Thursday, 26 November 2015

Step Into Christmas!

Step into Christmas with The Elderly Brothers
On Saturday 5 December from 7:30pm at Chrishall Village Hall. 

Come along and 'Step Into Christmas' with The Elderly Bros and friends as we play our favourites including popular Christmas songs.  Open Mic available so come and have a go. 

Bring & Share finger buffet.  Bring your own drink. 

Free admission with donations accepted on behalf of the Parish and its chosen charities. 

Thursday, 12 November 2015

Celebrate Christingle 2015

Turn an orange into life-changing support

Celebrate Christingle

22nd November


Elmdon Church

Followed by yummy
Afternoon tea

Monday, 12 October 2015

Three baskets of blessing

In the late 1980s, Brian Keenan was kidnapped in Lebanon and held hostage for nearly 5 years.  In his book ‘An Evil Cradling’ he tells of his months of solitary confinement before being joined by John McCarthy and Terry Waite. It’s a painful read.  His cell was just 6ˊ x 3ˊ and made entirely of cinder blocks. In the corner - a filthy mattress. And that was it.  His only activity of the day was a trip to the toilet (a cockroach infested hole in the ground) and then possibly a shower.  Then it was back to the cell to find his food for the day. Always bread and jam and a hard-boiled egg.  

For the rest of his day there was nothing to do, nothing to read, nobody to talk to. He could only sit and stare at the grey walls. His only source of stimulus was his own thoughts. The experience drove him close to despair.  Then one day he arrived back in his cell to find something new on the floor:

‘But wait. My eyes are almost burned by what I see. There’s a bowl in front of me that wasn’t there before. And in it some apricots, some small oranges, some nuts, cherries, a banana. The fruits, the colours, mesmerize me in a quiet rapture that spins through my head. I am entranced by colour. I lift an orange into the flat filthy palm of my hand and feel and smell and lick it. The colour orange, the colour, the colour, my God the colour orange. Before me is a feast of colour. I feel myself begin to dance, slowly. I am intoxicated by colour. …such absolute wonder in such an insignificant fruit.’

This fruit that he’d never thought about before; that he’d always taken for granted, was suddenly so important to him.  His mind was opened, his perception changed. The fruit was no longer something to be eaten, but instead something to observe, a thing of beauty. That bowl of fruit was a gift to Brian which gave him back a small part of his humanity, it reopened his eyes to the world outside.
We are not deprived of our liberty; we are free to enjoy the beauty of the world around us.  Yet, we take so much for granted – the humble orange and so many wonderful blessing in this life. We fail to trace it all back to the source – the God who gives all life as his gift.

Another gift of a basket of fruit appears in our reading from Deuteronomy 26.  This time it’s an offering of the first fruits of the harvest following Israel’s possession of the Promised Land.  The command was to fill a basket and take it to the priest to set before the altar declaring: My father was a wandering Aramean...  Aram is modern day Syria...  And the AU gives a very poignant translation of this verse that resonates today: A Syrian ready to perish was my father, and he went down into Egypt.

Israel was looking back to their ancestor Jacob who at a time of famine took his family to live in Egypt where, much later, the growing family, now a Nation, would become slaves.  But the Egyptians ill-treated us and made us suffer…. we cried out to the Lord… and he heard our cry… and he brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand…

This basket of first-fruits was a gift to God and a tangible reminder of how God keeps his promises.  As the basket was given to the priest the giver was to say: I declare today to the Lord your God that I have come to the land the Lord swore to our ancestors to give us.

This bringing of the basket of first-fruits was an act of worship; an act of recognition of what God had done and a renewal of the covenant relationship between the Lord and his people.  It was also a time for celebration.

They were instructed to place the basket before the Lord, bow down before him and then go off and enjoy what God had given them with the family, the priests and the foreigners living among them.  It was to be enjoyed and shared with others dependent on them – like the priests who had no land of their own and the homeless stranger.  But first came the reminder, the recognition that it was God who gave it and to worship him.  A perfect model for our modern Harvest Festival services.

Jesus was presented with a gift too (John 6).  A basket of five small barley loaves and two small fish – on the face of it a pathetically small offering to feed 5000 hungry mouths. Yet he did it; he took what was offered, gave thanks, and distributed to those present as much as they wanted.  And they filled twelve other baskets with the left-overs. Not just a miracle but a sign pointing to who Jesus is.

Bread is basic to sustaining life in the Middle East.  Without daily bread and water life would ebb away. The feeding the 5000 points to a gift that is never exhausted and a satisfaction that never passes away.  I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.

There are many different sorts of hunger in addition to physical hunger – acceptance, love, forgiveness, peace, purpose…  Deep down these are all a hungers for God. Our hearts are restless till we find our rest in thee. The gift this time is Jesus himself; he is what we need; he can satisfy our restless hunger and thirst.

So there we have it this morning, three gifts.  Firstly, a gift from one human being to another, a bowl of fruit that brought joy to a desperate prisoner.  Then a gift for God, an act of worship recognizing what God has done in the provision of land, seedtime and harvest.  A gift which then blesses others like the homeless stranger.  And finally, the gift of God himself in Jesus Christ:  For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

As we come to the Lord’s Table today we come together, shoulder to shoulder, remembering what Christ has done for us through his death on the Cross.  But we come not to remember a dead founder of a religion but to be fed by the One who is alive for evermore, the bread of life. If that gift doesn’t make us want to dance (in our hearts at least) what will? May it send us out to share the gift of God’s glorious rainbow-coloured love with the world.

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

The Parish Walk 2015 - with members of Chelmsford Cathedral

James Davy, Organist & Master of the Choristers writes: Thank you for inviting us - we were delighted to be there and it was a real joy to meet you all. The hospitality was so generous and everyone made us feel very welcome - please thank everyone for us. It was a really lovely social occasion as well as being a good connector between the Cathedral and some of the more distant parishes. It would be really good to bring the Cathedral Choir up for a concert sometime!

Monday, 14 September 2015

Parish Walk - 3 October

Parish Walk - 3 October *NEW ROUTE*

Do join in for as much of the walk as you can, please print a copy of this map to take with you.

We believe that the youngest walker to do the whole walk was would be impolite to comment on the age of the most senior walker!

For the younger walkers there will be activities along the way and a prize each for the furthest walked by a primary and secondary school pupil. The refreshments are bound to be wonderful (and welcome!)

Please meet at Chrishall Church, from 8.30am we’ll leave at 9am.  We will stop for refreshments at each church, with departure times as shown on the map.

If you are joining half way you should leave Chrishall at 12.30pm to meet at Chiswick Hall at 12.50pm.

MacMillan World's Biggest Coffee Morning

Macmillan World’s Biggest Coffee Morning
 Crowley Barn, Chrishall
Friday 25 September, 10.30am – 12 noon.
There will be coffee, cakes and a raffle.  Everyone very welcome!


Primrose Cottage, Catmere End
Friday 2 October

Everyone is invited.  Please come and raise lots of funds for Macmillan Cancer Support.
There will be plenty of good coffee and homemade cakes.

If you can't come but would still like to give a donation to MacMillan 
just text CUPCAKE to 70550 (one text = £5)
go to or call 0845 074 2606

Musical Quiz Night


Saturday 17th October 7.30
Great Chishill Village Hall

Think  you know your Bach from your Beyonce,
Blues from Bossa Nova, Bassoon from Bass guitar?

Questions and live performances presented by Maggie Mather and Lucy Maynard

Bar – Supper – Raffle

Tickets £10 from
Jenny Leitch 07850 862199
Judy Saunders 01763 838571
Church office, Chrishall 01763 837272

Supporting St Swithun’s Church
Restoration Appeal

‘It’s our turn now to save our village icon for future generations’

Great Chishill Harvest Supper

Great Chishill
Family Harvest Supper

Featuring The Elderly Brothers

Saturday 10th October 2015

7.30pm - Great Chishill Village Hall

Fish and Chip Supper/Licenced Bar
Tickets £10 adults/£5 children

We will be taking a collection for MacMillan Cancer Support

Contact Hazel Colebrooke 838703/Judy Saunders 838571

Saturday, 18 July 2015

Pathways in Prayer

Come and join others from around the Deanery as we learn more about praying with our imagination.
Our speaker will be The Revd. Lydia Smith.

Friday, 17 July 2015

Amazing Knight Riders! Well, we made it, and we made it on time! We left Winchester Cathedral soon after 6pm on Saturday, with a kind and supportive message from the Dean at the end of Evensong Service. Through some stunning Hampshire scenery, we then crossed a lively Saturday Night Basingstoke unscathed. And after a (thankfully) flatter stretch through Berkshire, we arrived in Maidenhead after dark. The generosity of the manager of “Maidenhead Spice Restaurant” in serving us well after his closing time was very much appreciated. A few hours’ sleep in a modest hotel by the river was all we could spare, before breakfast at the surprisingly well-stocked co-op in the petrol station across the road, and getting the wheels turning again. The light drizzle soon cleared as we toiled along the southern edge of the Chilterns and on into Hertfordshire, finally arriving to a very warm welcome at St Swithun’s, Great Chishill in Cambridgeshire at 11.15 (with a two hymns to spare!) 128 miles/205 km (8150 calories burnt – according to Rob’s trip computer) And £3400 raised and counting... I would like to sincerely thank all of you for your generosity in supporting our appeal. Your kind donations will make a real difference in the renovation of our Church for generations to come. The appeal had set a target of £50,000 to be raised over 2 years (from Nov 2014) and we are already well on our way to being able to start some of the crucial work soon. Finally, I would especially like to thank Dan Tweedie, Dan Jenkin, and Rob Hastings, for taking up the challenge and joining me on this trip, as well as their fundraising. I would not have been able to complete it alone. It was only our combined effort that got us to the church on time (along with Rob’s malt loaf and nutella combination– the food of champions!). Thank you all again, Hubert

Monday, 6 July 2015

Concert of Popular Organ Music
From Film, Church & Opera
Played by John Evans

At the Hamlet Church Duddenhoe End

AT 7.30 pm

Tickets £10.00 each, including a Complimentary Glass of Wine & Canapés
Tickets from Kate Chambers – 01763 838754
Proceeds In Aid of the Hamlet Church

Friday, 3 July 2015

Two stories of fear turning to faith

Mark 5.21-43; Lamentations 3.22-33 
In the 1950s the science-fiction writer, Isaac Asimov, invented a world where humans had become used to being waited upon by lots of robots. A consequence of this was that humans no longer touched each other, they had developed a loathing for any kind of physical contact. They lived separate lives, in separate rooms, maintaining contact by a kind of holographic imaging. Instead of visiting each other they simply viewed each other on screens. (The Naked Sun) 

If this all sounds rather far-fetched – well, I wonder. With our smart-phones, video conferencing, online shopping, and many of our new generation confining themselves to their bedrooms with social media devices – are we not well on the way to Asimov’s hell? 

I hope not, because human touch is so important. The mother in the premature baby unit longs for the medical interventions to stop so that she can just cuddle her child. She knows instinctively that it will bring the reassurance, comfort and the love that is so needed for the child’s development. The bereaved widow or widower living alone will tell you that one of things they miss most is the touch of another human being. To hold their hand can mean so much. 

Touch is a theme that runs through the gospel story today. Jairus says Please come and put your hands on my daughter; the woman reasons If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed; Jesus asks Who touched me?; and finally we hear He took her by the hand saying ‘Talitha koum!’ 

Jesus had no problems about touching people. He broke the taboos of his culture. As Princess Diana shocked many by touching people with AIDS, so Jesus shocked his people by touching the so called ‘unclean’ and, worst of all, the dead. Jesus tampered with the boundaries between what was clean and unclean, and between life and death. 

Jairus was a prominent figure, locally; a leader of the synagogue. He knew Jesus was a marked man, under intense surveillance. He’d have been wise to stay well clear of Jesus. But he is desperate, so he comes on his knees pleading: ‘My little daughter is dying. Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live.’ He believes that the touch of Jesus will save his child. 

Straightaway Jesus goes with him but in the crowd is a woman who has a wretched gynaecological condition. If that’s not bad enough it’s also marked her as unclean, placing her outside polite company, at the margins of society. From the anonymity of the crowd she reaches out to touch the helm of his garment in order to receive her healing. Mysteriously, Jesus knows that power has gone out of him, and that someone has been cured. Yet, he wants to know who. Overcoming her fear she comes out from the crowd and tells Jesus the whole story. Doing so she receives not just healing but reinstatement back into her community. ‘Daughter, your faith has healed you.’ Her faith has been the channel through which Jesus’ power has worked. In calling her daughter, that is a daughter of Abraham, she has become a restored member of God’s people. 

But what was Jairus thinking while all this was going on? Jesus seems to have all the time in the world but My little daughter is dying. And what did he feel when it was said ‘Your daughter is dead, why bother the teacher anymore?’ What crushing news! But somehow Jairus has the faith to keep walking when Jesus says Don’t be afraid; just believe.’ It was important to Jesus to deal with the woman in public. Now with this distraught husband and wife it’s going to be in private; the mourners are excluded, only Peter, James and John are allowed in. Jesus takes the girls hand in his and says Talitha koum! The gospel is written in Greek, this is Aramaic. The only conceivable reason for including the Aramaic is that this is exactly what Peter, James and John heard him say, and it made such an impression on them they wanted us to hear it too. Talitha koum! Little girl, it’s time to get up! Immediately the girl stood up and began to walk around and everybody was astonished. Then Mark tells us that she was 12 years old. No doubt she was but this also links her to the woman who has been bleeding for 12 years. 

Mark could have told their two stories separately. Jesus healed a woman and then raised a dead child to life. We would have lost a lot if he had – for they belong together. Both stories are about fear and faith. The woman has been excluded from her community for 12 years. She is fearful of being seen. In desperation and in faith she reaches through the crowd to touch the helm of Jesus’ robe. When Jesus asks “Who touched me?”’ she overcomes her fear and kneels before him. Her life can begin again. Jesus brings healing to a grief-stricken family by bringing the dead child to life. Jairus overcomes his fears and seeks Jesus’ help; he finds, in Jesus, the faith to keep on walking with him when told the news ‘Your daughter is dead. 

These two interwoven stories make a great imaginative exercise. In your imagination take time to stand in the crowd watching the events unfold. Then identity with one of the characters. How does it feel? Imagine speaking to Jesus; what do you want to say; does Jesus speak to you? Ask yourself: what do I want Jesus to do for me? Is there any fear that is preventing me from kneeling before him, telling him the whole story, and seeking his healing touch? What does Jesus, the source of all love and forgiveness, say to you? Turn all this into prayer asking that fear may be turned into faith. 

And always remember that: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

American Lunch

American Lunch for Strethall Church and
Nepal Earthquake Appeal

On Sunday 26 July at Lodge Farm, Elmdon (home of Ned and Anne Tozer), 12.30pm, there will be an American themed barbeque party and lunch.

             Tickets £10 per adult, £5 per child available from Anne 838391 or the church office 837272.

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Amazing Knight Riders!

To raise funds for the St Swithun’s Appeal, a small but hardy team are cycling to our St Swithun’s Church in Great Chishill, departing from the other St Swithun’s: Winchester Cathedral on 11th and 12th July.

Bit easy? To up the challenge, we will set off at the end of Evensong service on Saturday evening (hoping) to arrive by the end of Sunday morning service in Great Chishill.

Our dear Church is in urgent need of repair (, and the Parish is already doing an excellent job of raising the necessary cash in many different ways. While the building may have seen better days physically, the morale of its people is as strong as ever.

Any donation, however small, will be greatly appreciated in securing the future of this great Church, and the physical, spiritual, and communal sanctuary it offers to so many. You can donate at or hand your donation in to the church office.

Hubert de Froberville

Monday, 22 June 2015

Chrishall @ Ten on Father's Day

Please be patient, it takes a few moments for the pictures to appear.
Photo Gallery by
We thanked God that He is our loving Heavenly Father and we remembered those who are, or who have been, loving father-figures in our own lives.

Sunday, 14 June 2015

Something alarming is happening in my garden (14 June 2015)

Mark 4.26-34; Ezekiel 17.22-24
Something alarming is happening in my garden. I was not aware of until quite recently but now I see that there is a weed that is taking over. Whether I’m awake or asleep it just keeps on growing, it’s a pernicious, invasive, ground covering nightmare – you’re guessed it – ground elder. How it grows I don’t know, although I do know that it’s something to do with rhizomes. What I really do know is that it’s very persistent and possibly unstoppable. I’m currently trying black plastic and lashings of glyphosate.

Jesus posed the question: What is the kingdom of God like? And he gave two horticultural answers. He likened it to seed sown in the ground that without our aid, then spouts and grows. And he likened it to the tiny mustard seed that grows into a great plant that birds can shade in. Scholars seem to agree that Jesus was referring to the black mustard plant that spreads over the ground and can grow up to 8’ high. It’s really a weed although it is cultivated too. The Roman Pliny the Elder (78AD) wrote: ‘mustard… is extremely beneficial for the health. It grows entirely wild, though it is improved by being transplanted: but on the other hand when it has once been sown it is scarcely possible to get the place free of it, as the seed when it falls germinates at once.’

I can imagine Pliny struggling with it in his garden; frustrated with it spreading, among his neat rows of carrots. It sounds a bit like my ground elder; getting into everything and gradually taking over. I imagine him getting cross that it gave shelter for birds who could then attack his raspberries at their leisure.  Jesus reference to the birds in the branches reminded his hearers of something the prophet Ezekiel had said - another horticultural example. The mighty cedar of Lebanon whose timber was used in the construction of Solomon’s Temple. It’s a tall tree that grow to 130’, with a trunk 10’ wide.

Ezekiel proclaims God’s promise to exiled Jews in Babylon that they will one day return home, they will again flourish, but it will be a small beginning. Like taking a tender sprig from the crown of the cedar tree and planting it on the mountain heights of Israel – that is Jerusalem. And that little sprig will grow into a splendid cedar tree. And birds of every kind will nest in it and shelter and shade of its branches. ‘Birds of every kind’ is surely a reference to Jews and Gentiles finding safety and security in God’s future plans.  But Jesus chose not to use the picture of a cedar of Lebanon but a humble mustard plant that might make it to, say, 8’. He chose a common plant that spreads and invades the whole garden.

Parables are given for our personal, imaginative exploration and not for deadening explanation from the pulpit. So I’m authorised to tell you to go and ponder these two parables for yourselves. And yet, and yet, Jesus did give some explanation to his disciples in private – so here are some closing thought.

Jesus likens the kingdom of God to sowing of seeds and in particular the mustard seed. But what is the kingdom of God? It is where God is king; it is the realm of God’s rule; it’s wherever what God wants done is done. Jesus wants us to pray that God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven. In these parables Jesus is saying that the range of God’s effective will is spreading. It has come near in Jesus and now it is spreading like a powerful weed - it is getting in everywhere. It’s small beginnings; it may not look impressive right now, but one day it will be a great work. Jesus doesn’t liken it to a mighty cedar tree, nor to that evil ground elder. But rather to the mustard plant that invades everything, indeed may even muck up our carefully laid plan of rows and borders, but is, and will be, the place where the whole world can find shelter, shade and security.

So be encouraged. It’s small beginnings but there is no stopping it. It’s growing quietly, whether we are awake or asleep. There is gradual, persistent growth that we should look out for; be alert to the signs of it here on earth. It’s got a momentum all of its own and there will come a time, when it will be ready to gather in a harvest. It is not dependent on us, although our cooperation is being sought.

Will we be part of it? Will we let God’s values and God’s ways hold sway in our own lives? Will we seek first the kingdom of God? And wherever we see it emerging in others or in our society, point it out to those who can’t see? And will you do as Jesus says and pray for its coming, in its fullness, every day?

Sunday, 7 June 2015

Trying to throw some light on a difficult passage (7 June 2015)

Mark 3.20-35
‘Whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; they are guilty of an eternal sin.’ [Mark 3.29] One of the joys and challenges of using the church lectionary is that sometimes you can’t dodge the most difficult biblical texts.

We hear a lot about blasphemy these days especially in the context of Islam e.g. the Danish cartoons and Charlie Hebdo affair. But it’s nearer home too. As has been highlighted in a recent Village Web article there are many in this country today, who can rarely get through a conversation without breaking the third commandment and misusing God’s name. But what about blasphemy against the Holy Spirit? What is it exactly and why is it unforgiveable? Let’s take a look at the context in which Jesus makes the statement.

We’ve been away from Mark’s gospel for a while but we are back now chapter 3. It’s early on in the ministry of Jesus but there are already much controversy. The ordinary people have flocked to him; they’ve recognised the goodness, the God-given character that lies behind the wonderful things that Jesus is doing. They have come in great crowds to see him and receive ‘healing grace’ from him. Mark tells us that the very first thing that Jesus does, after calling his disciples, is to perform an exorcism – he heals a man by driving out an evil spirit from him. That sort of thing draws a crowd; no one doubted that Jesus was a miracle worker; the question was: where did the power come from? 
The ordinary people received him with joy but what about his own family and what about the religious leaders?

This family had come to take charge of him, to take him away. ‘He is out of his mind’ they said. In the first century that meant he was demon possessed. So they weren’t just thinking ‘Oh, he’s just lost it’, no, he was under the influence of demons. Even Mary his mother, who Luke tells us had received angelic messengers and treasured so much up in her heart, clearly doesn’t at this stage understand her son. Anxious for him she wants to take him home.

And what about Israel’s leader? Well, the big guns from Jerusalem have come too. These are the top lawyers, the teachers of the law. They don’t doubt that Jesus expels demons, but their verdict is: ‘He is possessed by Beelzebub! By the prince of demons he is driving out demons.’ In spite of seeing or hearing of the wonderful things that Jesus is doing, their verdict is ‘He’s satanic!’ How can they come to that conclusion? Are they blind?

Well, Jesus deals easily with their absurd statement. Doesn’t Satan try to induce madness and disease and falsehood not remove them? If he is fighting against himself then its civil war and his kingdom is doomed. But in fact the exorcisms and healings show that the devil’s kingdom is now being plundered. Now, you can’t rob a strong man unless you first overpower him and tie him up. Jesus, by the power of the Holy Spirit, is defeating Satan robbing him of his possessions. That’s Jesus’ mission statement in Luke’s gospel: ‘The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’  [Luke 4]

The teachers of the law appear to be blind to who Jesus is. The question is: are they being wilfully blind; are they knowingly misrepresenting him? If they are, then they are putting themselves beyond the reach of God’s salvation. If you get to the point of saying that when Jesus acts in the power of the Spirit it is actually satanic, then you are truly lost and you have blasphemed against the Holy Spirit. Getting to the stage of saying that evil is good, means you have reached the place of extreme opposition to God.

Whether that was true of these teachers of the law I’m not fit to judge, but Jesus just warns them of a terrible possibility. The sadness is that many people today may read this passage and fear, because of their past, that they have committed an unforgiveable sin.  David Instone-Brewer, a scholar of Tyndale House in Cambridge, is very helpful on this point: ‘The very fact that someone wants to repent and be reconciled with God is proof that they have not irrevocably decided to reject him. God is always ready to receive a sinner, and Jesus died for every sin. …for those who reject Jesus’ sacrifice, there is no other source of forgiveness. This doesn’t mean that the rejection itself is an unforgivable sin, but it emphasizes that Jesus is the only source of forgiveness. If you reject Jesus’ sacrifice there is nothing left. But if you have the longing to repent, this demonstrates that you have not ultimately decided to reject Jesus – and God’s arms, like the arms of the Prodigal’s father, always remain open to welcome you.’

When Mary and his brothers come to take charge of him Jesus says: ‘Who are my mother and my brothers?’ That sounds rather callous but Jesus is making a fundamental point. Intimacy with him is not automatic and an outward thing – like being a blood relative. It’s a spiritual thing; we are brothers or sisters of Christ when we do the will of God. That goes beyond the acquisition of knowledge and just intellectual ascent – these are of themselves inadequate. It means listening to his word and putting it into practice. In other words, it means being a disciple, a learner of Jesus.

Our job therefore is not to judge others but to stay close to Jesus. Yes we will often fail but we must get up and carry on. The shadow of the cross has already fallen over Mark’s narrative here in chapter 3.6  And we know that things are only going to get worse. Everyone will eventually fall away – but that won’t be the end. The disciples and Mary and his brothers (James and Jude) will come to trust him, they will come to recognise more clearly who he is - that he is, of all people, not out of his mind but he is the one who has the words of eternal life.

Sunday, 31 May 2015

Enjoying the Trinity (31 May 2015)

TRINITY SUNDAY 2015 (Romans 8.12-17; John 3.1-17)
If I was sitting where you are today I wouldn’t want yet another sermon attempting to demonstrate the reasonableness of one God in 3 persons. Over the years I’ve sat through bewildering explanations involving ice cubes, water trays and steaming kettles, cans of 3 in 1 oil, jaffa cakes and the good old clover leaf. I’m not sure any of them made me much wiser or more secure in my faith.

Detailed sermons on the doctrine of the Trinity can be just as baffling. The proverbial choir boy reciting the Athanasian Creed which says: ‘the Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible, the Holy Spirit incomprehensible’, whispers to his mate that: ‘if you ask me the whole blooming thing is incomprehensible!’ Many will sympathize with him. Why a doctrine in the first place?

The doctrine arose because of the need to identify the God that the early Christians were proclaiming. The question was being asked ‘is this the same God as the Jews are worshipping?’ In the second century Gnosticism became a rival to Christianity. On the surface much of it looked the same, but was it really the same God?

Today, I'm not going to delve into doctrine or attempt clever demonstrations of its reasonableness but reflection on the Christian experience that has led to the doctrine. C.S. Lewis writes about the Christian experience of prayer:‘An ordinary simple Christian kneels down to say his prayers. He is trying to get into touch with God. But if he is a Christian he knows that what is prompting him to pray is also God: God so to speak, inside him. But he also knows that all real knowledge of God comes through Christ, the Man who was God - that Christ is standing beside him, helping him to pray, praying for him. You see what is happening. God is the thing to which he is praying - the goal he is trying to reach. God is also the thing inside him which is pushing him on - the motive power. God is also the road or bridge along which he is being pushed to that goal. The whole 3-fold life of the 3-personal Being is actually going on in that ordinary act of prayer.’

This morning we have been dropped into six verses of one of the great and complex passages in scripture – Romans 8. It doesn’t give us a schematic diagram of God but it does give us another description of our experience. There is something/someone (we call the Spirit) inside us urging us not to live by the flesh and its sinful ways. This is the same One who helps us relate to God as our Father and to see ourselves now as adopted sons of God and therefore brothers of Christ, and co-heirs with him. We are no longer slaves to sin but adopted sons of God.

All this relies heavily on our understanding of Roman households and slaves within them. Slaves were stripped of all family ties; they had no identity of their own. Their only identity came through the head of the household. On the other hand to be a ‘son’ was to have status within Roman society; it gave you the ability to be your Father’s heir. The same went for adopted sons. 

 If you know the story of Ben-Hur you’ll remember a perfect example of what adoption means in this context.Ben-Hur (played by Charlton Heston) has become a slave on a galley ship. When it is sunk he saves the life of a prominent Roman citizen Arrius (played by Jack Hawkins). Back in Rome at a party for all his friends Arrius, whose own son has died, makes Ben-Hur his adopted son (and names him Arrius).  Before the assembled company he says: ‘The formalities of adoption have been completed. Young Arrius is now the legal bearer of my name and the heir to my property.’ Arrius gives Ben-Hur the ring from his finger. Ben-Hur then says: ‘I shall always try to wear this ring as a son of Arrius should – with gratitude, affection and with honour.’

I think the Spirit of God is a bit like that ring. The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ has given us his Spirit as a pledge to show who we are. The Spirit of the Triune God is our adoption certificate that proves our sonship. We are welcomed into the family of God; children of God and co-heirs with Christ of all that God has for us in heaven.

Trinity Sunday is a day when we are in danger of focusing solely on a doctrine. The doctrine is there to define who God and also to interpret our common Christian experience, maybe especially our experience of the Spirit.

Poor Nicodemus – he was doing his best but he couldn’t quite grasp what Jesus was getting at. It was just an intellectual conundrum. He needed to experience the wind of the Spirit in his life. The Spirit that draws us into communion with the God who is, in his very being, persons in relationship with each other. 

Let's not allow the Trinity to become an intellectual conundrum for us to solve.  But let's enter into the life of the Trinity and enjoy the experience, discovering more of the richness of our inheritance in Christ.

Sunday, 24 May 2015

The One who comes alongside us (24 May)

Acts 2.1-21
The Pentecost story may seem very weird – with its exotic sounding place names, violent winds, tongues of fire, and the speaking of many languages.  We read it every year and perhaps we scratch our heads wondering quite what it’s about, possibly relieved that nothing like that has ever happened to us. Or again perhaps wistfully hoping that it did.

Pentecost Sunday comes and goes, the events we celebrate all happened a long time ago, and we move on. But wait a minute...  The spectacular phenomena recorded in Acts 2 may not be our experience but central to our Christian profession is the belief that the Holy Spirit is at work in all our lives.  We may consider ourselves to be Anglican but we are all, in a biblical sense, thoroughly Pentecostal too. 

Let’s remind ourselves of some of the basics.  In John’s gospel we have read this morning these words of Jesus to his disciples:  When the Counsellor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me.  (15.26) 

Other translations say: when the Advocate comes or when the Comforter comes or when the Helper comes.  Advocate, comforter, helper, counsellor are all different attempts to translate the Greek word: paráklētos (paraclete).

Literally, paráklētos means ‘one who comes alongside’ to guide or comfort, to encourage or refresh, or one who intercedes on our behalf as an advocate does for their client in a court of law.  But who is this mysterious figure?  We know it’s the Holy Spirit – but what or who is the Holy Spirit?

For four weeks now we have been dipping into the words of Jesus from John’s gospel as he prepares his friends for his arrest and departure.  In chapter 14 he says: I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counsellor [advocate, helper...] to be with you for ever – the Spirit of truth. 

Who was the first Counsellor?  Jesus was the first paráklētos, the first to come alongside to be with us:  the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.  So who is the Spirit?  When it says: another Counsellor the Greek means another of exactly the same kind. Jesus is not promising an inferior deputy to replace him but one of the same kind – a second paráklētos – i.e. another expression of the presence of God in our midst, the Spirit of Jesus/God.

The disciples might have found it hard to believe it when Jesus said: But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away.  I suspect we do too.  But Jesus said: Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.  Jesus could only be in one place at a time when he was with his disciples.  Now, by his Spirit he is with us all, two billion Christians across the world today.

Sadly, not all of us may be aware of quite what Jesus has promised to all who put their faith in him – the gift of his presence, of his power with us on a daily basis.

The disciples had their thinking turned upside down by the totally unexpected fact of the resurrection.  They witnessed an event we call the ascension. They reconstituted the 12 Apostles after the loss of Judas, and then they just waited. They waited not knowing what would happen.  They didn’t know what to expect, yet (having experienced the resurrection) they now realized that anything was possible.

When the Holy Spirit did come at Pentecost, how it happen was wholly unexpected.  Those in the street who heard the commotion and saw the Spirit filled disciples were, we are told, bewildered (v6), utterly amazed and astonished (v7), and amazed and perplexed (v12).

My guess is that prior to this moment Jesus’ words of promise of another helper had not made much sense to the disciples.  Their calling now was to make sense of what had happened to them and learn to live it out.  Peter, becomes their spokesman and it’s pretty amazing what he makes of it all in the short time he’s had to reflect on it (i.e. no time)   
He draws on the words of the prophet Joel and says, in effect: ‘Today the Spirit has made us into a community, a community of prophets’ – are you ready for that here?!

I hazard a guess that most of us have not had their kind of Pentecostal experience.  However, if we are Christians, then, for certain, we have received the gift of the Holy Spirit; God’s transforming presence alongside us. Or as St. Paul says: Christ in you, the hope of glory. (Col 1.27)

If that is the case then, whatever our past experience may have been, anything can happen.  For Christ is risen from the dead and by his Spirit, the paráklētos, he is alongside us now as our counsellor, advocate, comforter, helper and guide. Pentecost isn’t about one day in our year but every day.


God of wind and fire, bring to us today the surprises of your Spirit. 

As we’ve gather on this special day (the birthday of your Church) we may be, like so many others, feeling shy or sluggish, tired or timid, and without expectation of a new birth.

So come among us, burn up our fears in the heat of your love; blow through our minds with the joyous freedom of your Spirit.  Make this church a crucible of love and joy, where your kingdom is coming.

Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on us.
Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on us;
break us, melt us, mould us, fill us.
Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on us.

Sunday, 10 May 2015

Bishop Stephen's Easter video blog 2015

God is in the room (10 May 2015)

Acts 10.44-48 (John 15.9-17) 
If you were with us last week you may remember that we looked at what it means to remain in or to abide in Jesus, the true vine. In today’s gospel reading Jesus now speaks of us remaining in his love. If you keep my commands, you will remain (abide) in my love… And Jesus’ command here is that we love one another. He says this on the eve of his arrest and crucifixion, when he’ll show the extent of his love for us. The simple test of our abiding in his love then is that we love those around us; that we are kind, compassionate and hospitable to others, especially those different to ourselves.

The Book of Acts gives us an insight into the life of the early Church as it began to share the good news of Christ’s love and his resurrection. Peter was the great spokesman of the Jerusalem Church in those days and his preaching took him across the country – for instance to Joppa, on the coast. Now, further up the coast in the Roman town of Caesarea lived a centurion by the name of Cornelius. He was not a Jew (as all Christians were at this stage) but a gentile. However, he is said to be God-fearing which means that he was not circumcised, he didn’t keep the Jewish law and its dietary restrictions but he did pray to the God of Israel.

He has a vision – send to Joppa for a man named Peter and hear what he has to say. At the same time Peter has a vision too – a great sale-cloth let down from heaven with all kinds of animals, reptiles and birds in it. He is invited to kill and eat but being a good observant Jew Peter says ‘Surely not Lord! I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.’ To which the reply comes: ‘Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.’ This happens three times. When the centurion’s servants come for Peter he has misgivings about going with them, about entering under the roof of a gentile and accepting hospitality – for it was against the Jewish law. But the Spirit reassures Peter and he goes.

When he gets to the house it’s big, and inside is a large gathering of people. They share their visions and everyone settles down to hear what Peter has to say. In effect Peter says to them ‘Well, I didn’t want to come here but God has shown me that I shouldn’t call anyone impure or unclean – so here is the gospel message that I’ve been sharing with my fellow Jews.’ But as Peter is preaching his sermon he is rudely interrupted by the Holy Spirit – O that we should all be so lucky! He was just getting going. 44 While Peter was still speaking … the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. It was just like the original disciples’ own Pentecost experience in the upper room in Jerusalem. The Holy Spirit was pour out on these uncircumcised gentiles – they spoke in tongues and praised. It was undeniable. God was in the room. What else could Peter do than say: ‘Surely no one can stand in the way of their being baptised with water. They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.’ It was totally unexpected but true.

Do you remember that moment at 10 o’clock last Thursday evening when the Exit Poll was announced? It was just so totally unexpected wasn’t it - by all parties and the BBC. Paddy Ashdon said he would eat his hat if it were true. Well, it turned out to be so and more – quite extraordinary. The Holy Spirit coming on the gentiles in Cornelius’ house was that kind of moment: The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on Gentiles. And what can Peter do but order that they be baptised. Acts records that this wasn’t his own bright idea; it was the inevitable result of something initiated entirely by God. And Acts charts how the church was left to figure out the consequences of what had just happened. That banal sounding verse: they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days no doubt covers some hard thinking that went on about quite what he was going to say to the all Jewish Church in Jerusalem when he got back – poor man.

But it was undeniable. Peter could defend his actions by saying: ‘Look, God set up the meeting between me and Cornelius. And God was in the room as I was preaching. And the Spirit didn’t even wait for me to finish but fell on them as on us. The Spirit couldn’t wait - what else could I do?’ Read on in the Acts of the Apostles and you’ll see how the church responded, recognising that the Spirit had gone ahead of them. As a body they discerned how to proceed, making room for gentile converts and learning to love one another and remain in God’s love.

So, what about us? How shall we respond this morning to this portion of scripture? The Spirit still goes ahead of us; are we aware that there are sometimes divine appointments for us to keep? Might we be in danger of limiting our own experience of God by a lack of imagination on our own part? Are we aware that God may wish to use us in some small way to help other? Perhaps by crossing a barrier or a boundary we have been careful to avoid in the past? Will we allow for the possibility that God is in the room and able to do far more that we think or imagine? Might that not be a helpful mantra for us to adopt – God is in the room. Are we prepared to have our carefully planned schemes interrupted by God’s Holy Spirit?