Go, and may the Lord be with you!

Hurstpierpoint College Senior Chapel Address
Friday 4th September 2020: Start of the Academic Year
1 Samuel 17.33-40: David & Goliath

The story we just heard, I am sure, is familiar to many. It is the story of David and Goliath: the story of the small boy determined to defeat the giant. Most of us too know how the story ends: David strikes down the giant with his sling and a single small stone. He defeats the enemy who had been terrorising the Israelites.

You may wonder: why this story today at the start of the new academic year 2020/2021? What can anything written so long ago teach us about ourselves and the world in which we live? I think rather a lot, and one of my hopes for our Chapel services is that we can all take something away from them, whether we are Christians, people of other faiths – or no faith –, or whether we don’t quite know yet what to believe.

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You give them something to eat

Sermon St Mary’s Marlborough 2nd August 2020
Eight Sunday after Trinity
Matthew 14.13-21: The Feeding of the 5000

IMG_0018When I hear the story of the Feeding of the 5000, immediately the image of an All Age service a few years comes to mind. The Open the Book team acted out the story of the ‘Marvellous Picnic’, and I remember the discussions on the logistics of how the bread should miraculously be multiplied after Jesus –  a role impressively played by Anna – blessed the loaves and broke the bread.

I don’t quite remember how it was done, but I do remember a sense of awe in the congregation, children and adults alike, as the bread appeared. There are many ways to interpret the events that lead all four Evangelists to record the Feeding of the 5000. However, no matter which interpretation we choose, the story makes the point that miracles happen, if we trust God and dare to get involved in His plan for us.

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Where do we go from here?

A reflection written for Marlborough’s Tower and Town

Old friends, old scenes, will lovelier be,
as more of heaven in each we see;
some softening gleam of love and prayer
shall dawn on every cross and care.

John Keble

After six years in Marlborough, I am writing this last clergy letter for Tower and Town amidst packed moving boxes, in front of the computer screen used for leading Sunday worship in the past three months, when our Churches were closed.

As for many others, these weeks of lock-down have given me a lot of time to reflect – or to overthink, depending on the day. There are two thoughts that keep coming back to me. Firstly, how lucky I have been to have something to be looking forward to: a new job, and a new place, new challenges and opportunities. Secondly, how my time in Marlborough, spent with you, has made me so much better prepared for whatever lies ahead of me.

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Siblings and soil

Sermon 5th July 2020, Fifth Sunday after Trinity
Genesis 25.19-34 & Matthew 13.1-9,18-23

sowerThis morning we hear two iconic stories, which I am sure are familiar to many of us. The story of Jacob and Esau, in which Esau sells his birth right for an evening meal, and the parable of the sower, in which we hear about four types of different soil. As always, I think, when we read or hear these passages, the question to us is how we relate to them. How may these words speak to us today, this morning? What is it that we need to hear? The way I often try to do this is by imagining myself to be one of the people in the story or imagining what it would be like meeting one of them.

It seems that today’s readings lend themselves particularly well for this. For those of us who have siblings, we may look at our own relationships in the light of the dynamic between Jacob and Esau. And I suspect that many of us will hear the parable of the sower and wonder what type of soil we are.

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The Limits of Logic

A sermon for Trinity Sunday
2 Corinthians 13.11-13 and Matthew 28.16-20

trinityToday, the Sunday after Pentecost, is Trinity Sunday. The Trinity is one of the most fundamental beliefs in Christianity. It is the belief that God is both one God, but yet three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The first defence of the doctrine of the Trinity does not occur until the 3rd century, and the concept as such is not mentioned in the Bible.

In today’s readings we see the two cases in which the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are mentioned in one breath. Together with the notion that Jesus is truly the Son of God and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, these beliefs form the foundation for the Christian belief in the Trinity.

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The way to freedom

A sermon for the Fifth Sunday of Easter
Acts 7.55-60 & John 14.1-14

We have been adjusting to a new and unfamiliar way of life now for almost two months. We have come to realise the things we miss, and our hopes for the future. The news in these past few weeks has focussed almost solely on Covid-19, and I do wonder if we are indeed focussing too much on ourselves, but I will come back to this later.

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The one day on which the news here in the UK was different, was last Friday: VE or Victory in Europe Day. I suspect a particularly poignant day for those of you who remember the first VE Day: Churchill’s memorable speech and street parties throughout the country. The question in how far the Church should be involved in civic celebrations such as VE Day and Remembrance Day has always been a topic of conversation, as there is a wide range of opinions on the relationship between our faith and armed conflict.

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The familiar voice

Reflection on the story of the Good Shepherd
Fourth Sunday of Easter: Psalm 23 & John 1.1-10

Our readings this morning make us reflect on God in the familiar image of the Good Shepherd. Although not many of us still live in a place where shepherding is a common profession, the Biblical stories have become very much part of our Western narrative, even for those who would not call themselves Christians.

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That of course comes with its risks, because the way we imagine a shepherd nowadays, will have been very different from what they may have looked and behaved like two millennia ago. However, I don’t want to dwell on that thought too much, but rather share a story that made me think of the Good Shepherd a few weeks ago. I was out on my daily round of exercise on Granham Hill, just around the corner from where I live. Usually there are sheep roaming around at a distance, and the only interaction between them and me is a curious look at one another.

However, on this particular day, one of the sheep was stuck in some barbed wire. Being reminded of my pastoral profession, I felt a duty to see if there was anything I could do. Slowly I approached the sheep, at the same time not trying to scare it as well as thinking how I would go about freeing it. Whilst I was still at a good distance, the sheep was so shocked by my appearance, that this in itself was enough for it to free itself, and quickly it ran away.

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Taking bread

Sermon for the Third Sunday of Easter
The Road to Emmaus – Luke 24.13-35

EmmausThe beautiful and intimate story that we hear in Luke’s Gospel this morning brings us back to the first Easter Day. On the same day as the women discovered the empty tomb, two of the disciples are on their way to a village called Emmaus, which is a good two hours walk.

As we can imagine, they are discussing the events of the past days. The triumphant entry into Jerusalem, their hope that Jesus would now show himself to be the Saviour he had told them to be. But then, his capture, condemnation and crucifixion; and now the empty tomb. They are trying to make sense of it all, but I suspect without much success.

This intimate setting of just two people walking and discussing together is one with which we may have become familiar in the last few weeks as well. If we are in a household with more than one person, we too may have had similar walks: discussing the current events and how to make sense of them. Or we may have had these conversations on the phone, or two meters apart in the queue to Waitrose or on our daily round of exercise. In whichever setting, I am sure that we too have found ourselves sad, bereft and anxious, just like these two disciples on the road.

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The doors are locked

Homily for the Second Sunday of Easter
John 20.19-31

IMG_1366This passage from John’s Gospel, Jesus’ appearance to the disciples is traditionally read on the Sunday after Easter Day. It has striking similarities with the preceding passage, which we heard last week: Jesus’ appearance to Mary on the first Easter morning. Maybe one of the most striking differences, however, is the setting: where it takes place. Whereas Mary went to the tomb, searching, the disciples are in a house, hiding.

We hear that they have locked their doors, for fear of the Jews. Some commentators argue that the reason ‘for fear of the Jews’ was added in a later version of the narrative, as it does not appear when Jesus appears a second time a week later to reveal himself to Thomas also.

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It makes all the difference

A reflection for Easter Day
John 20.1-18

It is Easter morning, and the first words on our lips are ‘Alleluia, Christ is risen!’. We then look at the news, in the hope to find the world a different place; a place in which we had never heard about Covid-19, and we felt safe and secure. Yet, we wake up to the same reality as yesterday: what we had wished to be a dream from which we wake, is the world in which we live.

IMG_0631Yet, today, everything is different, although it may not seem so. To understand, let’s look at the story of Mary, one of the most moving stories in the Bible. Early in the morning, while it was still dark, Mary goes to the tomb where they had laid Jesus a couple of days earlier. She is on her own, and I wonder what she is looking and hoping for? Is she hoping that by visiting the grave, she will wake up from this nightmare, and realise Jesus is still there?

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