Michaelmas – 29 September 2016

Canon Roy Arnold

When the Protestant Reformation swept into Britain from Germany in the time of King Henry VIII and his short-lived son Edward, the more radical of the Protestants had it in mind to clear out anything that smacked of the old Catholic ways such as altars, vestments, candles and devotion to saints. And also the keeping of Saint’s Days, but with Saint’s Days they ran into a major snag because some of these were part and parcel of the legal and educational setup.

Not least Michaelmas (which we are celebrating today) because Michaelmas marked the start of the new Legal Year and also the start of University Terms. And it was (like Lady Day in March) a Quarter Day connected with the payment of rents and debts, and with the hiring of new servants and labourers. After much thought they decided that it was best to stick to the status quo and leave Saint’s Day alone because they were too interwoven with legal issues and education and practical life to tamper with.

mikharkhangel1Another of the customs of Michaelmas was to ordain new clergy – deacons and priests – because of the obvious connection between the role of the clergy and the ministry of angels. For both angels and clergy have been given the task of being God’s Messengers, informing and teaching people about the love of God. But here I dip back into Reformation history because one of the main teachings of the Reformation was that it was not just the clergy who were servants and messengers for God; this work has been given to all who call themselves Christians. And God doesn’t have favourites, nor does He have First and Second Class messengers and servants. This forms the Reformation Teaching which we call THE PRIESTHOOD OF ALL BELIEVERS

Maybe you might recall that it was at Michaelmas in 1963 that I was ordained as a Deacon and the following year as a Priest. But through all these years of Ministry I have always kept in mind that important thought of THE PRIESTHOOD OF ALL BELIEVERS; that it is together – clergy and lay people together – being about our Father’s business, as Jesus was. So we must help the Angels out (or be helped by them) in the work of carrying the message of the love of God to a world which so badly needs it. God’s love for us, and our returning love for him, and ideally for everyone we meet as we live our daily lives.

Heavenly Father,

We pray to you this day that we (like the angels) may truly be messengers telling of your love, spreading this great good news.

And being like Jesus, we ask that
your love may shine through our eyes,
your spirit inspire our words,
your wisdom fill our minds,
your mercy control our hands,
your will capture our hearts,
your joy pervade our being
until we are changed into his likeness from glory to glory.

We pray for peace in our warring world, and for that same peace in our own lives; whether we are happy and in good health or if are worried or ill or sad. May the peace of God which passes all understanding may settle in us all and we pray for our loved ones and our friends, for us here at St Oswald’s and throughout the wide boundaries of the Christian Church and today we remember especially Mary Houghton who died this week.

All this we pray through Jesus Christ Our Lord.

Amen

Referendum Day – 23 June 2016

Canon Roy Arnold

I finished writing this sermon a week ago on the Monday before the death of Jo Cox MP.

StEtheldredaAs well as being the big day to vote whether we wish to stay in or out of the European Union, it is also the day we remember Etheldreda; an Anglo Saxon Princess and Abbess of Ely which Abbey she founded. She was born in Suffolk near Newmarket and died on this day in the year 638 after a life known for its prayerfulness and simplicity and prophecy. Apart from her posh name Etheldreda she was also known as Audrey, and in October-time in Ely they had an annual event called St Audrey’s Fair, which sadly got a name for second rate and shoddy goods and from which we get our derogatory term “tawdry” (meaning just that: cheap and nasty).

Which (in my opinion) is how I would describe the Referendum Campaign now thankfully reaching its last few hours: cheap and nasty. It was dressed up as a once in a lifetime chance to choose our political destiny but we all perhaps know that its real object was to save Mr Cameron’s bacon and pacify the strong anti-European element of his Party. A ploy which blew up his face when seemingly lifelong friends and colleagues turned against him and became the Leave Campaign with the might of Mr Farage (with his majority of one seat in the Commons). And then it all became like a Pantomime; you know., where the actors and actresses engage in one of those OH YES IT IS…OH NO IT ISN’T routines, in this case egged on by our so called free press – sadly not free of powerful influences by (ironically non-elected) folk such Rupert Murdoch and the editors or owners of the Daily Mail, Daily Express and Daily Telegraph. The result, almost inevitably will be a win – whichever way it goes – that will leave large swathes of the population disgruntled and disaffected and certainly a nation sadly divided.

In – or Out – or shake it all about. Sadly our political leaders are not like St Audrey – uncomplicated and prayerful and able to see into the future – but are all too human like us. Whether it be David Cameron with this shambles of the EU Referendum or Tony Blair with his disastrous invasion of Iraq; they make mistakes and misjudgements like we all do, but with more widespread and toxic results. Tomorrow we must accept the democratic results of the vote; but maybe (as the old Prayer for Unity had it) recognising the great dangers we are in by our unhappy divisions. It will take -I believe – all our best efforts and prayers to overcome this state of affairs and try to build bridges and a better way of being a united nation. Maybe as Britons we have never been good at making our minds up one way or other about really important matters such as Private Education (Eton and Harrow) or Tytherington Secondary School, or between a National Health Service or private health providers… or the EU. Having said this I reckon that most of us would not want to live anywhere else but Britain. So whatever the result of the referendum, perhaps we might take advice from the last few lines of the poem called Desiderata…

…the world is full of trickery. But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals…
…in the noisy confusion of life keep peace in your soul. With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.

 

Saint Anselm

Canon Roy Arnold
anselmToday as we visit the Church’s Gallery of Saints we come to St Anselm. He was born in Northern Italy in 1033. At an early age set out to travel extensively in Europe, visiting many monasteries and places of learning, eventually settling at the Abbey of Bec near Rouen in Normandy where he made his reputation as a Christian Writer and Scholar. He eventually became the Abbot of the monastery, but he found opposition to his rule, surprisingly from a man by the name of Osborne. After sorting out Osborne (good idea), Anselm was called to cross the English Channel to become Archbishop of Canterbury in 1089, some 23 years after the Normans Conquered England in 1066 – the year Britain became more inextricably joined to Europe…

Anselm didn’t have an easy time as Archbishop – having fallen out with the King he was twice sent into exile – but in so many ways I would put Anselm down as being ahead of his times, not least in his attitude towards the role of women in Society and in the Church. He believed that although we refer to God as our Father we must not forget that God (and therefore Jesus) is like a Mother to us as well. Let me quote a prayer that Anselm wrote about the year 1109.

Jesus, like a mother you gather your people to you, you are gentle with us as a mother with her children and despair turns to hope through your sweet goodness, and through your gentleness we find comfort in fear. Your warmth gives live to the dead and your touch makes sinners righteous. Jesus in your mercy, heal us and in your love and tenderness remake us. In your compassion bring grace and forgiveness and for the beauty of heaven may your love prepare us.

In a world mainly dominated by men there were, even at that time, many powerful women but I would like to think that it was Anselm’s deep studies about the life of Jesus where he learnt about the need for the Church, and all of us as members of the Church, to truly value the role of both men and women. For one reason or another, women make up a good proportion of churchgoers, so I am proud of the fact that the Church of England recognises this fact in the Ordination of Women, not only as Priests but also now as Bishops. Something which perhaps Anselm never even dreamt about.

And on this, the 90th birthday of Elizabeth II we thank God for this living proof of a Christian woman who has fulfilled, I believe, every aspect of her role as a family woman and as monarch of this nation and Commonwealth. As we can all say: “God Save the Queen!”

Good News: 24 January 2016

Canon Roy Arnold

The word Gospel means Good News although News as we know it now from Newspapers, Radio and Television is normally anything but good. In fact it is often downright depressing. But Jesus, when he was at the start of his preaching ministry, chose a text from the Old Testament prophet Isaiah about God’s really good news for the poor and for the blind and the oppressed and those in prison. He was preaching in his home town of Nazareth (and down the ages to me and you) and saying this is to be the theme of his message about Good News to the poor and others.

Of course there are many ways of being poor. People can be poor in cash-terms or poor in spirit; and there are many ways of being oppressed and imprisoned, for we can be imprisoned by our doubts and our fears, oppressed by depression – being continually in the dumps – or blind to the love of God.

And maybe this can happen to us all, from time to time, when we take too much notice of the Rolling News on the BBC and ITV and the media in general, which forms a background of misery to our modern lives. Obviously we cannot bury our heads in the sand and not be aware of the plight of migrants and the movement of Stock Markets or the violence and cruelty of our world. But we must not let ourselves get oppressed and imprisoned by it all, particularly when there is nothing we can do about it most of the time. Our opponent whom we call the Devil wants us to swallow the poison of this bad news making us feel lost and hopeless and imprisoned by it all.

But Jesus came to tell us of our release from such imprisonment and to look up and see how much good news there is all around – good news which by far outweighs the bad. Remember this: things which make headlines only get there by being bad news, while we fail to notice the small print of life because it is the small acts of kindness and love and caring which are greater than the glaring headlines. Not least because we can and do contribute to the sum of good news when we ourselves are loving and kind and generous in our own lives. In fact if we are truly following Jesus and paying attention to what he said long ago in Nazareth, we can live positive lives as underlined at the very end of our Old Testament reading this morning when Nehemiah told us (the people of God) we must obey God and then (he said) go on our way, and eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions for those for whom nothing is prepared. And not to be downcast, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.

THE JOY OF THE LORD IS OUR STRENGTH.

dietAnd here incidentally is some good news for those of you who are still dieting after Christmas – according to this book you CAN eat the fat and drink sweet wine…but not cakes and bread.

But here’s some even better news, set out in the words of an ancient prayer written by St Gregory, saying “O Good Jesus, O Good Jesus, Word of the Father and brightness of His glory. Teach us to do your will, that guided by your spirit we may come to that blessed city of everlasting day where all are one in heart and mind, where there is safety and eternal peace, happiness and delight where you live with the father and the holy spirit, world without end. Amen.”

Remember that, as people trying to follow Jesus to the city of everlasting day, we are called to bring Good News and to be Good News. The Good News which may be difficult to swallow sometimes but which we must hold on to by the skin of our teeth.

Last night we watched the scenes of horror from the Nazi concentration camps. Difficult to watch – and difficult to believe the Good News Jesus brought – but maybe it showed what happens when people forget God.

The Good News is that the joy of the Lord is our strength and it is the basis of our faith that God loves us. And sometimes it is best to stop trying to love God and to let him love us. As he will in this life and the next.


Luke 4:14-21

Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone. When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.” And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

1st Sunday of Christmas 2015

Canon Roy Arnold

Well that was quick wasn’t it? He was only born on Friday and now he’s 12 years old already. Jesus I am talking about. Actually – although slightly accelerated in the case of Jesus in the Gospel – it is only what most parents experience with their children. It seems no sooner are they born they are starting primary school and then sitting their GCSEs. And then wanting a car and then getting married (or at least a partner) and leaving to live in Exeter or Hong Kong or even Rainow.

With Jesus we see him – so soon after Christmas – as a 12 year-old visiting Jerusalem for the Passover with his parents after a normal Jewish childhood. Now at 12, coming of age according to Jewish Law and at (at that age I believe) realising for the first time about his special relationship with God; that it God who was his Father and not Joseph. To be fair, we are all God’s children but Jesus was especially God’s son and he came to live with us on earth to teach us about God and heaven.

As our Collect for today reminded us, he came to share in our humanity so that we might share the life of his divinity. In the meantime, in our Gospel story we hear of his not being on the coach back to Nazareth, about his earthly parents’ anxiety; about him being in the temple – like a student – with the wise men of the faith. And eventually having a good telling off by his Mum and going back home with his parents to Nazareth, but with Mary treasuring all these things in her heart.

And then Jesus himself (back in small town Nazareth) getting on with everyone and especially getting to know his father God, and generally getting on with experiencing the up and downs of human life, and so (as our Post Communion Prayer reminds us) sharing the life of an earthly home and bringing us all at last to our home in heaven.

All this was to the be the task of this baby born so long ago but in our memory and the memory of the Christian Church born just last Friday. And then, when he was about 30, starting his ministry of teaching and healing and so infuriated by his popularity, the self-righteous and those who thought they knew all about God (and loving the power and social standing that went with that knowledge) they had him tried and crucified. But then he rose again on the third day and continued his teaching and healing by living on in his disciples and in me and you.

One of those early followers, whom he called on the road to Damascus – in Syria no less – was St Paul who (in his letter to the Colossians and to me and you) left us an excellent summary of what was and is expected of us if we are to follow Jesus and to get to that home in Heaven. St Paul says we must clothe ourselves with compassion and kindness and humility, with meekness and patience; and if anyone has a complaint against anyone we must forgive them because we (by God) nave been forgiven so much. For that forgiveness and for so much else as well we must always be thanking God. Perhaps practising singing for when we join the united choirs of heaven… And whatever we do, doing it the name of Jesus, giving thanks to God who is his Father and ours through Jesus. And yes we must love him as the baby born as of last Friday (we cannot help but love a newborn infant) but especially we must follow the adult Jesus up hill and down dale, until we come within sight of the New Jerusalem. And in the words of an ancient prayer “….with Christ as our morning star, when the night of this world is past he will bring us to the light of life and to the opening of a new and everlasting day.” And so – if we deserve it – we shall find ourselves with Jesus and home at last. Our earthly journey done.

Through the New Year of 2016, almost upon us, let us – me and you – try to follow the Jesus way.

Christmas 2015

Canon Roy Arnold

I don’t often quote the Pope in sermons but the present Pope said recently:

“Christmas again. There will be lights and there will be parties and bright trees and even nativity scenes all decked out, while the world continues to make war. It is all a charade. The world has not understood the way of peace. The whole world is at war and Jesus weeps.”

Of course we may put it all down to Muslim extremists, but there we would be wrong. For this Christmas sees the 75th anniversary of the so called Christmas Blitz and not so far away either – certainly visible from White Nancy and the hills beyond Pott Shrigley – as after several nights bombing by the Luftwaffe, Manchester burned. Manchester Cathedral was hit, the Free Trade Hall, Manchester Eye Hospital and many homes. 600 people died and over 2000 were injured and perhaps Jesus wept even more to see two great Christian Countries such as Germany and Britain at war; and more if you count in Russia and France and all the rest. Fighting not one, but two Great World Wars, the Second as a consequence of the First.

What hope might there be when Christians fight with Christians. As the Pope has said; we just haven’t got the message. One Christmas Carol says it all:

“Yet with the woes of sin and strife the world has suffered long; beneath the angel strains have rolled two thousand years of wrong; and man at war with man hears not the love song which they bring. O hush the noise ye men of strife and hear the angels sing.”

and yet another popular hymn asks:

“When comes the promised time that war shall be no more and lust, oppression, crime shall flee thy face before?”.

Sadly, on the Eve of Christmas 2015 we are still waiting for the answer to that question even though we can in fact rejoice that now there is peace over the battlefields and once ruined cities of yesteryear. Yet now there are new battles going on, perhaps right now, and bewildered people flee from the wreckage of their homes and livelihoods. All the more reason why we should truly welcome the Prince of Peace – even now waiting in the wings to come again as on this very night.

Waiting, waiting, waiting for us to get the message that He brings.

 

The Rural Dean’s Christmas Message: Midnight Mass 2015

“The flowers and candles are here to protect us…” This was a dawning realisation expressed by a young Parisian immigrant child in conversation with his father, an exchange captured in a short You-Tube interview taking place amid the crowds in the Place de la Republique on the day after the terrorist attack a few weeks ago in November. (The film clip is available to view on St Oswald’s Facebook page, and I recommend you have a look at it when and if you have a quiet moment in the post-Christmas lull). As the interviewer gently asks the child whether he understands what has happened, the four year old boy, held in the arms of his father, is acutely anxious about the “very, very bad people with guns” who were threatening to kill everyone, and about his family possibly having to leave their home in order to escape the violence. His father tenderly but hastily reassures him that they don’t need to move house, because “France is our home”. When the child then whispers, “But what about the bad men with guns, papa?”, his father does not sugar-coat the pill, simply repeating softly in sadness, “There are bad people everywhere…”

Then, in an inspired moment, the father points out to the child, still very worried about the bad men with guns, “They might have guns, but we have flowers! ” The child looks back over his shoulder, but clearly needs some convincing about the validity of this statement. Frowning, he stammers out, “But, but, flowers don’t do anything!?” He’s lost for words. His father immediately replies, “Of course they do! Look, everyone is putting flowers over there. It’s to fight against guns.” “To protect..?” asks the child. He is silent for a moment, then asks, “And the candles?” “The candles are to remember the people who are gone,” says his father. Another moment of thoughtful contemplation follows, and then the child turns directly to the interviewer and unexpectedly says, quietly and confidently, “The flowers and candles are here to protect us.” His father quickly whispers, “Yes!” And there is a beautiful exchange of a slow, shy smile between the two of them. The interviewer asks the child, “Do you feel better now?” And the little boy says, “Yes, I feel better.” He turns his small trusting face back to gaze on the candles and the flowers, which suddenly have kindled a fragile but blossoming hope within his fearful young heart.

That small boy, I think, speaks for many of us, adults, teenagers and children alike, when faced with dreadful situations shown daily on our television screens from across the world. Or when we encounter in our everyday lives difficult or distressing things much closer to home, in our families, workplaces, schools or local communities. We often have to be helped by others to find any glimmer of light in those dark places, whether in our inner being or in the complex world around us, or else we might otherwise stumble and fall. We all, at some time or other, need the encouragement of other people who care about us, to get us through and to help us see more clearly the bigger picture. This Christmas, many of us venture in through the open doors of our local churches, to find inside a light to help guide us in our common human search for making sense of things and for “feeling better” about it all… Lit by the candles of hopefulness and surrounded by the flowers of faith, even those held in tentative fingers by our companions gathered here tonight, I pray you will discover here your feet returning afresh to a well-trodden path which leads you into the light and tries to make some better sense of the confusions and sadnesses of our world.

Another short film-clip on our Facebook page features the simple yet profoundly wondering lyrics of the song “Mary, did you know?” sung by an A Cappella group called Pentatonix. This too is well worth listening to. The words echo those of the prophets as found in the Book of Isaiah from ancient days, and the song also picks up on Jesus’ own sense of his calling and purpose in life as we can hear later on in Luke’s Gospel, when as an adult Jesus stands up to read from the sacred scroll in the synagogue. The words of the song go like this:

Mary, did you know That your Baby Boy would one day walk on water? Mary, did you know That your Baby Boy would save our sons and daughters?

 

Did you know That your Baby Boy has come to make you new? This Child that you delivered, will soon deliver you.

 

Mary, did you know That your Baby Boy will give sight to a blind man? Mary, did you know That your Baby Boy will calm the storm with His hand? Did you know That your Baby Boy has walked where angels trod? When you kissed your little Baby, you kissed the face of God?

 

The blind will see. The deaf will hear. The dead will live again. The lame will leap. The dumb will speak the praises of The Lamb.

 

Mary, did you know That your Baby Boy is Lord of all creation? Mary, did you know That your Baby Boy will one day rule the nations? Did you know That your Baby Boy is heaven’s perfect Lamb? The sleeping child you’re holding, is the great I AM!

© Warner/Chappell Music, Inc.

 

(Some of the imagery here, strange to us but familiar to the ancient Hebrew people, is of a sacrificial lamb given up to enable restoration and reconciliation with one another and with the mysterious God whose name was almost too sacred to speak aloud…)

That same God, the one who is our Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer, may be glimpsed here tonight amidst the busyness and crowdedness of our everyday existence. That same God waits for us to enter into honest conversation with him, as (like the best of parents) he holds us tenderly, and desires to protect us from all that otherwise would harm us.

Jesus, who Christians believe is the Son of God, was born as a vulnerable questioning child into our dangerous and violent but also beautiful world, to show us the better way of truth, kindness, compassion, co-operation, courage and peace, and somehow, mysteriously, revealed to be in himself the Light and Hope that will ultimately lead all human beings safely home to God in heaven.

May we once again find ourselves just as awestruck as no doubt Mary was that first Christmas night, daring to recognise here God in Christ placed into our own hands, in the ordinariness of bread, broken for us, fragmented and shared out. May we glimpse God’s renewed purposes for our lives as, mysteriously through this Holy Communion, we find integrity and wholeness, both within and between us.

May the holy angels and all God’s saints, living and departed, remain our joyful companions as we go out from here, restored and refreshed for our different journeys through this often troublous life, and may God bless each one of us, friend and stranger alike, with true peace and heart-felt hope, this Christmas and always.                        Amen.

Advent Sunday 2015

Canon Roy Arnold

Today we begin another year in the long history of the Christian Church on this Advent Sunday 2015… but first there is a farewell to note today… because this is Angela’s last Sunday with us before she moves to Hampshire to be near her son Simon in his new home at Upham, near where Mike Hall used to live.

Angela came to Bollington to look after her young grandsons – now fine young men – after the sad death of their mother and not so long after the death of her own husband John who was Vicar of a lively Church in Hounslow in the Diocese of London.

Her introduction to Bollington was by Jessie Beard on the doorstep with a cake, more than 20 years ago, since when Angela – in her own quiet way – has added her friends in Bollington to a wide range of friends elsewhere. And as well as looking after her family (some of them in Australia and some near Bristol) she has sailed up the Amazon and to the Galapagos Island as well as frequent visits to the Isle of Wight.

I would like to personally thank Angela for her generosity (not least to St Oswald’s Church) and to us, and no doubt many of you as well, for her Prayers and for her friendship. We wish you well Angela in your new home although we shall miss you, and we hope you will pop back to see us often.

The picture shows Angela (second left) standing by the handrails at the chancel steps.
Her gift to the parish, much appreciated by many of us!


Appropriately enough, turning to our Reading for this Advent Sunday, we read of St Paul thanking God for dear friends in Thessalonia and saying how much he has been missing them and hoping for their return. And on the subject of a returning friend he goes on to remind us of the important teaching of the Church that one day Jesus himself is going to return, not as a baby again but as our Judge.

Despite the fact that most of our great Advent hymns remind us of this Second Coming of Jesus (to judge both the living and the dead) we always seem to end up with Advent as a preparation for Christmas, rather than the Second Coming of Jesus. Yet as we avidly watch the news on TV night after night, we may well wonder what our world is coming to. But then we are normally rescued from such shock and awe with yet another advert or shopping at Sainsburys or Strictly Come Dancing… unaware of the trap that awaits us, which is the Doomsday trap.

Surprisingly the early Christians stood up and raised their heads because they believed that their redemption was drawing near. 2000 years later – perhaps tired of waiting – we get on with other things, and leave all this End of the World business to such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses. But I rather believe it is not to be ignored not least because it is a significant part of the teaching of Jesus; foretelling that He will come again and to all people who live on the face of the earth and we will all stand before him as our Judge.

The question is… what will he judge us on? I guess the answer to that will be on the evidence of the way we have lived our lives, and such things as love and simple kindness and forgiveness.
Psalm 90 advises to count our days and apply our hearts unto wisdom, which might be a good idea so that we may love mercy and walk humbly with our God. Our Post Communion Prayer for today when we get to it reminds us, not to be dozing in sin but to be active in God’s service and joyful in his praise, which I believe Jesus wants his Church to be; doing God’s will on earth as it is in heaven.

As to whether Heaven exists (or not) is a matter of faith and hope, but if heaven does exist, how can we ensure that we actually get there. Perhaps shocking to us, the young Muslim gunmen in Paris last Friday but one believed that it was by killing their perceived enemies and then themselves into the bargain that was for them they believed, a guaranteed way to heaven. But we have been taught differently; that our way to heaven is the way of love – by being peacemakers and thirsty for right and justice to prevail, and by being merciful and kind.

And so in this season of Advent when we consider the thought of God’s judgement of us all and when our politicians are pondering whether to bomb ISL, we pray that they may judge aright and not least remembering St Paul (quoting the Old Testament) may bear in mind the words “vengeance is mine says the Lord. I will repay.”

Vengeance is mine says the Lord. I will repay.

It is God who will have the last say.


1 Thessalonians 3:9-13

How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy that we feel before our God because of you? Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you face to face and restore whatever is lacking in your faith.

Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus direct our way to you. And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you. And may he so strengthen your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.

 

All Souls’ Day 2015

Canon Roy Arnold

Filmgoers among you may have seen “The secret life of Walter Mitty” re-made in 2013 starring Ben Stiller but (showing my age) I remember Danny Kaye in the 1947 version seen at the Empire Cinema here in Bollington. It is about a man with a very vivid imagination who sees himself as a wartime hero, an eminent surgeon and a gangster. The original story was by James Thurber who was a cartoonist, author and humourist. In 1927, Thurber writing to his brother said this:

“It seems to me that life goes by like a flash of rain and that’s all we amount to in this world. But I think there ought to be more point to it all, so I live in the hope that the adventure of death is somehow equivalent to the adventure of life. It would seem strange to me if God made such a complicated world and such complicated people in it and then had no more to offer than a total blankness at the end of it all. So I live in the curiosity and the hope and the excitement of what there may be afterwards, and thus I have got myself to believe that those who pass on perhaps pass on to something as interesting but lovelier and more happy than this life”.

A very funny man – James Thurber – being very serious, as we are here tonight. Remembering and praying for our departed loved ones. But not only praying for them, but praying with them; which is a major theme of All Souls Day, that those on earth and those in heaven are joined together when we pray to God, with our departed loved ones on one side of God and we – for the time being – on this side.

Which is a very comforting thought – that our departed loved ones are joined with us when we pray and especially when we pray the Lord’s Prayer, to the God who is our Father in heaven, but accessible (through Jesus Christ) to you and me on this earth. Which will be the case until we also get to heaven (if we do) and join with our loved ones in God’s glorious new world. And if we travel on with hope and faith and love in our hearts I believe we will get there in the end.

We will get there in the end.

On the Anniversary of Roy’s Ordination

Canon Roy Arnold

We had a good Easter in Bollington and Kerridge in 1962 at the three Anglican churches (St John’s, St Oswald’s and Holy Trinity) with a total of just short of 400 communicants. 400! They even ran out of service books at St Oswald’s. This year – 2015 – we had a total of 125 communicants.

Two years later than 1962, on this actual day 27 September 1964 in Bristol Cathedral, I was ordained as a priest in the Church of England. Sad to say, these past 50 years and more have seen a dramatic fall in the number of those attending Church everywhere. This hasn’t been all my fault and I can say that the Churches where I have served increased slightly in size, but the fact is many fewer people go to Church nowadays. Not only in the Anglican Church but in the Methodist Church and even the Roman Catholic Church and generally throughout Europe. Apart from the fact that people die or move away, I would say that this has come about by a massive change in the way most people live their lives, and shopping, entertainment and sport, car trips (or even car cleaning) take up a major part of people’s weekend lives and the thought of a Day of Rest and Worship have gone by the board. “For the world is too much with us… getting and spending” as the poet Wordsworth says.

Getting and spending… and yet, and yet… There does remain some hint of thought for others. I am thinking here of the generosity of people (church folk and others) when there are appeals for money in times of national and international disaster and in this we may call to mind Christ’s words from our Gospel this morning. Those words about giving a cup of water to anyone who is thirsty. People’s donations represent (albeit at arms-length) that kindness and care. I have a strong personal remembrance that when I was in hospital once and my blood sugar was down, the Night Sister said “Get Roy a warm milky drink and a biscuit.” You know, I have never forgotten this simple act of kindness, that someone had thought to give ME a drink…. as Jesus instructed people to do. I wouldn’t know whether that kind nurse was a church person or not but (as we heard Jesus say in our Gospel) any act of kindness and gentleness and caring counts, whoever does it, whether they be Christians or Muslims or persons of little or no faith.

That, I believe, is why we must not entirely despair at the thought of dwindling congregations, sad as the thought may be, and in any case – as I once read – trends in society may empty churches but may also fill them. What we must be aware of – whether we are ordained or lay people – is the danger of becoming stumbling blocks – as Jesus put it. We must do our very best to be reasons why people would want to come to Church, and not to trip them up on their way here. And, of course, we must try our very best to get more people to Church; simply this is what Jesus wants us to do – to hear the good news that He brings about the love of God and His call to share that love in our own lives, through simple acts of personal kindness and thought for others like that cup of cold water (or milk and a biscuit). Acts of kindness and gentleness and love to people of all ages; children, yes, and those with the care of children – but we must not concentrate on one group and forget about the others.

Looking back over these past 50 years, (I think,) in an effort to get more people to church, we have spent too much time on re-ordering our worship, and on new translations of the Bible and other General Synod preoccupations. But I believe that one thing from General Synod has been truly worthwhile, and that is the Ordination of Women and the hope thereby of a kinder and more gentle approach to Ministry and a more inclusive Church. But whether we are women or men-folk of the Church (lay-folk or ordained), let us remember this: we shall pass through this world but once. Any good therefore we can do or any kindness that we can show to any human being, let us do it now. Let us not defer or neglect it for we shall not pass this way again.

That is for sure. We shall not pass this way again.


Mark chapter 9:38-end

John said to him, ‘Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.’ But Jesus said, ‘Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterwards to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us. For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.

‘If any of you put a stumbling-block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea. If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell, where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched.

‘For everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.’