Saturday, 9 December 2017

Monday, 4 December 2017

Christmas - what’s on your menu?

I’m writing on 1st December. Despite the Advent Calendar window you might have opened this morning it’s not actually Advent till Sunday 3rd December. Nevertheless, we’ve already had our first enquiries as to when our Christmas services are - especially the Christmas Eve Carol Service with Christingles. So, in case that’s your question… the answer is 6pm on Christmas Eve, Sunday 24 December.

Do I need to give the day and date for Christmas Eve as well? Actually 24 December is also the Fourth Sunday of Advent - which is why Advent starts so late and is so short this year. That means we have regular Sunday services in the morning - and then start again in the evening (and on into Christmas morning). Which begs the question: just what will people turn up to?

That depends on how you view the “Christmas menu.” The Christmas Eve Carols & Christingle Service is always huge - I’m glad! It’s got obvious appeal. If you haven’t been before, come now - and don’t leave it too late if you want a seat. But I want to say, it’s only a part of a greater whole. Christmas might start then with carols before the crib. But there’s all the preparation which we call Advent. The word means “coming.” Christ is coming - but will he find us with our hearts prepared? Not just the cards sent out and presents wrapped and catering sorted. But really waiting for the gift God sends us in Jesus. He’s a gift to be anticipated - and once received, then valued. So we need to be prepared to meet him. And then realise he brings a love which keeps on loving and asks us to keep loving too.

So come and join us before Christmas - during Advent. And follow it up! Remember Christmas isn’t just the Carol Service. I’d like to make a particular plea for the Midnight Mass (11.30pm)! But then there’s the year which follows - and I don’t mean just till 31st December. Advent Sunday is the beginning of the Christian Year - so it’s a good time for resolution as to how we’ll spend the 12 months ahead. Love, service of others and worship are top of the Christian menu - starting with God’s love for us. Wishing you God’s blessing, his love and joy.         

From our Parish Magazine for December 2017 and January 2018 - click the link to find all the contents 

Sunday, 12 November 2017

Of War and Remembrance

In case you wonder, the Bible Readings we use today are not chosen particularly for use on Remembrance Sunday. They’re not about War or the remembrance of those who died in time of war. They’re simply the readings appointed for use on the 3rd Sunday before Advent. So we use them if Remembrance Day happens to fall on this particular Sunday of the Church’s Calendar. But Remembrance Sunday can also fall on the 2nd Sunday before Advent - and if it does we use the readings appointed for that day, and we might find that they are no more relevant to what we actually feel.

But simply to use what the regular lectionary gives us is no bad thing. Scripture meets us where we are, the Word of God heard in whatever circumstances we might find ourselves. And as I read today’s Bible passages I thought of what it must have been like for soldiers on the battlefield who might have gathered with their Chaplain for worship. Perhaps they would gather around what was at best a makeshift altar. Probably they would be without any books - the Chaplain reading to them from his Bible - though we know that many servicemen carried a Prayer Book or New Testament, especially in the First World War. What words would they hear? Over the course of years of war it wouldn’t always have been the same passage. Might they have heard today’s Gospel reading of the Ten Bridesmaids (the Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins as it’s traditionally known) and then gone off puzzled into battle ? … gone off to fight, and many to die.

On Remembrance Sunday we gather to remember. To remember doesn’t mean that we have to have been present during the terrible events of war. It does ask us to enter imaginatively into the lives of men and women who have served their country - often at great cost in wounds borne and lives lost. What took them into service? There were those who volunteered, others conscripted, others acting as non-combatants for conscience’s sake. And they were there because of people who made decisions which sent them off to war: politicians and generals; sometimes for the cause of justice, freedom, truth and right; sometimes through ambition and pride. What we can say is that it is ordinary men and women from ordinary communities like our own who have left loved ones, families and friends, to go to war - to serve their country; and hopefully to serve humanity - to do something for a greater good.

St. Paul in the first reading we heard from his first letter to the Thessalonians is writing to people who grieved over the death of loved ones. Their loss through natural causes is hard enough to bear - and he attempts to give some encouragement to them by writing of a life beyond death. I have to say, I don’t think it easily works. We might be distracted by a certain military resonance: “For the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call and with the sound of God’s trumpet, will descend from heaven and the dead in Christ will rise first.” But there’s no form of words which can speak to every person who has suffered bereavement. And especially today, when we remember those who died in war, we need to be wary of false comfort and recognise the cruel offence of so many lives lost in conflict.

I found myself yesterday reading the story of a young man from my home town of Hartlepool. He was active in his church (St. Aidan’s), he had a passion for learning - and could share it with others - and while still in his twenties became a headteacher. But then the First World War was declared. He loved his country and joined up - and found himself training and guarding an installation back in Hartlepool. And it was there that Private Theophilus Jones died, age 29, during the German naval bombardment of the town in November 1914. Over a hundred military and (mainly) civilian lives were lost in just a few minutes. He was carrying a prayer book which was hit by some of the shrapnel and would have saved his life without even a flesh wound if that had been his only injury; but it was injuries elsewhere on his body which killed him. It’s a story now because the Museum of Hartlepool has just bought that prayer book to be displayed in the town. But it couldn’t save him from the full extent of his wounds.

Where is the hope? Something else I read yesterday reminded me of one of the most renowned of First World War military chaplains, Geoffrey Studdert Kennedy. Let me read to you from an article by Bob Holman:

In 1914, Geoffrey Studdert Kennedy was an unknown parish priest. Ten years later he was the church's best-known speaker, drawing larger crowds than politicians and publishing books that sold millions. How did this happen?

The answer is the first world war. In 1914, he enthusiastically supported Britain's declaration of war on Germany and soon enlisted as a chaplain. He distributed fags to troops and earned the affectionate nickname Woodbine Willie. He joined the soldiers on the western front when they went over the top, and won the Military Cross when he ran through shells into "no man's land" to obtain supplies of morphine. His speaking skills were used to maintain morale. Sickened by the needless slaughter, on his discharge, in 1919, he spoke all over the country, opposing war and calling for an end to unemployment and poverty.

Today "Willie" is largely forgotten, although the centenary … of the war may show how relevant he is to contemporary problems. Poverty campaigners and academics do call for social reform. But few are as close to poor people as Willie was. His turning point was when he stopped talking to, and instead listened to, the troops. Through his magnetic preaching, he publicised their views on wanting to end war, their dislike of the monarchy, and their desire for the end of poverty. And in his collection of rhymes, many written in working-class dialect, he expressed their views in their own language.

He became a great social evangelist calling for reform. So did others, but he was different. He gave away his possessions. His salary was modest but he received large royalties – all of which he gave to charities. He left very little money. He was genuine and, when he died, in 1929, exhausted at the age of 45, poor people flocked to his funeral in Worcester. Today, we urgently need poverty campaigners like him.

The dean of Westminster refused Willie a burial at the Abbey because, he said, he was a "socialist". Hardly, if he meant a Labour-party socialist. Willie distrusted most politicians and refused to join any political party. He proclaimed that the church (or churches) had to counter poverty and inequality. His argument was that wealth redistribution would only come following changes in people's values and attitudes, and that only the Christian message could achieve this. True, he did transform some individuals, but no large policy reforms followed. He had little impact on politicians.

Politicians have their place. We need to remember that when there is so much in the media that shows the rottenness of political conduct, and might lead us to distrust them all together. All the more reason why it is important that we use our votes wisely - and hold those elected to account. The cause of freedom and the sharing of that freedom is not to be taken lightly. It’s a cause that many have died for.

And to remember is at the heart of Christian faith. “Do this in remembrance of me,” Jesus tells his disciples at the Last Supper. He takes bread and wine; he gives them his Body and his Blood. Given for us… Shed for us…

“Greater love has no one than this, that a man should lay down his life for his friends.” Sometimes the words have been mis-heard and mis-used. But they come from the life and death of Jesus Christ; their hope stems from his living and dying for us. There is a further hope of Resurrection, life with God, but we start by Remembering. Christ shares in our humanity, his loss is felt in human pain - which we share… As this poem by Geoffrey Studdert-Kennedy recognises - it’s called, "A Mother Understands."

Dear Lord, I hold my hand to take
Thy body broken once for me,
Accept the sacrifice I make,
My body, broken, Christ, for Thee.

His was my body, born of me,
Born of my bitter travail pain,
And it lies broken on the field,
Swept by the wind and the rain.

Surely a Mother understands Thy thorn-crowned head,
The mystery of Thy pierced hands—the Broken Bread.

Tuesday, 31 October 2017

A people without history… not redeemed

We die with the dying:
See, they depart, and we go with them.
We are born with the dead:
See, they return, and bring us with them.
….                                A people without history
Is not redeemed from time, for history is a pattern
Of timeless moments.

This is just part of the last section of Little Gidding from T.S.Eliot’s Four Quartets, one of the greatest poems of the 20th century.  What’s it about? That’s much debated - but especially in November, the month of Remembrance we do well to remember those few words, “A people without history is not redeemed from time…”

There’s no quick way out of the mess into which humanity so frequently gets itself. It can be tempting for Brexit negotiators to think that a “No Deal” position will allow us to start with a clean economic slate full of opportunity - but opportunity requires a willingness to engage with hard realities. Catalonian leaders might argue that a declaration of independence from Spain immediately confers on their country a new nationhood which all should recognise - but that is to ignore a history which is somewhat harder to unpick. The leaders of North Korea and the USA may speak of nuclear options - but the cost would be devastation.

The season of Remembrance begins with remembering the holy ones of God and our loved ones at All Saints and All Souls.  In remembering those who gave their lives in time of War, we see a sacrifice which weighs on us through the years to this day. It needs to be honoured. We cannot live only for the moment. How did we get here? Where do we go? The Cross and Resurrection of Christ stand in history too - and call us on our way.             

Martin Jackson

Tuesday, 26 September 2017

A Diet of Worms: not an idea from Slimming World…

I first came across the Diet of Worms when I was studying O-level History. It was satisfyingly revolting for a 15-year-old boy - until I realised that Worms was a place in Germany, and the word Diet meant Council. So when Martin Luther was summoned to the Diet of Worms in 1521 it wasn’t to force him into a new food regime, but to make him answer before the imperial authorities for the doctrines he had been proclaiming.

Famously Luther, an Augustinian priest and friar, was said to have nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg on 31st October 1517. In them he took issue with what he saw as the fundamental errors being perpetrated in the Church of his day - notably the selling of “Indulgences,” a supposed way of buying yourself out of Purgatory while actually financing the building of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.  Which is why this month is being celebrated (or not celebrated) as the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. There’s more to it than that of course - and many historians have concluded that Luther never did actually nail his argument to the door. Others deny that at the Diet of Worms he uttered the words, “Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me.”

But these arguments shouldn’t get in the way of the fact that the thinking and actions of Luther were critical in religious and world history. Popular history thinks of the Reformation in this country as being due to Henry VIII deciding to create his own Church if he couldn’t get what he wanted from the Pope. In fact Henry got his title Defender of the Faith from the Pope for opposing Luther’s doctrines. Henry wanted to be a Catholic, but on his own terms. Luther, on the other hand, struggled to live his Catholicism until his reading of the Bible and his conscience took him elsewhere - and he could have lost his life for maintaining what he believed.

Only in recent years have Roman Catholics and Lutherans come to recognise a common truth in what is called “Justification by Faith.” Is it faith alone, regardless of what we actually do, that’s important? Or do we reveal our faith by the things we do? For us all the truth starts with the gracious love and mercy of God. We do well to remember that.        MJ

Taken from the October issue of our Parish Magazine - find it online here

Saturday, 2 September 2017

New learning from an unwanted event …

You can read in the September issue of our Parish Magazine about our last meeting of Messy Church, where we explored Jesus’ healing of the paralytic / lame man. It was dramatic. But how much do we really think it applies to us? “Get up and walk,” says Jesus. And so he does.

That’s something I suddenly discovered myself unable to do on the first weekend of my summer holiday. I was in London, crossing a road, when I realised the traffic was approaching more closely than I thought. So halfway across I put on a spurt of speed - at which point I felt a tearing sensation in my calf. I must have hopped the rest of the way, because at the other side I discovered I couldn’t put my foot down to walk.

Sent off from Accident & Emergency with a pair of crutches - that’s when I began to see just how many other people had crutches or some other disability with which they had to live. Not always a disability you might at first see. I took the bus from the hospital - and an Asian family motioned to me to get on ahead of them. It was on the bus that I realised their eight-year old son was severely autistic and every move they made had to be negotiated. But they’d let me on first - and when it was time to get off his young sister went to the driver to ask for extra time. On the next bus was a man who’d been refused an operation: he was British but had been living abroad and had broken his foot in India - now the bones wouldn’t knit. When was that? I asked. February, he’d said - and he was no better.

Mine was a chance accident - and hopefully I’ll heal with time. Others won’t. It’s not their fault - but sometimes we treat them as if it were.

Overwhelmingly I’ve had positive responses - people have offered their seat; lots have shared their own stories. Aided by family and friends I’ve been able to get on with life. And perhaps a slower pace for the remaining holiday was no bad thing.

Jesus gave physical healing to the man in the Messy Church story. But he had a deeper need too. “Your sins are forgiven,” Jesus tells him. And we all need to hear that.                                                                       

Martin Jackson

Tuesday, 29 August 2017

How to get in touch...

The Vicar is back from holiday - albeit rather reliant on the crutches he acquired on his first weekend off. Sorry if you've been trying to catch him without success - why not try again? The Vicarage phone number is 01207 503019.

There's lots to do already. Next week's diary is already pretty full. This week there's not so much in it, but there's a lot on the desk. And he's not using his legs more than he needs to...

So you're quite likely to find him in the Vicarage. Worth saying because people are averse to using the phone - perhaps in case they get the answering machine?

So if you're wanting to be in touch, if you want to arrange a Baptism / Christening, a wedding, if you're interested in being confirmed (act fast on that one!)... this is a good week to try to catch him. Try that number - 01207 503019. And it's much easier to make arrangements this way than by email or social media messaging. We actually get to talk to each other - this week or any other...

And he can be found in church quite a bit too! You'll find our service times on this site - and you are most welcome to join us!