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A Prayer for the people of the Ukraine

Father of all, your Risen Son gave new hope to his apostles with words of peace and the assurance of his presence: send your Holy Spirit upon the peoples of Ukraine. Bless them with Christ’s gift of peace, and strengthen the resolve of all who labour for an end to this conflict; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen

From the Diocese in Europe

Refection for Sunday 27th February 2022 by Canon Dean Fostekew

Have you ever, like I have, been completely overawed with wonder when you’ve walked into a Cathedral or church building. It does not happen to me all the time but on occasion, as I enter a sacred building I am stopped in my tracks and just have to be still and wonder. Wonder at the grander, beauty or sheer workmanship which made this temple to God. It does not, for me, need to be a grand building in fact some of the most powerful places of worship have been wee chapels that you can feel are steeped with prayer and love. that was something I felt the first time I walked into the Good Shepherd.

Many thousands pass through a myriad of church buildings in a year but I’ve never stopped to wonder how many of these people are brought to faith by the building. How something in the awesomeness of stone, brick and mortar, wood, glass and light enable another to glimpse something of the divine that they might not have seen, otherwise.

We are often reminded that, however, beautiful or not a church building is, it is not ‘the church’. The Church is actually the people, the congregation and those whom they serve but we must not forget that the building can be a tool for mission and outreach just by being what it is.

The author of the piece from 1Kings this morning grasps this idea as does St.Luke. In 1Kings we are told to welcome the foreigner who chooses to worship in the Temple and who acknowledges God and Luke tells the story of the centurion held in great esteem by the locals in Capernaum for what he had done for the temple there. Buildings move people and even if they may say they don’t worship God, their actions speak otherwise. In that they are doing something for the ‘otherness’ that the building engenders.

The Church has always had its supporters who may not ever come to worship but would be amongst the first to help maintain its fabric and to ensure it remains standing for future generations. For some supporting the building might in a way be their act of worship to a God, they cannot yet proclaim. God has his supporters everywhere and not all of us will be worshippers. Those of us who are adherents and communicants worship not just on our own behalf but on the behalf of those others who cannot. We are called to give thanks for those who support the church and to pray for them just as we might pray for our own members. For Christ’s Church is made up of many different people.

Buildings do so often play a significant part in people’s faith. Making a pilgrimage to a favourite chapel or church can re-fresh belief or help us re-connect. Having a sacred building to seek peace and quiet in or sanctuary is also important and being a place just to be can be powerful. When I recently visited my parents I wandered into the town centre to walk round the restored ruins of Reading Abbey. The flint walls and window traceries still capture my imagination as much as they did when I was a boy. I like to imagine I can hear the benedictine monks singing the officers as I pace the grounds. I suspect those ruins had something to do with the reason I became a Benedictine Oblate and practice my faith. Even today those ruins speak of something greater than me or the world I see. This I believe is echoed in recent reports where it is recorded that Cathedral type congregations have increased over latter years simply because of the space they offer, just to be.

Buildings are a magnet and a magnet that can attract and lead someone into faith and fellowship given the right conditions. Some have joined our congregation because the building and its garden offered them a way into worship that they had not expected or were looking for. Perhaps they felt an atmosphere of ‘holiness’ that welcomed them in and made them stop for a while. We may not see these people every Sunday but they are there supporting us in what we do and we likewise should support them with our prayers.

Buildings may not be the people of God but they do have doors that should always be open in welcome; offering a glimpse of the Divine beyond.

A reflection for Epiphany VII Sunday 20th February 2022 by the Rev'd David Warnes

Luke 6:27-38

One of the things that has sustained me through the pandemic is watching vintage sitcoms on television. We are currently revisiting One Foot in the Grave and enjoying the performances of two fine Scots actors – Richard Wilson, who grew up in Greenock, and local lassie Annette Crosbie, born in Gorebridge and educated at Boroughmuir High School in this city. I first saw this in the 1990s and I am now marvelling at the ability of the writer, David Renwick, to capture the irascibility which afflicts ageing men – no mean feat, since he was in his forties when he wrote the scripts. And I have to confess that I sometimes find myself channelling Victor Meldrew, especially when trying to navigate the wheelchair through Roseburn at the moment.

Much of the comedy is rooted in Victor’s lack of self-awareness. His exasperated cry of “I don’t believe it!” is tragi-comic because he is unable to see that his angry, combative approach to life only makes things worse for himself and his long-suffering wife. He certainly isn’t a man who turns the other cheek, and he hasn’t grasped the important truths in today’s Gospel, including:

“Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.”

New Testament scholars have spilled a lot of ink discussing what Jesus meant when he said:

If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also.”

Some suggest that this is the kind of exaggeration that Rabbis used in those days and that it shouldn’t, therefore, be taken literally. Others have suggested that it was a well-known figure of speech – that verbal insults were often described as “a blow on the cheek”, and that Jesus is counselling people not to respond to an insult with another insult. Luke’s version is somewhat shorter than Matthew’s, and other scholars argue that the key to understanding the saying lies in the extra detail that Matthew gives us:

“If anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also.”

The majority of people are right-handed. A right-handed person trying to hit another person on the right cheek would have to do it with the back of his or her hand. In the culture in which Jesus lived, a back-handed slap on the cheek was a way of showing that the person being hit was seen as an inferior – a slave, perhaps, or a child or even a woman. To respond by offering the other cheek, the left cheek, is therefore a way of saying “You can hit me again if you want, but I am your equal.”  It’s a response which not only refuses to return evil for evil, but which questions the social order and the assumptions that inform that evil. That was certainly the approach of Martin Luther King and many others whose response to prejudice and discrimination was non-violent direct action.

Today’s Gospel passage is an invitation to break out of the cycle of violence, aggression, judgmentalism and prejudice by not responding to them with more violence, aggression, judgmentalism and prejudice. At its heart are two very demanding teachings: that we are to love our enemies and that we are to be merciful as God is merciful.

Understanding what Jesus meant by “love your enemies” is more difficult because the English language makes the single word “love” carry a number of distinct meanings. The Greek word that Luke uses – agape – does not mean romantic love, or friendship or even liking. We are certainly not capable of liking everyone whom we encounter, and we are not called to do that. What we are called to is to wish for and, in so far as it is possible, to work for the well-being of other people, and to do so without expecting any reward or appreciation in return. To wish for and work for the well-being of someone with whose politics we profoundly disagree involves something much harder than a mere agreement to differ, and it may well involve challenging that person’s attitudes and prejudices, but the challenge has to be constructive. All too easy to look at the behaviour of some of our politicians and then merely to echo Victor Meldrew’s exasperated “I don’t believe it!”.

When Luke reports Jesus as saying:

Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

He uses another Greek word – oiktirmones – which is difficult to translate. The oik bit is actually the Greek word for house, so there’s something here about recognising that the person who insults you, the person who irritates you, the person who exploits you is nevertheless a member of the same household, the human household which includes everyone, for we are all made in the image and likeness of God. So being merciful isn’t simply about forgiveness, though that’s important, it's about a gut recognition of our common humanity, a visceral and inclusive compassion, a prodigal generosity.

That might sound like an impossible ask. All too easy to react to this teaching with Victor Meldrew’s catch phrase. That would be to miss the good news – the Gospel – at the heart of this Gospel passage. What Jesus is asking for is, to quote Bishop Tom Wright:

“a lightness of spirit in the face of all the world can throw at you. And at the centre of it is the thing that motivates and gives colour to the whole: you are to be like this because that is what God is like.”

And since that is what God is like, we are called to live out of the understanding that we and everyone else are part of the household of God.

 

Reflection for Epiphany VI Sunday 13th February 2022 by Canon Dean Fostekew

St.Luke, this morning gives us an alternative version of the Beatitudes, somewhat different to the familiar phrases we know from Matthew Chapter 5. For a start they are shorter:

“Blessed are you who are poor,

   for yours is the kingdom of God.

21 ‘Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled.

‘Blessed are you who weep now,

   for you will laugh.

22 ‘Blessed are you when people hate you,

and when they exclude you, revile you,

and defame you on account of the Son of Man.”                                    

                                                                 Luke 6:20a-22

and although they cover the same sentiments; and they are followed by warnings to those who are complacent or arrogant:

24 But woe to you who are rich,

   for you have received your consolation.

25 ‘Woe to you who are full now,

   for you will be hungry.

‘Woe to you who are laughing now,

   for you will mourn and weep.

26 ‘Woe to you when all speak well of you,

for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.”

Luke’s record is more pithy and it certainly doesn’t pull any punches. Luke shows Jesus clearly siding with the poor and outcasts of society and having no truck with those who have life all too easy and care not for their neighbours.

Jesus is telling his followers that if they trust in God then God will not forget them and will help them in their time of need. In doing so Jesus echoes Jeremiah’s words and both are echoed by St.Paul. What we have to learn how to do is to trust in God, through thick and thin and to give thanks to God in both times of plenty and famine.

Jesus warns those who are well off not to forget to thank God and to give him praise for the good things they have - for when the going is good we can all too often forget to be thankful for blessings received. We can end up thinking that good things are our right and it can makes us deaf and blind to the needs of others. We must always be on our guard not to take God for granted or to ignore our brothers and sisters.

In warning those for whom things go well Jesus is reminding them of the duty to care  they have for those who are wanting. In doing so he is encouraging them to help the less fortunate, thus relieving need and saving the ‘rich’ from themselves. If the rich help the poor both are saved from the pitfalls in which they can find themselves. The poor are helped to better things and the rich reminded that everything comes from God and can be taken away if gratitude is forgotten.

Trust and gratitude would seem to be the watchwords of today’s readings. ‘Gratitude’ from all of God’s people for the things we receive in times of plenty and the times of need. Simply saying; ‘thank-you’ to God for everything at all times.

And, ‘Trust’ is a call to have faith in God that he will encourage others to help you when you are desperate by reminding them of their blessings and that they must share them. For in sharing we all receive more from God and there is always more than enough to go round. Remember the old saying that the more you give the more you get back. How true, it often is.

Blessed are those who help others and blessed are those who say; ‘Thank you’.

Reflection for Epiphany V Sunday 6th February 2022 by Canon Dean Fostekew

 

Fishing and landing a catch is no picnic. By fishing I don’t mean the gentle sport of angling I mean fishing deep at sea by trawler men.

“Because Polperro is a tidal port, the fishing boats can only leave or enter the harbour when the tide is halfway above the high water level, a period of six hours in every 12. At low water, the boats are grounded in the harbour and are equipped with 'legs' to support them. Mooring buoys in the outer harbour enable boats to leave and return at low tide however.

Four factors determine when the fishing boats put to sea:

1. Weather. The boats will usually put to sea every day unless a gale (or worse) is forecast. If they are caught out at sea in rough weather, they may decide to make for an all-weather port such as Fowey.

2. Tide. There is a six hour period (three hours either side of high tide) when boats can leave or enter the harbour.

3. Daylight. As a rule, the catch is reduced at night so fishing is usually carried on in daylight.

4. Fishing ground. Where the boats fish is usually decided by word of mouth and past experience. Most fishermen keep notes of past fishing trips which they use as a guide.

Before putting to sea, therefore, they must calculate how long it will take them to reach their fishing ground then allow for the tides and available daylight. In good weather, they will tend to keep fishing as long as possible, the trawlers often spending as much as 100 hours a week at sea in the summer. Bad weather in the winter months will often prevent the boats going to sea for as long as a week or two or even longer. Overall, most fishermen spend at least two thirds of their days at sea.”

Deep sea fishing is hard graft, scary at times, dangerous even perilous but it can bring rewards. A good catch of fish can bring in a good price at market, although every penny made is well earned. Deep sea fishermen deserve our respect, for they are ordinary people who daily leave the security of home and the land for the insecurities of the sea; braving and battling all sorts of weather and conditions. Fishing is tough but it is a challenge these men rise to almost daily.

Fishing for men or people, as the modern translations have it, is not easy either. To be brutally honest it too is hard graft and rarely as rewarding as hauling in a great net of fish. Yet fishing, for people, is something that all of us here, are called to do. We are called to do so because our faith demands that we do so and our Lord, Jesus Christ expects us to do so too.

That may sound or feel rather dogmatic and pious - but it is what I believe we are called to do. We Christians are not called to experience our faith on our own. We are called by Christ to share our experiences of him and his Gospel message of love, with EVERYBODY around us. The great commission at the end of Matthew s Gospel account charges us to do this:

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.”                                                                                     Matthew 28:19

Christ expects us to respond and act upon this command to mission and evangelism.

But how can I do this?

This is a question I often ask myself and ask of God when I pray. More often than not the answer is how can you not do this. You may ask yourselves the same question. Obviously, there is no easy answer but I think St.Paul gives us a clue today when he says:

“For I am the least of the apostles & by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace towards me has not been in vain.”

Despite originally wanting to stop the spread of Christianity and to debase the Christian message Paul became one of its greatest ambassadors. His conversion changed his perceptions of Christ and the Gospel and he took to heart the idea that he had to share what he had discovered. He did not at first know how or why, he just got on with it and did it as the man he was. He realised that Christ had chosen him for the skills he had not realised he possessed. Christ continues to do the same with us today.

We are what we are. I am what I am - Flawed, imperfect and human. But, as a human being we are all blessed with God's grace. A grace that has lavished upon us; gifts, talents and skills to use and share in the spread of the Christian message.

When I was first asked to train as a mission 21 facilitator in 1996, I refused. Saying to my then bishop in Glasgow and Galloway that I didn’t think mission was my thing and that I certainly did not have the skills, talents and inclination to proclaim the Gospel from street corners. He told me that I did have them and that I was going to the training event. As an act of canonical obedience to my bishop I agreed and the training event became one of the most significant experiences of my life.

My eyes were opened, as was my heart and mind to the exploration of how to share my faith and beliefs with others, by basically being me. It still scares me every day but it also drives me and encourages me in ALL I do. What I learned most importantly was that Christ had called me as I was or as I am. Yes, bits of me have changed and I have acquired new skills but basically I am the same me, as I was then. The same person muddling through life; mucking it up, like others but fired by a desire to tell others how wonderful it is to begin to know or believe that one is loved, loved as one is. Loved by God, loved by Christ and blessed by the Holy Spirit beyond measure and beyond human imagination.

‘I am what I am’ and despite all that God still loves me! Pretty amazing - what ? This is what we are called to share with others, this is the bait or the net with which we are called to fish - just ourselves, as we are. It is our imperfections that can help us the most in this fishing because if we allow others to see them, they might believe that they with their imperfections have a place in God s Kingdom and Christ s church too.

This is how we are to engage in mission, how we are to reach out to others -  by simply being who we are; and having the courage to tell others that despite it all God loves us and loves them too, even if they are as yet unaware that he does so. By proclaiming who we are we can lead others into the faith. By proclaiming how we are loved we can give hope to others and in all of this we do it fuelled by Christ s love and the example he set us.

Never be afraid of who you are. For you as you are is exactly the person Christ loves beyond measure and exactly the right person with the right skills to bring others to him to be loved unconditionally too.

I am what I am and what I am is no mistake. You are what you are and that is no mistake either.