Diary Dates


Weds. 3rd 10.30am Holy Communion St John’s Priory

8.00am Holy Communion St John’s Priory
9.30am Matins, BCP St Catherine’s 10.45am Epiphany Procession and Eucharist Parish Church

Monday 8th The Baptism of Christ

Weds. 10th 10.30am Holy Communion St John’s Priory
7 for 7.30pm Mothers’ Union meal The Greyhound

8.00am Holy Communion Parish Church
9.30am Holy Communion St Catherine’s
10.45am Sung Eucharist Parish Church

Tuesday 16th 10.30-12 noon The Coffee Corner Community Centre

Weds. 17th 10.30am Holy Communion St John’s Priory
2.30pm AGM of Wilton Mothers’ Union Church Room

Saturday 20th 10.30am` “Open” PCC Meeting Parish Church
7.30pm “Pulse Camp” AGM Barford

8.00am Holy Communion Parish Church
9.30am Matins St Catherine’s
10.45am Sung Eucharist Parish Church

Tuesday 23rd 10.30-12 noon The Coffee Corner Community Centre

Weds. 24th 10.30am Holy Communion St John’s Priory

Sunday 28th CANDLEMAS (Presentation of Christ in the Temple)
8.00am Holy Communion Parish Church
9.30am Holy Communion St Catherine’s
10.45am Sung Eucharist Parish Church

Tuesday 30th 10.30-12 noon The Coffee Corner Community Centre
7.30pm Grapevine 32 Waterditchampton

Weds 31st 10.30am Holy Communion St John’s Priory


“The Word”, and other words at Christmas!

Sermon preached at Midnight Mass, 24 December 2017

This is perhaps the most dangerous sermon of the year –
dangerous, at least, in the sense that there is an increased risk that by the end, at least some of the congregation will have nodded off to sleep! So let me start by telling you something of what’s in it just in case.. Tonight I want to talk about “Youthquakes”, Bitcoins and bottle deposits. And if you want to know how on earth I can connect all those things into Christmas – you’ll just have to stay awake!

Let’s start then with “youthquake”, the Oxford Dictionaries’ Word of the Year. Youthquake is defined as ‘a significant cultural, political, or social change arising from the actions or influence of young people’. We might think of the huge social changes that occurred in the 1960s – and whether we view those changes as good, bad or indifferent probably depends on how old we were at the time or, as in my case, if we’re not old enough to remember!

The same generational fault-lines surfaced again during this year’s General Election – which perhaps explains why a word that most of us hadn’t ever used until very recently has suddenly shot to prominence.

Perhaps the most predictable link to the Christmas story, then, lies in the fact that Jesus – God incarnate – comes to us not as a mighty warrior – not even as a stroppy teenager – but as a tiny, frail infant – unable to speak, let alone command his people to repent. And yet, if this story of Christmas is true, then this tiny child has sent shockwaves through not just one society, or culture, but through the whole created cosmos.
This tiny, helpless baby grew to become – yes the awkward adolescent, giving his mother more than the odd palpitation along the way, and then the charismatic leader – unafraid to challenge the failings of the society he lived in – willing to die to prove the point of God’s greater plan for us all.

I said “if it is true” – because it is painfully obvious to us all that the world we live in today is far from perfect – it is painfully obvious to those of us who believe that many of our neighbours are pretty indifferent to Christ and his gospel most, if not all, of the time.
How are we supposed to make sense of that? Was the world changed for ever by this particular “youthquake” or, as our detractors might suggest, is it the case that we have been left behind as the world has moved on again?

Cue the “bitcoin”!
That’s another word about which we’ve heard plenty over the last couple of weeks – along with terms like “cryptocurrency” and “futures markets” – neither of which tend to crop up in most people’s daily conversation.

As the new currency was released, last month, one financial commentator was asked to speculate on how the Bitcoin might be performing in 20 years’ time. The answer she gave was very succinct – “it will either have petered out altogether or it will have completely changed the way the world works”.

The reason for that bold claim is that this is the first widely available currency that has no central bank or administrator – relying completely on transactions between users, of which there are estimated to be as many as 5.8 million users (but no-one is exactly sure!).

It is a very different way of operating – outside the control of the established systems – and just as unsettling to some in financial services as any cultural “youthquake”.

And the relevance to the Christmas story, perhaps, is this: that there is no reason, just because most people don’t yet understand the Bitcoin or “zone out” whenever it is discussed, to assume it is not important. In 20 years’ time it may well have changed the way the world works beyond all recognition.
Just think of how much the way pay for our shopping has changed in the last 20 years.

Just because most people don’t understand much about our faith, or chose not to bother with it – there is no reason to assume that it isn’t true – nor does it undermine the belief that Christ has transformed the world, even if it takes a lifetime to explore the new depths of truth that are being revealed for us.

As G.K Chesterton commented, a century ago,
“Christianity has not been tried, and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried.”

The indifference of others should not deter us from the light of truth which shines among us this night.


And so to “bottle deposits”.
I am old enough to remember carrying empty “pop bottles” – lemonade bottles – back to the Coop and being rewarded with a few pence to spend at the neighbouring newsagents.

This week proposals have emerged for a new system of deposits – this time on plastic bottles. And there may well be rewards and penalties for manufcturers – corresponding to the ease with which their packaging can be recycled.

All this comes on the back of the recent “Blue Planet” series –presented by David Attenborough, and examining the state of the world’s oceans and the damage done to them by our pollution – and specifically plastics.
Towards the end of the series Attenborough commented that we can now “see, more clearly than ever before”, the effects our collective lifestyle is having on the oceans and the various life forms that depend on them. And he mixes an optimism that, with determination and cooperation, we can reverse the damage relatively quickly, with a palpable frustration that people and governments seem unwilling to act – unwilling to believe what they can now see with their own eyes – preferring to carry on as before.
Again – there’s a resonance with the Christmas story.
As we heard, from the beginning of the Gospel of John, Jesus came into the world but
“his own people did not accept him”.
And later, in Chapter 3 we read that “people loved the darkness rather than the light … for all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed.”

Clearly, it’s not a new problem then!
Simply showing people the reality of any situation will not convince them to act.

None of us like to face up to the fact that we are part of a problem
and may need to mend our ways.

But that, it seems, is exactly what we need to do – according to David Attenborough – if there is to be life on earth in the future.

That is exactly what we need to do, according the Gospel –
if we are to realise the vision of eternal life for which God created us.

Christ calls us to resist the temptation to hide ourselves away from the light – denying the uncomfortable truths we see – and, instead, to look up and see all that he makes plain for us, to look within ourselves, to look around us
and to act on what we see.

That calling is powerfully expressed in the Baptism service, when each new Christian is greeted with these words:
“You have received the light of Christ.
Walk in this light all the days of your life.
Shine as a light in the world to the glory of God the Father”.

May Christ give us grace, this night,
to acknowledge our Christian calling –
to know ourselves to be “children of God”;
to live our lives in the light of his truth;
and to testify to his presence in the world
– that others might believe through us.

Taking a “pop” at the Poppy?

12th  November 2017

Parade and Service of Remembrance

Every community has its natural “gossip points” – places where local information is exchanged and where the latest innovations and scandals can be shared and argued over at leisure. Here, depending on our age and personal taste, that may well be The Bear, or one of the many local Coffee Shops, among one of the groups that meet at the Community Centre; it might be on the top deck of the of the bus to school or perhaps even in “Sprinkles”, in town, when you’ve missed the bus home! One way or another, we tend to find our own sources and outlets of local intelligence – reliable or otherwise!

For me, one of those places is Wilton Barber Shop – although, sadly, I don’t need to visit quite so often these days! But when I do, I’m always confident that some interesting snippets will emerge in the conversation and that strong views will be freely expressed!

This week, the talk was about poppies – and the increasing reluctance of many people to wear them. For around 11% of the population, it seems, that reluctance is due to a concern that wearing the poppy – and attending commemorations like this one – actually glorifies war.
Some of those in the Barber’s were quite angry about that suggestion – seeing it just as a selfish excuse for not joining in and honouring those who fought for our freedom.

I have to admit I just feel rather weary with the same circle of arguments that seems to surface every now and then: and, rather than fuelling the conflict of ideas that is buzzing away just now, I think we should all simply get on and observe Remembrance with integrity – with a careful balance of pride and regret.

The Poppy is a symbol like any other – to which we can attach positive associations or negative ones – it’s up to each one of us what we make of that symbol.
The poppy CAN glorify war if want it to, it CAN say more about those who wear it than about those who died, if we let it – but it doesn’t need to.

We know that our national flags – the Union Flag and the St George Cross – have been appropriated by the Far Right as symbols of their distorted nationalist pride. But rather than abandon those emblems, because they CAN be misrepresented, we would surely do better to reclaim them by offering a better interpretation of civic pride and national identity.
The Union flag preceded this morning’s Parade – of youth organisations and Councillors – and, back on St George’s day, as several hundred Scouts made their way into this Parish Church, it was behind both national flags – not as assertions of nationalist aggression, but of solidarity with each other and our patron saint.

Poppies, like national flags, CAN point to a narrow, triumphalist vision of national insularity and nostalgia – or they can represent a broad vision of shared national values and of continuity between the generations.

We should, I think, wear our poppies with pride – as the slogan went – and also with a tinge of regret.

And if we really do need a corrective against the glorification of war, then it’s in the very act of Remembrance – of remembering the grisly reality of past wars and present conflicts that we’re most likely to find it.

It’s a very sobering thought that, among those Scouts who paraded back in April, were young men who, had they lived in 1917, would have been wearing a different uniform and worrying not about A levels and acne, but about the much starker challenges of the trenches.
This year marks the centenary of one of the bloodiest battles of WW1 – the “Third Battle of Ypres” – which raged from July to November 1917, culminating if the capture of the village of “Passchendaele” – the other name often given to this conflict. 1917 was the wettest summer for 40 years – and Passchedaele stands out in the history of WW1 not only for the huge loss of life – around ¼ million casualties on both sides – but also the dreadful conditions in which the men fought – sometimes described as a man-made swamp.

Recalling the loss of so many young lives and the lost potential of that generation is very far from “glorification”.

It is, in fact, a reminder that war really is only a last resort – that war is itself a sign of failure – necessary only when political will and diplomacy have proved inadequate.

The point of Remembrance services, the point of wearing poppies is precisely that – is the regretful admission that war is sometimes necessary, in order to defend what we perceive to be right and good, but never desirable.

If we wear our poppies with pride – it is in recognition and gratitude that when the need did arise – there were so many who were willing to put the needs of their country ahead of their own personal ambitions.

Perhaps not all of them knew what they were letting themselves in for – especially back in 1914 some of those young men may well have marched off with unrealistic expectations of a quick skirmish and a return home as conquering heroes – but they were quickly disabused of that notion and the many who followed them did so with grim determination, not jingoistic enthusiasm.

And it’s for that determination, for that personal sacrifice –that we honour them all each year.

In doing so, we’re called to renew our own determination to ensure that we don’t squander the freedoms that they fought for – that we don’t simply pursue our own personal ambitions at the expense of our neighbours – that we are always prepared to do what is necessary to defend and promote what is good and just in the world of our day.


A final thought from the world of football.
I’m not a great soccer fan, as it happens – but it would be hard for any of us to have missed the protest that greeted FIFA’s attempt, last year, to ban the wearing of poppies by players because, it was said, they were a political symbol.

That ban has been lifted, and on Friday poppies were very much in evidence as the national teams of England and Germany faced each other at Wembley Stadium,
with its new statue commemorating the Christmas Day truce of 1914.

Both teams wore black armbands with poppies on them. And before the match began, representatives of the Army, Navy and Air Force of both nations laid wreaths and players and fans of both nations kept a respectful silence in honour of all the war dead.

In that moment the poppy became a symbol, not of division, but of reconciliation – and in that united gesture surely there is hope for the future.

Let us continue to wear our poppies then – let us remember – with pride, with sorrow and with hope.


Table Manners!

15 October 2017

(Readings: Philippians 4: 1 – 9  *  Matthew 22: 1-14)

Next Wednesday, we celebrate the Feat of St Luke the Evangelist – also known as St Luke the Physician. And so I’d thought I might pick up on that, and on this week’s news items about the shortage of family GP’s and/or the use and overuse of antibiotics, and give you a nice topical sermon this week.

And then I read this morning’s Gospel – and thought I’d better take a look at that instead!

St Luke will get a sideways “look in”, however: he also records this parable in his Gospel – but with some notable differences – and I thought it might be worth just noting those discrepancies, to see what if that might help us make sense of this slightly uncomfortable passage.

Whichever version you read, the central message is not going to be a comforting one for the Pharisees and Jewish leaders who seem to be its intended target: the King invites those whom he assumes will come to the feast and honour his son, only to be sorely disappointed – and so he invites a different set of people to take their place.
The account that Luke gives us is a simple analogy for the way that the Jewish leaders had rejected God’s son: those who saw themselves as God’s people had failed to recognise Jesus as the messiah, therefore God would call a new people who would honour him.

That’s a fairly straightforward message – and, for those who see themselves as part of that second group of people, those early Christians for whom the gospels were first written down, perhaps a reassuring one.

But then Mathew goes and complicates it with further details!

In his account, the intended guests aren’t just rude – ignoring the king’s invitation – they make things far worse by mistreating the slaves who bring their invitations.
Perhaps Matthew adds this in as a reflection of the growing hostility that Jewish Christians were facing from non-Christian Jews: when the Jewish Temple was destroyed, in the year 70, some Christians saw this as a sign that the old order had been destroyed. At the same time some Jewish leaders blamed the Jewish-Christians – seeing this destruction as God’s judgement on their false beliefs.
And so, when Matthew sets down his gospel, it’s against a backdrop of division within the Jewish faith – with those who are followers of Jesus finding themselves less welcome, and eventually being expelled from the synagogues altogether by those who rejected Jesus and his teaching.

Is this what Matthew is reflecting when he describes the mistreatment of the King’s slaves? Are we meant to recognise them as the Jewish Christians – offering the invitation to Christ’s banquet and being persecuted for their troubles?

And then the second “extra” in Matthew’s account seems even harsher – and that’s the poor man without the robe.
It’s really not clear what’s going on here and it’s hard not to feel sorry for this man: he had no idea that he would going to a wedding feast – but has responded to the invitation and turned up anyway. So it feels rather unfair to criticise him, then, for not wearing the correct robe.

The king’s initial civility – “Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?” – can’t disguise the harshness of his punishment he then suffers: “Bind him .. and throw him into the outer darkness.”
So what is that all about? – why couldn’t Matthew just have left things uncomplicated like Luke!?

Presumably the key must lie in the man’s response to the King – or rather his lack of response. It’s almost as if the man doesn’t realise who is speaking to him – that he hasn’t actually bothered to find out whose feast this is, or the reason for it – the marriage of his future king.

He’s simply accepted the offer of free food – without entering into the spirit of the occasion – a gate-crasher rather than a guest. He’s really not that interested in the king’s feelings – or in honouring his son – and it’s for this discourtesy – it seems – that he faces the king’s wrath..
So, with this added twist to the tale, is Matthew perhaps sharpening the divisions within Judaism – emphasising that those who ignore Jesus (the son) will themselves be rejected by his father?

Again, to those early Christians – that would come across more as a message of reassurance – that they WERE on the right track, they were “God’s chosen ones” even if they were facing hostility for their beliefs.

To us that message is rather less immediate and possibly less reassuring – we’re rightly wary of anything that seems to cause even more divisions and religious tension.

And, unusually for me, I found far more solace in the Epistle this week – that far more approachable passage from St Paul’s letter to the Philippians – written before the gospels, and before the destruction of the Temple.

Paul is also focused on Jesus, the Son of God – but his vision here is far more encouraging and far more inclusive: “Stand firm in the Lord, Rejoice in the Lord. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near.”

For Paul, then, Christ is clearly present among his people – among us – not as a scolding, threatening presence but as the way to the Father and as the source of our salvation.

“Do not worry….,
but let your requests be made known to God,
and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”
In Paul’s experience, then, Christ is not the spoilt son of the king – sulking because no-one wanted to come to his party. Nor is he here among us to judge our motives – whether we are here for the right reasons, whether we are showing him due respect?

Christ, he suggests, comes among us – as both mediator and friend – taking our deepest concerns straight into the heart of God – protecting us both from ourselves and our own selfish desires and also from those who would wish us harm.

We don’t have to go out and buy an expensive gown before we can come to his feast – we just have to ask, and we will be provided for.

We don’t have to be perfect saints to gather round his table – we just have to come and we will be accepted.

The later wedding guests were invited, not just to eat up all the food, but to rejoice in the good fortune of the king’s son.

Christ calls us to his feast – not just to take bread and wine – but to find and receive true life and true peace.


8.00am Holy Communion St John’s Priory
9.30am Matins, BCP St Catherine’s 10.45am Parish Eucharist Parish Church

Monday 2nd 2.45pn “Open the Book” Primary School 7.30pm Confirmation Plus group

Tuesday 3rd 10.30-12 noon The Coffee Corner Community Centre
7.30pm Wilton Christian Fellowship – AGM Baptist Church
Weds. 4th                                                                                                                                             9.00am Governors’ visits – “Christian ethos” Primary School

10.30am Holy Communion St John’s Priory
7.30pm Wedding Rehearsal Parish Church
7.30pm Mothers’Union ‘The Angel Tree’
Talk by Rosie Stiven 14 Harnwood Rd.

Thursday 5th                                                                                                                                10.30am Funeral of the late Janet Yexley, Parish Church

Friday 6th 1.00pm Wedding of Toni Baxter and Parish Church
Nathaniel Welsh

8.00am Holy Communion Parish Church
9.30am Holy Communion St Catherine’s
10.45am Choral Eucharist Parish Church

Monday 9th                                                                                                                                               1.30pm   Funeral of the late Les Whatley, Parish Church                                                               7.30pm Emmaus Course

Tuesday 10th                                                                                                                                  10.30-12 noon The Coffee Corner Community Centre

Weds. 11th                                                                                                                                                 10.30am Holy Communion St John’s Priory
2.00pm Bible Reading Group Rectory
2.30pm Mothers’ Union Diocesan Chaplain Church Room
Jacqui Clarke on ‘Faith in Action’

Thurs. 12th                                                                                                                                           9.30am  Harvest Service, Kingfisher Nursery                                                                                11.00am Holy Communion St. Peter’s
8.00am Holy Communion Parish Church
9.30am Matins BCP St Catherine’s
10.45am Sung Eucharist Parish Church

Monday 16th                                                                                                                                            2.45pn “Open the Book” Primary School                                                                                          7.30pm Confirmation Plus group

Tuesday 17th                                                                                                                                      10.30-12 noon The Coffee Corner Community Centre

10.30am Holy Communion St John’s Priory
2.00pm School Harvest service Primary School
(Half Term begins)

8.00am Holy Communion Parish Church
9.30am Holy Communion St Catherine’s
10.45am Sung Eucharist Parish Church

Weds. 25th                                                                                                                                          10.30am Holy Communion St John’s Priory

2.00pm Marriage of Raymond Hayden Parish Church
and Leonie Harrington

8.00am Holy Communion Parish Church
10.45am Sung Eucharist Parish Church
11.00am Holy Baptism St. Catherine’s
3.00pm Holy Baptism Parish Church

Monday 30th                                                                                                                                            7.30pm Emmaus Course

Tuesday 31st                                                                                                                                  10.30-12 noon The Coffee Corner Community Centre

(NEVER) Mind the Gap!

Sermon preached on the 6th August 2017 – Feast of the Transfiguration

Readings Daniel 7: 9-10, 13-14;   Luke 9: 28-36  

Today’s Feast of the Transfiguration is perhaps one that doesn’t register in our thoughts as often as it might! For some of us, in fact, the term “Transfiguration” may be associated less with the Bible than with J K Rowling’s “Harry Potter” stories – where Transfiguration classes develop the art of changing one object into another.

And if you’ve seen anything of the Athletics heats taking place in London, just now, you’ll have seen an equally dramatic “change of appearance” on the faces of the athletes, as they move through nervous anticipation, to focused preparation, to determination and then to relief, or anguish, or elation – depending on how they fare.

Of particular note, of course, was Mo Farah – whose eyes almost seemed to precede him along the track and he willed himself to victory – followed by the gentle smile of success – and then, an altogether different smile, of contentment and pride, as his family joined him on the track to mark the end of his running career. Within a few minutes, it seemed, the changes in the facial expressions of one man revealed a number of truths about him. All of them good.

In the biblical accounts of Jesus’ transfiguration – his appearance is changed, before the weary eyes of his closest disciples. This was clearly quite an experience for them – not only the dazzling vision of the transfigured Christ – but also the appearance of Moses and Elijah – heralding Christ’s own imminent departure.

Curious then, perhaps that “in those days they told no one any of the things they had seen.” That final sentence, from today’s reading, is a bit like the end of Mark’s account of the Resurrection – when those who discover the empty tomb “said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid”.

In both cases, it seems an odd reaction to a truly mind-blowing encounter. Were they “afraid” that no-one would believe them if they did speak about thee things?
Were they not actually sure that they themselves could believe their own eyes? Were those on the mountain, described as being “weighed down with sleep”, perhaps wondering if they’d dreamt the whole thing? Or was it simply TOO profound an encounter for them to relate? After all, we’re told that those on the mountain with Jesus were “terrified”, as the cloud overshadowed them.
Whatever their reasons for keeping quiet – they have been drawn into a meeting of two worlds – heaven and earth – in which the changing appearance of Jesus reveals his true identity; his true nature; his true glory.

In this diocese, some years back, there was an oft-repeated phrase from St. Irenaeus -”the glory of God is a human being fully alive”
-”the glory of God is a human being fully alive”

And I found that phrase coming to mind this week on the back of a very different kind of encounter – recorded on a documentary for Channel 4, called “An Old People’s home for 4 year olds”.

Someone had decided to see what would happen, if the energy and curious enthusiasm of group of young children were unleashed upon the residents of a rather sedate and very plush retirement home – some of whom were used to children, some of whom were decidedly not!


One particular resident, Hamish – a slightly grumpy looking man with an artificial leg – seemed to undergo a transformation ALMOST as dramatic as Jesus’, but without really admitting it!
He was adamant, before the children arrived, that this was all a pointless exercise – which would not benefit anyone and would doubtless end in tears.
And, true to form, as the children arrive, we see him sitting in his usual chair, reading his newspaper as a kind safety barrier between him and them.

But he doesn’t know about children – and if he’s not going to initiate the conversation, then 4 year old Amiya is. And soon Hamish finds himself cheerfully answering a barrage of questions.

Before long, this self-professed sceptic – who really has no time for these children or this silly experiment – is to be seen lying on the lounge floor, playing dead, and then roaring to the delighted squeals of the children.
He just seemed to forget that he was supposed to be grumpy – and, for a while, we glimpsed the 4 year old Hamish peeping out from an older shell.
And there were other transformations. One lady, who had no children or grandchildren of her own, and had just lost her husband – rarely moved from her chair and was displaying signs of depression. She found herself “adopted” by one particular girl who just wouldn’t leave her sitting there to mope. Quite remarkably, she changed before our eyes.

There was a sports day – with the slightly scary sight of normally gentile octogenarians pushing themselves to new limits – three-wheeled walking aids whizzing along the track at speeds they were not designed for –
but, fortunately, no casualties!

There was an end of term assembly – for the children’s parents – with both residents and children side by side.

It was a really moving encounter – on lots of levels.
In some cases it quite literally seemed to bring back to life some who’d really given up on living. Young and old together gave a glimpse of what it is to be “fully alive” – and it left you wanting to see more of this, not on the TV screen, but in the community at large.

We live in a society in which the generations seem to be more separated than ever – both by the rapid pace of change and differences in upbringing – and also by the heightened concern to protect children from unfamiliar adults.

That protection is necessary – as is the need to protect vulnerable elderly people. And yet, there must be a way to provide safe spaces where the generations can encounter each other – and where young and old can help each other to a fuller understanding and engagement with life itself.

And I think there’s a challenge in that for us:
can we find ways to make this parish church OR perhaps the people of this parish church the natural “meeting space” for people of different ages and backgrounds?

Can we somehow draw our disparate neighbours to each other – in ways that will allow us all to discover, or perhaps rediscover, hidden depths within ourselves – the glory which is a human life lived as fully as God intends.


This year there have been lots of things bubbling up here – signs of new life budding into growth.

Now is a good time, I think, to really take stock and see how we might develop some of those things – to benefit more of us, and more of those living around us.

I’m hoping we’ll have an opportunity to do just that, after the holiday season is over, with another Parish Planning day – something we haven’t done for quite a few years now.

And so, before then, during this relatively quiet time of the year, can we consciously think back, and look out, for examples of other social groups and church projects that inspire us?

Are there ideas which we could explore – simple ways of reaching and connecting people which we could offer?

And if you CAN think of encounters of this kind, that have impressed and moved you, please don’t follow the disciples lead, and keep it to yourself!
It may just be the good news we all need to hear.

At the transfiguration of Jesus, God’s glory is revealed to ordinary people through the transformation of one Man.
Let us hope and pray and work for the transformation of our lives and those of our neighbours – in such a way that God’s glory shines through us all.

Problematic prose, a prig, a prelate and a people’s princess!

Sermon preached on 3rd September 2017

Readings: Romans 12: 9 – end ;  Matthew 16: 21 – end 

Very often, at this time of year, I’ve reported back with my allegedly profound thoughts, – having taken some time off and ploughed through a whole stack of books.
This year I’ve been rather less successful – on both counts – and during these past few days of summer holidays, I’ve resorted to the television for relaxation instead: Roald Dahl would not have been impressed!

And yet – there was food for thought – even amidst that unplanned viewing. Two programmes in particular came to mind as I pondered today’s readings.

I’ll come to them in a moment but first, just to reflect that both readings are pretty familiar to us – every Lent we sing “Take up thy Cross” – and the sentiments of the first reading are echoed strongly in the hymn we’ll sing shortly, “When I needed a neighbour”.

Both readings also have a “catch” – one phrase that suddenly jars and leaves us scrabbling to make sense of it.

“Let love be genuine”, our first reading begins positively – and then goes on to details what that means.
The “problem phrase” comes at the end where we’re encouraged to help our enemies because “by doing this you will heap burning coals upon their head”.

That seems a rather odd reason for doing something good – is Paul saying “be kind to someone who doesn’t like you because, in the end, you’ll make it worse for them”?
That doesn’t quite seem to fit with the rest of the passage – and Paul has in fact borrowed that verse from Proverbs – but he’s clearly included it for a reason.

Perhaps this is just a slightly strange figure of speech – meaning that, by showing kindness to an enemy, we confound their way of being – that we do in fact “overcome evil with good”. Or maybe that’s just what I hope it means!

Cue programme one – a documentary marking the 20th anniversary of the death of Princess Diana.
On Thursday evening, as I waited in vain for one of our cats to come in from the garden, I found myself sucked into an hour long reflection on the extraordinary scenes that surrounded Diana’s funeral – so many people, from all walks of life, weeping openly in what we were told was a very un-British display of emotion.
And it’s the reason for that response – the reason why so many different kinds of people felt drawn to show their respects – that I think might be relevant here.

Very many of those people had, of course, never been anywhere near Princess Diana – had no real idea what she was like in person.

Some of those people who wept for her, would probably have been pretty hostile to anyone else who’d enjoyed the kind of wealth into which she was born. The “class wars” of the 80s were still not that far behind us.

And yet, by the time of her death, there were very few people who dared to speak against the People’s Princess.

I suspect that one of the reasons why so many people did feel drawn to her – did feel that they knew here – is that we’d been used to seeing images of her, our beautiful young princess, spending time with those whose were less than beautiful – embracing those disfigured and isolated by illness, cradling malnourished children,
loving the unloved.
It’s very hard to dislike someone we’ve seen expressing such love and acceptance of others – whatever their own background. Perhaps that is why Diana drew such large and varied crowds at her funeral.

And perhaps that’s what lies behind Paul’s words – and the burning coals. Perhaps the best way to deal with hatred or division is to show such kindness to those who hate us – that we simply make it impossible for them to go on thinking and behaving in that way.

Onto our Gospel then and, for me, the snag here is that paradoxical phrase “those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it”. However we interpret those words, losing our life for Christ’s sake doesn’t sound a very inviting prospect.

Cue second TV experience – a rather longer viewing experience from even longer ago.

Back in 1993 Anthony Hopkins starred in a film called “The Remains of the Day” – appearing as “Stevens”, a very proud and devoted butler in a large Country House during the 1930s.
Stevens is definitely NOT prone to any un-British displays of emotion!

He is completely devoted to his employers.
His role within the household IS his life.

Even when he begins to suspect that his Lordship is welcoming some rather unsavoury guests, he will not utter or hear a bad word spoken against him.

Stevens’ life is based on duty and service – and that’s all there is to it. He is so devoted to serving others that he simply doesn’t HAVE a life of his own – and as the final scene fades, with an aging Stevens gazing out into the grey skies of a rather changed, post-war England, we’re left with a strong sense that this was a wasted life – a man devoted to a world that has gone, a man whom life has passed by.

Fortunately, Stevens is only a fictional character – but one with the power to move us, and caution us, about getting sucked into artificial systems and other people’s demands.
Surely that is NOT the kind of self-sacrifice that Jesus has in mind, when he spoke of “losing our lives”?
As it happens, I was rescued from my dark ponderings by the Radio – and another, very real, voice from the past.

A short clip was played, on Friday morning, of a recording of the late Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor, who has just died. And I was struck instantly both by how familiar that voice sounded AND the fact that I’d entirely forgotten about him.

He had the rather difficult task of succeeding Cardinal Basil Hume – one of those rare people who just seemed to exude some kind of “personal holiness”. And, like Diana, Basil Hume was well connected – both by family ties and through the generations of public school boys he taught at Ampleforth.

Cormac Murphy-O’Connor was none of those things – and just seemed so completely and utterly different.
He was a very large man who somehow still managed to fade into the background – never seeking the lime-light for himself.

When he needed to speak out he did – I can remember him very ably deflating Richard Dawkins when he was at his most provocative and anti-Christian.
For the most part, however, Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor was content just to be there in the background – dependable, faithful, gentle presence – a committed servant of the Church, but very definitely still himself: a very human Archbishop.

And perhaps that’s a better model for us than the fictional Stevens – a better response to Jesus’ call to service.

As a Church we are called to provide that same, dependable, loving presence for all our neighbours – neither seeking publicity or glory for ourselves, nor allowing ourselves to be worn out by unthinking drudgery.

As individual Christians, we are called to give our lives to the service of others, but not to forget who we really are.
That call, it seems to me, is not so much a call to sacrifice our own identity, but our selfish pride – to live in such a way that we can both be fully ourselves and engage fully with one another.

To “give our lives” in that way is to gain more than we lose –
as we discover what it really means to live in communion with God and our neighbour.