Monday, 21 December 2015

Christmas at St. Cuthbert's

Sunday 20th December            

10.30a.m. Sung Parish Eucharist
                   - an All-Age Service

Thursday 24th December        

6.00p.m.    Carol Service with Christingle – join us for this lovely service with candlelight and Christmas bells.
11.30p.m. Midnight Mass of Christmas

Friday 25th December    

9.30a.m.    Parish Eucharist with Carols
                   - a service for all ages.

Sunday 27th December          

10.30a.m. Sung Parish Eucharist

No further services until…

Sunday 3rd January                 

10.30a.m. Sung Parish Eucharist

May the joy of the angels 
& the peace of the Christ Child

be God's gift to you this Christmas!

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Et incarnatus est…

Maybe using a bit of Latin isn’t the wisest introduction to what I want to say. But the words we use Sunday by Sunday haven’t moved much beyond it: when during the Creed we say of Jesus that he “was incarnate from the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary.” I still remember much anguish in the debate over how those words should be translated when the Common Worship liturgy was introduced in 2000. For those who stick with the Latin at least those words haven’t been changed for the last 1,700 years.

Regardless of the language we may use, what the words are trying to do is to state the central truth of Christianity - that God comes to us in human flesh (the Latin is in carne, hence the word incarnate). We know God because of the birth of Jesus - born of the Virgin Mary, but also of the Holy Spirit. God doesn’t come to us merely in human form. That might suggest that Jesus only looks human. But God’s Son really is human - and he really is God. That’s something worth marvelling at, even if you end up struggling with the words of the Creed.

I started thinking about this again not just because we’re approaching Christmas, but also because I’ve once more came across a little book on my shelves called “Creeds in the Making.” I bought it on 14th February 1975 - and obviously read it carefully because it’s full of underlinings (my writing was arguably even worse than it is now, though perhaps a bit more legible). I read it as part of a college group when I was at university - together exploring the truths of Christian faith which are summed up in those words of the Creed we use each Sunday. I wonder if people would find it a bit dry now. It’s just 130 pages long - but perhaps too long for most study groups now. It was written in 1935 - so was already 40 years old when we read it. Not many books survive the tests of time so long these days.

Christian faith is something believed in now for 2000 years, built on still older foundations and expressing eternal truths. At its heart there’s the story of how God enters our human history - in the birth of Jesus Christ in Bethlehem. History isn’t just stuff that happened a long time ago. It’s the reality of what impinges on human existence. In the incarnation it’s the reality of God at work in a particular time and a particular place, coming to us in Jesus. And the result is that God is at work for every time and every place. We may wonder about that when atrocities in Paris are too close to home. Then we need to remember the harshness of life in so many other parts of the world. But in all of them God wants to make his home - as he does first of all in Bethlehem.                                        
Martin Jackson

Saturday, 7 November 2015

Homily for Remembrance Sunday

 (Jonah 3.1-5,10; Hebrews 9.24-28; Mark 1.14-20)

The Gospel reading today gives us the call of Jesus to his first disciples: “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” The modern translation doesn’t have quite the resonance of the older version, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” But they’re saying the same thing. The urgency of the cause - recognizing that the Kingdom of God has come near - and the need for people who will proclaim it, even if it means leaving their livelihood, home and family.

Reading these words in preparation for Remembrance Day I have found myself reflecting on another rallying cry - Lord Kitchener’s, “Your country needs you!” The original in fact was “Your King and Country need You - Enlist Now.” Kitchener then appeared with the words we remember on the front of a magazine, “London Opinion,” at the beginning of September 1914. The famous poster of the Edwardian Field Marshal actually carried the words, “Your country wants you.” Just how to motivate recruits for war was a matter of critical importance for the generals of the time. Patriotism, bonds of friendship (joining up together with your workmates) and a sense of hating the enemy all played their part.

Whatever the motivation of those who fought, today we remember the victims of war. Inevitably we look back to the time of Kitchener and the First World War which saw a greater loss of life for our nation than any other conflict in which we have been involved. Just look at the names on our War Memorials. Too many for the Second World War with its clearer moral purpose. Still more again for the First Great War - and still we agonise over the motivations and morality of that conflict. We look back and honour the courage which took people from work, home and family as they sought to serve their country. But we do more than simply harken back to a history played out a century ago… We recognise the dreadful impact of war on the lives of millions to this day.

Last week I watched the film “American Sniper.” It may seem almost flippant to talk about a movie as we come together and remember the reality of war. But that is what the film attempts to explore. If you haven’t heard of it, you should know that it made more at the box office last year than any other film - and in fact it has grossed more than any other war film in history. We need to pay it attention if only because it drew so many people who paid to go and see it. And then there are the issues it raises… If many of us here think of Remembrance in terms of the First and Second World Wars, it’s a reminder that those conflicts go on - brutally - and they leave their scars not only on the battlefield but in the lives of loved ones left at home and those who finally return.

The film is the story of Chris Kyle, a marksman with the US Navy Seals, who undertook four tours of duty in Iraq. He wanted to serve his country and signed up after the 9/11 attacks. In the course of his military service he was credited with more “kills” than any other member of the American Forces - 160 officially recognized, probably many more than 200. I wasn’t sure I wanted to see the film, afraid that it would glorify the killing. And it was a sniper who killed my great-uncle in the First World War. But there is an arguable moral purpose as to what Kyle was doing: not merely picking off the enemy but seeking to protect those with whom he served. But at a cost - the first people he targets are a young mother who approaches his unit with a rocket propelled grenade launcher and then the child who picks it up after she falls.

It’s a devastating story which takes its toll both on Kyle and his family until he is unclear as to who he is and what he is doing. Eventually he is discharged, he needs psychiatric help, he tries to re-build his life and he seeks to help other veterans too. Until finally one of those veterans, suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, kills Kyle and a friend at a shooting range.

It’s a true story. It doesn’t seek to make an argument. It doesn’t challenge the decisions of nations which take them to war for what they consider the right reasons. But it tells us of the cost.

It’s the cost we remember today. “Your country needs you!” became the rallying cry to recruit so many to the national cause. We may want to challenge our leaders as they deliberate on matters of war and peace. But we can only feel for those who seek to serve - and for the victims: the dead, those who bear wounds both physical and unseen, their families. And as we ask the question “why?” we remember those who suffer in the world’s battle zones today, and those who flee them.

“The Kingdom of God has come near… believe the good news,” says Jesus. But how can we make it a reality? That’s Jonah’s question - who resists the call of God to preach to the people of Nineveh, that city of Iraq still in the news. Yet when he finally goes to them it makes a difference - we’re told they repent and turn from their evil ways. We cannot give up on our resolve that this world should be a better place, that there should be moral purpose, justice and peace for all.

Jesus sees Simon and Andrew casting their nets, and calls to them - and they follow. Further on he calls to James and John, the sons of Zebedee. The Gospel tells us that they were in their boat, “mending the nets.” I’m struck by this observation. The call to us as Christians - as disciples of Jesus - as people who work for a better world - is not merely to cast the net, to be at the sharp edge of things; it’s also to have patience, to be net-menders. And that way we may honour those who have gone before us in their task.

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

“A Typical Family” - Poor Families - God’s Family…

“The typical family can expect to be £2,000 better off despite the proposed cuts in tax credits.” That’s one of the assertions I saw recently in the Press in the build-up to the House of Lords vote which overturned the Government’s plan to reduce the level of tax credits paid to lower-paid workers and poorer families.

I’m not sure how the politicians assess what a “typical family” is. The Government has some praiseworthy aims - amongst them the reduction both of the nation’s “deficit” and of the need for so many to be dependent upon benefits, whether they be social payments or tax credits. The increase in the National Minimum Wage is important in this respect - though I find myself disturbed that the Government has tried to call it the “National Living Wage” - effectively undercutting what others had independently assessed to be the true amount necessary to ensure a basic quality of living.

But the Maths don’t add up. It’s clear that at least half of poorer paid workers and families on tax credits would find the cuts greater than any increase received from the new minimum wage and higher tax threshold. And even if 80% stood to benefit - as the Government first asserted - such a course must be questioned if only for the effect on the 20% who would not benefit, because these would be the poorest of all.

All politicians these days sing the merits of “hard-working families.” But this doesn’t help when there is no job to work hard at. It doesn’t help when hard work is still rewarded only with the lowest possible wage. If you’re a “typical” person in employment, you might expect to benefit. But can you easily accept those benefits if their cost is real hardship for those who are poor?

I was in another church recently where someone was saying how disappointed he was at the congregation’s level of response to an appeal for a local Foodbank. I agree with the importance of Foodbank initiatives and glad we support our own. But then I thought of some of the people in that congregation of which he was speaking, who could themselves barely make ends meet; how could they contribute when they might themselves need the Foodbank? We need to recognise the needs of others - but I’m afraid we need to recognise that those others might include people we sit next to in our own churches. The poor are not other people, the object of our charity, somebody else. Remember that. Remember Jesus’ words: “He sent me to bring good news to the poor….”

Martin Jackson

from the November Parish Magazine - follow the links from the top of this blog page, or find it by clicking here

Sunday, 4 October 2015

Harvest at St. Cuthbert's Church

We've had a wonderful Harvest Festival celebration in St. Cuthbert's today. Lots of people at our Sung Eucharist - with all ages ready to take a part in exploring how much there is to be thankful for.

Afterwards a toast to Elsie Carr, one of our members who turned 90 last week. And then on to a delicious Harvest Lunch.

Thanks to everyone who worked so hard and skilfully to decorate the church and ensure such a great occasion in worship, friendship, eating and drinking.

Sunday, 6 September 2015

On being a migrant people

 (Homily for 6th September 2015:
Isaiah 35.4-7a; James 2.1-17; Mark 7.24-37)

First it was the Visigoths. Then…

Swabians, Franks and Alemanni. Across the Rhine they came, their creaking ox-carts piled high with wives and children and all their goods and chattels. They fought, and they conquered. For when they fell there were always more behind to take their place. Thousands were slain, but tens of thousands followed. This period is known as the time of the Migrations. It was the storm that swept up the Roman Empire and whirled it into extinction.

And they kept coming - followed by Huns, Ostrogoths and Vandals…

“It was migrants who brought the Roman Empire to an end.” I read that in a newspaper article somewhere last week. But then looking in E. H. Gombrich’s Little History of the World, I find that’s exactly how he sums it up also in the words I’ve quoted. Perhaps he’s a little too concise in a world survey which can’t give very many pages - or even paragraphs - to the massive topics he deals with.

But you know what these people are saying… From our rather parochial worries about the pressure on the Eurotunnel fence by a couple of thousand migrants at Calais, our attention has shifted to the hundreds of thousands who are making their way through eastern and central Europe, largely unregistered, camped at railway stations, pressured unwillingly into reception centres - but intent on making their way to a better life. For some it’s been a journey of as much as four years - the prospect at last of crossing the German border and the promise of asylum beckons. For others the journey fails in the attempt to reach Europe in the first place: the picture of three year-old Aylan Kurdi’s dead body washed up on the Turkish shore strikes us in a way that stories of the thousands of other lives lost in perilous sea crossings could not; it’s made all the more painful by the tenderness with which a policeman cradles him in his arms, while elsewhere in Europe body-armoured police officers with batons and stun grenades attempt to bring order or turn back the disorderly crowds seeking to continue their journey.

And how do we respond? The Hungarian Prime Minister, Viktor Orban, has called the present movement of peoples a threat to Christian civilisation and culture. On the other hand there are those who say that the true Christian response is one of welcome to all who are in need - generosity not fear should characterise our attitude. But then there are those who ask if this would simply encourage more to leave their homes for a better life in western countries which have only finite resources. And critically we might ask ourselves: would I give a refugee a home in my house?

“Something should be done.” We all feel that, even if we differ as to what should be done. But on the whole we want it not to require anything of us that might require action, still less disrupt our lives. I don’t have the answer. But when we see the violence, fear and injustice with which so many live in the war-zones of our world, when we see the precariousness of life for those who have taken to inadequate boats to Europe, when we see the chaos which seems to spread as the migrants journey on, there is a question which strikes at us - why should we be immune to all of this?

There are religious implications - as ever... Many people would say that religion is a critical factor in causing the problems in the first place. Hopefully more would see that it is a perversion of religion which motivates the forces of Islamic State, Boko Haram and the other forces who have generated such a crisis from Northern and Sub-Saharan Africa through the Middle East and beyond. It’s people who dare to believe differently from them who are their victims - and so often that means Christians. So many Christians have suffered violence, death and displacement. How should we respond to them? If they have held to their faith, what does our faith mean to us?

Today’s Gospel reading is quite shocking - the encounter of Jesus with a woman of Syrophoenician origin, a Jew meets a Gentile. It’s Jesus who has crossed a border - the only recorded instance of him leaving his native Palestine as an adult. No great importance is given to that journey in itself. The Roman Empire is the Schengen area of the first century without border checks. That had enabled Mary and Joseph to flee in fear from Bethlehem to Egypt after the birth of Jesus - if you want to say that all migrants should stay in their own lands, then you will have a problem with the second chapter of the New Testament, Matthew chapter 2!

What is shocking in today’s Gospel reading is the response which Jesus makes to the request made by this Gentile woman. She wants Jesus to heal her daughter, and he replies: “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” It reads as a rejection of this woman and her daughter in their need. Jesus had brought healing to the people of his own land, who were fellow-Jews; it seems like he doesn’t want to extend this healing any further. Is it a test of how far the woman’s faith will reach? She persists: “even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” And Jesus gives in - the young girl is healed.

Some interpreters of the passage say that all along Jesus intends to heal the girl - he’s showing that Gentiles as well as Jews can be the object of God’s mercy; we only need to ask. Others say that it’s the intention of the Gospel writer to show that the Christian faith would be shared with Jews first before it would be taken to the Gentiles. Still others say that the word Jesus uses for “dogs” is a diminutive - so it translates as “puppies,” rather more cuddly than a first reading might suggest. But however you take it, there’s a challenge to our perceptions. God’s love is not confined to a particular people. Nothing qualifies us rather than people from Syria or Africa to be the special object of his favour. Only our humanity makes us worthy of God’s mercy - and them as well. It’s to other people in their humanity that we must make our response.

Are these people any different from us? I’ve been thinking of the links which people in our church have with other lands. Families whose children have moved to work in other countries or who have married someone of a different nationality. I have a brother who moved to the United States because that’s where the work was - over there he has a partner who comes from South America. One of my best friends here is an American who has picked up Canadian and British nationalities in the course of his travels. Another has just left this country to work in Canada. None of these people was forced by absolute need to make the moves they did - but many have benefited because they have made their life’s journey.

Perhaps the oldest part of the Bible is to be found in the book Deuteronomy (chapter 26). It’s what to say when you come to make a Harvest offering, recognising God’s guidance and provision for you. The person making the offering should begin: “My father was a wandering Aramaean…” He was a nomad, a herdsman travelling wherever his flocks could find food.

The Israelites were a people who only discovered themselves - and God - while they were on the move. Abraham, the Father of their nation, had journeyed with his family from the region we would now call Iraq through Syria to the land of Canaan - and there he lived as a guest, not by any right. His grandson, Jacob, would make the move with his family to Egypt to find refuge in time of famine. And the return journey would take them 40 years in the wilderness with only God as their guide. The story of faith revealed in the pages of scripture is one of travel, encounter, hospitality and hostility, and finally understanding of the self and of God. Still we are called on the journey. May we know ourselves the better for it, may it help us know God and his purpose for all his people.

Saturday, 29 August 2015

The end of summer?

Holidays for me this summer have been just a week away in London - so I shall be planning something for the autumn. But you can pack a lot into one week in the capital, if you can cope with not having the most relaxing of times. The weather is quite different too: while in our area we seem to have had whatever has been blown in from the Atlantic, in London the weather systems were coming in from the continent - some very heavy rain, but significantly warmer rain!

The people are quite different too - in their mix of colours, cultures and languages. By comparison the North-East is quite monochrome, certainly in our corner of County Durham. Just this morning there was a news item that the population of Britain now includes more than eight million people who were born overseas. You wouldn’t know that from looking around here - but it doesn’t stop folk being fearful of still more people arriving from abroad.

 “Migrant” is probably going to be one of the terms most heavily-used in the media this year. From TV and the press you’d think that our country was under siege from millions of people seeking to come in and grab all the benefits they can and ruin our way of life. In fact there are a couple of thousand in the makeshift camps near Calais, trying to cross the Channel. It’s a significant number and testing for lorry drivers and holiday-makers, but we don’t think much about the local people for whom they are a fact of life. Nor about the hundreds of thousands of refugees elsewhere in Italy and Greece - and pushing further north. Germany gave asylum to about 80,000 last year. Turkey has over a million who have fled the horrors of Syria - many trying to cross the Aegean to Europe (and it’s not far from the Turkish coast to the Greek islands). There are a million more in the Lebanon, against a local population of only about four million.

Our response as a nation has been to send more police to Calais and build a better fence. We can keep the “problem” at bay in ways which other nations can’t. But we need to remember that these are not merely “migrants,” still less a “swarm” as they have been described. They are people. Visiting the Imperial War Museum in London, I got less than half way round the World War I section. Its displays describe life in this country before that war when average life expectancy was only 54 for women and 50 for men - and only 30 in the East End. 1% controlled 70% of the wealth. And one in every 20 people emigrated in search of “a better life.” We were a migrant people in those days. Can we at least recognise the common humanity of those whose plight is so desperate now?           

Martin Jackson

Find past issues (and a collection of sermons!) by following links from the appropriate page tab on this site.

Monday, 10 August 2015

Parish Confirmation - take your pick!

St. Cuthbert's hosted the Deanery Confirmation as long ago as 5th July. Sorry we haven't uploaded any pictures before now.

So here we are with the Bishop of Jarrow - adults only from St. Cuthbert's; and all-age of St. Cuthbert's and St. John's....

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

On being late…

It's ages since we've posted on this Parish Blog - but there are updates today on various parts of this site. The Parish Magazine has appeared late as well - here's the Vicar's letter...

I must admit - it was part of the plan. With a two-month double issue of this Parish Magazine there didn’t seem too much urgency in getting this issue to press. And I wasn’t quite sure what we’d be including anyway! Meanwhile we have had plenty to keep us occupied in the parish, culminating in the wonderful Confirmation Service which we hosted last night (as I write). This is the third time we’ve welcomed Bishop Mark, the Bishop of Jarrow - and the third time he’s arrived in torrential rain. Later he tweeted that perhaps the Bishop of Durham should come next time in the hope that it will break the episcopal connection with extreme weather - but I reminded him that when he held that office Bishop Tom Wright had merely brought the hottest conditions of the year instead.

Nevertheless it was a great occasion. We started the service a bit late - in part because with 28 candidates for Confirmation the Bishop had to sign a lot of paperwork and presentation books beforehand. For which we were grateful - all our candidates received episcopally-signed cards together with prayer books which we hope will nourish them spiritually.

I was delighted that we were asked to be the host parish. Apart from anything else we do this sort of thing rather well in terms of organisation, liturgy and welcome - I’m glad to say that the Bishop told me that! But I’m pleased also because it gives us the chance to have a great act of witness in our midst: people of varying ages ready to stand up and say what they believe as they come to Baptism (for two of them) and Confirmation. It’s a reminder to the rest of us of our calling. Jesus chooses us - what are we going to do about it? Jesus is living in our midst - as the Bishop reminded us - so what are we going to do about it?

There’s no doubt that we do a lot of doing. Read about it in this issue! - and quite likely you’ve been part of it in one way or another. So now I’m hoping that things will slow down a little - or at least that we’ll have a change of pace and approach. For me it means less preparation, planning and policy-making (more of this another time) - and a move into a season of lots of Baptisms and Marriages. That’ll be fun! Hopefully there’ll be a little time for reading and reflection too - and maybe even some attention given to a now hugely-overgrown garden.

I hope other people will be able to change pace too. There’s so much to be thankful in the hard work, brilliantly executed, by so many. Thanks to you all - and for your support and encouragement!    
Martin Jackson

Friday, 29 May 2015

Jeremiah, gloom and looking beyond the horizon

Preached at University College, Durham 28 May 2015
(Jeremiah 2.7-13; Mark 10.32-37)

I’ve said that I’d say something today about Jeremiah, the Old Testament’s great prophet of doom and gloom - and certainly the prophet who had more to say than anyone else, as you’ll find if you work your way through the 52 chapters of the Book which bears his name (with still further Lamentations to follow).

But first… a mention that today in the Calendar of the Church of England is an optional commemoration of Lanfranc, who became Archbishop of Canterbury in the year 1070. Lanfranc got the job because he was appointed by William the Conqueror. They’d known each other through William’s previous life as Duke of Normandy, where Lanfranc had been Prior of the Abbey of Le Bec and then Abbot of Caen. Despite falling out over William’s choice of wife, they patched things up and the newly established King of England decided that Lanfranc was just the man for the Church’s top job. And he didn’t disappoint. Already he was a top scholar and an able administrator. Now Lanfranc set about renewing the Church through its monastic life - while the King’s approach was to replace most of the Anglo-Saxon bishops with Norman appointees. One happy outcome was a programme of building Cathedrals - our own Durham Cathedral amongst them. But, of course, Durham didn’t just get a Cathedral - it got a castle, this Castle. Cathedral and Castle stand together - a sign of orderly government in church and state, but also, I fear, of the subjection / subjugation of its people. Cathedral and Castle together showed them who was in charge!

Nearly a thousand years on we can be grateful for what we’ve still got. But we need an awareness of the history - and of what might be beneath the surface.

Jeremiah was a prophet who dug below the surface. He looked at what others had dug - and this is his central judgment:

… my people have committed two evils:

they have forsaken me,

the fountain of living water,

and dug out cisterns for themselves,

cracked cisterns that can hold no water.

Nearly 40 years after I lived there, I still remember reflecting on those words one day in a street in West Jerusalem. I don’t know why, but they came upon me as something of an epiphany. There I was, living in a modern state established and maintained by three major wars - but that day I think I was struck by just how much like any other western city it was in so many respects. Actually I loved it for that - the vibrancy of a relatively new country, the vigour of its people and the throb of its nightlife at the end of the Sabbath. There was plenty of religion - but for most people it was separate from the daily lives they led, while the Ultra-Orthodox who lived behind us in the Mea Shearim made it look as though religion was to be turned into an end in itself. That’s an over-simplification - but there was always an underlying tension: a religion that had sustained its people for centuries in the ghetto and had resisted any temptation to develop a wider vocation; and a secular society in danger of forgetting its roots while so conscious of the threats to its existence. There was a clash of understandings as to what their nation existed for. And that was something Jeremiah himself diagnosed over two and a half thousand years ago. And it’s something probably true about our own society also.

To call someone “a Jeremiah” is to say they’re not going to be very popular. Old Testament prophets castigated the ills of their society. Jeremiah takes that to new heights. His aptitude for “being negative” could be matched in the opprobrium he attracted only by someone in our own society who commits the deadly crime of being boring. But suppose Jeremiah were to speak to us - what would he see? We still have the grand edifices of religious glories - but religion is in decline and its values so often receive little more than lip service. Baptism is still popular (it’s a much cheaper way of organising the big family party than getting married) - but professions of faith rarely come to maturity. Apparently about 50% of people in this country profess a religious faith - and that raises the question, is the glass half-full or half-empty? The optimist will remind you that the half-empty glass gives you the opportunity to put some more into it. But Jeremiah sees the cistern as not only empty - it’s one his people have dug for themselves, heedless of the faith which had formed them, and it’s cracked, so that it will never hold anything they put in it.

There’s no hope in those cracked cisterns - only new and different vessels can serve the renewal of faith. We need to be challenged in our fundamental understanding. You’d think that Jesus would manage that with those who followed him. But look at our New Testament reading today. Jesus is on the road with his disciples. He speaks of his approaching betrayal, condemnation, death and resurrection. And what happens next? Two of the disciples come to him and ask for places of honour at his right and left when he establishes himself in glory. Jesus speaks of the vocation of the Son of Man - of God’s purpose - and the disciples miss it completely. We can listen but not hear what is said. We have our own understanding and expectation which so easily are deaf to any real challenge. “Cracked cisterns” which don’t work for Jeremiah - against this Jesus will say we need new wineskins to hold the new wine.

Jeremiah is a gloomy pessimist, but the working out of his vocation is compelling. He resists it at first, complaining “I am only a child,” but then goes on to speak the truth to power. He endures punishment and imprisonment, on one occasion lowered into a cistern at the bottom of which he sinks into the mud (38.6) - he knows the plight of another 70 men who are slaughtered and thrown into another cistern (41.7). All along Jeremiah is a doomed man, finally abducted and carried off to Egypt where his eventual fate is unknown. But throughout he is steadfast, unwavering in faith. Hope and deliverance lie beyond the horizon of his life, but he dares to believe that they are real. When life is at its most bleak he buys a field and stores the deeds away (32.14) - he will never enjoy its use, but there will be a time when later generations will.

I began by talking about Lanfranc and a new order which he established - which became just that, “established.” It’s an order signified here in Durham by Cathedral and Castle together. And again and again we have to ask what are they here for? Not to stand as a reminder of power established by force, nor to contain an ever-diminished faith leaking away from the past - but to be places now for the renewal of faith and learning, for the establishment of a fresh vision and way of life in which all may flourish.

Jeremiah saw that. We are to be like clay in the hands of the potter (18.2ff). And God promises his people a “new covenant:” 

“I will put my law within them,

and I will write it on their hearts;

and I will be their God,

and they shall be my people.”


Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Now online...

The May edition of our Parish Magazine is now available - rather earlier than usual, so you can plan ahead!

The print edition costs just 50p - and you can actually read it free by following this link!

Monday, 6 April 2015

Easter Homily

It’s Easter Day - and this is the call we hear today:

Are there any who are devout lovers of God?
Let them enjoy this beautiful bright festival!

Are there any who are grateful servants?
Let them rejoice and enter into the joy of their Lord!

Are there any weary with fasting?
Let them now receive their wages!

“Let them now receive their wages!” In the Lent study course we’ve been following this year the session which provoked the most discussion was the one where we read Jesus’ Parable of the Labourers in the Vineyard. That’s the story where a vineyard owner is looking for workers who will harvest his grapes. From the first hour of the working day to the last he keeps sending out to find more workers. At the end of the day he pays them. He starts with those he took on last who had worked only an hour - but he pays them for the whole day. And so he goes on until he comes to those who have laboured all day - right through the heat of the middle of the day. And he pays them the same, the day’s wage. At which they get quite upset: why had the owner paid them only the same as those who had worked just six hours or three hours or only one hour? We had quite a discussion of this - and there was considerable sympathy for their point of view. Of course, you could point out that the people who had worked all day had agreed their wage - right at the start their employer had said he would pay them for a day’s work. But when he pays all the others the same it simply has to be admitted - it’s just not fair.

Don’t expect this parable to be used by any of our politicians who are currently talking about rewarding “hard-working families.” Nor those who talk about seeing that benefits and taxes are adjusted to give proper reward to “deserving UK citizens.” As someone who would finally fail dramatically to gain the votes of the public Jesus got it wrong - we hear that from the crowd on Good Friday when they call for him to be crucified. With parables like this one - and the Sermon on the Mount for a manifesto - Jesus evidently had no political nous. And far from exalting the virtues of the deserving hard worker, he judges us finally as to how good we are at going to help the most despised in society: whether we feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, visit the sick and prisoner - and do this without regard to any Social Benefit sanctions which might justly have been imposed,… without regard to their failure to measure up to disability guidelines,… even reaching out to those whose crimes deserve only punishment.

And that’s the point of Easter. The Resurrection shows that the truth of the Gospel is not good news only for those who deserve it. It’s simply Good News. You might feel you get more out of Easter Day if you came to every service we had in Holy Week - I’d love to tell you that! But the Good News that Christ is risen from the dead is true however long ago you reminded yourself that really you ought to do something about drawing close to him.

“If any of you would be my disciple, then take up your Cross and follow me.” That’s the rather forbidding invitation we hear at the beginning of Lent and throughout Passiontide. But now that we are here anyway there’s just one truth for everyone, however long we have been on the journey. As the hymn puts it:

Lo! Jesus meets us,
Risen, from the tomb;
Lovingly He greets us,
Scatters fear and gloom…

The risen Christ is here for us all. Those words with which I began are attributed to St. John Chrysostom and read in every Orthodox Church at Easter. They go on:

If any have toiled from the first hour,
let them receive their due reward;
If any have come after the third hour,
let him with gratitude join in the Feast!
And he that arrived after the sixth hour,
let him not doubt; for he too shall sustain no loss.
And if any delayed until the ninth hour,
let him not hesitate; but let him come too.
And he who arrived only at the eleventh hour,
let him not be afraid by reason of his delay.
For the Lord is gracious and receives the last even as the first.
He gives rest to him that comes at the eleventh hour,
as well as to him that toiled from the first.

We simply have to believe it!

So what do we find this morning? What do the first disciples find? St. Mark’s Gospel - which we read today - tells us that the first disciples to witness the Resurrection are women: Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Salome, who go to anoint the body of Jesus where they had seen it laid in the tomb. But they find the tomb is empty. The stone has been rolled away. There is just an unidentified young man dressed in white sitting beside it.

That is St. Mark’s account of the Resurrection - except repeatedly to tell us that the emotion the women feel on discovering the empty tomb is not joy but fear. “… they were alarmed,” he tells us. The young man says, “Do not be alarmed.” They flee in “terror and amazement.” And they say nothing, “for they were afraid.”

That’s where the Gospel ends. It’s where we stop today. There are more verses in our Bibles but it seems these were added later. For St. Mark, this is it. An abrupt ending - he even ends his final sentence with a preposition, a word that translates as “for” or “because.” “… for they were afraid.” We might put it, “they were afraid, because…”

And yet here is the truth of Christ’s Resurrection, the vindication of his teaching, his listening, his work of healing, his love and his readiness finally to die upon the Cross. Here is the beginning of that strange institution which has now endured for 2,000 years called “the Church.” From this instant there are all the other instants which have followed in which his disciples would encounter the risen Jesus in the flesh or know his Resurrection as a truth which changes them and gives meaning to their lives.

Is it a problem that the story ends so abruptly? The other Gospel writers tell us how Mary Magdalene would meet the risen Christ in a garden near the tomb. Other disciples discover him to be a companion as they walk along the road. Those who would be called the Apostles encounter him as he comes to them through locked doors in a room in Jerusalem or meets them by the lakeside in Galilee.

But Mark simply stops - with all the emotions churning for those women who first found the tomb to be empty. And that is enough. In time they will understand. The same Mark who breaks off without going on to give us accounts of the Resurrection is the man who has already recorded Jesus telling the disciples that he would go up to Jerusalem, that there he would be betrayed, condemned to death, but then that he would rise from the dead. Now they know it to be true. The implications are fearful. For them and for us - but we are invited to grow in that truth.

It would take more than another 350 years before John Chrysostom would set his understanding of the Resurrection in terms of worship and praise:

Let no one mourn that he has fallen again and again;
for forgiveness has risen from the grave.

Let no one fear death, for the Death of our Saviour has set us free.
He has destroyed it by enduring it.
He destroyed Hell when He descended into it …

Hell took a body, and discovered God.
It took earth, and encountered Heaven.
It took what it saw, and was overcome by what it did not see.

O death, where is thy sting?
O Hell, where is thy victory?

Christ is Risen, and you, O death, are annihilated!
Christ is Risen, and the evil ones are cast down!
Christ is Risen, and the angels rejoice!
Christ is Risen, and life is liberated!

Christ is Risen, and the tomb is emptied of its dead;
for Christ having risen from the dead,
is become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.

To Him be Glory and Power forever and ever. Amen!

Saturday, 28 March 2015

Holy Week: 29th March - 5th April 2015

Holy Week gets its name because it is central to our faith. Without the events of that week there would be no Christian faith. We often talk about “commitments” when we mean distractions. This week tells us about God’s commitment to us - what about our commitment to him? So let us give our attention to Jesus: hear his voice afresh; experience the touch of his love; resolve once more to be his follower. Please make the effort to be with us, especially on Palm Sunday, Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Day.

Services during Holy Week begin with Palm Sunday on Sunday, 29th March. Processing into church with our palms we realise that the people who take part in the drama of Holy Week were much like ourselves. In church we hear a dramatised account of the Passion according to St. Mark. Our aim throughout this most Holy Week is to draw close to Christ in his Passion - even as we realise that we are there with the crowd baying for his blood, or in the shoes of St. Peter, saying we will never desert him and then denying him three times. Do we have the will to walk with Jesus throughout this week? Palm Sunday helps us make a good start.

On Monday 30th March there’s a Eucharist at 2p.m. in Derwentdale Court. There’s also a United Service in St. Cuthbert’s for all the churches of Shotley Bridge, Blackhill and Bridgehill at 7.30p.m. Further, more reflective, services are held in St. Cuthbert’s on Tuesday and in St. John’s Church, Castleside on Wednesday - so it’s possible to join in worship each day of Holy Week. On Tuesday morning there’s the opportunity also to take part in the “Stations of the Cross.” We use the pictures in church which depict Jesus’ journey to the Cross as a guide to meditation “on the move” - our aim: to draw closer to Christ at this time of his Passion.

On Maundy Thursday, 2nd April, the clergy of the diocese take part in the “Chrism Mass” with the renewal of ordination vows in the Cathedral. There also the Bishop blesses the holy oils for use in Baptism, Confirmation and the anointing of the Sick. There is no Thursday morning Eucharist that day - the parish celebration is reserved for the evening; please join us then!

It's on Holy / Maundy Thursday evening with the Sung Eucharist of the Last Supper that we begin the "Triduum," the Great Three Days which are at the centre of our faith. Jesus washes the disciples’ feet, breaks bread with his friends and then turns to face his Passion. He wants us to be with him. As this service closes, we have the opportunity to remain for a time in church for silent prayer, just as Jesus watched in the Garden of Gethsemane with his disciples. After being in Castleside for this service last year, we’re now back at St. Cuthbert’s. Come and join us.

Good Friday brings us to the Cross. At 10.00a.m. there is a special service for all ages - see the extent of God's love for us, that it can bring his Son to die for our sake. At 2.00p.m. we mark our Lord's last hour on the Cross with a Solemn Liturgy of the day, including St. John's account of the Passion and Holy Communion - as on Maundy Thursday we leave the church in silence without a dismissal: God's work is still to be completed….

We recognise the fullness of God’s work on Easter Day. From the darkness we come to celebrate the triumph of light, the victory of the Resurrection and the power of Christ's risen life over death. In our 10.30a.m. Sung Eucharist the Easter flame is lit, and we are called to the renewal of our Baptismal faith and hope - today the call goes out to all who would put their trust in Christ:

If any be a devout lover of God, let him partake with gladness from this fair and radiant feast. If any be a faithful servant, let him enter rejoicing into the joy of his Lord. If any have wearied himself with fasting, let him now enjoy his reward....

Enter, all of you, into the joy of our Lord. First and last, receive alike your reward. Rich and poor, dance together. You who have fasted and you who have not fasted, rejoice today. The table is fully laden: let all enjoy it. Let none fear death; for the death of the Saviour has set us free.

May the love of Christ, 

crucified and risen,
fill your life with his joy

Join us at St. Cuthbert's during Holy Week and Easter-tide. See our Calendar page (use the tabs above) and get more information from our online Parish Magazine.

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Now that Lent is underway...

Sorry there haven't been any recent updates to this site - until today! Go to the Calendar and Homily / Magazine tabs at the top of this page to see what we are and have been up to. You can read the March issue of the Parish Magazine here.

Fortuitously Shrove Tuesday and Messy Church coincided in February. This got us off to a good start in thinking about Lent.

Inevitably there was an engagement with pancakes - and how many times you could flip one in a minute:


The Vicar was pretty speedy:

though then things came apart...

Remembering Jesus' time in the wilderness, we created a desert scene:

The Gospels tell us Jesus was with the wild beasts - an excuse for edible snakes!

But we didn't forget that the purpose of Jesus' Forty Days in the Wilderness was to come close to God - before making our way to church we created a Prayer Tree:

Tin Can Pancakes fit on the tongue - you have to look carefully to see how this one is cooking:

Happily we finished off by sharing the full-sized version - and more!

The next meeting of Messy Church looks forward to Holy Week and Easter - Tuesday 17th March at 3.30p.m. in St. Cuthbert's Church Hall. All children welcome - please bring a parent or carer!

Saturday, 31 January 2015

From cold bodies to warm hearts…

As I write it’s snowing. Some excitement there for many children - though I’m not sure there’ll be as much as they might want for tobogganing, snowball fights and the creation of snowmen/women/creatures. But I’m feeling cold - and wondering if I will get the car out of the Vicarage drive and down Church Bank so I can take this to the printer…

January is perhaps the most difficult month for many people - short, dark days and long nights drag on… the cold… leaving Christmas behind. But for me there’s the prospect of moving on. February itself isn’t exactly enticing - it might be even colder and more wintry! But in the middle of February we start Lent - and that’s a season not exactly to enjoy, but one which helps us find our feet and restore a sense of equilibrium.

The celebration of New Year on 1st January is a relatively recent innovation in our country. Until the 18th century our country started the New Year on 25th March, the Feast of the Annunciation of the Birth of Our Lord - that’s a real new start in terms of God’s relationship with his people! Other cultures and religions have their own New Year - in the North-East quite a lot gets made of Chinese New Year for example. And of course the Church’s New Year is actually Advent Sunday. But by now that’s the wrong side of Christmas!

So I’m glad that the beginning of Lent gives us another opportunity to make a fresh start. Traditionally it’s a time of discipline, rather than simply “giving things up.” Listen to our bodies, treat them with the respect they deserve - find the benefit in our souls. How do we waste our time? Is there a better way to spend it? Now we can make another attempt to deepen our spirituality by prayer, study, learning together. It’s a useful time-frame of just over six weeks in which to do it. It’s a reminder of those 40 days in the wilderness which Jesus spent listening to the voice of God.

What do we hear? Look for the opportunities you can share at St. Cuthbert’s in worship, time for prayer and study. In thinking about a Lent Course we can use, I’ve finally opted for one from Us, the mission agency we support. There’s a free study booklet, there’ll be meetings in which to join. There’s the opportunity to learn from Scripture, and also from the lives and work of people round the world - and to ask questions about our own call, the requirements of justice, and our hopes for the Church’s contribution and growth. And may Easter find us with hearts which are warmed by the redeeming love of Christ!                         
Martin Jackson

From the February issue of our Parish Magazine - click and find it!

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Listen... from Samuel and Nathanael to Benedict and us

The Bible readings we have today are about asking and listening - about being ready to ask and being ready to listen.  What’s going on with this young boy Samuel, an apprentice priest at the Israelite shrine of Shiloh in the days before the building of a Temple in Jerusalem? What does Nathanael have to learn from Jesus? Are we ready to ask and listen?

I started thinking about this because I wanted to know more about Samuel - like what does his name mean? There’s some uncertainty… What we have is the story of how he came to be born. His mother, Hannah, hadn’t been able to have children - and it caused her real pain. In her desperation she’d been to pray at the sanctuary in Shiloh. She promised that if she had a child she would dedicate him to God’s service, but she was so upset that she wept as she prayed - and Eli the priest thought she was drunk. But she told him what she was asking for, he blessed her and she had a son. “She named him Samuel, for she said, ‘I have asked him of the Lord.’”

There’s some disagreement whether the name “Samuel” does mean “asked of the Lord.” But I wonder if it matters. The “el” bit of the name in Hebrew does mean God. And Hannah had certainly asked God for help - and she persisted with her prayer even when things seemed hopeless and people thought the wrong thing about her.

But there’s something more. In Hebrew the name Samuel is Shmuel. The first words used by Jews in prayer are Shema Israel… “Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your might…” They’re the words which Jesus uses when he sums up all the commandments of the Law. Love God… love your neighbour… but first, Hear - Listen.

Samuel’s mother had asked for his birth - she had listened for an answer from God. And Samuel needs to learn how to listen for the voice of God and to ask what he should say and do if he is to be faithful as his servant. Hannah learns the way of sacrifice - she gives up Samuel for the service of God. Samuel needs to learn how to say hard things. We discover that if we read on beyond the point at which today’s reading ends: Eli the priest needs to be told that things are not right in what he is doing - nor in the way his sons are living. And Samuel can only play his part if first he learns to listen - and to ask of God how he should act. So three times he hears his name called - three times he gets up and goes to Eli. But only then does he realise that it is God who is speaking to him - only when he asks does he find out what he must do.

The story of Samuel is one of those Old Testament stories which I learned as a child. Perhaps you did... But we need to see that it’s not merely a story from the past - 3,000 years old. It invites us to look at ourselves - what do we hear? It invites us to ask - what does God want from me?

As part of my prayer discipline this year, I’m trying each day to read part of the Rule of St. Benedict. It’s an ancient Rule drawn up in the middle of the 6th Century for those monks who followed Benedict in the community life which he established. It’s a way of life still followed by many thousands of monks and nuns - but it has a still wider application to any Christian who wants to ask, how can I serve God and get on with other people? Actually that’s the whole point of the Rule - serve God and manage to live in harmony with other people, even the most irritating of people. The Rule has 73 chapters - but it’s also divided up so that you can read a short section each day and get through it in four months. The idea is that those who follow it should read it three times a year. We’ll see how I do…

But actually all I want to do now is tell you what the first word of the Rule is. It’s “Listen…” “Listen, child of God, to the guidance of your teacher…” That’s where we all need to start. Be faithful in this says Benedict, and you’ll realise his aim:

“… what we mean to establish is a school for the Lord’s service.”

Benedict sees that if we’re to grow as Christians we need to be faithful as disciples - and that starts by listening so that we may learn.

Today’s Gospel reading takes us to the first chapter of St. John’s Gospel. Jesus is calling his disciples. We’ve missed the call of the first three. They’re Andrew and another disciple whose name we don’t know. Jesus simply invites them to come and spend time with him - and they go… they listen. Then Andrew goes and gets his brother Simon and takes him along too. At the point we reach today, Jesus has found Philip and called him to follow him - that means to be a disciple, to listen and learn. And he does. It’s something that Philip wants to pass on, so he goes looking for Nathanael and asks him to come and meet Jesus. But Nathanael is doubtful - he wants to write Jesus off: “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip has to persist: “Come and see.” It’s a simple encounter which brings Nathanael to recognise how God is at work in Jesus. He simply needs to place himself before Jesus. And then he realises how Jesus already knows him - Jesus is looking already into his heart.

How ready are we to make that encounter? - to be ready to be quiet and listen? The priest and psychoanalyst, Maggie Ross, has just published a book called, “Silence - a user’s guide.” She has her own way of living - as a hermit, not in a desert or out in the wilds, but at the top of a house in a city. It’s her way of trying to understand her life and the lives of others. What are we doing when we come to church? She says of herself:

“I go to the eucharist as often as I can find one that isn't just a lot of noise. This is extremely difficult to find; so often I have to settle for the least worst of the options.”

And she goes on:

“There are a lot of hungry people out there. The churches are full of noise. There is an idolatry of spiritual experience. The situation is dire.”

I think hers is a pretty extreme position. Hermits themselves are probably not the easiest people to live with - and that’s a good reason for them to be hermits. But there’s a valid point in what she says. Do we just go out looking for what is superficially attractive? Do we stop to ask ourselves what we are truly looking for? Have we already made up our minds - like Nathanael - as to what we want to find? Are we taken in by the words, the music, the warm feelings… what she calls “the noise”?

I hope people come here to St. Cuthbert’s / St. John’s and find warmth, music which they like and words which speak to them. But there’s that other element also which is so important - that I bring myself here to meet God.

What am I looking for? Who am I looking for? Am I ready to listen?
 (1 Samuel 3.1-10; John 1.43-51)