Advent Sunday reflection Canon Dean Fostekew

When I read through today’s readings none of the well known Advent poems or hymns immediately came to mind. What did bounce into my thoughts were these lines from a well known hymn:

“Stand up, stand up for Jesus,

ye soldiers of the cross;

Lift high His royal banner,

it must not suffer loss.

From victory unto victory

His army shall He lead,

Till every foe is vanquished,

and Christ is Lord indeed.”

Nothing sentimental about those words, unlike some of the Advent poetry one reads. I realised as I read the verse why this particular hymn struck me as appropriate. Verse 28 of that third Chapter of the Gospel according to St.Luke says:

“Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

Advent is all about looking for the signs of Christ’s return. The Old Testament reading from Jeremiah is a foreshadowing. A prophesy, that the Christ would come one day. The verses  from St.Paul are a thanksgiving that the Christ did come and those verses from St.Luke express the hope that one day Christ will return. St.Luke imagined that Christ’s return would be within his generation’s lifetime but that was not to be. Christ has not yet returned but Luke’s sentiments and instructions are no less valid in the 21st century than they were in the 1st century. For what St.Luke is doing is calling ALL of us to be alert, to be aware that Christ could return at ANYTIME.

At his ascension Jesus basically instructed his followers to be alert to his return and not to be idle until that day comes as well. He told them to get out into the wider world and to evangelise its people. He charged them to take the Good News to ALL who had yet to hear it. The same instruction applies to all of us as the inheritors or descendants of those first disciples; we are called to be fully awake and fully equipped in order to:

  1. recognise the Christ when he does return
  2. and in the meantime to share our faith with others and to draw all God’s people into Christ’s church.

‘Alert and Active’ should be every Christian’s watch words but how alert and how awake actually are we?

In Advent we regularly and actively pray for  Christ’s return and to return soon, even today or NOW! This is scary stuff for in doing so we are saying that we are ready to cope with and accept anything the Christ might have to say to us or ask us to do. This should really keep us awake and on our toes and to regularly repent of our sins in order to make ourselves ready and able to greet the Christ. The other bit of this preparation is that we are also charged with bringing others to Christ so that they do not miss out on his return and the salvation he offers. What this says to me, is that we should constantly be inviting others to join in sharing Christ’s good news - but do we do this enough? Probably not!

Advent and Christmas are not gentle, sentimental festivals, they are in fact a ‘call to arms’ for use of a better term. They are a radical invitation to all of us and to those who do not yet know Christ to come towards him and to prepare to meet him face to face when he comes again. As I said before both scary and exciting.

At the beginning of this New Year in the church and at the start of Advent let us all charge ourselves with telling at least one other person this coming year why we go to church and why Jesus is important to us and then to invite them to join us at church one Sunday for worship. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if this time next year we saw a lot more people in church as a result of the invitations we offer and the testimonies we have shared. You do not need to do anything dramatic or out of the ordinary in order to share your faith with another or to invite them to church all you need to do is bring it into your conversations and chats over a routine shared cuppa with a friend or family member.

Will you rise to the challenge?

I hope so and remember you have a whole twelve months to do so.

Stand up for Jesus and tell the world why you wait to meet him.



A reflection for Christ-the-King And our AGM Sunday by Canon Dean Fostekew

Today is the feast of Christ-the-King but it is also the end of the church’s liturgical year. We are at the threshold between Advent and the longed for coming of the Christ and this celebration of Christ as our King. Today, we step with from the old to the new year with hope, into a new beginning in the knowledge that Christ goes with us. As we celebrate each year, the round of events which is Jesus’ life, we do so knowing the full story but we always do so afresh because that story always has something to new to tell us and for us to discover. None of us ever holds the full truth about Christ; our lives are a constant exploration into what his life, death and resurrection were all about.

This morning we proclaim that Christ is our king;   not with any sense of fear for our king is one of gentleness and servanthood. He came not for us to bow and scrape to him in terror BUT for him to serve our needs and to lift us out of the darkness of our errors into the joy and light of his kingdom of love. And, this year we also hold for the first time our AGM on this feast day.

An AGM is an opportunity for us as a community to pause and take stock of where we have come from and begin to vision afresh where we might be called by Christ to go. We have continued to tread an unusual path this year, limited as we have been by the Covid19 restrictions. And, who knows what the coming Winter will bring? Life has been different but it has also been familiar in the celebrations we have followed throughout the Church Year and that has been a comfort - something unchanging in a strange world. Christ is our light, our guide and our King, our servant King and it is the pattern of his life that we are called to follow and make our own in the service of all God’s people.

We do not worship the Christ in fear but in joy. In joy that his life, ministry, death and resurrection have won new life for us and given us a way of life to live up to. As we discern what it is that God is calling us as a congregation to be and to become in the coming months, let us pray that we will never lose sight of the King who inspires us, that humble babe born in a stable and gentle man who died on a cross. Proving to us how much we are loved by the God who created us. Let that knowledge always be the guide to all we do as we reach out into God’s world to do God’s will.                 

A reflection for Remembrance Sunday by the Rev'd David Warnes

Remembrance Sunday 2021

Matthew 5:38-48

Today’s Gospel is a doubly challenging one. It seems to set impossibly high expectations:

“Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

And it is particularly challenging on Remembrance Sunday, for it has been seen by many as a call to pacifism. Yet today we rightly remember those who were called to bear arms, those who lost their lives in combat and those civilians who paid the highest price for the aggression and incompetence of political leaders.

In the early 1970s, the headmaster of the school where I began my teaching career took the step of inviting a German Lutheran pastor to preach on Remembrance Sunday. It was less than 30 years since the end of the Second World War, a war in which many of my older colleagues in the staff room had served. In advance of the occasion there was much criticism of the headmaster from them, for they still viewed Germans as the enemy and for them Remembrance Sunday was, very properly, about remembering the friends, comrades and family members who had been killed in the war.

The pastor, a man who had himself risked his life by smuggling Jewish refugees out of Germany, chose to tell in very simple terms, the story of another pastor, a close friend of his and a relative by marriage, whose involvement in the resistance to Hitler resulted in his execution. His sermon was heard in respectful silence, and at least some of the critics came to understand why he had been invited to preach. The preacher’s name was Eberhard Bethge, and the friend whose story he told was Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

Bonhoeffer was a convinced pacifist yet was close to people, including members of his own family, who were involved in plots to assassinate Hitler. One of his brothers and two of his brothers-in-law were executed because of this. Bonhoeffer himself used his cover as an agent of German military intelligence to make visits to neutral countries and pass messages to the British, telling them that an attempt to overthrow Hitler was being planned and pleading for a negotiated peace if it succeeded. Yet at no point did he abandon his pacifism. Rather he believed that the use of violence to overthrow the Nazi regime was sinful, but that it might be necessary to act sinfully and accept the consequences so that others might live in freedom. He thus remained faithful to what he saw as a Christian calling to non-violence, while also acknowledging that one should live and, if necessary, die for the good of others. That too was at the core of his Christian calling, for he described Jesus as “the man for others”.

His life and his death are reminders of the painful truth that there are no easy answers for the Christian who seeks to follow Christ in a fallen and complex world. The counsel of perfection with which today’s Gospel ends is profoundly challenging:

“Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

But it is important to understand what Jesus meant by perfection. He wasn’t referring to the ancient Greek philosopher’s notion of perfection as a moral absolute, for that is something that none of us can possibly achieve. He probably used the Hebrew word Tamim or its Aramaic equivalent, and he almost certainly had in mind the most famous use of that word in the Hebrew scriptures

“You shall be perfect before the Lord your God.”

[Deuteronomy 18:13]

And Tamim means perfection in the sense of wholeness, integrity; a wholeness and integrity that is very difficult to achieve as we wrestle with the moral ambiguities and complexities of life. Those ambiguities and complexities mean that, as Christians, we may not always come to the same conclusions about what is the right course of action,

Important, therefore, to remember that we do all this wrestling within the love of God. Important also to remember that our Christian calling is, as Bonhoeffer wrote:

“…not to establish a community of the perfect, but a community consisting of people who really live under the forgiving mercy of God.”

A reflection for Sunday 7th November 2021 by the Rev'd Russell Duncan

For all of them have contributed out of their abundance, but the widow out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on (Mark 12:44)

My maternal grandmother was a widow for over forty years. A long time to be on your own. I never knew my grandfather. She used to tell us that having grandchildren opened up a new lease of life for her. Without that, life may have been difficult and more challenging. Those were the days, for many, when there were no credit cards or easy cash available unless you had a friendly, local bank manager. You were expected to live within your means. Sometimes she would comment upon the cost of living or how prices had risen.  As young boys, that meant very little to us. Only when I started to work myself, to pay bills and to have a mortgage did I begin to understand the need to balance the books.

If I was to ask you whether anything struck you about our gospel reading, what would you say? Would it be the large crowds listening to Jesus or the scribes walking around in their long robes being greeted with respect? Would we feel impressed watching the rich people putting large sums into the treasury or them sitting in the best seats in the synagogue?

What struck me was that Jesus sat down opposite the treasury and watched people putting money into it. He took the time, despite the crowds, to notice and comment upon the actions of people - in particular – a widow.  I doubt anyone else noticed her or paid much attention to her. Even if they did they would probably have been dismissive and rather disdainful.

The only thing we know is that this widow was poor. She gave everything she had. We are not told anything more about her. We don’t know her name nor do we know how long she had been a widow. We don’t know whether she had any family who supported her or where she would get more money from.

The widow might have kept one coin. It would not have been very much but it would be something, yet she gave everything she had. Why? If I was honest, there is invariably some part of our lives or our activities, some part of ourselves which we do not give to God. Invariably we want to hold onto something or hold something back.  We don’t want to give it totally up.

Professor William Barclay comments that “It is a strange and lovely thing that the person whom the New Testament and Jesus hand down to history as a pattern of generosity was a person who gave a gift of little value in monetary terms.  We may feel that we have not much to give in the way of material gifts or personal gifts to give to God, but if we put all that we have and are at his disposal He can do things with it and with us that are beyond our imaginings”.

In the well-known hymn “Take my life and let it be” by Frances Ridley Havergal (1836-1879) she refers to us offering up to God our life, our hands, our voice, our silver and gold, our will and, in the last verse, our love. As we reflect upon the generosity of the poor, un-named widow may we sing in our hearts

Take my love; my Lord, I pour,

at thy feet its treasure-store;

take myself, and I will be,

ever, only, all for thee.

A reflection for All Saints and All Souls 2021

What are we doing today as we commemorate the saints and remember our loved ones departed? Simply put, we are remembering with gratitude those who we have known and loved who have died and gone to God before us and we are giving thanks for those deemed to be saints and asking for their prayers as we try to live a good Christian life.

The saints are those named by the church as being good examples to us of how to live a life dedicated to the service of Christ and to God’s people. They range from the obscure and eccentric to the known and remembered. They are remembered by the Church and us today as an encouragement in how we attempt to live our lives in the light of Christ. Like us the saints are flawed and all too human but that I think can be more of a help than a hindrance as we can see in them ourselves and we can be, as I say, encouraged in the lives we are trying to live.

Alongside the saints we are also today remembering the departed. Why?

In some expressions of the Christian Church the belief is held that by praying for by name at the altar, those who have died get days or years knocked off their time in Purgatory. Purgatory is deemed to be a place of trial that the soul goes to after being judged by God, time is spent there working off one’s sins because one needs to be fully cleansed before one can enter heaven or if one’s sins were so great to be confined to hell fire.

Some Christians remain happy with this concept but it is not one that I subscribe to and I suspect that there are many of you who would not do so either. The God, I have come to believe in is not a God of rejection but one of loving acceptance, who always offers us the chance to repent and enter fully in to his presence without having to jump through hoops or to endure hell fire.

The most helpful comment I have ever heard about what might happen to us on our death was from Canon Jane Millard when she was working as chaplain to those living with HIV and AIDS. She said that through the many journeys to death that she had accompanied the dying, she had come to believe that we die at the point that we reach our ultimate human perfection and that when we do so we are too perfect to remain in this world and thus enter in to the presence of God.

The second most helpful comment for me comes from the late Cardinal Basil Hume, who once wrote that he believed that at the point of death we get to whisper into God’s ear all the things we want to tell him, with the opportunity to say sorry for the things we got wrong, knowing that as we do so we are fully accepted and welcomed into his loving embrace.

We are given the choice to do this or not at the point of our death. If we chose not to then by our own choice we spend eternity out with the presence of God. God does not reject us we do it ourselves.

For me it is this act of whispering that takes us to the point of perfection and leads us into our death. These comments have helped me move away from any idea of Purgatory and to hope that in death we come fully into God’s being in ways that we cannot comprehend in this life.

As helpful as these comments may be they do not, however,  remove the pain of loss and separation that we feel when our loved ones die. That pain is often raw for a long time and I actually think that one never really gets over it but learns to live with the pain better as time passes. The one thing we never do is to forget those we have loved and lost – they remain alive in our memories, hearts and consciousness. In the SEC revised funeral rite there is a phrase in one of the prayers of farewell that asks that the departed will:

“ on in the hearts and minds, courage and consciences of their family and friends...”

What this means is that every time we think of them be it with tears or with laughter, or when we do something they taught us, we keep their memory alive and in doing so bring ourselves comfort.

There is another funeral prayer that talks of using the time that we have left aright:

“Grant us, Lord, the wisdom and the grace to use aright the time that is left to us here on earth. Lead us to repent of our sins, the evil we have done and the good we have not done; and strengthen us to follow the steps of your Son, in the way that leads to eternal life; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”

I like this prayer for it reminds us that we all pass through this life quite quickly and that we should try and make the most of it as we do so. We need to regularly reflect upon our lives and to give thanks for the good things and to make amends for the things we got wrong wherever we can. It is a prayer that encourages one not to live one’s life with regrets and to get on and do the things we want to do. We cannot change the past but we can apologise for it, we live in the present and we can deal with things as they arise and we can hope for the future and perhaps control it to some extent too.

Our commemoration today encourages  us to remember our loved ones both with smiles and sorrow and it tells us not to squander the time we have left. I also think it says to us not to worry about what we may or may not leave behind either. For what we leave behind is ultimately decided by those who are left, for it is they who remember what is important to them about us. The saints did not know that they would be declared ‘saintly’ - it was after their death that others decided their lives merited that honour. This does not mean that we should not try to live a good life, far from it in actual fact because I suspect we would all like the memories we leave behind for others to be good ones and who knows thy might think us saintly too!