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.
Do you believe in the transforming power Jesus can have for people’s lives? Paul’s life changed in the moment we read about in our Acts reading. So has Peter’s – a fortnight ago he was denying Jesus three times before the cock crowed, today he has answered “yes” three times to the question we are each asked by Jesus – “Do you love me?” John’s Gospel records Jesus’ final words to Peter: “Follow me” – Matthew tells us Jesus’ first words to Peter: “Follow me”.
As the new edition of the Parish Magazine (thank you Elizabeth!) makes clear the next month or so of our common life will have a significant focus on discerning what it will mean for us to follow Jesus as individuals and as a parish. This week the first sessions of the “Everybody Welcome” course will be held. If you want to come along, please do so – details here.
Whether or not you are able to take part in the sessions, it would be wonderful (and potentially transforming!) if the whole church community could be praying daily:
Heavenly Father, you have welcomed us into your kingdom and your heart’s desire is to draw every human being to yourself. Grant us clear eyes to see people as you see them, sensitive feet to stand in their shoes, and warm smiles to welcome them in your name. Give us such generous hearts that our church becomes a foretaste of heaven where every soul you send us finds a loving home in the community of your Son our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
Palm Sunday has a bitter-sweet atmosphere. The crowds welcome Jesus into Jerusalem with the kind of fanfare we can expect for the English rugby team after their Gland Slam victory last night.
The Gospel from the Liturgy of the Palms makes it clear that Jesus no longer tells his disciples to remain silent – the time for decision has come: Jerusalem must crown or crucify her king. And we know, as we continue through Passiontide into the events of Holy Week recounted in the Passion gospel, that that crucifixion awaits.
In our common life we have a bitter-sweet time after the Nic’s service when the regulars (all welcome to join in!) have a (possibly indoor) picnic to say goodbye to the Moulder family as they make final preparations for a move to Africa. We wish them the very best and look forward to their return. May we, with them and, indeed, St Paul strive to confess in word and deed, that “Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father”. Luke’s account of the Passion offers us a catalogue of those who avoid or deny this truth and condemn Jesus to a horrid death. Time and again Jesus is let down, but even in the bitterness of his death we are able to keep an eye on the good news of what that death means for us. Nothing less than our salvation.
Have a blesséd walk with Jesus as you share again in Holy Week .
The reading from Genesis this morning gives us an example of the honest and direct conversations that Abram (and Abraham, as he is to become) has with God. He is able to express his deepest hope and desire (and have a little moan at the same time!). Abram’s trust in God’s response is “reckoned … as righteousness”.
Notice that Abram doesn’t do or try to prove anything to God, nor promise anything in return. He simply believes and trusts and that is enough to secure his citizenship in heaven (to use St Paul’s phrase) – notwithstanding the very earthly focus of his desires.
This week we have been urged to think deeply about what it means to be a citizen (“subject”, actually) in this nation and how (or whether) that is compatible with membership of a wider European family – and the varied answers to such deliberations will feature heavily in the press between now and June. As the debate rages, perhaps we could challenge ourselves to think what our own reaction to it says about our deepest desires and hopes?
What is it we really want for ourselves, our community … our parish? Does that reveal us as citizens of heaven, or are we still in need of Jesus’ transforming power? Do we have the confidence to speak honestly to God about it? And, will we trust in God’s response?
Although the earliest date possible for Easter is 22 March,m that last occurred in 1818 and won’t happen until 2285. In 2008, Easter was on 23 March, and we’ll see that again (not!) in 2160. By contrast, another 28 March Easter (as it is this year) is only 11 years away – although that’s just about within the time-frame that Archbishop Justin Welby hopes for an ecumenical agreement on a fixed Easter date.
Disagreements about the date of Easter in the early church led to the Council of Nicea (in 325AD) deciding that Easter should be on the first Sunday after the first full moon occurring on or after the vernal equinox. Why? The full moon is linked to the Jewish festival of Passover – which was the time of Jesus’ crucifixion. Eastern and Western churches still have different dates for Easter because the former use the Julian calendar to calculate the date, whereas the West moved to the Gregorian calendar following a papal decree in 1582 (although, not being keen to be too slavish to continental Europe – sound familiar? – the UK waited until September 1752 to change).
In England we actually have a (1928) Act of Parliament providing for Easter to be on the first Sunday after the second Saturday of April – but it has never been implemented. All that is a long-winded way of observing that Easter is early this year so we only have one Sunday of “ordinary time” (green as the liturgical colour) between Candlemas and Lent.
So, from Wednesday, will you take the challenge of doing an act of generosity or kindness each day? Go to www.40acts.org.uk and join the movement.
Our New Testament reading today continues St Paul’s exploration of the theme of unity and diversity in a passage that proves remarkably poignant for our common life at this time – and not just because we reach the end of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. On Wednesday Bishop Mark and Archdeacon Fiona (of Horsham) came to discuss the Crawley (& Horsham) Parish Review with the PCC. Careful and often profound observations made for a positive and engaged meeting in which your PCC reps did you proud (and, as the Chair of the PCC, I express my thanks to all those who came). Much of the time was spent exploring the recommendation that we consider whether the church’s mission in this part of Crawley would be better served by splitting the parish into two or remaining as one. Unity and diversity again. It was encouraging to see how the needs of the communities we serve were in the foreground – and that the recognition of Jesus’ mission (and ours!) offered in today’s gospel was the starting point rather than any pre-conceived idea of church structures. Elsewhere in the Review there were concrete recommendations about splitting the other three parishes in Crawley and we were reassured by the visitors that the recommendation had been framed to emphasise that it was for us to consider and work out the best way forward in our context. Questions of resourcing were also discussed and it was clear that the focus our current Home Groups are giving to identifying and releasing the spiritual gifts of diverse members of our congregations to collaborate in our common mission was an essential first step (ring any bells with the Corinthians reading?).
Every blessing to you all
As we come together in the Parish Eucharist this morning to recall the Baptism of Christ, and to welcome Andrea as a new member of the Christian family, it is an appropriate time for each one of us to reflect on what our baptismal promises mean to us and what we do to sustain ourselves on our faith journey. This Tuesday, the first of our new Home Groups begins. I use the term ‘new’ loosely as we have had the Pilgrim Course Group meeting for nearly two years, which could well be described as a Home Group. Many churches encourage such groups as a further opportunity for providing fellowship and support to one another as we journey through life as well as offering a safe and open opportunity for learning more about our faith. We are seeking to build on the success of our Alpha Course and the experience of the Pilgrim Course by now offering the chance for all of you to become part of a Home Groups (initially there will be 4 across the Parish). In baptism, we come to share in the priesthood of all believers, but can often struggle to work out what that means in practice. Often when people make a (much needed!) offer to help we have listed the different roles that need filling as an indicator of where they could be involved. We have not always looked at the particular gifts or experience of those offering their precious time. The ‘new’ Home Groups will initially look at helping each of us identifying the gifts that we have been given (we have ALL been given them!) and then how we might nurture them and use them at our work, in our homes and within our Church family as we live out our baptismal calling. The times and locations of the Home Group meetings are available from the Parish Office, Steve or me.
Epiphanytide blessings to you all!
Have you every missed a bus or train for which you were waiting because you were so engrossed in doing (or thinking about) something else? This week, I read an Advent meditation by Paula Gooder – a theologian for whom I have considerable affection and respect. She wrote about two kinds of waiting: an active waiting that demands we are alert, with our senses finely tuned to what is going on around us, looking keenly for the signs of the arrival of that for which we wait; and a passive waiting that is simply about the passing of time, with senses dulled or focused on something else.
Advent is supposed to be the former, but too often we can become so engrossed in getting ready for Christmas (writing cards, buying presents, planning and cooking meals …) that when the great feast comes – that moment when we celebrate God becoming flesh amongst us – we are so tired, or bored or still so focused on those preparations that the moment passes us by. Let’s not let that happen to us. Rather let us follow the example of Elizabeth and Mary in our gospel reading.
Here two pregnant women, Elizabeth who has waited almost too long for her pregnancy and Mary who bears the long-awaited Messiah. As they meet their dynamic, active waiting gives over to a deep recognition (shown by John’s leaping in the womb) of God’s blessing. And, significantly, that recognition flows out into praise.
Paula’s prayer is mine too: “may each one of us experience this kind of Advent waiting: a waiting that ends not in a whimper of exhaustion, but in joyful recognition and praise of him for whom we wait.
Every blessing for the rest of Advent and a joyous Christmas when it comes,
We extend a warm welcome to Archdeacon Fiona as she visits the parish and preaches at St Nicholas’ Patronal Festival this morning. This afternoon she will take her place in Chichester Cathedral, our mother church, as Bishop Martin blesses a specially designated door to herald the Year of Mercy he has declared for the Diocese. Pope Francis, whose call Bishop Martin is supporting, describes such a door as “a Door of Mercy through which anyone who enters will experience the love of God who consoles, pardons and instils hope”. It is a welcoming door through which all in need may enter, but also a door from which the Church must go out to proclaim mercy to all.
As our Alpha Course concluded this week I was struck by how much it had anticipated (and modelled) some of the key principles both of the Year of Mercy and how we can be “church”: the open welcome, the fellowship (and thanks again to Higgidy Pies for another wonderful meal on Tuesday!), the learning through clear teaching and free discussion, the building of a common purpose respectful of individual needs and journeys and the going out challenged yet resourced. The final evening spoke powerfully as in the talk and discussion we considered what the church could be and, quite naturally, put it into practice in the support of two of our members – one who received (during the talk) news of the death of a family member and one who was then in hospital and died shortly afterwards. It is that bond, within the church family and with all God’s children, that was modelled by St Nicholas. His is an example of a life infused with pastoral care, teaching and worship that continues to proclaim the gospel in our own day and challenges us to do likewise.
I’d like to start on this, the last Sunday of the Church’s year, with a huge thank you to all those who were involved in offering hospitality and otherwise supporting our guests on the Pilgrimage2Paris last weekend. The comments posted on social media gave a very positive image of the parish. And that, perhaps, is a link into some reflections from my own ‘pilgrimage’ last week in Egypt where time and again I was struck by the way in which the Christian community (about 10-15% of the Egyptian population) lives out its faith through service to “neighbour”. Projects to provide education, medical services, micro-loans, relief of poverty, refugee assistance abound and are offered to all, irrespective of faith tradition, in the midst of challenging (and often discriminatory) circumstances . One of my colleagues on the pilgrimage said that he had come expecting to find a church “needing us” and instead came away challenged and encouraged by what we saw. The phrase from the Alpha talk I had given just before leaving that– “we are not saved by good works, we are saved by grace, but we are saved for good works” kept coming to mind. And the Coptic Church’s service (“good works”) seems to be borne out of, or has itself produced, a remarkable blessing. The church next to where we were staying regularly had over 100 coming for daily Morning Prayer followed by Eucharist (1.5 hours!); one church dug out of the rock in the “garbage city” on Cairo’s outskirts has 6,000 (really!) for their Thursday evening bible study; 40 years ago monastic life was dying out with only a few hundred monks – now there are over 15,000 … and all in context where “mission” is amongst those who are already Christian. You can imagine my prayer for the impact of yesterday’s Holy Spirit Day on our parish life !