Thursday, 26 June 2008

29th June

The four churches are joining St Peter's Duxford for their patronal festival.
I will, however be offering a hsort reflection at the Evensong service - if I get time I'll post thoughts here - but maybe I'll give myself the week off?!

Saturday, 21 June 2008

Baptism sermon

Our baptism is of Kornel Kiss, whose family now live in Hungary but have links with Whittlesford & Cambridge and wanted to celebrate here with English Godparents!
I have wanted to keep the sermon short as there is so much that has to be said at an Anglican baptism! I'm also hoping that even those for whom English is a second language will be able to follow my words.

Romans 6: 1b-11 , Matthew 10: 24-39

‘I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. 
For I have come to set a man against his father,
 and a daughter against her mother,
 and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; 
and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.’

These are the words of Jesus so I don’t think we can just ignore them – but I feel rather like the evil fairy god-mother at Sleeping Beauty’s birth – coming not with cheerful words of blessing but with something dark and disturbing.

And Paul’s letter to the church at Rome wasn’t much better:
'Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?'

Surely I should be standing here talking about life, not death; and about loving your family, not hating them! – especially on this wonderful occasion of Kornel’s baptism.

Yet these readings are a good way of reminding us exactly what we are doing here for Kornel.
This is not just a family celebration Рas Levent̩ and Krisztina have already proved by coming from Hungary to be with friends here. This is a wider welcome than just being welcomed into a family РKornel is being welcomed into the worldwide church of God and is becoming part of the body of Christ in the world.
Those of us speaking in the church here today are speaking on behalf of the whole church. This is a big event!

And Paul’s talk of death reminds is that this is not just about celebrating the start of Kornel’s life: we are claiming God’s blessing on him for his whole life – in this world and the next.
Kornel will be joined with Jesus Christ in baptism – and so he will be in the loving arms of God all his life through, and will be brought with Christ through death to eternal life.
This is a big event!

And Jesus’ words about being set against family in order to follow him is Jesus the rabbi’s way of telling his followers that being a disciples of Christ is not an easy add-on to a comfortable life. It is a radical call on our allegiance – if we follow Christ we must be ready to put him first, above our own will, our comfort and even our family.

Very soon I will sign Kornel with the sign of Jesus Christ’s cross and say
Kornel, Christ claims you for his own.
Receive the sign of his cross
And nothing will every be the same again. Kornel will be Christ’s – above all, a child of God.
This is a big event!

And if all that wasn’t enough – this is not just an event about Kornel and his reception into the worldwide church, for his whole life, as a follower of Christ. It is about all of us – it is a celebration of the love of God which flows out in the symbol of water to touch and embrace us all.

This really is a big event – this is about the love of God in water and wine and bread; about the love of God in creation and redemption; about God’s love for Kornel and every one of the children he has made and called and saved.
It is about the love of Father Son & Holy Spirit.

So thanks be to God for the wonder of life and love.

Tuesday, 17 June 2008

Sunday 22nd June

Romans 6: 1b-11;
Matthew 10:24-39.

This week at one church we have a baptism - so I think I want to link these readings together with the sort of theme of 'following Jesus - lock stock & barrel'. Baptism is a great celebration of a new life, but is also a radical statement about what life is about & whose we are... more to follow I hope when I've had more time to think.

At the other church we have an all-age service: not sure how to convey 'hate your parents' to the younger members??
Might (for once) be naughty & jump out of the lectionary in favour of 'the Good Shepherd' Godly Play story, Psalm 23 & prayers of those in dark places/the valley of the shadow of death.

BTW some people have expressed concern that I'm blogging in the middle of the night - this is not so it just seems to attach the wrong time to my posts! Time now 18.04 - time to eat perhaps, but not to sleep!

Sunday, 15 June 2008

Coming awful fast!

Well, it's been quite a week as you'll see from the sermon - which I'll post in a moment.
I am loving being 'spare granny' to Rose, tho' it brings back bitter-sweet memories of my Eleanor's birth & early weeks.
I'll try to be more ahead of myself with postings in the next weeks. Please bear with me!

Readings: Genesis 18: 1-15
Matthew 9: 35- 10:8

Father’s Day – Oaks at Mamre

I am always wary of preaching about how marvellous it is to have a child.
Some of us might know the pain of wanting children and not having them.
Some might have very mixed feelings sometimes about any children we have.
Some might feel that too much is made of Mothering Sunday – and that Father’s Day is just an invention of the card manufacturers to make more sales.

But this week has been incredibly special for me.
Grace – who was with me here 2 weeks ago – had her baby daughter on Tuesday night – just 5 days ago – and I had the incredible honour of being present at the birth, along with Grace’s mum – my friend Susan.
Together the three of us had drunk tea, walked around the hospital, talked about anything – just to keep Grace’s spirits up; made jokes; sang songs; concentrated on breathing and pushing & reassured one another that all would be well. Finally with a wonderful healthy cry, Rose came into the world, weighing in at a very respectable 7lbs, and with dark blue eyes and a little fuzz of blonde hair. It was a moment for tears, for relief for joy… and most of all for wonder at the sheer marvel of a new life.

No wonder Sarah cannot believe her ears when Abraham’s visitors tell her she is to be a mother. It is a miracle for any one of us – but for Sarah especially so. We are told she is old, she has been married for many years to Abram – the High Father – the leader of his clan. He has had a son, Ishmael, with Hagar the slave-girl: but the union between Abram and his wife has not produced children: and she is known as Sarai – mockery.

But God has made a promise to Abram – that he is to be Abraham – the father of many: and the Sarai is to be Sarah – princess: because they are to have a son together.

At one level this is a story of birth, of family, of succession. Abraham needs a legitimate son if he is to be father of a great nation: and because of God’s favour Abraham is granted an heir.
We could get very side-tracked by talking only of the God who gives a child to the childless: but God’s purposes are greater even than producing the miracle of a new life.

For this is also a story of the God who brings laughter (Isaac means 'laughter') where there has been mockery – not only through the birth of a child but in other ways too. Abraham and Sarah will produce Isaac; he will marry Rebekah and produce Esau & Jacob; Jacob will wrestle with God and become Israel – and his 12 sons will become leaders of the 12 tribes of Israel, who will enjoy the title ‘the chosen people of God’. God is interested in producing far more than just one child.

In Matthew’s gospel we heard of Jesus healing the sick – producing miracle after miracle. But he doesn’t do this only so that people will be impressed by his powers but as a sign of something greater – the kingdom of God. Jesus proclaims that God’s rule of care for all God’s children has come – so that the sick will be made well, the poor lifted up, the outcasts welcomed. He tells his disciples to go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel and to proclaim to those who think that God has forgotten them that God’s love for them is like a shepherd for his sheep.
Or like a father or a mother for a child – a miracle of pure love and care.

But this isn’t a message to accept God’s care & so be wrapped up in cotton wool, untouched by the pain of the world.

The Jesus who says these words about the care of God the Father is the same Jesus who follows the will of the Father and dies on the cross. Following a crucified criminal is certainly not a guarantee of safety or security: there will be risk and rejection and what looks, to the world around, like failure.
I don’t believe for a moment that Christians should go out looking for suffering – but that we shouldn’t be surprised if it comes, and we should remember that by enduring it we can reveal the love of God, as Jesus did.

So faithful followers of the crucified Messiah hear the voice of Jesus the good shepherd and follow him: he leads them and cares for them, but this is no guarantee of being treated well by the world or of what many people would reckon ‘success’.

Not all those who long for children will be blessed with the gift of a child as Sarah was; not all bitterness can be transformed into laughter; and not all fathers show us the love of which God, our heavenly father, is the supreme exemplar.

But, to Sarah, and to the sick of Jesus; time, and to you and to me the blessing of God can come, and with it an invitation to all of us to become a part of the project of God - the kingdom of God.

So accept the invitation (to eat and drink at the lord’s table) and receive God’s blessing for your life, and may you know bitterness turned to laughter in the continuing miracle of life.
In Christ’s name. Amen.

Saturday, 7 June 2008

Sermon for other service

At the URC tomorrow we're looking at Matthew (9: 9-13 & 18-26).
Heres the finished sermon.
Sorry there haven't been many 'thoughts' this week, but I've been getting over having some skin removed from my leg (hopefully healthy and no more problems!).

Jesus for everyone
A Christian poet, Steve Turner has written this poem:
How to hide Jesus
There are people after Jesus.
They have seen the signs.
Quick, let’s hide him.
Let’s think; carpenter, fisherman’s friend,
disturber of religious comfort.
Let’s award him a degree in theology,
a purple cassock
and a position of respect.
They’ll never think of looking here.
Let’s think;
His dialect may betray him,
His tongue is of the masses.
Let’s teach him Latin
and seventeenth century English,
they’ll never think of listening in.
Let’s think;
Man of Sorrows,
nowhere to lay his head.
We’ll build a house for him,
somewhere away from the poor.
We’ll fill it with brass and silence.
It’s sure to throw them off.
There are people after Jesus
Quick, let’s hide him.

Who is Jesus being hidden from? Possibly those who need him most.

I wanted to separate out the two parts of the gospel reading today – which are placed almost right alongside each other, to help us to think about what is happening in Matthew’s gospel.

On Thursday night I was fortunate enough to hear a ‘proclamation’ of John’s gospel at Emmanuel URC in Cambridge. A young woman had memorised nearly the whole of John’s gospel – 2 hours’ worth –
& with no notes or prompter told us the story in a dramatic form. It was an amazing feat – and brought home the power of sitting down to the whole story at once instead of just hearing bits, as we usually do. I was amazed at the number of times in John’s gospel when Jesus faces not just opposition but the threat of physical stoning. The gospel writer had never heard of gentle Jesus, meek and mild, they knew that Jesus got some people very hot under the collar.

The first part of Matthew’s gospel we heard today tells us about these people. Jesus has called Matthew, a tax-collector, and then has a meal with a number of tax-collectors and sinners.
A tax collector in Jesus’ time was not the government officer we might imagine, but someone of dubious morals who was prepared to work for the occupying Roman army and extort taxes from his fellow-Israelites, however poor, using force if necessary. Such people weren’t just unpopular, they were considered unclean.

Jesus offends the ‘religious’ people of his day by eating and talking with people who were marked out as ‘not our sort’, sinners, ruffians. There is constant opposition to Jesus from those he might have thought would support his project to bring in God’s rule and touch people with God’s love and healing. For the religious authorities Jesus just wasn’t doing things properly – he was doing it all wrong – healing on the Sabbath, partying with sinners, talking to foreigners & women. As Father Ted would have said ‘down with this sort of thing’.

But Jesus’ rejection by the religious authorities just makes him more accessible to the ordinary people and especially the people the more religious folk might have rejected.
In our second part of Matthew’s gospel we have a little scene of Jesus being accosted by those most in need.
An official comes and asks Jesus to touch his daughter, who has died, in an attempt to revive her. Mark’s gospel also tells this story and tells us that the official is the president of the synagogue, Jairus. You might think that as a very religious man he would have been in with the religious authorities, but in fact what he was asking Jesus to do would not have been done by any of his friends from the synagogue. They believed that a dead body was unclean and would make them unclean, and they would have been very unlikely to risk touching his daughter’s body, even if they thought there was any chance of reviving her.

But Jesus is prepared to try and help even if it means breaking the religious taboos, and so he sets off to the dead girl.

On the way, another outcast stops him and seeks his help. A woman who has been bleeding for 12 years touches the fringe of his robe. The religious rules demanded that a woman who is bleeding, and who is therefore ritually unclean, should not be in contact with anyone else, especially a man. Jesus doesn’t attack her for this breaking of the rules, but offers her healing and wholeness. Then he goes on his way to touch and raise Jairus’s daughter.

The religious authorities stand back and tut at Jesus and his actions, but those who really need Jesus break the rules and find he is willing to help them.

I often wonder what the gospel writers would have made of the religious authorities of our day – this church for example, you & me.
Are we sometimes guilty of wanting to surround Jesus with rules – you should worship God in this way, in this place, at these times?
Or can we dare to let people see that when they need Jesus, he can be there with them, wherever they are, whatever they need.
Can we let our churchy habits be just that – habits that help us, not strict laws that cannot be broken. Can we be as prepared to break our habits as we are to break this bread, so that Jesus can be shared with everyone who is hungry- all who need him?

May God save us from laws which separate people from Jesus or hide Jesus from them – and help us to recognise where Jesus is at work and to join in.
In the name of Jesus and to the glory of God.

Sunday, 1 June 2008

Creative church June 8th 2008

This coming Sunday is different at the Parish Church - our monthly 'creative church' service.

Here's the plan so far:

Theme: God’s promises to Abraham… and us.

Introductory worship: in the tower area
Call to worship
Hymn: 553 ‘To Abraham & Sarah…’
Godly Play story of ‘The great family’

Congregation to be given ‘plan’ of prayer stations (see below)…

Closing worship
We gather around the world maps in the side chapel to pray together & sing a blessing song together.

Prayer stations

1. (In side pews by South door) – praise
Watch a series of images & verses on the lap top:
depicting different terrains and pathways.. interspersed with verses (not only from Abraham’s story, but reflecting the Trinity) such as ‘I am the Lord your God’ ‘I will be with you always’, ‘I will give you this land’, ‘I will send the Holy Spirit, the comforter, to be with you’.
Reflect on times when you have known the presence of God, Father Son & Holy Spirit, with you on your journey through life. Thank God for this sense of presence.

2. (In the tower area) – forgiveness
Pick up a handful of sand. Feel the weight of it. Think of something in your life which weighs you down and you feel sorry for. Now slowly let go of the sand and let it fall back into the tray. See how your handful of sand disappears into the rest of the sand. You can smooth the sand down completely if you’d like to – just as completely as God forgives you all the sin and mistakes that burden you.

3. (In the chancel) – meeting with God
Look at the Rublev icon of the Trinity. Reflect on the three persons of the Trinity – the Father on the left, the Son in the centre and the Spirit on the right as you look at it. Notice how the fourth side of the table is open – for you. Wonder at the many ways in which God invites you to be part of the fellowship of the Trinity.
If you would like to, you could kneel at the altar rail, a guest at the table of the Lord, and thank God for your invitation to be there.

4. (In the main pew on the North said of the church) – receiving from God
Look at the various books depicting the journey of Abraham. Then with your finger, trace the path of the labyrinth on the sheet. As you ‘journey’, reflect on what it means to be blessed by God and accompanied on your journey of life. Even through all the twists and turns, you are never alone or lost entirely.

5. (In the side chapel) – praying for others
God blessed the world through Abraham and can bless the world through us. Place a candle on the map, on a part of the world for which you wish to pray for God’s blessing. Light the candle and pray in the silence of your heart.

6. (In the church room) – being sent out into the week ahead
You have a card, depicting the days of the next week (Monday to Saturday): you might like to jot a word or a picture next to the name of each day to remind you of significant things which are happening to you, or demands which will be made of you on that day. Choose a text to paste next to each day and take the ‘calendar’ home to remind you of Gods blessing for you on each day.
Title on card ‘I shall be with you always (Matthew 28: 20)’
I shall bless you (Gen 12: 2)
Do not be afraid: I am your shield (Gen 15: 1)
I am God Almighty: live always in my presence (Gen 17: 1)
I shall make you exceedingly fruitful (Gen 17: 6)
I shall be your God (Gen 17: 7)
Is anything impossible for the Lord? (Gen 18: 14)