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A reflection for All Saints and All Souls Sunday 5th November 2023 by Canon Dean Fostekew

Betty was always there. The chair by the wall of the third row up from the altar that was her spot. She was there for Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer with the clergy and for each of the daily masses. The only time she wasn’t there was when she was in the body of the Church for the Solemn high Mass on a Sunday morning or for Evensong and Benediction, when she sat in the choir stalls with the rest of us. 

Betty, as far as I was and still am concerned was a true saint of God. She lived a life dedicated to prayer and was a gentle and supportive friend to many. She didn’t make very old bones as cancer took her act about 70 but she always reminded me of Anna in the Temple waiting to greet the Messiah and in the meantime caring for God’s people that she met. 

As you can tell, I still vividly remember her and it will be nigh on 40 years ago that she died. I valued her prayers then as I explored my vocation to ministry and I value them still, now that she resides in the presence of God. 

Betty would never have thought of herself as ‘saint’ material. She did what she felt she had to do to fulfil her Baptismal vocation as a Christian. It was nothing remarkable or special, it was just what she did. She is not acknowledged as an official saint of the church but as I have said as far as I am concerned she is a saint and I suspect that those who remember her think so too.

So often we think of saints as being truly remarkable people or those who gave themselves to a martyr’s death - yes these are saints but there is a ‘greater company of heaven’ than those listed as ‘saints’.

Who are your saints? Ponder for a moment and ask yourself why they are your saints?

Do you like me include with people like Betty one or two official saints? My list includes; St.Benedict for it is his Rule of Life that I try to follow and to put into practice in my daily life; St.Thomas, who doubted as I too doubt and regularly question my faith; Mary the Mother of Jesus who said Yes, when she need not have, she encourages me to do things I might not say yes to and St.Joseph, Jesus’ earthly father figure who has inspired me as a step-father to deeply love the boys that aren’t my flesh and blood. 

None of my saints were perfect, Benedict got exasperated with his monks, his patience was limited. Thomas didn’t get it right at times. Mary as we are told in the apocryphal Gospels got cross with Jesus and smacked his bottom! Many saints are not perfect and at times I wonder quite how some got into and remain in the calendar of saints days. Yet there must be something in their lives that resonates with others for them to be there. I suspect that it is to do with their flawed humanity, and that  by acknowledging their flaws we are given hope in over coming our own!

That for me, I think, is the point of saints,  they are an encouragement to us to always try and do our best despite ourselves. None of us are perfect but even the most imperfect of us can still encourage others to do better and to keep on trying. 

One thing all the saints are examples of are of people who said their prayers, even if they struggled to do so. Betty wasn’t perfect but she faithfully said her prayers and it is that that I remember and am thankful to her for. All of us are called to be saints and how do we achieve that status? It is by saying our prayers in this world and the next and we do this best in this world when we come together in the Eucharist for as our liturgy tells us: 

“Help us, who are baptised into the fellowship of Christ's Body to live and work to your praise and glory; may we grow together in unity and love until at last, in your new creation, we enter into our heritage in the company of the Virgin Mary, the apostles, and prophets, and of all our brothers and sisters living and departed.”                                                                                     1982 Scottish Eucharistic Liturgy

Living and departed we gather in the Eucharist making prayer to God and continuing our journey into sainthood.

One can never proclaim oneself to be saint but you might be surprised by those who already think you are one!!


 

A reflection for Sunday 22nd October by the Rev'd David Warnes

We live in a very questioning culture; a culture in which the wrong kind of questioning is becoming more and more common. You’ll have heard examples of the wrong kind of questioning on Radio & TV news and current affairs programmes, from journalists whose aim is to catch politicians out by, for example,  repeatedly asking them for some statistical detail which they haven’t committed to memory. 

The wrong kind of questioning is the kind that we find in today’s Gospel – a trick question designed to catch Jesus out.

Is it lawful to pay taxes to the Emperor or not?

If Jesus replied that it wasn’t lawful to pay Roman taxes, he would be in serious trouble with the Roman authorities. If he said that it was lawful to pay the taxes, then he would disappoint a lot of people who thought that he was the Messiah and hoped that the Messiah would liberate them from Roman rule. 

The trick question misfired badly. Jesus asked them to produce a Roman coin, a coin which they shouldn’t have brought into the Temple. The coin had images of the Emperor Tiberius on one side and of his mother Livia on the other, and graven images are forbidden in the Ten Commandments. Jesus then asked them about the inscription, knowing perfectly well that for him and for them, the inscription was blasphemous. On the coin Tiberius was described as “Son of the Divine Augustus” – in other words, the son of a god. And the first of the Ten Commandments says:

“You shall have no other gods before me.”

Having sidestepped the trap and embarrassed those who had posed the question, Jesus then said something important.

“Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

Or, in the well-known words of the King James Bible

“Render unto Caesar…”

And down the centuries, Christians had wrestled with what that means. What is the right relationship between a Christian and a government which may be very far from Christian in its principles and policies?  This was a problem with which Jewish believers had faced when they were forced into exile in Babylon, and Jesus would have been very familiar with the advice that the prophet Jeremiah gave them:

“…seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.”

That advice was not uncritical endorsement of the government of Babylon, any more than Jesus was offering an uncritical endorsement of the emperor Tiberius. And if you watched the recent repeat of the BBC series I Claudius you will know what a brutal and immoral man he was. Rather Jesus was pointing to the possibility of seeking the common good. 

In a democracy that is easy. We enjoy extensive freedoms including regular opportunities to choose who governs us, but that places us in a privileged minority. For some Christians in Hitler’s Germany or in Stalin’s Russia, seeking the common good involved opposition to the government leading to imprisonment or death. Today many people live in oppressive regimes, where voting can change little and minorities face persecution. Think of Muslims in India or Christians in Iran and Pakistan. In situations such as those, seeking the welfare of the city may well involve risky and sacrificial opposition. A Chinese citizen who questioned his government’s human rights record would place himself or herself in jeopardy.

What we are called to render to Caesar isn’t unquestioning obedience. Today’s Gospel challenges us to think about how the freedom to question which we enjoy, and which many do not, should best be used in our political life. It shouldn’t be about entrapment or humiliation.  

The great 20th century spiritual writer Thomas Merton wrote that:

“Love knows no question. It is the ground of all, and questions arise only insofar as we are divided, absent, estranged, alienated from that ground.”

In a fallen and divided world, it remains both possible and necessary to question in a constructive way. Our questioning should be sincere, arising from a genuine desire for truth and not from the wish to score a point. The best questioning is a prelude to listening; listening to those whose views and policies we find uncongenial or challenging; listening not only to the powerful but to those whose voices are drowned out by the powerful. That kind of questioning, that kind of listening, acknowledges our common humanity as children of God and acknowledges the call to love our neighbour which arises from that. By questioning in that way, we can both render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, and render unto God what is God’s. 


 


 

Zoom Harvest Liturgy for Tuesday 17th October 2023 at 4pm

Zoom Worship October 2023 ‘Harvest’    see email for login deatils

Introit: Festive music for Trumpet and Organ

LOBE DEN HERREN played by Hans Huber and Norbert Duchtel

Welcome

O Lord, open thou our lips;

And our mouths shall shew forth thy praise.

O God, make speed to save us;

O Lord, make haste to help us.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son:
and to the Holy Ghost;
As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be: world without end. Amen.

Praise thee the Lord;

The Lord’s name be praised.

Hymn

We plough the fields, and scatter The good seed on the land,
But it is fed and watered By God’s almighty hand; 

He sends the snow in winter, The warmth to swell the grain, 

The breezes and the sunshine, And soft refreshing rain:

All good gifts around us are sent from heaven above, 

Then thank the Lord, O thank the Lord, for all his love.

He only is the Maker
Of all things near and far,
He paints the wayside flower, He lights the evening star.
The winds and rains obey him, By him the birds are fed; 

Much more to us, his children, He gives our daily bread:

All good gifts around us are sent from heaven above, 

Then thank the Lord, O thank the Lord, for all his love.

We thank thee then, O Father, For all things bright and good; 

The seed-time and the harvest, Our life, our health, our food. 

No gifts have we to offer

For all thy love imparts,
But that which thou desirest, Our humble, thankful hearts:

All good gifts around us are sent from heaven above, 

Then thank the Lord, O thank the Lord, for all his love.

Text Matthias Claudius (1740 – 1815) tr Jane Campbell (1817 – 1878); Tune WIR PFLUGEN by Johnann A P Schulz (1747 – 1800) harmonised J B Dykes (1832 – 76)

Psalm 150 (sung by Durham Cathedral Choir; music by C V Stanford)

O praise God in his holiness: praise him in the firmament of his power. Praise him in his noble acts: praise him according to his excellent greatness. Praise him in the sound of the trumpet: praise him upon the lute and harp. Praise him in the cymbals and dances: praise him upon the strings and pipe. Praise him upon the well-tuned cymbals: praise him upon the loud cymbals. Let everything that hath breath praise the LORD.

Glory be to the Father and to the Son: and to the Holy Ghost. As it was in the beginning is now and ever shall be: world without end, Amen.

Reading 1 Isaiah 35:1-10

The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad,

the desert shall rejoice and blossom;

like the crocus 2it shall blossom abundantly,

and rejoice with joy and singing.

The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it,

the majesty of Carmel and Sharon.

They shall see the glory of the Lord,

the majesty of our God.

3 Strengthen the weak hands,

and make firm the feeble knees.

4 Say to those who are of a fearful heart,

‘Be strong, do not fear! ...

5 Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,

and the ears of the deaf unstopped;

6 then the lame shall leap like a deer,

and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy.

For waters shall break forth in the wilderness,

and streams in the desert;

7 the burning sand shall become a pool,

and the thirsty ground springs of water;

the haunt of jackals shall become a swamp,

the grass shall become reeds and rushes.

8 A highway shall be there,

and it shall be called the Holy Way;

the unclean shall not travel on it,

but it shall be for God’s people;

no traveller, not even fools, shall go astray ...

but the redeemed shall walk there.

10 And the ransomed of the Lord shall return,

and come to Zion with singing;

everlasting joy shall be upon their heads;

they shall obtain joy and gladness,

and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.

Magnificat

Tell out, my soul, the greatness of the Lord: Unnumbered blessings, give my spirit voice; Tender to me the promise of his word;
In God my Saviour shall my heart rejoice.

Tell out, my soul, the greatness of his name: Make known his might, the deeds his arm has done; His mercy sure, from age to age the same;
His holy name, the Lord, the Mighty One.

Tell out, my soul, the greatness of his might: Powers and dominions lay their glory by; Proud hearts and stubborn wills are put to flight, The hungry fed, the humble lifted high.

Tell out, my soul, the glories of his word: Firm is his promise, and his mercy sure. Tell out, my soul, the greatness of the Lord To children’s children and for evermore.

Text by Timothy Dudley Smith (b 1926) Tune WOODLANDS by Walter Greatorex (1877-1949)

Reading 2 Joel 2:21-28

21 Do not fear, O soil;

be glad and rejoice,

for the Lord has done great things!

22 Do not fear, you animals of the field,

for the pastures of the wilderness are green;

the tree bears its fruit,

the fig tree and vine give their full yield.

23 O children of Zion, be glad

and rejoice in the Lord your God;

for he has given the early rain for your vindication,

he has poured down for you abundant rain,

the early and the later rain, as before.

24 The threshing-floors shall be full of grain,

the vats shall overflow with wine and oil.

25 I will repay you for the years

that the swarming locust has eaten,

the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter,

my great army, which I sent against you.

26 You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied,

and praise the name of the Lord your God,

who has dealt wondrously with you. And my people shall never again

be put to shame.

27 You shall know that I am in the midst of Israel,

and that I, the Lord, am your God and there is no other.

And my people shall never again

be put to shame.

28 Then afterwards

I will pour out my spirit on all flesh;

your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,

your old men shall dream dreams,

and your young men shall see visions.

NuncDimittis (sung by the choir of Clare College, Cambridge)

Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace: according to thy word. For mine eyes have seen; thy salvation. Which thou hast prepared: before the face of all people; To be a light to lighten the Gentiles: and to be the glory of thy people Israel. Glory be to the Father, and to the Son: and to the Holy Ghost; As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be: world without end. Amen.

Prayers

The Lord be with you;

Answer. And with thy spirit.

Minister. Let us pray.
Lord, have mercy upon us. Christ, have mercy upon us. Lord, have mercy upon us.

The Lord’s Prayer

As our Saviour Christ hath commanded and taught us we are bold to say:

Our Father, which art in heaven hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done, in earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive them that trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory, for ever and ever.
Amen.

O Lord, shew thy mercy upon us;

And grant us thy salvation.

O Lord, save the King;

And mercifully hear us when we call upon thee.

Endue thy Ministers with righteousness;

And make thy chosen people joyful.

O Lord, save thy people;

And bless thine inheritance.

Give peace in our time, O Lord;

Because there is none other that fighteth for us, but only thou, O God.

O God, make clean our hearts within us;

And take not thy Holy Spirit from us. 

ANTHEM by Maurice Greene sung by St Salvator’s College Choir.

“Thou visitest the earth and blessest it; and crownest the year with thy goodness.”

Let us pray.
O Almighty and everlasting God, who hast given unto us the fruits of the earth in their season, and hast crowned the year with thy goodness: give us grateful hearts, that we may unfeignedly thank thee for all thy loving-kindness, and worthily magnify thy holy name; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Almighty God, who hast given us grace at this time with one accord to make our common supplications unto thee; and dost promise that when two or three are gathered together in thy Name thou wilt grant their requests: Fulfil now, O Lord, the desires and petitions of thy servants, as may be most expedient for them; granting us in this world knowledge of thy truth, and in the world to come life everlasting. Amen.

Lighten our darkness, we beseech thee, O Lord; and by thy great mercies defend us from all perils and dangers of this night; for the love of thy only Son, our saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Hymn

Come ye thankful people, come, 

Raise the song of harvest-home! All is safely gathered in,
Ere the winter storms begin;
God, our maker, doth provide
For our wants to be supplied; 

Come to God’s own temple, come; 

Raise the song of harvest home!

We ourselves are God’s own field, 

Fruit unto his praise to yield; 

Wheat and tares together sown, 

Unto joy or sorrow grown;

First the blade and then the ear, 

Then the full corn shall appear: 

Grant, O harvest Lord, that we 

Wholesome grain and pure may be.

For the Lord our God shall come, 

And shall take his harvest home; 

From his field shall purge away 

All that doth offend that day; 

Give his angels charge at last

In the fire the tares to cast, 

But the fruitful ears to store 

In his garner evermore.

Then, thou Church triumphant, come, 

Raise the song of harvest-home;
All is safely gathered in,
Free from sorrow, free from sin, 

There for ever purified

In God’s garner to abide:
Come, ten thousand angels, come, 

Raise the glorious harvest-home!

Text Henry Alford (1810 – 71) Tune ST GEORGE’S WINDSOR by George Job Elvey (1816 – 93)

The Grace

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Ghost, be with us all evermore. Amen.

Closing music

A harvest medley from the Cumberland Choir with the London Festival Orchestra

Reflection for the feast day of St.Luke 18th October 2023

St.Luke 2023

Luke the beloved physician was a medic and painter as ell as a Gospel writer. Legend has it that his ikon of the Madonna and Child now housed in the Kykkos Monastery on Cyprus and which I have seen was, it is believed, painted from life and is therefore an actual image of Mary. Luke was also the companion and friend of St.Paul and is mentioned three times in Paul’s letters. It is also to St.Luke that we owe both the Gospel account that bears his name and the Book of Acts which is its sequel.

We are indebted to Luke the Evangelist, for his writings because he writes for us. He writes as a gentile who has accepted Jesus as the Christ, the Jewish Messiah and his writings are evidence that Jesus Christ is Saviour to both the Hebrews and the non-Hebrews. His is the Good news for the gentiles. The Book of Acts is also an invaluable record of how the Early Christians and Church was organised; disagreed with each other; fell out and made up; and how the Gospel began to spread throughout the known world taken by the first disciples, St.Paul and their followers. Acts for me, reads like a ‘Boys Own’ adventure and I have always believed it to be good reading for anyone wanting to know more about the Faith. 

As a gentile, Luke is like us. Someone who did not have to accept that Jesus was the Jewish Promised Messiah but who did because of what he learned about Jesus from Paul and the disciples and Mary (whom legend tells us was cared for by Luke in old age). Like Luke we do not have to accept Christ into our lives but if we do, what joys and gifts we receive by being wrapped in God’s unconditional love - and that’s truly Good News.

Short commentaries on the readings for Sunday 8th October 2023

Isaiah 5:1-7

What we have just heard read is wonderful poetry. As you know poetry can speak louder than prose and in doing so make a point more strongly. In this piece Isaiah is using a well worn technique of Hebrew literature, that of inserting poetry into the body of prose in order to make a significant remark. In this case the beautiful, pastoral words build us up and then in verses five and six dash us down.

He begins with the phrase:

“Let me sing for my beloved.”

This is Isaiah writing from God’s perspective, that is in God’s voice and he has God telling his listeners how wonderful and important Jerusalem is to him and thus by inference how important are they the Jews to him as well. The Jews are ‘God’s beloved’. God goes on to describe the care with which he tends his people using the analogy of the vineyard. In doing so he emphasises how much time and consideration he gives to the ones he loves, for tending vines is a time demanding job and much love and care is needed to produce a good harvest. This is analogy the Jews would have understood from their everyday lives but then at verse five everything comes crashing down. At verse five you can hear God’s anger at his beloved people. God questions as to why his beloved have strayed so far from his ways and his desires. He says their fruit is bad and as such he expresses the extent of his disappointment with them and he also decides to teach them a lesson they will not forget.

God trashes the vineyard and nothing but misfortune follows. In verse seven, everything is explained to the listeners. The vineyard is the house of Israel, the pleasant planting being the chosen ones and that where God expected to see good growth what he finds was fighting and a lack of care and concern for each other and a turning away from God himself. In these verses you really get an idea of how angry God was with Israel.

This for me is the power of poetry. You will after my years here as your Rector have realised from how often I use poetry in my sermons how important it is to me. I believe that poets can say in a few stanzas or words things far more clearly than an author can using hundreds of words, or a novel. Isaiah, and this is the original one, is I believe a superb writer and a consummate poet. A writer who knows when to turn to poetry and leave prose behind in order to make his point. That being so, what is he trying to say to us in this passage?

What, I think, that we can take from this piece of Scripture is that we too are God’s beloved and that God will do all he can for us, if we learn to love him properly and do not chase after other gods or ways that are not his but humankind’s.

Philippians 3:4b-14

On first hearing or reading this piece of Paul’s writing (and this is one of the original Paul’s letters) to the first congregation he founded, one might be forgiven for thin king that Paul is something of a ‘big-head’. This piece begins with Paul establishing his credentials and seemingly trying to outdo everyone with emphasising his origins and piety.

“...even though I, too, have reason for confidence in the flesh. If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.”       3:4b-6 

And just as you might begin to feel fed up with his boasting he says:

“Yet whatever gains I had these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ.” v.7

How powerful is that? Paul, like Isaiah is using literary techniques to emphasise his points and he does so in this piece by using himself as an example. What he is basically saying is that it does not matter a hoot who you are or what your connections might be, all that matters to God is your commitment to Christ.

This verse, verse seven, is levelling. No one is able to put him or herself above anyone else for in Christ we are all one, all equal. This is the real Paul – radical and dangerous writing. You can see why many slave owners became worried when their staff became Christian and in some ways this passage could be seem as a forerunner of the Communist manifesto – all are equal. All are equal but we gain that equality though Jesus Christ and his sacrifice and that is where we part company from the Communists who would deny Christ.

Yet, saying this in a former congregation I ministered in I had a very devout and committed Christian man, who had for decades been a member of the Scottish Communist Party, who when that organisation fell apart became an Episcopalian because he felt that in Christ he could remain close to his political ideals. Communism was the cause of his conversion. This man remains a committed Christian and regular worshipper to this day.

So, what is Paul saying to us this morning? He tells us that if we turn to Christ and try to follow his ways then we are all equal in God’s eyes. No human being is more or less important to God than any other. We are all loved unconditionally and accepted. Viva, the revolution of Christ – this should be our rallying cry as we go out into the world and tell everybody how much God loves them.

Matthew 21:33-46

With Matthew, we are right back in the vineyard again. The vineyard was a familiar sight in Christ’s time and world and they would have always been well cared for, for unless they were the harvest would have been poor and the wine awful.

The owner of this vineyard, like the one in Isaiah cares for his property and he chooses people to tend it for him whom he thinks will care for it too. They do care for it but they care too much and want to possess it and not to share its crop with the owner. There is a direct analogy here to God (the owner) and his people (the tenants). All goes well until the owner comes for his payment and it is then that the tenants revolt. They believe the owner does not deserve and payment for their hard work. The owner is patient and sends his envoys to explain that without him the tenants would not have anything to harvest for he owns the land and the vines and as such is rightly due his rent. The tenants do not want to listen and kill the messengers. Eventually, the owner sends his son, who in turn is murdered as well. Again this is a foreshadowing of Christ’s crucifixion. 

The owner had hoped that the tenants would respect his son and see sense – but some hope. Selfishness and envy win the day.

If we see the owner of the vineyard as God, the messengers as the prophets and the son as Christ we get a very clear picture of how Jesus was came to be crucified. The owner was not greedy, he did not expect all the harvest just his due but the tenants have become so self-centred and self-absorbed that they reject the owner and murder his son, thus forever removing themselves from the generosity of the owner. This is a warning to us not to reject God or his son through our own self-centredness. God has so much to offer us if we worship him, so much if we choose to share in his kingdom.

Our God is a generous God and one who repeatedly offers us the choice to follow his ways in love or not. All we have to do is learn to live in his love and enjoy sharing it with others for it is not ours to keep but to pass on and on, through our actions.