Saturday, 19 November 2016

Christ the King

Luke 23:33- 43 and Jeremiah 23:1-6

As some of you know I have been cooking carrot cake. The problem is that for the first time ever this year I watched a whole series of the Great British Bake Off. I am of course too late in discovering its charms just as it is all about to change but nonetheless inspired I set off with flour, butter, sugar and a carrot or two persuaded that if Candice of Barton could do it then Steve of Streatley might be le to bake a cake! Well people were kind about the first effort, taste, texture, lightness flavour, were all OK (no soggy bottoms) and to be fair it was eaten in two days. But I was dissatisfied with the rise – on holiday I had watched other boys and girls eating carrot cake like this; but mine was I felt rather skinny and so to try and improve I have been cooking carrot cakes. I have also been asking your advice, which has been plentiful, beat the flour less, beat the butter and sugar more, grind the carrots to a powder – yet so far for all my efforts I feel that at the moment of judgement KING Paul will kick me out of the tent.

Christ the KING takes a different view. The tent of heaven remains open to those who believe and as we hear in today’s Gospel to those who recognise and repent even though they may seem to us and to themselves to have failed.

“Jesus remember me when you come into your kingdom,” says the condemned criminal and Jesus replies “truly, I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

The kingdom of God is like no other, it is not bounded by walls, fortresses or tent flaps and guy ropes but is open; there are paths to follow, shepherds to guide us, good shepherds who will give us good advice and counsels, who will tend us and lead us. Christ the king recognises those who are seeking the way, working in our lives to teach and encourage us placing people around us in whom we can see goodness. We all look at our lives and find ourselves unworthy knowing that we fall short but as we reach this Sunday, the end of the church’s year when our cycle of readings closes it is appropriate to remember the sweep of the story, the great truth of the Gospel.

“When they came to the place called ‘The Skull’ they crucified him there.” Christ died on the cross to save us – He died for you and me.

Metropolitan Andrew Bloom, who has written books about spiritual endeavour, meditation and enrichment speaks of the value of these practices, of trying to perfect the inner self, in his description he reminds me of learning to play a musical instrument – there is hard work perhaps some struggle but there is joy in the learning and approaching some competence. The kingdom of God is something to be sought with joy.

In the season  of Advent, traditionally one of penitence and reflection as we look forward to the celebration of Jesus’ birth, Paolo will lead a series of four reflections in the Parish Centre at 8.00 on the Thursdays of Advent beginning with Thursday the 1st December.

So please join us for these so that we can explore, discuss and practice our faith – it may be if I practice hard and heed all the advice I have been given that by the last reflection on the 22nd December there may be a carrot cake which comes closer to keeping me in the tent.     

Saturday, 12 November 2016

Remembrance Sunday 2016

“For those who laid down their lives for God and country”

There was some discussion at the Parish Council about the wording of the memorial plaque on the green in front of St. Margaret’s church. I think that it came out about right. We gather today in common with millions of people to remember and honour those who have fought for their country and after this service we will lay our poppies on this stone with these words as a symbol of our remembrance. The remembrance collect we have just read includes the words: “Hear our prayers and thanksgivings for all who we remember this day.”

But I wonder if this is enough? Yes we should surely remember and give thanks for the men and women who gave of themselves and who are still doing so in hostile environments, deployed across the world in the many conflicts that continue to rage but I think that I want us to do more.

To quote, once again from Archbishop Temple broadcasting in 1939

“No positive good can be done by force; that is true. But evil can be checked and held back by force and it is precisely for this that we may be called upon to use it.”

We might very well think about the first part of the sentence – “no positive good can be done by force“ in reference to recent conflicts and we have as a nation been thinking about the wars in the Middle East where the use of force is seen by some to have had unwelcome consequences. That no positive good can arise  is of course why we avoid using force wherever possible. But in the same theatre the second part of Temple’s sentence can also be seen to be true “Evil can be checked and held back by force.” We saw the evil of the Second World War when liberating soldiers discovered Auschwitz, Buchenwald, Ravensbruck and Dachau among others, we saw the evil in Serbia and in Rwanda, we have seen the evil of violent men in Paris and I am fearful of the evil we shall yet discover in Mosul.

Those who gave their lives gave them to preserve a way of life, to preserve our rights, freedoms and liberties; theirs was a struggle for good against evil a good that resided in shared values especially in the way they believed and understood that we should behave towards one another.

And that is why the words on the stone are not simply “for those who laid down their lives for country” – but “for God and country” because there was more to it – and the best values the best ways of living together come from our understanding of God and his message of love. 

When we lay our poppy on the stone it is this that I would like us to also think about. Is our society the one they were fighting for, do we as a community and as individuals do more than remember, do we struggle to uphold and live by these values that they fought for and for which many are fighting for still?

As we read this morning:

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you, no-one, ”says Jesus “has greater love than this – to lay down one’s life for ones friends.”   

Let us then lay our poppy to remember and honour but also let us think deeply as we do about our lives and how we live together let us resolve to live up to the values of those who sacrificed themselves for us.