SEND US OUT IN THE POWER OF YOUR SPIRIT – A Sermon for the 3rd Sunday after Trinity

Preached by Canon Gary Philbrick on Sunday, July 7th, 2019, at St Mary’s, Fordingbridge, at a Benefice Service at which the Revd Mike Trotman presided for the first time.

Gal 6:7-16, Luke 10:1-11,16-20

Lord Jesus, stride into this mess of words and make some sense of them.  AMEN.

It’s a great privilege to have been asked by Mike to preach this morning, and it’s a moment to thank all of our wonderful Ministry Team here – most of whom offer their ministry voluntarily – and to say how much we’ve enjoyed having Mike, Heidi, Sam and Phoebe among us for the past year or so.  It’s always really sad when much-loved Curates leave us – but then God sends us the gift of someone else who is just as wonderful, but in a different way, and we find there is enough love to go around for the new Curate as well!  And it’s always a huge privilege to be accompanying those new in ministry on their journey, and learning so much from them.  So, thank you, Mike and family, for joining us in our ministry here at this significant time in the life of the Avon Valley Churches, as we shall soon be known.

Well, it’s been a remarkable week or so.

Last Saturday evening, many of us were at Mike’s Ordination as a Priest in Winchester Cathedral, which was a most impressive and moving occasion.  The eight women and men who had been ordained Deacon the previous year were now returning to the Cathedral to be ordained as Priests.  As we worshipped, and prayed for them, the evening sun was streaming in through the stunning West Window of the Cathedral, and all were bathed in the golden Light of Christ.

The next day I and Mike and others were back in the Cathedral for the Ordination of Deacons, as my son Craig, and eight others were launched on their ordained ministries.  Again, a wonderful, joyful Service, made even more poignant for me as it was the 33rd anniversary of my own Ordination as a Deacon in the same place.

And then on Wednesday, Mike, Ian Newman and I, and many others from across the country and the world, had the privilege of being in St Paul’s Cathedral for the Ordination and Consecration of Debbie Sellin, the new Bishop of Southampton.  She was Consecrated along with three others, all women on this occasion, in a magnificent Service, at which the President was the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Preacher, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Williams, and the Archbishop of York was also there as a Presenting Bishop for one of the candidates.

It’s very unusual to be able to attend the Ordinations of Deacons, Priests and Bishops within just a few days, and they were all wonderful occasions.

In between all of that, the week has been filled with an unusual number of Benefice, Deanery and Diocesan Meetings, all of which were reflecting, in one way or another, on the worship and mission and ministry of the Church in these challenging times.

But returning to the Ordinations, one of the things which struck us was the similarities between the three Services.  They all have the same basic structure, with variations depending on the ministry to which people are being ordained.

And each begins by putting the ordained ministry into the context of the ministry of the whole Church of God, of all of the baptised, the priesthood of all believers.  Each of the Services begins:

The Church is the Body of Christ, the people of God and the dwelling-place of the Holy Spirit.  In baptism the whole Church is summoned to witness to God’s love and to work for the coming of his kingdom [https://www.churchofengland.org/prayer-and-worship/worship-texts-and-resources/common-worship/ministry/common-worship-ordination-services#mm013].

To be baptised is to be in ministry.  Twice in today’s Gospel, to which we shall return in a moment or two – twice Jesus commands his Disciples to say to the people, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you’ [Lk 10:9, 11].  All of us are in ministry – ordained, authorised, commissioned or lay – all of us are in ministry, and all of us are commanded to say, in words or by our examples, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you’.

And there is an infinite number of ways in which people express that ministry.  Ordained ministry is one of those ways, but that’s a minority calling.  It would be a terrible thing if everyone felt they needed to be ordained to have a place in the ministry of the Church.  You’ll know what is said about the clergy – they’re like manure: really useful if spread around, but in a heap they stink!

People express their ministry in their daily lives and work, through doing a good job in their working lives; through caring for family; through working to change the world by supporting environmental projects, or trying to bring justice in their local communities or in the wider world.  Just yesterday I heard of a project to help those of our armed forces who have been terribly affected by the awful things they have seen in Afghanistan and other places, and who are being helped by working on archaeological digs.  Through that ministry of healing, the Kingdom of God is coming near to them.

People express their ministry as Pastoral Visitors, by caring for our Church buildings, through hospitality, by serving on the PCCs, through music or serving or reading or praying in Church.

For some people, their calling to ministry will take them away from their communities, and lead them to other places, as mission partners abroad, or ordained ministers here, or as teachers, doctors, care workers, financial experts, scientists or engineers in different parts of the world.

Wherever we are, and to whatever we are called, our ministry as the people of God is to live, and to pray, and to speak as people who know that ‘The kingdom of God has come near’.

And part of the ministry is to reflect on where we are, and whether God is calling us to something new.  There are many areas of our lives in which God may be calling us – and not all of them are ‘Churchy’.  However, some may be being called to Confirmation – we have a Confirmation Service planned in Ringwood at the end of September; some may be being called to go on a ‘Bishop’s Commission for Mission Course’ – Heidi is on one at the moment, and so you can ask her about it afterwards; BCMs for Worship Leaders and Pioneers are beginning in the Autumn not too far away.  Speak to one of us if you might be interested.

Some may be wanting to explore a calling as Licensed Lay Ministers, as Preachers, as ordained ministers – if you think any of those things might be for you, talk to someone about it.

Others may be feeling a call to develop their ministries in other ways, in the community, at work, in the wider world.  Again, if you are feeling like that, talk to someone.

It is together, as the whole people of God, ‘each of us in our own vocation and ministry’, that we make up the whole Church.

In the passage from Luke which Nicky read for us, Jesus sends out the 70, in pairs, to all the places where he himself intended to go.

He had what we might call these days a ‘Mission Action Plan’.  He knew where he was planning to go, what he was planning to do; and he sent them out in pairs – all ministry is collaborative, we should never be in ministry alone.

And he sent them.  The Greek word is ἀπέστειλεν, from which we get the English word, Apostle.  He ‘apostled’ them to go out to the towns places and proclaim the Good News that the Kingdom of God has come near.  He says that twice – once when they are told to cure the sick; once when they enter a town which doesn’t welcome them.  In both cases, ‘the Kingdom of God has come near’.  Whether we accept Jesus or not, ‘the Kingdom of God has come near’.  Even before Jesus himself has visited the towns and places he intended to go to, ‘the Kingdom of God has come near’.

Sometimes we get mission wrong, and think it’s all up to us.  The fact that God always gets there first is sometimes lost on us.  Wherever we go to serve, God is already there.  It’s not all up to us; God’s presence and his grace always precedes us.

We are sent out in mission, but we are sent out to places where God is already ‘alive and at work in the world’ [Prayer of JV Taylor].  We’re sometimes tempted to get things in the wrong order, and think that the whole future of God’s mission is up to us.  But, it’s not the Church of God which has a mission in the world; it’s the God of mission who has a Church in the world.

Just as Jesus sent out the 70 in our Gospel reading, God is always sending us out into the world.  We gather for worship, so that we can be sent out in God’s name in love and service.

At his ordination last Saturday, Mike was given some particular responsibilities – if you look up the Common Worship Ordination Service on-line, you can read them all.  The terrifying Prayer of Ordination says of Priests that ‘They are to call their hearers to repentance and to declare in Christ’s name the absolution and forgiveness of their sins’, which Mike has already done in the Prayers of Penitence; and ‘They are to bless the people in God’s name’ [ibid], which he will do at the end of the Service, sending us all out to fulfil our ministries in the coming week.

But before that, after having received Communion or a Blessing, we’ll pray together, ‘Send us out in the power of your Spirit to live and work to your praise and glory’ [CW, Order 1].  ‘Send us out… to live and work to your praise and glory’.

Jesus sent out the 70 to announce that ‘The kingdom of God has come near’.  Each week we gather, the whole people of God, each of us with our own vocation and ministry, and we are then sent out to live and work for the Kingdom of God.  The God of Mission, the Latin word for sending – the God of Mission sends each of us out with his Blessing to fulfil our calling as his ministers in the world.

What a glorious calling for each of us.  AMEN.

 

 

WHAT IS YOUR NAME? – RETURN TO YOUR HOME!

A Sermon preached by Canon Gary Philbrick at St Mary’s Church, Fordingbridge, on Sunday, June 23rd, 2019, Trinity 1

Gal 3:23-29, Luke 8:26-39

That Gospel Reading, sometimes known as ‘The Healing of the Gerasene Demoniac’, has got lots of difficulties, both textual and interpretive.

As we look at some of the details and problems, I’d like you to keep in mind a question and a command: ‘What is your name?’ and ‘Return to your home’ [Lk 8:30,39].

Jesus is travelling around Galilee, teaching preaching, healing, arguing.  At the beginning of chapter 8 we hear, ‘[Jesus] went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the Kingdom of God’.  So, it’s quite clear, his mission is about the Kingdom of God – he’s proclaiming it, and bringing the good news of it – interesting words to use.

And, as if to emphasise that, a great crowd gathers around him, and he tells them the Parable of the Sower, which in Luke’s version, he interprets for the disciples with the words, ‘to you it has been given to know the secrets of the Kingdom of God’ [Lk 8:10].

Soon afterwards, and immediately before the passage we had read to us, Jesus calms the storm, showing his power over the forces of nature, and astonishing the disciples, who exclaim, ‘Who then is this, that he commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him?’ [Lk 8:25].

Our passage begins: ‘They arrived at the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee’ [Lk 8:26].  Immediately, we have our first textual problem – the ancient manuscripts have different names here: Gergasa, Gadara, and Gerasa – Gergasa is on the shore of the Sea of Galilee; Gadara is about 5 miles South-east of the lake, but with lands that stretch down to the shore; and Gerasa is about 33 miles South-east of the lake [See Green, Luke, p.337].  The strongest textual reading of the manuscripts, Gerasa, is also the most difficult, and that’s the one the translation we use, the NRSV, has opted for, and it’s also the one chosen by the NIV.  Just a little insight into the difficulties that Bible translators have to face.

The critical thing, however, is that it is ‘opposite Galilee’ – opposite in the literal sense of being on the other side of the Lake; but also opposite in the significant sense that Jesus has moved from Jewish territory into largely gentile territory, a Hellenistic area.  The poor man who is possessed by demons not only lives in a gentile area, where ritually unclean pigs were reared, but is also ‘naked’ and living ‘among the tombs’ – both of which mark him out as separate from normal society.  In every way, he is an outsider.

The way the narrative is told is carefully crafted.  In v. 28, the man says, ‘What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?’ – but in v. 29, we’re told that Jesus had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of him – followed by a description of what the unclean spirit had been doing to him.  The story is told in dramatic order, not in chronological order.  Here we see something of Luke the Evangelist’s work in re-telling the material he had received through the tradition of the Church to express the message about Jesus he wants to convey to his hearers.

Jesus then asks the man, ‘What is your name?’ [V. 30], and he replies ‘Legion’.

This is a curious response, a Legion being a Roman military unit of around 5,000 men.  What’s happening here?

Well, clearly, it’s an indication of the severity of the man’s possession – ‘many demons had entered him’; but it’s also an indication that it’s not only Jesus’ compassion which extends to the gentiles, but also his power and authority [See Green, op cit, p. 339].

In the previous passage, Jesus’ power over the winds and the waves has been proven – and now, it is the turn of the unclean spirits, a whole legion of them, to know his authority to command them.  They recognise with whom they are dealing as they beg him not to order them to go back into the abyss, that prison reserved for the punishment of demons [See Green, op cit, p. 340], but rather negotiate a transfer into the nearby herd of swine, from whence they are driven to their deaths.

In an unusually long narrative, the swineherds then rush off to the city and tell everyone what has happened, and the people rush back to see for themselves, finding the man who had been possessed ‘clothed and in his right mind’ [V. 35].  Understandably, they are much disturbed by the presence of one who has such power, and who has saved a man by destroying a herd of swine, and presumably, disrupting the livelihoods of the swineherds.  They ask him to leave – ‘so he got into the boat and returned’ [V. 37].

But, once again, we’re told the story out of sequence.  Having got into the boat and returned, we’re then told that the man begged Jesus that he might join his band of followers, but Jesus tells him to ‘Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you’ [V. 39] – and that’s just what he did.

Now, I’ve spent a bit of time looking at that passage in detail, partly to reflect on the difficulties of biblical translation, and the choices the translators have to make, partly to reflect on the way that the Four Evangelists consciously shape the material they have to emphasise the message they are trying to proclaim through their writings, and partly to begin to delve into the multi-layered narrative we’re reflecting on this morning.

But I’d like to go back to the question and the command I mentioned in the beginning: ‘What is your name?’ and ‘Return to your home’.

‘What is your name?’ – Jesus is literally asking him to name his demons.  Names in the ancient world, and still to some extent today, were believed to give power over the person named, in a rather ‘magical way’.  The demons name Jesus as ‘Son of the Most High God’, a largely pagan usage, recognising his power over them.  And he in turn forces them to reveal their name – Legion – using his power over them.

On the journey of faith, we also are invited to ‘name our demons’, to look honestly at ourselves, to see where the blockages are that are hindering our progression in the Christian life.  What are the things which stop us from being fully open to God and to other people?

At Bernard Warner’s Funeral Service here on Thursday, I’d asked his neighbour, Nelson, to read a passage from the end of John Bunyan’s ‘A Pilgrim’s Progress’, which he did wonderfully well.

After this it was noised abroad that Mr Valiant-for-Truth was taken with a summons, and had this for token that the summons was true, that his pitcher was broken at the fountain. When he understood it, he called for his friends, and told them of it.

Then said he, I am going to my Father’s: and though with great difficulty I am got hither, yet now I do not repent me of all the trouble I have been at, to arrive where I am… So he passed over, and all the trumpets sounded for him on the other side.

Mr Valiant-for-Truth enters the Pilgrim’s Progress quite late on, and has to struggle single-handedly against three rogues who challenge him either to join them, or to turn back on the life of pilgrimage, or to die on the spot.  He chooses the last and fights ‘till my sword did cleave to my hand’.  Scarred in the battle he yet emerges victorious as his opponents flee.

In spite of the difficulties, he continued with his journey, and came to a glorious end, as ‘he passed over, and all the trumpets sounded for him on the other side’.

We need to ‘name our demons’, to look at what is holding us back, and to ponder, ‘What next?’  To what service, or ministry, or act of kindness, or challenge, or prayer is God calling me now?

And at the climax of the Gospel Reading we heard this morning, the demoniac begged Jesus that he might join his band of followers, but Jesus tells him to ‘Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you’.

The man wanted to go with Jesus, to join with this marvellous man who had healed him; but, as on other occasions, Jesus says, ‘No, stay where you are – become ‘a kind of gentile evangelist’ [CT, 21/VI/19, p.19] where you are’.  And so he does, he ‘proclaims throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him’ [V. 39].

There are those who are called to leave their homes, their jobs, sometimes their families, to be missionaries or evangelists, or ordained ministers in other places.

But the much more customary calling is to ‘blossom where you are planted’, to stay in your family, your job, your community and to make a difference there.

If we were all able to ‘proclaim throughout the town how much Jesus has done for us’, what a difference that would make.

‘What is your name?’  ‘Return to your home’.

As we progress in the Christian life, were called continuously to look at ourselves, and see whether there are things that are holding us back.

And, for most of us, we are called to stay where we are, and to live the Good News of the Kingdom of God in our own communities, families, places of work and leisure – and to make a difference there.  AMEN.

 

NO FEAR & FEAR – A Sermon for Evensong on the 5th Sunday of Easter

Preached by Canon Gary Philbrick at St Mary’s, fordingbridge at 6.30p.m. on Sunday, May 19th.

The two readings we’ve heard this evening could be characterised as ‘No Fear’ and ‘Fear’!

The first was a story I’m sure most of us will remember from childhood, the story of Daniel in the Lion’s Den.

It’s a shame we didn’t hear the first few verses of chapter 6, which set the scene.  Daniel was one of the young, noble Israelites who were taken from Jerusalem to Babylon after the defeat of King Jehoiakim of Judah by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon in 598BC after a siege of Jerusalem.

By command of Nebuchadnezzar, Daniel, along with the other able young men, received an education in the ‘literature and language of the Chaldeans’, so that they could enter what we would call ‘the Civil Service’.

By the beginning of Chapter 6, some years later, the then King, Darius, divides his Kingdom into three, each part with a President, and under each President 40 Satraps, accountable to the President.  Daniel’s distinction in the role of President was such that Darius is planning to make him President of the whole Kingdom – which isn’t going down too well with the other Presidents and the 120 Satraps.

And this is where our story begins, as the Presidents and the Satraps conspire against him.  They know they won’t be able to find fault with his Presidency, so they decide to pick on his faith instead.  Verse 5 reads, ‘The men said, ‘We shall not find any ground for complaint against this Daniel unless we find it in connection with the law of his God’’ [Dan 6:5].  So, they have a cunning plot, which is to convince Darius to sign a law – a law of the Medes and the Persians which cannot be changed – a law stating that anyone who offers worship to anybody else than Darius the King would be thrown into the lion’s den.  And they have Daniel in their grasp!

He, knowing the law has been signed, continues to pray as he always has.  He shows no fear, doesn’t change his daily pattern of prayer – praying three times a day with the windows open towards Jerusalem – and acts as if nothing has changed.

He shows no fear.

It’s not difficult to think of modern parallels.  A young man, fleeing from war in his own country, ends up in another country as a refugee, works hard, gets a good job, and is accused of ‘coming over here and stealing our jobs’, etc.

A person who dresses differently is attacked in the street.  Someone who practises a different faith from the majority – who may not practise their own faith, but resent people who are different – someone who practises a different faith from the majority, or dresses differently, or eats different foods, might be told to ‘Go back where you belong’, even if they are second or third generation immigrants, who belong here, or if they have nowhere safe to go back to.

Even though everyone who lives in this country is the descendent of an immigrant at some point in their past, we still have the tendency to be afraid of, or repulsed by, people who are different; and that difference might be colour, dress, sexuality, social class, nationality, faith, or almost anything else.

Daniel was doing a really good job as President, but was targeted because he was different.  And, in his case, he showed no fear – not an easy thing to do.

The Bishop of Truro, Philip Mounstephen, at the invitation of Jeremy Hunt, the Foreign Secretary, has chaired a report on the persecution of Christians around the world – a draft of the findings was published about a week ago, and the full report is due out in the next month or so.  The findings are shocking.  They show that the persecution of Christians in some parts of the world has neared genocide levels.  The Bishop writes:

Evidence shows not only the geographic spread of anti-Christian persecution, but also its increasing severity.  In some regions, the level and nature of persecution is arguably coming close to meeting the international definition of genocide, according to that adopted by the UN.

[https://www.theblaze.com/news/christians-most-widely-persecuted-religious-group-in-the-world-report-says]

It is not only Christians who are persecuted for their faith – something like 1/3 of the world’s population is so persecuted.  But Christians form about 80% of those who are persecuted.

Those who were here last week in the morning, or at Breamore, or at the Churches Together Lunch, may have heard something about the charity ‘Open Doors’ which tries to support Christians around the world who are persecuted.  Irene, who spoke to us, gave examples of their work in the Middle East, Nigeria and Kyrgyzstan.  We have their literature at the back of the Church.

Like Daniel, many Christians around the world who are persecuted, or discriminated against, because of their faith show no fear in the face of the difficulties they experience.  They continue to need our prayers and support.

The second Reading we heard earlier, from the end of St Mark’s Gospel, takes the opposite track.  What most commentators think is the original end of Mark’s Gospel, Chapter 16, verse 8, ends with the words, ‘ἐφοβοῦντο γάρ’, ‘For they were afraid’ – a rather odd ending in English, and even more so in Greek.

We heard the final events of Good Friday, when Joseph (of Arimathea) lays Jesus’ body in the tomb hewn out of the rock and rolls a stone in front of the tomb to seal it; and of early Easter morning when the women arrive at the tomb and find that same stone has been unexpectedly rolled away.

It’s always worth reading the versions from the different Gospels side by side – in this case, we have four versions to look at – and seeing the similarities and differences between the accounts.

Mark’s Gospel is all about the women.  They find the tomb is open, the body has gone, the young man – is he an angel, as in other Gospels, or is he a young man?  Is he Mark himself, as some have suggested?  The young man is sitting in the tomb, and he tells them not to be afraid, Jesus is risen, go and tell the Disciples.  And having received this amazing news, ‘They went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid [Mk 16:8].

Unlike Daniel, and in different circumstances, they were full of fear.  And, we might think, quite justifiably!

Why does Mark end his Gospel like this?  What was he saying to his first readers and to us?  Think back to the beginning of the Gospel.  Mark 1:1 reads, ‘The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God’.  Mark sets out his stall at the very brisk start of this Gospel.

And now, at the very end of the Gospel, he seems to be saying, ‘So, that’s what I said at the beginning.  What do you make of it?  It’s over to you, now!  You’ve heard the story, you’ve got the evidence, is this ‘the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God’?

Now, clearly, the message did get out.  The other Disciples came to realise that Jesus was risen.  He appeared to them and to others, and the gift of the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost, and the Church was born, and people have borne witness to the risen Christ down all the ages since then, in easy places, and in the terrible places of persecution.

But Mark seems to be inviting us to make our choice. Fear or No Fear?  Will we be like the women, saying nothing about our faith because of fear; or will we be like Daniel, continuing to do what we know to be right, even in the face of difficulties?

None of us knows how we would react in the ‘time of trial’, but we can begin practising now.  Amen.

‘TIS GOOD, LORD, TO BE HERE – A Sermon preached at Hale Church on the Sunday Next Before Lent, March 3rd , 2019


Preached by Canon Gary Philbrick at a Service on the Sunday Next Before Lent, when the Gospel Reading tells of Jesus’ Transfiguration on the mountain top, and in the context of a Service with Prayer for Healing.

II Corinthians 3:12-4:2, Luke 9:28-36

This Sunday Before Lent, in our Lectionary of readings, is Transfiguration Sunday.  Both readings we have heard are about mountain tops – either telling the story of the Transfiguration of Jesus himself on the mountain top in the Gospel Reading; or reflecting on that story years later, when Paul, in his Second Letter to the Corinthians writes about Moses on the mountain top, and says ‘All of us…  are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit’ [II Cor 3:18].

‘Transfiguration’ is a tricky word to translate.  We could use the Latin ‘Transformation’, or the Greek ‘Metamorphosis’, or the more commonly used ‘Transfiguration’.  Whichever word we use, it’s about one thing being changed into another, or, to put it another way, something being revealed for what it really is – in this case, the true nature of Jesus.

In the Orthodox Church of the East, icons are vital to the well-being of the Church, and the Icon of the Transfiguration, of which we have a copy here, is thought of as the foundational icon of them all.  The essential thing about the Icon of the Transfiguration is that it reveals what some of the Orthodox call ‘The Light of the Eighth Day’ [See, e.g., Gregory Palamas at http://www.pravoslavie.ru/english/38767.htm].  This is the light of the end of the Book of Revelation, the light which needs neither Sun nor Moon to make it shine, the light in which we will all bathe after the end of time, the light which will sweep us all up into the love of God at the end of all things, the light revealed by Jesus on the mountain top, and seen by Peter and James and John.

And what is Peter’s response to this vision of glory, when Jesus is transfigured, and Moses and Elijah appear with him?  In the words of the Transfiguration hymn we will sing at the Offertory:

’Tis good, Lord, to be here,
Thy glory fills the night;
Thy face and garments, like the sun,
Shine with unborrowed light.

‘It’s great here, Lord, with you in glory and with the others – let me build three huts for you, so that we can stay here and enjoy the glory.’

I hope that’s a sentiment we could echo this morning:  ‘Tis good, Lord, to be here’.  Good to worship and witness together, to be together in this ancient and prayerful building, and to be, I hope, stronger together than we would be apart.

Good to be together for what Milton Jones describes in one of his 10 Second Sermons: ‘Church should be like everyone arriving with one piece of the jigsaw’ [Milton Jones, 10 Second Sermons…and even quicker illustrations, p. 20].

But it’s not only when we are gathered that the Church is important; it’s also when we are scattered.

The last verse of the hymn I’ve already quoted is:

’Tis good, Lord, to be here.
Yet we may not remain;
But since Thou bidst us leave the mount,
Come with us to the plain.

Milton Jones [ibid.] puts it like this: ‘If we’re on a journey: in the same way that the services are not the motorway, a Church is not the Services’.

Our time together on a Sunday morning sends us out for our Christian lives lived in the rest of our week, in all the different places where we find ourselves.  Here, in Church, is the Service Station, if you like, where we are re-fuelled and refreshed, re-awakened to God’s Word, and, hopefully, transformed by his presence in Word and Sacrament, and re-charged to go out from here to serve him in all that we do, and with all that we have.

Jesus, with Peter, James and John, had to come down from the mountain.  And, in fact, none of them had very long to bask in the glory.  The next story in Luke 9, as soon as Jesus comes down from the mountain, is of Jesus meeting the crowd, healing an epileptic boy, and straight after that he again predicts his death.  And that’s so often the case for us, as well.  We may have a wonderful time of worship, but then, as soon as we leave, the reality of life crowds in on us again – but it is precisely there, in the realities and difficulties of everyday life, that God is to be found.  Not just on the mountain top, but out in the real world as well.  If our faith doesn’t do anything for us on a Monday morning, then what we have done on a Sunday hasn’t really been very helpful.

‘’Tis good, Lord, to be here’, but, Lord, when we go, ‘Come with us to the plain’, be with us in the day to day realities of our life, in our relationships with others, in our family or health problems, in all the joys and sadnesses of everyday life.

So, we could say that worship is about ‘Transformation’, or ‘Metamorphosis’, or ‘Transfiguration’.  And over the coming weeks, during Lent, we’re going to be reflecting on worship, both in our Sunday Sermons, based on the actions of Jesus as the Last Supper – ‘He Took’, ‘He Blessed’, ‘He Broke’, ‘He Gave’ – and also in the Lent Groups, which will be reflecting on Prayer.  There are groups on Wednesday mornings and Thursday afternoons in Fordingbridge, and Thursday evenings in St Boniface – full details in Partners.

We’ll be reflecting on worship, and hoping to deepen our understanding of worship and prayer.

‘’Tis good, Lord, to be here’.

And one of the ways we can be transformed is through prayer.  In a few moments, after the Prayers of Intercession, the will be the opportunity to come forward for prayer.  And when we talk about ‘Prayer for Healing’, we’re not just talking about physical healing, but about spiritual and mental healing as well.

The words ‘healing’ and ‘health’ come from old words for ‘wholeness’, and are linked to the word ‘salvation’ as well – salvation in the sense of applying ‘salve’, or ointment.

For some people, illness or disability is physical and obvious, and we want to pray for that person’s wholeness, healing and salvation.  For many, the lack of wholeness is hidden – it’s in our memories, our guilt, or our shame.

Everyone is in need of healing of some sort, for everyone has a disability, a lack of wholeness, in some way or another.

So, if you choose to come forward for the laying on of hands with prayer for healing, you may like us to pray a simple prayer for you, or you might like to ask us for healing for something or someone in particular.  It’s up to you.

One last quote from Milton Jones [Ibid.]: ‘Church is a bit like being a member of a gym.  Some people like the idea of going but don’t.  Others go, but aren’t really training for anything.  And some actually use it to help them with the race they’re running.’

What is the race we are running?  What are we training for?  You could say we training for mountain climbing!  We’re training to be up there on the mountain top with Jesus, Moses, and Elijah, Peter, James and John.  We training here on earth to be Kingdom Builders, so that we may join in God’s work here, and finally be with him for ever in heaven, where the Kingdom of God will be complete, and we’ll live in the Light of the Eighth Day, on the mountain top for ever.

That’s quite an exciting race to be running, and one that is worth the training!

After Communion, I shall pray:

Holy God,
we see your glory in the face of Jesus Christ:
may we who are partakers at his table
reflect his life in word and deed,
that all the world may know his power to change and save.
This we ask through Jesus Christ our Lord.  AMEN.

 

WE ARE GOD’S JIGSAW – A Sermon during the Jigsaw Puzzle Festival

Preached by Canon Gary Philbrick, 3rd Sunday Before Lent, 17/II/19, at Evensong at St Mary’s, Fordingbridge.

Psalm 6, Hosea 10:1-8,12. Gal. 4:8-20

Lord Jesus, stride into this mess of words, fit the pieces of this puzzle together, and make some sense of them, to your glory. AMEN.
As we’re surrounded by jigsaws, I want to spend a few moments developing some thoughts about God’s plan for us, each a part of his jigsaw, leading on from this morning’s Service.
And this sermon is a bit like a jigsaw – we’ll have a look at various pieces, and then see how they fit together.
You can tell that our readings from the Lectionary this evening are heading towards Lent! The Prophet, Hosea, was writing in the 8th century BC, in the period just before the Fall of Samaria, the Northern Kingdom, which was overrun by the Assyrians in 722 BC.
Like other Hebrew Prophets, Hosea was sharply aware of the way the Israelites were falling from God, worshipping at altars to false gods at what were known as ‘The High Places’, and, like other prophets, Hosea uses the analogy of adultery – Israel was being unfaithful to her God.
But Hosea not just a ‘prophet of doom’, but also a ‘prophet of hope’. The first reading ended: ‘Sow for yourselves righteousness; reap steadfast love; break up your fallow ground; for it is time to seek the LORD, that he may come and rain righteousness upon you’ [Hos. 8:12].
Lent is a time for ‘seeking the Lord, while he may be found, calling upon him while he is near’, as another of the great prophets, Isaiah, puts it [Is. 55:6]. It’s a time for reflecting on our own sinfulness, but only insofar as it reminds us of God’s graciousness, forgiveness and mercy.
While I was on a boat from France this week, I read ‘The Boy in the Dress’, by David Walliams. It’s the first of his books that I have read, and I was very impressed – it’s very well written, funny and very moving. I saw the story on television a year or two ago, but when I checked BBC iPlayer, it’s not currently available. It rather reminds me of Billy Elliot, which you may have seen a few years ago – similar themes.
Very briefly, Dennis lives in a very sad and repressed family – his father is very sad and lonely, since his wife left him, and tries to assuage his pain by over-eating. John, the older brother, is rather distant, and blames his mother for leaving them all. Dennis, the younger brother, and main character, aged 12, is starved of love, and misses his mother all the time.
He develops an interest in fashion, and buys a copy of the Vogue Magazine one day, when there is a dress on the front cover similar to one his mother used to wear. His father is appalled when he discovers it under the mattress of his bed. Through a funny sequence of events, the misfit Dennis meets, Lisa, the coolest girl in school, and it turns out she’s really interested in fashion and design – and on one fatal day, Dennis tries on one of her dresses, and loves it.
At Lisa’s suggestion, he pretends to be her French pen pal, and ends up going to school in a dress, getting discovered, being expelled, and nearly missing the final of an important football competition. All ends well when the whole football team, to the horror of the very strict headteacher, plays the second half of the final in dresses, they win the cup, his father is very proud of him, and they begin to talk properly, and through a funny sequence of events, which I won’t reveal, Dennis is reinstated in school.
It’s an interesting exploration of someone who feels different, a piece of the jigsaw that doesn’t quite fit in. In the macho world in which Dennis lives, an interest in fashion, especially women’s fashion, is just not acceptable – and it’s a very painful process for him, and those around him, to work out how he does fit in.
And it makes me wonder how many of us feel we don’t quite fit in somehow – I think we probably all feel different from other people. And with good reason – we are all different, we’re all different pieces of the jigsaw, but all are needed to make the whole picture as God intended it to be.
Does anyone watch Grantchester? Based on the novels of James Runcie, son of the former Archbishop of Canterbury, set in the late 50s/early 60s, and centred around a detective, Jordie, and a Vicar, Sidney Chambers in the earlier series, and now Will Davenport, and some other lovely characters, each episode has a crime which Jordie, who’s very sceptical about God and the Church, needs Will’s help to solve. There very well written – but I don’t know how Will finds time to do his parochial duties, as he seems to spend all of his time with Jordie!
In the Episode before last, Leonard the Curate notices a little girl take thruppence out of the collection plate, rather than putting something in. After the Service, being rather a stickler for the rules, he tears a strip off the girl for stealing – but Will ends up by giving her the thruppence, as she’s clearly in need of it to buy food, and, eventually, and for complicated reasons, Will is hauled over the coals by the Archdeacon for not upholding the rules of the Church and teaching the children of the Parish not to steal.
The whole series, both with Sidney and Will as the Vicars, is a really interesting exploration of people’s motives, and of how pain and stress in one part of life affects how they deal with others parts. Leonard is dealing with his own sexuality, Jordie is worried about his family, Will has a terrible father, who dies in an episode a week or two ago – all of them are affected by what is going on around them, but all of them are trying to do the best with the pieces of the jigsaw they’ve been handed.
And that’s what we do in life, isn’t it. We struggle with what we’ve got, with what we have to face, and somehow we try to see how all the pieces fit together, and what it all means. Like Will, as long as we can hang on to the fact that God loves us, we can see a way through – but that’s often very difficult to do. Will’s sermons at the end of most programmes are delightful, preaching how we need God’s love in our everyday lives.
As we have my friend, Ann Lewin, with us this evening, I thought I’d ask her to read one of her poems – it’s called, ‘The Puzzle’, and is very appropriate for this weekend – it comes from her book, which I recommend, of course, called ‘Watching for the Kingfisher’.
The Puzzle

The jigsaw pieces lie there, some
Jagged and broken by harsh treatment,
Others smooth from constant handling.
Glowing with life and colour.
Some fall into place, others with
Little apparent meaning wait
Connections, or disentanglement
From wrong attachments.

Life’s puzzle, with no master plan to guide,
Teases my understanding.
Some pieces pierce
With painful memory, some call out
Thankfulness and praise, others
I dare not contemplate, heavy with
Fear of what might be revealed.
Surrounded by mystery,
I struggle to make sense of what I see.
If only I knew the mind of the designer.

Ann Lewin in Watching for the Kingfisher

If all the pieces in a jigsaw were the same, there wouldn’t be much fun in it. And that seems to be God’s thought, too. God seems to love variety, to create everything and every one differently.

The sociologist, theologian and priest, Professor Leslie Francis, calls this ‘a Theology of Individual Difference’ – we’re all created individually by God, all created to be different, all loved for who we are, not just who we would like to be. We’re all pieces in the jigsaw lovingly made by God, and he has a place for each of us in his Kingdom of Love. AMEN.