Those who abide in Me

Revd Michael Fox

There is a song from 1980 by the punk band The Clash – I expect you all still remember it – called Should I Stay or Should I Go? It was very high energy and I’m not going to sing it to you, but the lyrics went:

Darlin’ you got to let me knowTheClash
Should I stay or should I go?
If you say that you are mine
I’ll be here ’til the end of time
So you got to let me know
Should I stay or should I go?

Joe Strummer seems to be putting his fate into the hands of (I presume) a young woman, but he sums up an anxiety that affects all of us in some way – where do I belong? Is it with this person, this community, this group or with that one? Am I wanted here, or would I be better off somewhere else?

Indeed staying anywhere, or with anyone, for any length of time is increasingly difficult for us in a commitment-phobic world. There is a restlessness that afflicts humans sooner or later and sends them wandering off looking for better pasture. Perhaps it stems from the genes inherited from the period when humans were hunter-gatherers, roaming the prairies looking for woolly mammoths.

The word abide is old-fashioned now, but it has lots of meanings – to dwell, to rest, to continue, to be true to, to remain, to wait, to await… We say “I will abide by that decision,” or “I can’t abide punk rock music” and I suppose in both cases we mean ‘live with.’ And of course we use the word ‘abode’ – jokingly nowadays – to mean home: “Welcome to my humble abode.”

And at the moment there is a so-called ‘migrant crisis’ where people are fleeing war, oppression, hunger, poverty – they are leaving home and all that word implies of roots, shelter, identity, security, and casting themselves upon the waters, in small fragile boats. They face an unknown future, unknown dangers including drowning, tear gas and stun grenades, hunger, thirst, hostility, rejection.

If you saw the BBC’s Songs of Praise programme with its report on the migrant camp in Calais – the link is on our St. Oswald’s facebook page – you’ll have seen that in the midst of an area known as ‘the jungle’, in Calais, a muddy, rubbish-strewn encampment of tents, some made from corrugated plastic or old iron, there is a church – a makeshift, wood and plastic building that stands shakily in the midst of the camp. One of the French Christian volunteers who helped the Christian migrants build the church says on camera “These people wanted a church before they wanted a home.”

CalaisJungleChurchInside this little church Christians from Ethiopia and Eritrea, Syria and many other countries meet to pray and worship. There are beautiful pictures – one of St. Michael after whom the church is named. They worship and pray together with the many French and English Christians who come to bring aid and fellowship and hope.

One young man, a theology student from Ethiopia, is one of leaders of the church there. He says he has fled from persecution but he will not make any attempt to enter the UK illegally. Another young Christian man also fleeing persecution in Eritrea has tried several times to board a train illegally. When challenged he says he is seeking a better home, a safer home. He prays every day and then he says, “I have another house – it’s heaven.”

It seems to me that little church – St. Michael’s – is the embodiment of what John, in his gospel this morning, is telling us about abiding. Those who meet together in the fellowship of the Eucharist know what it is to dwell with Christ. However tough life is, however lacking in security, their commitment to follow him and to worship him and to receive him is a sign that they are in the dwelling place of God himself.

The Eucharist, the practice of eating bread and drinking wine in memory of the crucified Christ and in fellowship with the risen Christ, is clearly what John, writing in the hungry times of the first century AD – is referring to. Some people think John was writing in Syria, the very place from which many modern-day migrants come.

At the back of John’s image of finding fellowship with Christ in the Eucharist – of living, staying with, awaiting, staying true to Christ – is the experience of the Jews wandering in the wilderness, being fed with the manna from heaven. God provides for them and sustains them in their desperate need. They were in a strange land, and they were migrants, aiming to live in someone else’s country.

For John, Jesus is the manna that God gives to all humanity, regardless of who they are, of where they are living. He is the spiritual food that gives us life. And it’s significant that the word John uses for abide in this section is used 40 times throughout the gospel – his Gospel is all about what it means to live with Jesus, and for Jesus to live with you. Of course the breaking of bread, the sharing of a meal, is one of the most basic things we do in our homes.

Those of us here this morning, we have homes. Some of us may have just moved in, with all the excitement of a new space, new neighbours, and the adventure of a new life in a place we have chosen. Or we have been in our home for many years, seen our families grow up, experienced joy, and also sadness and loss. It has been a refuge and a shelter, a place for us to be ourselves. It answers our most basic need. Perhaps, even, we are facing a move from our familiar home and facing the loss of familiar surroundings and friends’ faces.

I wonder how many of us would say, with the migrants of Calais, that we wanted a church before we wanted a home? But when we meet to celebrate the Eucharist, as we will do in a few moments, we enact the meeting of our earthly home and our heavenly one, as that young man in Calais reminds us.

Perhaps that will help us to remember to keep our earthly home always open to the stranger, the migrant, to the needs of others for shelter and food. But most importantly to remember that whether we stay or go, it is Christ who sustains us, shelters us, and who is the true meaning of ‘home’.

Amen

 

Memories

Canon Roy Arnold

Well we are few and far between today. We have two of our flock cruising the river Thames at Henley while some are in Guernsey. One has gone to see the Duke of Westminster (well, his garden to be exact). Two are looking after their respective grandchildren and we thought we should have been looking after our youngest daughter’s cat, but seemingly that is next week.

Others are on holidays and sadly some of our very faithful members are not at all well but thankfully we have our Vicar and Dave back from Belgium and Margaret Booth has come rushing back from Malta, and, as it happens, Holidays come into my sermon as they did with Michael last week – for I want to talk about MEMORIES.

One of God’s gifts to us is the gift of MEMORY. Without our memories we would be lost and have to learn again every morning how to do the most basic of human tasks such as how to dress ourselves or use the toaster; let alone how to drive a car or to read and write.

And then there is the wider scope of memory, whereby we remember things that have happened to us in the past – of things happy or sad. Even on this very day – July 26 – I have memories buzzing round in MY head of holiday times and of Bollington Wakes Week (which always was in this last week of July), when all the mills shut – and the shops – as Bollington folk went off to the seaside; and with Palmerston Street lined with Coaches to take them there “to be beside the seaside”; where a happy time was had by all.

But my next memory of this very day is definitely not a happy one: this day 19 years ago was when we buried our daughter’s ashes in the Columbarium here in Bollington. Rachel our second daughter had died in a cycle accident.

All of us (I guess) have sad memories mixed in with our happy ones. And perhaps it is our memories, happy or sad (of people or events), which make us who we are and how we see the world. It is worth noting, that I am saying all this in a church, because, when you think of it, churches are stacked high with so many memories (happy or sad); memories of Births, Marriages and Deaths – Baptisms, Weddings and Funerals.

And as well as churches holding our own personal memories it is, of course, here it in church that we keep alive the memory of God and of His son Jesus Christ our Lord, which is our aim in this very service of Holy Communion. “Do this in remembrance of Me” is what He said, and what we say and do in this service.

But harking back to the memories of seaside holidays, do you remember how the sun shone and the sea sparkled? Although it was so far out at Southport (where I spent several holidays as a child) you could hardly see the sea. But then in contrast, I remember a holiday in Scarborough with the sea in all its fury; with the waves smashing against the promenade and sending its spray high into the air – like that storm on the Sea of Galilee of which we heard in our Gospel this morning and the disciples fearful for their lives. But then came Jesus surprisingly walking on the waves, as somehow – equally surprisingly – He has walked into our lives (yours and mine). Impossible but true; and in part He has entered our lives because the stories of Jesus became embedded in the memory of the Church. Stories passed on through the long ages to me and you; the memories of what He taught people, and about His miracles, and of how He told His first disciples and us to “Have faith and be not be afraid”

As in another seaside story when Jesus was in the same boat as the apostles and when they were very frightened until He stilled the storm. Reminding us that Jesus is ALWAYS, ALWAYS in the same boat as us. In dark and stormy times and in those golden and special times, for God – through His Son Jesus and His Holy Spirit – has somehow ALWAYS been with us; as one of my favourite quotes from the bible reminds us that Jesus Christ is “the same yesterday and today and forever”. Experience tells us that He has been with us in the past (as we remember) and hope whispers that He will be with us in the future.

But then the past is yesterday and the future is tomorrow and the reality is we are left with is the Jesus who is with us today. So while today is still today let us remember His presence with us now.

I heard the voice of Jesus say: “I am this dark world’s light.
Look unto Me, thy morn shall rise and all thy day be bright.”
I looked to Jesus and I found in Him my star, my sun.
And in that light of life I’ll walk till travelling days are done.


John chapter 6 vv 1-21

After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias. A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick. Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples. Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near. When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do. Philip answered him, “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?” Jesus said, “Make the people sit down.” Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all. Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted. When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, “Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.” So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets. When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.”

When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself. When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea, got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing. When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were terrified. But he said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.” Then they wanted to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the land toward which they were going.

Giving – Where today is your heart?

Venerable Ian Bishop
Archdeacon of Macclesfield

I’d like to make four observations about the story of Adam and Eve that we’ve heard this morning.

Firstly just how much we take God’s abundance for granted.
If the writer of Genesis was telling us anything about the creation that God had put together, it is that it was pretty good! Abundant, peaceful and beautiful. God had made a place for men and women that was all they needed.

Of course we can’t help it… When we have much we take it for granted. Our hearts should be full of thankfulness for what we have, but more often than not we find ourselves looking at what we don’t have. You’ll know we live in a materialistic culture that tempts you and entices you, that invites you to take what you can’t afford and buy what you just don’t need. Like the serpent in the garden whispering away -“Hey this looks good – go one try it — you know you want to!”

But Jesus said “You cannot serve both God and money”. If we get drawn in we forget to be thankful for what we’ve got and we find ourselves driven to acquire what we haven’t got. And that means we take our eyes off God because we’re too focused on the baubles of earth. The apple that we’re not supposed to take.

Which partly makes my second point. You see we’re never content with what we have. My favourite verse in the whole of the Bible is in 1 Timothy 6:6 when Paul writes to a young man saying “Godliness with contentment is great gain.”

What is truly the right way to live for people of faith is to find contentment through holiness. Jesus said “where your treasure is there your heart will be also.” Never was that better illustrated than in the garden, as Eve took the one apple she had been asked not to take; she took the treasure and gave her heart away. Contentment was lost, the innocence of the garden was replaced with knowledge of fear of what they had become. One thing I have learned through years of following Christ is that I am most content when I am on track with him. When I entrust my treasure, my family, my money, my time and gifts to him and live his way — then I am most content.

Which leads on to my third point. Which is that when it comes to making decisions, we are lousy judges of what is right and wrong and we get it wrong too often. It was a bad decision in the garden, the first of a billion bad decisions people have made in life. It might have been the first — it certainly wouldn’t be the last.

To be sure we make lots of great decisions. Church folk I think probably on balance make a lot better decisions than people who don’t go to Church. God called Adam and Eve to look after the creation, and I think the people of faith generally get that. We are a generous people, in any year the people of faith in this country give way more to charity than Children in Need will ever raise, we look after some of the most amazing buildings in this country at no cost to the nation, we employ thousands of people who care for the poor and the weak, who go out and look for the lost and the lonely, who bring hope to the sad and joy to the depressed. And then there is the army of volunteers like you, who roll up their sleeves and make our communities work, who contribute time and energy that builds a better world and remakes the creation.

The people of God are astonishing. But we still make bad decisions about what to do with our money and our time and our energy. As you read the stories of the early Church you see that it was characterised by an astonishing generosity. I think Churches get it — just not enough — their treasure is a bit in the bank with Jesus but mostly not, and that means their heart is missing from Jesus’s safe keeping as well.

The Bible sets a very high standard. Deuteronomy 14 sets a figure of 10% for the people of God in their giving. 10% of what you earn should be given back to God. And before you moan about that, remember Jesus also told the rich young man to give away everything and then follow him, and he commended the widow who gave a mite — all she had. At least I’m only suggesting 10% for starters!  Think what that would mean for you?

I see the giving figures across the Diocese and I’m astonished how little people do give.  So many people give less than £5 a week. But what is £5 worth today? It certainly doesn’t make up 10% even for someone on a basic pension. And then every now and again you see someone giving much much more than that — and it usually isn’t the one with the most money — instead it’s someone you wouldn’t expect, but who gets it.

The theologian Helmut Thielicke once wrote (in a time when we still used cheques), “Our cheque books have more to do with Heaven and Hell than our hymn books.” And he was correct.

I remember when I was taking a funeral of a very wealthy man once, I was chatting to the undertaker in the car on the way to the cemetery, and the undertaker asked me — “how much did he leave?” To which I was able to answer, “Everything!”

But most don’t get it, and my fourth and final point from the reading this morning is this.  We are always trying to make excuses. In the garden, the man blamed the woman, the woman blamed the serpent and the fact was that they all got it wrong and should have just owned up.

I know that if I sat you all down this morning and asked you to give more I would probably get a Church full of excuses, so I won’t ask. Instead I reckon that most of you should be giving at least twice what you’re giving regularly and that still probably won’t be 10% – but it would be a start.

Many of you won’t be giving by standing order — which you should be, otherwise someone has to trudge to the bank every week.. Save your treasurers aching feet and sign a standing order.

Some of you won’t have signed a Gift Aid form — which is a nonsense because that way the Government adds 25% to what you give (if you pay tax!)

It has never been easier to give. You may — like I do – have the ability to have your giving deducted from your pay before it lands in your account. I like giving that way because it reminds me that the money was never mine anyway — it’s God’s.

As more and more churches face uncertain financial futures, and I know St Oswald’s is one,  I’m reminded of the Vicar who stood up before his congregation and declared “You will be glad to know we have found the money to solve the financial crisis at the Church.” There were hopeful smiles all round the congregation, until the Vicar said with a beaming smile, “It’s there in your pockets!”

Let me draw my four points together.

Never forget the context in which we live; God has created a world of abundance – we need to live with hearts full of thankfulness.

Sadly we’re rarely content — but make contentment your aim

We do often make lousy decisions and many excuses, but the best way is to be generous.

Remember when the wealthy tax collector Zachaeus threw a party and gave away half of all he had to the poor. That was when Jesus said “salvation has come to this house today.” Budgets are moral documents, the way we use what God has abundantly given tells us where our hearts truly are.  So let me leave you with a question — where today is your heart?

Genesis chapter 3 vv 8-15

They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, ‘Where are you?’ He said, ‘I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.’ He said, ‘Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?’ The man said, ‘The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate.’ Then the Lord God said to the woman, ‘What is this that you have done?’ The woman said, ‘The serpent tricked me, and I ate.’

The Lord God said to the serpent,
‘Because you have done this,
cursed are you among all animals and among all wild creatures;
upon your belly you shall go,
and dust you shall eat all the days of your life.
I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and hers;
he will strike your head, and you will strike his heel.’

Precious in the sight of God

Canon Roy Arnold

I think that I can take it for granted that most of us now have had enough of Elections! It’s sad that something so important can seem so tedious, but I want you to spare a thought today for those who have been unsuccessful in their attempts to get elected in Local Government Elections, but especially in Elections to get into (or back into) Parliament. When I was at General Synod a few years ago I had a long conversation with someone who had just lost his seat in Parliament. He was – to put it mildly – absolutely devastated by the experience of going from someone being in power to being just one of yesterday’s men; from being one of the chosen (elected ones) to being unemployed (give or take a few directorships), not to speak of the loss of self-esteem.

But actually I want to contrast this man’s experience to our Bible readings for today, where we were reminded by God and God’s Son Jesus who said YOU DID NOT CHOSE ME; BUT I CHOSE YOU. Do you see what this means? That God chooses, and we all of us (as it were) GET IN; we are all of us elected, not because we deserve to, but simply because GOD loves us. And this is God’s gracious experiment with humanity, which he began long ago it with his first Chosen People the Jews, whose story is told in the Old Testament. Of how they were by and large disobedient, so much so that God had to send his only begotten Son – Jesus – to redeem (that is to rescue) Mankind and (in the process) to make us into a new and enlarged Chosen Race. Jews and Non-Jews and the whole human race, and all this bearing in mind that God in his great love for us does not force our obedience.

He actually wants us to be his friends – and certainly not his slaves – hence his gift to us all of Free Will. In other words, although he has chosen us, he gives us the choice NOT to be his friends, which most of us do from time to time – in choosing not to be friends with God – in things petty like sheer meanness and peevishness, or by totally fundamental mistakes like the Holocaust or World Wars, ignoring the command of Jesus THAT WE MUST, WE MUST, LOVE ONE ANOTHER. First loving and serving God and then our neighbours.

Psalm 146 reminds us of this when it tells us: As long as we have any being we must sing praise (and worship) our God… not putting our trust in princes nor in any human power (Conservative, Labour, not even UKIP) for there is no help in them. And the psalm goes on to remind us that what counts is providing justice for those who suffer wrong and bread to those who hunger (as we aim to do through Christian Aid Week which begins today) lifting up those who are bowed down… with the strangers in our land and the orphan and the widow.

Because our God (out of his great love) chose us to be his friends, and friends and followers of Jesus his Son, and to go out into our everyday lives to tell other people about Jesus; not by door-stepping them or delivering pamphlets, or arguing with them or threatening them, but instead by helping them when they need help and maybe (secretly of course) praying for them, or by lots of ways trying our very best to follow Jesus ourselves. But (surprisingly) not by trying and trying to love God and Jesus but by LETTING GOD AND JESUS LOVE US.

That is our task – to let God love us. To let God through Jesus and the Holy Spirit love us, being open to the love of God. For it is only when we know ourselves to be loved that we can (as God’s chosen and elected people) be loving ourselves. And knowing that we are precious in the sight of God.

Acts 10:44-end
While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles, for they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter said, ‘Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?’ So he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they invited him to stay for several days.

1 John 5.1-6
Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the parent loves the child. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For the love of God is this, that we obey his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome, for whatever is born of God conquers the world. And this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith. Who is it that conquers the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? This is the one who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ, not with the water only but with the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one that testifies, for the Spirit is the truth.

John 15.9-17
As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.

 

The light of Christ

Canon Roy Arnold

The other night when I couldn’t get off to sleep, I went downstairs to make myself a hot drink. I sat to sip it (without the light on) by the window when I noticed – to my surprise – a sinister black plant on the window ledge. I recognised it after a moment or two, as the crimson Poinsettia we had at Christmas. In the dark its bright red petal-leaves had taken on the blackness of the night.

Well last week was a pretty dark one I think – despite the brightness of the weather – with the terrible news of the young Jordanian pilot put to death, and the ongoing story of apathy in the face of the abuse of children and young women at Rotherham in South Yorkshire. Obviously sometimes we seem to take too much notice of breaking news from far away, while failing to recognise good news from around the corner, but there are occasions when the darkness can enter our own lives and homes when death or serious illness comes calling.

But our Gospel for today (from John ch 1) reminds us of the light which shines in all our darknesses, which light is Jesus, and which the darkness failed to overcome. In that reading from St John’s Gospel (which we normally hear at Christmas), the light from the infant Jesus seems like a little lantern in the dark corner of the stable at Bethlehem. But a light which grew as Jesus became a man, and shone out in his teaching and his gifts of healing, and finally in the expression of his love on the Cross, and three days later his gift of New Life for us all in his Resurrection.

In the Season of Lent – now almost upon us – we shall hope to prepare ourselves for Passiontide and Easter and maybe learn that the darkness of our world is down – not to a cruel and capricious God – but to the darkness which is within ourselves when we fail to see and follow the Wisdom and the Love of God. The Wisdom which is calling out to all of us as we heard in our first reading from Proverbs. But our Gospel for today told us that when Jesus came to live among us, his own people – the Jews – failed to recognise him because their minds preferred the darkness to the light. Like the fanatic Muslims and the young pilot they so brutally killed and like the Nazis whom we remembered last week who killed six million Jewish people – their minds darkened by thoughts of revenge or totally misguided ideologies and motives.

We are told in the New Testament of how Jesus came to Jerusalem for the last time, when he looked out over the city (knowing the terrible fate of the city and most of its people). We are told in just two poignant words: “Jesus wept”. He often must weep still at the thought of how the heart of humanity (which of course includes me and you) can so easily let the darkness overcome us, either by apathy, despair or downright evil.

All the more reason that we must try and try to follow this man called Jesus, who is the image of the invisible God and who came to be that light for all people. And who (even when his own people and we all rejected him) faced up to his death on the cross and said “Father forgive them for they know not what they do”; then went on to bring us out into the light of Everlasting Life.

I was long asleep (I guess) when the dawn broke and the Crimson returned to the Poinsettia flowers and Christ’s glory filled the skies. Christ the true, the only light. And the Sun of righteousness triumphed o’er the shades of night.

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Proverbs 8: 1, 22-31

Does not wisdom call, and does not understanding raise her voice? The LORD created me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of long ago. Ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth. When there were no depths I was brought forth, when there were no springs abounding with water. Before the mountains had been shaped, before the hills, I was brought forth – when he had not yet made earth and fields, or the world’s first bits of soil. When he established the heavens, I was there, when he drew a circle on the face of the deep, when he made firm the skies above, when he established the fountains of the deep, when he assigned to the sea its limit, so that the waters might not transgress his command, when he marked out the foundations of the earth, then I was beside him, like a master worker; and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always, rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the human race.

John 1: 1-14

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.

 

Another road

Canon Roy Arnold

We are all familiar with the Three Wise Men and their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, but let me tell yon this morning about one of the other main characters in this story.

King Herod, better known as Herod the Great, had quite a good reputation as the restorer of a ruined Jerusalem, rebuilder of a new temple and other grand schemes. He was generous to the poor after he once had some of his gold plates melted down and the proceeds given to feed the hungry, and he was bringer of 21 years of peace to his kingdom. Not bad.

But he had a flaw in his character. He was deeply suspicious of anyone who challenged his power and he actually murdered his wife and her mother because of this. And many another who threatened him which is why he gained the reputation of being a murderous old man, getting worse in his old age.

Imagine then how he felt when our Wise Men turned up asking about a new king just born. We know his response “Go and find this child” he said, “that I too may come and worship him”. But for “worship” he actually meant to MURDER him.

But the Wise Men were not called “wise” for nothing and when they had found Jesus and presented their gifts, we are told they went back home “by another road”, disappearing from the pages of the Bible and history leaving Herod the Great thwarted in his evil intent.

What lessons might we learn from this familiar story, I wonder? Perhaps we might ponder about the flaws we might have like Herod beneath our own good reputations and respectability, and wonder (or maybe know) that there might lurk another side to our characters; some shady or darker side. Psychologists tell us that we all have a shadow self, a dark side, such as Herod had in abundance. With us it can be envy of others, or jealousy, or greed. It might be an everyday fault like a wicked temper or irritability, or the need to control others at work or at home.

The plain fact is that these flaws spoil our lives, and when we add all the faults of humanity together they most certainly spoil our world. Just watch the News tonight to confirm that this is so.

And yet, there is an answer to all of this. There is always “another road” for us to take – as the Wise Men did – which I believe is the other road of love and forgiveness. In our own everyday lives and in the wider life of humanity, as taught by Jesus; the alternative route which He wants us to travel. The other road with Jesus by our side; and what better time to decide to travel this other road than at the start of this New Year.

I came across a quote from Mother Teresa of Calcutta the other day. She said: “Every work of love brings a person face to face with God, and simple acts of love and care keep the light of Christ burning”. Let us – me and you – keep this light of Christ burning through this New Year.

Going the other road with Him – His way. But always remembering that this road – this way – is not an easy route.

By no means easy.

motherTeresa

Advent – looking forward not backward

Canon Roy Arnold

This is not the sermon I was going to write, but the postman arrived when I had just started writing that one, and what he delivered waylaid me. It was our latest Tesco club card statement which arrived and looking at it I realised (to quote George Orwell) that Big Brother had been truly watching me; because all the money-off coupons exactly matched our recent purchases, all entered into the Tesco computer. I suppose they even have my shoe size.

No surprise there I suppose. But then I got to thinking that if Tesco know so much about me, it is frightening to think what God or my recording angel must know about me. And about you. About our going out and our coming in; about when we sit down or get up, and what we are going to say even before we speak. Our good points, and our sins likewise. When we fail to do right, or when we are pleasing to God. And I thought about Jesus as our judge at the end of time with all this evidence to hand.

This is one of the major themes of this season of Advent – Jesus as our judge – so what will Jesus think about us? I believe he will search for our good points as well as the bad.

But what about our bad points? All the more reason why we should be totally grateful that Our Lord is letting us (and the rest of humanity) play extra time to get things right and on target before that dreadful day of judgement.

This patience of Jesus is a main theme of our epistle this morning. The early Christians thought the return of Jesus would be straight away, but 2000 years on we are still waiting. One disadvantage, however, of this extra time is that we can so easily forget to number our days and apply our hearts unto wisdom, but as John the Baptist taught in our gospel for today – it will be wise of us to prepare a way for the Lord. By telling God of our sorrow for our sins, and then trying not to make the same mistakes over and over again. Which is why we, as Christians must try to imitate Christ.

By all means let us remember and welcome the baby born on Christmas Day, but not forgetting it is what we do with the present and the future which really counts – the race which set before us.

The race that is set before us, unless, that is, like the Goons’ song, we are walking backwards to Christmas, which we can never actually do. Our journey carries us onwards, so…

not in that poor lowly stable with the oxen standing by we shall see Him,
but in heaven set at God’s right hand on high.
Where like stars his children crowned, all in white shall stand around.


1 Corinthians 1 3-9

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

I always thank my God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. For in him you have been enriched in every way – with all kinds of speech and with all knowledge – God thus confirming our testimony about Christ among you. Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. He will also keep you firm to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, who has called you into fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

Mark 13 24-end

But in those days, following that distress,

‘the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light;
the stars will fall from the sky,
and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’

At that time people will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And he will send his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens.

Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that it is near, right at the door. Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.

But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come. It’s like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with their assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch.

Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back – whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn. If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’

Remembrance Sunday 2014

Brian Reader

I would like to thank Veronica for letting me speak to you today on this Remembrance Sunday; it also gives me an opportunity to thank all of you for making me feel so welcome since I moved to Bollington. My dear wife Jean has told some of her friends that I “will bore the pants off you”! Perhaps that is better than being told that “I will bore you all to death”! So I will be brief.

Now Remembrance Day awakens different memories and feelings in all of us. As a school boy some 75 years ago I had no idea what war entailed, and as no family members had been killed in the First World War I couldn’t think of anyone to remember. On looking at some notes I made in 1995, I could say then that no one under the age of fifty would have remembered the country at total war. At that time some believed that with the end of the cold war, all threats of war had been removed and that a day for Remembrance no longer served any useful purpose; saying that it glorified war and anyway, it was all too long ago.

People would not say that today. Not only has television brought home the horrors of all the recent wars, but there has also been much publicity about the centenary of the start of the First World War in all the media.

Now Remembrance Day is a time set aside when we remember the dead of the 1914 and all subsequent wars, but, as I will explain later, I believe it should be much more than just that.

What does remembrance mean to us?
The dictionary says that remembrance is “the power or the process, of reproducing or recalling what we have learnt.”

What have we learnt?
That war is wrong, that war is bloody, that war is wasteful and that war should be avoided, not at all costs, but certainly whenever possible. As I believe Churchill once said Jaw, Jaw, is always better than War, War.

Did you know that since the end of the 2nd world war in 1945, there has only been one year when no British soldier has been killed on active service?

Recently our troops have been withdrawn from Afghanistan. When asked about their service out there, they did not glorify war; they had a simple pride in what they had done and they remembered their colleagues who did not come back, as well as those who had returned with appalling injuries.

I don’t believe in jingoistic nationalism which says that we must die for our country right or wrong, but I do believe that we have a duty to protect ourselves and our country from evil, both from within and from without.

Peace is not something that just happens; we must strive and work for peace, just as much today, as our forefathers have always had to in the past. We must remember that we too have a duty to oppose evil and that it may be necessary for us, either individually, or as a nation, to stand and fight against the evil we see all around us.

I am old enough to remember the last war, and I am also proud to have served in the Royal Air Force and seen active service around the world. It was round about Remembrance day in 1966, when I was tasked to fly my helicopter to a forward hill fort in Borneo to pick up a casualty, a young Royal Marine Lieutenant. Only he died just before we got there, nothing could have saved him, he bled to death, he just bled to death! What a waste. A few weeks later, confrontation was over, and the border of Borneo was intact.

Christ opposes all evil. He was always talking about the evil he saw about him, not to condemn those who were doing evil, but to get them to change their ways.

Yes, as well as remembering those who gave their lives, on the land or sea or in the air, we also have to remember the sacrifice made by their loved ones, the children without fathers, the widows, perhaps denied children, the mothers and sisters, and the fiancées and girlfriends who never married. Today we also have to remember the families of the service women who have recently died.

And so as we remember all those who made sacrifices for us, we have to ask ourselves “What would they have require of us?”. To ensure that all those who were injured were well looked after? Yes, but more than that. I think that they would want us to live in peace and protect the rights of all to freedom and justice, and I believe that only by obeying Christ’s command to love God and love our neighbour as ourselves can we achieve that.

We also have to bring Christian hope to a materialistic world which has lost its purpose and direction. In our reading from Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians, he gives hope to those who are grieving, and you may have recognized the reading as it is sometimes used in funeral services. Paul did not know, as we still don’t know, exactly what happens to us when we die, but he did know that Christ was crucified for all of us and that he rose from the dead. Paul therefore has a sure belief and faith that Christians too will be raised from the dead at the end of time.

So let us reflect on our own lives to ensure that not only are we striving to defeat evil in the world, but that we also spread the good Christian message of love, hope, forgiveness and peace, so that our children, and our children’s children, will be able to share those freedoms which we, through the sacrifice of many, and God’s abundant mercy have all enjoyed.

Amen


remembrance2

1 Thess. 4: 13-18

But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died. For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will by no means precede those who have died. For the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call and with the sound of God’s trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will be with the Lord for ever. Therefore encourage one another with these words.

Michael’s first Sunday as Deacon

Canon Roy Arnold

Charlotte Bronte (who wrote “Jane Eyre”) in the opening words of her novel “Shirley” observes: “Of late years, an abundant shower of curates has fallen upon the North of England: they lie very thick on the hills. Every parish has one or more of them.” But, as it happens, it now seems quite a few years since Bollington shared in this bounty, which makes you, Michael, all the more welcome. This very time last week you were getting ready for the Ordination Service, and this very time 51 years ago I was getting ready to go to St John’s Church in Bollington to get married to Hylda Mary Brogden, spinster of this parish.

roy-and-hylda002

It is not a new thought that Ordination and Marriage are quite similar, not least because they both – ideally – entail commitment and love. Of course, being married (or not married) or being ordained (or not ordained) does not make us any different from what we were or are, for better or for worse, but St Paul (in our Epistle for today) says: because we are all too human we can still get things wrong and fall into sin. And sin (as I see it) is like missing the target, God’s target, and there are thousands of ways of missing the bulls-eye, but only one of hitting it. But, week by week, it is the privilege of all Christians to hear, and for clergy to announce: “This is the target to aim for” in the teachings of Jesus, like his word to us today, that we must aim to be, somehow, “like little children again”. Note, not childish – but childlike. “Like infants,” he says, “seeing the world and other people afresh.” And how I wish that we all could (more often) experience the world like that – New Every Morning…

But sad to say we very soon start waiting for the next hospital appointment. or worrying about the children, or the car failing its MOT, or the church roof falling IN, or the Parochial Church Council falling OUT.

St Francis de Sales says “Have patience with all things but chiefly have patience with yourself. Do not lose courage in considering your own imperfections but instantly set about mending them, and everyday begin this task anew.” I think that we might start by remembering those words Jesus gave to us this morning:

“Come to Me, all of you that are weary and carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me. For I am gentle and humble in heart and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”


Matthew 11.16-19 and 25-end

“To what can I compare this generation? They are like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling out to others:

‘We played the pipe for you,
and you did not dance;
we sang a dirge,
and you did not mourn.’

For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ But wisdom is proved right by her deeds.”

At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do.

“All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

GOD WITH US

Canon Roy Arnold

Now let me see; is it to be socks or handkerchiefs for Uncle Tom this Christmas, like last Christmas (and the one before). Obviously, biscuits and talcum powder for Granny. Christmas is a time for list-making isn’t it? A list of presents to buy; a list for shopping; when to get the turkey; and the running order for cooking the dinner (don’t forget to make the trifle). Even fitting in Church at Christmas. Yes I know – they have even started getting get religion into Christmas now, whatever next?

Actually (as we know) it’s the reason for this season; mixing in some pagan midwinter celebration with the joyous story of the Birth of Jesus – of which birth we heard in our Gospel for today. But did you hear in the Gospel that other title (from the prophet Isaiah), that other sort of name for Jesus?
The name Emmanuel. “Jesus our Emmanuel.”

It means GOD WITH US, or GOD IS WITH US. That’s a particular reason for saying “Happy Christmas”; that God (in Jesus, or the Spirit of Jesus) is with us. Not WAS with us, “long time ago in Bethlehem” – but God is with us NOW.

Which thought set me off making another Christmas list – a list of how Jesus IS with us now. First on the list is that we can hear – in the here and now – Jesus speaking to us. We have his recorded words, telling us what to do and how we are to behave. And then I suppose another obvious one is that we can actually talk to Jesus – and to God through Jesus – which we do whenever we say our prayers. Then he is us with us in this very service, the Holy Communion. When we actually receive him. Going up to the altar for Holy Communion, we are going up to meet Jesus – God with us.

All of these are sort of churchy things, but I believe we can experience Jesus in our everyday lives outside church. So Jesus can be with when we are sad, when someone has died, or when we (or someone else) is ill. And Jesus is certainly with us when we are happy and full of the Joys of Easter. He can be there – if we let him – when we are depressed, or lonely, or tempted to go down the wrong road.

And do remember this: he doesn’t drop down to us from heaven. He comes to us mainly through our loved ones, or friends, our neighbours, other people. Or in something we hear on the radio, or read in a book, or a sudden memory of some good thing long ago… or even in a sermon.

And here is a really important thought: that other people might just find Jesus (Jesus with us NOW – OUR EMMANUEL) in you or in me; in our friendly words or actions. Yes, yours or mine. A smile, or a kind word (but not always easy and be real about it).

Talking of being real about this business of GOD BEING WITH US, there do seem to be lots of Gods around. The men who murdered the soldier in Woolwich thought that God was with them. And history is full of people following the wrong God – two World Wars are examples where Christian nations fought with one another.

So that when we say that GOD IS WITH US, we must be as sure as we can be that it is Jesus we are truly following. It is Jesus who is our EMMANUEL; Jesus who is truly GOD WITH US. Maybe then – another item for our Christmas List – remember to welcome Jesus into our lives.

GOD WITH US through all the changing scenes of life, in trouble and in joy. JESUS OUR EMMANUEL – God’s Son as our friend and our brother.


Matthew 1.18-end

This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.

But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

All this took place to fulfil what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).

When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.