Archives October 2006

Backloading Complete…

I have just completed the backloading of this blog with previous material. I hope I have the dates roughly right. I have also uploaded all of my sermons at this Church since my induction 2 years ago.

It is interesting: although I do the bulk of the preaching (for I consider it to be a) my responsibility and b) as the stipendary member of clergy, I should do more than my NSM-colleague who has plenty of other work-related pressures about), there are considerable gaps in the sermon sequences. On occasion, I preach without notes, but this is not the norm, and the pattern is not reflected in this. Have I lost those sermons? That would be sad, for I’m sure the ones not on this site are the best of the bunch…   🙂

I have also loaded some postings from a previous parishLife blog: ones related to mission and ministry and not about things which should be left off blogs. I have learned. See?

Off to Church shortly to prepare for the reception of a coffin into Church. A wonderfully faithful lady, dearly loved by us all. She will be missed. Compare with the usual 20 mins at the Crem: Reception of the body at 4.15pm followed by Vespers for the Dead; A Requiem Mass this evening at 7.30pm and a Funeral Office tomorrow at 10am. This shows how much the parish think of her. This is how it should be. She was not rich, or a great organiser of people; but kind and funny and feisty and faithful. How I wish we could give thanks to God for people like her in this way more often.

Rest eternal grant unto her, O Lord / and let light perpetual shine upon her

May she rest in peace / and rise in glory.


Sermon: Ordinary 30

Sermon: Ordinary 30

Text: Mark 10 46-52

Go, your faith has saved you”

In the name of the +Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Once upon a time (and doesn’t it fill you with dread when a sermon begins with ‘once upon a time’) but still, Once upon a time, Bartimeaus, the blind beggar who features in this morning’s story, could see. He was full of life, and I suppose we can assume, full of hope.

Then something happened to him, and he lost his sight: disease, accident, we don’t know; but bereft of sight his options in life collapsed and he ended up begging by the roadside.

These days, blindness is not nearly so catastrophic, and those with diminished sight certainly do lead full, enriched, happy and productive lives; but then, it was very different: no sight, no work, no work, no food – a very direct relationship. So Bartimeaus sat by the roadside hoping that someone would pity him and would fill his bowl with food, or give him a few coins to purchase what everyone needs.

As anyone on the streets of Leeds, Manchester or London will tell you, Bartimeaus had a hard life. There was little sympathy for those who were blinded. Some thought that it was the fault of the blind person: that they had been struck blind because of some sin or wickedness; others simply felt you were a drain on society, a social parasite – best ignored, best left begging by the roadside.

Because Bartimeaus was blind, he was in many people’s eyes, less than human. He had become an object: an object to be pitied, or cursed, or ignored. Bartimeaus was therefore stuck at the side of the road outside Jericho, with the world passing him by.

How many of us, I wonder feel as Bartimeaus must have felt? How many of us feel that the world is passing us by? Prevented by one reason or another from fully participating in the life that goes on around us.

I am sure that many of us feel trapped in the life we have, in our jobs, in our relationships, trapped in the body we have; unable to break free, unable to change things…

And how many of us, finding ourselves in that position, do anything about it? How many of us reach out for help?

How many of us find out our friends and our neighbours and confide in them our feelings, our needs? How many of us actually ask our families for help when we need it? How many of us even think to reach out to God and ask that he help?

Sometimes we suffer, not because the situation cannot be overcome, but because we are afraid to ask for help, we don’t want to be a burden on others, or perhaps we do not want to seem weak in the eyes of other people.

You will be able to think of your own examples, but:

I know of someone who will not tell his wife how troubled he is, because he thinks she will not be interested in his plight, as she has so many troubles of her own to bear.

I know of several people who will not seek help for their addiction to alcohol, or drugs, because they cannot admit to themselves that their problems have become bigger than they are.

I know of young people who have a hard time coping with life because they will not approach their parents or their teachers because they are afraid that they will get into trouble or even worse, be ignored if they do.

I can think very readily of someone who will not pray for God to come to her help because she thinks he has more important things to do than listen to her.

However, if we have the courage and most importantly the faith to reach out to God and ask Him to help us, he shows us that he does have the time to deal with us, and to comfort us in our times of need.

This is a hard thing to do, for it takes courage, it takes faith and it takes, much as Bartimeaus has shown us, perseverance: the path through to God and through to His salvation is beset by those wanting to detract us, those trying to quieten us down and keep us in our place: keep us begging by the roadside.

We have to realise that there are times when we all need help, times when we must turn to other people and turn to God. The Good News, is that there is no situation in life which is so bad that someone cannot help us with it in some small way, that someone cannot help us to overcome it, or to help us bear it.

“This is something I have to face on my own” is a supremely selfish position to take.

We really do never have to face things on our own; for even if we cannot find someone else amongst our partners, our family, our friends or society in general, then we have the assurance that if we turn to God, he will be there. Even at the greatest hour of crisis, in the Garden of Gethsemane, our Lord knelt and prayed.

However:

The devout priest was caught in a flood one day, and he climbed onto the roof of his Vicarage and as the water started lapping up over the roof he prayed “Lord, deliver me from this flood”.

The water continued to rise and a policeman in a rowing boat passed: “Can I help you Vicar?” “No thanks, the Lord will deliver me!”

A little while later, the water is even higher, and the Vicar is up to his waist, even standing on his roof. A lifeboat cruises past, and the coxwain shouts out “Can I help you, Vicar?” “No Thanks” was his reply “The Lord will deliver me – I’ve prayed for it”

After another few minutes, the water has risen so much that only the Vicar’s head is peeping out from above the water and a helicopter flies over. The pilot leans out and calls “Can I help you Vicar?” “No thanks, the Lord will deliver me!”

At which point, the water rises over the Vicar’s head and he drowns.

When the Vicar arrives at the gates of heaven and faces St Peter he is furious: “I’ve been a most serious and devout priest all my life, devoted to prayer and good works – why didn’t God answer my prayers. “Oh,” says Peter “That ‘s strange: we sent two boats and a helicopter after you…”

God does not always answer our prayers in the way we want them to, for as the prophet Isaiah recorded:

“My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways, my ways, says the LORD.”

We may find this difficult to accept, but sometimes the answer to our prayers is not always what we expect. There is a strand of thought that suggests that if God doesn’t give you what you want it is because you havn’t prayed hard enough, or have been sinful and so your prayers are diminished in some way, but this is wholly wrong: this is the sort of blame culture that said that Bartimaeus was responsible for his blindness.

No, God will always answer prayer in a way that is appropriate for us. He will always give us what we need, and will always give us the strength to bear what we must bear, and more than that, bear it so well that our world and those around us changes because of it.

This is the lesson of the Garden of Gethsemane and the lesson of every dark night of the soul. It is the lesson of the Cross and of the tomb and all the suffering we may have to bear. It is what lies behind the transfiguration, what lies behind the resurrection on Easter morning and what lies behind the life that Jesus Christ promises us: “I came that you may have life, life to the full”

Did he not also promise us this:

“Come all who are heavy laden and I will give you rest. Seek and you will find, Knock and the door will be opened to you. Ask, and you will receive.”

These are the promises of Christ that he kept for people like Bartimeaus when he was on this earth and that he still keeps in heaven as he intercedes for us before the Throne of Grace.

Although it was Bartimeaus who was supposedly blind, he was able to see with stunning clarity what many others around him were unable to see: that Jesus Christ was amongst them: “Son of David” he called him, which was not merely an indication that Bartimeaus knew what clan Jesus was a member of, but that he was of the Royal line, and by implication the Messiah, the anointed one of God. Bartimeaus turned to Christ in his hour of need, as we must also turn to him in prayer at our hour of need.

Do you notice that Christ asks Bartimaeus what he wants, and Bartimaeus has to ask for his sight to be restored. Christ will not assume he knows what you want. You need to ask, and ask for what you really want. Bartimaeus could have asked for a million pounds or a sports car, or even his next meal, but he asked for his sight.

Bartimeaus was healed because he had the faith to ask of God that which he freely wishes to give us, but just like that celebrated Holman Hunt illustration, the Christ that stands outside the door and waits, requires us to reach out to him, to open the door to the Light of the World, to call out to Jesus Christ, and like Bartimeaus, it will then be “our faith that has saved us”.

Amen.

END


Half Term Reflections

It is interesting that when you spent less time engaged in God’s work, you spend more time thinking about Him and about the work of God.

This half term has been no exception: a wonderful week away – minus teenagers so just the wife and I and the six-year old in a parishoner’s cottage in Cornwall. It was small and homely and we just relaxed.

It was just what we needed: food and wine (in copious amounts – visit www.camelvalley.com for one of the best sparkling wines I have ever tasted, sat on their terrace and took in the beauty of the valley) and sleep. The more time I spent not in a dog collar, the more I was able to pause and to think on matters of God. A brief half hour in St Ia’s Parish Church in St.Ives before the blessed sacrament seemed like a blessing. Thank you. Thank you.
It was a time to celebrate creation; to taste and see that the Lord is good; to think of mission and of our walk with God; to read of the Sermon on the Mount in new and exciting ways; to read about philosophy through modern sci-fi movies.

God is truely everywhere, and can be seen in all manner of things. Journey of Faith brings that out and I now feel rejuvinated. It’s going to be a busy week. It’s going to be fun. Again.


St Luke's Patronal Festival

The first and last time St Luke’s Chapel, RNH Haslar has held a patronal festival. The Church is deconsecrated next year when the Navy march out of it. The congregation are left bereft.

Stirring songs, and this especially resonated with me: tumult, division and schism in the Church of England and unity in the sacraments. Oh, I pray for that.

1 O thou, who at thy eucharist didst pray
that all thy church might be for ever one,
grant us at every eucharist to say
with longing heart and soul, ‘Thy will be done:’
O may we all one bread, one body be,
through this blest sacrament of unity.

2 For all thy Church, O Lord, we intercede;
make thou our sad divisions soon to cease;
draw us the nearer each to each, we plead,
by drawing all to thee, O Prince of peace:
thus may we all one bread, one body be,
through this blest sacrament of unity.

3 We pray thee too for wanderers from thy fold;
O bring them back, good Shepherd of the sheep,
back to the faith which saints believed of old,
back to the Church which still that faith doth keep;
soon may we all one bread, one body be,
through this blest sacrament of unity.

4 So, Lord, at length when sacraments shall cease,
may we be one with all thy Church above,
one with thy saints in one unbroken peace,
one with thy saints in one unbounded love:
more blessèd still, in peace and love to be
one with the Trinity in Unity.

William Henry Turton (1856-1938)


Timescales

It’s all happening so fast. No sooner am I back from a hectic Summer than I am having to think about Christmas.

Spent half of my day off preparing letters to everyone related to any funeral I have conducted in the past 12 months, inviting them to the All-Souls Requiem Mass.

32 funerals in the past year. Wonder how many will respond? Last year was good with more than 50 people at the evening mass. You invite and you pray.

It might be a great opportunity for them on their bereavement journey. It might be a waste of postage. I know which one I want it to be.


Back to the Blog

I’ve had bad experiences. I’ve made mistakes. I’ve learnt from them. I have been a baaaad blogger, and upset people with blogs in the past.

I also appreciate that blogging is an excellent form of theological reflection, and that Parish Life (note the capitals) benefits from parishLife (the opportunity to blog). This means that if I promise to stick to the rules, much can be learnt from thinking about Parish Ministry, walking the way of Christ and trying to foster a Missional Community on the South Coast of England.

There needs however, to be some groundrules: for myself at least.

1. Try not to say anything too outrageous about people amongst whom you minister, remembering that is they whom you serve. My mistake in previous blogs was too much honesty. I promise that if I say anything confrontational about the parish, I will have cleared it with the person I speak about. I am, however, quite critical of myself, but this I find to be productive.

2. Stop pretending you can be anonymous. Anyone with a copy of Crockford’s can work out how many Father Simons there are on the South Coast. Should I make the job easier for you: I am Father Simon, the Priest in Charge of St. Thomas the Apostle, Elson. There: that made it a bit easier. We are a small church. We are a poor church. We cannot afford the quota the diocese has set us and our cash flow is at present appalling. We need to re-order our sacred space and we have limited funds for that. Some of that angst and anxiety will need to be worked out here.

3. Accept that trying to be a Christian, to be a priest, to follow the teachings of Christ in this troublous life is not easy. Recognise that we all find it difficult and speak of it with some honesty. If that helps you, then good. If not, please do not try to be shocked by the suggestion that being a Christian is not always a walk in the park.
So, my charter:

  • To strive to be honest with you about what is happening at the cutting edge of parish life
  • To not spin some success story but document my thoughts and reflections on a Missional Community. There will be triumphs. There will be disasters. There will be a large mixture of both.
  • To make sense of the Gospel, as it is significant here, in this place.

Tall order, I know, but walk with me and it may be fruitful.

Fr. Simon, the iPriest


Sermon: Ordinary 27, Year B

Sermon: Ordinary 27, Year B
Text: Genesis 2:18-24 Mark 10:2-16

In the name of the +Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

Those whom God has joined together, let no one put asunder.

I  promise…until death do us part. This is my solemn vow.

How many of us have repeated these words? They seemed so true, so beautiful, so eternal, so right, didn’t they, when we first said them? Yet for some of us, they have become bittersweet. With near half of all marriages in this country ending in divorce, there is scarcely a family that remains untouched by the pain of separation and divorce.

Let’s look at this challenging text from Mark’s Gospel…

Jesus has moved on from Capernaum to the land across the Jordan River, continuing to teach the growing crowds of people who congregated wherever they discovered Jesus to be. Word had spread. Jesus had healed the blind, deaf, and lame; he had cast out demons and had been transfigured by his Abba in the presence of Peter, James, and John.

And Jesus had taught. And taught. And taught some more. He had spoken with passion and authority about the Kingdom of God, about the nature of sin, about the cost of discipleship. He had spoken with love and joy and welcome to sinners, to all who recognized that they had fallen short of their Creator’s ideals, with a message of hope, of redemption, of repentance and new life. Again and again, Jesus had taught those who came to hear the lessons of God’s love for them, about God’s desire that men, women, and children learn to live without fear, God’s desire that they become lamps through which the divine love might shed light on all who knew them.

Over and over, as word of his teachings and his miracles spread, those in the ” religious establishment” of his time stepped forward out of the crowds to do their best to trip this Jesus up. They were the ones who were knowledgeable about the will of God. They were the experts. They knew. After all, God’s will had been revealed in Holy Scripture, once and for all. They knew the Law. This Jesus was such a know-it-all young radical; what did he know? What kind of education did he have, after all? He was just a carpenter’s son from a backwater town in Galilee.

Here they are at Jesus again. “We’ll get him this time,” they thought. “This time we’ll trick him into saying something we can nail him on.”

“Teacher,” they asked, chuckling behind their hands, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” Well, of course it was lawful; they knew Moses had said it was, but they asked anyway.

Jesus turned the question back on them: “What did Moses command you?” “Well, Moses said it was okay, that a man could divorce his wife anytime he wanted to, just be deciding to do it and drawing up the necessary paperwork.”

“Why?” asked Jesus. “Why would Moses do this, knowing that in the creation stories God had created Adam and Eve as equals, bone of each other’s bone, flesh of each other’s flesh, for eternity? Why?”

The Pharisees had no answer for Jesus. Jesus refused to be tricked into betraying the will, the dream, the desire and intent of God in favor of the letter of the Law. “I’ll tell you why,” he said. “Because of your hardness of heart; because God knew that your humanity would lead you away from one another. Human beings have hard hearts. That’s a fact. Human beings–even the best ones–fall short of God’s dreams for them, and they fall short. God’s dream is that each couple be divinely joined, joined with God as the “third partner” in the marriage, and that all who witness this divine union respect and uphold it, that no one dare to separate it.”

It was true then. It’s true now. Despite our strongest hopes, our best intentions, we humans have hard hearts. We fall short of God’s dreams for us, for our lives together. People change. We grow, sometimes in different directions. Sometimes we become cruel to each other; we forget that we are indeed “one bone and one flesh” and we begin to destroy one another, oblivious to the fact that we’re destroying ourselves in the process. Sometimes marriages have to end to keep this self-destruction from totally eradicating all possibility of a future life for one or both partners. Estrangement happens. We’re human.

However, marriages don’t exist in a vacuum. Christian marriages include the entire community. They’re not just about vows made between two individuals. We who witness these vows make our own promises: that we will do all in our power to uphold these two persons in their marriage. “We will!” we answer with enthusiasm.

There really is no way to take these difficult words and stuff them back into Jesus’ mouth, is there? There are churches that do not permit remarriage after divorce under any circumstances. There are those who do nothing to try to uphold two struggling persons in the vows they have made to one another. Mirroring the secular culture, for which everything is temporary, transient, we hear, “Oh, you’re divorcing? That’s too bad. Oh well. Better luck next time,” as though Jesus’ words had never been uttered.

And there are faith communities in which each couple finds support and guidance, through the good times and the rough. They share the struggles that take place in every long-lived marriage: problems with children; financial struggles; differing priorities for time and resources; the cyclic nature of sexual activity, with physical and romantic attractions to one who is not one’s spouse; destructive lifestyles of whatever kind; abuse, addiction, and plain and simple boredom. By walking as a community through the rollercoaster of life, they share a journey of life, a journey of faith which can be a support.

I know a story of one such community: When he was 54 years old, this man married his school sweetheart. They had been married for 30 years, and then he met a younger woman who seemed to be his “soulmate”: They thought the same way. They enjoyed the same activities, loved the same authors, the same music. They completed each other’s sentences. It was true love, he believed.

Through much struggling, and with support and counsel from his local priest and church, he turned away from this lovely woman who seemed to promise so much, but who threatened what God had joined together, and he returned to his wife. They have now been married for 51 years, and he has not regretted his decision. He explains it as a natural, human phenomenon, and states that the vows he made before God were all that kept him in his marriage 20 years ago. But he and his wife prayed together through the crisis, which lasted three, almost four, years. They have offered this to others for many years now, and their experience has “upheld” many in their promises.

I am sure by now, you can see what kind of community I seek to foster in this Church: a church which seeks to uphold the sacrament of marriage and yet is realistic about our human frailty and not condemnatory when things do, unfortunately, go pear-shaped.

For the ideal can’t always happen. It doesn’t always work. There are times when we must divorce.

Christ has given us the ideal. He has spoken to us the living Word of our Creator. When Christians divorce, it may never be in a cavalier, casual way. Divorce must be accompanied by repentance, even if it is perceived to have been the “fault” of only one party. The two are one bone, one flesh. Ideally, both partners can repent, can do that 180-degree turn back toward God and toward God’s hopes and dreams for them. But if not, then one can do it alone for the two. In addition, the community must repent as well of their failure (our failure) to “do everything in [our power to uphold these two persons in their vows.” Repent, and begin anew, as we do with any of the myriad ways we fall short of God’s ideals.

And here’s the good news. What happens when we repent, when we “turn around” once again to face our God? We are redeemed, washed clean by the love of God in Christ, by the face of Christ in one another, and by the grace that surprises us with new life, with new possibilities, with new hopes. We can claim again God’s dreams for us, claim again the unique image of God in which each of us is created, and as we allow ourselves to be healed, we can once again become the lamps through which the love of Christ is made known in the world. Stronger, wiser, we continue the rich and complicated and joyous journey toward the Kingdom. Together. And that’s good news!

Amen.