Thought for the week 2012
23 and 30 December 2012
Were Jesus born in Dulwich where would He find a byre?
In our modern days the health regulations do not approve of births in stables, byres or caves. So nowhere for a mouse to nibble at his hay, no donkey, sheep or goat for warmth no shepherds too, they are long gone everyone today must catch the 7.42 am.
The angels what can they do? They will find their glory drowned by passing 747’s.
The Kings might find a star or two and at Buckingham Palace stop to ask the way! To find a babe amongst the homeless in our city of concrete, cars and ravers.
There was no room at the inn when last he came, so where will we put him now? He will be safe locked away in our churches but then why did he come?
He comes at Christmas, tiny young and vulnerable asking for room to shed His light and grace on all the world, dare we open the door to our life and let Him in?
Revd Peter Westwood, retired prison chaplain, member of St Stephen’s
16 December 2012
I have heard the current state of the Church of England compared to a ‘swimming pool’: all the noise is coming from the shallow end. It’s not been difficult getting publicity for the church during the last two weeks. But we need to be careful that this kind of publicity isn’t actually being fanned by our detractors. We are not a place of refuge for social reactionaries, opposing women Bishops and gay marriage. We are in the business of transforming the world with love. In the past this has often meant being on the forefront of social change. Just by way of an example: here in South London we should be proud that two of the most important social changes of the last 250 years were pioneered by Anglican Christians. These lay Christians were inspired by gospel imperative to change the world: I mean of course the abolition of the slave trade (tirelessly pursued by the famous Anglican-evangelical ‘Clapham Sect’) and the founding of St Christopher’s hospice by Dame Cecily Saunders, a nurse from Dulwich. The modern hospice movement confronted head-on one of the last social taboos of the 20th century: death itself. Death comes to us all and it cannot be avoided, the hospice movement changed for ever our approach to it, however close we are to dying our life is still worth living, relationships still matter and can still develop, culture can still be appreciated. This week (Tuesday) we will celebrate the work St Christopher’s is doing in a special carol service. Three new Christians are being baptised this morning at St Stephen’s; let us pray that their faith can liberate them to change the world through love.
9 December 2012
The children of our church will be making ‘Christingles’ today. Christingle making in advent has become extremely popular in England, and it has been adopted by the Church of England Children’s Society for their fund-raising and awareness-raising for their work with vulnerable children in the UK. The Christingle has its origins in the Moravian Church. At Christmas 1747 in Germany, Bishop Johannes de bottom de Watteville thought about how he could explain the love of Jesus and what Christmas really means to the children in the church. He decided to make a simple symbol to express the message of Christmas in a fresh and lively way. Pastor Johannes de Watteville gave each child a lighted candle wrapped in a red ribbon, with a prayer that said “Lord Jesus, kindle a flame in these dear children’s hearts”. The story of the Christingle is that there were three children, who were very poor, but wanted to give a gift to Jesus, like the other families at church were doing. The only nice thing they had was an orange, so they decided to give him that. The top was going slightly green, so the eldest cut it out and put a candle in the hole. They thought it looked dull, so the youngest girl took her best red ribbon from her hair and attached it round the middle with toothpicks. The middle child had the idea to put a few pieces of dried fruit on the ends of the sticks. They took it to the church for the Christmas mass, and whereas the other children sneered at their meagre gift, the priest took their gift and showed it as an example of true understanding of the meanings of Christmas. With some variation this is what the symbolism means for us today: the orange represents the world, the red ribbon indicates the love and blood of Christ, the dried fruits and sweets are symbols of God’s creation, the lit candle stands for Jesus, the light of the world.
2 December 2012
He will come like last leaf’s fall.
One night when the November wind
has flayed the trees to the bone, and earth
wakes choking on the mould,
the soft shroud’s folding.
He will come like frost.
One morning when the shrinking earth
opens on mist, to find itself
arrested in the net
of alien, sword-set beauty.
He will come like dark.
One evening when the bursting red
December sun draws up the sheet
and penny-masks its eye to yield
the star-snowed fields of sky.
He will come, will come,
will come like crying in the night,
like blood, like breaking,
as the earth writhes to toss him free.
He will come like child.
© Rowan Williams
25 November 2012
Today we have reached the end of the Christian year, next Sunday we celebrate the beginning of a new year with the first Sunday in Advent. This last Sunday of the year is also sometimes called the feast of Christ the King. At a time when there is so much cynicism about leadership in our own region of Europe and so much unsettledness about rulers in the Arab world it is worth considering what sort of King Christ can be and what the quality of his Kingdom is for us. “O rex gloriae Christe,veni orbis cum pace” (Christ glorious King, come to earth with peace) is the most common inscription on old bells lifted high and ringing in church spires, and even though Jesus says of his own kingdom that it is not ‘of this world’ it is certainly ‘in the world’. In the protestant tradition Christ’s kingdom is present in the individual believing Christian and in the catholic tradition it is present in the church, as good Anglicans we are allowed to believe both! In his discussion with the worldly ruler Pilate (John 18-33-37) Jesus tells Pilate a few home-truths about his kingship: when Pilate asks him ‘what is truth’ Jesus implies that there is no answer to this because the question should have been ’who is truth’, truth emerges by following the person of Christ our King. At the time of Jesus only Kings were truly free everybody else was somehow enslaved or bonded. In that sense his kingship sets us free, free from sin, from the fear of death and from the devil, and in that sense we inhabit with him a space of freedom, from within which we can begin to change the world. The Prayer Book collect for this Sunday, begins with the memorable phrase ‘Stir up, we beseech the, O Lord the wills of thy faithful people’. As well as this being a timely reminder to us that this is now time to start preparations for our Christmas pudding, we are inspired by the stirrings that Christ our King can provoke in our hearts.
18 November 2012
Once when visiting Rome we were encouraged to visit the ancient catacombs. These are underground rooms and passages used for burial in the times of ancient Rome. Because the Romans were frightened to go down there, early Christians – still persecuted for their faith – had no such fear and they used the catacombs for secret worship. In hushed tones our guide said, pointing to a niche full of ancient and holy graffiti, that this was the place where St Cecilia’s body had been found. Nothing much is known about this early Christian martyr, but since being exhumed and re-buried in the church that bears her name she has become intrinsically linked with music, and, being frequently depicted as playing the organ, specifically with church music. Music and singing is one of the oldest components in the worshipping of God. Even when everything is against you, even – and perhaps especially – when your community is being persecuted, you can still ‘sit in a strange land’ and sing, be it ‘by the rivers of Babylon’ or be it by experimenting with a ‘new song to Lord’ especially composed to meet the new cultural challenges of the community in which you find yourself. Even in his darkest hour together with his rather fickle disciples Jesus is described as singing a hymn (Matthew 26,30). Music and singing can give us courage, it can change our mood and perhaps it can even transform us a little. How appropriate therefore that in the week of St Cecilia’s day (22 November) our choir is back from their half-term break. We pray for them today as they embark on a busy season of singing, climaxing in our eventful Christmas season.
11 November 2012
Today is one of those Remembrance Sunday occasions when the 11th November actually falls on a Sunday, and the two minutes’ silence will be more widely observed. Up and down the country people will assemble around war memorials paying tribute to young soldiers who gave their lives in the defence of their country and – in the case of the WW2 – in defence of liberty and democracy for the whole of Western Europe. These war memorials contain the names of soldiers who paid with their lives and who ‘shall not grow old as we that are left grow old’. The astonishing thing is that the list of fallen WW1 soldiers is often longer than the list of names from the WW2. The ‘great war’ was a terrible slaughter of armies facing each other in deadly stalemate situations. The WW2 was a much more mechanised ‘modern war’ with smaller groups of soldiers dynamically gaining ground using tanks and fighter-planes. One difference between the two wars not reflected in our memorial plaques is the vast numbers of civilians who died in WW2. Most of these casualties occurred because of the routinely used method of aerial bombing of cities and other civilian populations, which started over Coventry and affected London, Dresden, Narva, Hiroshima and many hundreds of towns and cities. Here in Dulwich a surprising number of civilians were killed in bombings and at the end of the war in V2 attacks. The Dulwich history society, under the leadership of local historian Brian Green, has put together a list of names and places where people locally were killed and over the next year or so plaques will be unveiled to remember them (a list with details is enclosed with this ‘window’). We will remember them!
4 November 2012
The glowing red of the Kingdom Season
During this time of November we are invited to contemplate the Kingdom of God and how kingdom values affect our lives. Exploring and living with ‘Kingdom values’ steers us towards the parables of Jesus, with their emphasis on eternal values such as charity and getting our relationships right, and re-considering where our ‘energy to live and love’ really comes from.
This season is full of anticipation of the new beginning of Advent and remembering of what is of real value. During this month of November we move from the feast of All Saints (last Thursday but celebrated today) through the commemoration of All Souls tide to Remembrance Sunday and finally we will arrive at the Festival of Christ the King (this year 25th November). Our lay reader Trot Lavelle will be preaching on Remembrance Sunday and Thomas Noble will be preaching on 18th November.
All Saints, which starts the season off on 1st November (reflected in this Sunday morning service), provides an opportunity to consider the full range of the meaning of this season. Sanctity is – in spite of everything – accessible to us, not as a nice idea but as a reality pumped into the blood-stream of the human race by God’s action in the lives of his saints. The dark side of that confident rejoicing in our fellowship with the saints is the Church mourning her departed and commending them in faith and trust to God (All Souls – observed this Sunday evening). This commemoration as well as the remembrance next Sunday is a proper corrective to the rather forced jollity which is sometimes substituted for a sober confidence in the power of God alone to bring life out of death, light in our darkness. While we rejoice in the heroic example of the saints, we feel the loss of those we know and love and this is part of the range of the experience of anticipating the Kingdom of God.
28 October 2012
How well do you know your Bible? Do you read the scriptures daily? Have you ever read the Bible all the way through? Is your Bible gathering dust on the shelf? Knowing the Scriptures is crucial if we are to be ‘spiritually fit’ and in good shape.
The Bible through the Holy Spirit reveals the mind and will of God. The more we read the Sacred Scriptures, the more we learn to think with God. We also learn to hear God speak to us through his Word. St Paul taught that we are changed and transformed by the renewal of our minds (Romans 12,2). This renewal is closely linked with reading and contemplating God’s Word. In the scriptures we learn from God; we are taught by God and we have an encounter with God.
An extract from ‘Bible Alive’ (published by Alive Publishing, a Roman Catholic renewal publishing house). Submitted to the window by Revd Hazel Kimber
21 October 2012
One of the joys of the Trinity season is its many beautiful collects, the prayers which change week by week and which we say daily at morning prayer and evening prayer, as well as at the Sunday Eucharist. These are great Anglican prayers collecting up our thoughts and focussing our mind and they were first created for us by Cranmer. Here, full of the memory of summer and autumn, are some of my favourites:
‘O God, the protector of all that trust in thee, without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy; Increase and multiply upon us thy mercy; that, thou being our ruler and guide, we may so pass through things temporal, that we finally lose not the things eternal. (July)’
‘Lord of all power and might, who art the author and giver of all good things; Graft in our hearts the love of thy Name, increase in us true religion, nourish us with all goodness, and of thy great mercy keep us in the same. (August)’
‘Almighty and everlasting God, who art always more ready to hear than we to pray, and art wont to give more than either we desire, or deserve; Pour down upon us the abundance of thy mercy; forgiving us those things whereof our conscience is afraid, and giving us those good things which we are not worthy to ask, but through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ, thy Son, our Lord. (September)’
‘Lord, we pray thee that thy grace may always prevent and follow us; and make us continually to be given to all good works. (October)’
‘Grant, we beseech thee, merciful Lord, to thy faithful people pardon and peace, that they may be cleansed from all their sins, and serve thee with a quiet mind; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.’ (November)
14 October 2012
And if to-night my soul may find her peace
in sleep, and sink in good oblivion,
and in the morning wake like a new-opened flower
then I have been dipped again in God, and new-created.
And if, as weeks go round, in the dark of the moon
my spirit darkens and goes out, and soft strange gloom
pervades my movements and my thoughts and words
then I shall know that I am walking still
with God, we are close together now the moon’s in shadow.
And if, as autumn deepens and darkens
I feel the pain of falling leaves, and stems that break in storms
and trouble and dissolution and distress
and then the softness of deep shadows folding, folding
around my soul and spirit, around my lips
so sweet, like a swoon, or more like the drowse of a low, sad song singing darker than the nightingale, on, on to the solstice
and the silence of short days, the silence of the year, the shadow,
then I shall know that my life is moving still
with the dark earth, and drenched
with the deep oblivion of earth’s lapse and renewal.
And if, in the changing phases of man’s life
I fall in sickness and in misery
my wrists seem broken and my heart seems dead
and strength is gone, and my life
is only the leavings of a life:
and still, among it all, snatches of lovely oblivion, and snatches of renewal
odd, wintry flowers upon the withered stem, yet new, strange flowers such as my life has not brought forth before, new blossoms of me:
then I must know that still
I am in the hands of the unknown God,
he is breaking me down to his own oblivion
to send me forth on a new morning, a new man.
7 October 2012
Focus on energy and related resources for Harvest 2012 a time to think about creation
Energy is a gift from God as part of his creation but one we hardly notice… until there’s a power cut! But one in five people in the world has no access to electricity and misses out on tools, communication and so many opportunities we take for granted. Two in five rely on burning anything from wood to animal excrement for cooking and heating, and the smoke and gas from this damage both environment and health: two million people a year are estimated to die as a result. The United Nations has made 2012 the Year of Sustainable Energy for All, with a target of giving the whole world reliable and clean energy by 2030. But this is not just a subject for the developing world. Here we need to make radical changes to move away from electricity generated by climate-change causing and increasingly expensive fossil fuels to renewable options, together with greater efficiency and lower consumption. These alternatives are proving controversial and we still have some issues to resolve, but we are running out of time to achieve the targets that scientists are saying are needed. This may seem like something we can leave to the experts but, as Christians, we have twin responsibilities both to care for the poor and to care for the planet. So we need to be aware of the issues and know what we can do as individuals and as churches to take action. This is why Churches Together in Britain and Ireland (CTBI) is making Sustainable Energy its theme for the 2012 Creation Time season, and we hope you will make use of the materials in churches, home groups and as individuals.
(from the Church of England Website)
30 September 2012
A personal reflection: being an Anglican
On a recent holiday to Italy, a friend, who is not someone of whom I would say has sympathy for religion, unexpectedly remarked that the Catholic Church has a presence that is not found in protestant churches. I too am often struck by the strong sense of the cultural heritage of the Catholic Church. But I wondered about the nature of this presence? Of course, millions of words have been spilt addressing this question. Even so, I began to wonder about my own experiences of church. I confess to a range of feelings about Anglicanism, some feelings and thoughts that are not complimentary. But I am a paradox to my generation as I remain a faithful, cradle Anglican. Faith remains as much an aspect of my identity as it did when I was young. It is a faith refracted through an identity that is Anglican. I can sit in St. Stephen’s with parallel experiences ranging from the cathedral in Brisbane, Australia to the parish church of Nyahururu, Kenya. My thoughts, feelings and ideas bounce from the past into the present. I feel that these experiences are informed by a distinctive heritage that has been shaped by our complex shared Anglican history, literature, music and art. It is a cultural heritage that has crossed continents and been appropriated, thus shaping faith in parish churches from Kenya to the United States, as much as it has in English parish churches, creating an Anglican identity.
Simon Patch (member of the congregation of St Stephen’s)
23 September 2012
Every Angel is terror. And yet,
ah, knowing you, I invoke you, almost deadly
birds of the soul. Where are the days of Tobias,
when one of the most radiant of you stood at the simple threshold,
disguised somewhat for the journey and already no longer awesome
(like a youth, to the youth looking out curiously).
Let the Archangel now, the dangerous one, from behind the stars,take a single step
down and toward us: our own heart,
beating on high would beat us down. What are you?
RM Rilke (the beginning of the second of the Duino Elegies, full English text at www.poetryintranslation.com/PITBR/German/Rilke.htm#_Toc509812215)
16 September 2012
On Monday, 17th September, the church commemorates St Hildegard of Bingen (1098 – 1179). Hildegard’s massive contribution to medieval culture and politics has only recently come to prominence, partly because of an increased interest in finding women of history whose story had hitherto not been told by historians with a male mind-set. As well as a religious figure Hildegard is also the earliest woman composer in Europe. Her compositions have been recorded to great acclaim, it is ethereal medieval music that transports you into a distant even divine orbit. But she was much more than a composer: she was a visionary, a mystic and fearless critic of her time. She corresponded with Popes and Emperors, criticising their behaviour and in particular bankers (an occupation that was only in its infancy then) came in for sharp criticism for charging too much interest. By modern standards she could be described as an ecologist and promoter of wholeness and healing: for Hildegard of Bingen the universe is like an egg in the womb of God. Her view of the universe, conditioned as it is by her times and her education, represents her visionary understanding of God’s motherhood of this sphere that we call the universe. Hers is a view that is organic and holistic, coloured neither by Greek philosophy nor Enlightenment rationalism, refreshing and strikingly “true” in its perceptions around the source of created life. (In this illumination from the Rupertsberger Codex Hildegard is depicted as receiving a vision from God and dictating this to an astonished looking monk)
9 September 2012
In London the churches are generally growing. For some this sentence may sound startling, but it is in fact true. It may be startling because of the dominant narrative in the media: Christianity, the churches and in particular the Church of England is in decline. But in fact the opposite is now true: the decline has stopped and has been reversing over the last twenty or so years. Sometimes, perhaps, we find it difficult to let go of the story peddled by those who wish us ill. In our area, and in much of London, church-growth is partly happening due to the many people who have recently moved to live here. Churches have been immensely enriched by people moving to London from West Africa and Eastern Europe and other parts of the world and they have brought their church-going habits with them or they have re-connected with their Christian roots and gained new faith through attending London churches with their international and hopefully hospitable character. In our ‘International Service’ today, an event which I hope might become an annual event, we highlight Sierra Leone as one of many countries that is represented in our congregation. But an increase in numbers is only one aspect of church-growth. We also need to grow and mature in our faith. What does it mean for us to live as a Christian in this complex and disordered world? How deeply do we know Christ as the one who can bring us to God? Can we find a new language, relevant to those around us, to express our faith?
2 September 2012
A personal reflection: Syria
From my experience of having visited Syria, I find the present situation of terrible civil unrest and violence very sad. Although my trip to Syria was only short, I made a two-week trip to Syria in 2006. My trip had been a defining experience because of the religious plurality of the country. The near east is the home of Christianity. It is within this region that the events of the Acts of the Apostles took place and the great councils of the early church hammered out the definitions of the Christian faith in the fourth century. Syria hosted St. Paul and was home to bishops of the Early Church. But in Syria I was really struck by the diversity of early and present day Christianity, something that cannot be experienced anywhere in the west. I found on my trip that the divergent range of Christian groups such as Nestorians and different persuasions of Orthodox lived cheek by jowl with various Islamic groups. All of those groups lived beneath the umbrella of the secular dictatorship of Syria. But there was not a hint of sectarianism. I think the present situation must stem solely from the political situation. I visited the crusader citadels, Orthodox monasteries, the place where Nestorius supposedly met the prophet Mohamed, the stunning Mosque of Damascus with a relic of John the Baptist and the pediment of a Roman Temple. The people of Syria were wonderfully friendly and for this reason alone the present situation seems so awful.
Simon Patch (member of the congregation at St Stephen’s)
26 August 2012
Two years ago Archbishop Malkhaz Songulashvili preached a memorable sermon here at St Stephen’s. Fr Makhaz is the head of the ‘Baptist Church’ in Georgia, which is actually an Eastern Orthodox Church but courageously independent of the state. Occasionally I get messages from him about matters of faith and politics in Russia and in Georgia, here is what I got this week:
Dear Friends, three Russian girls, members of punk band Pussy Riot have now been jailed for two years after staging an anti-Putin and anti-Moscow Patriarchate protest in Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Saviour. The girls offered a prophetic voice in the situation where the state is using the church for its political goals and the church is seeking symphony with state hoping to grab more power and wealth. We may like or dislike the way the girls staged the protest but we should admit the value and significance of the protestation. A lot of people supported the girls and demanded their release from the court. There were people from the artistic world, world famous artists and musicians have made their support to the girls known internationally. Representatives of various national and international NGOs and Human Rights organisations raised their voice in support. The only voices that have remained most conspicuously silent were those of churches and church leaders. Of course I am one of the silent voices. I have not done much in support of those girls for which I am very sorry. What I could have done? I do not know. Perhaps I should have worn a colourful balaclava in the liturgical services I have taken or just silently with a candle in my hand in front of a Russian embassy or a Russian Orthodox parish church. Both my fellow church leaders and I need to rediscover where our genuine allegiance lies, with political games or with the King of Love and Justice.
May I most humbly ask you to pray for those girls in jail, and their young children, on every first Sunday of the month in a context of Eucharistic liturgy, until they are set free? If you and your church decides to join the prayer chain for the girls do let me know. I will be ready to offer a special litany in the tradition of the churches in the East.
Archbishop Malkhaz Songulashvili
19 August 2012
August is a good time for reflection. Life slows down a bit and we can use the time to read or chat with friends. When business stops we also sometimes have to face up to inner emptiness, and it is at moments like these that I am reminded how closely interwoven and interdependent humanity really is. ‘Being alone’ can really only be tolerated when we remind ourselves that we are part of a larger human project. Independence may be a virtue but it has its limits. I get my sustenance from relationships, with God and with my fellow humans. The priest and poet Donne knew this when he penned these unforgettable lines:
No man is an island, entire of itself;
every man is a piece of the continent,
a part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less,
as well as if a promontory were,
as well as if a manor of thy friend’s
or of thine own were:
any man’s death diminishes me,
because I am involved in mankind,
and therefore never send to know
for whom the bell tolls;
it tolls for thee.
(From John Donne’s Meditation XVII)
12 August 2012
Five years ago I was living in Hong Kong and China was hosting the Olympic Games. I was lucky enough to visit the stunning Olympic site in Beijing. But I was also fortunate to visit a modest but powerful exhibition about the origins of the Olympic Games at the Sha Tin Museum in Hong Kong. In the midst of the exhibition, surrounded by sculpture and images of ancient Greece, I was struck by the aesthetic dimension of the ancient games. Besides the athletic competitions it was also a religious, literary and musical festival. This time round I am suddenly reminded of the reaction of the early Church Fathers to the ancient cultural heritage and the shift in the fourth century from belief in the gods of the ancient pantheon to belief in the Christian God. There is much made nowadays about the Christianisation of the Roman Empire and the loss of culture. But we need to be aware of a twentieth century perspective, looking back in wishful thinking. There is no doubt that we can look back and admire the civilization of ancient society. But for the Church Fathers, they spoke for the great majority in society who were disaffected, living in violent times, with great disparity between the wealthy minority and the hard-working majority. It is wrong to think of ancient society as all beauty and refinement and the Christian early Church Fathers as austere remote ascetics. We should have a nuanced view of the ancient world.
Simon Patch (member of the congregation)
5 August 21012
This week – on Monday 6th of August – the Church celebrates the Festival of the Transfiguration. The story of the transfiguration of our Lord Jesus Christ is told in the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, and Peter refers to it in his second letter. Each time, it is made clear that God’s salvation is for all and Christ is the one who brings that salvation. The testimony of the law and the prophets to Jesus are given by the mysterious presence of Moses and Elijah. The event of the transfiguration, of Jesus on a mountain being shown in dazzling light, is also a foretaste of the joy of his resurrection, coming as it does just before he embarks on his painful journey towards the cross. The transfiguration is a promise to all who love Jesus. Here is the prayer for that day:
Father in heaven, whose son Jesus Christ was wonderfully transfigured before chosen witnesses upon the holy mountain, and spoke of the exodus he would accomplish at Jerusalem: give us strength so to hear his voice and bear our cross that in the world to come we may see him as he is; who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God now and for ever. – Amen
29 July 2012
In the first century AD, some cities in the Eastern Mediterranean had revived sporting competitions that in their origin went back 4 and 5 hundred years before, the most famous one being, of course, the Olympic games. Corinth had a bi-annual festival of the Isthmian Games, and these are mentioned twice in the New Testament. Paul makes reference to them in this famously clumsy passage in his first letter to the Corinthians where the point that he is trying to make gets lost in his enthusiasm for using sport as a metaphor:
Do you not know that in a race the runners all compete, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win it. Athletes exercise self-control in all things; they do it to receive a perishable garland, but we an imperishable one. So I do not run aimlessly, nor do I box as though beating the air; but I punish my body and enslave it, so that after proclaiming to others I myself should not be disqualified. (1 Corinthians 9,24-27)
St Paul is trying to square the circle made up of this triangle: participation, effort and winning – but it cannot be squared: in our Christian life, if we attach ourselves to Christ we will be winners together with all who participate, this is not like a race where only one person can win! In the meantime we will enjoy the Olympics, with its Christian spirit of international co-operation, peace and hospitality to strangers.
15 July 2012
At last, July has come and for many of us our summer holidays are beginning to look very imminent. Our thoughts turn towards the seaside, and some of us may even get near the sea in the next six weeks or so. This reminds me of the story of a man walking along the seashore. He found a stray dog and threw a stick for it into the sea. And off the dog went down to the water. But instead of going into the sea, it trotted across the top of it, picked up the stick, ran back across the water, and dropped the stick at the man’s feet. The man, amazed, did it again – with the same result. Hardly able to believe his eyes, he called another man to come and see. He threw the stick for the dog again, and exactly the same thing happened; the dog walked over the water and brought the stick back. ‘That’s astounding’, said the second man. ‘Absolutely astonishing! That’s the first time I’ve ever seen a dog that couldn’t swim’.
What a sad man! His Horizon is determined by the restrictions of his limited imagination. He perceives the exciting and the miracle in terms of the ordinary lacking ordinariness. When God with his Holy Spirit is at work in us, our horizons are lifted and we learn to perceive the extraordinary and the special, the miraculous and the exciting in the ordinary around us. And this is our task as Christian missionaries – for that is what we all need to be – to open our eyes and the eyes of those around us to God’s grandeur.
1 July 2012
In St John’s first letter we read the extraordinary claim that ‘God is love’ (1 John 4,7 for example). There is no doubt in my mind that love is at the heart of who we are as Christians. But love is also a word much used, abused and even used up in our contemporary world. As the life and brief history of Robert Indiana’s image of the letters LOVE, here as a public sculpture in New York City, demonstrates. And yet we have to hold on to it because it gives special meaning to all our virtues. Here is what I read and it inspiredme this week written by Fr Voges: truth without love will hurt, truth needs love. Duty without love makes us disheartened or even sullen, responsibility without love can make us reckless, justice without love is harsh, cleverness without love is cunningness, even friendliness without love can make us hypocritical. Keeping order without love will make us petty and small-minded. And having property without love will make us mean. As St Paul rightly emphasises even faith without love is empty, because love is the outworking of our faith.
24 June 2012
This last week we have passed through the longest day of the year. Even though June with its long days has not yet decisively provided us with much of the traditional summer weather that we like to associate with this beautiful month, nevertheless we have seen some wonderful summer days. In Nordic Europe this season is even more pronounced because around this time the nights are very short, in fact in some regions it doesn’t get really dark at all and celebrations are held lasting all through the short – nearly non-existent – night. And while these countries are largely Lutheran and Protestant, they have a special love for the festival of “The Birth of St John the Baptist” (24 June). This falls exactly six months away from Christmas Eve, for it says in the Bible that John the Baptist was conceived six months before Jesus (cf. Luke 1,26ff). The story goes that his elderly father was so surprised by this unexpected birth of a son to him that he was struck dumb and could only communicate by writing. No one really knows what day exactly Jesus was born, we only know for certain that he was born and that it was around the year zero. The exact day of John the Baptist’s birth is therefore equally uncertain. But I am glad that we have certain days on which we celebrate these great Christian events, even if they have become linked to the heathen winter and summer solstice. It is with these festivals as it is with our faith: we need to link what we know with what we believe. Our faith is grounded in the certain knowledge of Jesus walking upon this earth and we know that his most important and earliest witness John the Baptist pointed to him as our saviour. Our faith is grounded in this fact of history, but it comes to life through what God helps us to believe: that Christ died for us so that we can have eternal life.
17 June 2012
It is difficult for us here at St Stephen’s in South Dulwich in the 21st century to imagine what it would be like if we had to suffer and even be martyred for our Christian faith. As an Anglican parish church we are part of the ‘established’ religion of this country, even our monarch practices her faith in our church. But having St Stephen as our patron saint will help us to be reminded that our faith is a costly and precious thing for which people in the past have suffered greatly and in some very few places even today Christians are persecuted, bullied and displaced because of their faith.
In the book of the Acts of the Apostles, Stephen (the proto-martyr) is described as one of the seven deacons whose job it is to care for the widows in the early Church in Jerusalem. His eloquent speech before the Sanhedrin, in which he shows the great sweep of Jewish history as leading to the birth of Jesus, the long-expected Messiah, and his impassioned plea that all might hear the good news of Jesus, leads to his inevitable martyrdom by being stoned to death. As the author of Acts, Luke’s description of Stephen bears direct parallels to that of Christ: for example, the passion; being filled with the Holy Spirit; seeing the Son of God as the right hand of God, as Jesus promised he would be; commending his spirit to Jesus, as Jesus commended his to the Father; kneeling as Jesus did in Gethsemane and asking forgiveness for his persecutors. Witnessing to Jesus by acting like Jesus in every way is thus seen by Luke as of the essence of the Christian life. In this painting of St Stephen by Rubens, the crown of sainthood is held over his head during his martyrdom. ‘Crown’ is also the Greek meaning of his name.
10 June 2012
I have a special affection for 19th century women novelists and writers. As we know, some of them had to adopt male names
just to have a chance of being published. All of them lived in a world where they had none of the same rights of their male contemporaries and they were expected to conform to a world which viewed women as an adornment with a strictly limite
d amount of domestic decision-making powers. They were certainly not expected to have significant opinions or be writers. Jane Austen, almost miraculously, transcended these limitations and, despite of her somewhat limited and at times even tragic life, she retained a deep faith. Here is a prayer which I found in her handwriting on the wall of one of the homes she once inhabited:
Give us grace almighty Father, so to pray, as to deserve to be heard, to address thee with our hearts, as with our lips. Thou art everywhere present, from thee no secret can be hid. May the knowledge of this, teach us to fix our thoughts on thee, with reverence and devotion that we pray not in vain.
May we now, and on each return of night, consider how the past day has been spent by us, what have been our prevailing thoughts, words and actions during it, and how far we can acquit ourselves of evil.
Have we thought irreverently of thee, have we disobeyed thy commandments, have we neglected any known duty, or willingly given pain to any human being? Incline us to ask our hearts these questions oh! God, to save us from deceiving ourselves by pride or vanity.
Give us a thankful sense of blessings in which we live, of the many comforts of our own lot; that we may not deserve to lose them by discontent or indifference. Hear us almighty God, for his sake who has redeemed us, and taught us, thus to pray.
3 June 2012
This Rublev Icon depicts three angels who visited Abraham at the Oak of Mamre. But it is often interpreted as representing the Trinity. One of the most popular icons to be seen in Anglican churches around the world, it actually originates within the Orthodox tradition. It depicts the story of Abraham’s generous hospitality to his visitors. Sitting at the table the figures do not form a closed circle. To look at the image one feels that an invitation is being extended to dine with them. The description of the meal in Genesis is certainly a tantalising image. In the icon there looks to be space at the table for a guest. There are layered interpretations to this icon, causing the viewer to reflect upon the nature of divinity, the sacraments and generous hospitality. It could be an invitation to the Eucharist. The icon could be a reflection upon worship as divine communion. It could be an invitation to the heavenly banquet. The figures could represent the Holy Trinity and the space at the table is an invitation to join-in the divine life. There is a lot that could be said about the diverse meanings of this icon. But what of this invitation to join-in the divine life? In self-emptying God showed his profound love for humankind in the Incarnation by affirming his relationship with humanity. Our response to the invitation?
Simon Patch, member of our congregation
27 May 2012
What has God’s Spirit ever done for us?
Jesus breathed on his friends and they received the Holy Spirit, and from then on they were God-gifted, so much so that they had flames flickering over their heads and they managed to be understood by a multicultural assembly of people who had lots of different languages but not – so far – a common one. How can the Holy Spirit of God change things for us here at St Stephen’s? Maybe we don’t want any change, because we like things just the way they are. But simply being alive means changing. And being alive to God’s breath must mean letting oneself be changed by his energy. What about using this Pentecost to reflect on how God’s Holy Spirit has gifted each and everyone in our congregation? Too often we don’t know the person next to us in the pews, too often we are frightened of someone we may not know well. But things may change if we start our thoughts about each other by simply reflecting: with what special gifts has God gifted this person next to me? I will start finding this out, even if it means asking for their name!
20 May 2012
Pussy cat, pussy cat where have you been?
I’ve been to London to visit the Queen.
Pussy cat, pussy cat what did you there?
I frightened a little mouse under the chair!
The implication in this nursery-rhyme is that the cat, despite his adventurous excursion, remained preoccupied with the usual cat routines of life, and so failed to glimpse the sight of majestic glory that had been the object of his journey. He failed to look up beyond the level of the skirting board. At Ascensiontide we are invited to glimpse the whole of the ‘Christ experience’ in one majestic moment. The Ascension holds together everything about Jesus Christ: his becoming human at Christmas, his human suffering on Good Friday, his wonderful and mysterious resurrection and his being lifted up to sit beside God his father. Our humanity, taken by Christ at his birth in Bethlehem, is now deeply within God. Jesus’ earthly ministry is no longer limited to the first half of the first century, it is now available to all people in every place and in every age. The cat may after all have looked in the right place, but may have just missed something. In Luke’s gospel the disciples are told to stop gazing into an empty sky but to look around them for the evidence of Christ’s glory, the world around us is redolent with Christ’s glory, let us take another look. On Thursday last week we celebrated Christ’s Ascension, today we still celebrate in its glow waiting for Pentecost Sunday next week.
Bernhard Schünemann. (after an idea by Christopher Irvine)
13 May 2012
Grant, we beseech thee, Almighty God, that like as we do believe thy only-begotten Son our Lord Jesus Christ to have ascended into the heavens; so we may also in heart and mind thither ascend, and with him continually dwell, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, one God, world without end. Amen.
The Book of Common Prayer (finalised in 1662, but the language in it is as much as 100 years older) contains a prayer for every week that was meant to sum up (collect up) the prayers at every particular service during that week. These ‘collects’ are largely the work of Cranmer, and theses prayers alone have given our Anglican church a very strong branding. There is no Christian church in the whole wide world that has such beautifully worded short and to the point prayers as our collects. Over the years they have been modified and modernised, but the original ones remain available to us in the Book of Common Prayer. One difference between the old and the modern versions is that Cranmer knew life to be much more fragile than we experience it today. Many of his prayers remind us that life on earth can be short or full of struggles. For him this meant that we need to live our lives with one eye at least firmly fixed on our destiny in heaven. One of the reformation insights was that it was the work of Christ that would get us there, and this also is reflected in many of his collects. In the Ascension Day collect it is the unusual word ‘thither’ (now largely out of use!) which pithily raises our eyes above the earthly parapet, and helps us to reflect on our destiny.
6 May 2012
Even darkness is no darkness with you;
The night is as clear as the day;
Darkness and light to you are both alike. (Psalm 139,11)
Reading and praying in the words of the psalms can be a transformative experience. These are words and poetry that have stood the test of time, mostly they are 2500 years old or older. The psalms were the prayer-book of Jesus they therefore connect us with him. They also connect our emotions with the otherworldly reality of God. The honesty of the psalms in reflecting the whole range of human emotions, joy as well as anger and fear as well as serenity, can make them at times uncomfortable to read. Sometimes I also feel that the psalms reflect an experience of God that connects us with the experience of God in other faiths such as some Indian religions and Islam, as well as of course, Judaism. Psalm 139 is such a psalm, it speaks of God as personally close to us because, paradoxically, he is everywhere, a tension between the particular and the universal that every faith addresses, and here it is addressed on the level of our emotions and our personal experience. The darkness of verses 11&12 could be a darkness in which we try and hide from God, but it could also be a darkness in which we are stuck with our feelings – our inner darkness – in which God himself wants to be present and of which he is not frightened. Whichever way, the psalm reassures us that God is in the darkness because even in the deepest darkness God can see the light.
29 April 2012
People are often unreasonable, illogical and self-centered.
Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives.
Be kind anyway.
If you succeed, you will win some false friends and some true enemies.
If you are honest and frank, people may cheat you.
Be honest anyway.
What you spend years building, someone could destroy overnight.
If you find serenity and happiness, they may be jealous.
Be happy anyway.
The good you do today, people will forget tomorrow.
Do good anyway.
Give the world the best you have, and it may just never be enough.
Give the world the best anyway.
You see, in the final analysis, it is all about you and God.
It was never about you and them anyway.
Mother Theresa was said to be so moved by these words that she hung them on a wall in her orphanage in Calcutta.
22 April 2012
Despite of the uncomfortably cold nature of the showery weather we have been having so far in April, it seems that these showers have made no dent in the drought conditions that most of our country is apparently heading for. It is difficult to believe that a traditionally rainy country such as ours is now suffering from a chronic lack of drinking water. The ground is dry, groundwater levels are dangerously low and rivers and reservoirs cannot replenish themselves and consequently algae and bacteria are beginning to poison our water environment. Some of this may be blamed on climate change, some of it may just be a temporary consequence of having had two dry winters in a row. It is an irony that many places in the world, above all of course the so called Sahel-Zone countries in sub-Saharan Africa, are suffering from water shortages while in other places rising sea levels threaten to drown often heavily populated low-lying coastal plains. Good water is becoming a scarce resource in a thirsty world. Water features on every page of our Bible. In the Bible water can be a destructive force, at times threatening to overwhelm us or drown us. But most of the time water is a sign of hope and a means of salvation. God’s intervention is spoken of as springs in the desert refreshing us and even returning us to life. Those without God in their lives are described as ‘dried up’. The Sea of Galilee with its delicate ecology and the Jordan are central to the stories of the gospels. The sacramental water of baptism washes us and gives us re-birth. With water we are blessed. In short water is very precious, even holy. Europeans and especially we Londoners are great consumers of water. Almost every activity of the day involves us using large amounts of pure drinking quality water. Our taps are for ever running as if water had no real value. Perhaps if we adopted a more Biblical view of water as something immensely precious and sacred we might be able to stop squandering it in quite the prodigious amounts that we are used to doing.
15th April 2012
Enter ye all, therefore, into the joy of our Lord, and let both the first and those who come after partake of the reward. Rich and poor dance one with another. Ye who fast and ye who fast not, rejoice today. The table is full laden: do ye all fare sumptuously. The calf is ample, let none go hungry. Let all partake of the banquet of faith. Let all partake of the riches of goodness. Let none lament his poverty; for the kingdom is manifested for all. Let none bewail his transgressions; for pardon has dawned from the tomb. Let none fear death; for the death of the saviour has set us fee. He has quenched death, who was subdued by it. He has despoiled Hades, who descended into Hades. Hades was embittered when it tasted of his flesh and Isaiah anticipating this, cried out saying: Hades was embittered when it met thee face to face below. It was embittered, for it was rendered void. It was embittered, for it was mocked. It was embittered, for it was despoiled. It was embittered for it was fettered. It received a body, and it encountered God. It received earth, and came face to face with heaven. It received that which it saw and fell whence it saw not. O Death, where is thy sting? O Hades where is thy victory? Christ is risen and thou art cast down. Christ is risen and the demons have fallen. Christ is risen and the angels rejoice. Christ is risen and life is made free. Christ is risen and there is none dead in the tomb. For Christ is raised from the dead, and becomes the first fruits of them that slept. To him be glory and dominion from all ages to all ages. Amen.
From ‘Homily for Easter Day’ of St John Chrysostom (died on his journey into exile in AD 407)
1 April 2012
The journey’s beginning, where will it end?
Just once a year, here at St Stephen’s, we let our hair down and we process through the streets. Not something we do lightly, normally we practise our faith sitting in pews in a warm church, hoping not to make too much noise so as not to disturb our neighbours. But on Palm Sunday we celebrate the beginning of a journey that changed the world. Holy Week starts today. On several occasions this week we will be celebrating outside of our church building, the enormity of the events we are celebrating cannot be contained in our church building. Today we are processing through the streets of our parish, joining with all the Christians living here, following our donkeys, and in spirit entering into the journey that Jesus made nearly 2000 years ago which led him to the cross and resurrection. On Thursday evening we meet in the church hall to commemorate the last supper he celebrated with his friends, when they were having their feet washed by him. At Sunrise (6am) on Easter Sunday morning the church itself becomes the tomb in which our Saviour lay, and we will light the Easter fire of the resurrection outside and finally bring the light and joy of the resurrection into the church itself.
25 March 2012
Today is the 25th of March and, were it not a Sunday, the church would keep the feast day of the Annunciation of Our Lord to the Blessed Virgin Mary. In the strange way that the liturgical year intersects with the realities of human biology, we are – believe it or not – nine calendar months away from Christmas, and this must mean that Mary became pregnant with Jesus around this time. But as it is a Sunday this feast day has been transferred to Monday, because the celebration of the Sunday as the day of the resurrection of Christ, takes precedence over all other religious observances. On this single day, therefore, we have – in a nutshell as it were – all the key impulses of our Christian faith: the human conception of our Lord with a foretaste of Christmas, the beginning of passion week with the cloth-covered decorations of the church, driving home Christ’s journey to the cross, and also – always bathing everything in a new light – the reality of the Sunday the first day of the week when Christians, every week, celebrate the day of the resurrection. Sometimes it is good to dissect our faith and live and learn about its elements separately, but sometimes it is essential not to lose sight of the fact that all the teachings about Christ belong together, they are inseparable, because this is how in Christ God works our salvation.
18 March 2012
Joseph and his brothers on Mothering Sunday
At weekday Morning Prayer during this first half of lent we have been reading the extraordinary and wonderful story of Joseph and his brothers (Genesis chapters 37 to 45). On Mothering Sunday we may like to reflect that had Joseph been Josephine and his brothers really his sisters much of the prolonged enmity between the brothers may not have entertained us for so long, but as it stands the story is a brilliant narrative explaining in intimate family detail why the key reality came to be that the people of Israel ended up in Egypt. The story is full of dreams and interpretations of dreams and Joseph rises from the depth of being sold into servitude to being prime minister of Egypt with the power to save the whole nation of neighbouring Israel, from which he had been so cruelly ejected. But what is really intriguing about this story is the fact that, despite it being a central narrative of the book of Genesis and arguably the whole of the Old Testament, God is hardly ever mentioned. God is just presumed to be there, gently and occasionally preventing the worst from happening, but mainly letting humans getting on with making a mess of things and occasionally getting it just right. This is the same God who – crucially for the history of Israel – inspired Moses to lead the people through the desert into the Promised Land and who – crucially for the history of the whole world – gave his only son to be our Christ, our Saviour. It is good to remind ourselves in the narrative of our lives who it was that shaped our lives and often stopped the worst from happening to us, in many cases that will be our mothers and in some cases that will be someone who was like a mother to us. And it therefore our mothers that have instilled in us an ability to have faith in God and not just faith but also trust.
11 March 2012
‘The (1948) Universal Declaration of Human Rights is unquestionably a landmark in the history of moral consciousness’. Thus began the Archbishop of Canterbury in his groundbreaking lecture at the World Council of Churches in Geneva on February 28th. However, in a city that has the universal declaration at the heart of its humanitarian identity, the archbishop opened up a set of questions that its UN agencies may never have expected to encounter. He offered to ‘suggest some ways in which we might reconnect thinking about human rights and religious conviction’. Many had assumed that the two were intertwined.
The cry of dissonance in the face of human rights practice emerges in part from multi-cultural Britain and post-colonial developing countries; ill at ease as they are with resort to the law courts to solve challenges that impact deeply held personal and social mores. The archbishop proposed we engage principles of human dignity and mutual recognition. Human relatedness cannot so easily be ‘managed’ by abstract legal codes that sit above the swirling dynamics of societal change. Belonging to a society implies a reciprocity that demands patient dialogue and respect when considering the diversity of its citizenship.
Amid many signs that traditional secular modalities are straining under the ferment of our globalised world, the Archbishop of Canterbury offered some wisdom for the age. In a city that draws its story from Huguenot sanctuary and Calvinist republicanism, is influenced by the enlightenment ideals of its famous sons Voltaire and Rousseau, and hosts the human rights and humanitarian agencies of the United Nations, Geneva was uniquely the right place to set a new dialogue in motion.
Paul Holley, Geneva and St Stephen’s South Dulwich
4 March 2012
Today we hear for the first time of Bishop Christopher’s ‘call to mission’: Faith, hope love. This is not a diocesan initiative or ‘setting of objectives’ for the next three years, bolted on to all the other things that churches are already involved in. Instead this is a direct communication by our Bishop with everyone who practises their Christian faith in Anglican churches and institutions throughout the diocese. And the response that we make to this ‘call to mission’ is entirely personal. The Bishop wishes us to contemplate how these core Christian qualities of Faith – Hope – Love impact on our lives and through us on the communities in which we live or work.
Faith Hope Love – Prayer
God of faith, deepen our faith
so we may bear witness to Christ in the world;
God of hope, strengthen our hope
so we may be signposts to your transforming presence;
God of love, kindle our love
so that, in a fragile and divided world,
we may be signs of the faith, hope, lovewhich we share in Jesus Christ. Amen
26 February 2012
In the Book of Common Prayer, the collect for Ash Wednesday is said every day during Lent:
Almighty and everlasting God, who hatest nothing that thou hast made, and dost forgive the sins of all them that are penitent; Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we worthily lamenting our sins, and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of thee, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
In this season of soul-searching and self-criticism, this collect strikes a note of confidence. The first thing to say about the world, is that God does not hate any part of it. No-one and nothing is outside God’s love. And God knows that on our own it is hard, if not impossible, to change our lives, letting go of what is bad and making more space for what is good. So God doesn’t ask us to change ourselves, but only to believe we can be changed, and ask for help.
But sometimes even believing is difficult. And then prayers can help us. By saying every day, Almighty and everlasting God, who hatest nothing that thou hast made…, we remind ourselves that however we feel, God loves us and can give us new heart.
Prayers are our partners in the dance of our religious life. When we are full of faith, they help us express it, and when we stumble, they lead and support us. With them, we live and move without ceasing in the music of God’s love.
Teresa Morgan (Oriel College, Oxford)
19 February 2012
Ash Wednesday (this week) signals the beginning of the season of Lent. On Wednesday this week we will be forty days away from the festival of Easter. These forty days reflect the forty days that Noah spent in the ark, the forty years that Israel spent wandering in the desert and the forty days that Jesus spent in the wilderness at the beginning of his ministry. It is a period of reflection, a period of conversion, a period of re orientating our lives in accordance with God’s purposes for us. There is an old ritual associated with Ash Wednesday it is called the ‘imposition of ashes’, we have our foreheads signed with a cross in ashes. The Ashes with which our foreheads are signed are the burned palm crosses from last year’s Palm Sunday, a symbol of the cleansing fire of God’s love. But any ritual is only meaningful if it means something in our lives. Lent is a time of fasting, it is a time for considering where we are with God. During Lent we can set time aside and seriously re-consider the fundamentals of our faith. How important is God in my life, how close do I want God to be. How relevant is God to the busy life we lead. To help us in this re-focussing, we may decide to give something up, have an alcohol-free or meat-free day or two a week. For those of us who are very busy fasting may mean to make ourselves less busy. Business can sometimes be a shield, shielding us from the necessity to ask these fundamental questions. Lent allows us to take this leisure, it may even encourage us to make this extra time.
12 February 2012
Thank God for St Valentine!
Not much is known of the Roman martyr St Valentine. He lived in the third century, he was a Bishop, and he was killed for his Christian faith, his day has always been kept on the 14th of February and his grave is pointed out to you in hushed tones when you visit the earliest catacombs in Rome. Nobody knows for certain why his feast day should have become associated with the goings on between people who love one another. It is probable that the 14th of February was traditionally thought to be the day when birds started mating. For us as Christians it is an ideal opportunity to reflect upon our relationships. Our relationships are the single most important factor in shaping us into the people that we are. First there is the relationship with our parents or parent-like figures in our lives, then with our siblings, then we make friends and have lovers, then we have partnerships and sometimes we are married. The nature of love in these relationships is that they can build us up but they can also injure us and leave scars. Love on St Valentine’s Day becomes temporarily trivialised and commercialised into paper cards, but we all know that love has the capacity to hurt as well as to heal. And we all know that the experience of our relationships affects our ability to trust in friends and partners. But do we ever consider how our relationship with God, our friendship with Christ affects all our other relationships? Do we really believe that God’s love for us can restore in us the ability to trust, to love, to forgive and even to be forgiven? A good place to start is the famous 27th Psalm. Here the relationship with God is described as the only really reliable stronghold and it is here that all our other relationships are redeemed.
5 February 2012
And Jesus entered the house of Simon Peter, where his mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and Jesus came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them. (Mark 1,30&31)
No wonder that Peter’s mother-in-law had gone down with a fever. Peter had left his steady job, putting his family at risk and followed that unknown quantity, that maverick preacher and healer Jesus. It was this fever that left her when Jesus took her by the hand. Could it be true that the normal lives we live are close to the feverishness that Peter’s mother-in-law was feeling? Our lives are often full of fear and uncertainty, feelings of insignificance and a sense of overwhelming powerlessness. We fill our lives with feverish activity and business, fleeing away from who we really are. We try and create certainty and increase our sense of self-worth by ambitious striving and filling our hands with things that we hope will steady us. We create order and probity around us that terrorises us and those around us. And Jesus came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Could it be that Jesus wants to free us from such feverishness, that Jesus demonstrates that God most wants us to be the people that we really are? Could it be that when we live in the nearness of Jesus we can discover that what we perceive to be our smallness and insignificance is in truth beautifully composed by God?
With our feverishness in mind let hear anew the familiar words of Newman spoken at the end of a sermon on 19th February 1843:
May he support us all the day long, till the shades lengthen, and the evening comes, and the busy world is hushed, and the fever of life is over, and our work is done! Then in his mercy may he give us a safe lodging, and a holy rest, and peace at the last.
29 January 2012
2nd February – Candlemass – The Festival of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple. The completion of the Christmas – Epiphany season
Candlemass is – amongst other things – a celebration of ageing well. Old age can bring wisdom and serenity. Listening to old people, if we take the trouble to do it, can be full of discovery and insight because what is being communicated is simplicity and wisdom condensed by reflection. But old age can also be frustrating. Those of us with elderly relatives are painfully aware of how difficult and sometimes cruel ageing can be as well.
The old man Simeon (age unknown) and the prophet Anna (84) had been waiting in and around the Temple for years (the story is told in Luke 2,22-40). They were waiting for God’s fulfilment. They saw it in the infant Jesus, brought to the Temple by his parents, forty days after his birth, to fulfil the Jewish law of purification. These two old people found fulfilment in the little baby who would become a light to Israel and to all the nations. Their own fulfilment was found in seeing the hope of God in child-form come into the world. They would not see the completion of this work themselves, but they were full of hope for God’s future. To live without hope must be the greatest curse of all. Candlemass, when the Church blesses the candles that shine in worship and illumine darkness, is the celebration of the light and blessings of Christ, a hope for all the world. It is on that note that we dismantle our crib today: Christ will illumine our world also!
22 January 2012
We will all be changed.
Change is at the heart of our Christian faith. Saint Paul said that anyone who is in Christ is a new creation, and we are called to live as children in the light.
The theme for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity 2012 comes to us from the churches in Poland, who have reflected upon their own experience as a nation, and in particular how, as a nation, they have been changed and transformed by the many upheavals of their history, and sustained by their faith.
Change is also at the heart of the ecumenical movement. When we pray for the unity of the church we are praying that the churches that we know and which are so familiar to us will change as they conform more closely to Christ. This is an exciting vision, but also a challenging one. Furthermore, when we pray for this transforming unity we are also praying for change in the world.
Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (18th to 25th January)
No man is an island, entire of itself;
every man is a piece of the continent,
a part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less,
as well as if a promontory were,
as well as if a manor of thy friend’s
or of thine own were:
any man’s death diminishes me,
because I am involved in mankind,
and therefore never send to know
for whom the bell tolls;
it tolls for thee.
From John Donne’s Meditation XVII
15 January 2012
For the next two weeks we will be accompanied in our Epiphany journey by an exhibition of paintings by Francis Bridge a fine art scholar at Dulwich College. Francis is fascinated and influenced by visions in the Book of Revelation and modern fantasy and graphic fiction. Here is what he writes about himself:
First of all I would like to offer my sincerest gratitude to Fr. Bernhard for allowing me to hold the exhibition here in St Stephen’s in the first place – I truly appreciate your trust and support.
Secondly, I would like to talk about why I feel a church is in many ways the best possible place for my work to be displayed, personally.
No artist is completely isolated from outside sources – it is almost impossible to find a person of wholly original output, and even if you did the chances are his creations would be bizarre but not quite as vibrant, as fully realised as those of the artist who cleaves to reference, to influence, who seeks observational as well as creative skill.
I myself was heavily influenced by religious iconography and associated symbols – the murals in country churches, the statuary of the Catedral de Milan, the perching angels of St Stephen’s itself. Every church I visit has some unique aspect, some beautiful crafted detail I can harvest, something I can internalise and make a part of my influences.
Thank you for attending the exhibition – I appreciate also your contribution in observing my work, in seeing through my lens the influences that have shaped me.
Francis Bridge – Sixth form, Dulwich College
8 January 2012
The Feast of the Epiphany celebrates the revelation of Christ to the nations.
Today we will read of the visit of the wise men and over the coming weeks will see Christ revealed in differing ways through his baptism in the Jordan, his miracle at the wedding of Cana and finally through his presentation at the Temple on Candlemas.
As we read of these events, we wonder why it was that those who were there did not immediately understand who Christ was. We imagine that if we had been there it would have been obvious to us and we would have immediately fallen at Jesus’ feet in worship.
But recognising the presence of God in our world is not always easy. Often we are too wrapped-up in ourselves to be able to notice the little miracles which surround us. Too often we fail to recognise the face the Christ in those we meet, particularly those in need. Indeed, it is perhaps the work of a lifetime to be alert to the presence of God in our daily lives, to allow ourselves to have moments of epiphany each day.
In the notice sheet this morning you will find a goodbye card from Helen and I. There are ten different ones and they feature memories we treasure and people and places which we will miss. These images are also reminders of presence of God with us, in this place, over these last years.
Revd. Nick Davies, Curate