A Sermon preached at St. Mary’s Church, Breamore on 23rd July, 2017, the sixth Sunday after Trinity.

‘Broken’ is the imaginative title of a recent BBC1 TV drama starring Sean Bean as a Catholic Parish Priest in a downtown suburban parish of Liverpool. It was a very brave piece of TV because it unashamedly depicted some of the ugliest features of the church and humanity to such powerful effect.

The main character, Fr Michael Kerrigan, is haunted by memories of being bullied and abused at the hands of a grubby priest who taught him at school. The flashbacks keep assailing him just as he is at the most solemn part of Mass, the consecration of the bread and wine, making him stumble and freeze.

He is assailed by doubts: “I’m not a priest, I’m an imposter,” he groaned in the final episode. The irony is that we know, from everything we witness him do over the series, that Fr Michael is in fact as terrific a priest as any community could hope to have. Fr Michael has a hugely conflicted conscience as he battles with the demons of his past and engages with the demons of his often disturbed congregation.

A TV journalist writing about the programme, identifies the dilemmas, “What’s the right response if you discover one of your poorest parishioners (Anna Friel) has concealed her mother’s death in order to keep claiming her pension – a victimless crime if ever there was one? Fr Michael works it out. If a woman comes to you and calmly confesses she plans to take her own life, how do you react? Should you break the bond of the confessional to save her? Again, he steers a compassionate course through choppy ethical waters.”

There are scenes of Fr Michael raging against the iniquity of the local betting shop because of its dire effect on some of his poorest parishioners. The consequence shows scenes of his parishioners armed with baseball bats smahing the betting machines. He pulls no punches of the how the church has failed people over abuse and other gross acts of disorder.

Jimmy McGovern, the writer of the series, depicts the church at its worst and its best. At its worst a church beset by sexual abuse; at its best a church which can act as place of refuge, compassion and solace for the broken. The final scene is so poignant of the whole series. After considerable pressure from his family Fr Michael is officiating at the funeral of his dear mother. One by one the broken members of his community file before their broken priest as he offers them the sacrament of holy communion, broken bread, ‘The body of Christ’ he says to each, to which they individually reply, ‘Amen. Wonderful priest!’ Somehow in that moment of receiving the broken body of Christ they mutually recognise each other’s brokeness and vulnerability.

They recognise that they are each ‘wheat and weeds’. The parable of the wheat and the weeds is a powerful story of how each of us, the world at large and the church in that world grows both wheat and weeds. It would be easy to look at that parish of Fr Michael and point the finger: look at how the weeds are tarnishing the lovely wheat of the those who consider themselves as good wheat.

Thinking about such things is natural; acting upon such things is dangerous.  We are beset with unrealistic expectations which only lead to discouragement, despair, even cynicism.  That would be bad enough.  But the expectation that the Church is only for the good and the holy has led people to embark on some very misguided projects throughout history. We have only to mention the word ‘crusades’, ‘inquisition’. And for other religions currently, ‘the holy jihad’, to know how dangerous it is to pursue a fundamentalist, and black and white view of religion or politics.

Jesus’ own example should have prevented these errors.  First of all, Jesus himself was criticized by the Pharisees for dining with the unclean.  He accepted tax collectors and sinners as disciples.  He knew the flaws in Peter, Judas, and the others, but he chose them anyway.  And just in case his own actions weren’t enough to get his point across, he told the parable of the wheat and the weeds (Matthew 13:24ff) which forms our gospel reading this morning.

Beware, we are in danger of identifying the wrong people! The people the Jews condemned were the outcast and sinners of his day. Clearly they were considered beyond the scope of God’s redeeming love. Weeds! Not so. The gospel is unequivocal in its inclusion of all worthy of that love. Jesus says, suspend your judgement, God is the final arbiter of the kingdom of God, not humanity.

At the moment I am greatly exercised at the direction of the Church of England with its addiction to running the church like a buisness. At times I want to shout ‘this is wrong’. However, I must leave God to be the final arbiter. ‘Let them both (i.e. tares and wheat) grow until the harvest..’

And what for you? About whom are prejudiced? Who do you unequivocally declaim as wrong? It has been popular in the history of the church to separate the sacred from the secular. If you start from the premise that God’s love knows no bounds then the mystery of God pervades the whole of creation, all peoples at all times without discrimination of race, creed, colour, sexual orientation, ability, gender. The church was never set up to be the arbiter of who is in and who is out.

The explanation of the parable needs to be read with caution. There are images from current belief at the time of Jesus which speaks of fire, sin, evildoers, weeping and nashing of teeth. All a trifle alarming! However this is not be taken literally! The images would have currency then as signs of the end of time when God would suddenly return to earth in judgement. They are not part of our world view in the 21st century.

The parable of the wheat and weeds bids our forbearance of difference, and places all humanity on a level playing field. Our trouble is we can be spiritually short-sighted and in so doing the church has made and does made some pretty large blunders in the name of Jesus and God. We are called to trust the mystery, keep our hearts and minds open to all possibilities, and let love be the litmus test in all our thoughts, feelings and actions. Fr Michael knew himself to be ‘broken’, a weed.  Because we also ourselves are flawed and broken, we shall get it wrong, horribly wrong, as we have in the past.  We need to continue trusting that our loving God is working among our wheat and weeds and that it is at harvest time God who will be the final arbiter of our redemption.

John Towler, Assistant Priest.

Sermon preached at St. Mary’s Church Fordingbridge and St. Mary’s Church Breamore on the 5th Sunday after Easter 2017 by the Reverend John Towler.

“In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places” (John 14:2).

These words from John’s Gospel lie at the heart of the Easter hope for all people. For ‘dwelling places’, in Greek ‘topoi’, I want to translate as ‘resting places’. Bishop’s College, Cheshunt, my Theological College was the original house of the Countess Selina of Huntingdon. It was a rambling but beautiful house with acres of grounds and lakes. In the basement of the house was a series of baths and loos, no showers. This basement we affectionately called the ‘topos’ because the baths and the loos we saw as quiet resting places. Thus, one could hear a conversation like, “Where is Brian?”to which came the reply, “He is in the ‘topos’ again!”

The feeling I want to convey from my understanding of the words of Jesus is that, whatever else happens beyond the grave, we shall be at rest, baths and loos apart! Whatever life holds in store for us, one thing is certain –we shall die. And it is that final moment of physical extinction that life’s destructive forces reach their climax and appear to win a final victory.

I say appears to win; for Christian faith is found on a belief that at our death, ‘in the end is our beginning’.  On what evidence might we ask? We have in the reported stories of the resurrection of Christ, and in our experience of his living presence with his people a reality we can know and feel. Critics who say that this is not verifiable scientifically are skating on thin ice. The mystery which surrounds much of our present experience does not present itself easily to scientific analysis either. If we would want to look to psychical research for support, all that can be reasonably ascertained is that certain people’s vibrations survive death for a period.

So, what happens to us when we die? To answer this question we need to look at how resurrection happens now. Orthodoxy in the Western Church has always been presented in terms of a time and a place. Resurrection is presented as an event in the past i.e. the resurrection of Christ’as recorded in the gospel stories and as an event in the future i.e. what happens to us when we die with artists, musicians and theologians painting speculative pictures for us of what our resurrection might look like.

If we are not careful when resurrection is presented solely as either a past event in history or as a future event to happen, we shall be robbed of the impact of resurrection happening right now. ‘I am the resurrection and the life’ declared Jesus. Is it then so strange that resurrection is to be experienced as an integral part of our daily routine lives? So in answer to the question ‘What happens to us when we die?, I suggest we must examine what our experience of resurrection is in this life before we can even get a clue about what it might be like in the next.

If I can be personal for a moment I want to share something of my experience because that is what I know best. Just before Christmas I was told that I had a life threatening condition regarding the state of my heart. I became anxious and fearful for myself and my family. I withdrew somewhat. During my time in hospital I was beset by thoughts of will I make it despite all assurances from my surgeon to the contrary. This morning I stand before as having experienced a miracle of healing and having recieved a gift of resurrection. From literally being half dead I feel very much alive, fully attentive to life and others eternally grateful of the wonders of modern medicine.

Further, in my therapy practice, I frequently witness resurrection happening in others very often as they discover that they have lived for years with a false view of themselves for all sorts of good reasons, often as a result of trauma. In our meeting they uncover a positive picture of themselves which is the beginning of a new life in which they feel more confident about themselves and their relationships, and begin to truly live a more resourceful and enjoyable life. That is resurrection. Resurrection is happening all around us. Sometimes we can see it and sometimes it is hidden from us like the strangers on the road to Emmaus. The living Christ moves secretly and incognito dancing through the lives of people bringing half dead people to life.

So what happens to us when we die?  Go to heaven! We are encouraged as Christians to seek heavenly things. What is ‘heaven’? Is it a place, a realm of existence? In the gospels Jesus often talks about the ‘kingdom of heaven’. What does ‘heaven’ mean in this context? It seems to be a metaphor for God’s political and social vision for humanity. ‘Heaven’ seems to be for Jesus ‘here and now’ rather than ‘there and then’. Then, it must be something to do with our experience on earth now. Rather than a world in which there is violence, oppression and injustice Jesus presents us with an alternative vision of a world of peace, blessing and abundance as God intended it to be.

As Diana Butler Bass writes in her book, ‘Grounded’ with stunning insight, “The sky begins at our feet. Thus, we actually live in the heavens now, in the space in which earth and sky meet. God’s ‘heavenly ‘ presence is the air we breathe”. ‘’Heaven’ is part of our experience now.

So what happens to us when we die? Harry Williams tells us, ‘If we are ready for life in the sense of being open to its power and possibilities, then we are also ready for death. If we are aware of the resurrection in the present, then we shall not be over concerned about resurrection in the future.’ Inevitably we are faced with an eternal mystery. We do not have the words, pictures or any kind of wherewithall in trying to define what our eventual resurrection might look like. We know that it is God’s give through his Son Jesus Christ who rose on the third day. We have his promise. That promise forms part of the gospel reading for today, ‘I am the way, the truth and the life’…’And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.’ Our questions will remain I am sure like the bewiderment of Thomas.

I want to conclude with an insight shared by Richard Rhor in a meditation I read this week regarding his black labrador Venus,

“If unconditional love, loyalty, and obedience are the tickets to an eternal life, then Venus is surely there long before me, along with all the dear wild animals who care for their young at great cost to themselves—and accept their fate far better than most humans. When I had to make the very painful decision to put Venus to sleep on March 30 this year, she literally put her two black paws straight in front of her, stared at me, slowly bowed her head straight to the ground and died. I hope I will die with such trustful surrender.”

 

Sermon preached at St. Mary’s Church, Fordingbridge on the Second Sunday after Easter, 23rd April 2017.

We live in a largely scientific orientated world. Knowledge abounds as researchers discover more about how our bodies work, how to harness the world’s resources to produce enough energy and how to increase economic stability. I, for one, am astounded how a mere piece of calf can keep my ticker going! We hear of new drugs, new procedures, great strides in the realms of neuro-science. What a time to live in! So much new knowledge!

When I was teaching research to psychotherapy students I used to get the whole process going by asking them to answer the question, ‘What is truth? And what is reality?’ You will be pleased to know I am not going to get you to discuss this right now, but simply to reflect with me on the challenge which confronts Christians when we are asked this question. If you want to sleep now please do! Whatever it is we seek to know we only know partially-it is how it appears to us. The poet Wordsworth said our knowledge is half what we create and half what we perceive.

What I mean is, that when we talk about the resurrection, we have only earthly images in which to talk about a profoundly mystical and transcendent reality or truth. And that, dear friends, was the dilemma with which the disciples and Thomas were confronted in that upper room in Jerusalem when the risen Christ appeared to them. The disciples believed they had experienced the Risen Christ, Thomas needed a different kind of experience before he believed. He needed a different kind of knowing to the other disciples.

Last Sunday was not just a moment of ‘ecclesiastical excitement’. The atmosphere was dramatic and perhaps momentarily exhilarating – but today it is routine. Maybe that is why it has been traditionally called ‘Low Sunday’ And today’s gospel reading confronts us with maybe something of a routine for us, the dance between faith and doubt. St John paints a picture of a band of ‘believing disciples’ who we are told ‘were glad when they saw the Lord’, and one disciple, Thomas, who was ‘non-believing’. A dance of faith and doubt: two sides of the same coin.

The story is familiar. The disciples give testimony through the words of the St John the evangelist that they had seen the Risen Lord. He had appeared to them in an upper room recalling the moment on Maundy Thursday when He broke bread and shared wine at His Last Supper before his crucifixion. Now the disciples were in hiding, ‘for fear of the Jews’-it wasn’t safe to go around acknowledging themselves as His followers-not yet anyway! The Risen Christ appears to them all except Thomas. He shows them his hands (probably his wrists) and his side, the marks of crucifixion. ‘This is me, your Lord, the one who was crucified on Golgotha’s Hill; I am Risen!’ He seeks to quell their fear and encourage them in the first scary steps of their mission to the world, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me so send I you.’ St John conflates Easter and Pentecost all in one and so he records Jesus as saying, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’- the promise of his Risen Spirit being their strength and motivation particularly in time of suffering and persecution.

Faith and doubt!  Strange bedfellows? I think not! So what is faith? It is easy to confuse faith with certainty and thus forever be repressing doubt. Certainty without doubt leads to a fanaticism such as we see with fundamentalist movements in many world religions with such disastrous destructive consequences-the creationist teaching of children in the mid-west of America, the terror struck actions of Isis, the legalistic view of the Renaissance Jew.

The faith of the disciples and eventually of Thomas is borne from the crucible of the cross. No cross, no crown: no doubt, no faith. It is a tension with which the mature Christian lives. And faith here is not about the correctness or incorrectness of doctrine or theological belief but about the very essence of ourselves, our true identity, everything we are and prepared to stake our life on. Christ was not beyond experiencing the tension of doubt-the temptations, the garden of Gethsemane, the words of dereliction on the cross. We need to make a friend of our doubt in order that it may feed our growth in faith. It is not an enemy to be overcome.

The believing disciples and unbelieving Thomas: they are both parts of me and I suspect maybe of you. Like the affirming disciples there are times when I feel really alive with every fibre of my body, mind and spirit-the moments when I feel life and love coursing through my veins-times of appreciation, and loving, seeing a way through a conflict, gaining new insight and understanding, a new truth about me and others. As pilgrim in John Bunyan’s ‘Pilgrim’s Progress’ I reach the Delectable Mountains and am granted a glimpse of the Celestial City-these are moments when I feel and glimpse resurrection and I believe  it truly to be the power of the Risen Lord’s love enabling this.

But then like Thomas I sulk in sheer disbelief. The news of deaths and violence resulting in a refugee population of 22m million, the unnecessary death of a police officer in Paris, the despair at watching a child dies from a rare disease. Or the times when deadness and aridness and sometimes depression creep into our relationships which often result from the avoidance of facing reality together because we know it is too painful to bear. Where is the Spirit of the Risen Lord then? I see a number of bereaved people in my work as a therapist. They tell stories of feeling isolated, grief stricken, being so unhappy and disorientated when the known world of intimate relationships are broken as death and many forms of separation rob them of love and friendship.

John Humphrys of Radio 4 fame has written a searching book entitled, ‘In God we doubt’, the result of a series of interviews with leaders of the monotheistic religions of Judaism, Christianity and the Muslim faith. When talking of the letters he received after the interviews he writes this about belief, ‘The pulse is still strong. However empty the pews may be in parish churches on a typical Sunday morning, there are plenty of people with a sincere and passionate belief. That much is evident. There are also plenty of people who think it’s all a load of nonsense……….What surprised me is how many think of themselves as neither believers nor atheists but doubters. They, too, are sincere. Devout sceptics, if you like. And many of them feel beleaguered. I’m with them.’

Thomas and the believing disciples: doubt and faith-both belong to us and take us to the very depths of ourselves in both sadness and joy, despair and hope, hate and love. They force us to face the truth about our lives. In reality we live quite a lot of the time in a space between the extremes. But Christ doesn’t ask us to sign up to belief before meeting him. ‘Peace be with you’ is his prayer for all of us.

An attention to what is happening to me in the routine and ordinariness of life when hate turns to love, separation to unity, unrest to peace, destruction to creativeness, may give us the cue and clue to a Risen Christ who is flowing through lives often unrecognised but is faithful to his promise that He will be with us to the end of the age. His encouragement is for all of us to relax into the mystery of his love and peace always present, always dancing among us, even in the greatest moments of our doubting.

 

John Towler

Assistant Priest.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Sermon preached at St. Mary’s Church, Fordingbridge on Easter Day-16th April 2017 by the Reverend John Towler.

Maybe the nearest understanding I have of Easter faith is this moment, now! I am alive, I am present, and the spirit of the living God lives within me. Is the life I live now a foretaste of my resurrection? Is the life of connectedness in this community this morning a foretaste of the resurrection of the body? I guess we all come year by year to this great mystery of the resurrection of Jesus Christ with more questions than we do answers.

The gospel reading from St Mark is probably the most succinct of all the resurrection accounts. It is also the last chapter of his gospel. Somehow its abruptness tips over into this moment. St Mark uses the words of the ’young man sitting in a white robe’ to declare one of the most astonishing proclamations of all time: ‘he is not here……………he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him, as he told you’. When I say the end of the gospel tips over into this moment I mean that this morning right now is our Galilee: for Galilee substitute Fordingbridge-where else would he be?! We can debate until we are blue in the face about what actually happened in our rational Western way but maybe the truth of the resurrection of God’s Christ will elude us unless we are still, and know that it is inside of us and between us he lives-allowing ourselves to experience this great mystery of presence.

Let us return to Mark’s account of the resurrection. What might be significant about Galilee is that it is the place where the disciples receive their calling by the lake. In Galilee they will ‘see’ the risen Christ as disciples who have been forgiven and who are renewed. Somehow Jesus is taking them back to the roots of their calling as disciples.

Galilee is also a code for the whole universe and tells us something about the total inclusiveness of all peoples for all time. What I mean by that is that Christ’s resurrected presence knows no barriers of space and time or place. Again our rational Western minds would like to know how. A modern theologian and scientist Don MacGregor has proffered a partial explanation. I will try and put it as simply as possible. Our world billions of years ago was brought into being by an act of Divine consciousness. Jesus the divine man is the ultimate expression of that divine consciousness-the closest human being who is at one with God. In his selfless act of dying on the cross he builds a bridge between humanity and God-he shows us a way of reuniting ourselves with God. By his resurrection he changes for all time the energy field and unites us through his Spirit to God. So through the Spirit of love he transcends our notions of time, space and place-witness his resurrection appearances to Mary, the disciples, the friends on the road to Emmaus, to Paul on the Damascus Road and to you and to I.

And that brings me back to this moment! Why am I here; why are you here right now? Somewhere along our journeys we have been touched by the fruits of Christ’s resurrection, we have become aware of his living presence within us. We have said ‘Yes to life’. We have responded however deftly to God’s call. Laurence Freeman in his book, ‘Jesus The Teacher Within’ writes this:

“To read the gospels, to pray in words and sacrament, to meditate, to live within a Christian Community, to study the traditions of orthodoxy, to alleviate the sufferings of others-these are all ways of experiencing the Resurrection. We only discover its meaning by experiencing it, by recognising him.”

There are two stories of resurrection appearances which on the face of it seem contradictory. The first is that occasion in the garden when Mary is in shock and like so many who are bereaved is looking and searching for her loved one, Jesus. Jesus appears to her and she is able to say and an equivocal ‘yes’-she says in recognition, ‘My Lord and my God’. The second is that walk of the two friends on the road to Emmaus. Jesus walks with them incognito, unrecognised and it is only when they share a meal and he breaks bread with them, they have any recognition.

There is a wonderful novel called ‘Incognito’ written by a Rumanian ex-communist, Petru Dimitriu. It is a profoundly moving account of the search for sanctity and humanity in and through and beyond the corruptions and inhumanities of life in our generation. It is an amazing story of how God’s mystery unfolds to Sebastian who is a soldier undergoing immense beating and dehumanising degradation in war. Let me read you two extracts:

“This was it, the sense and meaning of the universe: it was love. This was where all the turns of my life had been leading me………..”

For love was his response welling up ’from some unknown source’, of which he writes,

“What name shall I use? ‘God’ I murmured, ‘God’. How else should I address Him? O Universe? O Heap? O Whole? As ‘Father’ or ‘Mother’? I might as well say ‘Lord’ to the air I breathed and my own lungs which breathed the air? ‘My child?’ But he contained me, preceded me, created me. ‘Thou’ is his name to which God may be added. For ‘I’ and ‘me’ are no more than a pause between the immensity of the universe which is Him and the very depth of our self, which is also Him.”

Orthodoxy would say this is not a Christian book but for me is a testimony to Christ’s Resurrection, his cosmic spirit touching hearts and minds like Sebastian’s. God’s Risen Christ dances his way through the lives of all his people, the communists among them! For many, they do not ask the question of ‘Who is this?’ What the story confirms for me, in my experience, is that recognised or not, on Easter Day, we celebrate a power of love which deeply transforms lives, which brings comfort, healing, forgiveness and gives meaning to my existence right now, today and forever. Thanks be to God for this most unspeakable gift. Alleluia.

 

Sermon preached at St. Mary’s Church, Breamore, 2nd Sunday in Lent

Sermon preached at St. Mary’s Church, Breamore at the Morning Service for the second Sunday in Lent on the theme of ‘The basin and the towel’- 12th March 2017.

“Jesus…got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself.  Then he poured water in a basin and began to was the disciple’s feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him.” (St. John 13: 3-5).

I remember as a very young child when I was sick needing to wash in my bedroom. I remember the jug and ewer-a wonderful Victorian piece with bright blue lines on the edges of the jug and around the rim of the basin. I cannot say I remember the colour of the towel! I guess these are items of a past world having replaced with our stainless steel sinks and designer wash basins. I can’t say washing was a favourite pastime of mine as a small lad and one on which my mother commented frequently! But I do remember my mother taking great care in washing me when unwell, with a soft muslin flannel.

Washing another person is an extremely personal activity. It is a sign very often of a special intimacy. Those of you who have been hospitalised in the past may have experienced a blanket bath at the caring hands of a nurse. Now on day one they stand behind you as you stutter to the bathroom so that you can was yourself-how times change!

This morning’s reading from St. John is the familiar reading of the washing of the disciples’ feet from the events of Maundy Thursday evening the night of the betrayal of Jesus and the evening in which he ate his Last Supper with his friends. During the meal he leaves the table, takes off his outer robe and invites each of his disciples to have their feet washed. We may think this strange. But in his day and culture this might be expected from the slave of the house-washing the grime off their feet. It was a very menial task and one in which he deliberately chose to accept.

He takes on the mantle of a slave, the lowest role in their culture. A bowl and a towel’ this is today’s Lent theme. Returning to the story I am struck by the intimacy of this action by Jesus.

But what is its significance at this time in the Passion Story? I am sure you have heard lots of sermons about the challenge of being a servant church and our participation in that. However, this morning I want to direct our gaze to the intimacy of his actions.

Intimacy can be a scary subject to talk about because it takes us to the very heart of ourselves and our innate vulnerability.  The philosopher, Martin Buber talks of intimacy as an ‘I-Thou’ moment rather than an ‘I-It’ moment. In our modern English language we have lost the sense of intimacy which ‘Thou’ or in French ‘Tu’ signifies. A relationship demands at least two people. I am sure all of us can identify moments of intimacy with others. They are often moments in which we truly feel we have been recognised, acknowledged, heard, seen-they have a certain ring of truth about them. They are precious and special. It is like a process of ‘mirroring’-they are moments of mutual receptivity each gazing on the other. Two or more people see each other as distinct human beings and are not absorbed by each other. This happens when we are in love, in a deep friendship, an unsolicited act of kindness by another, or indeed being moved by a beautiful sight in the countryside or by music or a painting – all moments of encountering something or someone beyond the here and the now of seeing- moments of mystery.

I was speaking earlier of that feeling of intimacy I received at my mother’s hand. I know I am fortunate because I know so many people who have had such opposite experiences with parents. To receive that love we have to be open to receive it, and that sometimes happens more when we feel unwell or ill and our guard is down. I felt this very recently t the hands of some wonderfully tender nurses in the Intensive Care Unit after my recent heart operation.

This loving action of Jesus as he pours water into a basin, washes the disciples feet and dries them with a towel is a pattern for our intimacy with others. If we are to serve others as a Church and as individuals we need to be willing to open ourselves to others in our serving. Say I write a cheque for Amnesty International, or Christian Aid- how can that be intimate? I suggest it can become intimate when we allow ourselves to feel what the recipients of our money might be feeling. Bonhoeffer called this a willingness ‘to participate in the suffering of God in the world’. Or it may be that a friend or indeed stranger wants to share something of their anxiety or illness with you. Can you allow yourself to listen in a non-defensive way, as another vulnerable human being with compassion? Allowing yourself to get close to another can mean more to the other than your words. I am not suggesting this is easy or that you will not feel uncomfortable. All of you will have experienced this from time to time. Being an intimate compassionate human servant of others simply requires an open and willing heart. This is often called a process of transformation. This is the path to human growth. It is also the path to encountering the presence of God.

Jesus pours water into a basin, washes the disciples’ feet and wipes them with a towel-an intimate totally self-giving and loving act. As Richard Rhor writes, ‘Jesus reveals that the give-and-take of human and Divine is utterly possible precisely because he became human and personal.’ He goes onto say, ‘If any friendship does not somehow empower you, it is not true relationship or truly personal’.

A basin and a towel-these are but symbols of a pattern of living we are invited to emulate in our reaching out to friend and strangers alike. They are symbols of a pattern of living which promise an encounter with Divine Love who is both present among us, and between us, and beyond us.

John Towler, Assistant Priest.