used to express the Good News and what was that Good News anyway? That is a question I cannot answer but if I turn to the poet George Herbert I might get some way to doing so:

LOVE bade me welcome; yet my soul drew back,

            Guilty of dust and sin.

But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack

    From my first entrance in,

Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning

            If I lack’d anything.

 

‘A guest,’ I answer’d, ‘worthy to be here:’

            Love said, ‘You shall be he.’

‘I, the unkind, ungrateful? Ah, my dear,

            I cannot look on Thee.’

Love took my hand and smiling did reply,

            ‘Who made the eyes but I?’

 

‘Truth, Lord; but I have marr’d them: let my shame

            Go where it doth deserve.’

‘And know you not,’ says Love, ‘Who bore the blame?’

            ‘My dear, then I will serve.’

‘You must sit down,’ says Love, ‘and taste my meat.’

            So I did sit and eat.

The Good News Paul spoke about, that affected Lydia, must have been about Love. The unconditional love of God as expressed through the life and sacrifice of Jesus. A love that is all forgiving as Herbert suggests and welcomes us in regardless of who we are or what we have done:

LOVE bade me welcome; yet my soul drew back,

            Guilty of dust and sin.

But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack

    From my first entrance in,

Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning

            If I lack’d anything.

Love calls to us and yet we resist because we can think we are not worthy of such love. But what does love do when God perceives that we draw back? It asks us if we need anything?

God’s love is not conditional on our being anything but ourselves, all it asks of us is to let it in. Let in, to our hearts and minds, into the depths of our being to enfold the bits we don’t like as well as the bits we do. If we say yes, and welcome in Love then there is no part of us that can ever be beyond the love of God, or of God’s healing power. Herbert knew that, in his short and at times difficult life, and this poem is the culmination of all his works and the one he wished published last, for he thought it said it all.

God’s love is not repulsed by us, whatever we’ve done or whatever we might be. God’s love is always there for us waiting to be let in by our free choice and once in ready to heal us and make us whole. God’s love is all about making a connection to us and that I think is what happened to Lydia. Something Paul and his companions said made a connection so deep that it changed her life and brought her to Christ.

God’s love is free, ever-lasting and open to all. What words do we, you and I need to use to tell others about it? I don’t know? But like the 70 being sent out on a mission or Paul responding to the call to Macedonia I believe, truly believe that God will give us the right words at the right time, all we have to be is alert and unafraid to speak. This needn’t be scary either; for the most effective conversations often come when we are relaxed and chatting with others and we say something that opens a new door for the one who hears our words. It can be as simple, for example, as telling someone why you go to Church or what your faith gives you, not in any ‘preachy’ way but genuinely from the heart so they hear your joy and thoughtfulness.

Whatever it is and whatever words you use, if God has decided the time is right then your words will have a power you did not expect and they too might lead someone like Lydia to open her heart to God’s love.

A reflection for Easter V Sunday 15th May 2022 by Canon Dean Fostekew

Acts 11:1-18

The Book of Acts reads a bit like a ‘Boy’s own’ adventure story. It is fast moving and contains accounts of journeys, arguments, debates, conversions and ship-wrecks. It is an exciting read. Try reading it through sometime and you will see what I mean. The Book of Acts is also radical, in fact very radical if not ‘dangerously radical’. It is radical in the sense that it suggests that God, the God of the Hebrews, the chosen people is not just for them but for all people both Jew and gentile.

What was St.Luke, the Book of Acts probable author thinking of to imply such things?

In first century Jewish society to suggest that God was for all people would have been heresy. It felt like heresy to those first Jewish Christians too. Jesus was a Jew and he never changed his religion or established a new one either – it was his followers who did that. At first those Jews who were followers of Jesus continued to worship in the temple as normal but with a devotion to Jesus and a desire to repent as he had encouraged them to do. This was fine until Peter, one of Jesus’ closest followers decided otherwise.

Following Jesus’ ascension his followers  continued with all the Jewish traditions and practices including as this passage tells us – circumcision of males. It was circumcision that singled the Jews out from others in their society. Remember too, at this time, women were not seen as being part of the chosen people, it was only men. Yet Peter tells these God fearing Jerusalem Jews that the Holy Spirit has told him not to make a distinction between Jew and Greek, circumcised or uncircumcised and by extension between men and women! To those Jewish Christians this would have been almost too shocking to contemplate. Peter obviously had his work cut out to convince them otherwise. He must have put up a good argument, however, as he did convince the Jerusalem party that no one was outside God’s favour and love and that Christ’s message was for all God’s people not just the chosen ones. I particularly like his comment at verse 18:

“Who was I that I could hinder God?”

This for me says it all. God’s spirit, God’s love cannot be stopped. It flows where it will and not where humankind thinks it should or might want it to go. It is inclusive and it should encourage all of us to be inclusive in our attitudes as well. For who are we to decide who is or who is not out with the bounds of God’s love and acceptance?

A reflection for Easter III Sunday 1st May 2022 by the Rev'd David Warnes

John 21:1-19

Today’s Gospel is one of my favourite passages in the New Testament. I remember that years ago a somewhat irreverent fellow ordinand described it as “the barbecue on the beach.” I rather like that description. It tells of seven disciples doing what for some of them had been routine work in the years before they were called to follow Jesus and having that everyday routine transformed by their encounter with the Risen Christ. I also like it because the sharing of bread and fish hints at the Eucharistic sharing to which Christ the host invites us as his guests. But the main importance of this passage is the encounter between Jesus and Peter.

St John’s Gospel includes the story of Peter’s threefold denial of Jesus. The next time we see him, he and the beloved disciple are racing towards the tomb on the first Easter morning. The Beloved Disciple gets there ahead of him, but it is Peter who goes into the tomb first and examines the folded graveclothes. Peter is not mentioned by name in the accounts of Jesus’ first two appearances to the disciples, so the issue of his denial of Jesus remains unresolved until the final chapter of the Gospel and the verses which we have just shared.

The resolution happens in surroundings which, for Peter, were familiar and workaday. After a long and unsuccessful night’s fishing, a stranger calls out to them from the shore, and suggests that they cast their nets in a different place.      It is only after their net is full of fish that the Beloved Disciple realizes that the stranger is Jesus, and Peter hastily puts on some clothes and leaps into the water to wade ashore.

We can infer a great deal about Peter, and about his experience of the Resurrection, from this behaviour. He had denied Jesus and therefore had plenty to be ashamed of, yet there was no question of his hiding from Jesus. He already understood that he was forgiven. His confidence and enthusiasm were restored, as was his characteristic impetuosity. He had been the first to enter the empty tomb, and now he was determined to be the first on shore to greet Jesus.

After breakfast, Jesus questions Peter closely, and questions him three times. It must have been a challenging experience for Peter, for the threefold questioning was surely a reminder of his threefold denial of Jesus. The English language cannot convey the subtleties of this passage, for in translation Jesus appears to ask exactly the same question – “Do you love me?” – three times – and Peter appears to give the same answer three times.

But there’s more to this question-and-answer session than English translations suggest. On the first two occasions when Jesus asks: “Do you love me?” the Greek verb that the Gospel writer uses is the same one that Jesus used when he said to the disciples: “This is my new commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” Jesus is not talking about affection or friendship, he is talking about unreserved, unconditional, and unwavering love – the kind of love that involves complete commitment to the needs of another person.

And when Peter replies, he uses a different word for love. A literal translation of their first exchange would be:

“Jesus said to Simon Peter “Are you more fully devoted and committed to me than these people”. He said to him: “Yes, Lord, you know that I am your friend.”

So his answer sounds rather lame; it lacks the level of commitment for which Jesus seems to be calling.

At the second asking, Jesus slightly lowers the stakes. The second question is simply:

“Are you fully devoted and committed to me.” And once again Peter replies: “I am your friend.” For Jesus, that answer, although it fell short, is sufficient. On the third time of asking, he rephrases the question and simply says:                “Are you my friend?” and when Peter says that he is, gives him the Apostolic commission: “Feed my sheep.”

It is possible – I think it is likely - that Jesus was testing Peter. The first two questions offered Peter the opportunity to assert a degree of love and commitment which he did not yet have. Peter passed the test – he remembered how on the last night of Jesus’ life he had boldly declared that he would lay down his life for Jesus, only to deny all knowledge of him a few hours later. He therefore did not claim more than he honestly could claim at that moment, and the friendship he was able to offer was a foundation on which his Apostleship and the martyrdom to which Jesus obliquely refers at the end of today’s Gospel were built.

For us it is an encouraging story.  It shows us that God is with us in the everyday, and that God welcomes us to share in the Eucharistic celebration of the Resurrection. Most encouraging of all, it shows God’s willingness to accept what we have to offer, however limited that may be, and to work with it and with us and draw out more from us.

When preaching on John’s Gospel, once I have worked through the scholarly commentaries, I always turn to Archbishop William Temple’s Readings in St John’s Gospel. Of today’s passage, Archbishop Temple wrote these words:

“Peter is an unfailing spring of encouragement to all of us. The example of Paul is of little use to me; I am not a hero. The example of John is of but little more use; my love is so feeble. But Peter is source of constant encouragement, for his weakness is so manifest, yet because he was truly the friend of his Lord, he became the Prince of the Apostles and glorified God by his death.”