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Trinity Sunday

“The Rabbit hole went straight on like a tunnel for some way, then dipped suddenly down, so suddenly that Alice had not a moment to think about stopping herself before she found herself falling down a very deep well…

Down, down, down, I wonder if I shall fall right through the earth?
Down, down, down, I wonder if Dinah (the cat) will miss me?

She began to doze off as she fell, dreaming about Dinah, when suddenly, THUMP, THUMP! Down she came upon a heap of stick and dry leaves, and the fall was over.

… the rabbit was no longer in sight and she found herself in a long, low hall, lit up by a row of lamps hanging from the roof, and there were doors all round the hall….”

Tumbling through all the church festivals can seem a bit like falling down the rabbit hole, they come along one after another it seems, especially when the timings mean that Easter falls on an early date.

We’re at the end of a long run of special times and festivals in the church beginning with Advent in December, through Christmas, then Lent, then Easter, Ascension Day Pentecost and now Trinity Sunday. From now on we have a long gap of what we in the church call ordinary time, until the end of November when we meet Advent once again.

Trinity Sunday when we think about God, the relationship between Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and where we fit in.

After all the excitement of Pentecost, when we reach Trinity Sunday, it’s time to take a deep breath and wonder about what this all means, after all we have lots of ordinary time to do it in!

There seems no end of metaphors to choose from to try and explain the Trinity … it’s a bit like being Alice when she reached the bottom of the rabbit hole and found herself in the hall of doors, which one do you choose? Which will be the right one?

They all attempt to find that one illustration that makes perfectly clear the idea of three distinct personalities, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, but, all are still that one persona – God!

And whichever one you choose, there’ll be someone to say… No that’s not right you are speaking heresy there!

From the first days of the church people have been asking themselves… just what is the relationship between God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit are they separate entities or just the one? And how can we know how God works?

The early church spent a lot of time thinking and arguing about this question. And the idea of the Holy Trinity was the best they could come up with… for how do you describe God and the nature of God?

Us humans are a very inquisitive race, and we always have to know and understand how something works. Even God himself! We can’t bear
the thought that we don’t know everything about everything!

However, the range of our knowledge is by no means complete.

Scientists are finding out new things that we didn’t know all the time. Just recently discoveries have been made about dark matter, the stuff that fills in the gaps in the universe… and that’s causing some scientists to question Einstein’s theory of relativity… something that we have always been told is something fixed and unchanging. You can imagine that it is very much a talking point amongst the relevant experts!

We don’t know everything… and I think it’s probably very understandable and acceptable that we can’t explain how God works!

But we try anyway… One of my favourite illustrations of the Holy Trinity is this… the Celtic three-cornered knot. It might not be the full story of how God works, but gives us something to think about.

Each corner of the knot represents either Father, Son or Holy Spirit, but if you look closely, you can see that the corners are linked by one continuous line, none are separated. Father, Son and Holy Spirit are unique but also joined, interconnected. And the whole thing together is God.

One of the early church theologians called Augustine described the Holy Trinity as an illustration of ‘God is love’… and this works for me.

God the Father, the lover – God is free – to be the lover and to love his creation and to let it evolve
God the Son the beloved – the one who shows us how to love…
God the Holy Spirit – the love between them which spills out to draw in the rest of the world into that circle.

God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, who came to show us how to love… and by following Jesus’ example, what amazing things could we achieve with love in this world?

And in our Celtic knot there is also a circle that interconnects all three, and I like to think of this as a circle of love… binding the three of the Trinity and binding us within this circle of love. And this circle is expandable! No question of who is in and who is out! There’s room here for everyone.

This whole model is flexible for there are no edges or walls to God!

All the lines here are interconnecting, which is something, as we gradually return to something like normality in our social lives, that we may well have to learn to do again.

Many of us have been separate and apart for well over a year now, and we will have to rekindle friendships and community life. Things may never get back to what they were before. We’ve moved on, some have come to love peace and space, and many of us may never want to return to travelling on crowded public transport as we used to. But we do yearn to socialise and be community again.

A prime example is here in church. When allowed, we’ve been three congregations for nearly a year now. We don’t meet, one group has to have cleared the building before another arrives. I wonder how we can rebuild the fellowship that we had before? How will we interconnect once more – both in church and also out into the community? How will we expand this circle of love?

I think this is the challenge that comes out of our reading from Isaiah this morning… I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send and who will go for us? And I said, ‘Here am I, send me.’

In the coming months when there are no church festivals, we are challenged to find and meet with the God who shows up not only in the more dramatic times such as Lent and Easter, Advent and Christmas, but who meets us also in the rhythms of our daily living: in the patterns and repetitions and rituals that give order to our days; in the relationships and connections that reveal the God who inhabits every day.

The early British Celtic church was fond of prayers about the trinity and the three faces of God in one. So here is a blessing for you.

In this new season

may you know

the presence of the God

who dwells within your days,

the mystery of the Christ

who drenches you in love,

the blessing of the Spirit

who bears you into life anew.

In the coming days and weeks — and in these moments, here and now—how and where will you look for the presence of the God who seeks you with constant love?

Isaiah 6.1-8
John 3.1-17

Not a Ghost, but a New Revelation

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I do love a good book, and I have just a few hundred or so around the house, books to get lost in, books to study, and even more on Kindle. They feel like old friends because I read and re-read them so often, especially over the past year.

My husband says that because I read so fast, I obviously don’t take it all in the first-time around, and that is why I can re-read them again and again.

But that’s the really great thing because there’s always a bit that I didn’t see before or a new insight to be got even from the most Chicky of ‘Chick-Lit’!

My tastes are wide ranging… Austen and Tolkien, PD James and Terry Pratchett, Bill Bryson and Anne Cleeves, Ken Follett, and Anne Perry… I wonder what your favourites are.

But my choices must have a good narrative and well thought out plot. Can’t stand authors who don’t think it through, or worse – don’t bother with their research and get bits wrong! Especially when they are talking about Churchy stuff.

I love the smell and feel of a new book – those crisp pages and an anticipation of what will I find therein? But there again old books have their special smell and feel too. Onion skin paper or thick old paper with uncut pages.

But it’s the story that counts, whether fiction or non-fiction. Every one of us here has a story, the one we could write of our lives – we might think that we have led and ordinary boring life, but the truth is that if we sat down to write about it we would have something to tell, our stories would reflect the times we lived in, who we knew, what we did, the everyday things that seem unimportant to us, but actually are the meat and drink of history!

And when you start setting things down, it is amazing what comes up out of your memory.

A friend has been posting a picture a day recently of Prince Phillip’s official visit in 1974, to the village where I lived, to take a tour of the sailing centre where many youngsters (like me) were working towards their Duke of Edinburgh’s award. I had not been present, having been at work that day, but spotting people that I knew in the photo brings back the memory and the story.

All stories need context so that you can make sense of them. And a slightly annoying thing about the Common Worship Lectionary of readings that we follow means that we often get a bit of scripture that that fits the theme of the week but doesn’t always follow on from what we’ve heard before.

This week we’ve got part of a speech from Acts and from Luke an extract that begins “While they were talking about this”. My immediate thoughts on these two texts are what’s going on here? And What were they talking about?

It would take too long to read out Chapter 3 from Acts and Chapter 24 from Luke, and perhaps that is something you’d like to do at another time, but to put them briefly in context…

In Acts we are listening to Peter who is speaking to a crowd who are amazed by the healing of a crippled man. The man is still holding on to Peter and John as they move away into Solomon’s Portico at the Temple in Jerusalem, with a large crowd following them in astonishment at what they have just done.

Peter uses the amazement of the crowd as an opportunity to tell a story, how God called Abraham, Isaac and Jacob to be a blessing of peace to God’s people. Then God sent his Son Jesus to be one of us, and he did the same.

He puts Jesus right into the story of human history, as he talks about Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. As he does this, he points out to them the failure of people to notice the Messiah, and even the presence of God, in the world.

Some of those present may well have been those who had been part of the crowds of the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ death, even, perhaps one or two who shouted for Barabbas to be released.

Like much of Acts, the story of Peter and John’s interaction with the crowd and with the healed man tells us about the ministry of the Easter church, those very first cautious steps the disciples were taking to carry out Jesus’ commandment to them. They are carrying on from where Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Jesus left off, and their message is that we now continue Christ’s work in the world.

Those activities included being a blessing, changing the way community works, feeding, and healing, the telling of the Jesus story, and then confrontation and speaking out in defence of their faith. I wonder if we sometimes miss a moment to talk about what we believe in?

Because we are all invited to not only follow Jesus but to go out in his name to be a blessing to the world in which we find ourselves – healing, feeding, and sheltering God’s people. We are to make our communities more like God’s family rather than a society that is enslaved to power and wealth.

And that invitation is open to everyone… God has expanded the descendants of his people, those of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to include everyone – all means all.

In the church’s calendar we have moved to the third week after Easter, but in this part of Luke’s Gospel we are still on the day of resurrection. This story follows on from the meeting of Jesus on the Emmaus Road by two of the disciples and their recognition of him when he blessed and broke bread with them.

This is the third of four appearances within this Chapter. The writer of the Gospel of Luke tells us more about the risen Jesus than either Matthew or Mark. And the story is full of images that remind us of Jesus’s appearance to Thomas and the eating of fish in St John’s gospel.

Both texts tell us of astonishment bewilderment and disruption.

In Luke’s Gospel we’re there in the room where the disciples are struggling with their emotions and what is before their very eyes! They are mourning the loss of their teacher and friend whom they know died a few days beforehand. And yet two of their number have unexpectedly come rushing back saying they have been in his company!

And then suddenly he appears among them, seemingly not needing to come through the door! Not only that, but he appears to be living flesh, not a ghost, for his wounds still show and can be touched. Then to prove it further to them he eats some fish! Their grief tells them this is not possible, their eyes and fingers tell them differently, no wonder they appear confused.

But of course, this is the resurrected Jesus… not a ghost, but a new revelation, a transformation. Jesus – capable of being in God’s space and our space. Mind boggling, but this is God at work!

Back in Jerusalem, Peter and John are disrupting people’s understanding by their healing of the crippled man, someone known to all a regular begging figure. Astonishing the crowd by transforming the man from a cripple into a new way of living.

When we revisit these and other stories in the bible, they can seem like old friends and we rediscover where God heals and disrupts lives to reveal himself through Jesus, disciples, and actions of others.

Over the past year we’ve all been living through a time of anxiety, fear and much disruption to our lives. On reflecting back over the past year, I wonder where have we found God disrupting our anxieties and fears, our dead ends, and bringing us to new understandings so that we can live as people of the Resurrection?

ACTS 3.12-19
LUKE 24.36b-48

The Path May Not Be The Most Obvious

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I don’t know how many of you are familiar with Lewis Carroll’s Alice through the Looking glass. In the second chapter Alice is intending to walk from the house through the garden to a high hill that she spies in the distance. Alice sets off on a path that looks to be leading straight up the hill. However, she finds that however far she goes the path seem to twist around and deposit her back at the house!

After many frustrating attempts Alice happens upon a bed of talking flowers (this is Looking glass world after all) and their advice is to go in the opposite direction to get to where she wants to go. This she does and arrives at her goal.

Alice thought, like most of us that the quickest and best way to get to where she wanted to go, was to move in a straight line. And very often this is so, but that’s not always how it happens, and certainly not in the upside down back to front world of the Looking Glass.

Reading the bible, we often find that coming into to God’s presence is not a question of believing and then straight to the kingdom. The Old Testament reading for this morning is how Moses had to move away from his path to investigate the burning bush and look where that took him!

Take our gospel reading this morning, We know that the disciples and Jesus were on this journey to Jerusalem, but they’d gone via Tyre and Sidon and various other places discovering and learning along the way… Peter has come to the amazing knowledge that Jesus is the Messiah, God’s anointed king.

Therefore, in Peter’s mind the next logical move probably went something like this – planning for the journey up to Jerusalem, picking up some supporters along the way, storm the temple and install Jesus in his rightful place as king… simple… the son of man in his rightful place, God’s kingdom is within grasping distance! And there they will be to witness the culmination of God’s plans.

You can imagine their shock when Jesus tells them what’s really going to happen.
Yes, we’re going to Jerusalem, Yes, the kingdom is coming soon, Yes, the Son of man will be exalted… BUT suffering and death must come first.

Peter’s shock leaps off the page… like all of us when confronted with bad news about a loved one, our first reaction is denial… ‘God forbid it Lord, this must never happen!’

Peter’s concern however gets a stinging rebuke from Jesus as he attempts to explain again that the way to the kingdom isn’t as cut and dried as they think it is… especially not for them.

As he explains … they, and anyone else who follows him will be taking up their own cross too… for as Peter has discovered love is cross-shaped. When we love it leaves us vulnerable but can also make us strong in our weakness.

Following Jesus’ is always liable to be an upside down back to front kind of affair because God does not think like we do. We might think that God sees everything back to front, but you could say that actually God sees everything the right way round, and it’s us who are looking in the mirror and seeing things backwards.

Paul has worked this out. In his letter to the Corinthians he states For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. Cor.13.12

Here in our text this morning from Paul’s letter to the Romans, especially the second part, Paul is putting forward how Christians should live in the public world in public life. We can see that to be able to live up to these challenges, especially for those in the public eye, takes real creativity and diplomacy. Revenge, sanctions and reprisals might seem the straightforward thing to do… but does it really solve the problem?

COVID-19 has really changed how we live our lives, has stopped us in our tracks literally during the lockdown, and it will take some time before we can return our lives to something like normal. Especially how we worship for example…

Here we are back in the church again, together but separate. Socially distanced. Masked, and silent. No touching, no physical sharing, no chatting before and afterwards – that’s so not St. Matthew’s. Or maybe we are viewing the service online… each in our own little bubble.

For the church, at this moment in time, this is their cross… how will we continue to go forward? Will the parish church, as some have said recently, no longer exist in the future? Falling congregations mean that parishes may become unable to support the expense of their buildings and staff. This virus has spun us around on the path and we need, as a church to find ways of still being a community, but in a different way to the past. We must not, as a church, cling so tightly to ‘that’s how we’ve always done it’, and try to hang onto those traditions at all cost, that we lose sight of our goal, which is to bring in God’s kingdom. And that bringing in might take us down paths that we haven’t thought of before.

Eventually, Alice finds the red queen and the hill, and we pray that we will one day find God and the kingdom in full view. But, like Alice, the path that takes us there may not be the most obvious one.

In the name of the father…

ROMANS 12.9-end
MATTHEW 16.21-end

Finding Our Roots

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If you are on the rota to read the first reading in the service then you’ll know that It’s not often that the person reading the Gospel gets all the hard names to read out, It’s usually the other way around! But this morning it was the turn of the Gospel reader.

And it’s not often that you hear the genealogy from Matthew’s Gospel read out in church either. It’s not normally included in the lectionary readings.

Over the next three weeks, which include our Harvest celebrations, we are keeping the season of Creationtide.

We’re thinking about our interaction with God’s creation… what comes out of that… and where do we go from here? How faith, love and God in the person of Father Son and Holy Spirit are inextricably linked with and woven into our lives, past, present and future.

In the past few years tracing your family tree has become a popular hobby. We’ve all got a family tree, even if we’ve never been inclined to research it. I’ve been working on mine… Take, for example, the timeline for my great grandmother… she had eleven children and three husbands, at least we think they were husbands and only three of them, but it’s not entirely clear from family stories.

By the time my grandmother was born all the older children had left home and gone their own ways, so she only really knew one of her sisters and a half-brother. There’s a whole tribe of people out there who I’m related to but apart from the names on a piece of paper I wouldn’t know them from a bar of soap. Perhaps you are one of them!

And I really wish that I had spent more time talking to her, getting the stories and the history, knowing where I’d come from and my small place in history.

Jesus’ family tree that’s here in Matthew’s text isn’t really one in the strictest sense. It’s more a statement of his lineage and connection to God’s history with his people, condensed down to the important bits. But that’s not to say that it isn’t true or that ancestry wasn’t important. It was. Jewish lineages were recorded and kept by the Sanhedrin until they were sadly destroyed in AD70. All that history gone at a stroke.

In the western world, for many hundreds of years families have recorded their family timelines in the front of their bibles… and now Matthew records Jesus’ family tree in all our bibles.

A family tree is important as it gives us a sense of identity, who we are and where we’ve come from.

Have you ever watched the programme “Who do you think you are?” a popular programme about tracing the ancestors of celebrities. Who can forget the moment that Danny Dyer heard he was descended from King Edward III? And the thing is that some experts say that because there were so few people living in England at that time, there’s a possibility that any one of us could be descended from medieval royalty, if only we could trace our family back that far.

If you take that theory further… I wonder if there is anyone here who is a distant distant distant cousin of Jesus?

If Matthew’s list of names is not a name by name representation of Jesus’ lineage what’s it doing here.

A roll of drums, a fanfare if you like to announce the coming of the Messiah by his lineage and this one is very impressive indeed. However, it’s also dangerous. If you remember the Christmas story Herod was a puppet king installed by the Romans and was not a popular figure.

So, shouting about the fact that you were descended from a line of ancient kings would not be something you’d want Herod’s spies to know about… Matthew has Jesus right on the edge even before he was born.

But it shows that Jesus has a past rooted deeply in Jewish history… we can see familiar names along the way.

If you read up about the genealogy… there’s a lot of stuff about numbers 7s and 5s and the like, but I’m drawn to the explanation about it being split into 3 sections, 3 promises made by God to 3 people, 3 promises about a son. All very trinitarian.

We’ve God’s promise to Abraham: God promised Abraham that he would have a son and that through his son all nations would be blessed.

Isaac was a bit of a miracle child. His mother was barren, and both his parents were extremely old when he was born. The miraculous birth of Isaac in the Old Testament foreshadows the miraculous birth of Jesus in the New Testament. And Matthew’s genealogy both begins and ends with the miraculous birth of a child in fulfilment of God’s promises.

God’s promise to David: God also made a promise to David about a son.: “When your days are over and you rest with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, who will come from your own body, … Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever.”

God’s promise to the exiles: just as God made promises to Abraham and David about a son, he also made promises to the exiles about a son. We find these promises in Isaiah who foretold the exile. From whence we get the Christmas readings.

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given.”

Remember how Matthew began his gospel in verse one: “A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ the son of David, the son of Abraham.” Jesus is both the promised son of Abraham and the promised son of David.

Therefore, Jesus is the fulfilment of God’s promise to Abraham that all nations will be blessed through him. He is the fulfilment of God’s promise to David that a king will rule forever on his throne. And he is the fulfilment of God’s promise to the exiles that a child will be born who will reign over all. Jesus’ birth is rooted in God’s promises.

And God keeps his promises.

After the flood, when everyone had stumbled out of the ark, God made a promise, a covenant with us….

The Lord said in his heart, ‘I will never again curse the ground because of humankind, …

As long as the earth endures,

  seedtime and harvest, cold and heat,

summer and winter, day and night,

  shall not cease.’

God said, ‘This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations:

Now God loves us very much, but he’s well aware of our backsliding ways and it is becoming obvious that we are not keeping to the task that was originally given to Adam, to have stewardship over the earth, to care for God’s creation, holding up our side of the bargain to enable every living creature that moves on the earth to be fruitful and multiply.

Creation season gives us a chance to stop and think about our place in God’s scheme of things on this earth… just as a family tree places us into history. We can look back and seen the generations stretched out behind us from where we stand in the present.

Sitting here today, we quite possibly have direct link through our ancestors right back to when the first humans were farming in the middle east, as modern mankind spread out from there up into Europe and beyond. And through that ancestry maybe we do a connection to Abraham, Noah and David.

Jesus had a past. He didn’t just spring into being in a stable. Matthew firmly places him in history. His family tree roots him in Jewish history, and it roots him in his humanity. His personal family tree culminated in his birth as something new, a fulfilment of all those promises… and as of that moment he then becomes the common spiritual ancestor of all of us.

 
 
Genesis 8.12-22
Matthew 1.1-17

99p Jesus

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I can’t even remember what I was in the shop for… I’m not a great browser of charity shops. I tend to go in when I’m hunting for something specific… usually for Messy Church or some other church activity… so I guess that’s why I was there in the first place.

Just glancing along the shelves when something just seemed to catch me eye, almost as if the object in question was wriggling around the shelf, trying to attract my attention, but not be noticed by anyone else. “Pssst… over here I’ve been waiting for you!”

So of course, … I had to go over and investigate, and there, sitting on the shelf a bit apart from all the other bits of china, glass and assorted brick a brac you find in such places, was Jesus.

“O hello,” I said, “What are you doing here?”

You’ll be relieved to know that the object didn’t answer, and I hadn’t asked my question out aloud.

But it was Jesus, here he is, a plastic icon, brought from some holy site and then sent off to the Charity Shop, the owner having no real use for it. It’s still in its original wrapper, and popped onto a shelf, all for the bargain price of 99p.

And of course, I had to have him… no idea what I would do, and he’s sat in my study until the readings today brought him back into my mind. For I felt that he had to go with me, and I with him.

My 99p Jesus… but I wonder does that make him any less valuable than priceless?

And that made me think about the value and price we put upon our relationship with God and of course Jesus.

For relationships are valuable in the extreme. When they break down sorrow and anger follow. Look around the world as see the consequences of relationships broken, abandoned and undervalued.

Abram’s relationship with God is truly priceless. We meet him today when he and his wife were still Abram and Sarai… not yet rename Abraham and Sarah by God.

Conversations between Abram and God are always worth listening to. Abram is always upfront with God, he talks almost as an equal but never forgets that God is God… and faithfully does as he is commanded, even to the brink of sacrificing his own son. The very existence of said son which is the subject of todays conversation between God and Abram.

God is speaking to Abram in a vision, God loves Abram and assures him of his protection and that he will reward him for his faithfulness. But Abram needs a son, he has no heir, but a slave born into his household. It’s the one thing that he really, really wants… and God hasn’t so far seen fit to bless them with children. Abram and Sarai are getting on so just when will God see his way to granting this?

God assures Abram that the slave will not be his heir, that he will have offspring to inherit and not only that… Abrams descendants will be as numerous as the stars that he could see in the sky…

That might sound a lot, but did you know that the total number of stars you can see in a clear dark sky is less than 10,000? Compared to the estimated total number of stars that are observable by huge telescopes which is about a billion trillion!

Abram believed the Lord and the Lord reckoned Abram to be righteous.

But their conversation doesn’t finish there…

Abram I brought you out of the land of Ur to possess this land… Abram, slightly doubtful once again “But how am I to know that I shall possess it?

And then we have this strange and somewhat gory ritual between God and Abram with the halved creatures left on the ground for night to fall… Abram is sent into a deep sleep and surrounded by deep darkness God himself in the form of a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passes between the pieces. This is God sealing the covenant, the promise to Abram of the land that he will possess and populate with his descendants.

The ritual described is one like others used at that time… the idea being that if one of the parties broke the covenant made at the time, then they would suffer the same fate as the creatures here had.

God is creating once again… firstly with Adam the world and all living creatures were breathed into being… then with Abram God is bringing into being his people… this story of the origins of the Abrahamic line is not just one that tells about the past but is also a story of the future.

Abrams story seems to underpin all that comes after, including Jesus’ story. Through journeys, callings and covenants.

God called Abram out of Ur to journey with him in a participant in God’s story.

The God reveals himself to Moses and calls him out of Egypt, to journey further with God and his people.

Jesus calls people out of the place where they are to journey onward, continuing God’s narrative.

Looking forward to the Easter story we see the echoes of God’s great Covenant with Abram…

The tearing in half of the temple veil, the division of Jesus’ clothes, the breaking up and harrowing of hell… God passes through sin and death.

Our relationship stories through the centuries with God are not like a train, one truck following after another, each one separated from the next… the whole thing is many layered and piled high, bit like a trifle where the layers are distinct but blend and bleed into one another because none of us are isolated in our own lives and times… what we do is handed down to and affects the next generation and so on.

Jesus knew that the story would go on without him… he knew that he had his work to finish but that his part in the narrative would lead him inexorably to the cross and that it would finish in Jerusalem. And he mourned the culture that oppressed prophets and tellers of the truth.

Reading the text from Luke I wonder where he was standing when he spoke these words. When we visited the Holy Land, we held a service on the Mount of Olives overlooking the city of Jerusalem… these days much spread out and higher, due to the layers of buildings, one on top of another over the millennia. But it’s still possible to stretch out your arms as you stand on the side of the valley and encircle the city… like a hen opens her wings to gather in her brood. To pray for the city that nestles in your arms… I wonder if Jesus did the same.

There is no doubt that sometimes there is a price to pay for our relationship with God. And we cannot help but think of Christians both past and present who have paid with their lives for their faith. And how can we not pray for and have compassion with and mourn for all those lives lost in Christchurch during the week. Ordinary people, praying to God in their Mosques. Killed because they were Muslim. Our hearts go out to them, the victims and their families and friends.

I sit and gaze upon my 99p Jesus… he’s covered in Gold paint and slotted into a plastic holder that’s been sprayed with flock to look like velvet. But what he represents to me and others is the shape of God who loves us and that value is actually priceless.

 
 
Genesis 15.1-12, 17-18
Luke 13.31-end

Bread of Life

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Although the Revised Common Lectionary doesn’t recognise it… we are in Lammastide.

One of the old Celtic festivals at this time of year was later to become part of the church calendar known as the Lammas festival…. held on the first day of August, it was a celebration of the grain harvest. When the first flour from the first milling of the first harvested grain was baked into bread… they called it loaf mass or Lammas.

There have been thanksgivings for harvest going on for as long as humans have been farming… and that’s a few thousand years!

And they’ve always been particularly heartfelt here in the northern hemisphere where we are… bad summers could often ruin a harvest… and a whole run of bad harvests could lead to widespread starvation and outbreaks of illness.

Gradually with the onset of industrialisation the Lammas festival began to die out except in very rural communities.

In fact Harvest Festivals are now more often celebrated in September/October time when all crops have been gathered, not just the grain.

A few years ago I went to an Evening Prayer celebration of Lammas… we sat in a tiny chapel, the door was open and as we worshipped we heard and saw the Combine Harvester going up and down and making it’s turn within yards of where we sat… bringing the world of work and worship so close together.

Flour, Water, Salt and Yeast… put them together and you get this… Bread!

This little loaf represents something so important… Bread is one of the oldest prepared foods we know of. Archaeologists have found evidence in Europe of grains being pounded into flour more than 30,000 years ago. And recently in Jordan they’ve actually found some 14,000 year old bread fragments. And the recipe hasn’t changed in all that time. The domestication and growing of grain was one of the beginnings of settled community life many thousands of years ago.

Bread making really is a sort of miracle in its own right. You take a bunch of things that mostly you would never eat on their own, mix them together, treat it extremely roughly, put it in the oven and then…. well we all love the smell and taste of newly baked bread.

Let’s think about those ingredients for a moment…

FLOUR – For the longest time humans have been using grains in one way or another as food.

The grain harvest is central in many of Jesus’ stories… parable of the sower, , the parable of the rich farmer, and not forgetting in the Old Testament Ruth and Boaz, the story of Joseph, and of course, the provision of Manna to the Israelites in the wilderness that Jesus mentions in our text this morning. I’m sure you can all think of many more.

WATER – Water is something we can’t live without… but we can’t live just on water. We can survive for quite a while on just water, but eventually our bodies will starve from lack of nutrients.

Jesus says I am the living water, come to me and you will never be thirsty.

YEAST – It’s a living thing, yeast. Even this dried stuff… it’s actually live yeast encapsulated by a shell of dried yeast.

Jesus used yeast to describe how the kingdom of heaven would be! That something small like these little beads of yeast, could transform a huge amount of flour into something wonderful!

SALT – When you think about it salt has a most unique taste and action. It’s something we all need for life, can’t exist without it… but a little goes a long way. It adds flavour, makes food seem so much more alive somehow, it has a sharpness about it. Bit like God really, can’t live without him, he adds flavour and excitement to our lives. But too much and it’s overwhelming… Remember the transfiguration when Peter, James and John found the sight of Jesus shining with all the glory of God, a bit too much to bear..

When Jesus said “I am the bread of life” he was reminding them of Moses and the manna from heaven. He was telling them that this was food given by God, but it was physical food, to fill their stomachs, to sustain them in their journeying, to fuel their bodies. But they would still die at the end of their lives. The only way to everlasting life in God would be through him. Jesus is offering his life to all those who will come to him. “I am the living bread. ” Jesus tries to explain it to them.

He wanted them to realise that the fullness of life he is speaking of was not dependant on how full their bellies were. But to be full in a Spiritual sense; not of food or other material things. He offers them a superior sustenance as opposed to the manna of Moses.

John’s Gospel is written for a community living after the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem in 70AD. Faith life is changing, and there is a struggle between Jews who follow Jesus and Jews who don’t.

John through his gospel is giving his community some solid foundations for following Christ. He sees Jesus as a provider and a liberator, a product but also a surpasser of the biblical patriarchs and Moses. For to follow Christ would set you free to step over the boundaries of the complexities of the biblical law as it stood at that time.

I wonder though if we often starve ourselves Spiritually but don’t realise we do it. Think of the last time you felt full in the way you think Jesus was talking about, does church on a Sunday morning always do it for you? There is a God shaped hole inside each of us; Jesus is the answer to fill it. We need to be hungry for Christ.

St Paul – and I’ll say it is Paul, although there are a large number of scholars think that Ephesians was not authored by him – is addressing the churches in Ephesus from his prison cell. It gives practical advice in how to live a holy, pure, and Christ inspired lifestyle, and this part in particular deals with unity.

A Church community is one body in Christ, bit like a loaf of bread. Different ingredients but brought together and transformed into something else something new.

And, like bread, there is a fine balance that needs to be held in tension between individuals and the group as a whole, the church. If you have too much salt, flour, yeast or water or not enough… then you don’t get a perfectly turned out loaf. Individuals need to be free to use the gifts god has given them, and also bringing their unique experiences in life, but also need to be working in unity, with others both inside and outside the group, keeping the peace.

Not as easy as it sounds and Paul doesn’t say it will be. But the roots of the solution lie in forgiveness, forgiveness of each other and the desire to follow in the footsteps of Jesus Christ.

To sum up this portion of Paul’s letter. We all need forgiveness, we all need to forgive. We are all imperfect. Once we recognise this we can start to embrace each other’s gifts. We can begin to even up the balance.

The very last words of the Gospel reading are… “and the bread that I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh” They remind us of the words that we will hear shortly during the Eucharist prayer. “This is my body which is given for you”. The theme of Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians is Unity in Christ… we hear that echoed in the words “though we are many we are one body… because we all share in the one bread”.

In Christ’s footsteps we come together as one body, to share the bread of life, the bread that comes down from heaven… to the people of Galilee, to the people of Ephesus and to the people of St. Matthew’s church, today and always.

 
 
Ephesians 4.25-5.2
John 6.35, 41-51

Mary Magdalene

Love has been the subject of songs since man first began to speak, so it’s not surprising that one has found its way into the bible!

And these verses from the Song of Solomon, or the Song of Songs, along with the text from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, are well chosen to compliment the verses from John’s Gospel of Mary’s first encounter with the risen Christ.

Upon my bed at night


I sought him whom my soul loves;


I sought him, but found him not;


I called him, but he gave no answer.

‘I will rise now and go about the city,


in the streets and in the squares;


I will seek him whom my soul loves.’


I sought him, but found him not.


The sentinels found me,


as they went about in the city.


‘Have you seen him whom my soul loves?’

Scarcely had I passed them,


when I found him whom my soul loves.


I held him, and would not let him go


The Song of Solomon looks at the mystery of Love… love both sensual and spiritual… it’s a celebration of love between two people… In a religious sense it is seen by the Jewish faith as an analogy for the love between God and his people, and in Christianity the love between Christ and the Church.

Here we have two troubled hearts… In the Song, the person in question is searching the city for the lost lover… asking have you seen him whom my soul loves? The lover, once found, is held on to and taken home.

In John’s Gospel Mary Magdalene is at the tomb weeping bitterly for the loss of Jesus. Asking a man who she thinks is the gardener… where have you laid him, have you carried him away?

Today the church celebrates the festival Mary Magdalene – but who was she?

She probably hailed from a village called Magdala on the western shore of the sea of Galilee, so she was called Magdalene to distinguish her from all the other Marys who followed Jesus.

She’d been healed by Jesus. We don’t know what the problem was, but it may have been some severe emotional of psychological trauma.

She was one of the women who supported Jesus’ ministry – probably wealthy – she’s often listed first in the Gospels lists of women who were with Jesus, so someone of importance in that group.

All the gospels agree that she witnessed the crucifixion, and here in John’s account we find her as the first to meet Jesus in his resurrected state.

There are many stories surrounding the relationship between Jesus and Mary Magdalene. Authors such as Dan Brown and Graham Hancock would have us believe that they did, in fact marry, that there was a child, and that after the Crucifixion both Mary and child were spirited away to live in what is now the south of France. Others would have us think that Jesus and Mary were lovers. And every so often a fragment of Gnostic gospel comes to light that appears to support these theories. However Scholars are very, very cautious about giving credence to any of these ideas.

I’m no scholar, but I do think that there was a close relationship, not a marriage, maybe not a physical union… and the reason why not is… because of love.

Jesus was both human and divine, as a human he was a good caring loving man, as divine he knew exactly where he was heading when he began his ministry.

I don’t think he would marry knowing that he would be leaving his wife a widow within a short time, I don’t think he would father a child, knowing that if the authorities would not suffer the father to live, and then perhaps they would take mother and child too.

After all when he was newly born, that’s exactly what Herod tried to do to him.

True love is not selfish… it’s about caring for someone else, not just your own pleasure and comfort.

So here we are with Mary weeping at the tomb…

For love is cross-shaped… it can bring great joy, but also great sorrow… anyone who has loved someone and then lost them, knows how she feels at this moment.

But there are two sides to the cross… one of pain, the one presented to us on Good Friday, and then there is the other side, the one we see today. Where everything is changed forever.

Everything was fulfilled in Jesus Christ and now all is new, all is different.

And so Mary kneels weeping for the second time… once at the foot of the cross and now again here… or maybe she hasn’t stopped shedding tears for three days now. No wonder her eyes are swollen and she can’t see properly. And if we wonder about that, why she couldn’t see… well she wasn’t the only one. The disciples on the road to Emmaus failed to recognise him also. It’s as though we need something else to jog us into recognising his risen body… the breaking of bread, the calling of our names.

And now all changes… for with the calling of her name “Mary”… she sees who it is in the garden with her.

And if you suddenly saw the one person you thought you had lost for ever… wouldn’t you run to them, want to hold them?

But Jesus says no… Do not hold on to me, do not cling to me… I have not yet ascended to my father… sounds a bit strange doesn’t it… almost as if Mary mustn’t touch because the paint is not dry yet on his newly risen body…

But I don’t think so… because very shortly he will invite Thomas to touch him…

If Mary were to cling to him… she would only end up being bereaved all over again. She needs to let him go, needs not to cling to him in her heart in his physical form. For everything is now changed.

Which is exactly what Paul is saying to the Corinthians… he is asking them to see the world with the new eyes of the gospel rather than everything still being the same way that it always was.

For the way of Christ, built on love, challenges old beliefs which hurt and exclude people… something we need to remember in our own times.

And it’s love for our God and for our fellow human beings that inspires us as Christians and members of our communities. Giving up time to volunteer… not just in the church, but out in the community… following a vocation and training for a number of years to either lay or ordained ministry.

Out of love for our neighbours the future of the church is one that I think to a certain extent lies outside our four walls. Going out into the community as church to help, support, to evangelise by people getting to know us through what we do and that church isn’t full of boring, uptight people who are ready to condemn at the drop of a hat.

Coming back into the building for refreshment and inspiration through our worship and being ready to always to show anyone who walks through that door our very best St. Matthew’s welcome in the name of the one whom our soul loves. Why? Because the love of Christ urges us on.

 
 
2 Corinthians 5.14-17
John 20.1-2, 11-18
Song of Solomon (Songs) 3. 1-4

Soon Be Christmas!

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Soon be Christmas!!!!

Yes, I know it’s still August, I know the schools haven’t even gone back yet, but there’s only 121 Days to go… you’d better start planning! The race is off and running already… the Church Times and another worthy organ ‘The Reader’… have recently flooded us with advertisements from the Meaningful Chocolate Company for proper Chocolate Advent Calendars… if you haven’t put your order in by now you might miss out!

My Mum was a great forward planner for Christmas… the Puddings were made in January so they could mature until December, and she invariably bought her Christmas cards in the after Christmas sales… and come September she’d start gearing up… who was going to spend Christmas where and with whom, what should she start to cook and put in the freezer… and come October she’d be wanting to start her present shopping…

But all joking aside… the season is changing… for meteorologists Summer ends on 1st September… looking out of my window I can see the trees at the top of Reigate hill are no longer many shades of green… they are now browns and yellows and greens and some red.

And the light is different, no longer clear white light of summer, but it’s more mellow, golden, and there’s dew everywhere in the mornings…

And whilst there is a sense of an ending of summer, there’s the anticipation of something new too.

It’s the start of a new academic year… lots of new things happening… changing schools, starting school, off to college or university… maybe a new job on the horizon.. or thinking about retirement. Perhaps you think this term I’ll begin a new hobby.

Activities and clubs restarting… old friends to greet and new ones to make.

Who knows what changes will happen in our lives between now and Christmas!

When I was younger the best known bible story was the Christmas one, but followed closely by Moses in the Bullrushes!

I’m not sure how well known it is now among the young generation so it’s good to hear it again.

I’m a great lover of putting narratives from the bible into context. With our modern, western minds, we unconsciously put our own spin onto these stories… We have our own vision of how it was. Thanks, mainly I think to the Victorian illustrators… Jesus was seen as meek and mild, born in a warm, clean stable with lots of straw and lovely animals. Stars in the sky and twinkly angels. Everything with a mellow glow about it.

Moses… born and hidden in the Bulrushes, where the kings daughter finds him and takes him in, and the nurse she employs to look after him just happens to be his mother. All clean and neatly packaged.

But, of course, in reality it wasn’t like that… in this passage from the Old Testament which dates back to roughly 1200 BC, we find echoes of our own world. Issues of race, religion, gender and power, the war on terror, debates over immigration policy…

This extract from Exodus leads on from the end of Genesis. Joseph brought his father Jacob (who is said to have 70 children) their wives and all their households into Egypt. After many years they’ve grown into a large community. They’ve done exactly as required in the opening chapter of Genesis, to be fruitful and multiply.

But the years pass and the Egyptians have forgotten all about Joseph and the relationship they had. They now see the growing number of Israelites as a threat to them, so they treat them harshly. But the Israelites are strong… so Pharaoh in an effort to cut down the numbers decrees that all the baby boys should die and by the hands of the very midwives who deliver them… But the women of Israel who act as midwives would not do this… and Pharaoh instructs his own people to throw the children into the River Nile.

Not the first or the last time we hear of acts of ethnic cleansing it appears again in Jesus’ own birth narrative, Herod’s slaughter of the Innocents so that no King could grow up to overthrow him.

But God has big plans for Moses, so not only does he escape death, he actually ends up being part of the household of the very person who was seeking to kill him.

In Matthew’s Gospel there are a number of parallels between Jesus and Moses.

Both Moses and Jesus are threatened by the hierarchy in their respective birth places, escape genocide and both end up fleeing. Moses leads the people out of Egypt… Jesus escapes with his family across the border to Egypt. There are others too.

Moses, Joseph and now Peter have had their lives changed by a great disturbance, that is God inserting himself into ordinary lives.

All the disciples have been feeling the effects of that disturbance since they met Jesus. They are constantly having to revise their thoughts on themselves, others and God in the light of their proximity to Jesus.

Jesus has taken them well away from where they usually roam for this conversation, so we know it’s something special.

Now Jesus seeks to change them once again, by testing them… easy question first, who do people say the Son of Man is? Everyone can chip in with their answers, what they’ve heard others say. Then Jesus asks them very pointedly…. Who do you say that I am?

And here’s the turning point, the change, another disturbance… for it’s not enough to believe that Jesus is like the other prophets and messengers of God, or just to think that Jesus is a very important person.

And it is Peter who answers, you are the Messiah, the Son of the living God! What he is saying is that you are the true anointed king, the one that Israel has been waiting for, you are God’s adopted son, the one whom the psalms and the prophets have spoken of.

However Peter is not speaking of Jesus as the second person of the Holy Trinity… that concept didn’t exist then… the coming Messiah wasn’t thought to be divine, but someone who would lead Israel out from under their oppressors, specifically at that time, the Romans. Although being around Jesus and hearing and seeing all that he did, must have puzzled the disciples… amongst themselves had they already asked… who was he really? For them this was not resolved until after the resurrection when the phrase Son of God took on a whole new layer of meaning.

But at this point they acknowledge who they think he is… and if they haven’t already done so, at this point they realise that in doing so, they are joining Jesus in challenging the authorities, both Jewish and Roman! Life will never be the same again… they cannot go back to being ordinary citizens… some of them tried after the crucifixion… but it wasn’t to be.

At that moment, after the crucifixion and Resurrection, the world changed. The disciples and all who come after them realise that God had been living amongst us in the person of Jesus Christ. Something Christians accept as part of our faith.

He left us with the challenge of changing how we live, by his commandment to God love and to live in love and charity with our neighbours.

If we do this, then maybe we can break the chain of terror, genocide and hatred that pulls us apart as individuals, congregations, community and nation – a chain that we can see from Moses story, goes way back into history.

Like the changing seasons… you can’t put the green leaves back on the trees.

And that’s the point… when God reaches into our lives and stirs things up we can’t go back. When God speaks to us or moves us towards doing something… when we acknowledge in our hearts that Jesus is the Son of God, and let him into our lives, then we’re changed forever, transformed.

 
 
Exodus 1.8-2.10
Matthew 16.13-20

Are We Nearly There Yet?

When my In Laws were alive they lived in a small Ayrshire town and we’d pop up there 3 or 4 times a year to visit. It took about 8 hours to do the trip door to door. Not a problem for two adults maybe, but when the children came along as you can imagine, it was a bit of a military operation just to make sure we’d remembered everything we’d need for staying up there, and then we’d need amusement for the journey.

When they were very little it wasn’t so hard… they’d sleep most of the way… but once they were 3 and 4 years old… we’d leave armed with story cassettes and any number of games to play in the car.

A family favourite was I-Spy… but there had to be rules… you could not choose something that couldn’t be seen all the time. T for Tractor that had been spotted in a field 20 miles back wasn’t allowed.

This particular game could be the source of much amusement too… my daughter was ok on her initial letters for things, but my son, 18 months younger, sometimes missed the mark. “I spy with my little eye something beginning with S”, stated young Iain very confidently.

And we’d all start guessing. S for shoe, sock, sky??? After about 5 minutes we’d all give up and concede the point to Iain… but what was it he’d been thinking of? Window! He would proudly declare. Cue Great scorn from his big sister Amanda… “Iain… that doesn’t begin with S”… and inter-sibling war would break out on the back seat for a while. But however many games and stories we took along with us, those dreaded words would often come much too soon. I’m sure we’ve all heard them or indeed uttered them ourselves when small. Are we nearly there yet?

Jesus, is having a bit of a similar problem with the disciples… They ask ‘Lord is this the time when you will restore the Kingdom to Israel…?” It’s the New Testament version of ‘Are we nearly there yet?’.

This is what they’ve been waiting for, hoping for, during the three years they’ve been wandering around with Jesus that Israel would be restored to the people through a Messiah. Their hopes had been smashed cruelly when Jesus was killed… but, here he was again… surely if he was back with them, that must be a sign from God that Israel was blessed and would be raised up above all other nations very soon. Then other nations would be judged for their waywardness, but that’s not to say that God’s blessing couldn’t also come upon them and then the whole of creation would be part of God’s Kingdom.

Jesus however, refuses to give a timetable… and You might rightly think that by his answer ‘It is not for you to know the times that the father has set by his own authority’ he meant that now was definitely not the time.

And in a way that’s right… but the real answer is a bit of a paradox… it’s now and not yet!

The ‘now’ as in the fact that Jesus died, was buried… but then came the resurrection, the Ascension is pending and Jesus is exalted and glorified as Israel’s representative.

But not yet… because we are still awaiting a time when the whole world is visibly and undeniably living under God’s just and healing rule. We’re not there yet… we are somewhere between the two points.

It’s a kind of elastic time frame… like when you answer the children’s question of are we nearly there yet… we say not long now… but actually we know there’s a bit to go yet.

And with a few enigmatic words, Jesus disappears in front of their eyes, taken up and away in a cloud.

Once again they have lost their leader and friend. What to do now? It seems like they are back to square one… back in the days after the crucifixion.

Only this time there is a difference. This time they don’t scatter to the winds. They stick together and return… all of them to Jerusalem.

I helped a year five class to prepare a collective worship on this very passage last week. One of their ideas to illustrate Jesus message was this… think of a set of traffic lights. Red is for stop – stop in Jerusalem don’t go rushing off. Amber for wait… wait for the Holy Spirit to come to you. Green for go… then go and be witnesses in Jerusalem, the whole of Judea and to the ends of the earth. Something to remind us of what Ascension-tide is all about.

And when they do return to Jerusalem, it is all of them, Luke gives us their names… we find disciples and family all living together as one community and all praying together. Which is exactly where they need to be, for in a few days time they will face the awesomeness of the Holy Spirit filling and inspiring them to indeed go out to Jerusalem, Judea and the end of the earth.

Here in this passage we have the very foundations of Church as we know it, solidly built on prayer and community together. Worshipping and praying together and then taking out the message of the Gospel into our daily lives.

The subject of prayer leads us neatly into our Gospel reading. Where we find Jesus praying for his disciples.

We know that Jesus often prayed because all the Gospels mention it.. but we don’t know much about how he prayed… was he on his knees, standing up, sitting down… or what he prayed. There are only a few examples of the words Jesus uses in prayer in the Gospels.. for example, at the tomb of Lazarus, and a prayer of thanksgiving in Matthew.

But here the whole of Chapter 17 in John’s gospel is given over to the Prayer of Jesus for his disciples.

This lovely prayer commends the disciples and all Christians who follow thereafter into God’s care. Jesus prays for God’s protection for them and us…’I am no longer in the world’ he says…’but they are, and they need your protection’. Protection so that we may continue to work to bring us ever nearer, inch by inch towards that final goal. That we may be as one as Jesus and the Father are one. Together in prayer and community bringing in the kingdom.

Are we nearly there yet? No we are not… not while there is hatred and fighting in the world. Not while there are attacks on innocent people such as the Manchester bombing and all the other places in the world where suicide bombers have killed those around in the last few weeks. And be very sure… these acts are not caused by God, God doesn’t allow them to happen. Humans beings have made choices about ending other people’s lives… they could have chosen otherwise.


There may not be much parity between life in the Middle East and life in the west, but in shared grief and horror we can show our solidarity in prayer.

This week has been designated by the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby for a global wave of prayer. Churches throughout the world are joining together as one praying community.. to pray for peace and justice and for anything really that affects their community.

It goes under the umbrella title of ‘thy kingdom come’… a line from the Lord’s prayer, but also the essence of the job that Jesus left us with. To bring in that kingdom by going out into the world, supported by the love of our Christian community and their prayers.

A number of churches are opening their doors this week for prayer and St. Matthew’s is no exception.

The Church will be open from 11am to 5pm on Wednesday for anyone to come in and pray…. to sit quietly in church or maybe light a candle or to engage with one of the prayer stations that are planned.

An opportunity to intercede with God on behalf of ourselves and others as Jesus did for us.

So do try to come along if you can.

Are we nearly there yet? Well yes, we are nearly there in terms of waiting for the end of this sermon!

But in terms of God’s kingdom… well we’ve a fair bit to go…and the journey may seem like a very long one but one day that kingdom will come, fully and finally and we will have arrived.

 
 
Acts. 1.6-14
John 17.1-11

Blown Away!

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High up on the battlements the wind was howling and the rain was lashing across the sound in a horizontal sort of fashion. White horses were riding across the sea and every so often the wind would whip up a sort of whirlwind of spray and send it scurrying across the water.

The wind was blowing so hard that it was hard to stand up against it… peeking through the gaps in the crenellations, if you were to be called to lose an arrow against pirate raiders, then the wind would surely carry it off course… a shot from the cannon would not fare much better…

The only defence you could really rely upon was solid walls three metres thick, perched high up on a cliff face surrounded on three sides by the sea…

It really was like that… one by one the more hardy of us pilgrims ducked through the door to the battlements of Duart castle on the island of Mull to get a taste of the elements… and the view.

Some of you may have seen Fr. Andrew’s FB post about being blown away by Iona, and wondering is this going to be a ‘what I did on my pilgrimage talk? Well of course it is!

Can’t spend a week like the last one without coming back to share some of it with you. There are many, many stories, we all have some… and I’m sure that they will come out over the following weeks and months. But a common theme will be…. the weather! An autumn equinox storm to be exact – south westerly gales with plenty of rain! Which sadly meant that due to the ferries cancelling afternoon sailings we could not spend much time on Iona itself.

Odd person that I am, I rather enjoy wild weather… I find the wind and the rain strangely exhilarating

So I should have been in my element during our pilgrimage to Iona last week!

And I was… and yes it was disappointing that we were only able to spend a couple of hours on the island itself…. but what an intense experience that was!

I shared with the rest of the group on the last evening, that I’d felt a particular parallel between ourselves and Colomba and his community as we set foot upon the island. It was pouring with rain, it was windy… a set of weather conditions which are by no means unusual for that area… so those first monks may well have landed in exactly that sort of weather….

But for them there would have been no sturdy stone Abbey to welcome them at first…. just crude wooden or canvas shelters, built by them… which may have been frequently damaged by the south westerly gales that often blow through.

A shared hardship can often strengthen and bring together a community… as we all walked through the downpour and up to the Abbey we shared a little of that, especially those whose waterproofs didn’t quite live up to their name.

It’s a very special place and we had the great privilege of being able to have our own service of Holy Communion there… it was a special time of quietness, prayer and sharing, not only of the Eucharist with one another, but also with a couple of people from another tour party… and all in the presence of the stones of the Abbey, many of which date back to the original building… but during those years have absorbed the prayers and praises of community and pilgrims alike.

Rocks and stones are a major feature of those islands… towering hills all around, huge boulders strewn around the landscape by retreating glaciers and so many buildings made from the local stone…

Thick walls were a feature of many buildings… in our hotel the outside wall in my room was a good 18inches thick… and this in a building certainly built within the last 50 years.

The guide at Duart Castle was keen to point out the depth of the walls in the building… they range from just over two metres to three metres thick…. built to keep out raiders and enemies and also the weather.

Standing in teeth of the sixty mile an hour gale outside the walls (this was by no means the wildest of weather that they experience on the headland), just standing there and be buffeted just for a short while, makes you appreciate just how much battering those walls take on a regular basis.

We were told that the walls had been restored with cement during the 1990s, but was now being redone as cement was quite the wrong thing to use… it should be lime mortar if they wanted the walls to remain standing. So I asked a pilgrim who is expert in these matters to explain why.

Cement will set hard and stiff, it will not move as the building flexes when the weather buffets against the walls. It will over time begin to crack, which will let water in… if the water freezes it will expand and make the cracks bigger, over time this expansion and contraction will loosen the stones and they will tumble!

Lime mortar however, has a certain amount of flexibility and moves with the building… result, no cracks and your walls stand firm and straight.

This business of walls and flexibility strikes similarities with the readings that we have heard today….

Our readings today are talking about what our faith is based upon… what is the bedrock the foundation…. Paul describes it well as the prophets, the apostles with Christ as the cornerstone… the one stone that all others are measured from.

Jesus is upset at the moneychangers and sacrificial animal sellers in the temple. I don’t think it was the actual selling of the animals that he was cross about, after all he, as a practising Jew, would have bought them himself for that purpose… but these animals could only be bought within the temple precincts, they could only be bought with special money to be got from the money changers…. whose rates of exchange were set between themselves and the authorities… the people had no choice but to go to them. They were probably being exploited by both the money changers and the animal sellers.

This was a practice that was ring fenced, rigid and not to be changed… until one man, called Jesus walked through the door and caused a right storm.

How often do we joke about things being ‘done like this for the last 150years, no need to change it now.’

Is the mortar that holds our Christian community together flexible like lime mortar that moves with what is thrown at it… can we move with the times? Can we as a church both nationally and locally make the changes that will keep Christianity alive and well for the next two thousand years…. or are held together with rigid cement that holds everything in a just as it was and always will be… but in reality is steadily crumbling away as the stones begin to loosen and fall apart… as the structure is not and cannot be flexible.

I rather hope that we were more like Saint Colomba and his community… open to the elements and the world, anyone can come in.. but together gradually building a structure on firm foundations, held together with that most flexible of mortar – love for one another – that can go on expanding to admit anyone who wants to be loved by God, and walk in the way of Christ Jesus.

I guess most of this sermon has come about because of my experiences of the weather at Duart Castle on Mull rather than Iona. But isn’t that what pilgrimage is about… meeting Jesus along the way… finding him in all sorts of places, walking round the corner of a castle wall and standing there together wind blowing your hair straight back. Or standing on the deck of the ferry, rain streaming down our faces and laughing at the raindrops…

Praying in a stone abbey – Jesus there, with us at the very heart of our pilgrimage as we broke bread and shared wine in a circle around the altar…

Maybe we didn’t achieve all that we set out to… but God provided other experiences for us. I haven’t even begun to tell you of rainbows and waterfalls! Another time maybe.

Blown away by Iona? You bet!

 
 
Ephesians 2.19-22
John 2.13-22