Saturday, 26 February 2011

Barefoot Discipleship - and Online Revisions

"Barefoot Disciple: Walking the Way of Passionate Humility " is the title of the Archbishop of Canterbury's Lent Book for 2011. Here in Durham we can be justly proud that it is written by Stephen Cherry, Residentiary Canon of Durham and frequently referred to as the man with the longest job title in the Diocese: Director of Ministerial Development and Parish Support. Don't let that put you off... I got half-way through the book during a train journey - and just wish I had more time to read it at leisure. Hopefully that time will come with Lent.

Here's a link to a diocesan web-page which will tell you more - and that page gives a further link to a print-it-yourself leaflet, Pilgrim Posts - 10 Ideas for Lent, based on the book. Well-worth pondering - we'll be distributing the leaflet at St. Cuthbert's.

Meanwhile, our parish website has been up-dated, and the March issue of our Parish Magazine is now on sale in hard copy, or you can read it in full-colour here.

Monday, 21 February 2011

Turning the other cheek - going that extra mile...

Yesterday we celebrated the 3rd Sunday before Lent. Because of the way the Church's Calendar is worked out it was the first time we've done so in "Year A" since the present Lectionary came out in 1998. Hope I got that right! - my point is that more often than not, we miss a critical piece of Jesus' teaching from the Sermon on the Mount as to how people should relate to one another. The Gospel reading was Matthew 5.38-48. It's required reading if we're to do anything about making relationships healthy. Why do we read it so seldom?

I wonder if as a society we've become over-influenced by soap opera, where the story-line is driven by the deliberate creation of misunderstanding. People don't hear what other people are saying - and they don't hang around to listen again or work out what was really intended. Are we any better? The whole of my homily is to be found by clicking here. And this is an excerpt:

... I suspect that many people think I’m supposed to go around “liking” everyone. The Vicar should go about with a smile on his face, spreading goodwill, never taking offence, being agreeable to all. When adverts appear in the Church Times from parishes seeking a new priest, quite commonly they say that he or she should have a good sense of humour. What they rarely say is “should have a good sense of humour, because you’re going to need it!” Maybe they could say “should have a back like the proverbial duck, so that the water and any other mess that occasionally comes your way can readily flow off it.” But actually that’s not what you need - because that would suggest that you’re rather impervious, hardened-up or deaf to what people say. And priests need to be vulnerable - so they can be easily wounded.

If that’s true of clergy, it’s true of lay people too - ordinary Christians trying to get on with lives of loving service. And that’s what today’s Gospel reading is about…

It’s part of the Sermon on the Mount, and in the section we read today you may hear an echo of the Beatitudes with which Jesus begins this so-called sermon:

Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Now Jesus turns his attention to the person who lashes out at you - “strikes you on the right cheek.” It needn’t be physical hurt that’s inflicted - what people say can be even worse. And what do you do about people who always seem to be wanting from you - and never giving - whether it’s wanting something that’s rightfully yours, dragging you along to do something you just don’t feel up to, or borrowing yet again when they could easily go out and buy whatever it is they need for themselves.

Does it ring a bell for you?

When we can’t think of an answer to give, then we can start to feel guilty - and it’s all quite irrational! When we feel that I’ve really done my best and people can’t see it, then we feel hurt. When we feel we’ve just got nothing more to give, then we rightly wonder when someone’s going to give something to me…

What we find in today’s Gospel reading is that those feelings about which we may feel so guilty are nothing new. A first step in facing up to them is simply to admit how I feel.

I’m glad to say that I find myself in a community where there’s lots of support and friendship. We should really value what we have here in this church, this parish, these villages in which we live. Love is the calling of the Christian - that’s what we need, and that’s what we need to share. “Love your neighbour as yourself.” The words are in today’s Old Testament reading - on the lips of Moses as the Israelites wandered all that time in the desert, 3,000 years and more ago. “Love your neighbour…” becomes the second great command of Jesus. But remember to love your neighbour as yourself. We need a sense of self-worth if we’re to do the loving properly. We need to be free of hurt, pain and guilt. But because we’re human there are those times when people cause us hurt - and times when we wound other people too. Admit how we feel, and we’ll get a better sense of our own need, our own worth, and how we can respond.

Jesus tells his disciples, “Love your enemies.” That’s tough, but I wonder if the first step is when we have to recognise who we are setting up to be our enemy? When we pray for those we dislike, there are different things to be doing. We have to ask if there is anyone in the first place that we really do dislike; then to ask why; then to explore whether that’s a real cause for feeling that way. Then as we pray we recognise their humanity - and our own. How does our humanity relate to what the Bible tells us about our being made in the image and likeness of God?...

Monday, 14 February 2011

Holy Island... and National Marriage Week

After a rather over-busy few weeks, I knew I needed a Quiet Day. Having nothing booked formally, I drove up to Lindisfarne - re-named by Benedictine monks from Durham as "Holy Island" though of course the original monastic foundation goes back to its establishment by St. Aidan in the seventh century.

Because the causeway to the island is tidal, there's a discipline required in working out when to go there - consult the Tide Tables! A further discipline of patience was required on the last leg of the journey when I found myself in a long queue of traffic held up by work on the East Coast mainline level crossing at Beal, just before reaching the causeway. Several drivers turned their cars round and drove off - I wonder what else they thought they would do when they must have travelled some distance to get that far?

Once I was on the island, the clouds broke up, the sun came out and the weather turned quite mild. There's something special about the quality of the air and light on Holy Island. And while there were other cars in the car park there were few people about to disturb the stillness.

I wonder how many visitors make it beyond the confines of the village - or at best the Castle? A few venture to St. Cuthbert's Island, crunching over the mussels and slipping on the seaweed. But very few go more than half a mile from the centre of the village over muddy tracks or along the coastal path to explore the dunes and discover vast expanses of sandy beach, rocky bays, cliffs and the lough with its hide. It's sometimes possible to walk more than halfway round the island without meeting anyone - and in between the dunes there are areas where even the sound of the sea is blocked out.

I'm not all that keen on the "Celtic Christianity industry" - but come to Lindisfarne and you can understand how the monks who established themselves there found a sort of "desert" in which their lives of prayer could flourish. And it's all just off the A1, which I could have got back to very quickly at the end of the day - if Balfour Beatty hadn't still been continuing their work on the level crossing.

There are more pictures of the Holy Island of Lindisfarne here. The shutter button on my ageing mobile phone isn't working too well - so sometimes it didn't work quite when intended!

And on Sunday I tackled the hard sayings of Jesus found in the Gospel reading from Matthew 5 - with particular reference to his words concerning marriage and divorce - click here! The day ended with my being interviewed for Metro Radio in connection with National Marriage Week. The idea was that it would go out in snippets at various times today - if you hear any of it, let me know!

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

The Big Society - and on being salt...

I'm not sure when we last had a "5th Sunday before Lent" - never in my record of Year A lectionary cycles... and that's a shame because it means that we're only rarely going to have last Sunday's lections as set reading.

Any one of the readings for the day (Isaiah 58.1-9a; 1 Corinthians 2.1-12; Matthew 5.13-20) offered a wealth of opportunity for reflection. Not least the call to be "the salt of the earth" and "the light of the world." And before that to hear Isaiah's words:

Is not this the fast that I choose:

to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?

Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin?

In my reflections at the 8a.m. Eucharist I couldn't help but make the connection to present-day calls to work for a Big Society, but also to wonder just how many of us are willing to look beyond our own selfish pre-occupations. Getting home I found Alain de Botton giving his Point of View on Radio 4 - and from his secular standpoint admitting that individualism and libertarianism have brought society to a point where there is little to underpin any sense of cohesion; something which can be learned from a religious tradition lost to most. And then our Reader, Rosie Junemann, preached on the Gospel and the Big Society at our Sung Eucharist - find her sermon here.

How do people grasp such a concept as a Big Society if they haven't a common vocabulary / understanding / faith / moral imperative? And how does the Government think it is going to work? Obviously the hope is that it will make good for those gaps where previously there was provision  by government spending. But might not the cuts simply make people more desperate and self-focussed, even selfish? And when charities find their funding cut, and churches and community groups find grants for their work dried up, who will organise people into action for the greater good?

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Candlemas - and the beginning of February...

I've been "up the road " in Consett, celebrating the Feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple at Christ Church. I think it was the first experience of the Feast for most of the (midweek) congregation - at least with full use of candles, procession and responsories. Hopefully a good time for all!

At St. Cuthbert's we kept the Feast on Sunday. You can find my homily for the Feast by clicking here.

And since I've been remiss about posting recently, here is my previous offering of a homily for Epiphany 2 back on 16th January.

We're hoping that the recent improvement in the weather is here to stay. A new discussion group met yesterday - back again next Tuesday. It's only a short burst, cut off by a Deanery Synod meeting the following week... But we'll be back in full flow with Lent meetings in March.

To find out what is going on this month, have a look at our new Parish Magazine, which you can find by clicking here.