“No-one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father”.
I was on a coach tour of Bulgaria once and to pass the time on a long drive the local courier sent a clipboard around asking if we had questions about the Bulgarian culture and so on. Eventually, it was returned to her and she announced she would now answer the questions. “And the first question is this…”, she said, “…Are we nearly there yet?”. Of course the whole coachload of Brits erupted in laughter and someone had to explain why.
But it’s a good question. It’s a good question for the start of Advent and it’s a good question for us as a church. Advent, of course, heralds much more than a time to prepare for Christmas. It also looks forward to the second coming of Jesus at the end of time, a time when the long-hoped-for kingdom of God will come in all its fulness. And there are three things we learn from our gospel reading.
First, we don’t know when it will happen, secondly, life will go on as normal right up to the last minute just as it did before Noah’s flood, and thirdly, it will divide people, with some being lost just as they might have been if they were swept away in the flood.
So the answer to ‘Are we nearly there yet’ is simply ‘We don’t know, but we live in hope’. So in the meantime, and this is Jesus’ point, we need to be ready. We need to be praying, reading and studying the bible, celebrating the Eucharist together, making changes to our behaviour, helping the world around us to change, building the kingdom. Essentially, that is the calling of the whole church.
And for this particular church community, there’s another layer. For we also don’t know the day or the hour when our new vicar will come. We don’t know if we are nearly there yet, but we live in hope! now I want to explore how ready we are – are we keeping watch?
Over the Summer, as part of our work during the vacancy, we invited you all to provide some feedback on our state of readiness as a church community. We asked for comments on four questions:
So first, the things we think we do well….
Improvements to make…
How we could make a bigger difference in Wycombe…
Barriers to doing these…
Overall, there’s lots that is great about All Saints, and we’re already trying to address some of the points raised. Before we can advertise for a new priest we need to prepare our Parish Profile, which tells potential applicants what we’re all about, and this feedback will be included as an honest sharing of our situation. So, practically, we are planning for our new vicar, and spiritually, as a church, we are on a journey in Advent as we look in hope towards Jesus’ return in glory and toward our celebration of his nativity at Christmas.
But are we nearly there yet? We don’t know – but it may just be that the Second Coming happens before the New Vicar. So let’s make sure we’re watching for that and are ready!
Let’s pray our vacancy prayer:
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. Amen.
Derek Lancaster, LLM
Last week we celebrated our annual patronal festival of All Saints, or All Hallows as it was traditionally, which actually falls on November 1st and hence the evening before is All Hallows Eve or Hallowe’en.
And just as Halloween recalls the spooky darkness, and indeed the more serious presence of evil in our world, so All Saints recalls the light. Jesus said he was the Light of the World and every time we gather here, we re-commit to walking in that light.
And just as we might need inspiration from others for our Halloween celebrations so also it’s rather easier to walk in the light if you can see for yourself the example of others who’ve gone before.
This week, and for the next couple of Sundays before we get to Advent and turn our thoughts towards Christmas, we’re going to be hearing about three saints. A Saint has been defined as someone who has lived a life of ‘heroic’ virtue – that is, they have done extraordinary virtuous things with readiness and over a period of time. They’ve truly walked in the light of Christ.
You see, Jesus calls us to raise our eyes above and beyond the day-to-day and to have a bigger vision, a vision of a world where the darkness of evil is banished and God’s path of love prevails. A vision of heaven, to be sure, but a vision also of a better world now – together making what Jesus calls the kingdom of God. And the saints show us how we can make that bigger difference in the world and grow that kingdom.
So to this week’s saint, and it’s a woman who lived long ago in the seventh century – Frideswide – she has a statue down there in the nave. She’s a local saint, and the patron saint of Oxford.
Frideswide, or originally, Frithuswith, was a saxon princess who became a nun who chose to spend her life dedicated to God and to prayer for the world. She’s remembered for successfully running away from a prince who wanted to marry her – Algar of Leicester pursued her even though she was a nun who had taken a vow of celibacy and refused him. She prayed for God to protect her, and God struck the prince blind. Somewhat unsurprisingly, the prince begged forgiveness and she granted it, after which his sight was restored. She founded a monastery in Oxford, and that eventually became our present cathedral – and I think next year we’ll have to organise a parish visit to see her shrine which is now the focus of a modern pilgrimage.
Frideswide’s name means ‘strong peace’ and, as I say, she dedicated herself to a life of prayer for others – that’s what monks and nuns do, monasteries are like powerhouses of prayers for the rest of us, and we have monks and nuns in the church of England too. She is celebrated as a saint because of her prayerfulness, which sometimes led to others being healed, and because of her dedication to following God’s path – that is, to walking in the light – especially in times of adversity.
That trust in God is an example we can all follow, I think. But though down the centuries monks and nuns, and indeed all Christians, have prayed for a better present world, they and we also pray for more than that.
We have always looked forward to a time when Jesus will return and reveal the fulness of God’s glory to the whole earth. We don’t know when this will be – in the early church they assumed it would be soon, but clearly it didn’t happen so we continue to look for it. When Jesus comes, as the church teaches, there will be what is called the ‘general resurrection’. It’s what Jesus was talking about in that rather odd reading we just heard about marriage, and it’s what we mean when we affirm our belief in the ‘resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come’ when we say the creed.
That’s when wars will cease, and sorrow and tears will be no more, and strong peace will reign. Time itself will end, and we shall all experience what the saints who’ve gone before us already experience – the full glory of heaven where the only relationship that matters is our relationship with God. We won’t be hanging about on a cloud with a harp, but we will be in a state of joyful, loving bliss where we know God fully and are fully known.
Now that’s what I call a big vision!
So of course we want to do all we can to bring about peace and joy and justice in the meantime – to walk in that light Christ has shown us. In Saint Frideswide’s time, Christianity was spreading in our country and she and many other Christians were showing the pagan world a better way to live. She challenged the assumed power of men in a powerful way and struck something of a blow for equality even in the seventh century. We might assume that women then were downtrodden, but she was far from the first powerful and effective Christian woman, and many have followed - yet even so, inequality remains one of the great injustices of our own time.
And as we ourselves journey in the light of Christ, we have all sorts of opportunities in this community of ours to share the inclusive love of God, to stand up for those who are oppressed, and to give a voice to people who are suffering from poverty, from sickness of mind or body, or from violence at home or elsewhere.
Frideswide lived a life of heroic virtue. We may not quite be able to match that, but we can all manage to grow in what are called the theological virtues of faith, and hope, and love – that is, to place our trust in God, to commit to building the kingdom, and to love our neighbours and our enemies.
Imagine a world where faith, hope and love were widely visible in society – where kindness, patience and humility prevail over envy, anger and pride? Wouldn’t it look rather different? How might High Wycombe look? How might Ukraine look? Or the Migrant Centres near the south coast? Or the Church? Or even our simple day-to-day transactions like buying things in shops or commenting on social media?
Well, it’s only possible with the help of God – we are too prone to failure and falling short to do it without regular prayer and a continuing and growing relationship with God. That’s why we gather as a Christian community – to ask for that help, and to share the journey as we walk in the light of Christ, just as Frideswide did all those years ago.
Please pray with me…
Sovereign God, who called Frideswide to be a leader among her people and gave her grace to be their servant, help us, following our Saviour Christ in the path of humble service, to see his kingdom set forward on earth and to enjoy its fulness in heaven. Through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Derek Lancaster, LLM
Our series on saints during this kingdom season began last week with Frideswide, a 7/8th century local saint. This week I’m going to look at the life of a modern saint. In what were for many years empty niches above the Great West Door of Westminster Abbey, there are now statues of 10 modern martyrs. They come from different continents and many denominations. The individual martyrs are intended to represent all who have died for their faith. It seems appropriate on this Remembrance Sunday to focus on one of these.
Maximilian Kolbe was a Polish priest. He was born in 1894. From an early age he had a particular devotion to the BVM. He joined the Conventual Franciscans. He obtained a doctorate in Philosophy at the age of 21 an a Doctorate of Theology when he was 28. He was ordained priest in 1918 and he went to India and Japan, where he and other brothers founded monasteries. In 1936 ill health forced him to return to Poland, where he became involved in publishing journals, some of which were controversial. He provided shelter for refugees, including hiding many jews in the monastery. During this time he was allowed to continue his religious publishing. He was arrested in 1941 and eventually sent to Auschwitz where he continued his priestly ministry, hearing confessions and celebrating Mass.
When a prisoner in his own block escaped, 10 men were chosen to face death by starvation as a warning against any further escape attempts. He was not one of these, but he volunteered to take the place of a man who had a wife and family. After the men had been starved for 2 weeks, only Kolbe and 3 others remained. The guards wanted the bunker emptied, so they were killed with an injection of carbolic acid. Kolbe died on 14 August 1941 and was eventually canonised in 1982 as a martyr by Pope John Paul II. The Anglican church commemorates him on the anniversary of his death.
In an act of great love he offered to take the place of another man wo did survive the holocaust. In our gospel reading Jesus speaks of coming destruction and persecutions. Jesus has some warnings for his disciples, urging them not to be deceived by those claiming to be the Messiah. It is a time to stand firm and wait. He encourages them to stand firm in the face of persecution, seeing this as an opportunity to witness to God’s love, assuring them that the Holy Spirit will give them the words they need.
Today Christians are still persecuted for their faith in many parts of the world. Today we are living in challenging times, but like the disciples, we have that same assurance of God’s presence with us and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. We too must stand firm and wait to hear Gods’ word to us.
The Revd Jackie Lock, Associate Priest
Luke 6:20-31, Ephesians 1:11-end
Do you like to be happy? Surely the greatest question we can ask ourselves. There have been many books written on the subject. How to be happy, how to lead a good life. People tell us lots of ways we can achieve that in this life.
Some say it is through money, especially being rich. Clifford Thurlow the journalist says “Money does buy happiness. Money equals freedom, the highest form of happiness. Money equals pleasure. The more you have the more pleasurable life is.”
The problem is that Clifford also says the poor are deluded and that they are there for the rich to take advantage of. He also assumes that the purpose of life is to maximise pleasure and minimalize pain. Hedonism. The problem with this approach is that aside from the fact that it puts maximising pleasure before God, Clifford links pleasure with money and that’s wrong. You can have pleasure and happiness with no money, you can be rich and be miserable. In this world a reality of existence is also that no matter how much money we have, how many things we have, we cannot avoid pain and suffering. It also doesn’t resonate with attempts to be Christlike, as Christ suffered pain, was crucified, and suffered death into which we too are called to be crucified with Christ so that we no longer live but he lives in us (Galatians 2:20).
We can also turn to quick fixes to try to make us feel better. W.C. Fields once said “I cook with wine, sometimes I even add it to the food”. I know when I feel bad Ice Cream can cheer me up but, eating to make me happy doesn’t last, and generally after eating it I go back to feeling bad again. Its something I need to keep working on. I know though that worldly quick fixes for happiness whether that be food, alcohol, shopping, are only temporary.
There is a difference between eating to make you happy and eating because you need to. Certainly, in the Christian tradition the breaking of bread and the sharing of fellowship around a table is vital. Let us remember that Jesus himself was accused of being “a glutton and a drunkard” (Luke 7:34), but it was a malicious false charge. We shouldn’t look to food and other worldly things as a substitute for true happiness which can only be found with God. Equally God calls us to self-control and away from gluttony as it makes us worldly and not godly.
In a similar way adrenaline junkies, those who love high risk sports and activities are also being worldly. I guess the same can be said of those who play computer games, but it depends on your relationship with said games. Some video games glorify things such as violence and lewdness, perhaps not so good. Others can become addicted or obsessed with computer games, again perhaps not so good. The point is that if you are looking for thrills to make you laugh, to make you happy in life, then sadly the game will end or you will become bored with it, equally when the high risk sport or activity is over the adrenaline will wear off. Then we are back to being unhappy again.
Finally, there are those who think being famous brings you happiness. A Greek called Pericles once said, “Famous people have the whole earth as their memorial”. The problem is fame is fickle and there is no lasting happiness in it. We hear of many who are famous saying their lives remain unfulfilled and empty. Social sciences also teach us that popularity does not correlate with happiness. That is because fame is worldly, temporary, and fickle. If we try to obtain worldly fame, then I’m afraid as time passes so will our happiness.
Why am I telling you all this?
It is exactly these things Jesus tells us to avoid if we want to be happy. In contrast to this Jesus tells us that:
The beatitudes tell us to set our hope on Jesus. In him is true riches, true sustenance, and true joy. This is our inheritance as members of the household of God. As saints. If we hold fast to this, then we can be happy and we can lead a good life. As an inheritance we are also called to not squander it but share the good news with a world which continues to seek the happiness that is right there in front of them.
Dear Father, help us to remember that we can never find happiness by seeking the things this world has to offer. True happiness can only be ours by following your son, Jesus Christ. Amen.
The Revd Gareth Morley, Curate