Hurstpierpoint College Senior Chapel Address Friday 29th January 2021: Candlemas, Luke 2.22-40
On 2 February, in the Church year, we celebrate the Feast of Candlemas. Traditionally, this has been the end of the Christmas season, the day that even the most persevering amongst us put away their Christmas lights – or maybe not this year. It is also the service in which we bless and give out lots of candles, as I am sure many of you who were here last year will remember. As we all know, this year is different, and we cannot be together in one place. However, I hope that most of you received a tea light from us this last week. Some of you may have already lit it, but if you haven’t, today may be a good opportunity to do so.
Lighting a candle is a universal sign of comfort, and of hope. Many of us will have been into churches and lit a candle to think of someone dear to us, or to remember someone who had died. As a nation, we have also been lighting candles to remember all those caught up in the global pandemic: again, a sign of comfort and hope.
Today, I would like to extend the image of the candle as a sign of hope a little further – maybe a little too far for some of you. In our reading just now, we heard how Simeon proclaims Jesus to be one who will give light to those who sit in darkness: the image of Christ being the light of the world. That is also the image represented by our Paschal candle, which we light every year for the first time on Easter Day.
As Christians, we believe that each of us carries with us that light too, that each one of us is uniquely created and loved by God. That each of us is unique, and each of us is to be valued and celebrated as a human being, is of course not only a Christian belief: it is not even distinctively religious. I would go as far as that the belief that everyone is to be respected and celebrated it is a necessary condition for humanity to live well, and to live well together.
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.
Sermon 2nd February 2020:
The Presentation of Christ in the Temple (Luke 2.22-40)
The story we hear this morning will be familiar to many: the presentation of Jesus in the temple. Following Jewish tradition, Joseph and Mary present Jesus, their first-born son, in the temple to give thanks and ask God’s blessing upon his life. They encounter two people, Simeon and Anna, who are often mentioned in one breath. But looking a little closer, it these two people do not have as much in common as we might think. This morning, I’d like to have a closer look at the person of Simeon, and what happens to him when he sees Joseph, Mary and their child.
Simeon seems to be a visitor to the temple, but apart from that, we don’t hear anything about the age or past of Simeon. That we don’t know Simeon’s age came as a surprise to me, when I heard someone preaching on this passage a few weeks ago. She pointed out that, although we often assume that Simeon was pretty old – just as in Rembrandt’s painting –, this is actually not mentioned in this passage, or elsewhere in the Bible for that matter. Yes, we hear that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah, which may imply that he is of advanced years, but this is not made explicit by the text.
Address Marlborough College Chapel Second Sunday of Epiphany, John 1.43-51
One of the things I dislike is when someone tells me what to do, and I am sure that I am not the only one. Here at school there are quite a lot of things you are told to do, and I suspect that some of you feel the same about those things as I, when I am told that I have to do something. There are quite a few things in life you will just have to do. Not only when you’re at school, but also when you embark on your next stage of life and even beyond. Fortunately, there are also a lot of things you are invited to do, and often they have a very different feel to it.
For example, when I was in the last year of my Master’s course in physics, I was invited to go to an annual conference to present the research that I had been doing. It was a real honour to go and to be part of the ‘grown-up’ scientific community and I very much enjoyed the couple of days full of lectures and talks. The next year, when I had started my PhD research in the same field, attending the same conference was no longer an invitation, but an expectation. As soon as my supervisor told me to go, the conference lost its appeal, and I did no longer want to. Although my interests hadn’t changed, nor the topic and format of the conference itself, the fact that I was told to go, spoilt it for me altogether.
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.
The 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.
A sermon preached at St Mary’s Marlborough on 27th January 2019 The Fourth Sunday of Epiphany: 1 Corinthians 12.12-31a & Luke 4.14-21
It’s not easy to be in an interregnum, as I’m sure the Churchwardens and many others will agree. The extra work, the extra responsibility and the uncertainty what the future of the church in Marlborough will look like. On the other hand, there is also, I suspect, a sense of excitement: what new opportunities will lie ahead of us, and the opportunity for people to explore their gifts within in the church community.
In many ways, we, here in Marlborough in 2019, are not in a dissimilar situation from the people in Corinth in the early days of the Church. A time of excitement, but also uncertainly, a time in which people discern what their gifts are they can offer to others and to God. And, I am sure, then as now, there is the problem of our human tendency to think that we ourselves are just that bit more important or more indispensable than the people around us.