BORN IN SONG -Trinity 1, June 18th, 2017

A Sermon preach by Canon Gary Philbrick at St Mary’s Fordingbridge on the First Sunday after Trinity, Music Sunday, and at a joint Service with Fordingbridge and Sandleheath Methodist Churches.

‘As you go, proclaim the good news, “The kingdom of heaven has come near” ’ [Matt 10:7]. 

We have entered the season of Trinity, that part of the Church’s Year known as ‘Ordinary Time’, which stretches from Trinity Sunday to All Saints’ Sunday at the beginning of November – something over a third of the year.  The liturgical colour is green – green for growth – and our readings follow through pretty sequentially – we concentrate mainly on Romans and Philippians for the first readings, and then hear Gospel Readings from Matthew right the way through until the end of October.

In his famous poem, After Trinity, John Meade Falkner puts it like this:

We have done with dogma and divinity,
Easter and Whitsun past,
The long, long Sundays after Trinity
Are with us at last;
The passionless Sundays after Trinity,
Neither feast-day nor fast.

But I don’t think he’s entirely right.  Trinity is certainly a ‘long, long season’ – and by the time we get to Trinity 19 in October it’s difficult to remember what number we are up to.  But surely, it shouldn’t be ‘passionless’.  It should a time of steady growth, of exploration, of thinking about new ideas, of moving forwards in our relationship with God.

The very name can do this season something of a dis-service.  We live in a culture where ‘ordinary’ is often seen as something substandard, mundane or mediocre – on a par with satisfactory: it’s okay, but nothing to write home about.  In fact, the term Ordinary here comes from the Latin word ordinalis, which refers to numbers in a series, ordinal numbers, and stems from the Latin word ordo, from which we get the English word order.  So, Ordinary Time is the ordered life of the Church—the period in which we live our lives neither in fasting (as Advent and Lent) nor in feasting, (as in Christmas and Easter).

Ordinary time provides the opportunity to dwell on all that we have celebrated in the last six months and ask, ‘What was that all about?’, and ‘What difference does it make to our lives and to our world?’  Ordinary Time is not so much dull as necessary.  After six months of a full and often intensive liturgical calendar, Ordinary Time provides contrast, variety and relief.  Just as the disciples couldn’t stay on the mountaintop with Christ after the Transfiguration, but had to come back down to the everyday world below, so we need Ordinary Time to provide a sense of balance in our lives – we need both routine and excitement, the everyday and the adventure, stress and ease, nights in as well as nights out.  There would be no rainbow without the rain, no extraordinary without the ordinary.  Both are valid and both are vital in our development as disciples.

So, it’s very good that we are worshipping together, Fordingbridge and Sandleheath Methodists, along with those from the congregation here, celebrating our life in Christ together.  And it’s actually rather long overdue.

I’m not sure when we last worshipped together as Anglicans and Methodists in Fordingbridge – we do it all the time in Sandleheath, of course.  Not only are we very near neighbours here, but also the Methodist Church and the Church of England are in Covenant with each other.  It was signed in 2003, and amongst many other things, we have covenanted: ‘to realise more deeply our common life and mission and to share the distinctive contributions of our traditions, taking steps to bring about closer collaboration in all areas of witness and service in our needy world’ [An Anglican-Methodist Covenant, 2003, Commitment 2].

And the Final Report on the Covenanting Process, from October 2014, begins, ‘An Anglican Methodist Covenant between the Church of England and the Methodist Church of Great Britain was signed in November 2003.  It established a new relationship between those churches, based on mutual affirmations and commitments to grow together in mission and holiness and make the unity of Christ’s Church visible between them’ [See both documents at http://www.anglican-methodist.org.uk/]. You can easily find both reports by searching for Anglican-Methodist Covenant – they make interesting and thought-provoking reading.

So, as Anna and Rachel and I have met from time-to-time to discuss our working together, it seemed like a good idea to take some practical steps to develop the already good relationships we have between the three Churches gathered here this morning.

And how appropriate the Gospel Reading for today is.  Mathew 9:35 – ‘Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness.’  And Matthew 10:1 – ‘Then Jesus summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness.’  Jesus proclaimed the Kingdom of God, and then instructed his disciples to imitate him, and sent them out to do it – and we are his disciples.  ‘As you go, proclaim the good news, “The kingdom of heaven has come near” ’ [Matt 10:7].

And it’s not a Methodist Kingdom we are proclaiming; it’s not a Church of England or even an Anglican Kingdom; it’s the Good News that the Kingdom of God has come near.  It’s very easy for us to become so immersed in our own comfortable, little bubbles, that we forget that the rest of the world is out there, and in dire need of God’s love.  We get so set in our ways, so comfortable with our traditions, so concerned that things should stay the way we like them, that we forget that we are called to ‘proclaim the good news, “The kingdom of heaven has come near” ’.

We forget, as Tim Dearborn has written, that ‘It is not the Church of God that has a mission in the world, but the God of mission who has a Church in the world’ [Beyond Duty: A Passion for Christ, a Heart for Mission by Tim Dearborn, p. 2].

‘As you go, proclaim the good news, “The kingdom of heaven has come near” ’.

And it’s also very appropriate that we should happen to be gathering on Music Sunday – as music is one of the important facets of worship in both of our Church traditions.  Music Sunday is promoted by the Royal School of Church Music – for whom Tim, one of our Directors of Music, works – and is to celebrate and reflect on the gift of music in worship, as well as to remember the work that the RSCM does in supporting music across the Churches and across the world.

At the Offertory, we’re going to be singing a hymn from the Methodist Hymn Book, Singing the Faith, called ‘Born in Song’.  I’m pretty certain that it’s going to be new for us here, and I have a feeling that it may not be used all that much in the Methodist Church either – which is shame, because it’s a great hymn, with wonderful words and a soaring tune, both by Brian Hoare, a Methodist hymn writer and composer.

Born in song!

         God’s people have always been singing.

Born in song!  Hearts and voices raised.

So today we worship together;

God alone is worthy to be praised [V. 1].

It was on a train journey from London to Chesterfield in 1979 that the Revd Brian Hoare wrote this hymn.  Inspired by the opening sentence of the preface to the 1933 Methodist Hymn Book (“Methodism was born in song”), Brian traces the connection between worshipping together and the task of spreading the Gospel story: verse 5 begins. ‘Tell the world! All power to Jesus is given… Spread the word, that all may receive him; every tongue confess and sing his praise.’

At the time, Brian was serving on the committee producing Hymns & Psalms, the predecessor to Singing the Faith.  He was also on the staff of Cliff College, an Evangelical Bible College in Derbyshire.  From his home nearby he could see, up on the hills of the Peak District, one of England’s finest stately homes, Chatsworth House, from which the hymn’s tune takes its name.  Brian says, ‘The melody includes some big ‘jumps’ or ‘octave leaps’, which are symbolic of the huge fountain in the historic house’s grounds.

Both the words and the music of “Born in Song!” were written in a couple of hours on the train.

Music is a powerful way expressing of our faith, of drawing others into the journey of faith, and of strengthening ourselves to go out into the world in faith.

It’s great to worship together this morning – but where will it lead us ‘As we go to proclaim the good news, “The kingdom of heaven has come near” ’?

It’s great to sing together, but will our singing equip us better to live the faith in our daily lives that we proclaim in our worship on Sundays?

It’s great to break bread and share wine together, but will that lead to service in the world, to love of our neighbour, to care for those in distress, to reaching out together to serve our local community and wider world?

Questions we all need to take seriously if we are to be God’s people in the world.

The hymn, ‘Born in Song’, will finish with the triumphant words:

Then the end!

        Christ Jesus shall reign in his glory.

Then the end of all earthly days.

Yet above the song will continue;

All his people still shall sing his praise [V. 6].

Let it be so.  AMEN.

 

Sermon preached at St. Mary’s Churches, Fordingbridge & Breamore on Trinity Sunday, 11th June 2017, Rachel Noël

May I speak in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit… Amen
So today is Trinity Sunday, one of the principal feast days in the Anglican Church, and it’s why we’ve gone white & gold today. We have several feasts in the church calendar, most of them are marking events in Jesus’ life, or other historical events.

I think today is really interesting, as it’s the only feast day in the church year that is purely about doctrine…so it’s a feast day about what we believe – and in particular it’s about our doctrine of the Trinity. Trinity Sunday, the Sunday after Pentecost has been celebrated since the tenth century… and in most church calendars, we count the rest of the weeks of the church year as the number of Sundays after today.

Trinity Sunday is also a well known Sunday for heresy… because as soon as we start trying to put into words exactly what it is that we think and believe about our God… it gets really difficult… and we can quickly end up in a muddle.

Now, don’t start yawning yet, or switching off. I think it’s really important… the Trinity is very short hand for what we are saying about who our God is. And it matters…
who we believe our God is matters greatly…
our God is who we are here to worship today,
our God is who we are praying to and with
Who we believe our God is affects how we think of ourselves, and how we think of ourselves in relation to God and to each other.
To see how much it matters, we only have to turn on our television sets and watch the news… what people believe about their God affects their actions. Distorted views of who God is can lead people to carry out horrendous acts.

So… the Trinity…
To find out what we believe about the Trinity, I decided that today we would think about our creeds. The word creed comes from the Latin meaning credo… ‘to believe’… so the creeds are our statements about what we believe.

Now we’re Anglican… so of course, we don’t just have one creed… there are three authorised creeds… and to understand where they come from we need to understand a bit of history.
We know Christianity came out of Judaism, as Jesus himself was a Jew. The temple of Jerusalem was destroyed in AD70, and after this time Christianity really found its feet as a new faith outside of Judaism. And as a new faith, it needed to work out what it is that it believed, ….

and so the arguments started about how to worship, how to pray, what the sacred documents are, and who or what we think God is.

There were many different ideas circulating about how to do things… and not everyone could agree…. some things don’t change!

Nowadays, we’re used to the Bible… and what books are contained in it… however, that all had to be negotiated.

In 144 AD, the first set of Christian books was circulated in Rome, by Marcion… except he’d used his scissors to chop out the bits he didn’t like…. and his books had the Christian God of love in violent war with the Jewish God of the Old Testament… This is different to what we have today, where we accept that Christianity has come from Judaism, and that we worship the same God.

But these things take a while to sort out, and it wasn’t until 367AD, another 200 years later for the list of books that we now know as the Bible, to first appear – put together by Athanasius who was bishop of Alexandria in Egypt.

But reading all the Bible, is quite long and complicated… so people needed, and still need a short hand… a summary of what it is that we actually believe.
And that’s where the creeds start to come in.

The first creed appears around AD 110, written by Ignatius of Antioch…

In the Second century the Roman creed started to circulate, which eventually became the Apostles Creed – although it took until 700 AD for the words to be finally agreed… because every phrase, every word is very carefully constructed, to be clear about what it is that we do and don’t believe…. That’s 600 years of deciding exactly on the words! The creed kept being refined to argue against other teachings that developed.
And so the Roman creed became the Apostles creed… which is one of our 3 Anglican creeds… I’m sure you’re familiar with it…. I believe in God the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth… and so on…

These creeds were used to prepare people for baptism, to be accepted into the Christian faith – and the promises that we make at baptism and confirmation today are still based on these creeds – Do you believe in God, the Father almighty? Do you believe in Jesus Christ? Do you believe in the Holy Spirit?

So these creeds were and still are a way to teach about our faith, about the God that we believe in. By saying the creed every week within our worship, the teaching sinks into our consciousness, our understanding.

And because the creeds are so important, many people were involved in discussions over many centuries about what it is that the creeds say. Think PCC, but on a much larger scale, and even greater focus on the detail of specific words!

There were several significant councils of the worldwide churches that met to try and sort out what it is that Christians believe. The first one was called by the Roman Emperor Constantine, In May 325 AD, and so 230 bishops gathered at Nicaea in Turkey.

They met to discuss the matter of Jesus divinity, and to try and set the matter straight…
Was Jesus just a person, a bit lower than God,
or was Jesus totally God, and not properly human…

You might think this is a rather dull council, debating the technicalities…. but it really matters…

if you think Jesus was completely God and not really human… then what do we think happens at Christmas? at his crucifixion?…. if you’re not really human, how can you be born, how can you die?

On the other hand, if Jesus is just a person, and not divine… then what does his death have to do with the ongoing salvation of the world?

This council of Nicaea in 325 set the definition of Christ as being both fully human and fully God… this is still the belief of the churches across the world, to this day. And we had a new creed – the Nicene creed.

Arius, working in Alexandria disagreed. he felt that Jesus must have been created, he must have been made by God like everything else in creation… and therefore Arius says that Jesus couldn’t be fully God. As a creature, a created being, Jesus must therefore be subordinate to his Father.

This is something that the Jehovah’s Witnesses still believe, for them Jesus is not God, he is special as God’s son, but he is not divine himself.

Athanasius, who eventually became bishop of Alexandria, strongly opposed Arius… he said that ‘If Christ were not truly God, then he could not bestow life upon the repentant and free them from sin and death. Yet this work of salvation is at the heart of the biblical picture of Christ.’

It really does matter what we believe…. it’s like the questions the pharisees ask… does Jesus have the power to forgive sins? Is Jesus really divine and part of the salvation of the world? Does he really have the power to forgive?

And so the Nicene Creed sets out to be very clear about it… I’m sure you’re familiar with this creed too.

“We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of all things visible and invisible
And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begotten of the Father, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father; by whom all things were made….”
The Creed is setting out very clearly that we do not accept the version of Christianity that Arius was proclaiming…

The third of the authorised Anglican creeds is the Athanasian creed – and this is the one that you have received this morning, and probably the one that you are least familiar with. Click here for BCP Athanasian Creed

This creed started floating round in about the sixth century. It’s the latest of the creeds to be developed. (maybe that’s why it’s the longest!)
And this is the first creed to be absolutely explicit about the equality of the three persons of the Trinity. In fact the whole of the first page – lines 1-28, are about the Trinity… and the second page follows with what we believe about Christ.

This creed spells out the three persons of the Trinity, making sure that we understand that each of the three parts of God are divine. each of them is uncreated… so God the Father didn’t create the other two, they are each limitless… or as the book of common prayer describes them – incomprehensible, (and incomprehensible it may seem as it tries to define exactly what we believe) each one is eternal, and each one is almighty.
But it also spells out the unity of the three as well.

The Book of Common Prayer tells us that this creed should be used instead of the Apostles Creed at 13 different feast days throughout the year, as well as on Trinity Sunday.
Given the length of it, I’m sure you’ll be pleased to realise that this has largely fallen out of fashion. It’s also the only creed that spells out concepts of eternal damnation

I’m being kind though… and giving you a diagram too… on the back of your handout you have a diagram with words in it.
This diagram summarises what the creed is saying, and thus summarises what it is that the church says it believes about God.
The whole diagram is God… it’s telling us that there is one God – not three separate Gods.
That our one God is both Father, Son and Spirit at the same time…. but the Father is not the Son, the Son is not the Spirit and the Spirit is not the Father. They are both different and yet one.

I realise that’s a lot of words today, to try and help us think about who God is…
But however many words we use, to try and describe God, to try and understand…. eventually we run out of words…
However much we may want to capture, to contain, to specify God… he / she is beyond our wildest dreams.

Eventually we learn to live with the paradox that is God
We accept the mystery that is God, the wonderful, beautiful, incredible mystery, that is our amazing God,

We have to accept that at the heart of our faith, is loving relationship, the loving relationship that is God,…

and the invitation that is always there, for us to accept that love, and to enter into loving relationship with our God, three in one,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit
Amen.

CHOOSE LOVE! – A Sermon at the Twinning Service on the Sunday after Ascension, May 28th, 2017

By Canon Gary Philbrick

(A Service for the 35th Anniversary of the Vimoutiers/Fordingbridge Twinning – See Sermon in French below)

Acts 1:6-14, John 17:1-11

May the words I speak and the words you hear be God’s alone, Au nom du Père et du Fils et du Saint-Esprit.  AMEN.

Gary, Louis (Junior Mayor of Vimoutiers) and Malcolm (Mayor of Fordingbridge) after the Service.

This time between Ascension Day last Thursday and Pentecost next Sunday is a time of waiting on the renewal of the Holy Spirit.  In the first chapter of Acts, which the Junior Mayor of Vimoutiers read for us a few moments ago, just before Jesus was lifted up into the heavens, he said to his Disciples, ‘You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and … to the ends of the earth’.

The Holy, Creating, Life-Giving, Sustaining Spirit, which has been there since before the universe was created, is still at work in the Church, in individual Christians, and in the world.  The Spirit which brings life, which works for peace, and which fulfils Jesus’ prayer at the end of the Gospel reading which our own Mayor of Fordingbridge read for us, ‘That they may be one, as we are one’.

So, during these days, we continue to pray ‘Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your people, and kindle in us the fire of your love’.

This year, these 10 days have an added intensity, as we have been asked by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York to pray ‘Thy Kingdom Come’, to pray for growth, in worship and service in the Church, to pray for our family and friends, to pray for our nation and our world.  Through the power of God’s Holy Spirit, we pray ‘Thy Kingdom Come’.  If you search for ‘Thy Kingdom Come’ you will find a wealth of material to explore different ways of praying, and we have copies of the Prayer Booklet on the table by the door.  And on Wednesday, at the 10.00 Communion, we will be praying for and with our partner Diocese of Kinkiizi in Uganda, with whom we have such a special link.  Everyone is encouraged to make some space in these days, and to try new ways of praying.

And there is much to pray about.

We are in the middle of a General Election, and we need to pray for good government for this country, to pray for all those standing for election, and for ourselves as the electorate.  And on Tuesday we’ll have the opportunity to hear what the candidates have to say when they come here for ‘Election Question Time’.

And in France, they are between the Presidential Election this month and the Legislative Elections next month.

And we are just beginning negotiations to leave the European Union, with many economic and relational uncertainties – what effect will it have on us, and on our European neighbours?

On Friday we heard of the terrible attack, part of a pattern in recent months, on Coptic Christians in Egypt.  Christians form about 10% of the population of Egypt, a sizeable minority, and the Coptic Orthodox Church, one of the family of Orthodox Churches of the East, is a very ancient and venerable Church.  It is one of the six denominations which has a place in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, the site of both the Crucifixion and the Resurrection.  And, in fact, one of their chapels is a tiny one at the back of the empty tomb.

On Friday, a group from the Church was on a pilgrimage to the Monastery of St Samuel the Confessor, 85 miles south of Cairo, when their bus came under fire.  Way out in the desert, a group of Gunmen wearing military uniforms attacked the convoy with machine guns before fleeing across the sands in 4X4 vehicles.  At least 28 were killed, and another 25 injured.

And last Monday, there was the dreadful attack on the Manchester Arena, with horrific tales of injuries and deaths, especially of so many young people – who were clearly deliberately targeted.  22 dead, and 66 still in hospital, many of them critical.

I’ll come back to this in a moment, but all that I’ve said is a backdrop to why I think that anything which helps us to look outwards, to form links with other communities, here and across the world, must be a good thing.

For the past 35 years, the Fordingbridge and Vimoutiers Twinning Associations have worked to develop and maintain friendships between our two towns.  I’ve looked at Dennis Bailey’s video, produced in 2002 to celebrate the 20th Anniversary of the Twinning, and it has some wonderful images of friendship and partnership over those twenty years.  And I’m sure those involved in the Twinning will have many memories of the fifteen years since then.

The work of the Holy Spirit is to bring people together, and the Twinning Associations have done that very successfully for the past 35 years, and we want to thank them for that and wish them well for the next 35 years.

In the wake of the Manchester attack, there was a Vigil in Albert Square in the middle of the city on Tuesday evening.  Thousands of people gathered to mourn, to express solidarity, to thank the emergency services, and to remember those who had died.

Tony Walsh, the Manchester-based poet, also known as Longfella, read a remarkable poem, which seemed to encapsulate the feelings of all those who had gathered, and really spoke of the sense of community which was evident in Manchester in the aftermath of the attack.

The poem ended, ‘Always remember, never forget, forever Manchester’, and then, almost as an afterthought, he added perhaps the most important words of all, ‘Choose love’.

Choose love.

The Bishop of Manchester, speaking on the radio a few days later, on Ascension Day, picked up on those words, and I’ve quoted them in Partners this week.

The Bishop said: ‘Tony Walsh, ended the verses he read at Tuesday’s Vigil with a loud cry of ‘Choose love, Manchester’.  Amen to that.  In the face of evil, choose love, Manchester; choose love, Britain; choose love, humanity’.

Choose love.

That’s a choice we can all make in the face of adversity, and in our everyday lives.

It’s the choice we make as we serve our family, neighbours and friends.  It’s the choice the Twinning Associations make as they draw our communities together.  It’s the choice we are urged to make by the Archbishops as we pray ‘Thy Kingdom Come’.

And any authentic prayer for God to come into our lives has to be a prayer to choose love.  Any prayer for the gift of the Holy Spirit is a prayer to choose love.

Choose love, Fordingbridge; choose love, Vimoutiers; let us all choose love.  

I’ll end with the Prayer for ‘Thy Kingdom Come’

Almighty God,
your ascended Son has sent us into the world
to preach the good news of your kingdom:
inspire us with your Spirit
and fill our hearts with the fire of your love,
that all who hear your Word
may be drawn to you,
through Jesus Christ our Lord.  AMEN.

La HOMILIE: CHOISIS L’AMOUR – Canon Gary Philbrick, Priest-in-Charge

28 / V / 17, Ascension 1, 10,30 Fordingbridge

(Service pour le 35e anniversaire du jumelage de Vimoutiers) 

Une traduction de google – excusez-vous pour toute erreur!

Actes 1: 6-14, Jean 17: 1-11

Que les mots que je parle et les mots que vous entendez soient les seuls de Dieu, Au nom du Père et du Fils et du Saint-Esprit. AMEN.

Cette fois, entre le jour de l’Ascension jeudi dernier et la Pentecôte du dimanche prochain, c’est un moment d’attente pour le renouvellement du Saint-Esprit. Dans le premier chapitre des Actes, que le maire junior de Vimoutiers nous a lus il y a quelques instants, juste avant que Jésus ne soit élevé dans les cieux, il a dit à ses disciples: “Vous recevrez le pouvoir lorsque le Saint-Esprit vous sera venu ; Et vous serez mes témoins à Jérusalem, et … aux extrémités de la terre ».

L’Esprit Saint, Créatif, Vivant et Soutenant, qui existe depuis l’origine de l’univers, est toujours au travail dans l’Église, dans les chrétiens individuels et dans le monde. L’Esprit qui apporte la vie, qui travaille pour la paix, et qui remplit la prière de Jésus à la fin de la lecture de l’Évangile que notre maire de Fordingbridge a lue pour nous: «Qu’ils soient un seul, comme nous sommes un».

Alors, ces jours-ci, nous continuons à prier: «Venez, Saint-Esprit, remplissez les cœurs de votre peuple et allumez en nous le feu de votre amour».

Cette année, ces 10 jours ont une intensité supplémentaire, comme nous l’ont demandé les Archevêques de Canterbury et York pour prier «Thy Kingdom Come», prier pour la croissance, le culte et le service dans l’Église, prier pour notre famille et Amis, prier pour notre nation et notre monde. Par le pouvoir du Saint-Esprit de Dieu, nous prions: «ton Royaume vient». Si vous recherchez «Thy Kingdom Come», vous trouverez de nombreux matériaux pour explorer différentes façons de prier, et nous avons des copies du livret de prière sur la table par la porte. Et mercredi, lors de la Communion 10h00, nous prions pour et avec notre partenaire Diocèse de Kinkiizi en Ouganda, avec qui nous avons un lien spécial. Tout le monde est encouragé à faire de l’espace en ces jours et à essayer de nouvelles façons de prier.

Et il y a beaucoup de choses à prier.

Nous sommes au milieu d’une élection générale, et nous devons prier pour un bon gouvernement pour ce pays, prier pour tous ceux qui sont éligibles et pour nous-mêmes en tant qu’électorat. Et mardi, nous aurons l’occasion d’entendre ce que les candidats doivent dire lorsqu’ils viennent ici pour «Heure des questions électorales».

Et en France, ils se situent entre les élections présidentielles ce mois-ci et les élections législatives le mois prochain.

Et nous commençons tout juste des négociations pour quitter l’Union européenne, avec de nombreuses incertitudes économiques et relationnelles – quel effet aura-t-il sur nous et sur nos voisins européens?

Vendredi, nous avons entendu parler de la terrible attaque, une partie du modèle de ces derniers mois, sur les chrétiens coptes en Egypte. Les chrétiens forment environ 10% de la population d’Égypte, une minorité importante, et l’Église copte orthodoxe, une des familles d’églises orthodoxes de l’est, est une église très ancienne et vénérable. C’est l’une des six dénominations qui a une place dans l’église du Saint-Sépulcre à Jérusalem, site de la crucifixion et de la résurrection. Et, en fait, une de leurs chapelles est une petite à l’arrière de la tombe vide.

Vendredi, un groupe de l’Église était en pèlerinage au monastère de Saint-Samuel, le Confesseur, à 85 milles au sud du Caire, lorsque leur bus a été incendié. Dans le désert, un groupe d’hommes armés portant des uniformes militaires a attaqué le convoi avec des mitrailleuses avant de fuir à travers les sables des véhicules 4X4. Au moins 28 ont été tués et 25 autres blessés.

Et le lundi dernier, il y a eu une terrible attaque contre le Manchester Arena, avec des histoires horribles de blessures et de décès, en particulier de tant de jeunes – qui étaient clairement ciblés. 22 morts et 66 encore à l’hôpital, dont beaucoup sont critiques.

Je reviendrai dans un instant, mais tout ce que j’ai dit est une toile de fond pour savoir pourquoi tout ce qui nous aide à regarder vers l’extérieur, pour former des liens avec d’autres communautés, ici et à travers le monde, doit être un bonne chose.

Au cours des 35 dernières années, les associations de jumelage Fordingbridge et Vimoutiers ont travaillé à développer et à maintenir des amitiés entre nos deux villes. J’ai regardé la vidéo de Dennis Bailey, produite en 2002 pour célébrer le 20ème anniversaire du jumelage, et il a des images merveilleuses d’amitié et de partenariat au cours de ces vingt ans. Et je suis sûr que les personnes impliquées dans le jumelage auront beaucoup de souvenirs des quinze ans qui ont suivi.

Le travail de l’Esprit Saint est de rassembler les gens, et les associations de jumelage l’ont fait avec succès depuis 35 ans, et nous voulons les remercier pour cela et leur souhaiter une bonne chance pour les 35 prochaines années.

À la suite de l’attaque de Manchester, il y avait une veille à Albert Square au milieu de la ville mardi soir. Des milliers de personnes se sont réunies pour pleurer, exprimer leur solidarité, remercier les services d’urgence et se souvenir de ceux qui sont morts.

ony Walsh, le poète basé à Manchester, également connu sous le nom de Longfella, a lu un poème remarquable, qui semblait encapsuler les sentiments de tous ceux qui s’étaient rassemblés et parlait vraiment du sens de la communauté qui était évident à Manchester à la suite de la attaque.

Le poème a fini: «Rappelez-vous toujours, n’oubliez jamais, pour toujours Manchester», puis, presque comme une réflexion ultérieure, il a ajouté peut-être les mots les plus importants de tous, «Choisir l’amour».

Choisis l’amour.  L’évêque de Manchester, qui parlait à la radio quelques jours plus tard, le jour de l’Ascension, a repris ces mots, et je les ai cités dans Partners cette semaine.  L’évêque a déclaré: «Tony Walsh, a mis fin aux vers qu’il a lus à la vigile de mardi avec un fort cri de« Choose love, Manchester ». Amen à cela. En face du mal, choisissez l’amour, Manchester; Choisissez l’amour, la Grande-Bretagne; Choisissez l’amour, l’humanité ».

Choisis l’amour.  C’est un choix que nous pouvons tous faire face à l’adversité et dans notre vie quotidienne.

C’est le choix que nous faisons lorsque nous servons notre famille, nos voisins et nos amis. C’est le choix que font les associations de jumelage en rassemblant nos communautés. C’est le choix que nous demandons de faire par les archevêques alors que nous prions «Thy Kingdom Come».

Et toute prière authentique pour que Dieu vienne dans nos vies doit être une prière pour choisir l’amour. Toute prière pour le don du Saint-Esprit est une prière pour choisir l’amour.

Choisissez l’amour, Fordingbridge; Choisissez l’amour, Vimoutiers; Laissons tous choisir l’amour.

Je terminerai avec la prière pour ‘Thy Kingdom Come’

Dieu Tout-Puissant, Votre fils monté nous a envoyé dans le monde Pour prêcher la bonne nouvelle de votre royaume: Nous inspirez votre Esprit Et remplissez nos cœurs du feu de votre amour, Que tous ceux qui entendent ta Parole Peut-être attiré par vous, Par Jésus-Christ notre Seigneur. AMEN.

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.”

 

“The Church & Politics”, a sermon preached at Sandleheath on Sunday 14th May 2017 by Mark Ward

There is a view that faith and politics don’t mix but I find that an argument which really doesn’t hang together in a country which has a national church, where the Head of State and the Head of the Church are the same person, and where the bishops from that national church sit as “Lords Spiritual” in one of the two law making chambers of our government.

 

Of course using the pulpit as a platform to canvass for one particular brand of politics would be completely wrong. I was taking a service in one of our churches when the Labour Party was looking for a new leader to replace Ed Miliband and I prayed that they might find a new leader, the same as I might have prayed for peace in Syria. At the end of the service I was roundly attacked by one person who shouted at me “how dare you pray for the Labour Party, this is the trouble with the clergy in this church, you are all raving lefties”, with which they marched out of church. The rest of the congregation rallied round and assured me that I hadn’t prayed for the Labour Party, but simply that they might find a leader of the opposition. Well someone must have given the person a talking to because a couple of weeks later I got an unreserved apology!

 

So let me stress that what follows is NOT a party political broadcast in any form. But should the church be interested in politics and as WE are the church does that mean we should be politically active or not? Did you vote last week? Maybe you did, maybe you didn’t – but here’s the first hurdle. The week before the last general election I admitted to the same evensong congregation that I hadn’t voted for quite some time in a national election because I didn’t feel that anyone out there represented my position and that if I did vote for anyone else than the sitting candidate it was most unlikely my vote would count. For me everyone’s vote should count in some way which with our current system isn’t the case. I argued that there should be a place on the ballot paper where I could vote but in a box which says “none of the above” because the only option I have as a protest is to spoil my paper. The response was quite strong, “our parents” they said; (which actually included mine) “didn’t fight a world war to give you the option to not vote”. I could see their point but I don’t think they appreciated mine that I just couldn’t bring myself to vote for someone who would do some things I was happy with, but might equally do some things I was very unhappy with, or that if my vote was to have no possibility of counting then what was the point.

 

As it happened I did vote in that election so the congregation forgave me, but it doesn’t mean I will always do so.

 

And then there is this issue of – do you vote for the lesser evil? How many positives outweigh a negative? Or do I vote for the party which I think will stand up to tyrannical behaviour in the world because another won’t?

 

And what if the party I vote for then does something terrible in my name, or changes its position for political reasons?

 

So the question is – what would Jesus do? My answer is “I don’t know” but I’ve tried to think it through.

 

Number one – would Jesus vote at all? Of course he didn’t have the option as his earthly life was spent under the rule of a foreign dictatorship but when asked if people should pay their taxes he told them that they should, so he clearly felt that community was important. Our local elections are usually about community – those who seek election often appeal to us about very local matters and in some way making a choice is easier. I think Jesus would have said – well vote for the person who appears to be an upright citizen with some kind of track record if they are saying they want to benefit the local people and that benefit really is a good idea.

But would he have voted on June 8th? That’s a harder one to answer. Jesus was clear that the world was much bigger than the land of Israel and that his care was for the whole world so he would have been very much interested in the wider picture. Well that’s about as far as I can get with an answer to this one.

 

So maybe we should bring it down to issues – where would Jesus have stood on race, or poverty or inequality of wealth? These issues are perhaps much clearer – we know that his mission was to feed the hungry, to cure the lame and to ask those who may have been looking after number one above everyone else to reconsider – just think of his visit to Zacchaeus.

 

But of course he also might have weighed up the personalities involved – do we vote for parties or people? Well some of us do one and some of us the other. I can remember being very impressed by certain individuals who may have been from a party I wouldn’t support, and I have been very impressed by the conviction of some people who I have admired for that conviction even if their position on the cause was opposite to my own.

 

I was in my teens, living in Grantham, in Lincolnshire when Mrs Thatcher became leader of the Tory party and at the time I remember thinking she was probably a good leader, but as time went by and she and Mr Tebbit restyled the country to persuade us all to get on our bikes and look after ourselves first, I have to say my opinion changed and I gradually grew to dislike what she stood for more and more.

 

Equally I thought Mr Blair was a breath of fresh air, but in the end I wasn’t so sure.

 

Of course we can only judge the matter at hand, we can’t guess what will happen in the future can we? Things change – just look at what happened to Jesus a week before Easter and then a few days later, hailed as a mighty king and a few days later murdered on a cross – we change.

 

If I’m sure of anything though – Jesus would have challenged those standing for election to tell the truth – how many times did he respond to a question put to him with “I tell you the truth” – I haven’t counted  – but plenty of times – and why was he saying that before answering – because others were not telling the truth.

 

If he was to come back now and David Dimbleby invited him onto Question Time I suspect Jesus would spend much of his time asking people to stop spinning the issue to suit themselves, to stop simply slamming the person with an opposite view and to be as truthful as possible.

 

Clearly at the moment our government doesn’t have enough money to do all the things it needs to do. When I started work in 1980 the rate of income tax was 30% – half as much again as it is now. I don’t recall my parents being outraged that they were paying 30% and from memory we had a reasonable standard of living even though my mum was a teacher and my dad a postman.  So I think Jesus might say – well if it is going to cost this much to do it, and it’s morally right, then tell the people that’s what you will do and let them choose, and oddly I think many of us would choose that option because we care about people.

 

I watched a small part of a TV debate when I got home after I had been here last time, because one of my colleagues was on the programme to talk about Universal Credit. A professor said that we need to pay more tax and a straw poll of the audience showed that at least half of the audience were willing to pay more if it meant that families didn’t go hungry and the health service and social care would work.

Jesus set out his viewpoint very clearly – follow me and I will give you eternal life, follow me and I will give you “my peace” which is the Holy Spirit, which will sustain you through the hard times. It won’t be easy. In fact it might be downright hard at times but it will be life affirming and it will be for the good of all.

 

The trouble is of course he isn’t here to vote for so we have to do what we think is right and make up our own minds, but maybe we should pray about it over the next few weeks before we go next door to cast that vote, or maybe like me before we even decide if we are going to make the trip at all.

 

Amen.