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