Reflection for Sunday 5th July 2020 by Barrie Cran

Readings:Genesis 24:34-38;42-49;58-67, Romans 7:15-25a, Matthew 11:16-19;25-30

“He’s a nice man, a very nice man”.  That was the catch phrase of an advertisement for breakdown cover a few (probably many) years ago.  The idea that “nice” is something to aspire to is probably quite close to society’s view of the perfect clergy or other church leader.  We don’t want them to be too controversial or make us too uncomfortable.  We want them to reassure, to be beside us when things are a bit tough and generally be inoffensive.  For many the idea of a “perfect” Christian is someone who gets along with everyone and is generally a “very nice person”.

But what we read in the Gospel today is all about not conforming to society’s view of “nice”.  At its heart here is a contrast between John the Baptist whose ascetic lifestyle and call to repentance rang a chord but perhaps wasn’t a lifestyle the people really wanted for themselves.  And on the other hand, we have Jesus who, let’s face it, wasn’t exactly the sort of man you wanted your nice daughter to bring home; plucking grain on the sabbath, associating with sinners, touching lepers and even getting along with those hated instruments of Roman rule, the tax collectors!  Let’s face it, neither John nor Jesus were what you might call “nice”.

But, to be honest, that’s not our calling either.  We are called to stand up for God in the here and now.  To stand up against sin, to seek out and follow what is right.  Sometimes that is tough, sometimes it makes us unpopular, sometimes we will get it wrong, sometimes we will hurt people, even people dear to us.  That’s not nice, but it may be the right thing to do.

The difficulty of course, is knowing what the right thing is.  Paul wrestles with this in his letter to Romans, a challenging read.  Perhaps we can seek to distance our own person by thinking of this as an autobiographical treatise.  Or maybe it’s about the state of all of us; just replace ‘I’ with ‘one’ and read it again.  Does that apply to you because it certainly applies to me?  Do you struggle with sin? Because I certainly do.  Is it the law that makes me sin because it points out what is wrong, or is it truthfully me that makes me sin?

So, I am sorry to prick any faltering illusions in your mind, I am NOT a “nice” man.  But I strive to be a loyal follower of the Gospel.  There are many times and myriad ways when I fall short, mainly because I am conceited enough to think I know best when often I don’t.  But there are also times when I can see clearly and need to take a stand against things that are wrong.  And that is sometimes not thought to be “nice” either.  We do spend a lot of our time avoiding the tough things, fearful of the consequences perhaps; maybe seeking the reassurance of not being alone.

Currently we hear a lot about Black lives matter and there are people seeking many different forms of protest in support (and indeed counter-protest against it!).  Some forms of protest appear downright foolish, perhaps thuggery.  But to me the true courage is those who stand out on their own.  I am minded of Rosa Parks in the US all those years ago – on her own protesting on a bus.  I think also of the picture of the Black Lives Matter protestor carrying an injured, white, counter-protestor.  Both of these are, I think, examples of doing the “right” thing even if, in the surroundings of the time it was not the “nice” thing, not the expected thing, to do.

So, I can relate to Paul’s internal struggles as he describes them in today’s passage.  I can understand where he comes from.  But for Paul, there is nothing haphazard or careless in his words.  His words are deliberate, measured and written with an effect in mind.  Paul wants us to recognise this struggle, Paul wants us to accept that this struggle is there within us all.  Paul doesn’t want us to meet society’s expectations and be “nice”.  Paul wants us to live up to Jesus’ expectations.  But there’s a snag – we aren’t up to it!

However, as well as a snag there is a help, more than a help, there is rescue at hand.  Rescue through the risen Lord.

And rescue doesn’t come like children squabbling, rescue doesn’t come through strict obedience to the law, in all its detailed requirements.  Rescue doesn’t come by being “nice”.  Rescue comes by coming to Jesus with all our sins and weaknesses; all our doubts and imperfections; all the hurt we have inflicted and received.  Rescue comes by bringing all our burdens, by bringing the things that grind us down and wear us out.  Rescue comes by swapping our yoke, self-inflicted by all that we do and say, for Jesus’ yoke.

We are promised that Jesus yoke is easy and the burden light.  This is not because we will instantly become “nice” but quite the contrary.  Jesus yoke is heavy from the world’s perspective, but it is light because Jesus does most of the carrying for us!  Jesus will give us the peace to be quiet and humble in our hearts no matter what is going on within us and around us.

The Christian life is not easy.  The Christian life is not “nice”.  The Christian life does not mean we will always be right.  The Christian life does not give us the right to be arrogant or self-centred.  The Christian life will be a constant struggle to find the right thing to do (or not do!).  The Christian life is doing this at home, at work, at play, as well as at church.

I for one do not find this easy, far from it.  I know I make mistakes.  But I seek to do the right thing not the “nice” thing.  I seek to have integrity rather than curry favour.  I seek (and fail!) to do this in humility and love. But I am supported and sustained in that sometimes it is not me carrying Jesus’ yoke but Jesus’ yoke holding me up.  So, I will go to Jesus as I am, heavy laden, and I will lay my-self and my sins before him.  I will trust in the answer Paul gives to his question “who will rescue me…”

“Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

Welcome: Reflection for 28th June 2020 by Alan Finch

Readings: Genesis 22:1-14; Psalm 13; Romans 6:12-23; Matthew 10:40-42

A cup of cold water, seems a simple thing to us but I guess in Palestine a cup of cold water would be more significant as Jesus says in our Gospel ‘whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward’.  We are as we know still in ‘lockdown’ and we are worshiping from our homes albeit in the certain knowledge that many; many others are also worshiping and giving thanks to God for each blessing no matter how small or seemingly insignificant.  Each person that survives this awful disease and comes home to loved ones or the inspiring ways Care Homes have developed ‘safe’ ways for relatives to see and talk in person even if that is either side of a Perspex shield is to be blessed.   Psalm 13 perhaps echoes our own plea that we do not want to be forgotten the psalmist says –  ‘How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I bear pain in my soul, and have sorrow in my heart all day long? 

Now in the context of the Coronavirus Pandemic we too pray that it will not go on for ever and God will intercede by giving strength to each of us to do our bit and the determination of the researchers and vaccine developers to produce a vaccine that will protect us in the future against re-occurrences of    COVID-19 .

St Paul in Romans 6 speaks out to us not to give in to our own wants and desires, but to seek to be ‘slaves’ to righteousness and by keeping ourselves focused we will reap the reward of the free gift of God which is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.   At this time I think there are a lot of distractions and things to move our focus from what God is asking of us to seeking our own, perhaps more selfish needs.  At this moment in time we naturally worry about our own problems caused by the lockdown and for some these are great; little or no income or a reduced income; loss of employment; worry how we will feed our children; or feelings of loneliness and depression or becoming mentally strained and whilst all of these are important we are called by God to be challenged; challenged by God as Abraham was; to have faith and think not of our own worries but those of the silent ones those ‘little children’ as Jesus talks of, that’s all of us; adults and children who are being abused behind closed doors, those young folk for whom learning is difficult in ‘normal times’ but now are being asked to run harder to catch up when theirs is an uphill struggle just to get by.  There are many too who are being taught at home and very well  they are being taught but are no longer able to socialise and learn the  skills that are so important; how to interact with other people and work out ways to discuss and argue in order to come to a mutual understanding of each other’s view.  We adults find that hard enough and seemingly we who profess to be followers of Christ Jesus seem to find it difficult to come to a common understanding of what it is to have Faith and be a follower Jesus.  One of the blessings of the lockdown for me is that we seem to be able to all come together under the one umbrella of Faith in God through Christ Jesus and KNOW through the on-line worship we are all welcomed into God’s family.  We are comforted by seeing the names and locations of people from all over the world joining to what is a common worship of God’s love, surely a step towards the Kingdom here on earth.  Our love for one another is the most important thing.

So being able to open our hearts and minds to welcome all-comers should be our focus, a focus then on welcoming.  One thing that I have pondered much about during this time of isolation is that we as humans (it is seemingly built into our very nature) make instant judgements about people and situations; and it is sometimes very difficult to undo our first impressions. BUT I believe that is what Jesus was speaking about in the Gospel passage we read today.  I remember being taught at work that just make sure your first presentation was a good one because it will keep you in good stead for any subsequent ones that might be not quite as good in the future!  

You see, in our Gospel today Jesus uses the word “welcome” six times in only three verses and points us to the importance of what being hospitable is in bringing about the Kingdom.   It strikes me then that what we are being asked to do through this passage in Matthew, is to consider more deeply what it means to welcome one another.    

Now in times of lockdown we are severely challenged to seek what being welcomed is; it cannot just be a physical one of embracing our friends, neighbours families or church families so what is it then?   Perhaps it is the acts of kindness, even very small ones, as even the smallest of good deeds is a little thing done in love. The cup of cold water is the symbol of that. It doesn’t take much to be hospitable, welcoming, and accepting of other people.   In the passage it is a cup of cold water that is given as the example and can be replicated in a host of other simple, small deeds.  Jesus tells us that every single one of those small deeds is important; indeed significant if we are to get our reward.   It doesn’t take much; every one of us can achieve these things, and every one of us can make that difference. We can find God in the smallest of good deeds.  It is sometimes easy to forget the Christian paradox that it is in giving that we receive and it does not matter when or under what circumstances we find ourselves; and these are certainly unusual times, we should endeavour to practice welcoming.  Welcoming in all of the ways set out in Matthew because it is in our deeds no matter how big or small that we show our love of Jesus by welcoming others into our hearts and through our deeds we indicate to Jesus our love for Him and therefore let Him into our hearts.  We are all ‘little ones’ in the sight of Jesus so whatever we do for others, is as if to give a cup of cold water to the little ones, and we then have let Jesus enter us, so we too can experience the welcome of Jesus.  Paraphrasing what Jesus said; ‘it is in losing your life that you will find it’ and It is in welcoming others that you experience Jesus’ welcome

Whoever gives you even a cup of cold water… will most definitely not lose their reward.

Curate’s Letter: Life as normal? Or, life as God wants it?

One of the things I remember reading near the start of this lockdown was a conversation from a mother to her daughter. Her daughter was bored, soon after lockdown began. The mother urged her daughter to keep a journal because she said that in decades to come, the daughter would recall the events around the pandemic and relay them to her grandchildren. Into that journal would go the best and the worst, because that is what happens when you write a journal. Emotions and facts are poured into the pages, that as soon as the page is turned, are kept hidden, until someone years later opens the journal and reads of the struggle of life under lockdown.

Last month I asked if we were up for the adventure of life after lockdown before we know what’s coming. I’m still asking that question. Most of us probably want things to stay as exactly as we can control. But that’s not what life is about, is it? Life itself isn’t black and white, it’s neither one or the other. Controlling others’ lives is neither freeing for ourselves, or for the people around us. For example, dictating who should sit on church committees because ‘they’re not like us’ shows a distinct lack of compassion. Perhaps you think the word ‘dictate’ is too strong a word? Perhaps I should describe the mechanism of exclusion and elitism? Perhaps I should describe it as privilege, in the sense of white, middle-class, and in the ‘in-group.’

It should be a privilege to serve on Vestry, to come alongside others who, like you, are struggling in their spirituality but want to serve God. It should be a humbling experience to serve God in any way we can – whether that is in the community, or in church. We should be open to explore others’ points of view with a wide variety of backgrounds, colour and ability. We should be willing to include anyone who wants to serve God, understanding that in our diversity the church has a greater chance of survival.

As the different regions of the UK begin to ease out of lockdown, we wonder whether life as normal will continue? Perhaps, for some of you, life has continued as normal and you’re wondering what all the fuss is about. Perhaps you’re wondering when church as normal is going to get going. I put it to you that church ‘as normal,’ here in Caithness wasn’t exactly welcoming to many people I have spoken to. I would include words that I have used elsewhere – such as white and middle-class and who’s in (and therefore who’s excluded).

Over the past few months, I have rung around a great many people, seeing how they are – rather than focussing in on the few who I know struggle or are housebound. I have spent much of my curacy saying sorry to people who have been hurt by anger in the church, those who wish to control, those who wish to have things exactly the way they want, those who have excluded others on some extraordinary impolite basis. And I am still saying sorry. The numbers of people whom I have not reached has vastly reduced, and I now have over one hundred people regularly receiving from the church across Caithness. That doesn’t include associated people in the care homes or other community initiatives.

I can now count on two hands those across Caithness whom I have not managed to reach for one reason or another. To those, if you’re reading this – I would love to make contact.

I, personally, don’t want to go back to ‘church as normal.’ As it was. I would love to see a church that is vibrant, welcoming, as diverse as it can be. No longer white, middle-class and privileged. And I can imagine some of you saying that introducing change like that is too fast, or it’s up to me to do all those things. I am not the church. The two churches in Caithness are not mine, but then again, neither are they yours. They belong to God and we, as a team, need to steward them with hearts full of care and compassion. Reaching out to those who no longer pop in – either on a Sunday or any other day of the week. 

Another quote I saw early in lockdown was an imagined conversation between the devil and God. The devil claps his hands in glee at the church buildings with their doors shut, and says ‘See… I have stopped church in its tracks.’ And God turns around and responds ‘Ah, but now I have church in every home.’

The paradox of lockdown of the church buildings was done out of love, and the gradual and cautious opening up of them will be done with love as well. The Vestries are working through guidance that the College of Bishops have issued. They will need to discuss all of the implications and prove to their diocesan bishop that they can meet all of the requirements before the church doors open for private prayer. 

In the meantime, services and Evening Prayer continue online – with as much access as we can provide. More people are accessing services online than physically come into our church buildings. What does that say about our attitude to Sunday services and church in general? Last month I wrote that we have to learn to let go of that way of ‘doing things.’ We have to let our favoured ways of doing and being church slip away. Church is not there for our possession. The church is not an object that can be misappropriated for our own means.

Life as God wants it doesn’t have ‘I’ in it. It doesn’t have self-justification, and apologies – saying sorry  – doesn’t come with a ‘but’ in the sentence. Life as God wants it is full of grace, it listens and is compassionate. It reaches out, out of our comfort zones. Love is the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, the being of God, and the meaning of humanity. This love was poured out on us at Pentecost, and it is up to us all to share it with everyone. Regardless of status, colour or ability. With hearts full of care and compassion, the church – the people – is embedded into the community, rather than sitting on the side-lines watching the world pass it by. There is no age-limit to bringing in that sort of change. All that is required is a compassionate heart and a willingness to pray. 

This, then, is where we need to begin. To understand that church is not a business and cannot run on a business model. It is a living, breathing organic structure that needs to flex and change and adapt as circumstances require. Prayer should be at the heart of all we do and say – it is only by submitting ourselves to God as individuals that what we do and the way we see others will begin to change. Prayer will help our way out of lockdown, and prayer will enable the Church in Caithness to grow. Please pray with me…

Reflection for June 21st 2020

Compassion, Kindness and Provision – Remembering the Persecuted Church

by Sue Berry

ReadingsGen 21:8-21, Matt 10:24-39, Rom 6:1-11, Ps 86; 1-10, 16 17. 

Today our reading in Genesis looks at the distressing circumstances faced by Haggar and her son Ishmael who have been cast out and left to wander through the desert. Whilst in Matthew’s gospel, the reading focuses on Jesus’ words of warning and encouragement to the disciples, about what to expect when the gospel is shared. He encourages them not to fear. Woven through both stories are the compassion, faithfulness and provision of God in the face of persecution. 

Abraham has two sons. The first, the son of a slave woman, is born out of Abraham’s and Sarah’s understandable doubts that God promises will be fulfilled. The second child is born to them in their old age against all odds. During a household gathering both Ishmael and Isaac are playing and enjoying themselves, all however is not well. Sarah does not want to see the son of a slave woman as a reminder of her long wait and sorrow to inherit along with her son. She wants this slave woman to be cast out; Abraham on the other hand doesn’t want to do it. Ishmael after all is his son too. God tells Abraham to do what Sarah wants. It is through Isaac the promise is fulfilled. However, God reassures Abraham that Ishmael too will be the father of a nation. Abraham rises early in the morning, puts food and a skein of water on her shoulders and sends away his son with the boy’s mother to wander in the wilderness. She has nowhere to turn no options to return to the household she’s left and is facing a perilous situation. 

Hagar places Ishmael under a bush not wanting to see him die. She lifts her voice and weeps. God hears the boy and an angel speaks to her asking why she is troubled, telling her do not be afraid. God has heard the voice of the boy where he is. She is instructed to lift up the boy and take his hand. They are given a miraculous provision of water and life.   God is bringing new life to both Abraham’s and his sons in their stories. Ishmael’s story tells us about God’s care and providence. We cannot limit God’s mercy. God hears the cry of the abandoned. God hears the cry of the outcast and God saves.

In the passage from Matthew’s gospel Jesus brings a message of encouragement to his disciples and tells them not to fear. Three times in this passage Jesus tells them not to be afraid when persecution happens as the good news of freedom in Jesus is shared. Jesus assures them that the truth will be revealed there will come a day when things will be seen as they really are and the power of the persecutor and the heroism of Christian witness will be seen at their true value, each will have its true reward and justice. Jesus encourages them to change their focus and to have a reverent fear for the Lord God, who has the ultimate authority and who can take the ultimate actions in his judgements, which have eternal rather than temporal consequences.

In the early church the Apostles were to die for their faith as they shared the gospel of Jesus Christ. They underwent suffering and persecution as their stories unfold in the book of Acts and elsewhere. Persecution has followed believers down through history.

For millions of Christians around the world today, following Jesus is a highly dangerous activity and at the very least it means facing abuse and discrimination, imprisonment or even death. Many lose their livelihoods or their homes. Families disown their Christian members turning their backs, severing relationships and causing multiple hardships. Millions have to keep their faith hidden, because following Jesus puts them outside the law. Following Jesus sets people free. To those in power – the dictators and religious leaders, the violent extremists, the rubber-stamping bureaucrats, freedom is a toxic substance. Despite the danger Christians in these countries are still sharing the good news of Jesus. In North Korea, Iran, China, Nigeria and in places where persecution is happening – Jesus Christ is building his church. It is growing.

Jesus also reminds his disciples of God’s compassion and provision. In his illustration of the sparrow a bird that appears to be of little value. God sees the sparrow’s activity (the word fall in the reading means to hop around, alight on the ground to feed and so on) and cares for it. How much more then that He cares for people. In the Genesis reading we see Ishmael and his mother suffering through the actions of others, abandoned and rejected. In the second we see that persecution will come to the disciples; both had consequences and outcomes which God would work in and through. 

God is in control and sees the bigger picture. The instruction not to fear is highlighted in both readings. In these times fear has abounded much, affecting human behaviour with difficult consequences. Jesus wants us to know that he sees all the details of our lives. He wants to meet our needs, walk with us through the difficulties, bringing His hope, His compassion and His love to where we are. We are not forgotten; we are loved with an everlasting love and nothing can separate us from it. Whatever we may face we have one who intercedes for us Jesus Our Lord and Saviour. 

The following prayer reminds us of those who suffer, of all who are persecuted and those who are responsible. 

Father, thank you for inviting us into your family. Help us now to listen to your voice and know your presence each day. We pray for our brothers and sisters around the world who may be feeling lonely or isolated. We pray that they would be encouraged and supported at this time. We remember those are imprisoned because of their faith in You. We ask that they would be strengthened and know your presence. We pray for those dealing with trauma, violence and loss. We ask they would know Your comfort and peace. We pray for those who are vulnerable in the global coronavirus lockdown. Help Your Church to share Your Love and light, even in the darkest situations. Help us to live out our faith with greater boldness and passion. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen      

by Open Doors

If you would like to find out more Open Doors serves the persecuted church world-wide information and prayer resources can be found at The image is by Elizabeth Lay: God will take care of you.

June 14th: The First Sunday after Trinity. By Rev Fran.

Genesis 18:1-15;     Psalm 116:1; 10-17;   Romans 5:1-8;    Matthew 9:35-10:8

Like many people in this unexpected new world we have, I have found that seemingly unimportant events happen which have had a greater impact than  I expect.    One early morning in the glorious sunshine of April, a sudden flash of gold held me mesmerised.    A pair of goldfinches (I think) were settling on the topmost branch of a bush in the garden.     Glowing and illuminated by the sun, they started to sing their hearts out.   Wonderful.

Another mesmerising event was to come across the Self-isolating Choir singing the Halleluia Chorus.   Another is that a pleasant person whom I have not seen for over a decade, delivered an order to my door.  Another is being able to attend worship services all over the world.    The list could go on and on.

Today’s readings from the Old and New Testaments reflect a brave new world for the characters in them. Abraham welcomed his visitors, not knowing who they were and his brave new world started then following from when God changed his name from Abram to Abraham many years previously.    In Hebrew the name Abram had the meaning “noble father” and Abraham that of “father of one great nation”.   He was to be the ancestor of Jesus as Matthew emphasised at beginning of his gospel and so  his nation was not to be a local but a global one – the  nation of those whose belief is that Jesus is the Son of God.  

Sarah’s name too had been changed from “princess” to “Princess” – and her brave new world meant that she gave birth (hard enough at any time, but worse the older a person is) and because of that meeting under the trees at Mamre  Abraham became the ancestor of Jesus, and the father of a nation of believers.   St Paul wrote to the Galatian believers, “If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Gal. 3:29).    Great changes indeed for Abraham and Sarah.

The Gospel reading tells of great changes  and brave new worlds for the many who were healed from “every disease and sickness”  by Jesus and for the disciples who were given authority to “drive out impure spirits and heal every disease and sickness”.   Social, possibly psychological, changes for the sick who could then go about a normal life of work, such as, attending the synagogue, being a member of a family, meeting their friends.  For the disciples too,   no longer pupils but recipients of the gifts of healing, of exorcism, of raising the dead.  A brave new world for them, socially, psychologically and emotionally, and they would need to be brave to use those precious gifts.

But one of the by-products of change can be loss.   For many in our new world,  the greatest loss is the loss of freedom, the loss of the familiarity of what was before the pandemic.    The things taken for granted, popping out to the shops, visiting neighbours and other small events, or the big things such as moving house,  visiting people who mean a lot in our lives, attending funerals, getting married.  

In its wake, change can bring grief to a greater or less extent.  Christians express their grief at not being able to attend church to worship and pray in the company of fellow believers.    Virtual services are a change and are inspiring, but they can emphasise what we have lost, not just a building, but the body of believers together and the loss of that togetherness may have psychological and emotional  effects.

The excerpt from St Paul’s letter to the Romans, headed “Peace and Hope” in my Bible, gives a message for this time in our history when he sums up our belief in his description of the faith which we have.   His letter talks of the faith which Christians have, that Jesus died so that everyone can approach God knowing that they are loved by Him, each and every one, in this new world of ours, and that the Spirit has been given to encourage and complete this knowledge.

To hold on and increase our faith in this time is a challenge which has been given   this year by the changes in society and life-style.   May we all accept this challenge  and help others to do so.

In his second letter to the Thessalonians (3:3) Paul reminded them that “The Lord is faithful, and He will strengthen and protect you from the evil one.”    Something for us all to remember. 

Above all, remember that God does not change.      Amen.

Trinity Sunday, 7th June 2020

Readings: Gen 1:1-2:4a, Psalm 8, 2 Cor 13:11-13a, Matt 28:16-20 – by Rev Ellie

I used to quake when asked to preach on Trinity Sunday. What can be said that hasn’t been said before? Why do we have a separate Sunday for something that we celebrate every Sunday? Well, before I get into the nitty gritty, I want to share a few things with you. If we had an overhead projector in church, I would include some clips in our service. Because you’ll be reading this in your own time at home, I include these clips in their entirety for you to peruse.

The first is a YouTube video titled ‘St. Patrick’s Bad Analogies.’ This pokes fun at some of the analogies used and some of the heresies that the analogies illustrate. It’s the one time that if anyone says to you: ‘The Trinity is like…’ then I suggest you leave. 

Jesus describes many things in the New Testament as being like something. But the Trinity is a post Biblical concept that tries to describe the essence or being of God, Son and Holy Spirit. It is not a word that appears in the Bible.

The Athanasian Creed is printed below – give it a brief read. 

Athanasian Creed

WHOSOEVER will be saved: before all things it is necessary that he hold the Catholick Faith. Which Faith except every one do keep whole and undefiled: without doubt he shall perish everlastingly.

And the Catholick Faith is this: That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity;

Neither confounding the Persons: nor dividing the Substance. For there is one Person of the Father, another of the Son: and another of the Holy Ghost. But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, is all one: the Glory equal, the Majesty co-eternal.

Such as the Father is, such is the Son: and such is the Holy Ghost. The Father uncreate, the Son uncreate: and the Holy Ghost uncreate. The Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible: and the Holy Ghost incomprehensible. The Father eternal, the Son eternal: and the Holy Ghost eternal. And yet they are not three eternals: but one eternal.

As also there are not three incomprehensibles, nor three uncreated: but one uncreated, and one incomprehensible. So likewise the Father is Almighty, the Son Almighty: and the Holy Ghost Almighty. And yet they are not three Almighties: but one Almighty. So the Father is God, the Son is God: and the Holy Ghost is God. And yet they are not three Gods: but one God. So likewise the Father is Lord, the Son Lord: and the Holy Ghost Lord. And yet not three Lords: but one Lord.

For like as we are compelled by the Christian verity: to acknowledge every Person by himself to be God and Lord; So are we forbidden by the Catholick Religion: to say there be three Gods, or three Lords. The Father is made of none: neither created, nor begotten. The Son is of the Father alone: not made, nor created, but begotten. The Holy Ghost is of the Father and of the Son: neither made, nor created, nor begotten, but proceeding.

So there is one Father, not three Fathers; one Son, not three Sons: one Holy Ghost, not three Holy Ghosts. And in this Trinity none is afore, or after other: none is greater, or less than another; But the whole three Persons are co-eternal together: and co-equal. So that in all things, as is aforesaid: the Unity in Trinity, and the Trinity in Unity is to be worshipped. He therefore that will be saved: must thus think of the Trinity.

Furthermore it is necessary to everlasting salvation: that he also believe rightly the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ. For the right Faith is that we believe and confess: that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God and Man; God, of the Substance of the Father, begotten before the worlds: and Man, of the Substance of his Mother, born in the world; Perfect God, and Perfect Man: of a reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting; Equal to the Father, as touching his Godhead: and inferior to the Father, as touching his Manhood. Who although he be God and Man: yet he is not two, but one Christ; One, not by conversion of the Godhead into flesh: but by taking of the Manhood into God; One altogether, not by confusion of Substance: but by unity of Person. For as the reasonable soul and flesh is one man: so God and Man is one Christ.

Who suffered for our salvation: descended into hell, rose again the third day from the dead. He ascended into heaven, he sitteth on the right hand of the Father, God Almighty: from whence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead. At whose coming all men shall rise again with their bodies: and shall give account for their own works. And they that have done good shall go into life everlasting: and they that have done evil into everlasting fire. This is the Catholick Faith: which except a man believe faithfully, he cannot be saved.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son: and to the Holy Ghost; As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be: world without end. Amen.

This reminds me of the texts that had been badly photocopied and we were asked to read before our theology tutorials at university. We would then debate the texts and try to tease apart any heretical understandings (if you could understand those heresies in the first place, and didn’t have post-it notes by your computer explaining the differences).

By now, I expect your head is hurting and you’re ready to walk away in frustration. You would be no different to any other theologian down the ages who has tried (and failed) to explain the Trinity. And that, is the nugget of my sermon. The Trinity is not something that can be comprehended, or understood. It has defied any explanation. It is not a concept that the head can really understand. People will try, but they will always come up short.

Why then have a Sunday that is about the Trinity? Because it is about the mystery that is God, Son and Holy Spirit, all in one. When you first encounter God (or the Son, or the Holy Spirit) and you decide that what you have experienced is so life-giving that you decide that you can’t do without it, 

you ask God into your life. ‘Thy kingdom come, thy will be done’ – you’re inviting the Trinity into the Tabernacle of your heart. This is not something that the head can comprehend. There are no words that will do this justice. The repetition found in the Athanasian Creed illustrates this. However, Jeremy Begbie, describes how we struggle to see something that can fill a space and coexist with something else at the same time. Jeremy speaks both as a theologian and a musician. For me, his description ties in with what I feel in my heart and the resonance of the Trinitarian life.

We can’t have one part of the Trinity without the other two. The disciples knew the God of the Jewish faith. He was there in their culture, steeped in their way of thinking, cheek by jowl with the pagan religions that the Roman overseers had brought with them. Then they met Jesus, and followed this Rabbi around the region, not quite understanding what he was talking about, yet knowing there was something different – the Messiah, the redeemer of Israel. Then in three short years, he was crucified and buried in someone else’s tomb. Next they meet the risen Christ in the upper room and elsewhere, even on the road to Emmaus. And they’re told to wait for the Helper, and the Holy Spirit arrives like the rushing of a wind. That day is known as the Day of Pentecost, which we celebrated on the 31stMay – a week ago. We have moved with the disciples from having been part of culture where God has to be worshipped in certain ways, with rules and regulations overseen by the Pharisees and Sadducees, to walking with Christ in a continuous learning involvement to then receive the Holy Spirit and continue that experience.

On one level, my previous paragraph is simply describing a set of historical events, and that is what the eye sees and reads. But the indwelling of God in our hearts cannot be seen or read. I suggest that as a people we have depended too much on seeing, observing and reading. We want to read the liturgy in church rather than listen to the words and the drama that unfolds before us. We cannot use all our senses in our worship if our eyes are looking down, at the book in our hands while we sit. 

Church, the Christian life and our walk with the Trinity involves the whole of us, and the wholeness of God. What I describe above is this gentle way in which God reaches out to us, allowing us to get to know what Jesus is like as a human. This requires all our senses in active participation. Then the Holy Spirit comes, and all our senses are required once again, as we cannot see or read the Holy Spirit. We have to allow our senses to resonate with the Trinity.

At the start of this reflection is an icon created in the style of Rublev. The Three in One invite us to share in that communion. Made in the image of God, we are in communion with one another, and also with the Trinity – because that essence (as illustrated by the Athanasian Creed) is in communion.  

Friends, brothers and sisters, I invite you to explore once again your relationship with the Trinitarian God. Release your dependence on the way church is structured, and find the one-in-three and the three-in-one in your painting, gardening, drawing, sewing, quilting, walking, cycling, fishing, volunteering – whatever it is that is clean and wholesome and that you enjoy. Because God is right in there with you. 

Pentecost, Sunday 31 May 2020

John 20:19-23; Acts 1:1-21; 1 Corinthians 12:3 – 13; Psalm 104:24 – 34, 35b. By Sue Berry.

Today we celebrate the Feast of Pentecost. The story is a very familiar one as recounted in the book of Acts; with images of fire, praying in multiple languages, and attention focused on the church’s prophetic vocation in the world.

Let’s step back into the upper room where the gospel reading takes us. Here we encounter Jesus and the Spirit, and the focus moves to the community and identity of the disciples. The followers of Jesus have secured themselves away from the authorities and fear clouds the situation they find themselves in. They are in lockdown!

As the day is drawing to a close suddenly Jesus appears to them. No warning – a here and now moment. There are no walls, doors, or barriers that can keep Jesus out. Imagine the surprise, the emotions of joy and amazement of the disciples as he comes among them. 

 Jesus speaks and declares the words and ministers to them “Peace be with you.” 

This peace is not an earthly peace; it is a peace that captures the heart, the mind, the soul, the being and the body of each one of them. They are filled with joy and overcome with his presence. He gives them a peace, to provide solace in the face of persecution, the promise of new possibilities and a confidence to overcome the world. Experiencing this peace is deep and goes to the core of our being. 

Jesus tells his disciples that it is the Spirit who enables them to bear witness to the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ; His death and resurrection, and all that it offers to be in relationship with the Living God. 

A new way of living and being is available to anyone who trusts and believes. 

They can set people free – releasing them from the state that they are in. They can be a part of seeing others come to believe in Jesus too. It also comes with a caution.  Failure to bear witness Jesus warns, will result in the opposite: a world full of people left unable to grasp the knowledge of God. 

Jesus is simply telling them that a church that does not bear witness to Christ, is a church that leaves itself unable to play a role in delivering people from all that keeps them in experiencing the fullness that Jesus offers. In receiving the Spirit, the church received the ability to make God manifest and bring light to the world.

Luke’s description of events in the reading from the Acts of the Apostles tells of a Suddenly of God; when a greater number of disciples are gathered together in the Upper Room. They have been praying and waiting with expectation for the promises Jesus gave to come to pass.

 Suddenly with no warning the presence of God overtakes them. A violent wind moves through the room and tongues of fire rest upon each one of them. The days of waiting are over, and they are propelled into the marketplace where people from different nations are gathered in Jerusalem at the Feast of Pentecost. Multitudes of people gathered from the known world hear the Apostles speaking in their own language. Peter preaches his first sermon and people are shaken the city is buzzing with the news of what is going on. Thousands as a result come to a saving faith in Jesus Christ. 

What is amazing from the two accounts is the change that takes place in the lives of those who receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. They become transformed willing to step out in faith. The other striking thing is the breath and the wind of the Holy Spirit a power which cannot be seen but certainly can be felt.

We need the Holy Spirit too to come afresh to renew us and transform us, so we become more like Jesus. It is only as we look back and around us, we become aware of our need. Being vulnerable and available to God opens this door to the infilling of the Holy Spirit who equips and directs us. 

In so doing we are more able to share who Jesus is.  The world is hungry spiritually there are great needs that only Jesus can meet. Many yearn for belonging and peace in the midst of uncertainty. 

God is always creative and invites us to step out in new ways. We need the courage to trust the one who holds all things together. 

Veni, Sancte Spiritus – Come Holy Spirit

The words of a familiar hymn can become a prayer as we invite God to work within us and through us.

Breathe on me, Breath of God,
Fill me with life anew,
That I may love what Thou dost love,
And do what thou wouldst do.

Breathe on me, Breath of God,
Until my heart is pure,
Until with thee I will one will,
To do and to endure.
Breathe on me Breath of God,
Till I am wholly Thine
Until this earthly part of me
Glows with Thy fire divine.
Breathe on me, Breath of God,
So shall I never die,
But live with the perfect life
Of Thine eternity
Edwin Hatch 1878

Curate’s Letter: Living ‘in-between times.’ June 2020

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”

This seems like a completely different world to the one we’re in, one where the hypocritical shambles of the PM’s advisor, the breach of the instructions given, and the government’s defence of him has Twitter all aflame.

Jesus’ ascent into heaven looks like the epitome of social (or physical) distancing. His ascent, according to Paul, was way above the highest heaven – far above what humans could ever consider attaining though any spirituality. Jesus’ ascent wasn’t to put distance between him and us – there had been enough of that, with the God of the Old Testament. The angels standing with the men explain that to them, while they gaze at the sky. He will come again in the same way. The disciples lived in the now and the not yet – the ‘in-between times.’

But there’s a paradox in his ascent, because although he ascended to (what was understood as) heaven, which in first century thinking was above the clouds, he’s also present with us. Jesus isn’t found only in heaven. He’s here on earth, in the nitty and the gritty, in our homes, in our lives and the overwhelming sadness and grief that so many are experiencing during lockdown.

Lockdown is also a paradox because it is in love, and our compassion on others, that the disciplined decision was reached to help shield people from this virus. The churches are not shut to maintain distance but to keep you safe, yet our hearts break when we cannot meet in person. We live in the now and the not yet – the ‘in-between times.’

Yet through all of this, Jesus remains with us, while also being with his Father. The Bible is full of paradoxes, and this is no different. Jesus’ ascent points the way to Pentecost when the Holy Spirit comes like a rushing wind. From that was the birth of the Church.

Back in the first century when the disciples were still gazing upward long after Jesus had disappeared from their sight, perhaps they wondered if they had to get to heaven to meet with Jesus and the Father. It’s not so much as about waiting to get to heaven, it’s about understanding that Jesus and God are present here and now as we go into the world and witness to God’s love. Our lives before death are as meaningful as life is after death – it’s not just about salvation. God is here, in our brokenness, in the ‘in-between times.’

Pentecost doesn’t come immediately. Perhaps that’s what the disciples were waiting for. Perhaps we would like something similar? To come out of lockdown with no fear for our lives and just return to what was our normality. But the longer we wait, we realise there’s a dawning realisation that we won’t be returning to the old ‘normal.’ That, like Jesus’ ascension, has passed. We have to learn, like the first disciples, to let the ‘old normal’ go, let Jesus go, let our favoured ways of doing and being church go. We simply cannot hold on to Jesus or possess him, or appropriate him for our own means. He showed us that. And the Church, the body of Christ, has to change too. 

In the ‘in-between times,’ as the disciples waited in Jerusalem, I’m sure they asked ‘What now?’ We’re no different. Lockdown has brought us and our ways to almost a complete standstill. Between Ascension and Pentecost there’s a wait. We don’t know how long the first disciples had to wait, and we have to wait alongside them. What is God trying to teach us in these ‘in-between times?’

Pentecost will come. The tongues of fire will land on the people, and their hearts will set aflame with the love of God. Better this, than Twitter aflame with judgement. Because judgement is not love. And we have the discipline of love, as disciples of Christ. Love in the face of danger under lockdown was to help shield the vulnerable, the weak, the poor and the frightened. 

Love is the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, the being of God, and the meaning of humanity. This is why we gather to encourage each other and help the community around us. This love is our witness in everything we do and the source of our compassion. This love is outpoured on us at Pentecost and enables the whole community to witness to each other and share the love of God.

In these in-between times, we wonder what the future holds for our country, our economy, our society and the Church. But we do know with certainty that Pentecost will come. It happened then, and it will come for us. We know that we are asked to be adventurous, to be creative and bold. We will probably make mistakes along the way, but the trick is to learn from our mistakes and head ever into the future, without looking back.

Ascensiontide – the in-between times between Ascension and Pentecost – asks us if we are up for the adventure before we know what’s coming. 

Understanding our humanness through the Ascension of Jesus, 24 May 2020

Acts 1:6 – 14; Psalm 68:1 – 10, 33 – 36; 1 Peter 4:12 – 14; 5:6 – 11; John 17:1 – 11

Week 9, and we are all still waiting patiently for the world to re-open, reawaken to a different normal, one that embraces your love, your caring for those in most need, the vulnerable and needy, those that find isolation so difficult, lonely and depressing.  We wait in hope and expectation; not dissimilar to the world 2000+ years ago when the disciples and those that believed were waiting on what God had in mind now that Jesus had been crucified.  Since the Resurrection these people had met the risen Lord and amongst them were a number of women including Mary mother of Jesus and all of his immediate family his siblings, waiting watching wondering as it came to the time that Jesus was to be taken up to his Father – to ascend.  This week we remember and celebrate the Ascension, the moment when Jesus was sanctified and showed the world that he was truly the son of God and by this act was re-united with the Father for all to understand that his time on earth was finished and that He had imparted to his disciples and body of believers the words from God so that they might believe in the gift of eternal life so that being at one with Him, when we eventually pass from this earthly life it will be to life everlasting.

So we really need to think about this event, think about what it says about being human because we sometimes find we are not so sure about our value as humans when so much is caught up in our Church life.   It is often easy to forget or even become embarrassed about much that characterises being human.  Such things like the reality of our bodies and our appetites, the fact that we are finite, and limited; the fact of our mortality and the certainty of our death; the painful difficulty we have in relationships; the struggles, joys, and setbacks that always seem to be a part of our quest for God; and also; the power that our feelings and emotions have over us.  All of these are part of being human that we frequently treat our humanness as less than holy, as somehow divorced from our spiritual and religious lives, even sometimes to the extent that we see it as a bad thing, these feelings, even being something that we should not have. 

What the Ascension does is to inform us that it is a good thing to be a human being; indeed it is a wonderful and an important and a holy thing to be a human being.  It is such an important thing that God did it, through Jesus, God did it.     Even more, the fullness of God now includes what it means to be a human being. The experience, the reality, and the stuff of being a person is so valuable that God has made it a part of God’s life. 

I am sure that we or many of us anyway have been trying to use this time, enforced time when for many we cannot go out even for a walk let alone to work; to perhaps see what it is that is really important, the things that are more precious when we strip away all of the usual wrappings that are put around our daily lives.  It must have been like that for the disciples, one minute they had the person of Jesus right there with them walking, talking, teaching and showing what Gods world was meant to be and encouraging them to be like Him and to show by their actions and activities that they could have ‘the kingdom’ here on earth if they followed what Jesus taught them.  Then suddenly this is all taken away Jesus is dead, crucified and buried.  BUT  – He was of course resurrected and stayed with them even if only for a short time, until this day, the day when He would be taken up to His Father , when they would more fully understand that Jesus was the messiah He truly was the Son of God and at the same time the Son of Man, God living as Man so that He could experience what we the human race experience going through life. Experiencing all the emotions, hurts and joys of being human whilst at the same time showing us how God does act showing us how we should live our lives that would reflect Gods purposes for us, how we can be like Jesus, we can be restored to God and through that bring in ‘The Kingdom’ here on Earth.

Remember it was not some spiritual aspect of Jesus, the divine nature of Jesus, or something invisible or simply the idea of Jesus, that ascended to the Father.  It was the resurrected body of Jesus: a body that the disciples had eaten and drank with, the body they had touched and held a gloriously restored body with the marks of the nails and of the spear which they saw and through which Thomas came to truly believe.  That is what ascended.  For them and for us and for everyone now and for eternity this was a real part of God and as such the Ascension changed who God is.

When we approach God, when we consider God, and when we try to share our lives with God, it is important to remember that we are dealing with one who remembers; and knows what our lives are like, not just on a conceptual level but at a real practical day to day level. God remembers what it is like to hurt and to laugh, to pray and to hunger, to be lost and afraid, to celebrate and to mourn; God remembers what it is like to live and what it is like to die.  God knows this, and God knows this in the only way that really matters as far as relationship is concerned.  God knows because God has been there.

So we are able to approach God, to reach out to God and to look for the presence and will of God, with confidence and with joy. For as we turn toward God, we are not only dealing with the creator of the universe and the ruler of all time and of eternity; we are also drawing near to the one who lived our life and who has shared our fate. We are coming near to one who knows us and who cares. 

Perhaps one thing this pandemic has done for us is to point out that we don’t often know how to be separate but still united. Now, as we read the passages for today in light of the Ascension, we realise what Jesus was preparing them for and is preparing us for — to remain united with him, and with each other, even when he is not physically present and we are not able to be physically together.

When Christ ascended, the disciples looked around at each other, and the sky, such that the angels standing by asked them, “Why do you stand looking up toward heaven?” (Acts 1:11). It’s okay not to know what to do next. It’s okay to be still. It’s okay to put one foot in front of the other and muddle through. And it is okay to be taken aback by physical separation from those we love and whose presence comforts us and lifts us up.

We are learning, or have learned, to be with one another, united in Christ, even when we are not physically present. During our time of lockdown in this pandemic we have joined together in our communities, our diocese, across the country and across the world and this we have done by meeting through the Word and our mutual love for Christ and for one another. We have done nothing perfectly, but we have allowed the crisis to teach us. We have been sanctified by the truth and held together in love by Christ.

by Alan Finch

Reflection, 17th May 2020.

Acts 17:22-31, Psalm 66:7-18, 1 Peter 3:13-22, John 14:15-21

Paul’s “unknown god” sermon is probably well known to us all.  It is certainly a masterclass in reaching out to people where they are, getting alongside their beliefs and values and then moving them to where you want them to be.  Influencing skills that would be cherished by any leader or preacher – I am jealous (if that is not an unchristian thing to say!).

But in our current state of “lock down” and uncertainty, it is actually a masterclass in relationships generally.  Those we know, those we live and work with will all be in different places of uncertainty, fear, boredom, frustration and any one of a number of different emotions.  When we reach out to them we need to be careful not to presume that we know what they are feeling, thinking or believing – we need to seek to understand where they are if we are going to be able to stand alongside them.

This is both physical and spiritual.  Maybe our neighbour doesn’t need yet another loaf of bread and “nice cake as a treat”; maybe the person we keep phoning just wants to be left alone; perhaps the self-sufficient one who is coping really well is not quite so secure underneath.  While these may be things that are really noticeable now, they are also there all the time.

It is very easy to preach our views to those around us, after all preaching is not just what happens from a pulpit on a Sunday!  We may not even be conscious that are doing it.  Maybe we can’t help ourselves because we know we are right.  Paul and Jesus knew they were right, and they were willing and able to preach across the divides of class and nationality.  But perhaps the rest of us are not quite so fortunate.  While we may feel we are right, theologically correct and following doctrine to the letter; this may not be the case.  Being overconfident in our own position may not actually lead to effective preaching or examples; I know I don’t have the insight of a Paul or the righteousness of Jesus.  My preaching, my example should reflect that.  So that is the time to approach “with gentleness and reverence” as we read in the Epistle.

Gentleness and reverence are easy to say but difficult to do, especially when I AM RIGHT.  But we are called to approach the world with exactly this approach.  Yes, we must make our defence, we must tell our story, we must tell the Lord’s story, but we do it with gentleness and reverence, we maintain our good conduct in Christ.  This is not about us; it is about us telling the Lord’s story both in our words but also in our deeds. In our actions but also in our silences and what we choose not to do.  

Spreading the gospel, doing God’s work is also about evangelising and preaching in words but far more it is about demonstrating in practice, what our faith means to us.  How it informs and influences who we are in all that we do.  How we preach by actions; how we heal with silences.  Challenging stuff and, to be frank, something I can write about but am much less good at. 

And this is the punchline – we are not alone.  Not in a visitation from another planet sense but in a spiritual sense.  Perhaps something we find difficult to express, and something society does not value, but our reliance on the Holy Spirit is crucial.  The term ‘advocate’ or ‘helper’ is one I love because that is what the Spirit is to me.  An advocate for God within me and advocate for me with God.  Someone who stands up for me, makes my point of view heard – more importantly makes God’s point of view heard within me.

Perhaps the Spirit has been listening to Paul – the Spirit fills the void of the unknown god within each of us.  The spirit is our true helper, helping us to be more like God, helping us to hear and act on what God is telling and asking us, helping us to achieve God’s work here and now.  The Athenians were covering their bets with a temple to an extra god, perhaps on a just in case basis.  I wonder what we are covering our bets with?  Money, influence, power, family, whatever?

So perhaps we should let the Spirit come alongside us wherever we are, whether under stress of Coronavirus, or in any other time and circumstance.  We should let the Spirit come along side and within us to help us discern when we are truly right.  Then, with our “helper” we can go out with gentleness and reverence and stand alongside (at least 2 metres away at the moment) those around us, those who need our love, support and prayer.

I pray that you, I pray that I, will be willing to let the Spirit be the unknown god that dwells within each of us.

Stay safe, stay well and keep smiling!