Sunday, 21 June 2020

We are like eggs

Jeremiah 20:7-13, Romans 6:1-11, Matthew 10:24-39

We were in the country heading out for a summer drive in our people carrier along country roads with four children and a dog and the makings of lunch all crammed in when we heard the news of Lady Diana’s death on the radio. We were a bit late hearing it for the press conference had been much earlier at 6.00 in the morning; it was unbelievable and as we knew the road, the underpass at the Pont Alma it made it very graphic and real. Our appetite for the picnic was broken and we went home to telephone relatives in England to talk over the news. For it was bursting from us. There are moments when we have such news that we must tell: expecting a baby, becoming engaged to be married, getting a hoped for job, the death of a loved one.

Jeremiah had been prophesying as only he could prophesy and PASHUR, the priest had taken him and publicly placed him in the stocks where everyone could see him. When he was released Jjeremiah continued saying “you Pashur, and all who live in your house shall go into captivity, and to Babylon you shall go and there you shall die.” Maybe these were not the best words to address to a man who had put you in the stocks and who had the power and willingness to do so again but as we hear Jeremiah in our reading tell is he was compelled to speak:

“For whenever I speak I must cry out.”
“If I  say I will not mention him or speak any more in his name, then within me is something like a burning fire shut up in my bones. I am weary with holding it in and cannot.”

 Jeremiah has received the call, the word of the Lord and he must tell it, he cannot hold it in.

In Matthews’ Gospel we hear Jesus say “Have no fear of them for nothing is covered up, what I say to you in the dark tell in the light and what you hear whispered proclaim from the rooftops.” Here is the same idea as Jeremiah’s; what you have heard from me, and it is Jesus speaking, cannot be contained hidden or covered even from fear (of being put in the stocks say) but shout it from the very top of your house. I remember when I was installed as a curate in St. Mary’s Hitchin, the town centre church with a renowned set of heavy bells, a quarter peal was rung to announce my arrival. In this case the news was shouted from the church top.

Paul, writing in Romans, Paul the convert cannot keep it in. “What then are we to say? How can we go on living like we once did, like we used to, when we have been called when we have heard when we have been baptized? No, he says  we must walk in the newness of life.

All three of today’s readings have this motif of being unable to let our belief and understanding of God go unspoken or unseen. This is surely as vitally important now as it was when these three passages were written. This morning over my coffee I listened to the BBC World Service news summary, it was not an inspiring ten minutes. The number of refugees is at a record high, the number being repatriated at a record low, there have been Indian soldiers killed and captured on the border with China, there are violent demonstrations everywhere. All of which makes me ask have we been shouting loudly enough? Are the words like burning fire but are still shut up in our bones?

C S Lewis writing about Paul’s exhortation to us to walk in the newness of life says: we must go for it, for the full treatment (for the full implication of baptism.) It is not easy, he says, but we are just now with the word of God like eggs; “it might be hard for an egg to turn into a bird but it would be a jolly sight harder for it to learn to fly while remaining an egg.” We must hatch.

And Jeremiah, Paul and Jesus all agree we should hatch and cannot and should not hold in the news.


Saturday, 13 June 2020

Private Prayer

The Psalm which is set for today is Psalm 100:

O be joyful in the Lord, all the earth;
Serve the lord with gladness

Know that the Lord is God it is he that has made us we are his;
We are his people and the sheep of his pasture

Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise;
Give thanks to him and bless his name

For the Lord is gracious, his steadfast love is everlasting;
And his faithfulness endures from generation to generation.

From Monday we are at last allowed to enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise. That is to say that our churches shall be open for private prayer.  Actually this phrase is a bit of a puzzle; Archbishop Rowan Williams in a seminar, or I should say webinar the other day began by saying “There is no such thing as private prayer.” It is always good of course to grab attention at the start by a controversial line. As well as this the trade journal this week (I mean the Church of England Newspaper) has much ink devoted to telling us that we do not need church buildings at all and expounding on how many like to watch big services with bishops on line. Now both of these are right, I suppose, but at the same time I do hope that both of them are wrong.

Archbishop Rowan is talking in view of the Holy Spirit who in that Pentecost arrival revealed the permeating, unifying power of God’s presence and love. To this extent we never pray on our own but are joined in our current prayer with those who are praying everywhere now, to those who have prayed before and those wo will pray in the future. This is a big idea, distinctively Christian, that we are all in the body of Christ but which perfectly allows us to pray alone. Times have changed since Julian of Norwich was immured, but in medieval times every town of consequence wanted to have at least one solitary, anchorite or anchoress, for the town regarded this as part of its welfare services. They were worth maintaining for the spiritual good derived from their prayers and penances. Mother Julian may have prayed on her own but her prayers and revelations sere for us all. Nothing private about that even if in private.

So to the question, do we need churches, should we bother opening them at all particularly just now when we offer no collective worship? We might stay at home guided by prayers on Facebook or Twitter or simply sit quietly in our armchairs. Some or many of you no doubt will do this but for others including me the sacred space has meaning and purpose, the framing of prayer time a value. Firstly there is the going. I know it is not possible for everyone but I like to walk to the church; it is a wonderful aspect of parishes that you can see people on a usual Sunday morning walking up the church path, hopefully not rushing but mentally steadying themselves. Then through the door into a place where countless have come before to bring their hopes and fears a time set apart to talk with God, praying (in the words of the Prayerbook) as well for others as themselves. A church engages multiple senses, the acoustic, the visual, a sense of smell and touch all of which contribute to the way we feel. I am sure we need them.

From Monday then we will carefully open our churches for you to come and pray in them, to give thanks and to bless his name” to be both apart and yet together in the mystery that is now, has been, and shall be for ever.


Saturday, 6 June 2020


Trinity Sunday 2020
Isaiah 40:12-17, 27 - end

The question I want to ponder this morning is “As our human knowledge increases does God become more or less mysterious?” Our reading from Isaiah this morning finds him full of wonder:

“Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand
and marked off the heavens with a span
enclosed the dust of the earth in a measure
And weighed the mountains in scales and the hills in a balance?”

Although phrased as a question Isaiah is full of certainty. Faced with creation he is convinced not only of God’s existence but of God’s capability. Ever since Darwin’s dangerous idea1  there have been attempts to take God out of the picture by delving deeper and smaller. Contract this with Isaiah who steps back to look at the big things: the heavens, the seas, the whole earth of the earth, the mountains and the hills and who concludes that God is much bigger than all these. To help us, like a modern photographer who places a person in front of the Great Pyramid for scale he sets the creator against our sizes: a span, a measure, a scale or a balance.

Our science, however, seems more concerned with building blocks, the components of life, the genome, the DNA, the components of the universe, the particles, waves, quantum mechanics. The microscopes and telescopes were not there for Isaiah but if they had been I like to think he would have written in the same way.

Newton is of course now old hat superseded by Einstein who by now may be also partly old hat. Once I imagined I understood the atom, the proton, neutron and the electron, the orbitals and the excited states but that by now is very very old hat. My father- in- law a professional nuclear physicist in his day, wondered recently what he had missed and ordered a first year undergraduate textbook - the book was large, the print tiny and the changes considerable.

Considerable and for me often marvellous. There is a new thing, well new for me at any rate called “Quantum Entanglement.” This is a complex idea now demonstrated by more complex experiments that allows that something can be in two places at once. The technical definition is that entanglement occurs “when two (or more) particles are such that their quantum states cannot be described independently even though they are apart.”

Today is Trinity Sunday, where we reflect on the threeness and oneness of God and most especially the perfect loving, making sure we stress loving here, the perfect loving relationship between them. Or, even though God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit may be far apart they are indivisible and cannot be described independently.

The more we learn the bigger God becomes.


1 Dennett Daniel C Penguin 1995