This week we have celebrated Harvest Festival. Sometimes it can be hard for those of us who live in towns to fully connect with the importance of good weather and a good harvest to carry us through the winter. However, as a gardener I have learnt over the years just how hard it is to get a good crop year by year. This year the cold weather at the beginning of the growing season and rain at the wrong times has resulted in a terrible runner bean harvest, as well as potatoes full of little holes. The skill and sheer hard work by our farmers and those across the world is something to really celebrate and give thanks for at Harvest.
But the Church also reminds us that all good gifts around us are sent from heaven above. So thank the Lord O thank the Lord for all his love. We worship a creator God who made our world so beautiful and fruitful and Harvest is a special time for giving thanks to God for the enormous beauty and variety of nature. But of course it is also a time for thinking of those who are less fortunate than us and so we traditionally bring gifts to give to others. In the Old Testament, we hear how the people of God always gave God the first and the best of the harvest. Giving God the first and best is how we are called to live as well.
The Conundrum of Rich and Poor
In today’s Gospel, St Luke describes the lifestyle of a rich man who dresses in purple and fine linen and is able to feast sumptuously every day. His table, however, does not seem to offer fellowship and companionship but rather isolation and exclusion. Lazarus, the beggar, ill and starving, subsists on almost nothing and has dogs, rather than humans, as companions. Loneliness remains a major issue for many in our society who are poor and marginalised.
Things are the opposite in heaven for Lazarus. He joins the company of Abraham and the angels. He had almost nothing on earth and is now richly blessed in heaven. For the rich man, however, existence has become a torment. He remains alone – the hell of loneliness – and no longer has his fine possessions and sumptuous lifestyle. Yet, he still carries with him his earthly assumptions. He attempts unsuccessfully to speak to Lazarus, his perceived inferior, through an intermediary, Abraham. He wishes to warn his brothers on earth about the prospects of hell but doesn’t make any connection between their privileged, uncaring lifestyle and its inappropriateness for the life of heaven, a point made very powerfully in today’s reading from Timothy.
In essence, the Gospel reading is less about inequality and more about connection. Those who are rich have within their power the capacity to offer benefits to the poor. The Church has within its power the capacity to reach out to all and commend to them the reality of God’s concern for all and the unqualified gifts of love and grace that God offers to all. This offer transcends all our earthly difficulties and inequalities. It is a breath-taking reality.
Wealth and God’s Economy
Our Gospel reading deals with the management of wealth – a subject that preoccupies almost all societies both historically and today. Wealth can be very divisive and it clearly threatened the relationships between the corrupt steward, his master and his debtors.
Today we worry about wealth, having sufficient to lead a reasonable life, the widening gap between rich and poor in our society and many others, the management of our national wealth and the stewardship – good and bad – of corporate wealth by companies and banks. Within the retailing sector we have recently seen the devastating effects on tens of thousands of people through the closure of BHS, in part at least through individual greed. In contrast the John Lewis Partnership offers a model of shared wealth where all employees are partners and benefit from the profits made by the business and their efforts within it. It is interesting that two current Sunday evening TV series, ‘Victoria’ and ‘Poldark’ both have as their subtexts the relationship between rich and poor, opulence and destitution and the power and privilege that wealth and social position confer.
Then there’s spiritual wealth. We are familiar with Matthew 6:21 (or Luke 12:34). ‘For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.’ The Church encourages the accumulation of spiritual wealth or ‘spiritual capital’ as it is often called. Such wealth or capital is renewed and augmented by our life as a Christian community. Through prayer, worship and a constant awareness of the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives, it truly becomes wealth to be shared for the greater good of all.
We have just been away for the first time in a new caravan! It was an unexpected gift from some dear friends and we have been so blessed already by having it. However, can I tell you how nerve-racking hooking up the caravan to our car was the first time.
The night before, I was excited to go away, however, as I lay in bed I began to worry. What if we hit a neighbour’s car as we manoeuvered out of our drive?! Would our old Seat blow up towing? Would we be driving along the M3 and suddenly see an identical caravan overtaking us – and then realise it wasn’t an identical caravan – it was in fact our caravan!?
I was filled with uncertainty and it’s not a nice place to be. We only have to look at the news or even our own Parish and see that we live in uncertain times. What should be our response? I think the key is in our Hebrew reading that repeats and repeats the word ‘faith’.
Elton Trueblood wrote these words, and I think they are profoundly true:
“The deepest conviction of the Christian is that Christ was not wrong.”
Faith involves certain beliefs. Faith involves an attitude of hope and confidence. But, at its core, faith is trusting a person. Yes, there is uncertainty in life, but there is faith in a person – Jesus Christ.
Those parishioners who were at the Special Parochial Church Meeting last night will have heard me announce that I shall be moving to a new role in September. That role is as the Canon Steward at Westminster Abbey and the announcements can be found by following these links:
It has been a wonderfully rich time being a parish priest here in Crawley and I am deeply grateful to all of you who have supported my family and me in so many ways in the past five years. There will be time over the coming months for me to express that gratitude in person – and I do hope you will be able to come to the ‘farewell’ on 4th September. That farewell is likely to be for both the Burston and Ball families as, following my departure, Steve will be assigned a new training incumbent. For 4th September, we are planning a Parish Eucharist at St Nicholas at 10.00 a.m. followed by lunch on the Rectory lawn.
Our move comes at an exciting time for the parish as we work to deliver the vision expressed in our Parish Plan, Growing Through 2016 and 2017. The energy and commitment that so many of you have already displayed to taking forward that vision of growth in Christ, re-imagining ministry and serving the common good is a huge encouragement to both Steve and me as we focus our efforts on supporting and enabling you to flourish during this time of change and, of course, some uncertainty .
The decisions taken yesterday about seeking an early appointment to the Associate Vicar post, exploring the appointment of a families and children’s worker and the possible revision of parish structures in response to the Crawley Review are all elements that should help to enhance the mission of the church in this time and place – but it is your contribution, individually and collectively, using your God-given gifts, that will be decisive for the future.
Wishing each of you every blessing in that shared endeavour,
Several times this week I have had cause to reflect on the glue that binds us together as a parish community. Also on what difference the Holy Spirit, whose coming we celebrated last Sunday, makes in our lives (individually and collectively). Looking forward to Trinity Sunday has proved a powerful backdrop to those reflections – reinforcing the experience of God as (or in) relationship. One of the classic images of the Trinity sees the Holy Spirit as the love the flows between the Father and the Son with such intensity that the three are one.
It has been a real joy to see the enthusiasm with which all those who volunteered to take forward particular aspects of ‘future development’ in our common life that emerged at the recent Vision Day. A tremendous release of people’s gifts that blesses us all – the effects of which are already being felt. Yet in the excitement we need to remember that it is a common life – we are all part of a community, in relationship with each other, and that what each does affects the whole. We have a responsibility to consider how our ideas and actions will impact on others – by tidying away this or changing that, we may inadvertently create difficulties for another group or person. By the same token those affected have a responsibility for encouraging (offering solutions not just criticism!) those who are volunteering. How we manage accountability and co-ordination as these ideas (the Spirit?) flow and find expression is one of the things the PCC will be considering in the light of discussion about the Parish Plan on Tuesday. But we can be sure that if we ground our relationships in God’s love, that has been poured into our hearts, we will promote mutual flourishing – reflecting and being bound into the divine relationship.
This week, in between appointments that could not be changed, Anthony and I have been together for last three days, surrounded by all the amazing ideas that people floated at the Vision Day – alongside the nine main priorities that were identified on the day. We have talked, reflected and prayed into these as we have attempted to write a plan that does justice to these ideas and can be implemented by us all.
A phrase I read in the past, that came back to me at this time, was that Churches must do these three things; honour the past, negotiate the change of the present and build for the future. And that is what I believe the plan (that will be revealed in the coming month) seeks to do. But a plan is just a plan. A plan for a church needs the Holy Spirit, the advocate, helper and counsellor, whose sending we celebrate this Sunday in our readings.
For Peter and the disciples things were changing pretty quickly as fear turned to courage. They held onto their experience of Jesus’ life as they built for the future. And as our reading from Acts points out, the Holy Spirit doesn’t just fill a few selected leaders, but the Holy Spirit fills us ALL. May we build on the momentum from Everyone is Welcome, the Vision Day and our new plan.
Thank you to the 40+ of you who participated in the Parish Vision Day on Saturday.
It was wonderful to hear the animated conversation and listen to the ideas that flowed as a broad range of parishioners contributed their thoughts to how we might develop over the coming years.
Our facilitator, Simon, the Rector of Ifield, skilfully provoked and captured the contributions and then challenged us to choose between them as he focused us down to three key goals under each of the headings: our spiritual and numerical growth in Christ; reimagining how we undertake our ministry; and how we will contribute to the common good.
Volunteers were provisionally identified to champion each goal and begin thinking through how they can be implemented. Steve and I will spend two and half days this week on retreat to pray through the outcomes of the away day and seek to distil these into a plan that can be discussed in a General Meeting of the Parish and the PCC later this month.
So more on that later – meanwhile there is something concrete we can do under the “contributing to the common good” heading; you will see in the Notices section of this week’s pewsheet that Christian Aid Week starts next Sunday. As the longest-running community fundraising event in the UK, CA week unites more than 20,000 churches to achieve incredible things.
Thanks to people like you last year Christian Aid raised more than £11m for our global neighbours in need. Do contact Ann or Brenda if you can feel you can help this year.
Today’s gospel reading speaks of an encounter with Jesus that leaves a life transformed, enabling a sharing of faith. As churches up and down this land come together this week to celebrate the 90th birthday of our (temporal) Sovereign it is fitting to spend a moment reflecting on the example she has given, particularly in recent years, of sharing the faith that has enabled her remarkable service, touching the lives of so many. The response to the Everybody Welcome sessions, both the sheer numbers attending and the valuable feedback that is emerging, encourages me to think that we – as a parish family – are showing signs of that maturity. A willingness not only to serve the community in which we are set but also to want to share something of what motivates us. Frances Reed – born before the Queen, so our oldest regular worshipper – whose own life of service and faith has touched (transformed?) many lives moves to Sidcup in the next week and we wish her every blessing as she does. Alongside that ‘fare well’ comes a joyful welcome to Erin, Peter and Kirsty Murgatroyd’s daughter, born on Thursday. Congratulations! So, with the Queen, Frances and Erin reminding us that we are never too young or old to encounter Jesus or share his love, let us pray:
as we celebrate the ninetieth birthday of Her Majesty the Queen, receive our heartfelt thanks for all that you have given her in these ninety years and for all that she has given to her people.
Continue, we pray, your loving purposes in her,
and as you gather us together in celebration, unite us also in love and service to one another;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
So we have begun our Everybody Welcome Course – with 50 of us turning up either to a session on a Tuesday night at St Barnabas’ or one on a Thursday morning at St Nicholas’.
I really enjoyed leading both sessions, because the best part was listening and watching the various tables discuss and express their views on the Churches in our Parish and the way that we were visible or invisible to the community around us and how we might move forward in expressing the gospel of Jesus Christ to those we come into contact with.
In today’s reading we see Peter, who last week we read had gone back to being a fisherman, realise his need to make Jesus Christ the centre of his life and in doing so was able to perform miracles. The Gospel, that we are saved because Jesus died for us and from that act of amazing love we should love others – is central to Peter and should be central to us – as we invite and interact with new people who are seeking or visiting.
From the sessions 3 things really struck me; your honesty in that we had lots of people we could invite to Church but lack the skills or the attractive services to invite them to, the challenges we face, such as 7000 non-church visitors to baptisms at St Nicholas’ in a year – yet they meet only 10 of the normal congregation; and finally, the great ideas you have of what to change. May the other sessions be as productive.