Rev David’s latest update on events and the situation across the Beaminster Area Team.(more…)
For our Shepherds in the St Luke’s Gospel account of that first Christmas Eve it started as just an ordinary night watching over their flock of sheep. They had no inclination of the disturbance to their lives that was about to happen and the ‘news of great joy’ they were about to be part of. (more…)
There’s a relatively new Phenomenon on the telly in these days before Christmas. Have you noticed over the last few years, there has begun to be an informal competition for the most clever/touching/dramatic narrative Christmas advert? Two penguins competes with an extensive Christmas table from a budget supermarket and a chain stores marauding fairies and a carrot driving an articulated lorry (where have the Christmas angels gone?). There are stories to tug at the heart strings and hint at the Christmas that everybody wants: A cosy treacly family time where everyone gets the present they want, the food is plenteous at the table, the logs are burning on the fire and all’s well with the world.
Could anyone dare criticise this sort of sentimentality without risking the accusation of being Scrooge like? Well, I suppose one could point out that it won’t be the Christmas experience of many in the world, even in our own country, this year. And What I think we have to pinch ourselves and bear in mind is that all adverts have only one goal really: the stores want to make money out of us this Christmas. The point about Dicken’s A Christmas Carol was not that there should be no brakes on the generosity, for He who had all things gave them up for our sake.
Now I enjoy a good advert like the rest of us, and I certainly don’t want to give this reflection a “Bah humbug” headline; but if I was to single out one aspect of a Christian Christmas that might be distinctive, then it might be to reflect upon our generosity. I have no doubt that we’ll all be generous to family and friends; but what about generosity to the unlovely and the “undeserving”? When preaching about generosity, Jesus said “For if you love only those who love you, what reward do you have? Don’t even the tax collectors do the same?” Matthew 5.46) “Freely, freely you have received; freely, freely give” (Matthew 10.8)
I want us all to have thoroughly enjoyable Christmas: good cheer all round. Nonetheless, perhaps we who remember that Christ was given freely by God to the world can also think: What gifts can I give this year, which are generous and freely given, to those who are in need, and without any strings attached at all? For this is truly to honour the Christ Child and the spirit of Christmas.
We will be honouring the Christ Child through the many church based activities in the run up to Christmas across our church communities. We would love to share this with you all and would love to welcome you especially at our Christmas Carol, and Nativity services and at services on Christmas Eve for Midnight Mass and on Christmas Day.
May I wish every blessing for the coming Holy Season.
Like an innocent child wandering by itself into the kitchen and pressing the switches that will set the house on fire, some biblical texts have been taken out of their original setting and used in ways that would have horrified the original speaker or writer. Here in this passage we have one with exactly that history.
‘No one’, said Jesus, ‘has a love greater than this, to lay down your life for your friends’. That is true, gloriously true. Indeed, Jesus was on his way to his own execution as the most dramatic example of the point. The cross is clearly in in view here, when Jesus says that laying down your life for your friends is the highest form of love, and then says ‘and you, of course are my friends.’ But during the First World War, this text was used again and again, in sermons and lectures, set to music and sung by great choirs, with one single meaning: therefore you, young man – they were mostly young men – must go off to the front line, do what you are told and if necessary die for your country.
They did, in their tens of thousands. God honours, I believe, the self-sacrifice and dedication of those who sincerely and devoutly believed they were doing their duty. But i also believe God judges those who use texts like this as a convenient rhetorical trick to put moral pressure on other people, when what they needed was a bit of moral pressure on themselves to ask: Why are we doing this at all? If we must have a war, is this really the best way of fighting it? Are these sacrifices which is another convenient religious word; people spoke of ‘the final sacrifice’, forgetting that in the bible human sacrifice was condemned over and over again the best way both of winning the war and of preparing ourselves for the world that will need rebuilding after it’s all over?
The easy identification of ‘our’ side with God’s side has been a major problem ever since Christianity became the official religion of the Roman state in the fourth century. Ironically, as Western Europe has become less and less Christian in terms of its practise, its leaders seem to have made this identification more and more, so that both sides in major world wars of the twentieth were staffed, as we have already noted, by Christian chaplains praying for victory.
This sits uneasily alongside a passage like this one in John’s Gospel, where the talk is of love, not war. In a world of danger and wickedness, It won’t do for everyone to pretend there are no hard decisions to be made. But precisely one of the great dangers, and great wickedness, of the world is the very common belief that fighting is a fine thing, that war is a useful way of settling disputes, and that to, to put it crudely, might is right. One of the reasons human civilisation has struggled to promote justice is the recognition that things aren’t that easy. And justice, at its best, knows that it has only a negative function: to clear the decks and leave the world open for people to love one another.
You can’t legislate for love; but God, through Jesus, can command you to love. Discovering the difference between what law cannot achieve and what God can and does achieve is one of the greatest arts of being human, and of being Christian. In the present passage we are brought in on the secret of it all.
The command to love is given by one who has himself done everything that love can do. When a mother loves a child, she creates the context in which a child is free to love her in return. When a ruler really does love his or her subjects, and when this becomes clear by generous and warm-hearted actions, he or she creates a context in which the subjects can and will love them in return. The parody of this, seen with awesome clarity in George Orwell’s book Nineteen Eighty-Four, is when the totalitarian ruler (‘Big Brother’), who has done nothing but oppress and terrify his subjects, nevertheless orders them to love him. And the devastating climax, after the initially resisting subjects have been brainwashed, is that it works. At the end of the book, the hero is, in a sense, happy. ‘He loved Big Brother.’ And the reader knows that at this moment the hero has ceased to be truly human.
Jesus though, issues the command that we are to love one another, and so to remain in his love, because he has acted out, and will act out, the greatest thing that love can do. He has come to make us more human, not less. He has come to give us freedom and joy, not slavery and a semi-human stupor. He has come so that we can bear fruit that will last, whether in terms of a single life changed because we loved somebody as Jesus loved us, or in terms of a single decision that we had to take, a single task we had to perform, through which, though we couldn’t see it at the time, the world became a different place. Love makes both the lover and the beloved more truly human.
At the heart of it all is the humility that comes from knowing who’s in charge. ‘You didn’t choose me; I chose you’. I was once asked, on the radio, which religion I would choose if I could. I pointed out that the idea of ‘choosing your religion’ was a mistake in the first place. Religions are not items on the supermarket shelf that we can pick and choose – though many today try to live their lives that way. Or, if they are, you’d have to say that following Jesus wasn’t a ‘religion’. It is a personal relationship of love and loyalty to the one who has loved us more than we can begin to imagine. And the test of that love and loyalty remains the simple, profound, dangerous and difficult command: love one another.
As part of the Archbishops call to prayer between Ascension and Pentecost known as Thy Kingdom Come we have over the past years undertaken a number of initiatives such as Prayer Walks in each of the parishes and Prayer walking over a number of days between all 15 churches. We will, of course, be fully participating in this year’s call to prayer in a number of new ways and Jo talks about it in this article – Thy Kingdom Come by Jo Neary.
I will also be undertaking a day of prayer and reflection whilst walking around our 15 churches this approximately 28 – 30 miles dependant on how lost I get along the way. I will be doing this as a sponsored event as I wish to create a Mission Fund for Jo and parishes to call upon as we continue to grow God’s Kingdom. Four years ago the Team Council agreed to a fund being set up but more than half of our parishes were reluctant to help fund it. This will take place on Thursday 17th May so please watch out for more information over the coming weeks and if you feel able please sponsor my attempt either by completing the sponsorship forms which are in of our churches or through the Pay Pal account which can be accessed below.
If you would like to donate to my sponsored walk please click the button below. This will take you securely to PayPal where you can make a donation via PayPal itself, or with a card if you do not have an account. This is a totally safe and secure process.
Thank you in advance for your kind donation.
There is an account in the New Testament of St Peter’s instruction on the Christian faith to a man called Cornelius and his household (Acts 10). Who was Cornelius? He was a Roman soldier stationed in Caesarea. He was in charge of about one hundred men in the army of occupation. We are told he was a devout and God fearing man who gave generously to Jewish causes, so he was obviously a friend of the local Jewish community, we are told that he prayed constantly to God. He was not a Christian at that point, but was clearly looking for something, a man whose religious instinct had been awakened, no longer just dormant. But he had never heard of Jesus, or at least only indirectly.
However, he received a special message from God and was told to seek out Peter. Peter was not all that keen on seeing Cornelius simply because he was not a Jew, but then he too received a special message and was told to receive Cornelius. So they met. Peter instructed Cornelius in the Christian faith and eventually the Roman and his family all became Christians, followers of Christ. Peter had to explain that Jesus had been killed ‘by hanging him on a tree’, yet – and here was the important and difficult part -‘ three days later, God raised him to life’.
I wonder what went through Cornelius’ head at that moment. Was he unconvinced? Sceptical? Why, people don’t die and then come back to life, certainly not in an advanced and sophisticated society such as that of the Roman Empire at that time. But Peter went on: yes God raise Jesus to life, and what is more – Peter hammered the point home – god allowed him to be seen, not by everybody but by certain witnesses chosen beforehand. It strikes me that Peter was being a little modest in his claim about the number of people who saw Jesus risen and alive. St Paul, writing to the Corinthians said that on one occasion the risen Christ was seen by 500 people at the same time, and added: ‘If you doubt it, you can verify the fact because most of those who saw Christ on that occasion are still alive.’ St Paul was writing very early on and knew what he was saying.
But to return to Cornelius, Peter is at pains to point out, ‘now we are witnesses – we have eaten and drunk with him after his resurrection from the dead.’ He could have gone further – perhaps he did – and told Cornelius about the empty tomb, how he had run there with St John. John could not refrain from saying he got there first! They both ran and saw the empty tomb. Moreover, they saw the linen cloth which had been wrapped around the dead body of Jesus, and they saw that the cloth which had covered his face was in a different place.
They had not expected to find the tomb empty. They had failed to understand the teaching of the scripture that ‘Christ must rise from the dead’. St John is at pains to point that out. He and Peter had gone to the burial site only because Mary of Magdala had rushed to tell them what she had seen – an empty tomb.
Where was the body? Who had stolen it? I can see these questions playing in Cornelius’ mind. What had happened? Obviously someone had taken it, someone had stolen it. That was the rumour. This had unnerved the people responsible for killing Jesus. So they had bribed the soldiers who were guarding the tomb to say they had fallen asleep, and while they were asleep someone came and rolled the stone away and took the body. They took the money and spread the story – a very far-fetched story. But the tomb was empty and something very important had happened, because the disciples remembered what Jesus had said: ‘Yes, on the third day I will rise again.’
Where, Cornelius insisted was the body? Where was Jesus? He was told by St Peter that many had seen him alive, but his appearance was often very strange. Mary of Magdala thought he was the gardener. The two disciples walking on the way to Emmaus failed to recognise him, they saw him, but all seemed different now. Jesus had changed, acting after the resurrection quite differently from the way he acted before he died. But he was still the real Jesus, risen from the dead.
Now the apostles’ lives were beginning to change also. Once the Holy Spirit had come down upon them they were transformed and went on saying again and again ‘Jesus has risen from the dead’. The truth of Jesus Christ, true God and true man, is what they preached and it is to that they gave witness. Cornelius was received into the Christian community and he too, and his household, became witnesses to the fact that the tomb was empty and Jesus Christ was alive, risen from the dead.
Indeed, many people joined together in community simply because Jesus Christ, true God and true man had risen from the dead. A community grew up out of an acknowledgement of the fact. Even more than that, there were people prepared to be witnesses, even to the extent of losing their lives – becoming martyrs for Jesus. I think of Cornelius going back to his family and reminding them of what they have learned – that they must be witnesses by the way they live, and that Jesus, who had risen from the dead, was to be their leader. They were to learn about the Gospel, follow the things Jesus said and do as he bid.
Everything was different – and so it as to be for us. As we come together at Easter in the great act of worship, we listen to the word of God proclaimed. Then we must go back to our households and tell them that we, too, should be witnesses to Christ, to the Gospel, to the Church. We must be witnesses because out there are thousands and thousands of people who do not know Christ, yet are searching, wanting. The religious instinct in every person, perhaps, in our time is beginning to awaken. Who can tell them where to find the truth but those who belong to the Christian Community which believes in Christ who died and rose from the dead? That is the task for all of us to be witnesses to that fact and to all that follows from it for Christ is Risen, He is Risen indeed and for that we all shout Alleluia.