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Label Jars Not People

Preached by Revd Linda Galvin on 23 June 2019: First Sunday after Trinity
Luke 8:26-39 and Galatians 3:23-29

May I speak and may you hear through the Grace of our Lord; Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen

Designer labels, fashion labels, medical labels, religious labels, personality labels – labels we give ourselves and labels that are given to us. The government asks me to label myself every time I fill in an official form – am I male or female, am I white or black or of a different hue, do I smoke, do I drink, or would I prefer not to answer.

Then there are the socially constructed labels, of rich, poor, educated, uneducated, gay, straight, old, fit, fat, attractive, funny, boring, vegetarian or vegan.

However, each answer that I give creates algorithms that are designed to place me in various boxes in order to qualify me, tax me or sell me something – and you wonder why you get those adverts pop up for Slimming World or Saga holidays, or have you sorted a funeral plan out yet… that was only after I had my ‘big’ birthday the other day!

But what it all boils down to defining who we really are the only label that should be relevant is that we are children of God, and every person on earth carries that label.

As we heard in Paul’s message to the Galatians: In God, there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female. We are all one. In baptism, we are all clothed in Christ. Only a couple of weeks ago, a member of our congregation, Sophie, was baptised, clothed in Christ and welcomed into the family of God and she may carry many labels throughout her life: student, dancer, musician, graduate, scientist, fashion model, firefighter… the possibilities are endless. But the most important label she will have is child of God. And I pray that every person who looks upon her will see that above all else.

The trouble is, and I don’t just mean for Sophie, but for all of us, people rarely see just that. Take for example the sight that greeted Jesus and his disciples as they stepped off of the boat in the country of the Gerasenes. No official welcome, but a dishevelled, vocal creature who is obviously mad… rubber stamp, mental health issues.

On the one level, yes he is naked, screaming and obviously suffering from a disturbance of the mind, but had he chosen to live among the ‘unclean dead’ as the fundamentalists would have seen it or was he driven away from society to take refuge in a place whose claim to humanity was a tenuous as his own? Either way, his life is lonely and pitiful.

But, unlike those who have labelled themselves as righteous, keepers of the law and created a world of rules and laws and labels, into which only certain people can fit in, the demoniac is under no illusion and the irony is that only the ‘mad’ man recognises who Jesus is.

Jesus then asked him, ‘What is your name?’

Luke 8:30

When Jesus asks him, what is your name, there is a sense of calm and relief amongst the noisy shouting and dreadful back story as narrated. The question treats the man like a human being for the first time in goodness knows how long. and although he can’t remember what those who once loved him used to call him, Jesus’ question marks a turning point in the story and the man’s life, as he restores the human image to the man, as he is to restore it to the whole of humankind.

No wonder the law keepers were fearful and trembling. The ‘mad’ man was desperate enough to welcome change, however drastic, but these ‘sane’ people are comfortable with their illusion of life and did not want it challenged.

In the Galatians passage, Paul tells us without Christ, we are all in the condition that the demon-possessed man was. We were chained up, naked, living in a world of illusion and artifice, but now we can be ‘clothed’ with Christ, at peace and made whole again.

Why though were the people of Galatia writing to Paul, what labels were they still wearing, which ones did they need to cut off and discard? Apparently, another branch of Jesus followers had come to town with a different message than Paul. The Galatia church was primarily Gentiles, non-Jews. Paul believed that all people were to be welcomed without conditions. Welcome Jesus into your heart and off you go. However, these new preachers believed that the only path to Jesus was through Judaism, which required circumcision and adherence to Jewish laws. Two very different messages. What were the people of Galatia to think?

Paul replied that the law was a prison, and Jesus was the key that set humanity free. The law was in place to keep people in line until they could experience that faith that sets us free, the law that is written on our hearts to tell us right from wrong. And if anyone knew about the law being a prison, it’s Paul. In the name of the law, he had led stonings; murdered the followers of Jesus, instilled fear and drove people underground. He hunted and killed the followers of Jesus for living out their lives as God had called them to do, to live authentically in their identity as children of God.

In his prior life as a Pharisee, Paul saw people simply by their legal status: legal or illegal. If you were illegal, you were put in prison, banished, killed. They did not have humanity or identity. There was no grey area, no grace, no compassion. Just judgement and conviction.

After his conversion, Paul understood the damage being done by this way of thinking. He understood the importance of baptism, that the label of child of God is the most important label and the only one that mattered.

Following the Jewish laws was not necessary, following Jesus was. But it is much more difficult. The appealing aspect of the Jewish faith for so many was that it provided clear ethical directives. Follow the 613 rules about everything. From worship to clothing, to what to do if your neighbour’s ox falls into a ditch on a Tuesday or someone wearing a polyester blouse, then it was off with her head! Check things off the list and see that you are living properly.

Paul uses the word paidagogos, translated as ‘disciplinarian’. A paidagogos was the household slave charged with keeping the children under control. He was to a certain extent an educator – we get our word pedagogy from it. But he was mainly a custodian – a jailer, if you like – who ensured the children behaved properly wherever they were. The law was therefore like a babysitter, a guardian designed to keep people in line under the threat of God, but also under the threat of the death squads like Paul had ran.

Living in Christ was different though. Jesus was by all accounts a good and faithful Jew, but he began questioning these laws that didn’t match what his heart was telling him. The law said no healing on the sabbath. So, he was supposed to let someone suffer until the law said he could end that suffering?

Jesus saw what was underneath the outward appearance and behaviour of the man living in the tombs because love sees people differently. How then do we see people? When we label someone as homeless, that may well be an accurate description of their state of residency, but the label of homelessness reduces the entirety of someone’s being to one adjective that seems to overrule all others. A homeless person could be an artist, a cancer survivor, compassionate, or a comedian, but the label of homeless is all that they are seen as. Most certainly they are no longer seen as a child of God.

The person serving in a restaurant or shop, who can’t get our order right might be labelled stupid or lazy, but what if they are tired from having been up all night studying, grieving a death or breakdown in a relationship, or struggling with their finances and having to do multiple jobs. Most certainly they are not a child of God, if we give them an angry, exasperated glare.

To so many, we add our own preconceptions and judgments when we apply a label to them. As Muhammad Ali, the boxer, once said. ‘There is only one true religion, and that is the religion of the heart. God never named it Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, etc. Man gave the titles, and that’s what separates and divides us. My dream is to one day see a world that comes together to fight for one cause — the human cause…’

There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, 
there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.

Galatians 3:28

The human cause then is surely what the message of Jesus is all about? The human cause; ensuring that the hungry are fed and the lonely are visited and all people are able to live in peace and justice and love. Because the labels that we put on one another mean nothing compared to the label of child of God that surpasses all else. Love one another, do not pass judgement. Look at every person you meet first as a child of God, and then wonder if all those other labels really matter.

Amen

“Glory to God in the highest, for you alone are the Lord, you alone are the Most High, Jesus Christ, with the Holy Spirit, in the glory of God the Father!”

Preached by Carol Kidd on 16 June 2019: Trinity Sunday
Psalm 8, Romans 5:1-5, John 16:12-15

May I speak in the name of God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit: Amen

Glory to God in the highest, for you alone are the Lord, you alone are the Most High, Jesus Christ, with the Holy Spirit, in the glory of God the Father!

A thanksgiving to God for forgiving and freeing us from our sins. Words that in our liturgy follow prayer to the God of love and power to heal and strengthen us by his Spirit, and raise us to new life in Christ.

Trinity Sunday is set aside in the church calendar as a time to celebrate and give praise and glory to God: Father, Son and Spirit each unique yet equal, working in unity.

We have been greeted in the name of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, soon we will be invited to declare our faith in the triune God in the words of the Creed, and at the conclusion of the Eucharistic Prayer the Trinity will be praised for:

“Through Christ, and with Christ, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all honour and glory are yours, O loving Father, for ever and ever, Amen”

As Christians we will encounter, question and wonder about various Holy Mysteries as we deepen our understanding of God. It is not necessary to be experts in theology and doctrine or to know for certain everything about God, for having hope in what we do not yet fully understand is part of the journey of faith.

Jesus, as his trial and crucifixion drew near, understood it was all too much for the disciples to understand, the time would come when it would make sense and they would form new communities in his name.

As Easter people we are part of the world-wide Christian community who hold fast in faith to the everlasting hope that God has given because, as Paul explained, the Holy Spirit pours God’s love into our hearts which will surely help us to bear all things.

There is the well-known saying, “two’s company, three’s a crowd”. That may be so in a close one to one relationship where a third person is seeking inclusion and feeling excluded – but that is not the structure of the Trinity. Rather than being in a competitive relationship Father, Son and Holy Spirit make up a perfect united, inclusive community.

I wonder how many communities are represented here? Many of us belong to several communities. Here we are part of the church community. We also belong to communities where we live or work and various groups or clubs where we claim membership.

Relational communities exist through unity in diversity where all who wish to be a part can find a sense of belonging despite differences. An important part of the Collation Service on 25 June will be the opportunity for representatives from different community groups to introduce themselves to Rev’d Vicky. Some will be people who we will recognise, others may never have been in St James’ Church before. What is important is the invitation and the response, a time for relation building as here in West End we welcome our new Vicar whose responsibility is relational to all who live in this parish not just those of us who attend services.

The whole of Christian life, how we relate to God, is defined by the Trinity and determined by God’s invitation through his Son and by his Spirit and how we respond to his call.

Christian life must be loving and inclusive because God in Trinity is loving and invites all; Christian life should be communal, transparent, humble and joyful, because God in Trinity is communal, transparent, humble and joyful. Within the community of the Trinity there’s no jealousy, no conflict, no disrespect. There’s no lying or hiding, and no blaming. Within the community of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit there’s just love: perfect love, perfect unity and communication.

As a church we need to ask how we can move towards a greater expression and experience of community following the example of the Trinity. To do so we need to consider how we think of the three ‘persons’ of the Trinity: God the Father is the creator and sustainer of all things, God the Son redeems, restores and reconciles all that is broken, the Holy Spirit empowers, comforts, guides and inspires revealing the Father and the Son’s quest for loving renewal.

It would be wrong to dismember the Trinity. If we only speak of God’s concern for creation, it can leave God powerful but remote. If we focus only on God as Christ the Redeemer we rightly speak of his salvation, healing and forgiveness; but the danger is that we lose sight of the larger picture that God blesses not only individuals or groups who praise his name, but also that God wishes to bless and draw to himself all communities and indeed the whole world. And if we focus solely on the effects of the Holy Spirit by which God’s grace is shared and our lives are filled with inspiration as God’s love is revealed, then we risk forgetting that God as Trinity reminds us that creation, redemption and renewal belong together!

God as Trinity demonstrates and teaches us that in order to build bridges between the wider community and the community of faith evangelism, prayer and contemplation belong together. The very nature of our Triune God calls us to live lives of mutual care, giving and receiving.

If God is a community of ‘persons’, then we too are called to the community-building task – and the nurture of family, friendships, communities of faith, partnerships in the workplace and hospitality in our neighbourhoods is the creative and demanding task to which all are invited.

Charles Ringma (contemplative and spiritual writer)

The Trinity can be understood as an Icon of what it means to be community. God invites us to be community-builders. God the Father desires that we offer a loving, diverse, fully inclusive welcome in his name in this place and beyond. God the Son desires that all are invited to share in the bread and wine of the Eucharist or a blessing and to enter into relationship with him. God the Spirit desires that by his strength the love of the Father and the Son will be known throughout the world.

This Sunday and every Sunday, today and every day, may we boldly seek to reflect the wonder of the Trinity, to strive to be the community we are called to emulate and give praise and thanks to God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit: Glory to God in the highest, for you alone are the Lord, you alone are the Most High, Jesus Christ, with the Holy Spirit, in the glory of God the Father! Amen

Dorcas and the gift of resurrection

Preached by Brenda Holden on 12 May 2019: 4th Sunday of Easter
Acts 9:36-end, John 10:22-30

Getting to know people is one of the delights of being human. People’s lives are never ordinary – everyone has a unique contribution to make in the great scheme of the God’s Kingdom.

What we heard this morning was the story of Tabitha, whose name in Greek was Dorcas. Dorcas had died and the mystery is why this miraculous healing was recorded by Luke in such detail.

Dorcas, when she was alive, had been a special disciple in the church in Joppa. She had developed a charitable ministry among women of the town especially widows. In those days widows were prey to severe financial problems with no social security benefits being available. There was the suggestion by one writer that she organised the prototype of a clothing club that was later found in other early churches. There appears to be no doubt that she was well thought of by the women who had gathered as mourners around her death bed.

It was known that Peter was in Lydda, not far from Joppa and he was sent for in the hope that he could do something as he was a well-known leader of the Early Church. Peter appears to have dropped everything and returned with Dorcas’ friends. Part of the mystery for us is that Dorcas wasn’t the only member of the early church to die, so why did Peter respond immediately?

The account of what happened when Peter arrived at Dorcas’ home has an uncanny resemblance to Jesus’ healing of Jairus’ daughter. Dorcas’ body was in an upper room of the house and Peter excluded the mourners from the scene. He then knelt and prayed before taking her hand and telling her to get up once she had opened her eyes. What we hear is a story of a resurrection as Dorcas is brought back to life.

This miracle is a demonstration of the power of God working through Peter. The coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost had empowered him and the other disciples. This is possibly the resolution to the mystery of why this story is included in the Acts of the Apostles. If you remember, last week in our Gospel reading we heard the risen Jesus conferring this authority on Peter following the breakfast on the beach. After three times when Peter said that he loved Jesus, Jesus told Peter to feed his sheep, in other words, to care for his flock and this is what Peter was doing in the story this morning.

Dorcas was an unsung heroine in her community. She could be described as the beating heart of God’s Kingdom. We can imagine that her risen self just got on with God’s work to the glory of God.

Today is the start of Christian Aid Week 2019 and this year they are focussing on the work in Sierra Leone in Africa. Christian Aid is well known for its support when disasters happen. What is less well known is the work they do with long term community development programmes in many of the poorer regions of the world. For decades Christian Aid has been on the ground developing sustainable income-generating projects and health education programmes with many of those being led by women- women like Dorcas working within their own communities. Christian Aid have released a video about a lady in Sierra Leone called Tenneh who uses her midwifery skills to encourage health education and support for pregnant women to increase the safety of both mothers and their babies at the time of childbirth. The work of Christian Aid can bring resurrection to parts of the world where there is little hope.

Dorcas in many shapes and forms abound within church families around the world – their ministry attracts us to the small-scale deeds at the heart of the Kingdom. God pays attention to and values ministry in all its forms – apparently ordinary people are not ordinary to God!

It is fitting that the lectionary gave me the resurrection of Dorcas for my final sermon. I had expected to finish my 20 years of preaching with my homily at the foot of the Cross on Good Friday. God, working through Linda, however, had other ideas. He didn’t want to leave me there, just as he didn’t want to leave his first disciples in a dark place. God wants us all to experience resurrection – the hope and love that it brings into our lives. My resurrection will be similar to Dorcas’ as she returned to her prayerful worship, her creativity and her friendships – that is very similar to the journey I hope to take in the coming years.

We none of us know what the future holds as we listen to the call of the Risen Lord. However, we can be sure that Resurrection will happen – it is a wonderful and mysterious gift for all of us who profess and live our Christian faith.

The light of Christ is strong, life-giving, healing, leading and redeeming

Preached by Carol Kidd on 20 April 2019: Easter Vigil

We began this evening in darkness before gathering around an ordinary fire which through blessing became sacred and provided the momentum for our return into the church building. Fire plays such an important part in the history of humankind. For wandering tribes, hot ashes were carried as smouldering fire; when they stopped they kindled it, and afterwards they shared a meal; they warmed themselves and around the fire made their home.

As humankind evolved, primitive round huts had a central space for the fire used for cooking, heating and for providing light. In the wilderness desert Moses was drawn to speak with Yahweh by the amazing spectacle of the burning bush. His Lord heard his people’s cry for food, provided manna and sent a pillar of fire to guide them by day and protect them by night. Jesus lit a fire on the shore at daybreak to guide his disciples that they might return to him and be nourished, fed and prepared for the task ahead.

Fire to attract attention, fire associated with gathering people together in unity. Fire is a great provider: it is necessary for preparing food to satisfy our physical hunger, flames are associated with candles used in our spiritual lives, and of course tongues of flames appeared at the coming of the Holy Spirit.

This Holy Saturday we have gathered around while the fire was blessed, and followed the light taken from the blaze as we walked behind the sacred flame which lit the way as our steps trod in the light of the new Paschal Candle from which our individual candles sprang to life. Soon we will come to the Eucharistic banquet at the centre of our worship – the sacred meal that is for all who wish to come, taste and see.

We are invited to receive the elements of Holy Communion, the Blessed Sacraments of bread and wine that are to us Jesus’ body and blood, prepared as he instructed in remembrance that he lived and died and rose again, to take away not just our sin but the sins of all the world.

Jesus came to be an eternal flame always in our midst, a fire at the centre of our lives, bringing light for dark times, filling us with the warmth of his Holy Spirit dwelling within. Out of darkness he came with his most marvelous light. From the darkness of death itself he came, and he is life itself to us. To those of us who have often found ourselves bruised and weary from day to day living, he brings light and new life. He came of his infinite love to gather our complicated lives for himself, and to give them back to us newly refreshed and restored. In his light all human life and love become immortal, undying and enduring, because Jesus Christ our Lord has vanquished death – and death being vanquished, what other evil can we ever really fear?

The feast of Easter is above all things a feast of hope and of courage. Christ the victor, risen from the dead, is a conqueror of death. The journey ends not in death, but life. Indeed our Christian journey has no ending if we think of death as the door to new life – with the light of Christ close at hand, we find he has taken the horror out of death, and if we invite him in we must be prepared to carry his light, not just into the midst of the people but also out into the world.

Are we ready to share Christ’s resurrection light? His message of good news?

Maybe we still – quite naturally for we are only human – have times when we are not quite sure what it all means and, like the women and Peter that very first Easter morning and Thomas at his first encounter with his risen Lord, we can find ourselves wondering about what really happened, trying to piece together the mystery of the resurrection.

Luke’s version of the story places Mary Magdelene, Mary the mother of Jesus and Joanna as the bearers of the light of God as they tell others the great news. Interestingly they do not appear frightened at the beginning of the story. They saw the stone rolled away and went in. When they entered they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus yet they did not hesitate; they only expressed fear at the dazzling appearance of the two messengers. Frightened by the presence of the two men in clothes that gleamed like lightening, the women heard the resurrection message: ‘Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here he has risen!’

It is in the light of the knowledge of the resurrection that we come to understand that God has promised that he will grant us the greatness to start again if at first we fail. Out of darkness to us who so often live in darkness, he still comes with his marvelous light. He desires for us to do as the women did and tell others, even if at first we find that those we speak to about our faith seem to treat our testimony as nonsense. We are called to share the wonderful Easter message so others will wonder what truly happened, seek answers and come to know Jesus for themselves.

Life is triumphant. Life is eternal. The light Jesus brings will never from this time be extinguished and the life he brings us shall never die. The old are new, the new are old on Easter Day. In declaring Christ is risen indeed we preach the resurrection and join with Christians world-wide in celebrating not a dead hero but a living Saviour!

Alleluia  Amen

At the foot of the Cross

Preached by Brenda Holden on 19 April 2019: Good Friday
Isaiah 52:13 – 53: end;  Passion reading from John

Today, Good Friday, we have reached the climax of the Passion narrative. We have arrived at Golgotha and we stand once again with those gathered at the foot of the cross bearing Jesus. We stand in the crowd alongside the Roman soldiers, representatives of the Jewish religious leaders and a selection of Jesus’ followers and family.

Jesus has been lifted up. Isaiah’s prophecy saw this as Jesus being exalted. This is the enthronement of the King of the Jews which was acknowledged by the inscription above Jesus’ head. Pilate had insisted that the sign was written in Hebrew, Latin and Greek for all to see and understand. Pilate may have been coerced by the mob against his better judgement into allowing a sentence of crucifixion to be passed, but Pilate had the last word. He wanted all the nations represented at the crucifixion to understand that what was happening was a sacrificial death of their King. Pilate felt that this death was an injustice – Jesus was stricken down for the transgressions of his people.

At the foot of the cross we see the soldiers having done what they were trained to do. For them it was just one more crucifixion of a criminal according to Roman law. They had done their dreadful deed and they were having to stay around on duty until they received their next command. In order to pass the time they sorted through the clothes to share them out, but the seamless tunic was too good to tear up for cloth so they cast lots for the garment. They had several hours of potential boredom ahead of them waiting for the criminals to die – their job was to prevent friends coming and taking the person down in order to save their life before it was too late.

The following day was a special day of Preparation for the Jews and being sensitive to the wishes of the Jews and to prevent any unrest they were given instructions from Pilate to hasten the death of the criminals by breaking their legs so that the bodies could be removed before the solemn sabbath. When the soldiers came to Jesus they discovered that Jesus was already dead – when they pierced his side with a spear blood and water emerged.

We are not told that representatives of the Jewish religious authorities were present. However, in the circumstances, with such a high profile crucifixion that had been orchestrated by themselves when they forced the hand of Pilate,  it would have been surprising if they were not there to check that their demands had been fully carried out.

Of Jesus’ disciples only one was present at the foot of the cross, the ‘beloved disciple’, who was thought to be John. We are not told where the rest of Jesus’ close male friends were – we can imagine that they were overcome with fear and were hiding away out of sight of the authorities to avoid arrest. Alongside John were Jesus’ mother and several women followers including Mary Magdalene, the forgiven sinner. They were probably as fearful as the other disciples, but they wanted to be there to support Jesus through his ordeal – perhaps they also didn’t want the authorities taking charge of Jesus’ dead body.

John’s Gospel deliberately mentions episodes not found in the other gospels. One of these is Jesus’ words to his mother and the beloved disciple – words that would bring comfort and support to both of them in the future. To his mother, Jesus said. ‘Woman, here is your son’ and to John he said, ‘Here is your mother’. 

The arrangement between John and Mary would not be legally binding but they could be united in their deep love of Jesus and in their shock and grief. The significance of this event was that through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ – we who believe are bound together as one new family united by the cross.

Those present at the foot of the cross were witnesses to Jesus’ final words after having moistened his dry mouth with the soured wine delivered to him on a sponge attached to a twig of hyssop.

Jesus’ triumphal words ‘It is finished’ were not to be whispered. Jesus wanted all those present to hear clearly that the job that His Father had given him had been completed. It was not a cry of defeat or despair. Jesus’ sacrifice – his vocation was completed – he had offered to His Father on behalf of the world a life of perfect love and obedience. 

As we stand at the foot of the cross we may wonder why the day that Christ died is called Good Friday. John’s Gospel shows us that Christ’s death is a victory and the seeds of new life would come from the cross. We need to be still in the presence of the cross today to appreciate the true significance of Good Friday.

Under Pressure

Preached by Brenda Holden on 17 March 2019: Second Sunday of Lent
Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18; Luke 13 31-end

Time was running out for both Abram and Jesus in our two Bible readings this morning. The clock was ticking as they were both aware of the end of their journey of life. They both felt under pressure from their commitments with God. The covenant relationships that they had both entered into with God at the start of their journeys had reached a critical phase.

Abram, yet to be re-named Abraham, had felt compelled under pressure to take matters into his own hands to produce an heir in order to fulfil God’s promise that he would be the father of the nation. Unfortunately, his fathering of a son with Hagar, a slave in his household, caused tremendous hurt within his home for his wife, who was at that time child-less, and all those involved. As observers we could have told Abram that things would go pear-shaped if he took matters into his own hands.

Under pressure Abram had not trusted enough in the covenant relationship he had with God. Abram was getting old, he felt that God was being too laid back. God was leaving things too long for Abram’s descendants to be more numerous than the stars in the sky!

Up until this point in the story Abram had listened when God spoke. It had been very much a one-sided conversation. Perhaps Abram felt over-awed by the fact that he had been chosen by God. Under pressure Abram broke his silence and an outburst of frustration exploded from him.

Abram pointed out that he had done everything that God had asked of him. He had kept his side of the covenant. He and Sarah had left their home in Ur and started on the journey that God told them to take. God was yet to fulfil his promise and this made Abram angry and disappointed. God was made fully aware of his feelings!

God accepted Abrams bold outburst – this showed God that Abram was worthy of the role that he had been given. The time had come for the covenant to be re-enforced by a ritual. To us the ritual seems a bit horrific.

Imagine for a moment the scene – Abram brings a 3 year old heifer, a 3 year old female goat, a ram of 3 years old plus a turtle dove and a young pigeon. He then proceeds under instruction to cut the heifer, the goat and the ram in half – a bloody scene reminiscent of a slaughter house – not a place for the squeamish! He didn’t bother cutting the birds in half.
Splitting the animals in two in that way suggested that Abram and God were equal members taking part in the covenant. An exhausted Abram must have had a full-time job keeping the birds of prey away from the carcasses until God arrived when it was dark with the smoking pot and flaming torch which were passed between each of the bodies to seal the covenantal relationship.  

Abram was left in no doubt that God was fully committed to their covenantal relationship.

God’s commitment extended from that time onwards. The relationship with the nation from Abram’s offspring was still in existence through the test of time until it was necessary for God to send His Son to once again display His commitment to His people.

In our Gospel reading Jesus was seriously under pressure. We are surprised to hear that some friendly Pharisees came to warn him that Herod was out to get him.  It makes us realise that not all the Pharisees were the bad guys that they have been painted with the pens of the gospel writers.

Jesus knew exactly what the situation was – his reference to Herod as a fox speaks volumes. Under pressure Jesus reflects on the innocent blood that has been shed within Jerusalem’s city walls. He laments for the city of Jerusalem in the knowledge that it will be the place of his own sacrificial death in the not too distant future. However, Jesus keeps calm under pressure and continues calmly along his journey until the time is right for the showdown in Jerusalem in Holy Week.

He gives us the memorable image of himself as the mother hen protecting his followers, the chicks under his wings. Hens will endure all manner of hurt in order to protect their chicks. This image encourages us to place our trust and hope in him in the same way that Abram under pressure would put his trust in God the Father.

What we have seen in our readings today is the importance of our relationship with God in giving us a firm foundation and protection in our lives when we pass through periods of difficulties, doubt and pressure.  

We have to remember that God is always there for us!  Amen

Annual Servicing

Preached by Brenda Holden on 6 March 2019: Ash Wednesday  
Isaiah 58:1-12,  Matt 6:1-6, 16-21

We are all familiar with the need for an annual service for our cars and our central heating boilers if we have them. The annual service ensures that these items run smoothly, efficiently and safely. Lent is an opportunity for us to perform and annual service on our bodies and spirits and today, Ash Wednesday is the start of Lent it can be the start of our programme to get our lives back into a good running order.

The word Lent is from an Old English word for spring and this year with Easter on 21 April we are already in springtime. The next 40 days from Ash Wednesday to Good Friday, not including the Sundays, we remember the time that Jesus fasted in the wilderness and how he learnt to resist the temptations of the world, the flesh and the devil.

In former times, before the industrial revolution, spring was a time when fresh food was in short supply. The cupboards that had been stocked by the previous year’s harvest were becoming bare. It made sense for the Church to use these weeks to encourage fasting and to link the bodily fast with a time of spiritual self-discipline in preparation for the celebrations of Easter. In those days the annual servicing of the members of the congregations through fasting and prayer fitted very neatly with the availability of resources.

Fasting and spiritual self-discipline do not  fit as neatly into our present situation.  Some people choose to abstain from luxuries like chocolate for Lent. My father’s mother had a good take on that one. She indulged herself with chocolate on Sunday afternoons having been to church in the morning because, as she said, Sundays are not part of Lent. She probably ate more chocolate on that one afternoon than she would normally have had in a whole week!

We now live in a part of the world where we have food in abundance. We are overwhelmed with choice and we expect all varieties of foods to be available matter what the season. What we have enjoyed may change if there are problems in trading with foreign countries and hold-ups at ports in the future.

The over-abundance of food has seriously impacted on the health and well-being of our population and those in other prosperous countries of the world. Our nation was probably its fittest in a bodily sense when there was rationing during and after the last war. When we observe the weekly rations allowed to families it was a form of fasting for every week of the year.

Today, we need more than ever an ‘annual service’ of our bodies and our spirits. In many ways it is less about restraining from luxurious indulgences and more about looking for ways to re-kindle our relationship with God and developing good habits over the coming weeks of Lent that can be sustained throughout the rest of the year.

During Lent we will see the ‘penitential purple’ displayed on the altar frontals and in the vestments worn by the priests. Additional penitence in our Eucharistic worship is acknowledged by omitting the Gloria and Alleluias. Also our hymns and psalms during Lent lean towards the more solemn.

This evening at the start of Lent we are invited to receive the mark of a cross on our foreheads. The ash having been made by Doug from last year’s Palm Crosses that have been burned and mixed with a little olive oil.

These outward symbols and actions are part of the annual service for our church community, but we also need to make a personal commitment through prayer and study in order to be reminded that true happiness comes from knowing that God loves us. Our true vocation as practising Christians is to love God and our neighbour.

We heard in our Gospel reading that Jesus condemned those who forced their penitential humility down the throats of others by being boastful. He told his disciples to continue to go about their daily lives ‘so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you’.

As part of our annual servicing it may be that we prayerfully reflect on what is ‘treasure’ to us -what do we value most in our lives?  Hopefully our annual servicing will result in our bodies, minds and spirits working smoothly, efficiently and safely! Amen

God’s Eden Project

Preached by Brenda Holden on 24 February 2019: Second Sunday before Lent
Genesis 2: 4b-9, 15- end; Luke 8: 22-25

The Eden Project in Cornwall was opened in the year 2000 after taking 5 years in its construction from an abandoned clay quarry. The project consists of domes containing the range of biomes found on the earth’s surface. It is an incredible experience to walk through the different ecosystems – a blessing as an educational tool!

In our Old Testament reading from Genesis we heard about God’s Eden Project. It was the second version of the creation narrative. The first Creation story in Genesis Chapter 1 described humanity as the culmination of God’s labours with man appearing on the 6th day before God rested on the 7th day. Man’s appearance was closely followed by that of woman and they were given the privileged role of being stewards over all the earth, that is, the plants and animals that had already been created.

In the Creation story we have just heard man was created first from the dust of the ground and then the Garden of Eden with all the other living things are created to keep him company including  a woman to be a partner for the man.
Having these two different versions of Creation in Genesis makes a problem for Creationists who take the Genesis stories as factual accounts of what happened.  

The date that Genesis is thought to have been written was about 6th century BC probably following the period of exile of the Jewish nation in Babylon. While in Babylon they would have heard the colourful and dramatic stories of the Babylonian gods creating the world. Many of the early civilisations have their own creation narratives – a fund of stories about the origin of the world and the earliest ‘history’ of the human race.

On returning from exile the Jews wanted their own unique version. They wanted a record of how the God worshipped by the Jewish nation the one, true, powerful but loving God wanted a living and breathing relationship with humanity and brought the world into existence. The word Eden means delight –  the relationship between Man and God was to be delightful! That was not the picture of the relationships between humanity and the gods of other ancient civilisations.

The act of God putting humans in a Garden of Eden to be good stewards has been a significant aspect in the relationship between God and mankind. God is in control, but humanity has a vital and responsible part to play – divine love and human love working together to bring about heaven on earth! Love is the important ingredient in God’s Eden Project!
It was interesting to see in the Guardian newspaper on 21 January 2019 that research carried out in 2015 found that physical work in a garden or allotment yielded significant improvements in mood and self-esteem – God knew what he /she was doing when humanity was put in a garden!

The story in our Gospel reading is referred to as a one of the ‘nature miracles’. It demonstrates the biblical view of creation as not just something that happened in the past, but a continuing involvement of God in his world.

Jesus, as Lord of the Universe, shows his calm authority as he sleeps peacefully in sharp contrast to the fearful panic of the disciples when they are caught in a boat in a storm and they feel that they are in danger of sinking. We are surprised that the disciples as fishermen are afraid for their lives in this situation.

Jesus is showing them and us by calming the storm that he is the Son of the Creator. He has inherited the power as well as the love of His Father. Perhaps this incident will come into Peter’s thoughts when soon after this episode on the road to Caesarea Philippi Jesus will ask his disciples ‘Who do you say that I am?’ Peter will be able to say with confidence that Jesus is the Messiah.

God took a risk when humanity was created…

We daily hear about chaos in news reports from around the world from man-made situations. We see many examples of power without love exerted by those in positions of authority which leads to corruption and betrayal of man’s relationship with God. God’s Eden Project is going through difficult and challenging times. Our blue planet is at risk. The Church itself has often been described as a boat tossed about by turbulent and dangerous waters.

However, God does not want our boat to sink. Our panic in our present chaos increases the awareness of our limitations and makes us open our eyes and our hearts to turn once again to the Creator who is still present in his Creation! God wants us to continue to share in his Eden Project.

Drawn From The Deep

Preached by Revd Linda Galvin on 10 February 2019: Fourth Sunday before Lent
Luke 5:1-11

When I was little I would occasionally be allowed to go fishing with my dad. I say allowed, because it was actually for my father a time when he could escape the busyness of his work life and just simply sit and enjoy the peace and quiet of the river bank, certainly not to have to entertain a young child; but eventually I too learnt to appreciate this time of quiet companionship.

Of course, there was also the benefit of catching a few fish, that would be placed to wriggle around in the keep net until it was time to pack up and go home, and they would then be returned to the freedom of the water, presumably to swim free until the next time that they took the bait of the fly hook of another fisherman.

But there were also the days when we would sit there in virtual silence and the keep net would remain obstinately empty. For Simon Peter and his partners, James and John, it must have been one of those days when much effort had brought little reward. Yet, suddenly here was this man inviting them to try one more time.

No doubt they were tired and weary, and also slightly sceptical, but something about him gave them a sense that they should do as he asked and trusting his confidence they cast their nets once more into the water and were suddenly faced with a catch that was almost overwhelming in its abundance.

It was miraculous, but what was even more surprising was their response, that they would immediately leave all that they knew and depended on to become followers and fellow missionaries with this young man. I guess it is this last outcome that most of us find difficult to understand and imagine ourselves duplicating but it is the whole story that leads us to see why this might be so and what it says to us about discipleship.

We know that Jesus will often use the situation he finds himself in to help people understand more clearly the point he is trying to make, so a miraculous catch of fish to a group of fishermen would certainly bring home the point very effectively. However, we can see that this was already being mirrored in his interaction with the crowd. Here was a sea of people, like a lot of people nowadays, who were beginning to realise that they were in deep water, all around them the water was foaming in turmoil and although they had the freedom to go anywhere, it was usually only in the direction that the tide took them.

Jesus, through his teaching was casting the net as the Word. This was not a net that was set as an entrapment, but a means by which God could rescue his people. As it says in Psalm 18, ‘He reached down from on high and took hold of me, he drew me out of deep water’.

There was a growing realisation that without God they were lost, and Jesus was there to remind them of this. Simon Peter’s obedience and trust that what he was being told was a good thing, put him on his first step to acknowledging who Jesus really was. But this realisation also made him fearful; since the prodigious haul of fish only proved the awesomeness of God’s power and made his or anyone else’s effort pale into insignificance. ‘Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man’.

Yet, Jesus’ response was that they should not be afraid. The fact is that when they and we are drawn into God’s presence he asks us to part of his mission, to be his ears and eyes, his hands and feet, to work together as the body of Christ. And just as Simon Peter called for his partners to help with the extraordinary catch of fish, we never do it on our own, whether as individuals, or one church, but as the whole Church.

So the disciples were to be sent out to catch people. To use the Word to act as the net to draw them closer to God, and that net was to be cast far and wide. Just as each net of fish brings up not just one type of fish, but gathers many, so that diversity is reflected in the many different types of people who are called and seek to be in his presence. God is not looking for any particular type of person, just those who are willing to be transformed.

Of course there are always going to be as few who for some reason want to wriggle out of and escape the net, but for those who choose to believe and to take up the challenge there is no reason to hesitate, real freedom has been gained, grace offered and accepted and the task of catching people for God begun.

Amen

Chance Encounter

Preached by Brenda Holden on 3 February 2019: Presentation of Christ  
Luke 2:22-40  

Preached by Brenda Holden on 3 February 2019: Presentation of Christ  Luke 2:22-40  

Chance encounters have the potential to alter lives. As we look back on our personal life experiences we have all had nudges to be in a particular place at a particular time and that has resulted in a significant change in the direction of our lives. At the time we might not have been aware of God’s hand at work, but later reflection removes the ‘chance’ element in the encounter and we are thankful!

Our Gospel reading this morning related a chance encounter like that. It was a chance encounter of three different generations of God-fearing folk in the Temple. There is no doubt that God put them there!

Simeon and Anna were representatives of the oldest generation in the encounter. They were part of the faithful remnant who, all through the long centuries, had kept faith and hope alive; Mary and Joseph as the parents were the middle generation and the infant Jesus, God’s Son, was the youngest.

Simeon and Anna were regularly seen around the Temple in Jerusalem. From Luke’s description it was obvious that Simeon fulfilled the vocation of a prophet although according to the Jewish teachers of that time, the spirit of prophecy had departed from Israel after the prophet Malachi and its return would be a sign that the longed-for Messiah was on the way.

Simeon clearly illustrated three aspects of the Spirit of prophecy- firstly, we read that he receives divine revelation that he shall see the Lord’s Messiah before his death. Secondly, he is led by the Spirit to the Temple that day to be in the right place at the right moment and thirdly, he utters a prayer, the Nunc Dimittis, which is regarded as a prophecy.

Anna, was described as a prophet by Luke – our hearts go out to Anna – she was 84 and had lived a prayerful life within the Temple since she was widowed after 7 years of marriage. She is the sort of person who had become part of the the Temple environment going about her day to day prayerful life. She was there for strangers. A friendly, wise and approachable old lady. The significance of her part in the encounter that day earned her being named and as a woman in the Gospel stories that is quite unusual.

Mary and Joseph’s presence in the Temple that day with their baby must have been planned in advance. They could have performed the rites of obligation after the birth at their local synagogue, but they chose to travel to Jerusalem as they were aware of the responsibilities they had as the earthly parents of God’s Son. Perhaps their concerns that day showed through their body language and attracted the attention of Simeon. They were poor country folk who had come to do the right thing according to Jewish traditions, but they could only afford the poorest offering for sacrifice for the birth of their first-born son.

There were three parts to the obligation laid down to be completed and Simeon could help them through the procedures that were new to them. The first part involved the purification of the mother so that she could return to the worshipping community after childbirth. The second part was a redemption of the first born male through a gift to the priest, and the third part was to dedicate the child to the service of God.

It was when Simeon took the baby in his arms that he must have felt overwhelmed by the presence of God. The light of God’s love shone out of this baby. The words of the Nunc Dimittis immediately overflowed from his lips – this song which is now included in Evensong and the late night service of Compline.

The song is a prayer to God. It is joyful, it is hopeful, it declares the Messianic role of Jesus to  be a light to all nations. Israel’s glory is to be shown as a revelation and redemption to the whole world. Simeon had fulfilled his role and he was now free to die in peace.

The second part of what Simeon said was a prophecy to Mary. The joy and praise turns to a warning that the Messiah will cause division and He will be rejected by many. The idea of a Suffering Messiah is introduced. Jesus will transform ideas and will challenge existing religious authorities. Mary is warned that there is anguish and suffering ahead for her, but Jesus will be good for all people.

The message of Simeon was reinforced through the words of Anna who was so overcome with this encounter that she became the first evangelist. We can imagine her spreading the good news of the arrival of the Messiah to everyone she encountered from that day onwards.

Mary and Joseph left this chance encounter with much to think and pray about – they were being prepared for the unexpected way that God’s Son would fulfil His mission.

Follow the Star

Preached by Brenda Holden on 6 January 2019: Epiphany
Isaiah 60:1-6; Matthew 2:1-12

Ever since the dawn of mankind there has been a fascination, wonder and awe associated with a star filled sky. Stars make us feel part of something so much bigger than our small planet – the immensity of our universe amazes us and challenges the minds of all! It is almost beyond our comprehension that many of the stars that we can see are ‘light-years’ away from us and by the time that the light from them reaches us then they no longer exist in the universe.

‘Follow the Star’- the logo on the banner displayed in our church yard over the Christmas period was also a booklet produced by the Church of England with daily readings, thoughts and prayers leading up to the feast of Epiphany that we are celebrating today. Today is the day when we are told in Matthew’s Gospel that the Star was followed by the wise men in their quest to find the newly born King of the Jews.

What about the star that the wise men saw? Apparently there was in 7BC what is known as a multiple planetary conjunction – a very rare event in which the paths of the three planets Jupiter, Saturn and Venus as seen from the earth all crossed. It has been suggested as possibility that this is what was seen by the night sky-watchers. Another suggestion has been the appearance of Halley’s comet in 11 BC, a comet which reappears every 75 years.

Alternatively, the birth of a new star or a new galaxy would be an explosive cosmic event, which if it appeared in or near our Milky Way, could produce more light than all the other stars in the sky put together. We know that such random events do occur, but are rarely recognisable with the naked eye.

There is in fact an independent Chinese record that such a bright star was seen about 4BC and this was about the time of Jesus’ birth. Whatever may be our view of the improbability, if not impossibility, that astronomical events are associated with human destiny, we might, with our faith hats on, believe that God might signal the incarnation of His Son by an observable astronomical event.

Whether we believe this or not does not matter – what does matter is that we heard in our Gospel reading that the wise men did see a star. To the wise men there was sufficient significance for them to seek out and worship the Holy Baby. The writer of Matthew’s Gospel was keen to show how the visitation of the wise men was foretold by the prophet Isaiah in our first Old Testament reading this morning. However, this was the only gospel writer to make this link.

So let us consider the role of these wise men who followed the star….

The coming of the Messiah, God’s Son, was expected to be primarily a Jewish national story, but what we have is a festival called The Epiphany – the showing forth – God’s Son was being shown to representatives from the whole world it was to be an international story for the benefit of all mankind.

The wise men, incorrectly represented as kings with crowns at children’s Nativity events, were described as Magi – a term which was used by early writers to mean priests of other religions and later included all who practised magic arts and rites.

The wise men were watchers of the night sky and whether we would classify them as astronomers or astrologers they were the scientists of their day. The fact that there are three of them was because they brought three gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, but the number of wise men is not specified in Matthew’s story.

Many artistic representations of the Epiphany show the three wise men from different races and from their clothes they were from different countries of origin – ‘from the East’ was a vague term indicating that they originated from a non-Jewish background, that is, they like us were Gentiles!

Why did they feel drawn to follow the star?

The enigmatic poet W H Auden puts these words into the mouths of the wise men:

‘At least we know for certain that we are three old sinners,
That this journey is much too long, that we want our dinners,
And miss our wives, our books, our dogs,
But have only the vaguest idea why we are what we are.
To discover how to be human now
Is the reason we follow the star.’

When they came to the Holy Family they found joy – they rejoiced and worshipped – they discovered that the capacity to worship is essential to the joy of being human. The object of our worship, God our Creator, restores our damaged selves. God helps us to discover how to be truly human!

By following the star with the wise men this Epiphany we can also find the source of light which overcomes the darkness of the world! Amen

How To Fill The Time In Between

Preached by Revd Linda Galvin on 30 December 2018: First Sunday of Christmas
Colossians 3:12-17; Luke 2:41-52

The First Sunday of Christmas is what I call the in-between time. It sits between the great festivals of Christmas and Epiphany and doesn’t seem able to muster up its own special liturgy after all the awe and wonder  of the Saviour’s birth and the star lit revelations of the Wise Men. We also leap from cradle to the teenage years and then back to a toddler in the space of two weeks marking three of the four biblical appearances of Jesus as a child, which still leaves us with a lot of questions. Who, where, why and how? But as with all questions, if we ask the right ones we should get the right answers and learn something.

I suspect that we all have stories of our childhood, some which show us in lots of different lights – the early achiever ‘Yes, she was walking and talking before her first birthday’; the dexterous enabler, ‘Oh he could put together all of the Star Wars’ Lego models by the age of two!’; the future celebrity, ‘I think she came out of the womb singing and dancing, we LOVE all the ‘shows’ she creates for us to watch’; but also the innate rascals, ‘every tree, every wall, every supermarket aisle shelf would need to be climbed – I think he’s going to be a mountaineer.’

Of course, we don’t always remember the things that we did from a very early age but have to rely on stories that are passed down to us and which become part of our family’s history. No doubt for Jesus, there were also stories from his childhood, that his parents, aunts, uncles and cousins would remind him of as he grew up, but we don’t get to hear about these, despite his later ‘fame’. Nothing comes out of the woodwork to show us the times when he wasn’t so obedient or got into scrapes with other children or indeed did anything out of the ordinary.

We have to be content with four brief episodes to tell us something about the child that grew into the man who was God, his extraordinary birth, his presentation in the temple, that he had some special visitors when he was a toddler, and that by the age of twelve he was displaying wisdom and knowledge beyond his years, astonishing his elders whilst at the same time being utterly respectful and freely submitting to his parent’s authority.

Yes, we could look for other remarkable stories of the child and youth Jesus, offering healing and miracles, that were recorded in the Infancy Gospels of Thomas and others, but these were gnostic texts, written some two centuries after his birth and we have no way of knowing whether any of ‘these’ stories are true and reliable and they were certainly not accepted into the canon of the bible.

In our gospel today, the gap between the twelve year old on the cusp of becoming a nominal adult through his bar mitzvah and the man Jesus beginning his ministry following his baptism, is covered in one brief sentence, that he grew ‘in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favour’.

Perhaps this is all God determined that we needed to know, but it’s obvious that these were the years in which he would have been able to experience humanity to its fullest extent before living the last three years of his life in a fishbowl. If we recall the verse that Luke give us immediately beforehand (v40), ‘the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favour of God was upon him,’ it indicates a normal childhood and early adulthood. We can imagine Jesus learning his trade as a carpenter from Joseph, his adoptive father; being a pleasant and hardworking individual, inquisitive and innately knowledgeable beyond his years, which amazed some who saw him as an uneducated handy man; growing physically, spiritually and mentally under the cover of God’s grace.

As devout Jews, his parents would each year travel to Jerusalem for the feast of the Passover, they would have travelled together with a large group of family and friends, and at twelve, Jesus would not have been expected to stay with them. So, the fact that they would not have noticed he wasn’t among the returning celebrants, would not have been negligence on their parts, and with men and women generally travelling in separate groups, it wouldn’t have been until the end of the day, when they came together that they might notice that he was missing. You can imagine the conversation of Mary asking Joseph, ‘Have you seen Jesus since this morning?’ and Joseph replying, ‘No, I thought he was with you’.

No doubt they were worried and spent the next few hours increasingly frantic, asking all their friends and relatives whether they’d seen him, before setting off back to Jerusalem, and finally the relief of finding him after a three day search, calmly sitting among the teachers, asking questions, not quite oblivious to the apparent distress he has caused them, as indicated by their understandable reaction, ‘Why have you put us through this anguish’ but reassurance that why would they think he would be anywhere else but in his Father’s house, not Joseph’s house, but God’s house.

Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?

Luke 49

For Mary and Joseph, there was still no full understanding of who Jesus was and what his work would entail, but Mary would once more reflect carefully on these events and would add them to her treasured memories of Jesus’ life. So, we hear that Jesus, returned with his family and as far as we know caused them no further upset, accepting their authority of parenthood, and at the same time growing and maturing into perfect manhood.

Now I don’t know about you, but I did not have a perfect childhood, mainly because I was not the perfect child! I can remember that I was not always obedient to my parents and would often find myself in trouble. However, I do know that I was loved, and any discipline metered out was undoubtedly for my own good. But that’s another story!

Let’s, therefore, get back to this morning’s story. We know that Jesus’ calling was to follow the will of God, so for him to spend time in the temple, the centre of Jewish worship, was an opportunity to discuss theology with experts, develop his own understanding and challenge people on their concepts of God. He was able to do this because of the personal relationship that he had with God.

We too are called to develop a personal relationship with God in order for us to better understand his will for our lives. However, for many people the sense of being drawn closer into the story through the events leading up to and celebrated at Christmas is already dissipating. ‘Phew, I’m glad that’s over and done with, let’s pack the baby Jesus away with the rest of the nativity set and get back to some kind of normality’. Of course, they don’t really mean it like that, what they do mean is they’re glad the frantic shopping has ended, no more stressing about whether the presents you bought are appreciated and family member and other guests are finally heading home… and even though you love them and have been glad to spend time with them, there is the relief of getting back to your regular routine.

Relationships can be pretty tricky; there was an article I read the other day that asked people if they had argued more over the Christmas period and what had they argued about? Most people said, ‘Yes’ they had had a row and that it was about petty things like the tree decorations, how the turkey was cooked and what they wanted to watch on television. An expert commented that this was perfectly understandable as when people in families are thrown together for a time, tensions can be unearthed and expectations can be different.

Just like Jesus’ parents were stressed, there was probably some tension between Jesus’ true identity, what his mission is and his relationship with his parents. I am sure that they didn’t expect to find him discussing theology in the temple, otherwise they’d have gone straight there and not spent three days searching.

But Jesus was setting the foundations for a new understanding of family. One that would be built on a relationship with God the father though his son, Jesus and which would be founded on love, forgiveness, peace and thanksgiving. A family not sharing a bloodline or DNA but linked together through the Holy Spirit.

Our reading from Colossians sets this out in more details. It’s a reading that a lot of wedding couples choose for their reading as they too set out on a new relationship. It starts by reminding us that we are all part of God’s family, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved. Many people feel unloved and some are damaged psychologically. Yet no-one is unloved. God loves each and every person so much he sent his son Jesus to die in their place on the cross.

It is a wonderful, unconditional, free love and we are called to live lives that reflect this. To clothe ourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. To bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances we may have against one another.

Above all, clothe yourselves with love,which binds everything together in perfect harmony.

Colossians 3:14

Showing compassion that comes from within, concerned about meeting people’s most basic needs; kindness that is gracious and humble; a gentleness that is not weakness, but a willingness to suffer injury rather than inflict it and patience that forgoes anger and resentment and does not seek revenge.

Of course, we all have our own faults, but God has forgiven us and so, who are we, who have been forgiven, to withhold forgiveness from someone else? This is based on God’s choice and love for us and is completely undeserved and helps put into perspective any problems that really are no more serious than a Christmas tree or a turkey!

That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t attempt to correct any conduct that is not part of God’s will, we are Christ’s ambassadors, we bear his name and we should reflect his kingdom values in everything that we do.

Many people came to church this year, and we hope that they would have felt loved, welcomed and accepted. But let’s not be complacent, instead let’s make sure that we continue to reach out to show even more compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. In that way we will all grow in wisdom and in both human and divine favour.

Amen