Sunday 25th August 2019 – Pentecost 11, Year C

(preached by Fr Nicholas Court - Rector)

Text: When Jesus saw her, he called her over.

   Inspector George Gently is a police TV series with a number of differences from the usual run-of-the-mill TV police shows. In case you’ve never seen the series, it is set in and around Newcastle in the 1960s, and focuses not just on the solving of what are sometimes particularly grizzly murders, but also on the relationship the eponymous Detective Inspector has with his side-kick Sergeant John Bacchus. The latter is a troubled young man – and a young man very much of his time – with attitudes which would make any 21st century audience bristle with his total lack of political correctness. But were it written in any other way, then it wouldn’t be true to the world and period the program is trying to portray. It is set at a time when – for example – conception outside marriage was a social taboo, when the contraceptive pill was the latest thing, when homosexual acts were punishable by a prison sentence, and where everyday language was often used to denigrate and exclude people. But there is an underlying message in most episodes. The keen but horribly bigoted Sergeant Bacchus is almost always shown to be wrong about the assumptions he makes about potential suspects, and will often give in to the temptation to beat a confession out of someone who turns out to be totally innocent.

   The derogatory language which peppers the script reminds us that this was a time in our fairly recent history when being different – and being noticed for that difference – could land you in all sorts of trouble. But because Sergeant Bacchus is something of a troubled soul himself - with a marriage which is falling apart before his eyes - the audience is led, in a strange and perverse way, to love this character – with all his flaws and shortcomings. Perhaps this plays on our sympathies because there is a sense of the pathetic in his character, which shows itself in the only ways he really knows how – even when the outcome of his actions is proved to be wrong. The good thing about the George Gently series is that from time to time there is no satisfactory conclusion to a particular episode – not all the wrongs get righted – with the wise old copper Mr Gently overlooking the hot-headedness of his partner - but not before he has given him some sound, fatherly advice.

   Isn’t it strange how we can be brought round to value and even love those whose standards are different from our own? Now, that’s a very conceited comment isn’t it? – with its implied suggestion that if we’ve got it right, then those who differ from us must have got it wrong. Why should we think it okay to demand of other people standards of behaviour we – for some unknown reason – deem acceptable? The woman in today’s Gospel reading makes no demands of anyone. There’s nothing in the text which leads us to believe that she had any expectation that her life might change by her chance meeting with Jesus. We are never even told her name; she has been immortalized in scripture as ‘the woman bent double’. In the days of George Gently, we still used the word ‘invalid’ for people like her – suggesting that such a person was somehow ‘in-valid’ – of no worth or real use to society. In this story, she has come to the synagogue simply to worship on this Sabbath Day.

   As it happens, Jesus is also there – and it is He who notices her and calls her over. He speaks words of healing to her, setting her free from her physical bondage. In his retelling of this dramatic story, Luke’s words are sparse, but he sketches a wonderful picture for us in just a few words, of this woman standing straight for the first time in nearly two decades, and it’s as if we can see her stretching tall, and with her whole, restored body, worshipping God. The event recalls the words from Isaiah that Jesus had read in the synagogue some time earlier – “He sent me to proclaim release to the captives…..and to let the oppressed go free”. And we know that that didn’t go down well either – and now that those words are made a living reality, things are going to get even worse. As Luke continues the story, one can feel the tension building, and the plot against Jesus to silence Him once and for all gaining momentum.

   For the synagogue-leaders present this is all wrong – and Jesus’s error needs to be put right and made public. And so, what is His error? It is the Sabbath Day, and the Sabbath is for worship and rest, not for healing, He is told. They seem so trapped in continuing the ways things are done that they can’t see what’s happening right in front of them as anything other than a ’breaking of the rules’. This makes Jesus angry. He calls them – not for the first, nor for the last time – hypocrites. If one of their animals needed watering on the Sabbath, surely they would undo its tether and take it to drink, Jesus says. And yet they would rather see this woman be kept bound, trapped in the bonds of her physical handicap – simply so that the rules be kept inviolate. “Come back tomorrow and do it, but not today.” And gradually Luke shows us the crowd - who are perhaps not schooled in the finer details of the Law - witnessing this blind injustice and rejoicing at it being overturned by Jesus. And we see the religious leaders painted into a corner of their own making, furious because they have been found wanting and shown to be without mercy.

   It’s easy to point the finger at Sergeant Bacchus in George Gently who is often too ready to set limits on other people who don’t quite fit with the sense of how he reckons things should be; but I wonder where we might see ourselves fitting into this story. When the finger-pointing isn’t just plain bigotry, but is backed up with a theological justification, it is not just as bad – it is many times worse. Where are we in this story? Start small, and then think big. Think of the congregation that tutts at a screaming baby at a wedding, or at the disturbed man or woman in Church who might break into the peace of the hushed worship – or in the bigger picture - what about a crowd of desperate refugees seen on our TV screens breaking through barriers at passport control, landing exhausted on the Kent coast, or cutting their way through the wire of Donald Trump’s wall on the Mexican border?

   We need to know when to uphold tradition, or even the law – but always in balance when something greater than these is happening right in front of us. Take time to read this passage again when you get home, and notice the depth of God’s mercy as it is shown in Jesus in this story – how first of all He notices this in-valid person, has compassion on the daily distress and struggle she must have lived with – how she makes no demands, and yet how He reaches out to heal her. Such mercy, such compassion, such love, such absolute understanding of what it means to be human, are at the very heart of the God we seek to worship and serve. As with the woman in the story, I suppose our only fitting reaction is surely to join her in praise and worship of our wonderful God – the One we see so clearly displayed in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

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Pentecost 9 - Year C Sunday 11th August 2019

(preached by Fr Nicholas Court – Rector)

Text: “Sell your possessions …. for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

   Brexit has become such an integral part of every news bulletin for longer than I can remember now, and I often wonder what David Cameron must think of it all. I wonder if he could have foreseen where the massive boulder to which he gave the initial push would end up, and how much of our lives it would threaten to demolish in its path. As I wondered about this, I thought I would take a peek on the internet to see what he said not just back in June 2016, but what else he said – to get a bigger picture of the man and his politics. In this search, I happened upon a BBC clip of a news-conference at which he was being asked all sorts of questions. And suddenly, as if from nowhere, he was asked what he thought of Jesus’ command to sell our possessions and give our goods away to the poor. The PM conceded that he found this pretty difficult, and to his credit he bounced the question back onto the questioner; ‘What do you think?’ The questioner also conceded that it was a hard saying, and indeed it is. Wherever we find ourselves, few of us would say that this verse is easy to interpret, apply and then live by.

   For my part I am torn by this commandment too. On the one hand I’ve always been wary of taking passages of the Bible out of context, and then trying to formulate some doctrine of Christian discipleship out of the resulting snapshot. Luke records at least two more similar sayings of Jesus, but the overall picture is rather more complex. Later, for example, Zacchaeus (the short of stature tax-collector) would be inspired by listening to Jesus to decide to give away some of his possessions (by no means all), and to make restitution for any double-dealing in his past; but Jesus does not challenge him to go further – Jesus leads him to this point, and then leaves him to decide how far to take this. And indeed, time and again, Jesus meets many wealthy persons without discussing possessions with them at all. Further afield, we read of the first Christian communities sharing everything in Acts chapter two, but we also know that some of the earliest Churches actually met in the homes of some of its wealthy members, making good use of what they had. It won’t do to suggest that because of today’s Gospel passage, all Christians at all times should give away all they have. But on the other hand, these words remain stubbornly there, their cheerful simplicity persistently challenging us to think more deeply. 

   In general, I think we rightly see this text as a challenge not to be too materialistic, and to give generously to those in need. The question that follows is what we can legitimately hang on to, and how much we should give away? But before we try to answer that question, there is another less obvious question that is quite important. That question concerns what I possess in the first place. I’m not talking about making inventories of one’s belongings – although I have actually catalogued my collection of blue and white porcelain which I mentioned in the sermon last Sunday! Rather, I would want to ask what it means to be in possession of anything at all? What makes something mine and not yours? This might seem like an odd question, and if so it is probably because we don’t question ownership much on a day-to-day basis. But in countries where basic law and order are ideals folk can only dream about, ownership is often hotly disputed and prized, be it over money, food, land, or anything else. In such vulnerable places, ownership comes down to the power and the ability simply to hold on to something. We are lucky that our country is more secure. Banks look after our money (or own hopes they do), and laws and locks on our front doors keep our possessions safe. But in the end, these too are simply means for holding on to things. One might say that to possess something is simply to have the means and ability to keep it. 

   What has all this got to do with today’s Gospel? Well, right at the very beginning, Jesus says something that seems fairly straightforward, but in fact captures the heart of this question. He says ‘Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.’ It is the Father’s good pleasure to give the kingdom. The life of the kingdom which Jesus speaks about time and again, isn’t something that grows out of what we have, nor does it come from what we have attained or acquired. Jesus tries to get people to understand that the Kingdom is not a matter of possession, but of sheer gift. We are who we are because of the gracious gift of God in creation, not in what we may think we own. We will be who we will be because of the gracious gift of life at the end of this one in the general Resurrection. As people of God’s kingdom, we Christians are not defined by what we own or have gained, but simply by the fact of being made, loved, and renewed by God in Jesus. And this idea of gift runs right through the Bible. In our reading from Hebrews we heard of Abraham, who heard the promise made by God to Abraham and Sarah of a child when they were many years past child-bearing age. Their hope of a new life did not come from themselves but as a gift from God, a gift beyond their imagining. And their hold on that promise, on that gift, was not a matter of power, but of simply trusting in God and being ready and open to receive that which was given.

I think that this idea of gift is at the heart of Jesus’ good news for us. For example, the hope of forgiveness is not something that we can earn, and the promised new creation is not a world that we can ever possess. Yet this heavenly treasure is held out to us as a gift – as a prize if you like - it is secure simply because of the faithfulness of God and it is given that we might share in it. I wonder sometimes if Jesus’ concept of the kingdom of God is simply that. Jesus’ new world, the kingdom of God, comes to us as a gift, a gift that is beyond anything that we could imagine or own in this world. Yet it is not a gift to call our own, to possess, but simply a gift to receive with open-handed joy as a gift to all creation, a gift to share with humankind. This new world, this Kingdom, is characterised by gift, where humanity lives by both giving and receiving with open hands. 

   For this reason Jesus offers us no fixed political programme of wealth redistribution, no new rules or laws concerning possessions – just a series of hard-hitting challenges. Rules and procedures can help, but they never really strike at the heart of who we are as human beings, and in the end, this is what the Kingdom of God is all about, becoming the human beings that God creates us to be. And bearing that in mind, becoming people of gift is not something that happens automatically. That is why giving that counts, still genuinely costs us. The new world of gift is a world which we must grow into, a journey which Jesus calls us to as disciples.

This is, I think, why it makes sense that Jesus goes on to talk about being ready. The first thing we need in order to be ready is simply to be facing in the right direction. Readiness doesn’t come from dispossessing ourselves of everything that we have. Rather the opposite is true. As we face towards Jesus, ready to receive the promised Kingdom, the things of this world gradually seem less like possessions and more like gifts, gifts that we give and receive with joy just because they are gifts. This is not a political strategy, though nor is it apolitical either. To live in readiness is to look to the promised Kingdom, to seek a kind of common life that is animated not by what we may think we own, but by the graciousness of God which we see in Jesus Christ, and which is characterised by the overflowing generosity of His love.

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Sunday 4th August 2019 – Pentecost 8 - Year C

(preached by Fr Nicholas Court - Rector)

   Text: ‘Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.’

Some things that get passed down to us are so perfectly believable that we want them to be true even if in their transmission they have gained what we might call an embroidery of the truth. For example, it is widely held that as Oscar Wilde lay dying, he took in one final view from his bed and said: "This wallpaper is terrible - one of us will have to go!" Sometimes the things with which we surround ourselves can be as much of a blessing as a curse. Nowadays the social trend is very much towards de-cluttering. Minimalism is very much the thing, and millennials by and large have little love for the things that belong in china cabinets or that might qualify as ‘granny’s nik-naks’. Just watch programmes such as Flog It, and time again this is the reason family treasures go off to auction – “The children have no interest and would take it to the charity shop or the dump when I pop my clogs” is often what those who bring in their bits and pieces say.

   I have a number of weaknesses, one of which is my admiration and obsessive love of 18th century blue and white English porcelain. It can be an expensive habit, but it gives me a lot of pleasure – and I can think of worse things when it comes to addictions. I share this with the aforementioned Oscar Wilde, who was reported as saying to one of his friends: “Day by day, I feel less and less worthy to live up to my collection of blue and white china”! And there is always a nagging little voice in my head when I am being tempted at some antiques fair by that elusive saucer I have convinced myself I must have as it matches the cup I already have at home. And I think that nagging voice goes way back, and perhaps it’s one that I have known ever since scripture classes at school. The voice is Jesus’ voice, from the Gospel reading we’ve just heard - ‘Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.’ Of course, as with so many temptations that come my way, I do my best to pretend I can’t hear that voice – but I know it’s only me I’m kidding! I can’t help feeling a little bit like the rich fool in the parable we’ve just heard Jesus tell, who ignored the fact that being ‘rich towards God’ is the only wealth that truly lasts.

   The rich man in the parable – it seems - had devoted his life and talents to accumulating goods and property, and when the resultant abundance exceeded his ability to store and hoard, he might have considered giving some of it away, or at least sharing it with others. But there was none of that. In the end he was consumed by his own greed to simply increase his storage capacity, and in chilling words God says to him: “You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” Whose indeed? There’s a strong and powerful saying of the Scots – “There are no pockets in a shroud!”

   With society’s preoccupation with pension pots and the whole business of providing for a comfortable retirement, the parable of the rich fool has an uncomfortable message for many of us. I know it’s just a story, but it’s tempting to wonder what Jesus might have said to this man (or someone like him) if He had been given some counselling time at an earlier stage in his life before the accumulation of ‘things’ became his undoing. But it’s important that we don’t misunderstand the teaching wrapped up in this parable. I don’t think Jesus is taking a swipe at rich people per se. Nor do I think He is taking issue over whether we have property worth millions or no property at all. I don’t think He’s making a judgment based on whether we run a chauffeur-driven limousine, an old banger or ride a bicycle. What I think He is doing is posing a question, which asks if we have let our possessions become so important in our lives that they run the risk of blotting out what we might call ‘God’s searchlight’.  

   Had Jesus had that counselling session with that man, He might have persuaded him just to get his priorities right, and to realize that he himself was more valuable than his possessions could ever be. Instead of worrying about building larger barns and settling for a life of ease, he might have considered using his leisure time and his talents to get out into the world and help others who had nothing – not even an empty barn. Keeping one’s material blessings to oneself – to the exclusion of others – is greed. Since the then government pedalled greed as some sort of virtue during the boom-years of the 1980s, it has infected almost every aspect of life in the western world. But it has morphed into something rather more subtle and sinister in the years since then. It has taken the shape of the possession of power both in politics and in some of the massive multi-national conglomerates and banks which are dubbed as ‘too big to fail’.  

   We have seen - to our collective shame - what the possession of power has done to the Church – to those from whom the very highest standards should have been expected. For a tiny minority of such people - sometimes finding themselves at the top of the ecclesiastical hierarchy in positions of trust - the temptation to power over others have tipped them over into unspeakable acts – sometimes against those in their care. How far we have moved from those warning notes Jesus sounded all those year ago. From tiny acorns, mighty oaks do grow, they say. The offspring of the acorns Jesus planted are ours now to care for, to nurture and to share – not to exploit. But there can be no sharing where greed has already won the day.

   We have seen - to our collective shame - what the possession of power has done to the Church – to those from whom the very highest standards should have been expected. For a tiny minority of such people - sometimes finding themselves at the top of the ecclesiastical hierarchy in positions of trust - the temptation to power over others have tipped them over into unspeakable acts – sometimes against those in their care. How far we have moved from those warning notes Jesus sounded all those year ago. From tiny acorns, mighty oaks do grow, they say. The offspring of the acorns Jesus planted are ours now to care for, to nurture and to share – not to exploit. But there can be no sharing where greed has already won the day.

   By and large, the Church is seen by the world to have blotted its copybook in such a major way, that people no longer look to it or the Bible for guiding principles. Perhaps now it’s up to individuals who hold to the truth and truth of Jesus’s words to make the change, and by so doing restore the good name the Church once had. I don’t know about you, but I hold my membership of the Church very dear, which makes the challenge all the more urgent. So, let’s go on witnessing to our faith where it is challenged most – in the way each one of us tries to live the Gospel, and sometimes taking the risk – just as Jesus did – to speak truth to power in all aspects of our daily living. Can we fix it? – probably not. But can we make a difference? – yes we can!

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Of Pentecost 8, Year C – Friday 2nd August 2019

(preached by Fr Nicholas Court – Rector – at St Mary-by-the-Cross, Tongue)

Text: But God said to him, “You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?”

There are so many wonderful stories connected with the saints – some perhaps a bit fanciful, but others you have to be tempted to believe, whilst accepting that the stories may have acquired some embroidery in the years of telling. One of these less well-known stories concerns that great 16th century saint and holy man, St Charles Borromeo. It’s said that he was playing cards with his friends one evening when the subject of the conversation came round to death and final judgment. Someone asked: “What would you do if all of a sudden you received a revelation or message that you were going to die tonight?” One of the card-players said: “I’d rush off to confession so that I would die in a state of grace”. Another said: “I’d get down on my knees and pray for God’s mercy.” One of his other friends said: “I’d go off and see my lawyer to check my will!” Then they turned to Charles and asked him what he’d do. “I’d go on playing cards”, he said.

I wonder what your – or my – answer would be. Like any priest or minister, I spend a substantial chunk of my time with people who have received bad or even devastating news. This will often relate to a diagnosis of a potentially life-shortening or life-changing illness or condition – and I know that several of you at this service today know what it’s like to be on the receiving-end of such news. Other news such as redundancy presents its own anxieties as to how the mortgage or how the rent is going to be paid; and those approaching retirement might wonder what their life is going to be like as their role in the community changes or diminishes. All these bring with them – to varying degrees - worries about how things will be in the future. Or, some people might find themselves making a ‘bucket list’ made famous in the film of the same title, in which Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman (both diagnosed with terminal illnesses) set out to do all the things they’d hoped to do in life and regretted never getting around to.

So when we set Charles Borromeo’s reply: “I’d go on playing cards”, against whatever we think our own reaction might be, it seems rather strange – to say the least. But I suppose what he was really saying was that the Christian calling in life is to live each day treating it as a gift from God – no matter what news may come along in it – trusting that God is in control, that we are in His hands, and that if we take that seriously, then we’d all just “go on playing cards”. Perhaps you have to be a saint to live with such utter and complete trust, or maybe it’s given to more of us than we might guess to find that sort of confidence.

It’s a good little story because it speaks not just of trust, but of perseverance in the Christian life. Perseverance doesn’t mean remaining static in our Christian journey – in fact, to some extent that’s not perseverance at all. That’s regression, getting stuck in the mud – the opposite of progress. The story has a number of messages for us. The most obvious one for me is the message that we need to go on faithfully witnessing to our faith and go on trusting in Jesus Christ no matter what we may think is round the corner. To carry on what we’re doing here as a Christian community, with all its failures as well as its joys, is exactly what we’re called to do as long as we’re here. That’s what generations of Christians did before us, and their work and witness has been handed on to us as an inheritance. That inheritance is handed on to us in trust – trust that we in turn will hand it on to the generations that come after us. One of the few things we can be sure about is that our time will come to move on from here – be it either by circumstances or perhaps even when our time comes to move on from this life. But we can’t live constantly altering our lives to fit in with what we think may or may not happen tomorrow, next week or in twenty or more years to come. We’ve been given a job to do now as Christians – that’s what happened when we were baptised. That has probably taken us on journeys we certainly didn’t expect to make. I know it has for me, and I expect there may be other unexpected journeys and diversions yet to come. After all, our God is the God of surprises; but He is best at being that if we let Him be so.

Jesus tells us the parable of the landowner in the Gospel reading today. It is perhaps among the easiest of parables to understand. It sounds two main warnings to us: the first is a warning about the love of, and attachments to, possessions – the second is about thinking that in them is our ultimate security. Jesus tells this story in response to someone who wants Him to intervene in a family squabble over an inheritance. Jesus reminds us that the only inheritance that really matters and is of lasting value is nothing to do with what’s in our banks accounts, because ultimately all that is of passing value. At those crossroad times in life, we’re reminded that ‘there are no pockets in a shroud’, and Jesus tells us the true value of a person is not to be found in how much he or she has taken in life and squirrelled away, but in how much he or she has contributed to society and the well-being of others.

This all points us back to look again at Charles Borromeo’s response: “I’d go on playing cards”. It seems to me that he had achieved something most Christians long to possess – the making of our wills to be the same as that of God’s will. ‘Thy will be done’, we pray, ‘on earth as it is in heaven’. It’s the only possession really worth having – knowing that when we play our part in this life, we are always and for ever in God’s hands and in His care – and unshakably so. But although we live in a world of perpetual change, the message of the Gospel is that God is the same as He was yesterday, will be tomorrow and is today – and that above all else, He is generous. It’s a very simple message really. The Cross witnesses that God never leaves us to shoulder our burdens alone, even when they’re of our own making – which they often are!

As with most of the parables Jesus told, there is another layer hidden beneath the simplicity of the story and its most obvious message. This time, it’s a warning – a warning against the pitfall of idolatry. Now, there’s a really old-fashioned word for us all to chew on – idolatry. It is high up the list of the Ten Commandments, and is much more subtle than bowing down to golden calves. It is at its most dangerous and most telling when it takes us unawares, and it often strikes when we’re looking the other way - the must-have latest mobile phone, the smarter car, the bigger house, the whatever-it-may-be, even a lusting after an ever more self-seeking political system. These can quickly become our very own little household gods – the things we have convinced ourselves we cannot live without. They are not idols in themselves – but the danger lies in the way we can so easily be persuaded to worship at their shrines. Jesus reminded us that we cannot be the servants of both God and wealth.

Perhaps foremost among the most misquoted passages in the Bible is: “Money is the root of all evil”; whereas the actual quote is: “The love of money is the root of all sorts of evil”. Being wealthy is not wrong – the test comes when we are challenged to use it well. Once we set money on a throne, we can find it becomes the most difficult of all gods to depose. It was not for nothing that Jesus urges us to “seek first the Kingdom of God, and all things will be added to you as well”.

I was given a prayer many years ago, which I have found a great help and an ever-present reminder and warning. I commend it to you: “Lord Jesus, I know that if I do not love you with all my heart, with all my mind, with all my soul and with all my strength, then I shall love something else with all my heart, and mind, and soul and strength. Grant that putting you first in all my lovings, I may be liberated from all lesser loves and loyalties, and have you as my first love, my chiefest good, and my final joy. Amen.”

END

Pentecost 7 Year C – 28th July 2019

(preached by Fr Nicholas Court - Rector)

Text: “Lord, teach us to pray”

One of the required skills of school teachers is multi-tasking. This was perfectly demonstrated by the man who taught me Latin at the school I attended. He was a light shining in an otherwise rather grim period of my life. He was also an officer in the school’s Combined Cadet Force (or the Hitler Youth as we used to call it!). It came as no surprise to me that he was ordained some time in the years after I left, and he went on to become the chaplain at Eton College. We kept in touch, and he told me the story of one particular CCF camp, when the exercise of the day was to get the platoon to abseil safely down the face of a cliff – I don’t expect this would be allowed in quite that way nowadays. This was not long after he had been ordained, and he found himself with the job of standing at the top of the cliff as the anchor-man, seeing the boys launch themselves safely down it. One boy, when he came to be clipped on to the rope, looked at his teacher rather nervously and asked, “Are you qualified to do this, Sir?” He assured him that I was not, and added, “But I am qualified to give you the Last Rites.” This appeared to satisfy the young lad and, with faith seemingly renewed, the young would-be soldier descended flawlessly, and immediately returned for more.

“I tell you,” says Jesus in today’s Gospel, “Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find…..For everyone who asks receives, and he who searches finds.” I suppose that here, Jesus is telling us some home truths about prayer, and the first is the need for confidence in our approach – faith, if you like. This is not at all the same thing as over-confidence. Prayer is a learning experience as much as anything else. The second factor is determination and perseverance, and it is this that Jesus spends most time on in this passage. The third aspect is love, especially the knowledge that we are loved by God unconditionally.

The disciples ask Jesus, “Lord, teach us to pray.” And Jesus begins by offering them a pattern for prayer – the Lord’s Prayer – which covers all the major ingredients of prayer: Adoration (Hallowed be thy name), Intercession (Thy will be done; give us this day our daily bread), Confession (Forgive us our trespasses), and (in the Early Church’s slightly later addition) Thanksgiving (Thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory). It’s all there. Then Jesus encourages them to have faith (“Ask, and it will be given you”). This doesn’t mean approaching God like some rich and benevolent uncle who is a soft touch: that’s simply being over-confident. When we ask for things in prayer, we aren’t trying to change God’s mind or get ourselves on the A-list for the granting of requests. So is it still important to ask?

A while back, the Church Times had an article about the Reverend Simon Oliver, who uses this illustration to try to untangle what it might mean to ask for things in prayer. He wrote: “Last weekend, my wife and I had a battle with our two-year-old son over chocolate mousse. We insisted that he eat his (painstakingly prepared) dinner before having his pudding. Needless to say, these battles are quite frequent. By granting certain requests and not others, as parents we are attempting to mould our child’s will so that he begins to desire and request what is good and truly enjoyable….Nevertheless, it remains important that he continue to ask, for, in asking, he learns what to ask for.” He went on to say: “Our relationship with God might be faintly similar. God is always ready to pour upon us good things for our flourishing and joy. Yet it’s important that we ask God for all that we need to live the sort of lives He intends us to live; for, in asking, we learn what to ask for. By living prayerfully, we also learn to discern, in the pattern of our asking and receiving, all that God desires to give us. In this way, as C.S. Lewis once famously remarked, “Prayer changes us, not God.”

But Jesus gives His disciples further advice about prayer: keep at it, don’t be discouraged. The illustration in today’s Gospel is of a neighbour who wakes up his friend next door in the middle of the night to ask for three loaves of bread. The friend is – not unnaturally – annoyed and then exasperated, but finally gives in to pester-power. Jesus loved using these quirky, humorous stories to illustrate serious themes. The story of the widow who needs her case heard in court, and eventually receives justice, makes the same point. The idle judge can’t be bothered to try the case, but the widow’s persistence pays off and she gets her justice. But I rather doubt that Jesus really thought that God needs continued badgering like a sleepy neighbour or a lazy judge; the point is that we should persist in our prayer life and not give up, even when we feel discouraged.

It’s easy to say that prayer doesn’t work, when the problem may be within us, if we feel our prayer isn’t effective. It’s worth remembering - by contrast - Jesus’ intense and continued prayer in Gethsemane, when all the world was against Him and even His disciples were asleep. His love for God his Father never failed Him. Our prayers too need to be backed by love, founded on our firm belief that God has loved us since before we were born. Prayer is much more a chance to simply ‘stand and stare’ with God alongside us, than it is an opportunity to ask for things. Jesus repeatedly uses the picture of the perfect Father to describe what God is like. At the conclusion of today’s Gospel He says: “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

Basil Hume writes so eloquently about perseverance in prayer in his book To Be A Pilgrim. He likens prayer to a toddler standing at the bottom of a flight of stairs, with his Father at the top, encouraging him to make his first ascent. It’s a beautiful image, as the Father takes pride and delight in His child’s efforts – even if they don’t amount to much at the end of the day. He writes: “I don’t know how often it is that He will come down (those stairs) and take any of us to the top. We must not be disappointed if it is only once in thirty years…I believe that truly valiant souls very often spend most of their time at the bottom of the stairs, just trying to put a foot on the first step. It pleases (the Father) to see that constant trying, that constant effort.”

So, go on asking, go on trusting – even if it feels like you’re standing on the edge of a cliff sometimes in life. The trick with successful abseiling is to lean back once you’re clipped to the rope. To make it safely to the bottom, you need faith and trust that the rope will indeed hold you. Faith and trust are those absolute essentials if we’re to make headway with our prayer – faith and trust to leave our requests, concerns, repentance and praise at the foot of the Cross, knowing that in Jesus, all things will be resolved and made whole again.

END

Pentecost 5 – 14th July 2019

(preached by the Rev’d David Higgon – Associate Priest)

The lawyer in our Gospel reading is disputing with Jesus and in the course of the argument the lawyer succinctly sums up for us what we have to do to gain eternal life - to love God with our whole being and love our neighbour as we love ourselves. As the discourse continues, a new question pops up. Who is my neighbours And in response to this Jesus tells a story that is intended to stretch the lawyers understanding and our understanding of those to whom we should show compassion.

We will have heard the story of the Good Samaritan many times of times and I suspect we all identify with the Good Samaritan.

But what of the other people in the story or those listening to the story? Can we identify with them and see the story through their eyes?

Some of you may have heard of a method of praying known as Ignatian ‘spiritual exercises. Part of that method is to use your imagination to place yourself in the story and to try to understand what’s going on through the eyes of one of the characters or as one of the on lookers. 

So lets try to put ourselves into the place of someone listening to this story at the time Jesus is telling it.

If the Samaritan is someone we can identify with, he would have been the last person that some one in the crowd would have identified with.

The Samaritan was a hated foreigner, the last person they would be associated with – and maybe Jesus chose a a Samaritan rather than an ordinary Israelite to make a point.

He choose a hated foreigner to act in the way that the priest and Levite would have been expected to act. 

If we were to tell the story today then we need to substitute the Samaritan with as the last person on earth that we would identify with.

Would it be an illegal immigrant, a Jihadist, a drug dealer, a convicted sex offender. Some one for whom we had so much contempt for that we would rather die than accept help from.

Lets place ourselves into the position of the injured man. This is someone who is compelled to accept help from someone who would have been the last person on earth they would have turned to for help.

And it is this most hated man who provides the help, who doesn’t shy away from the messy business of caring for someone who they just come across lying injured in the road, who just happens to be someone who probably wouldn’t thank him for his help and who would most probably walked past him if he was lying injured on the road.

Who else in the story could we identify with , - what about the priest of the Levite?

Both of these may have been going to Jerusalem to worship at the temple in and may have keeping themselves ritually clean.

To touch a bleeding man would have meant defiling themselves and may have debar them from worshipping at the temple.

And to do so may have more than just an inconvenience. But as they were about God’s work perhaps they thought they could leave it to God to send someone else to care for the man .

I wonder if say Nicholas turned up two hours late to take a wedding because he had stopped to help someone bleeding on the road and had gone home to shower and to change his clothes. I wonder what the reaction of the bride and groom and family and friends would been!

There is another person in the story we never identify with and that is the innkeeper.

He wasn’t even included by Jesus in the question of which one of these was the neighbour of the one who fell into the hands of robbers. But wasn’t the inn-keeper a neighbour?

He was one who took the man into his Inn, bleeding and dirty.

Being a neighbour can be very inconvenient at times. It can be asked of us at an inconvenient time, or by someone we would least like to help or who we thought might ask too much of us.

Notice how the inn-keeper gets sucked into the story by the Samaritan.

Its one thing taking paying guests,, it’s another to care and to subsidise the injured man. He was asked to trust that the Samaritan would return to pay any additional expenses he incurred in caring for the injured man.

We can only imagine how the inn-keeper reacted because Jesus doesn’t tell us his reaction. Perhaps Jesus expect him to react in the same way as he expects us to react when he challenges us to love our neighbour as we love ourselves.

The commitment of the Samaritan and the innkeeper show us that being a neighbour isn’t a one off act. It involves a long-term commitment and it can involve creating and building community with those we don’t really feel comfortable with.

There is one other person in the story that we don’t normally identify with and that is the lawyer who tests Jesus in the first place.

Sometimes it’s the Questions we ask that reveal more about us than anything else we do or say.

The lawyer asks the question. Who is my neighbour?

Why?

He has just spoken of love, the love of God, the love of neighbour and the love of self but his question is not about love. It’s about the opposite: it’s about self-justification. He asks who his neighbour is in order to limit those who he as to care for to gain eternal life.

‘Who do I need to care for so that I gain eternal life?’ is not care. It is asking how little he can get away with giving.

And Jesus replaced the question ‘Who is my neighbour?’ with the question ‘How can I become a neighbour to a stranger and an enemy?’ 

The lawyer wants to know what the least he has to do to gain eternal life for himself. Jesus shows him how to live his life fully in relationship with neighbours right now in the present.

The Samaritan, Jesus tells us, was moved to pity and the help he provides is painstaking, He doesn’t shy away from the intimate and messy business of caring for someone. Nor is he someone who simply provides immediate help and then moves on. His provision of money shows a long-term commitment to the welfare of this stranger and enemy.

Jesus stretches our understanding of who is our neighbour and challenges the boundaries we all create to limit the extent of those to whom we should show compassion to – and to extend it to those whom we would least like to be associated with, the stranger and the enemy . 

END

Sunday 7th July 2019 – Proper 9 Year C

(preached by Fr Nicholas Court - Rector)

Text: The Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go.  

A week or two ago I was watching - from the relative safety of this building - events going on across the road. A pair of Jehovah’s Witnesses were on one of the doorsteps just over the road there, and were engaged in what looked like earnest conversation with the resident. Well, hats off to them for not pretending to be out, or hiding behind the sofa! And hats off too to their would-be visitors. Whether it is the Gospel, or the fact that you firmly believe that the earth is flat or the moon is made of cheese, it takes something to knock someone’s door and try to bring them round to your way of thinking or of seeing things. In a world of instant messaging and high-tech communication, knocking on doors seems an old-fashioned approach to get your view or opinion across nowadays. Today many Churches have a website, some are on Facebook and others even have Twitter accounts.

Before the arrival of the mobile telephone, email and texting, the way people often set about advertising a forthcoming event was to send an advance party – which is just what Jesus did. So seventy committed followers are chosen by Jesus to travel His route ahead of Him, telling people He’s on His way and assessing their likely reaction – presumably so that He can focus His efforts where they will have the most effect. Jesus probably knew by this stage that He would not die an old man in His bed – so His message needed to be preached where it would have the highest chance of being heard and acted upon.

So, who were these people – the intended targets of these 1st century door-knockers? One might assume Jesus would have only selected people with the right kind of belief in God, to hear His message and join up to the growing band of disciples. But questioning people about their beliefs doesn’t appear to part of the brief given to these 70 ambassadors. Instead – rather oddly perhaps – they are to make judgments based on the level of hospitality they receive. Jesus is looking for people who are as open-handed as they are open-minded – people who are happy to welcome new people into their homes, and to listen to new ideas. I think that’s one thing that’s easy to miss for us reading this 20 centuries later. The message that Jesus brought is now generally seen as ‘old hat’. But at the time, it was all very new and rather outlandish. Is this our fault – that the Church’s transmission of the Gospel has turned something that is full of vitality and freshness into something rather drab and all to do with following rules? Because that’s how the mission of the Church is often perceived these days. It’s not, by and large, the reality, but it is very much the perception – that the faith we hold so dear is not just boring, but it has nothing of value to offer or to say to society in general.

I was brought to thinking about this by an article in last week’s Church Times. It was an excerpt from a conversation between TV personality Russell Brand and the current Bishop of Chelmsford – Stephen Cottrell. I quote part of what the bishop had to say: “The good thing nowadays is that the Church isn’t that strong, and, although I long for more people to come (to Church), so many people have never really heard the Christian faith….they think they know what it’s about, but they don’t. I long for that to change. But, actually, a poorer, weaker, less strong Church might be a good thing. It’ll make us a little less pompous, a little more humble, a little more determined to get alongside people, and I think that’s a good thing” (end of quote). This really made me sit up and take notice – and then I thought there was something vaguely familiar about what he had said – St Paul writing to the Church in Corinth: “That is why, for Christ's sake”, Paul says, “I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong”.

So perhaps if it’s not the message, then it must be the messenger – today’s inheritors of what Jesus started. Oh – well, that’s us! And I think there’s much in what Bishop Stephen was trying to say. But then we look back at our Gospel reading today and see that although those 70 disciples who set off on their mission from Jesus returned full of excitement, Jesus knew that they would soon have to deal with the biggest apparent failure of all – namely the defeat and death of the One in whom they had placed all their trust. The lesson of the bigger picture is that whilst success is good, it is not essential. They – and we – do not have to earn God’s favour.

It’s easy to slip into thinking that we need to work hard to earn our place in God’s Kingdom. And, indeed, there’s nothing wrong about making an effort. Strategies for mission are important, because the Church has an obligation to make the Gospel known, and we have God-given brains to work out how best to do that. But we need also to remain grounded – earthed in everything we do as ambassadors for Christ. This involves being neither too excited by any successes that may come our way, nor too disheartened by our failures. Simply trying to remain faithful, in a world that feels perhaps it is done with the ‘old religions’ as it were, and is groping around for anything that’s perceived to be ‘new’, is challenge enough in itself.

Mission and outreach is an item on the agenda of each meeting of the Vestry of this Church. Sometimes there’s lots to get excited and worked up about – St Mary’s Green Screen Cinema, the Foodbank, being the only Church building open in the village, visits to our schools and care homes and so on. Some of these schemes come and go, some are more lasting than others. And when they don’t all come to the conclusion and fruition we hope for them, it’s easy to lose heart. But it’s just as true that many of our plans which appear to end in failure, are nothing of the sort. From time to time seeds are sown silently – even without the sower knowing - and the process of germination works away unseen until, sometimes years later, because of that act of kindness where before there had been only bitter recrimination, because of that encounter of the Gospel of acceptance where before there had been rejection and isolation – sometimes it’s only then that those seeds are seen to sprout. There is great wisdom in the person who plants the seed of a tree under whose shade he or she will never sit.

So, the message – as is so often the message in following Jesus – is “never give up, and leave the rest to God; and never think you cannot make a difference”. By way of a little illustration of this, the Bishop who ordained me Priest more than 30 years ago, was conducting a Confirmation service in one of the parishes in his diocese. At the refreshments afterwards, one of the candidates said to him: “Thank you, Father, for making today so special. You won’t remember – but you’re the reason I have come to Confirmation today.” To the bishop, this young lady was a complete stranger. “You don’t remember me, do you?” she said. “No, I’m sorry, I don’t. Could you please refresh my memory?” “Well”, she replied, “I work as a receptionist at a bank in the City. The governors of the board of the bank invited you to have lunch in the boardroom a couple of years ago. As they ushered you across the foyer to meet the bigwigs, you broke away and walked over to me - a mere bank clerk – and spoke to me with great courtesy. I wanted to know why someone like you would have done such a thing – and that was enough for me to begin my own journey in the Christian faith – and here I am today.”

END

Sunday 30th June 2019

(preached by Fr Nicholas Court, Rector)

Anniversaries effect folk in different ways. As we grow older, the advent of the anniversary which a birthday brings can change from something to which we used to look forward in our younger days, to one we’d rather forget or ignore as time passes. For instance, on Tuesday I will celebrate the 30th anniversary of ordination to the Priesthood, and with the joy and thankfulness of that, memories come flooding back of what seems in many ways to have been a lifetime, and in others, just yesterday.

It’s no accident or coincidence that one of the times of year when ordinations have been traditionally carried out is about now – what the Church sometimes calls Petertide – around the Feast of St Peter, whose day in the Church calendar fell yesterday. But why choose St Peter’s Day as a particularly significant date – why not, for example, the Feast of St John Vianney at the beginning of August – the patron saint of parish priests, which might seem a far more obvious choice? Part of the reason is that Peter was not only the one appointed by Jesus to take charge of the Church and became the first bishop, but because it took a while for the Church to develop a need and ministry for priests.  

 In the earliest years of the Church, each congregation grouped itself round a local bishop; but as the Church grew and spread, it became impossible for the bishop to visit and preside at the Eucharist for each congregation on anything like a regular basis, and so the bishop would lay hands on selected and trained individuals to be his extended hands – just as the Apostles had done in the Acts of the Apostles with the first deacons. Through this laying on of hands, these men (and, to the best of our knowledge they were all men in those days) would receive and accept the authority to preside at the Eucharist and celebrate the sacraments on the bishops’ behalf in a specific region or for a particular congregation; and so the foundations of the parish system were laid. And when new bishops had to be made, as they do today, other bishops would lay hands on them, ensuring that link with the Apostles – the first bishops ordained by Jesus Himself. This is why a priest may not preside at the Eucharist without the permission of the bishop, and why it is bishops who ordain priests.

Nowadays, of course, the lead-up to ordination includes a lengthy period of study and preparation, of discerning vocation and of development. I was blessed enough to have been trained at Chichester Theological College in Sussex, and it was a very happy time for me; and it was part of the ethos of the place to be inspired by those who had gone before us, some of whom had become bishops themselves. But we were also encouraged to be inspired by those who had not been raised to the dizzy heights of the Church hierarchy, but who had gone on to serve their Lord in humble and lowly surroundings, often in the mission field. One such was a man called Vivian Redlich – the College martyr - about whom I have spoken to some of you on other occasions. But his story is one that deserves and needs to be told and retold.

He gave his life thousands of miles from Chichester – in the South Pacific – during the occupation of some tiny islands by the advancing Japanese forces during the Second World War. Fr Vivian Redlich became the priest at a tiny mission station in the middle of the jungles of Borneo, and although he had plenty of opportunity to escape and evade capture in his final hours, he decided to stay with his people and say the Mass for them on that fateful Sunday in early August 1942. “Today is Sunday – the Lord’s Day – and we will share the sacraments together”. Because he stayed, he paid with his life. The details of his martyrdom took a while to emerge – and I will not trouble you with the grizzly details. His fiancée – who was an Australia mission nurse – had died a few days before him at the hands of the Japanese, although the news of this had not yet come to Vivian’s ears – something of a mercy perhaps. Dedication to the task ordination laid upon him meant that he stayed; and so died a brave priest.

 I am always reminded of Vivian Redlich whenever the feast of the martyr and first bishop St Peter comes around. I suppose it’s because Vivian embodied so many of the characteristics we associate with St Peter. Like Peter, Vivian was an ordinary man – he wasn’t born with a halo. Like Peter, he was a missionary. Like Peter, he was a great support to the people in his care, shepherding them and staying with them when danger threatened, preferring to give his life rather than abandon those who had been given into his care. Vivian took as his pattern and model, Jesus the Good Shepherd; and although both Vivian and Peter must have feared the manner of their deaths, they faced the great and terrible day of their martyrdoms with unflinching courage, secure in the fact that they were going home to God. Both were to die far from home and loved ones, but with eyes firmly fixed on the promise of their eternal home waiting for them in heaven.

Eleven of the Apostles gave their lives for their Lord, beginning with James the brother of John. Peter was to follow some years later. Like Jesus, he got into trouble for challenging the existing order of things. Just as Vivian’s allegiance could never have been to the emperor of Japan, no more could Peter’s allegiance have been to the emperor of Rome. Both for the Japanese people and for the people of Rome, their emperors were gods. But once Peter and Vivian had made that commitment to Jesus Christ as God, they realised that He had to be the centre and head of everything, no matter what the world thought or tried to impose. 

The martyrs and saints of the Christian Church are not simply there for us to admire from the safety of stained glass windows, or as historical figures from Church history. They are honoured not just for their bravery and way of life. They are revered because they give us a glimpse of what we could be, and what we might be capable of if our faith is strong and central to our way of living. That’s not to say that we’re all called to the sort of martyrdom Peter and Vivian suffered. It may be so, but we are not granted to know the future or what it might hold for any one of us. We are called to be faithful, and to accept the consequences of what that might mean. We are called to be faithful here in the Highlands, at home and in the places where we work and spend our leisure time. We are not called or asked to take our Christian faith out on a Sunday, give it a quick once-a-week dust and put it away again until next Sunday. The feast of the great Apostle Peter, and this 77th anniversary year of Vivian Redlich’s martyrdom serve to remind us of that, and how a dedicated life born of a living faith can not only glorify God, but can be an inspiration to those who come after us. We are the next link in that chain, and with that comes the responsibility of being the best we can be as ambassadors for Jesus Christ.  

END

10am Mass – Corpus Christi Sunday – 23rd June 2019

(preached by Fr Nicholas Court - Rector) 

Some of you will have noticed from the monthly letter that today we are celebrating a day in the calendar of the Church called Corpus Christi or, to give it its full title Corpus et Sanguis Christi. If your Church background is not Episcopalian, this, I suspect, will set off all sorts of alarm bells – not least because it’s Latin, and so, presumably, must be regarded with the utmost suspicion – but perhaps I’ve guessed wrongly. Well, if you’ve come with any such suspicions in your head, I’d like to invite you to lay them aside for the next few minutes, and let’s see if between us we can sort out what’s what.

The feast of Corpus Christi is an opportunity set aside once a year for us to give special thanks for the gift we receive in Holy Communion – the gift of the Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist. You may have wondered why the celebration of the Eucharist is so central to what we do when we meet together, rather than a more simple celebration of worship and praise. So, today I thought I might do a bit of unpacking with you of something of what the Episcopal Church believes, understands and teaches about the Eucharist. If at any time I start teaching my grandmother to suck eggs, I apologise and thank you for your forbearance.

The outward form of bread and wine we use when we celebrate Holy Communion, is what is known as a Sacrament; and there is a definition that we have for Sacrament which goes: “a Sacrament is an outward, visible sign of inward spiritual grace” (repeat). So, in what sense can or do the outward forms which we see on the altar at the Eucharist – bread and wine – end up becoming signs of inward spiritual grace – and what does that mean anyway?

I think there’s an understandable tendency to link the Eucharist primarily with the Last Supper and the events that followed, and it’s a natural thing to do, as the words and actions of Jesus on that occasion form the focal point of what will happen at this altar in a few moments. But, of course, the Last Supper itself has deeper roots in the Jewish Passover meal, and it’s this that Jesus was celebrating with His disciples when they gathered in that upper room the night before He died. The annual celebration of the Passover, commemorating the liberation of the Israelites from their bondage in Egypt, kept alive the memory of what had happened. Remembering what had happened lies at the heart of the Passover, so if we’re to understand what is going on at the Eucharist, then we have to look at it through Jewish eyes.

We might say something like: “Do you remember that lovely sunny day last week – or more likely – do you remember the terrible weather the week before last?” This sort of remembering is simply a matter of thinking back to last week and calling to mind the experience of what the weather was like. But in Jewish thought and understanding, remembering something that has happened in the past, functions on a completely different level. When Paul and the writer of Luke’s Gospel relate the events of the Passover meal which we know as the Last Supper, they do so in a typically Jewish way. When Jesus breaks and distributes the bread and shares the cup with His disciples, He says: “Do this in re-membrance of me.” We might fall into the trap of reading and hearing this as: “Do this so that you don’t forget me” – but if we do that, we miss the point.

We are westerners, and so being asked to think in the mind-set of 1st century Jews might be a big ask; but I hope you might find this helpful. Think of the constituent parts of the word “re-member”. To the Jewish way of thinking, “remembering” – among other things - can be understood as being the opposite of “dismembering”. Now, we all know what it means to dismember something. For instance, we might see a dismembered pig or cow’s carcass sitting in a butcher’s shop window, cut up into its various chops, steaks and fillets. Something that is dismembered has had its members – that is, its limbs and other parts separated - dispersed. And so if we were to remember that same body, we’d draw those pieces back together again – restore it and make it whole and – most important – to make it fully present with us once more. So the act of re-membering ceases to be a mere mental recalling of an event – that event, person or thing re-membered is made to be real and actually present. This is what the Church’s teaching about the Eucharist means to tell us – that when the Body and Blood of Christ are remembered on the altar, and the Holy Spirit is invoked upon that Bread and Wine, although they remain bread and wine, Christ Himself is among us again in these simple elements – we are in that upper room – we are joined to and joining in the events of that Passover meal, that Last Supper – Christ is present in the Bread and Wine as surely as if He were sitting at table with us. And perhaps most important of all, as He feeds us with Himself, the sacrifice of Calvary is re-presented to us; and so, the Eucharist draws us not only into the suffering Jesus endured for us, but we also have a share in its fruits – Easter, the Resurrection which lies at the very heart of Christian hope.

So, when we talk about believing in the real presence of the Eucharist – that is, Jesus being with us in the Bread and the Wine – perhaps this can help us begin to understand how this can be. Much superstition grew during the Middle Ages around the nature of this Bread and Wine, and the more people tried to explain it, the more tangled the explanations, and the more deeply rooted those superstitions became. What happens at the Eucharist is not magic – it’s a meeting-point instigated by Jesus. It’s the point at which Jesus Himself – beaten and broken - reaches out to us, and we can really feel the power of His touch. The Bread is still bread, and the Wine is still wine, and yet because of this re-membering, they are not taken to satisfy hunger or slake a thirst. Our Liturgy reminds us of this at the heart of the Eucharistic Prayer: “Send your Holy Spirit upon….this bread and this wine, that…they may be the Body and Blood of your Son”. Or as put so eloquently by none other than the great protestant Queen Elizabeth I: “’Twas God the word that spake it, He took the Bread and brake it; and what the word doth make it; that I believe, and take it.”

But there is one further piece to this jigsaw. You’ll notice that during the prayer of thanksgiving, the Holy Spirit is not just called down upon the bread and the wine. The Spirit is called down upon all those present – that’s you and me – and so we too become caught up in this act of re-membering. As members of the Body of Christ, the Eucharist draws us together, to be more readily one body, one spirit in Christ – in short, through the act of re-membering in the Eucharist we too become re-membered – made one and bound together – just as Jesus prayed at the Last Supper – “Father, may they be one, as we are one, with you in me, and I in them”. It’s in brokenness that God comes to us in Jesus through the Eucharist, so that our own brokenness can be touched and healed – healed by the touch of the hands of Jesus, still bearing the marks and wounds of our indifference – so that never again can we tell God He doesn’t know what it’s like being us. He does – that’s why He came to live our life 2,000 years ago, and it’s that that He continues to share with us each time we break the bread and pour the wine, re-membering the cost of true love and making His home with us afresh with each Holy Communion.

END.