Author: Janneke Blokland

The way ahead

Address given at Shell Chapel at Marlborough College, Wednesday 8th January 2020

It is your second term now at Marlborough. I am sure that coming back yesterday felt very different from coming here the first time in September. Probably it feels a long time ago, that first afternoon when you all went to Court to meet your teachers; your first experience of Norwood and being lost quite a lot of the time, if you’re honest. Not so this time. You have learned a lot and grown a lot, but that also means that the expectations are now a little bit higher. You will get a blue chit if you’re late, if you have forgotten where you need to go, or if you’re not wearing your uniform properly. You are no longer newcomers, you are now part of this community as much as anyone else.

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Part of growing up means that as you get older, you get more privileges, but also more responsibilities. The two go hand-in-hand. In your first term, you made friendships and learned to get to know the workings of this place, hopefully enjoying at least most of it. Now starts the time to build on those experiences. You start to know what it means to have real friends: people who support you when you need it, but they are the same who will need your support at times too. Friendship is a two-way process, you cannot only take, you will also have to give.

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Welcome!

A sermon for the Feast of the Epiphany

6 January is the day on which the Church celebrates the Feast of the Epiphany. It is also the last day of the Christmas season. Many of us will have already taken down our Christmas decorations, or will do so in the next couple of days. Christmas is behind us, and the new year lies ahead of us.

magiThe Gospel reading set for the Feast of the Epiphany is the reading of the wise men visiting Jesus: a scene we often associate with the Christmas story itself. Indeed, it is the Christmas story in Matthew’s Gospel, who does not include shepherds or choirs of angels as in Luke’s version, but narrates the story of the Incarnation here. Hence, the Christmas story as we often hear it in nativities and see it in cribs is a conflation of the two different Gospel accounts.

Matthew does not tell us very much about these wise men. We know that they came from the East and followed a star. First the star leads them to Jerusalem, and later, on instruction of the scribes and Pharisees, the men follow the star to Bethlehem. It is a significant detail of the story, revealing Matthew’s purpose in telling it this way. The wise men are foreigners, non-Jews, gentiles. They do not know the stories of the Jewish faith, nor the God as revealed in the Jewish scriptures. But that does not mean that they don’t know anything about God, as they can see Him in the world around them. Hence, they follow the star.

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A Christmas message

Sermon St Peter’s Milton Lilbourne, 24th December 2018, 11.00pm
Midnight Communion: Isaiah 9.2-7 and Luke 2.1-20

As a child, I often spent Wednesday afternoons with my grandmother. I particularly remember one afternoon: we were going to leave a message in a bottle. I don’t quite remember what the message was, but I remember well the sense of excitement as I stood in the middle of the bridge crossing the river, ready to throw my bottle into the unknown. I have remained fascinated by the idea of leaving a message for someone you don’t know.

christmas-in-a-bottle.jpgSo last week, my eye was caught by the story you may have read or heard as well. It was the news item that a young girl had found a message in a Christmas card she was about to write: a message that claimed to have come from within a Chinese prison. Someone wrote in English “We are foreign prisoners in Shanghai Qinqpu prison in China. Forced to work against our will. Please help us and notify human rights organization.”

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Keeping the message alive

Homily St John the Baptist, Pewsey 15th December 2019: Advent 3
Isaiah 35.1-10 & Matthew 11.2-11

Just like last week, today’s Gospel passage speaks about John the Baptist. Last week’s passage focussed on John’s preaching: his message of the need for repentance. We heard how crowds of people came out to him, all confessing their sins and being baptised in the river Jordan. Now, however, John is in prison. He was put there by Herod, because John had told him that his second marriage was not lawful – John was rather good at telling uncomfortable truths.

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Whilst he is in prison, John hears reports of what Jesus is doing: his healing, his teaching and the followers he is gathering. And so he wants to know: is this the man who John himself had proclaimed, or is there yet another prophet to come? It is rather humbling to think that John doesn’t ask to get liberated, he doesn’t ask Jesus or his disciples for help, but only wants to know if his work is done.

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Seeing ourselves

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It is a little daunting to commit to writing a reflection for each day in Advent. It needs more systematic planning than my normal writing routine, which has become increasingly to work right up to the deadline. Whereas my early sermons were drafted and re-drafted well before the Sunday on which they were preached, latterly, I have found myself typing the last words early on Sunday mornings.

When I was at theological college, two ministers taught the course on preaching. During the introductory session, the Methodist minister explained how he read the readings on a Monday, had a first draft ready by Thursday to be finalised on the Saturday. His Anglican colleague then explained how he on a Saturday evening, often with some beers and possibly a cigarette, would put his sermon together. I have certainly moved from one method to the other!

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Expect the unexpected

expectationAdvent is not only the time to prepare for Christmas, it is also the start of a new Church year. On New Year’s Day, 1st January, my sister, my parents and myself used to go and visit my grandmother. She was not always a ‘glass-half-full’ person to say the least. One year, as we arrived, the first thing she said was ‘It’s going to be a difficult year’. It quickly became our family mantra on New Year’s Day.

Of course, the sad truth about a prediction like this is that it may well become reality for those who expectantly wait for difficulty to arise. Not always: we may be pleasantly surprised by that which lies ahead of us, but our expectations do colour our experience.

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A time to prepare

Advent is a time to prepare for Christmas.  As any celebration, Christmas needs those preparations. It is much nicer to receive or give a present which is just right for someone, rather than a last-minute bought gift, a bouquet of flowers from a service station, which was rather unimaginative, as we ran out of time really thinking about it.

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Also, there is a lot of fun to be had in the preparations themselves. Decorating the Christmas tree is often more fun than just looking at it, and who doesn’t like a shopping trip to one of the Christmas markets? However, particularly with the normal busyness of life, it can all become a bit much and we continuously feel that we are running out of time and getting more and more tired.  There can come a moment that not only the extra commitments become a bit much, but everything we need to do is one thing too many. I’m sure that many of us recognise this feeling, particularly in these dark days that mark this time of the year.

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