Dare to hope

Address Hurstpierpoint College Senior School Chapel
8 January 2021: Feast of the Epiphany

Here we are at the start of a new year. Together as the Hurst Community, yet dispersed throughout the country. None of us had hoped to start 2021 with remote learning; none of us had hoped that the exams would be cancelled also this year; and none of us had hoped to see the fragility of our freedom and democracy pointed out so clearly in the US. You might be wondering, as I have done in the last few days, is there still something we dare to hope for this year?

The Feast of the Epiphany, the three kings or wise men, which is celebrated in the Western church on 6th January and which we celebrate today, gives a resounding ‘yes’ as the answer to the question if there are still things which we can hope for. As much as Advent, Christmas or New Year, the story of the wise men is one of hope and of new beginnings. Particularly, new beginnings in a dark and challenging time.

Let us for a moment imagine ourselves to be one of the three travellers. We actually don’t know if there were three or more, we only know that they had three gifts. But that’s an aside. What does matter though, is that they are not on their own. They have each other’s company and support. Imaging ourselves to be one of the wise men is not thinking of ourselves in the fancy dress we imagine from our nativity plays, but about getting a little bit of an appreciation of who they were, and maybe who and where we are.

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Waiting with the Light

Sermon for Christmas Day 2020
Hurstpierpoint College Chapel

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness – on them light has shined” So speaks the Prophet Isaiah to the people almost three thousand years ago.

I had never experienced what it was really like to walk in darkness, until I walked a stretch of the Camino de Santiago in October last year. I had anticipated long, sunny days, but instead I spent a lot of time walking in darkness and in rain. I hadn’t appreciated that Spain’s coast is significantly west from where we are, yet it shares the Continental time zone. Hence, the first three hours walk every day I walked in darkness.

I would have certainly been surprised, if not terrified, if I had suddenly seen a great light. So I can imagine a little bit what the shepherds must have felt that night when they saw a great light, and probably even more so when they saw that in the light there was an angel. No matter how much the angel told them not to be afraid, that was probably exactly what they were.

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The Light shines in the Darkness

Sermon for the first Eucharist of Christmas
Hurstpierpoint College Chapel

A couple of years ago I was speaking to a colleague from Albania. He had come to the UK in the late nineties fleeing the civil conflict at the time. Remembering the continuous threats and fear of his home country, as he arrived here, he could not believe that people here got upset if they didn’t have enough milk in their tea or if the post arrived a day late. However, after a couple of years in safety and security, he noticed how he too got bothered by the trivialities of daily life.

I was reminded of this conversation when reflecting on the year past. On a personal, national and international level, our conversations have been dominated by COVID-19. For all of us, the pandemic has brought a darkness and dullness to our lives, which we could not have imagined a year ago and this has dominated our thinking and our speaking. As many of us have asked ourselves: what did we talk about before COVID? Ok, apart from Brexit and Trump …

I am sure, therefore, that I am not the only one who hears the words from the Prophet Isaiah tonight in that context: “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace, who brings good news, who announces salvation.”

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Who are you?

Hurstpierpoint College Senior Chapel Address
Friday 11th December: Advent 3, John 1.6–8,19–28

Although we’re not quite there yet, it is fair to say that we are nearing the end of term, and nearing the Christmas holidays. There are still two-and-a half days of lessons left, and for some of you some last tests for which to revise. Yet, the Christmas trees have been decorated, Secret Santa gifts have been bought – or will have been by Monday – and the list of things to do before Christmas is slowly getting shorter.

In this time between preparation and celebration, I would like to take the opportunity today to take stock. Not so much looking at what we have done or achieved, as there will be plenty of time for that next week. But I do like to reflect on the past few months using the question we hear asked to John in our reading this afternoon: Who are you? What do you say about yourself? Those are questions we all encounter at some point, and it is good to give them some thought.

John the Baptist’s answer that we hear in our reading this afternoon is that he is the voice crying out in the wilderness. He is the one who is proclaiming what is to come after him: Jesus, the Messiah, the Saviour. Those words ‘a voice crying out in the wilderness’ seem to indicate a loneliness, yet there is certainly also a sense of purpose with John. He knows who he is, and that is why he does what he does.

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Are you ready?

Sermon for Advent Sunday at Holy Trinity Hurstpierpoint
Sunday 29th November 2020, Isaiah 64.1-9 and Mark 13.24-end

This Sunday, we mark the beginning of the season of Advent. Four Sundays until Christmas, and traditionally a time of preparation as we anticipate the Incarnation by prayer, the reading of Scripture and fasting. A time of waiting, during which we are invited to reflect on our readiness to celebrate the birth of Jesus. At the same time, during Advent, we are also invited to look ahead to the final coming of Christ as our judge and redeemer and our readiness for that.

Over the years, as society has grown more secular, we have lost some of the immediacy of these two aspects of Advent: the waiting and the judgement. For many of us, Christmas starts no longer on Christmas Eve, but on 1st December. We seem to have lost the ability to wait, as we live in a time where everything is available at the click of a button. We also live in a society that has become weary of the language of judgement, and the idea that we are accountable has become increasingly uncomfortable; a language we try to avoid.

This is how I probably have started most Advent sermons and reflections over the past few years. But this year is different. This year, we have been confronted with a time of waiting that we have not experienced before. This year, we have come to realise that we cannot get everything we want when we want it. At the same time, we are also become more acutely aware of the consequences of our actions. So maybe we need to be challenged too by that uncomfortable language of judgement.

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When numbers become names

Address for Armistice Day 2020

For over more than a century, people in the Commonwealth have gathered on this 11th November to remember those who have died in wars and armed conflict. Today, Armistice Day, marks the day that the First World War ended, on 11th November 1918. Over the course of that war, 880,000 members of the British forces died. This was 6% of the adult male population and 12.5% of those serving.

In the Second World War there were 384,000 British soldiers killed in combat, and 70,000 civilians in this country died largely due to bombing raids during the Blitz. In the 75 years since 1945, just over 7,000 members of the British military died in armed conflict.

Here at Hurst College, much smaller then than now, the numbers also reflect the enormous impact the two World Wars had. During the First World War 112 former pupils and teachers died in the service of their county. During the Second World War 75 men lost their lives. In addition to them, another ten members of this community have died fighting for our freedom in various other conflicts, including most recently in Afghanistan.

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Harvest abundance

Hurstpierpoint College Senior Chapel Address for Harvest
Friday 2nd October 2020: Ecclesiastes 3.1-8

It is probably fair to say that it has not been an easy week for many of us for a variety of reasons. Not least because it is the mid-point of this half-term, and the summer is now well and truly behind us. The situation is not helped by the fact that there are not the normal things to look forward to: fixtures, concerts and plays; time with friends at the weekends, and holiday plans for half-term. At the moment, every day can feel a little bit the same.

As human beings, we need a structure, a rhythm. To our days, our weeks and our years. That is what our reading speaks about as well: there is, and there should be, a time for everything. In other words, we need occasions, we need things to celebrate.

Today, as we celebrate Harvest Festival, we have a good reminder that, although we may forget at times, there is indeed a lot to celebrate, a lot to be thankful for. I have been incredibly impressed over the last week how all over the campus wheelbarrows have started to fill up with gifts you have brought. So much so, that we had many of them overflowing.

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By whose authority?

Sermon 27th September 2020, St John the Baptist, Clayton
16th Sunday after Trinity: Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-end & Matthew 21:23-32

This morning, the overarching theme of our readings is the question of authority and responsibility. I would like to pick out two specific questions that our readings set before us. Firstly, from the reading of Ezekiel: can we be held responsible for the acts of previous generations? And secondly, from our Gospel reading: by whose authority do we act?

So let’s look at that first question first: how much responsibility can we take for the actions of others, particularly those of our ancestors? It is a relevant question now, as much as it was for the people in ancient Israel, albeit for different reasons, I suspect.

The Israelites had a proverb, we read: “The parents have eaten sours grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge”. It talks about the idea that children will be punished for the sins of their parents. Now, through the words of the Prophet Ezekiel, God says that this proverb should no longer be used: it is only the person who sins that shall die.

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We’re all in the same boat

Hurstpierpoint College Senior Chapel Address
Friday 18th September 2020: Mark 4.35-41

It has been really good over the last two weeks to get to know some of you in your bubbles, and to ask you the question what you would like to say if you were leading a Chapel service. Your suggestions were wide-ranging and indeed impressive, and have given us a lot of ideas to use over the coming weeks.

Boat in a Storm, 1960’s – Doris Hatt

The overarching themes were the same for most of you. Thinking about diversity, and how we can get better in learning from our differences; mental health, both for boys and girls, and current affairs. Many of you also mentioned that you want things to be relevant to you, as you become adults in an increasingly complicated world, and you would like to hear from people with experience what life is like, not just someone saying ‘always look for help’.

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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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