Wednesday, 19 December 2018

John the Baptist pruning

“You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” Well, there is a way to welcome your customers! After all they were coming in their crowds to be baptised by him. We would be shocked if sainsbury’s or the John Lewis advert welcomed us in this way. But John the Baptist was a difficult fellow - he had spent time in the wilderness dressed in camel’s hair and eating locusts and honey with a strict religious group, most probably the Essenes - the wilderness of Judea was the centre of religious hope as well as a place of refuge -it was the symbol of the wilderness in which the Israelites had wandered for forty years before God brought them into the Promised Land. So the emergence of a young priest baptising from the wilderness caused excitement to sweep through the region. His is a sharp message, do not say “We are descendants, we have Abraham as our ancestor, we are the chosen people, this will not save you. You must bear good fruit or otherwise be cut down and thrown into the fire. Not then the gentle image of a simple  man living on locusts and honey, weaving his own clothes but a firebrand, a radical an outspoken preacher - a man who will be thrown into jail by Herod Antipas as a dangerous prophet potentially gathering resistance to the establishment and who will ultimately be beheaded. He preaches repentance for all, he extolls generosity -if you have two coats share with those who have none and he warns against avarice: Tax collectors do your job, only your job and do not line your own pockets and to the soldiers he says do not abuse your strength and power.

I ought now I think to have listened to my father more - less on the subjects of generosity and greed perhaps than on the topic of pruning - he was keen on trees bearing good fruit and on roses especially bearing good blooms. He spent a summer hour once with me and my roses with some secateurs pointing to the places where I might wield them - all my books had proved beyond me - you may have seen those ones with drawings of a rose bush and thick black lines at various angles and heights - they left me more perplexed than before - but dad pointed to buds (otherwise invisible to me) and bade me cut just above (I think) or it may have been below, he would identify dead wood “cut it out, cut it out” he would say in a fair imitation of John the Baptist and then there were things called runners, also headed for the bonfire.

John wanted the tax collectors, the soldiers and all who came to the river Jordan to prune the bad parts of their lives. Do we have parts of our lives which are straggly, long legged , non productive which we might carefully prune away?  As we wait now in Advent, this is the season to look hard at it all, to reflect and prepare, to see what might want pruning and wield the secateurs and so make ourselves ready to celebrate the one who will be born, the coming Messiah who will burn the chaff in unquenchable fire but will gather the fruitful and the wheat into his granary.


Saturday, 17 November 2018

The Temple

It was tricky being a disciple, you had to be careful what you said and I know how that feels. Years ago now when I first left university I was interviewed for a job in Amsterdam, it would have suited me quite well and I progressed to the final shortlist of two - things were going fine when at the last in the meeting with the big boss there was a pause in the conversation which I decided to fill with a small remark of praise for an aspect of the job and I was immediately crushed:  “Too narrow,” he said, “you are too narrow.”

And so I feel for the disciple who innocently leaving the Temple with Jesus looked around at the wonderful stones of the courtyard which Herod had considerably enlarged and filling a pause in the conversation offered a remark of praise: “Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings.” and he was immediately crushed : “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another, all will be thrown down.”

As ever Jesus’ words work at different levels. Firstly we might take them as literal prophecy, for we know that in 70 AD Titus the Roman laid siege to Jerusalem completely destroying the city and the Temple by fire and fury. There is nothing surprising about Jesus predicting a future event, after all he was doing so throughout his ministry but it would be surprising if that were all he was doing. The disciples ponder his words as they cross the Kidron valley to walk up Mount Olivet where they sit, I like to think unpacking their sandwiches and looking west again to the magnificent temple glinting in the sunshine. And the brothers, Peter and Andrew, James and John ask what he really meant “When and what are the signs?” Jesus tells them to beware.
Now the first danger is inherent in the very metaphor of the Temple, the second is of false Messiahs, of prophets claiming they are sent, predicting the end of the world and their own glory and the third danger is of being distracted by world events, by wars and rumours of wars and indeed in our own time there is a lot of that sort of thing to worry about and it may lead some to despair but Jesus says “do not be alarmed, this is but the beginning.”

Returning to the metaphor of the Temple it is interesting to note that there are still some stones remaining on the Temple mount - the end is not come for then “not one stone will be left here.” The Temple of course was the focus of Jewish religion, thought, culture and philosophy and it seems to me that Jesus is saying to the disciples, beware, be careful magnificent as they are, this building, these stones, these practices are not important - what is important is that you believe in me.   

Some years ago now, someone came to worship here at St. Margaret’s who came from another tradition. They were attached to their previous church, to their old way of being, to their old way of doing things and they would grumble to me that we did not have this or that, or did not behave quite properly here or there. One day they were talking to a senior churchman about all this and according to their own account the archbishop after listening carefully said reflectively “Yes, that may all be so - but surely God turns up doesn’t he?”

I would like you please to ponder Jesus’ message of the Temple in the coming months, notice the disciple’s easy attachment to the beautiful stones, and to be sensitive to our easy attachment to our ways of being church, to not be like me in the interview - too narrow, too narrow, and to think carefully and prayerfully about what it is that really matters:

That God turns up and we are here to worship only Him.


Sunday, 11 November 2018

Remembrance Sunday 11th November 2018

Armistice 2018

Christopher Clark’s 2012 book argues that the statesmen of the nations of Europe were “Sleepwalkers, watchful but unseeing, haunted by dreams, yet blind to the reality of the horror they were about to bring into the world.” And it was the world, for the unforeseen consequence of an assassination in Sarajevo would involve as well as the whole of Europe, the United States, Brazil, Australia, new Zealand, Africa, Japan and the Pacific. The numbers of the dead are too large to be assimilated in the mind; more than eight million excluding civilian casualties which were almost as high. The post war influenza epidemic exacerbated by the poor conditions claimed a further ten million lives.

After 1561 days of conflict beyond imagination, the armistice was signed in the Forest of Compiegne at 5.30 a.m. on November the 11th 1918 - but came into effect at eleven o’clock in the morning - the fighting continued until 10.45.

It is impossible for most of us and certainly for me, a product of a generation that has not known conscripted all consuming war to imagine the thoughts of 1918 so I have compiled some from those who were there at the time. We start with David Lloyd George who said in the House of Commons:

“Thus at eleven o’clock this morning came to an end the cruellest and most terrible war that has ever scourged mankind. I hope we may say thus - that this fateful morning came an end to all wars.”

There were some celebrations of course, mainly in London but for the most part the reactions were more muted; the horror, shock, numbness from all that had happened and fear for the future weighed heavily. Thomas Hardy who was too old to have been a combattent captured the mood in his poem “And there was a great calm” written on Armistice day:

Calm fell; From heaven distilled a clemency;
There was peace on earth, and silence in the sky
Some could, some could not, shake off misery
The sinister spirit sneered : ‘It had to be.’
And again the spirit of pity whispered “Why?”

Laurence Binyon, whose words we will hear later as we lay our wreaths at the memorial stone, asked Elgar, the great composer of wartime music, to set a peace ode but he curtly and steadfastly refused to do so.  His cello concerto, familiar to us very often in the Jacqueline Du Pre performance has been called an elegy for the war dead - he did write it following the armistice so maybe it is.

Here is Virginia Woolf from her diary.She and Leonard had travelled to London:

“Twenty-five minutes ago, the guns went off announcing peace. A siren hooted on the river, they are hooting still, a few people ran to look out of windows. A very cloudy, still day, the smoke toppling over heavily towards the east, and too wearing for a moment a look of something waving, floating, drooping. So far neither bells nor flags”

Eve Curie speaking about her sister, Marie Curie:

“The armistice surprised her in her laboratory. She wanted to dress flags on the Institute and took her collaborator Marthe Klein with her to search neighbourhood shops for French flags,, there were none left anywhere. An attendant drove them up and down the streets, to and fro, through the eddying mass of people both happy and grave. In La Place de la Concorde the crowd stopped the car. People clambered onto the fenders of the Renault and hoisted themselves onto the roof.”

The outlook was not optimistic, people had been writing about the coming peace virtually since the outbreak of war - people we know, H G Wells, Bertrand Russell, Clive Bell, D. H.  Lawrence and a plethora of clergymen. Here is Beatrice Webb writing on November the 4th 1918, so just seven days before the day we have now in our minds:

“There is little or no elation among the general body of citizens about the coming peace. The absence of public rejoicing and sombre looks of private persons arises, I think, from preoccupation as to the kind of world we shall all live in when peace has come.”

The faith and prophecy of Micah is missing:

They shall beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more, but they shall sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees and no-one shall make them afraid anymore.

Of course the armistice was not the end : The Times continued to print its daily roll of honour well into 1919 as men went on dying of old wounds and men previously described as missing in action were declared dead. The armistice was not the end because as we all know there was another world war, there was Korea, Vietnam, The Falklands, Iraq, Afghanistan and the list goes on.

This morning we are gathered together to remember the dead of all wars, particularly those of our nation, perhaps especially that here in Britain we have had comparative peace in our land, but we are not there yet : We cannot be sure to sit under our own vines and fig trees, we cannot be sure never to be afraid, we cannot stop being truly watchful and we must not stop proclaiming Jesus’ words:

“I give you a new commandment that you love one another as I have loved you”

And for this men and women lay down their lives, for our todays people fought, endured, suffered, survived and died.

We will remember


Sunday, 4 November 2018

Vicar on the move


4th November 2018

Dear Friends,

I have announced in church this morning that after eight happy years here at St. Margaret’s, I am moving on to take up a new post as Priest-in-charge of the Burnham Benefice which includes the parishes of

Burnham Market, Burnham Overy, Burnham Sutton with Ulph, Burnham Norton and Burnham Thorpe.

These churches are on the North Norfolk coast which as you know is one of our favourite parts of the world and sad as it is to leave Streatley and the many friends we have made during our time here, the attractions of ministering in these historic parishes (the churches date from the saxon times and Thorpe was the parish where Nelson’s father was rector) and not to mention the long sandy beaches has proved irresistible.

I expect to take up my new post towards the end of February and my last services here in St. Margaret’s will be on the 27th January 2019.

With as always my very best wishes and blessings,


Sunday, 9 September 2018

The consort of viols

Every year now a part of our summer holiday has been a visit to the North Norfolk Music Festival which continues to attract world class classical musicians to play in the churches along the coast. This year we went to see Fretwork, an internationally known group who were recently in Carnegie Hall and now here they were in the cool tiny church of St. Mary’s South Creake, where the audience is select and you need to bring your own cushions. Fretwork play viols, an instrument of the fifteenth century which have six strings and often with a flat back so shaped like a guitar, played with a bow but with frets. - hence the name of the group. There is not much music remaining because of the lost battle to the seventeenth century newcomer the violin but among that which does survive in the orignal is the Table Book to be found in the British Museum. A very large book the musical parts are written around the edges so that each player, treble, alto, tenor and  bass sits reading their staves as if around a dinner table looking inwards at one another. There is no sense that this is a performance - we are privileged when listening to this music to be eavesdropping on a conversation, a special musical exchange between four players in harmony with one another.

Which finally brings me to the Song of Solomon which is part of the Biblical Canon, not the apocrypha where so much of the wisdom literature is found but there in the Bible squeezed between Ecclesiastes and Isaiah. Probably written in the tenth century BC verse one of the book tells us that Solomon was its author. The style is certainly that of the prophetic and wisdom literature and may be closely related to the book of Proverbs. The subject of the whole book is love. Quite frequently I suggest to wedding couples that they consider some verses  from this as their reading instead of 1 Corinthians 13 not simply that this reading from Paul is used a lot but also because of that idea about listening to a conversation. Paul’s masterpiece is addressed to the Corinthian church and is a very public oration it is of the magnitude of Beethoven’s ninth symphony rather than of a consort of viols, it speaks of what love is and how difficult it is to define it while the Song of Solomon is a conversation and a description of a loving relationship:

Arise my love my fair one and come away
For now the winter is past the rain over and gone

I love using this as the reading immediately following the marriage blessing when the couple who have been kneeling arise, the man elegantly helping the woman to her feet and leading her to the chairs where they will spend the first minutes of their married life together.

The poetry is sensuous and delicate (you may say erotic) and we find ourselves almost embarrassedly hearing the thoughts of the writer -

My love is like a gazelle or a young stag
Look there he stands behind our wall
Gazing in at the windows looking through the lattice

Later in the book though we read of the power of love:

For love is as strong as death, passion fierce as the grave
Its flashes are flashes of fire a raging flame
Many waters cannot quench love neither can floods drown it

You may be asking yourself what has this book to do in the canon of Biblical literature -God is not mentioned in the book at all yet it has been part of the Canon and the Talmud for  a long time and reflects the ancient Hebrew understanding that both wisdom and love are gifts from God and are to be received by us with wonder, gratitude and celebration and the Christian understanding that God is love.


Tuesday, 31 July 2018

Feeding of the five thousand - signs

Feeding of the five thousand (2)

The next day, only the next day, just an evening has passed and the crowd who were so amply fed with five loaves and two fish are up and about wondering where the disciples and more especially Jesus had got to. As we heard last week the disciples left in the only boat to re-cross the sea while Jesus went up the mountain on their side of the lake to pray. So where was he?

Taking advantage of some passing traffic they hitched a lift to the other side of lake Galilee and found Jesus there. It was a good idea, Jesus had fed them supper and now it was breakfast time ; follow this man and all will be well. The story is well told, like my grandchild who comes into the kitchen mid morning to ask “nanny, have you been out today?” who really means “have you been to the sweet shop? “ they approach their question stealthily. “Ah, Jesus when did you come here?”

But Jesus discerns all “You are not here because of the nature of the miracle of my arrival, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Stop working so hard for earthly things, focus on the food that endures, the food I will give you.”

And then comes the staggering question” What sign are you going to gIve us so that we may see it and believe you?  Our ancestors ate manna in the wilderness, what Jesus are you going to do to show us?”

And suddenly  we are right bang up to date for this question in various forms is asked of us today all the time. “I think there may be a God or something, but how can you be so sure?” or “How can you believe in a God who lets people die in fires in Greece, in California, in floods in Laos? “ “Look at the world around you, if there were a God would it be like this?” “Why doesn’t your God do something about it all?”

We are like the crowd, we do not see the signs already given, we are thirsty for more, fresh not yet seen.

In Spring, for several years we had goose eggs in the garden, white and hard, perhaps slightly dirty, warmed by the mother bird and then at a certain unforeseen time, a crack would appear and from this tough inanimate object would emerge a small soft, fluffy  yellow gosling. Just one sign of creation, just one tiniest crumb of all that we have been given. We could fill our days with examples of the miracles of creation, with the things that we know, with the things that others know and surely the innumerable things that no-one yet knows. We could feed five thousand and have twelve overflowing baskets of wonders and yet we ask

“Give us a sign”

Let us believe in him who has been sent.

Saturday, 28 July 2018

Feeding of the five thousand - gathering in

Feeding of the five thousand - gathering in

On the way into church each person takes a small piece of Lego

In the room which because of its history we call the studio, and which others more accurately consider a shed there was a great deal of Lego - four childrens’ worth and some extra from grandchildren and others. Now long since indistinguishable as star wars spaceships or pirates of the Caribbean or airplanes or helicopters but there in a profusion of multicoloured fragments a little scattered, helter skelter; once they nourished the minds of young people but now with the boys filled and satisfied with jobs and degrees there are these crumbs remaining. We have come at last to empty the room for a remodelling and I gathered the little pieces carefully, not wishing to miss a brick or wheel or little arm or hand.

How often have we listened to the story of the boy with the five barley loaves and the two fish and marvelled at the seated five thousand being fed as much as they wanted, so much that they were all satisfied and then there being twelve baskets left over? A miracle of God’s grace, generosity and abundance, a power far beyond our fathoming. Yes indeed but there is another image too - he told his disciples:

“Gather up the fragments left over so that nothing may be lost.”

Jesus knew that the bread was a gift from God the Father so it is precious and for this reason he asks his disciples to gather it in. Imagine for a moment then that you are on that lake shore, a witness to the miracle, how carefully would you collect the crumbs? (As we shall hear next week, the crowd barely understood but the disciples must have done for to find twelve baskets of leftovers must surely take care and diligence. “Why bother?” we might ask, we could have left the crumbs for the sparrows, was it to emphasise the scale of the miracle? It has always seemed that way, but looking more closely Iprefer to think now that this is a figure, an image a teaching in its own right.

This sixth chapter of John’s Gospel contains an often quoted passage: “Jesus said to them I am the bread of life, whoever comes to me will never be hungry and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty” supported by the preceding image of the feeding of the five thousand and he goes on to say:

“And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me.”

Supported by this image of gathering in. Jesus will lose nothing of all Gos has given him but will raise it up on the last day.

So, if you are wondering, if you are feeling inadequate, or broken, unsure or conflicted remember the fragments of bread : Each one of us is a gift from heaven, each one of us may be gathered in wherever we are through the grace, love and mercy of Jesus Christ.

As we spend a moment thinking about how precious we must be to God,, please put your fragment of Lego into the baskets that are being passed round - add your piece to the corruscating, vibrancy and colourful whole.


Sunday, 22 April 2018

Peter's Bravery and an Open Church

Acts 4:5-12

The previous day a man lame from birth was being carried to the Temple where he daily lay at the Beautiful gate to beg for alms. Peter and John were asked for gifts along with everyone else but instead of giving him money Peter said “I have no silver or gold but what I give you, I give you in the name of Jesus Christ.” “Stand up and walk.” And he took him by the right hand and raised him up. And immediately his feet and ankles were made strong - jumping up he stood and began to walk and he entered the temple walking and leaping and praising God.”

The Temple police came and arrested Peter and John and put them in custody until the next day.

Now I have been in a custody suite - as a visitor I hasten to add not as a customer - and even in our modern times and our enlightened country they are uncomfortable places: bare, made of steel, institutionally coloured, barred, unfriendly, worrisome, threatening, destabilising, and once there you do not know what will happen next.  The term custody suite is a misnomer with its sense of comfort, of facilities, of sofas - not at all - the depersonalisation starts here, you are a number in a system that will grind its weary way with you - thankfully in our country more rationally than in many others we might think of where we know the conditions are more violent. Believe me they are still intimidating though and it is in this context that Peter and John with a sleepless night in the cells behind them are arraigned.

And arraigned in front of whom - none other than Caiaphas and Annas and other members of the of the high priestly families who controlled the temple. Peter and John know already how powerful and ruthless this group are for they have seen them act with Jesus, these same authorities had been instrumental in Jesus’ crucifixion they have no limits to the sanctions they might impose in the name of the temple law and of bolstering their place - beating, scourging with rods, unlimited imprisonment. These are people not to take lightly not people to irritate  - they made the prisoners stand in their midst not I imagine a gentle invitation “Will the prisoners please stand?” but physical threatening and probably chained.

We know things about Peter, that he denied Jesus three times, that he sank into the ocean when Jesus asked him to walk towards him, that he was reluctant to have his feet washed, that he was impetuous but now in an aggressive legal setting far from his experience as a fisherman and surrounded by his enemies we witness a forthright declaration of faith. He has certainty that the power that cures the lame man came from Jesus Christ and nowhere else. Notice there is no temptation to accrue any credit to himself or John and this is not humility or shyness but bravery. We see a Peter who is brave.

Jesus said, and we read this in Luke’s Gospel, “When they bring you before the synagogues, the rulers and the authorities, do not worry about how you are to defend yourselves or what you are to say for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that very hour what you ought to say.”

And surely the Holy Spirit was with Peter and Luke tells us that Peter was filled with the Holy Spirit, but still, you know, even if you hear the voice of the Holy Spirit you need to be  brave.

It is unlikely that we will face a situation where we need choose between proclaiming our faith and  being imprisoned or worse although many have been and many still are challenged in this way but nonetheless we sometimes have to take risks we have to give things up or make ourselves vulnerable to change how we are to proclaim the things we believe.

As you know just outside those windows is a the Icknield Way, probably in use since at least the Iron Age one of the four key highways of medieval Britain, running from Norfolk to Wiltshire and today it is used by many ramblers and walkers both local and from afar. Our church stands on this route and so during the summer weekends we plan to open our doors and to encourage people to visit us, to spend a moment of prayer within and to discover our church. As well as walkers this will I know be welcomed by the very many visitors to the graveyard. The PCC have agreed that we should experiment this year and to help with that I am asking for volunteers to sit in the church for a few hours on a Saturday and for two hours on a Sunday.

I have placed a sheet at the back of church with times and spaces for you to sign up. I would appreciate your help with this and once the volunteers are known we can meet to discuss the details. And of course there will be sheets for July and August to follow.

Bishop Alan a few years ago gave a Presidential address to Synod outlining the signs of a welcoming, flourishing engaged  church and one of those was that their doors should be open - and I agree with him and think that we are ideally placed geographically, emotionally and spiritually to do just that.


Friday, 6 April 2018

Jesus appears to the disciples

Jesus appears to the disciples.

Some years ago now I visited my aunt , I happened to be in the area so I called in for a cup of tea. It had been a long time since we had met but Auntie Sheila was just the same as ever. While we were talking I glanced out of the kitchen window and at that moment I got a shock, for there walking up the path was my uncle. Now it was not that I was trying to see my aunt in secret that startled me but the fact that he had been dead for ten years. It took a perceptible time for my mind to work out that this could not be my uncle but twas my cousin, who had grown so like is father as to be indistinguishable.

So the disciples were gathered together, this is still Sunday, they knew the tomb was empty but were there together talking of recent events; sharing their guilt, sorrow, disappointment, puzzlement, surprise, disbelief and reliving it all in their grieving just as we do with our family and friends when someone we love dies.

“While they were talking about this Jesus himself stood among them.”

Luke’s Gospel captures those feelings I had when I saw my uncle/cousin by telling us “they were startled and terrified and thought they were seeing a ghost.”

What  would like you to  notice though is the gentleness that Jesus shows: “he stood among them and said ‘Peace be with you’” Surely there were many other things that could have happened -”There you are - I told you so!” or maybe a more exuberant excited expression of joyous reunion but no Jesus comes among them with love: “Peace be with you” Of course he knows that his appearance will unleash a torrent of turbulent emotions and we see his gentle loving approach in all of his first appearances. To Mary in the garden he reveals himself by simply calling her name “Mary”, to the disciples on the road to Emmaus he falls in step with them accompanying them on their journey. Only when he breaks the bread at supper are their eyes softly opened.

This is still Sunday, the cauldron of the vents of Good Friday, the fever and the clamour of those hours from Gethsemane to Golgotha are still in their heads, they cannot erase the picture of the torture, the agonising and painful walk with the cross, the intensity and brutality of the crucifixion and here is Jesus come to them and sensitive to every nuance of feeling:

Peace be with you.


Thursday, 5 April 2018

Vicar's letter for May : Psalms

He maketh wars to cease in𝀃all the𝀃world :
He breaketh the bow and knappeth the spear in sunder and burneth the𝀃chariots𝀃in the𝀃fire

Dear Friends,

Those words come from Psalm 46, “God is our hope and strength” and we sang them on Easter Sunday in St. Margaret’s between the reading of the first lesson and the Gospel. Now the Psalms are poems and contain all the emotion, hyperbole, lyricism and imagery that we expect from poetry but they are not poems as we might recognise them for their form does not depend on rhyme or metre as our English poetry does but on a different idea coming from the Hebrew tradition.

The Psalms were written by many poets and at many different dates, some do go back to the reign of David but for the most part they were compiled in the third century B.C. They must be read as poems to be understood and indeed these poems were meant to be sung.The most distinctive and pervasive feature of the Hebrew shape is parallelism. Most of the Psalms are composed of two balanced segments where the idea in the first line is repeated in different words in the second, either in developing it or by antithesis. C. S. Lewis makes the  observation that this is an intrinsic aspect of many arts - his example is of the country dance where you you take three steps then three steps again - the movement is the same but the first three are to the right and the second to the left. In modern printings of the Psalms these thoughts are separated by a diamond mark ◆ or a colon : which in some spoken traditions mark a pause between the  thoughts - a space for proper reflection. An alternative interpretation is that they mark a conversation which is why we often say Psalms antiphonally - that is to say one side of the church or choir alternately talks or sings to the other. In this way they agree and reinforce one another.

So in the example of Psalm 46 which begins this letter,  the first line speaks of God’s will for peace and the second develops this in much more detail. You will notice that the lines are not the same length as we would expect in a western poem, but listening again  to C. S. Lewis, he considers this a divine intention. Translating poetry into other languages provokes problems of the syllables in equivalent words, and the intrinsic momentum of another tongue but the notion of repeating or enhancing of an idea is universal.

The popularity of Psalms extends across all musical traditions, from baroque to classical from  reggae to pop and you would probably be surprised at how many you know and the reason is surely the universality of the emotions ranging from lament for example “By the Rivers of Babylon” to glorious praise “I was glad”.  In the quotation above I have used an ancient musical mark to show the separation of the bars in the music - they are sometimes called taste marks and I have chosen them to emphasise that the Psalms are a way to connect with the deep spiritual roots of worship or put another way, to allow us to taste the word of God.

St. Margaret’s choir is exploring the long tradition of Psalmody and you are invited to come on Friday evenings at 7.00 for an hour to sing with us. We will always be rehearsing one psalm (at least)

For  more on this topic please visit Paul Ingram’s web page, where he has collected a wide range of musical offerings for you to sample.

With best wishes,


Monday, 5 March 2018

The message of the cross

The message of the cross

Paul begins by telling us about the message of the cross - but to any contemporary of Paul living anywhere in the Roman and Greek world the “message of the cross” would have been as clear as day :”Don’t mess with Rome.”

Used to punish political agitators, pirates, slaves, reserved for  those with no civil rights it was the most shameful and disgraceful way to die. It was deliberately public and ignominious you were named with a wooden notice and there were at times rows and rows  of crosses - most famously following the slave revolt which was led by Spartacus in 73 B.C. After the Roman army subdued that insurrection they crucified more than 6000 slaves and lined the Appian Way the main strategic road into Rome  for 130 miles with their bodies. There was nothing ambivalent or difficult to understand about this punishment which was used by the Persians, Carthaginians Macedonians, and Alexander the great  for enemies of the state. The image of the cross was crystal clear.

Paul, so dramatically converted on the road to Damascus has now come to preach to overturn all this, to say NO, this crucifixion was totally different, none of this applies, this, the  crucifixion of Jesus is not what you think and it has the power to transform everything. In this letter to the church at Corinth Paul anticipates the arguments of the coming millenia and those of our own age. Worldly people will marshall the instruments of logic, science, rhetoric and insult to argue against the resurrection and Jesus’ identity -Oh yes they say I am sure that he was a good man but all the same, surely ….

Ben the chaplain at Maisons Lafitte came years ago to dinner and at the time we lived in an open plan house with the bookcases lined around a mezzanine surrounding the dining room - Looking upwards between courses Ben said “Why have you so many books - you only need the one!” Now I have not yet come to entirely agree with him on that but I do agree that being saved is not a question of knowledge. Paul paraphrasing Isaiah reminds us  “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” Where is the one who is wise, where is the scribe, where is the debater of this age? Winning the arguments using the all the philosophic brilliance of a Plato or a Socrates so beloved by the Greeks will not save you.  

As for his own people, the Jews he criticises them for always demanding signs - as recently as the mid 1500’s at the festival of Hanukkah  a small dark man, his bony frame taut from habitual fasting fetched up in Venice proclaiming himself to be David, son of king Solomon and an ambassador from the lost tribes of Israel - he got a long way, with his imposture including having an audience with the Pope  - but looking for signs will not save you.

Yes a man upon a cross, hanging and helpless, looks foolish and weak not wise and strong but God upon a cross is another thing entirely. In the hospice on Friday a young lady just eighteen held my hand and asked me “Will I go to heaven?”

And in her question is the answer - for as Paul says “God decided to save those who believe.”  That is what we have to do, to believe  that God’s son  hung on a cross to save us - to save us all, the eloquent, the tongue tied, the professor, the expelled from school, the rich, the poor, the slave, the freeman, all these and more - and we need nothing do but truly and with all our hearts believe.