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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A journey into the unknown

Sermon St John the Baptist, Mildenhall
Advent Sunday, 1st December 2019

“But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” In this Gospel reading from Matthew’s Gospel set for the first Sunday of Advent, Jesus is speaking about the end of the age, also known as the second coming or the day of judgement. It is a reminder to us that during this season of Advent we are not only preparing for Christmas, for the celebration of God becoming one of us some two-thousand years ago, but we are also preparing for the end of the age, the day about which no one knows. How we can prepare for that day, and how we can do that in such a way that we do not fear, but instead anticipate with readiness and joy, the unknown of God’s judgement?

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Last week, I was visiting someone in hospital. She had just received the diagnosis of a terminal illness. Although we talked about Christmas, it was clear that for her it was very uncertain what this Christmas would look like. For her, this season of Advent would be a time to prepare in a very real way for the day and hour that we will all face, but of which no one knows. Continue reading “A journey into the unknown”

How to celebrate

Sermon 24th November 2019, St Andrew’s Church Uxbridge
Christ the King and Admission to first Communion
Colossians 1.11-20 & Luke 23.33-43

It is very good to be here with you this morning, especially as we are here to celebrate the first Communion of a number of young people of this parish, and their families. It was particularly nice to be welcomed by a lovely breakfast, and it fits rather well with what today’s service is all about!

I’m sure that in your preparation sessions you have been thinking already a lot about Holy Communion and what it means, so I may be repeating some of what you already know. So as you are the experts in a way, I’d like to start with a question to you specifically, but it is also a question to all of us: what do you do when you celebrate something? What do you do when there is a birthday, or Christmas or Easter, or maybe a wedding or a Baptism?

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I would like to suggest that there are four key elements to each celebration: gifts or presents, food – like this morning –, stories and other people. These four aspects are not a bad way to understand Holy Communion too, so let’s look at them briefly.

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Coming home

This fifth reflection concludes the short series of thoughts on my Camino journey. Those who have read the other pieces will recognise some of the themes. What I realised is that I was looking in the wrong place, and that my journey away needs to become a journey home. I am pleased to say that it was Augustine who set me on the right path!

Coming home

The day I arrived in Santiago was a beautiful day. A clear start with the moon giving enough light to discern my shadow, but still giving the opportunity to see hundreds of stars against their black backdrop. It made for a beautiful sunrise too, and by the time I reached the cathedral square, the sun had gained enough strength to enjoy a few moments to sit down and enjoy the busyness of pilgrims arriving to their destination.

IMG_0368However, as soon as I arrived, I also knew that this was not, and would never have been, my final destination. A small part of me had hoped to receive a revelation that would put everything in place, that would possibly change me forever, but I knew deep down that this was not what I was looking for. Before I set off, jokingly I said to a colleague: “I may come back a different person”. His reply was: “I hope not”.  It was precisely this truth that I needed to discover, but it was only the journey that had made me realise that I wanted to know what I already knew, and was looking for that which I already have.

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Where is the Church?

In this fourth reflection after my Camino pilgrimage, I will share some of my thoughts on the Church and its challenges. One of the hopes I had as I set off what to find some clarity on my relationship to the Church and a renewed sense of belonging. I don’t think that I found any answers, but the questions have become clearer, and bigger …

Where is the Church?

IMG_0305I had every intention for my journey to be a true pilgrimage, preparing myself not only practically, but also spiritually. I went to Confession beforehand, prayed for a blessing upon these two weeks and decided not to take any books apart from my Bible. Working as a school chaplain means in many ways finding yourself at the fringe of the Church community, so I felt that this pilgrimage was an opportunity to focus on my inner spiritual and religious life.

People walk the Camino for all sorts of different reasons, but for most it includes elements of searching, reflection and transition. The vast majority of people have embarked on this journey intentionally: it is not really a last-minute holiday destination. This meant that, as I already said in an earlier reflection, that encounters with others were meaningful and profound, whether people had  religious intentions for their journey or not.

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