Exodus 32.7-14 & Luke 15.1-10
Following her death on Thursday 8 September, we all mourn the loss of the Queen who meant so much to so many. She has been a presence in our lives, and for many this has been for our whole lives. She was the Servant Queen who put her service in the hands of God.
In a radio address in 1947 on the occasion of her 21st birthday she said “I declare before you all that my whole life whether it be long or short shall be devoted to your service and the service of our great imperial family to which we all belong. But I shall not have strength to carry out this resolution alone unless you join it with me, as I now invite you to do: I know that your support will be unfailingly given. God help me to make good my vow, and God bless all of you who are willing to share it.”
In this declaration she conveyed her steadfast intention for her reign to be selfless and one of faithfulness to her vocation as monarch. She showed in this declaration that she would be empowering others, listening to others and respectful to others. This she did throughout her whole reign, keeping true to her declaration.
This servant Queen was also a devout witness through her leadership of this country to the King that she served, Jesus Christ. She often expressed in words and action that this was the way she chose to live her life. In 2002 she said “I know just how much I rely on my faith to guide me through the good times and the bad. Each day is a new beginning. I know that the only way to live my life is to try to do what is right, to take the long view, to give of my best in all that the day brings, and to put my trust in God.”
She was someone who was virtuous. She was also a faithful witness who expressed the uniqueness of Jesus Christ in her faith which she expressed in 2011 saying “Although we are capable of great acts of kindness, history teaches us that we sometimes need saving from ourselves – from our recklessness or our greed. God sent into the world a unique person – neither a philosopher nor a general (important though they are) – but a Saviour, with the power to forgive.”
She was challenged in her faith though, as all of us are, but she remained devoted to God, as she was devoted to this nation. In 1980 she said “In difficult times we may be tempted to find excuses for self-indulgence and to wash our hands of responsibility. Christ stands for the opposite... we need to go out and look for opportunities to help those less fortunate than ourselves, even if that service demands sacrifice.”
In our Gospel reading we hear of Jesus welcoming sinners and eating with them. The principal message of this reading is not about the meal itself but rather the profligate love that Jesus expresses. This notion of profligate love is rejected by the Rabbis and in fact sits in contradiction to a prayer of first century Rabbis which said “I thank the Lord my God, that you have set my portion with those who sit in the sanctuary and not those who sit on the street corners. I rise to attend to the torah, and they rise to futile things.” And the prayer goes on, with continuing derogatory comments about the poor. What Jesus calls us to is to love our neighbour, not shun them. Not to think ourselves better or act with indifference and disregard.
This was not the way the Queen lived out her vocation as monarch to the nation. She was selfless, respectful, virtuous, steadfast, faithful, empowering, devoted, committed, hardworking, loyal and a Servant Queen. She also, let us not forget, had a great sense of humour. From James Bond at the Olympics to Paddington Bear at the Jubilee, from off-mic quips to an outburst of hysterical giggles when a swarm of bees disrupted a military review at Windsor Castle in 2003. She was a steadfast witness to the work of God in her life and is an example to us all of what it means to be a ‘good and faithful servant’ of our Lord Jesus Christ.
With the Queens passing something that we all now must adjust to is that we have a new monarch, his most gracious Sovereign Lord, King Charles III. His reign will not be the same. For each monarch brings their own uniqueness, so it will be different. For we are all uniquely made in the image of God with our own gifts. We also must relearn the national anthem, which we will sing for the first time at the end of the service with the words ‘God save our gracious King, long live our noble King.’ This is because as our King begins his duty, we should commit ourselves to support him as we did Queen Elizabeth. Praying for his vocation as monarch. That he be imbued with wisdom, knowledge and understanding to govern well.
Equally over the coming days we should all be surrounding the whole of the Royal Family with our love and prayers as they mourn the loss of their mother, grandmother, and great grandmother. As we ourselves mourn the loss of our Queen in our own way. Moses said to God in our reading from Exodus “God, remember those who served you” to which we ask God the same “O God, remember our monarch who served you”. We have prayed all our lives: God save the Queen. So now we entrust Her Majesty to her Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
Gracious God, we give thanks for the life of your servant Queen Elizabeth, for her faith and her dedication to duty. Bless our nation as we mourn her death and may her example continue to inspire us; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
The Revd Gareth Morley, Curate
Philemon 1-21 & Luke 14.25-33
Well, here we are gathered again for the new term. It’s great to have our choir back, and if you’ve been away, welcome back! We have a busy term ahead with lots going on so there’s much to look forward to.
During August, we’ve been gathering feedback from you about how we’re doing as a church and there have been lots of really useful and interesting comments. The feedback will really help us to identify some priorities for action as well as celebrating our strengths as a church community. The exercise we’ve been doing is very similar to the sort of thing many of us might have encountered at work or in other leisure organisations. For example I’m sure gyms often consult with their members about how they might develop in future – not that I’d know, of course.
But a church community is rather different, I think. For a church is much more than a way to pass our leisure time, or our time at work. It’s really about how we get to know Jesus and become more like him, and share the good news of the change he makes in our lives with the wider world.
In the gospel passage we just heard, Jesus is being followed by large crowds. Doubtless everyone was excited to see what he was doing, and hopeful that great change might happen – the Roman oppressors would be overthrown, and everyone who was ill would be healed, and everyone would have plenty to eat.
But this is another tough-love-Jesus passage. Jesus tells us it really isn’t as easy as all that. ‘Whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple’. I know our text says ‘the cross’, but the original has literally ‘the cross of himself’, so it’s clear Jesus is referring to the burden each of us is to carry.
Everybody knew what the cross meant. They understood crucifixion – that awful torture the Romans used to punish criminals. If they hadn’t actually seen a crucifixion, certainly everyone would have known the sheer horror of it. Jesus is suggesting that the folk in those large crowds need to understand that the way forward is not an easy one. It’s full of challenge, and even peril. I bet they went a bit quiet when they heard what he said.
So here’s the question? How are you doing with your cross today?
Maybe your cross is weighing you down with some heavy thing that you’re carrying – suffering of some sort, fear, anxiety, worry? Or the pain of some past oppression?
We all carry some of this – perhaps more at some times than others, but always something. So how’s it going for you today? And what are you able to do about it?
We all have some choices – we can sigh and shoulder the heavy load but continue to be more and more bowed down by it. We can try to carry on regardless, to suppress the burden and lock it away and try to pretend it isn’t there – sometimes that works for a short while, at least. Or we can run away and leave it behind, make a new start and hope it won’t catch up with us.
But Jesus doesn’t simply say we are to take up our cross. He says we are to take up our cross and follow him. It’s that choice to follow that makes us disciples of Jesus. It moves us from being curious explorers of an exciting new lifestyle to the realisation that being a follower of Christ means giving up all that we’re holding on to.
Why? Because Jesus’ promise of life in all its fulness comes when we let go. When we let the rain of God’s love pour into our thirsty souls, like the dry grass being renewed by fresh and living water. Following Jesus involves a deep and personal surrender.
Well, that doesn’t sound easy, does it?!
It’s not, really. It needs trust, and some courage – and our burdensome crosses are really distracting and that makes it hard to focus and get to that point.
But the good news is that we don’t have to do it alone. Jesus began a whole church to help and support us.
You can see this a little in the story of Onesimus that we heard in our first reading this morning – a runaway slave encounters St Paul and the early church and is converted. Instead of the death penalty from his master when he is sent back, he is to be welcomed as a brother, for the master, Philemon, now runs a church at his house, and is asked by Paul to help and support Onesimus as an equal part of the community. As Paul says elsewhere, in the Body of Christ there is no inequality – slave or free, male or female, Jew or Greek but all are one in Christ Jesus.
As I’m sure you who have made that commitment could testify, being in the Body of Christ may not mean our crosses evaporate suddenly, but it does mean that we share one another’s burdens and that makes it a whole lot easier. Somehow, our burdens are then lightened by the experience of a living faith in Christ.
You probably know the hymn “Brother, Sister, Let me serve you”, which actually sums up what I’ve been saying rather well. At first reading it may seem like a rather gentle hymn about being nice to one another, but actually I think it speaks powerfully of how we can serve and support one another on that journey with Jesus. Apparently the third verse was written first, in 1976, and the others followed a year later:
“I will hold the Christ-light for you in the night-time of your fear.
I will hold my hand out to you, speak the peace you long to hear.”
May this indeed be both our commitment and our joyful experience as we go forward together at All Saints. Amen.
Derek Lancaster, LLM
Hebrews 12.18-29; Psalm 103.1-8; Luke 13.10-17
Just for a moment, imagine yourself as a toddler, maybe an inquisitive toddler. You are strapped into a pushchair, in a crowded space, perhaps in a lift; it’s full of tall people who must seem like giants. How do you feel? What can you see? Not very much; maybe just legs and feet. So I wonder what view of her surroundings that unnamed woman in our story had. Maybe just her own feet and the ground in front of her. She probably couldn’t see what was happening and who was speaking to her. ‘You are set free,’ Jesus said to her. Suddenly a whole new world was opened up to her as she stood up straight. She began to praise God; and she continued praising God because her life had been radically transformed. I wonder if she used the words of today’s psalm; she would have known them. “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all my being bless his holy name. Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits.
Jesus was doing what he was sent to do. We heard it earlier in this gospel, when Jesus read from the prophecy of Isaiah in the synagogue: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free”. Then he announced that this prophecy had been fulfilled in him. Just imagine the reaction to that statement!
But Jesus’ action didn’t go down well with the leader of the synagogue. Let’s look at what’s happening here. It was the leader’s duty to uphold the Law. He offered a clear reminder of the requirements of the Law. Jesus had healed this woman on the sabbath, and in his understanding of the Law that counted as work, which was forbidden. The sabbath was a day for rest and renewal; it was precious and had to be observed. And if exceptions were made, well potentially that was the thin end of the wedge. And he kept making this point to the crowd. He believed he was right. And I guess we all have things which we believe are right and feel the need to take a stand on.
But Jesus, referred to here as the Lord, spoke with authority. He countered this accusation with a very Jewish argument. If it was permissible (and it was) to take animals to a source of water on the sabbath, then surely it was permissible to set this woman free from her affliction on the sabbath. He wasn’t breaking the Law; he was interpreting it in a more compassionate way.
This story is not primarily about the healing of a differently abled woman, though that is important. Maybe this unnamed woman represents all of us, with our limited perspective and interpretation of the accepted norms of society. Maybe we are that woman. Maybe we are like the leader of the synagogue.
What does this story of a healing on the Sabbath tell us about God? It tells us good news
- that the Law was given by God out of love to free us from tyranny whether that is self-inflicted or inflicted on us by others.
- that God forgives us when we get it wrong and offers us the chance to try again
- that the Law does not have the last word. There is always room for exceptions when compassion and love are needed.
This is about setting people free – phrase that Jesus uses twice in this short reading. That phrase would have reminded those present how God set the people free from captivity in Egypt.
Let’s look at what Jesus actually did on the occasion. First, he noticed the woman’s need. She did not approach him with a request for healing. It was far more likely that she had slipped in at the back of the synagogue, not wanting to cause a fuss. He took action. Grace was at work here, a gift which was freely given. He showed mercy and compassion. He wasn’t breaking the Law; he was interpreting it a more generous way. That is what the kingdom of God is about. So it was a joy yesterday that All Saints as an inclusive church joined the Wycombe Pride march to show that God’s love includes everyone regardless of their sexuality or gender. And the 150 cup-cakes we gave away went down well too! Thanks to those who made them.
Who needs setting free today? All of us! First, we need to ask ourselves what do I need to be set free from, and trust that the Holy Spirit will give us a whole new perspective on our life and will transform us into people who praise God for all the blessings we receive. Then we may be able to notice those who are overlooked in our society today, those who are struggling, those who are persecuted for their beliefs or their sexuality, those who suffer injustice from those in authority. I’m sure between us we could make a very long list.
Let us pray that as followers of Jesus, we notice those in need and take action.
The Revd Jackie Lock, Associate Priest
In my recently-retired state, I now have a little time to see some breakfast tv before getting on with the day and it strikes me just how much we Brits love a hero. Almost every day there’s at least one in-depth item telling the story of one form of hero or another.
Naturally in recent weeks, it’s mainly been Commonwealth Games athletes, but in normal times we have people climbing mountains or doing multiple marathons, or some other form of amazing endurance like rowing a very long way or similar. People have always been inspired by heroes such as Captain Tom, or little Tony Hudgell, or the three dads who walked to raise money for suicide prevention.
And whilst a hero who is heretofore unknown is much to be admired, it seems they attract even more admiration if they are famous, whether for working as an actor or being a footballer or rugby player.
Leaving aside the important question about what the government should fund versus what we should support through charities, there’s no doubt that these endeavours do a lot of good in raising awareness and in providing much-needed care.
In a world of war, climate change and political shenanigans, it’s good to have people we can look up to for their honest work on our behalf.
At the heart of their heroism are two key things, I think – commitment to a particular cause, and the perseverance to put the effort in to support it and deliver the prize.
And worthy as those prizes are, the promise of God is of a much more significant and life-changing prize for all humanity – the promise of the time when society will work the way God works, in humility, and in love for neighbour and enemy alike. That promise of the Kingdom of God, which Jesus has begun by dying and rising again for us.
But we hear in today’s gospel that that does not come about easily. The passage we heard isn’t, perhaps, what we’d expect – Jesus being a nice teacher who teaches us a nice way to be nice to one another. That would be the easy way out. Jesus could have preached peace and love after the manner of a sixties hippie and not upset the authorities, but that’s not the Jesus we read of in the gospel.
See, Jesus knew that the path he had to tread would lead only to the cross and that it was necessary to go through that to reach resurrection, and so reveal God’s plan not just to Israel but to the whole world.
Throughout Christian history that has created division, as Jesus said it would. From the earliest accounts of arguments between the disciples about who was allowed into the church, through riots about exactly how Jesus was human or divine, to rows about exactly how we are made right with God, to discussion about who is allowed to lead the Eucharist, and in these days, to who is allowed to marry whom in church.
How are we, then, to interpret the present time?
Well, just like our public social heroes, we need both commitment and perseverance. For God’s justice to prevail and all humanity to be drawn into God’s love, we need to continue to show how effective and how life-changing it is. We can preach the words of the bible all we like, but if people don’t see Christians acting together to promote love of neighbour and love of enemy and make a difference in their communities they see straight through us and rightly call us hypocrites, as Jesus did those whose actions didn’t match their words.
It’s a tough love, is the love of Jesus, and committing to it is far from easy. It requires perseverance.
But as the writer to the Hebrews says, we have the example of the saints before us to follow – they have run the race, they’ve climbed the mountain, they’ve persevered in the faith. People like Oswald, George, Sebastian and Edmund in our Lady Chapel window, or the holy women in our south window in the nave such as Bridget, Winnefrid, Elizabeth Fry, Florence Nightingale, Mary Slessor.
The saintly heroes of the church did all they did because they were fully committed to kingdom values. They wanted to do more than raise money to help fix a gap in provision or support research, they wanted to show how knowing Jesus had changed them and could change those they helped. They pointed, always, to Jesus as the pioneer of our faith and to the glory of God he reveals.
It seems to me that the signs of the times require us to do the same. We need to work alongside our community to reveal God’s love for it. We need to persevere in what we already do as a church, and find resources to do more. Let us run that race that is set before us in these challenging times.
Derek Lancaster, Licensed Lay Minister
Hebrew 11.1-3,8-16; Luke 12.32-40
Last Sunday I got home in time to see the last part of the Euros final and the winning goal. Now most of those who know me are aware that in normal circumstances I’m not a great follower of football. But somehow this was different. What struck me afterwards were comments from some of the women who played years ago, who didn’t have the training opportunities the Lionesses have had; who recall times when clubs were unwilling to allow them to play on their pitches; when there was no financial support available. Nevertheless, they persevered, always hoping that things would improve in the future. Thanks to their faith and courage these dreams have come true. They kept their goal in sight (sorry!) and were full of joy at the success of this team.
We might say that their faith in the future is ‘the assurance of things hoped for’ as the unknown writer of the letter to the Hebrews put it. Faith is the theme of our first reading this morning. It is the conviction of things not seen. It’s not hope if we say ‘I hope it will be fine for our picnic later today’ when the sun’s shining out of a cloudless sky and there’s not a drop of rain showing up on the weather radar.
Here the writer reminds us how Abraham responded obediently and in faith to God’s call to set out on a journey, not knowing where he was going, to a place where he would receive the inheritance promised by God, including numerous descendants. All this seemed impossible, yet he kept faith, even when he was far too old to father a child with his barren wife Sarah. They did not receive God’s promises in full; that came much later with the arrival of the Messiah, of Christ. They continued to seek a homeland, a heavenly city, the new Jerusalem we hear about in Revelation which is symbolic of a time when God’s kingdom has finally come.
In our gospel reading, Jesus is telling his disciples to have faith. It appears that the disciples are anxious and afraid. Jesus reassures them of God’s intention to give them the kingdom – the kingdom that he has come to bring into being, not at some unknown date in the future, but here and now. He taught them to pray ‘your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as in heaven.’ He tells them to get their priorities right and not to focus on accumulating material possessions.
Then he tells them to be dressed and ready for action. Those hearing this at the time would most probably have been reminded of the exodus, of the time when the Israelites were told to be ready to leave Egypt at a moment’s notice to escape from Pharaoh.
Jesus compares this with the master of the house returning late from a wedding celebration and finding his slaves wideawake and ready to do whatever was required at whatever time he got back, whether it was the middle of the night or even near to dawn.
In a surprising twist, he then tells the master will fasten his belt, meaning he’ll hitch up his robe, ready for action – think of it as putting on an apron. He will tell the slaves to be seated and he will serve them. With the benefit of hindsight, this may remind us of the last supper when Jesus washed the disciples’ feet. They found his action shocking. In their minds this was a task for the servants, not something that the host would do.
The good news is that in this topsy turvy kingdom of God, Christ has come as one who serves us. We tend to think solely in terms of us serving God. This is what happens when we centre our lives on God. This is the good news of the gospel. It is truly shocking. God, who loves us and desires only good for us, has given us so many gifts, We have no reason to be afraid. Surely our response is that we should be ready to serve others. How we do this will depend on our circumstances.
What does ‘being dressed for action and having our lamps lit’ mean for us today?
It’s a call to be alert, to be attentive to what God is saying to us now, today.
It’s a call to notice what God is already doing in our town and in this place.
It’s a call to seize every opportunity for joining in what God is already doing.
It’s a call to think creatively about what new things we might undertake.
Restrictions during the pandemic meant that much of what we were doing had to stop, and rightly so. Over the months most of us got used to these limitations. But now is the time to take stock. Some things may need to be done in a different way. Some may not need to be done at all. It’s a good time for all of us to review what we are able to do now, which may be very different from what we were doing pre-pandemic.
The vacancy has just begun. Yes, in one way this is a time of waiting . But it’s also a time for review. Equally it is not a time to sit back. It’s a time for trusting God, for praying , listening and then getting on with whatever needs to be done.
Generous and loving God,
in this time of vacancy we thank you for our blessings,
and for all who build up this community
and work with others for the common good.
By your Holy Spirit inspire our vision,
and give us patience and courage
as we await the new priest you are calling to High Wycombe.
Though Jesus Christ our Lord.
The Revd Jackie Lock, Associate Priest
Luke 12 v 13-21
People sometimes say of a rich person, “I wonder how much he is worth?” How much is a person worth? The doctor who gives lifesaving treatment, is worth millions to you, but his salary is nothing like that! How much are you worth? The Good Shepherd, Jesus, came to seek and to save the lost, and that makes each one of us of very great worth! Each year newspapers publish a Rich List, which shows the wealth of the richest people in the world. It is the people who have billions of pounds who count. But what are they really worth?
Our Gospel is the story the parable of the Rich Fool. The man, a farmer, was already rich, but he could see that the coming harvest would be the best and biggest ever. His barns could not hold it all. He decided to pull them down and build new, huge barns. If you read the Bible passage, you can see what a totally selfish man he was, because he was thinking only about himself, saying “My barns, my crops, and all my goods. Then I will eat, drink and be merry.” Then he has a heart attack, and dies, and all those things he has prepared, who will they belong to now?
But, is it wrong to work hard and do well? Is it wrong to enjoy the good things of life, a nice house, warm clothing, holidays, and a good pension at the end? Certainly, we need entrepreneurs, good businesspeople who often work extremely hard. It is not having a lot of money that is the problem, it is how it is used. It’s a bit like food. Food is good for us; it is often delicious. But people in Africa face famine now, while here in England 25% of children aged 10-11 are obese. There is enough food in the world to feed everyone. There is a problem in sharing food. And in many countries, a problem in choosing the right food for healthy living.
I expect you have all heard of shipwrecked sailors, in a small boat in the middle of the ocean. The water runs out and some of them are so thirsty they are tempted to drink sea water. The salty water makes them more thirsty, so they drink more and more sea water, until their bodies are overloaded with salt – and they die. So with money. Most people on the ‘get rich’ path always want more money, bigger homes, a boat. No - a yacht. And so it goes on.
You might be thinking, “Well, I’m not rich! And every week I find prices have gone up in the shops.” Well…most of us have salary or pensions coming in regularly, we all have free health care, we all have a bed to sleep in and a spare pair of shoes. Millions of people around the world would think themselves rich if they had that much.
It is not that God doesn’t want people to save for retirement or future needs. It is not that God doesn’t want us to “eat, drink, and be merry” and enjoy what he has given us. We know from the Gospels that Jesus spent time eating and drinking with people and enjoying life. But our true security lies in trusting God and loving our neighbours as much as ourselves. Of course, we do need entrepreneurs to start and build up businesses, and probably create wealth for themselves.
In 1894 two young men ran a market stall in Leeds, selling cheap goods. One was a Jewish refugee from Russia, named Michael Marks and the other was Tom Spencer. Eventually they opened shops and became rich. Where would we be now without Marks and Spencer shops on every high street? The first cars were built for rich people. Thomas Ford saw a gap in the market and started mass producing relatively cheap cars. People called these Ford cars ‘Tin Lizzies’. He began a revolution in transport, and became one of the wealthiest men in American history. Almost everyone in the world now would like a car, whether for work or pleasure.
Jesus ended the story, “So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich towards God.” I got a bit stuck with those words. We should be rich towards God! What can we possibly give which is of value to God? In Paul’s letter to Timothy, we read. “Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share”. That is being rich towards God. Or, as the hymn writer Christina Rossetti put it: “What can I give him, poor as I am. If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb, if I were a wise man I would do my part. But what I can I give him, give my heart.”
Maureen Lampard, Licensed Lay Minister
A couple of weeks ago, NASA published the first images from the new James Webb Space Telescope beamed from two million miles away.
The telescope can see further into space, and therefore further back in time, than any other. It can see objects that were created 13.9 billion years ago near the dawn of time.
If you imagine holding out a grain of sand at arm’s length, this is the little tiny bit of sky you can see in this picture. Full of thousands of galaxies, revealing black holes and much more. With the telescope, scientists will find out more and more about our amazing universe in all its beauty.
It leaves us simply in awe at the sheer scale of the universe, just as the psalmist was two and a half thousand years ago or more when they wrote in Psalm 8 ‘When I consider the heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have ordained, what are mortals that you should be mindful of them? Mere human beings that you should seek them out?
Well, it’s a fair question to ask, isn’t it? How does God – Almighty, Creating God, Maker of all things seen and unseen – reach out to me and to you?
And in today’s psalm, 138, we hear something of a response, as the lived experience of the psalmist is shared:
“Lord, on the day I called for help, you answered me.”
So, one of the central truths of our faith is that God knows us and answers our prayer, and that we can know what God is like because of Jesus Christ. Prayer connects the awesome bigness of God to our small human lives. But even so, I think if we’re honest most of us find prayer difficult at times. And we’ve all prayed earnestly for something and not felt God has answered it.
Today’s gospel is intended to help us with that. For all the times when our prayers fail, and we feel that God is distant, as well as for all the times when we feel truly heard and the Spirit dances within us, Jesus gives us his prayer.
In Jesus’ time, prayer was a regular habit for everyone – prayer on rising, on sleeping, when eating, when beginning work - every occasion had a prayer and the disciples would have known them. But they asked Jesus for a specific prayer they could use regularly that reflected his own teaching, and the Lord’s prayer was the result.
The Lord’s Prayer, sometimes called the Our Father, is used in every service we hold here, and most of us, I think, will know it by heart – if you don’t, maybe try to find time to learn it. The contemporary version we’ve used here for 45 years at the Eucharist is best to learn, though some of us will know the traditional version. Both are translations, of course, in any case.
The Our Father makes that deep connection we need when we pray.
Personally, I find the Lord’s Prayer one of the deepest moments in the Eucharist. As we prepare to come to communion we praise God, we pray for the kingdom to grow and for our needs, we ask forgiveness and pray for deliverance. It’s a fine preparation for receiving the sacrament of the body and blood of Christ, I think.
And one of the joys of it is that we pray the Our Father together – that we are surrounded by prayer, as a community, and by the millions of Christians praying it around the world. And incidentally, if your first language is not English do be free to pray aloud in that language, for that celebrates our diversity and our sharing together. You may even like to raise your hands as the priest does, as a sign of that togetherness. I’ve known many churches where that happens.
So, the Our Father is a lovely encouragement and support for us, and yet… some of you might be struggling with prayer at the moment. Jesus says, ‘Ask and it will be given’?
When we desperately want something to change in our lives we want to ask and have it happen. But that’s not often how it is with God. Yet we do believe that God only wants good things for us, like any father does his children.
As we bring our concerns and intentions before God, what we’re doing is recalling them in God’s presence, and God’s response is to give us the Holy Spirit, as the gospel says. And the Spirit sustains us, comforts us, slowly changes us.
The Church of England says this about prayer on their website:
To pray is to make our hearts ready to experience the love of God in Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. Praying regularly will help us to develop a spiritual rhythm. A discipline of prayer changes the way that we think about our lives, because it creates new habits of heart and mind. Prayer opens us more deeply to the transforming grace of God. We enter into God’s presence, allowing the Holy Spirit to pray in us.
So, as we work at our prayer life we slowly begin to be changed, and ready to handle the things that are going on for us, and we can pray that others might also be changed. As we pray that the Father’s name might be hallowed, holy-fied if you like, so we in turn are holy-fied by God.
And that process of “holification” – sanctification - continues throughout our lives. As we are deepened, we know the fulfilling joy and comfort of life in the power of the Spirit who sanctifies the whole universe of millions of galaxies, and also each one of us when we ask.
Derek Lancaster, Licensed Lay Minister
Colossians 1:1-14 & Luke 10:25-37
Introduction: In the Gospel narratives there are several cameos of Jesus in a boat, on the Sea of Galilee. Today, happens to be Sea Sunday and with my trajectory having been away from aviation towards the maritime world it seems somewhat appropriate to pick up the theme.
Embarking seaward: Having moved our boat from the River Thames to the River Hamble and the open sea we are experiencing a far more challenging environment. The sea, with it’s tides, waves and exposure to the weather bids adventure requiring learning, planning and careful preparation. Heading out to sea amidst the changeable elements is at once exciting and a little frightening. All those familiar with the environment know that life at sea is unpredictable and so one requires safety gear and a working VHF radio.
As a metaphor one could do worse than applying it to embarking on a new adventure – a new season in ones’ life. This is both a reality for me and for this church, as it was for my being appointed here in my current role.
Reflecting on our journey together. Over the last (almost) 10 years we have journeyed together in the same ‘boat’ so to speak; setting our sails when the spiritual wind was blowing and rowing during the times when movement was required from our own energy and efforts. I’m reminded of a song called ‘Willing to Row’, which includes the words, ... And the one who stills the water says, “Before you I go; I’ll calm the wind; are you willing to row?”
There have been times of plane sailing and other times, such as during the pandemic, which have been more like rowing than sailing. But the Lord calmed the wind and now it feels like a breeze is blowing again. So, the next season is a time for discerning the wind direction and setting the sails appropriately.
The Lord has indeed been with us during this last season of All Saints Church, as he was before and will be in the next. It is, of course, Christ’s church – he builds it and governs it as long as he’s welcomed here and looked to for guidance.
For me, it’s been a challenging season but really worth it. To see the church flourishing in so many diverse ways with such a committed, faithful, hardworking and loyal team of leaders and volunteers is inspiring. I cannot think of any gathering, service of worship or social event which has not gone well. They’ve done us proud. The fact that such strong characters with diverse views have worked so effectively together is a great testimony to each one and to God’s work in our midst. It has become the crown of my stipendiary ministry, for which I’m hugely grateful. Thank you.
This church’s ministry has far-reaching impact: not only through its acts of worship and daily prayer for the town but through it’s civic gatherings, arts and spiritualty days and other wider public engagements. It is known as an authentic House of Prayer with which people of all Faiths, and none wish to be associated. It is, indeed, a place to encounter God and to find solace in a troubled world. It’s sacred centre has been sustained and the life of God’s Spirit continues to produce new shoots of ministry, especially during the week. Whether it’s the All Saints Plus group, the Conversation Café, or developing engagement in the work here by those on the fringe of society, to name but a few, God’s life manifests itself here.
A Community Hub: At its heart, All Saints is a community hub as well as a parish church. And to remain so, its culture must be rooted in right relationship; that is, with God, with one another and with the wider community. Christ has called us to be a welcoming community; welcoming to all who are drawn to part of its life and ministry, whatever their culture. As the Samaritan showed practical care and compassion for the wounded Jew (usually at enmity) so this is to be a place which shows compassion and kindness to all in need. I’m so proud that All Saints was instrumental in showing a welcome to refugees, thus becoming a fertile ground for the birth of what became the Wycombe Refugee Partnership. Of course, God had been working through the 38 Degrees group prior to our part in the work; its gestation began there. How wonderful that the work has now gained the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service! But it’s a sign of how God uses the ministry here to partner with other organisations in serving God’s compassionate ministry in the town. Engagement with people outwith the church community helps us to get out of our own echo chamber and to see where God is at work in the wider town.
Hosting the Repair Café is, I believe, an indicator of God using this church to show His care for the creation and the wider world through partnering with other community groups. This partnership, and others like it, enable warm-hearted and constructive relationships with key people working for the future of this town. In this I witness God at work.
A story of compassion: Today’s Gospel story of the Good Samaritan shows what loving one’s neighbour actually looks like in practice. May I conclude, therefore, with a story recounted at a recent International Christian Maritime Organisation by Cardinal Tagle – the Archbishop of Manilla.
He tells of a woman who used to work for Caritas, Lebanon, helping illegal migrant workers at a detention centre, some of whom were seafarers. She was once invited by Caritas Syria to deliver a training programme to the staff there about ministering to illegal immigrants. On arriving by taxi at the Conference centre one day she asked the taxi driver “How much do I owe you?” He said, “No, you don’t have to pay.” She panicked, wondering what the driver would want instead of payment, thinking that she might be kidnapped or raped. So, she raised her voice and said, “I have money, I can pay. Tell me, how much do I owe you!?” But, said the driver, “How can I accept money from Caritas?” She asked, “How did you know that I work for Caritas?” He said, “Three years ago, I was imprisoned in Lebanon as an illegal worker and I used to see you there. On the night before my release from prison, I had a terrible headache, and I asked for medicine from the guards. They didn’t give me any but, at that moment, you passed by and so I asked you for medicine, which you gave me. I slept very well that night, but I was not able to thank you. So now, let me thank you; please don’t pay for this trip.”
As small act of kindness is not small to the recipient.
I pray that the charism of acting together with loving kindness will always be in the DNA of All Saints Church. In this Christ makes himself manifest here.
The Revd Hugh Ellis, Team Rector
Ephesians 2.19-22 & John 20.24-29
Both our readings this Sunday talk about faith.
Leilani and Rufus are today taking the first steps of an amazing journey of faith. They are to become, as our reading from Ephesians says, citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.
So, people of God I ask you what does it mean to be a Christian? Now we will be professing what we believe collectively about God in a moment, but Christianity is not primarily an intellectual exercise in doctrine and dogma. What I am asking is what does it mean to be a Christian? Practically. At home or at work. What virtues do we ascribe to as Christians?
And many others perhaps.
Two questions then follow…
So, we are also therefore people who seek forgiveness when we mess things up, and we are also people who should be forgiving. As it says in the prayer that Jesus taught us… ‘Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us’. So, this is also a part of what it means to be a Christian, we are people who say sorry when we get things wrong and try, with Gods help, to grow and do better. Which is why we pray, to build relationship with God and ask for his help in our growth as a person. As we acknowledge we are incapable of doing this by ourselves, in our own strength.
If we have faith, then we have trust in God. We have as our foundation what the apostles and prophets show us by their example and what they teach us about Jesus Christ, our cornerstone, who we have chosen to build our life around. So, Leilani, Rufus, their parents, and godparents this is what is being signed up to in baptism. It is what all of us sign up to as Christians. To pray and read scripture to get to know about God, and to grow in virtue and be more Christlike with Gods help. Most importantly remembering to seek forgiveness and be forgiving when we get things wrong. This way we grow into a holy temple and become spiritually a dwelling-place for God. Amen.
The Revd. Gareth Morley, Curate
Galatians 3.23-39; Luke 8.26-39
One of my favourite moments from the recent jubilee celebrations was the sketch in which Paddington Bear took afternoon tea with HM the Queen. Those of you who familiar with the story will remember that Paddington was from Darkest Peru (BTW a fictional place with high mountains and deep jungle), where he had been brought up by his Aunt Lucy now living in a care home. He was found homeless by the Brown family on Paddington station and taken home with them. Many observed that Paddington was a refugee and was treated with kindness and respect. Why is this particularly significant? Because tomorrow is world refugee day.
I thought some definitions might be helpful. These come from the office of the UNHCR (United nations High Commissioner for Refugees): A refugee is someone who fled his or her home and country owing to “a well-founded fear of persecution because of his/her race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion”, according to the United Nations 1951 Refugee Convention. Many refugees are in exile to escape the effects of natural or human-made disasters.
Asylum Seekers are those who say they are refugees and have fled their homes as refugees do, but their claim to refugee status is not yet definitively evaluated in the country to which they fled.
Those fleeing have certain rights: to be protected and safe. They have the right to right to seek asylum in another country; borders should remain open to all people forced to flee. There should be no pushbacks – returning people to return to a country where they would be at risk before evaluating the dangers they would face back home.
People should not be discriminated against at borders. All applications for refugee status must be given fair consideration, regardless of factors like race, religion, gender and country of origin.
People forced to flee should be treated with respect and dignity. Among other things, this means keeping families together, protecting people from traffickers, and avoiding arbitrary detention.
To give you some idea of the scale of this globally, at the end of 2021 at least 89.3 million people worldwide were forcibly displaced as a result of persecution, conflict, violence, human rights violations or events seriously disturbing public order. Among them are nearly 27.1 million refugees, around half of whom are under the age of 18.
There are no simple solutions to these complex issues. Yes, I’m sure a small proportion of those arriving in this country in small boats are what are described as economic migrants. The Rwanda Scheme has been much in the news this week and has shocked many people. All the bishops in the House of Lords signed a letter to The Times condemning this scheme. Their letter ended with these words: We must end the evil trafficking; many churches are involved in fighting this evil. This needs global co-operation across every level of society. To reduce dangerous journeys to the UK we need safe routes: the church will continue to advocate for them. But deportations — and the potential forced return of asylum seekers to their home countries — are not the way. This immoral policy shames Britain.
So how does today’s gospel reading help us as we reflect on these issues? Jesus has crossed into gentile country and he is immediately confronted by a man who is possessed by demons. He is an outcast living rough in the tombs outside the city and is extremely violent. His name is Legion reflecting that many demons had entered him. Jesus tackles this man head on. He confronts evil. He restores the man to health and enables him to return to his home in the city clothed and in his right mind. (I’m not sure how he would have been received! With some scepticism probably). Remember the Greek word for healing and salvation is the same. Jesus has saved this man. Jesus is victorious over the forces of evil.
Reflecting on this, how can we bring healing in the face of evil and the challenges we face today both locally and globally. In High Wycombe the Wycombe Refugee Partnership has been working since 2015 to offer wrap-around support to resettle refugee families in the High Wycombe area. This includes housing, education, language, befriending, welfare and job-seeking support.
If we turn to our reading from Paul’s letter to the Christians in Galatia, he reminds them that through baptism they have been clothed with Christ. There is now no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female: all are one in Christ. The distinctions between people, between opposites have been reframed. I wonder what pairings we might substitute for Paul’s list? Black/white? Straight/gay? There are others, I’m sure.
We are called to respect all human beings. As Christians we have been clothed with Christ. It’s another way of saying we are to become more like Christ, enveloped in Christ’s love. Jesus treated the man who confronted him with respect; he was healed, sent home and given a task to do. This sounds a far better model. The challenge is how can we be part of this transformation.
Let us pray in the words of our first hymn that we will build a house where all are named, their songs and visions heard and loved and treasured, taught and claimed as words within the Word. Amen.
The Revd Jackie Lock, Associate priest