I was commissioned as a Church Army Officer in 2000, and spent 9 years working in parishes, mainly with children and families. In 2009, I began ordination training at Ripon College Cuddesdon. I married Clare in July 2000, and our first child, Nathan, arrived on September 22nd 2010.
Just wanted to say a huge thank you to the very kind person - you know who you are - for the gift we received today. It is a real blessing (especially at a time when the budget is very stretched, and the next grant won't arrive for three more weeks), and we do appreciate your generosity. God bless you :)
The other week, Clare & I went to see the film 2012. It’s one of these movies where you leave your brain at the door, and just go to enjoy the special effects, which, it has to be said, are very impressive. The plot of the film is literally the end of the world – as one character says, “those guys with the placards – they were right all along!”
Actually, I do find it hard to leave my brain at the door, because, having become interested in theology as it may be expressed through film many years ago, I find myself automatically looking for what films may be saying about God, Christ, the human condition or any other theological subject one can think of. There are several such themes in 2012, an obvious example being the naming of the huge boats that have been built to withstand the huge tidal waves which are expected to accompany the forthcoming destruction, and which will house enough people to ensure the survival of humanity to begin a new life after the apocalypse. You will probably not be surprised to hear that they are known as the Arks!
A particularly poignant scene occurs towards the end of the film, shortly before the tidal waves reach the Arks. Most people on an Ark are there either because they are “important people”, or because they are rich enough to have been able to buy themselves a place. But, despite their being room for at least twice the number who are actually on board, those in command have left no places available for the thousands of ordinary men and women who actually worked to build the Arks. Salvation, it seems, is not available to the poor or lowly...
And so to this poignant scene. Try to imagine it. As the tidal waves draw ever closer, crowds of people gather at the entrances to the Arks, pleading for the doors to be opened for them. The commander refuses to open the doors, saying that there is no time, and to do so would ensure the extinction of the human race. Only one person is brave enough to speak out, asking what is being said about their humanity, if they begin their new life by abandoning those who could yet be saved. To liberate or not to liberate...that is the question...
This dilemma is pre-figured in an earlier scene, when the central character pleads to a young Nepalese to include his family in an escape plan. The Nepalese is reluctant, until his grandmother reminds him that they are all part of the same family – the family of humanity.
I wonder how that grandmother would respond to the question Jesus asked in our New Testament reading this morning. Who is my mother and my sister and my brother? We could take Jesus’ words and say that he is rejecting his earthly family...or we could say that he is enlarging his heavenly family. “Whoever does the will of my Father”, he says, “Is my mother and my sister and my brother.” I wonder what that implies about the grandmother who showed compassion towards those of a different race and language and faith...
There is an old African-American spiritual song, called “Lord, I want to be a Christian”. It includes words such as, ‘Lord I want to be more loving in my heart. Lord I want to be more holy in my heart. Lord, I want to be like Jesus in my heart.’ In the Southern States in the 18th century black American slaves would sing of and to the liberating God, present with them through the Holy Spirit in the midst of the appalling indignity and injustice of their captivity. In the face of the most inhumane treatment, they sang songs of grace, holding onto their humanity, desiring to become more like Jesus Christ, and to do the will of their Father in Heaven.
They were, as we are, part of Christ’s family.
One aspect of Advent Season is our preparation to celebrate afresh the Word Incarnate, love Incarnate, come to earth in great humility, not, as in 2012, to save only a chosen few, but to liberate all – poor and rich, powerless and powerful, weak and strong, the whole of humanity, desiring each and every one to become a part of his family.
As we prepare to celebrate the Incarnation, we reflect on what it means to be in the family of Christ. We work as the mothers and sisters and brothers of Jesus to grow the Kingdom here on earth, to do the Father’s will, to follow Christ’s example, to remember that we are one family – one Body - because we all share in the one Bread. In the words of Matthew Henry, in his commentary on today’s Gospel passage, “let us look upon every Christian, in whatever condition of life, as the brother, sister, or mother of the Lord of glory; let us love, respect, and be kind to them, for his sake, and after his example.”
And, if I may be so bold as to add to his words, why not extend that attitude beyond the family of Christ, to every single member of the family of humanity? Who is my mother and my sister and my brother? Who is not...
Pause for 3 minutes
Lord, I want to be more loving in my heart. Lord, I want to be more holy in my heart. Lord, I want to be more like Jesus in my heart.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Less than 2 weeks to go of this first term, and I have finished my final seminar essay of the term. I have written 8 of them this term - one a week - one on the Flood narrative, one on Deuteronomy, two on the Prophets (specifically Isaiah and Jeremiah) and four on First Corinthians. All have been fascinating studies, and there is so much more to learn about each! It's actually quite embarrassing how little I knew about some of these topics, particularly as I have prepared 10 sermons or so every year since Commissioning. Perhaps this is one difference between being a licensed lay evangelist and an ordained priest...?
First Corinthians has been especially interesting - if we think we have problems in our churches, it's all happened before! The church at Corinth was split into various factions, and had so many disagreements over things from celebrating the Lord's Supper to eating food that had been offered to idols; from the use of gifts of the Spirit in worship over the rights (or not) of visiting prostitutes! It's a reminder that Paul was first and foremost an apostle rather than a theologian - he wrote his letters to churches, most of whom had specific problems to deal with, and any theology, generally, unfolded in the addressing of these problems. A lesson, perhaps, for any of us tempted to take particular verses of his out of context to apply them to our twenty-first century situations...
Away from academia, my College Group is on Worship Duty this week. Yesterday, we planned a Creative Worship service - Waiting for Peace - which involved much candles, incense and waiting, with yours truly on sound duty. Those at St. Mark's who bore patiently with me when explaining how the sound desk worked should be very proud - your endurance paid off!
Tomorrow, I will be leading Morning Prayer, which, on Wednesdays, is always followed by a brief meditation. I have been wrestling with this one, as whilst preparing it, I distinctly felt God nudging me in a different direction. So I have a new meditation now - very different from the original - I hope and pray it will speak to people tomorrow. I will post it here at some point after the service - will be interested to hear any comments!
Finally, I have taken on a couple of roles in college. I am Assistant Treasurer for the Social Club (which basically means that I send out the bar bills from time to time) and the Deputy Returning Officer (later to take over from the existing RO, a role which involves running the election for positions such as the Common Room President). As I feel no desire or call to be President myself, I am quite happy to organise the elections for the post!