News

  • Vicarage Coffee Morning
    Published: Monday 16 May 2022 01:02 PM
    Author: Chris Ball

    Thank you to everyone who supported the event on Saturday 7th May. There was a marvellous turnout, a fabulous choice of cakes to take with coffee and more still for the cake stall. The Summer Picnic Hamper, the raffle prize, looked splendid and delighted the winner. The sun shone and what’s more, all who attended much enjoyed the opportunity to get together, chat and learn about bees, in a way that hasn’t been possible for a couple of years.

    Mothers’ Union members from St Mary’s and St Peter’s are thrilled to announce that the sum of £530.35 was raised for Mothers’ Union charitable projects supporting families and family life.

  • 9th January - The Baptism of Christ
    Published: Tuesday 11 January 2022 10:32 AM
    Author: The Revd Jane Millinchip

    Acts 8:14-17
    Luke 3:15-17,21-22

    I thought that I would start this morning by conducting a brief survey amongst those of us here in church. If you don’t want to take part, there’s no pressure. I am going to read out four statements, and I would just like you to put up your hand when I read out the one which applies to you. Here goes:

    Statement one – I was baptised as a baby
    Statement two – I was baptised as an adult
    Statement three – I have not been baptised
    Statement four – I don’t know if I have been baptised or not

    Interesting

    The responses are pretty much as I expected: that most of us here are baptised – and most of us here were baptised as a baby.

    Let me ask you another question. This time, I am not expecting a response. Just something for you to think about as I speak, and for you to reflect on in the days to come.

    What does baptism mean to you? What difference does it make to you that you are baptised?

    Our two readings this morning both focus on baptism, but the baptisms to which they refer are actually quite different.

    Our reading from Luke refers to the baptism of God’s people by John the Baptist, before Jesus’ ministry, and of course to the baptism of Jesus himself.

    At the time of Jesus, baptism was not an official part of Judaism, and you cannot find the word baptism anywhere in the Old Testament, but it was practised unofficially by some Jewish people in the century before and after Jesus' birth. It was seen as a simple sign of general repentance, and as such could be repeated. Around the same time, ritual baths for purification became more common among Jews in urban areas, and, if you go to the Jewish quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem today, you can see houses with ritual baths dating back almost 20 centuries. This is the context for the baptism of God’s people by John the Baptist in this passage.

    Jesus, of course, as God’s son, is sinless, and there is no need for him to repent, or to receive forgiveness, in the way that the people do. In Matthew’s account of the baptism, in fact, John tries to refuse to baptise him saying that it is he, John, who should instead be baptised by Jesus. It is however important for Jesus to be baptised, so that he can become like one of us – Emmanuel – God with us. It is a symbol of his great humility, and he sets an example for his followers. His baptism is also an opportunity for God to show Jesus’ divine authority with the words: You are my Son, the beloved; with you I am well pleased.

    Our reading from Acts on the other hand refers to the baptism of new believers by the apostles in the early church.

    It has been a very difficult time for Christian believers. One of their leaders, Stephen, has been stoned to death by the mob whilst preaching the gospel. This has been followed by severe persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and most of the church members have fled to the countryside of Judea and Samaria. However, finding themselves amongst people who have not heard the gospel, they take the opportunity to talk about Jesus, and many come to faith. The tragedy of the death of Stephen has therefore in fact been the catalyst for the spread of the message in the wider community.

    Slightly earlier in this chapter, we are told that the people have believed, and are baptised, by Philip, both men and women. Then, here in verse 14, we are told that Peter and John go down and pray for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, and then they lay their hands on them. This seems to suggest that the way in which Philip was baptising people was only a first step, and the new believers also needed the laying on of hands by the apostles as a final step in coming to faith.

    These are controversial verses, because no-one is really quite sure what they actually mean. There are lots of different explanations, and, if you want to look into this further, I can point you in the right direction. I usually try specifically to disentangle the tricky verses in a Bible reading, but, this morning, it’s not a discussion which I want to get bogged down in, because I want to concentrate instead on what baptism means to us.

    So what does baptism mean to you?

    When I talk to parents who have asked me to baptise their child, I ask them this very question. They tell me that it is a chance to give thanks for the safe arrival of their baby, and a chance to celebrate with friends and family. They also however have the feeling that it is something which they need to do for their child. This is partly because it is seen as a traditional rite of passage, but it is more than this, I think. A new baby is a miraculous gift, which gives them a sense of wonder and awe, and sets them thinking more deeply about life and creation, and about God.

    And within the Christian church itself there are a range of possible answers to this question. A range which is probably represented here in church this morning, in terms of your own experience, and what you believe.

    Most Christians would agree that baptism is a sacrament. That is to say an outward and visible sign of an inward and invisible grace – a sign of God’s unconditional love at work in and through us. Most Christians would also agree that the Holy Spirit is at work in the lives of those who are baptised. The Holy Spirit of course plays a part in the accounts of baptism in both our Bible readings too.

    There is less agreement however on the role of the sacrament of baptism in our lives. Does the baptism bring with it forgiveness of sins, or does it simply signify that forgiveness has already taken place? Putting it another way, is baptism as an essential act, a saving act, through which a person becomes a Christian, and is put right with God? And without which a person is not a Christian? Or is it an important, but non-essential act, which is merely symbolic of what is essential, that is the sincere belief and commitment in the heart, the soul and the mind of the person, which puts that person right with God, and makes them a Christian?

    I asked you at the beginning if you were baptised as a baby or as an adult.

    If you were baptised as a baby, it would have been in a church tradition which believes that it is the sacrament of baptism which brings us into a relationship with God. That church therefore practises baptism for children who are unable themselves to make a personal commitment, but whose parents are able to do so on their behalf. Within this tradition, a baby which is very ill would be baptised as a matter of urgency, often in hospital. In the Roman Catholic church and most of the Anglican church for example infant baptism is the norm.

    If you were baptised as adult, it would either have been because you had just become a Christian, or because you were part of a church tradition which believes that baptism is symbolic of a faith commitment in the heart, the soul and the mind of the person. That church therefore only practises baptism for people who are old enough to believe and make a personal commitment, that is adults and older children. A believer’s baptism, as it is known, takes in place in Baptist and Pentecostal churches, and some Anglican churches, and it of course follows the example of what happened in the early church, as our reading from Acts reminds us.

    So, as I asked you earlier, what does baptism mean to you? What difference does it make to you that you are baptised?

    Clearly only you can answer that question.

    And let me say at this point that, if there is anyone here who has not been baptised, and would like to be, please do speak to one of us this morning, and we would very pleased to talk to you about it.

    For now, let me share with you three images which come to mind for me – amongst many possible images - around what baptism means to me, and what difference it makes to me.

    When I was at school, I had a friend called Rebecca, who was a Baptist, and she invited me to attend her baptism. It was something I will never forget. She was baptised by total immersion in a long white dress. Just before she was baptised, she gave her testimony, speaking passionately about the difference which being a Christian made in her life, and, after each person was baptised, and climbed back out of the pool, we all sang the chorus of that wonderful Easter hymn “Low in the grave he lay” (which we will sing in a few minutes)

    Up from the grave He arose
    With a mighty triumph o'er His foes
    He arose a Victor from the dark domain
    And He lives forever with His saints to reign
    He arose! (He arose)
    He arose! (He arose)
    Hallelujah! Christ arose!

    It was so different from anything I had seen in the churches I normally attended. I was blown away by the power of the symbolism, and by the sincerity of the testimonies of those who were baptised. This was believer’s baptism at its best.

    I trained for ordination alongside another Rebecca. Becky had never been baptised, as a baby or as an adult, and, you have to be baptised in order to be ordained. During our four years of training, the group of ordinands had become very close-knit and supportive, and so it was a wonderful moment on Maundy Thursday 2014 at our Easter School when Becky was baptised from amongst us.

    And finally – my own baptism. For me it has always been something which I feel connects me with people. It connects me with people all over the world, and with people going back in time.

    I was baptised as a baby in the Methodist Church. When I came to be ordained, I found that, although my mother had kept all my certificates, including my one for swimming a width, she hadn’t for some reason kept my baptism certificate, and I needed it. I contacted the current minister at the church in south east London where I was baptised, and I received a lovely covering letter back. The minister said that there were still people there who remembered my parents, and who sent me their good wishes.

    I was baptised in this beautiful silk christening robe, which was made by hand by my maternal grandmother. My mother was baptised in it, as was my sister, and our two sons. I myself baptised my two granddaughters, but sadly, with them living abroad, they had grown too big to fit into it by the time we were able to arrange the baptism.

    My baptism connects me then with those who have gone before me, but it is also very precious because it connects me with Christians from other traditions and other parts of the world. Despite all the differences between different traditions in the Christian church, we all recognise each other’s baptisms. We all recognise baptism as the invisible indelible mark that someone is a Christian.

    I leave you with these powerful words from the Common Worship baptism service.

    As the minister makes the sign of the cross on the person’s forehead, he or she says

    Christ claims you for his own
    Receive the sign of his cross

    And then

    Do not be ashamed to confess the faith of Christ crucified

    To which we all add

    Fight valiantly as a disciple of Christ
    Against sin, the world and the devil
    And remain faithful to Christ to the end of your life

    Go home today with those words ringing in your ears.
    Be encouraged by them.
    Be challenged by them.
    Amen

    The YouTube link is  https://youtu.be/19dTszeAGk8

  • Christmas Eve - Midnight
    Published: Saturday 08 January 2022 02:22 PM
    Author: The Revd Canon Paul Dawson

    “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.”
    Last week some gas engineers dug up a road. A small boy who lived in the road was fascinated by their machinery and the large hole they created. He asked if they were digging for treasure. When he came home from school there was a parcel on the doorstep – it contained a bag of gold chocolate coins. There was note – “We found the treasure” – signed by the gas men.
    That story was on the internet, so it must be true. But true or not the fact that it was upvoted to the front page meant that it made a connection with a lot of people.
    Another story, much older, but absolutely true.
    A prison chaplain was visiting an inmate for a service of Holy Communion. Such visits were only permitted once every six months and were strictly supervised by a prison guard. When they reached the Peace the prisoner stopped the service and went over to the guard who was supervising.
    He addressed the guard by name – “Brand, are you a Christian?” The guard replied that he was. “Well then, you must take off your cap, and join us around this table. You cannot sit apart. This is Holy Communion, and we must share and receive it together.”
    To the chaplain’s astonishment the guard meekly removed his cap, joined the circle, and received Communion.
    The chaplain’s name was Harry Wiggett. The guard was Christo Brand. The prisoner was Nelson Mandela.
    It was a small act – to address another person by their name, to see in them a fellow human being, to invite them to belong.
    It was a small act – yet it bridged huge differences. The guard held all the power, represented all the authority. The prisoner had nothing, nothing except respect for a fellow human being - and an absolute refusal to allow history to determine the future.
    It was a small act – but with hindsight we can see in it the process by which change was made possible. Change in individuals, change in a nation, change that has echoed around our world. By countless such small acts is our future crafted. Small acts often connect with people’s lives. They give us hope, and this is a time of hope.
    The refusal to give up on others is at the heart of Christmas, simply because God refuses to give up on us. This is another small act – the birth of a child. In individual lives of course each birth is momentous. Yet viewed over the entirety of human history one single birth, long ago, far away, hardly registers. There were many births that night, most of them have no relevance for us today.
    Yet we claim that this birth is relevant, that this child, these parents, are connected to our lives. This child – this small act of human fragility – makes a difference. If human destiny is crafted by countless small acts, then here it is radically reshaped.
    In prison Nelson Mandela faced the reality of choice – how people on opposite sides of conflict determine each other’s response and reactions. He, and others, came to realise that good news has to be good news for everyone, or it is good news for no-one.
    We live in a world which contains much that makes us anxious and fearful. I sometimes think that you hardly dare turn on the news or open the paper for fear of whatever new tragedy might confront us. We can only take so much bad news – the cynicism which pervades British culture is a symptom of a people who are weary of disappointment. It suggests we have given up on hope, worse still, we have given up on ourselves. We need to be reminded that God does not give up on us.
    There are those who suspect that Christmas is nothing more than sentimental escapism, wishful thinking for how our world might be. As Alan Sugar says to Father Christmas, it’s a nice idea, but it’s not a business plan. Or is it?
    There was question asked on the same internet forum last week – “Are you really happy or just really comfortable?” It’s an interesting question. Are you really happy, or just really comfortable? The comments in response were rather sad – most people said they’d settle for whatever comfort they could get. They’d given up on happiness, echoed in a comment I believe is attributed to Pope Francis, our “technological society has succeeded in multiplying occasions of pleasure, yet has found it very difficult to engender joy”
    Christmas is a time of big expectations, many we know to be unrealistic, many will give up on hoping for too much. Yet maybe we need to learn to hope for more.
    Don’t believe all you read on the internet, but all the same, if you listen to what people are saying there is still a message to be heard. We may live in a cynical and disbelieving world, but stories of hope still connect. And usually it is the small acts that connect the most. There’s something important going on in small acts.
    At our crib service earlier this evening everyone was given a coloured glow stick, the type you snap and shake and they glow different colours. Seeing the church in darkness filled with people waving multi-coloured glowsticks I am always reminded of Desmond Tutu’s message that we are a Rainbow People of God.
    He was of course a hugely important part of the fight against apartheid, but more importantly, his integrity, humility and authority made him a key part bringing reconciliation to a deeply divided people. Where most expected civil war to ensue he chaired South Africa’s Truth & Reconciliation Commission.
    When he was asked what was his most life changing moment Desmond Tutu remembered that when he was a small boy, about nine, he was walking with his mother to her work as a domestic servant. They met a white priest, a tall white priest wearing a black cassock and a hat – the priest stopped – and doffed his hat to Desmond’s mother. Tutu said it was mind blowing – that a white man should doff his hat to a black servant was “the biggest defining moment in my life.” The priest was Trevor Huddleston, whose fierce passion for justice Tutu himself emulated.
    Small acts, seemingly so insignificant, can change a life, can change a nation, can change history. We know this to be true, therefore there is hope. There is always hope. God never gives up on us.
    Christmas is at the turn of the year, when we are past the shortest day and the longest night, and we start to push back the darkness. We look to the future, and we wonder.
    It will not be an easy future, we know this to be true, but we can change its course – we can make a difference. Small acts – ordinary people. That’s where things important can happen. If there is one thing you take with you from this night, let it be a determination to believe in small acts, because small acts are possible, and they work miracles.

    The YouTube link is https://youtu.be/eQrtTw5Q-Ew

  • Fourth Sunday of Advent
    Published: Monday 20 December 2021 09:39 AM
    Author: The Revd Jane Millinchip

    Micah 5:2-5a

    Luke 1:39-55

    I wonder if you can work out what these three popular songs have in common?

    Lucy in the sky with diamonds by the Beatles
    Waterloo by Abba
    God only knows by the Beach Boys

    Any thoughts?

    Well, they have all at some time been banned from being played on the radio.

    Lucy in the sky with diamonds for what were considered blatant references to drug use; Waterloo during the Gulf War due to its connotations with armed conflict; and God only knows because back in 1966 simply using the word God in a pop song was deemed to be blasphemous.

    And if you think that is all a bit over the top, listen to these assessments of another very well-known song.

    E. Stanley Jones, a Methodist preacher and scholar, called it "the most revolutionary document in the history of the world." William Temple, Archbishop of Canterbury in the 1940s, instructed missionaries to poverty-stricken India never to mention the words of this song in public because it could incite riots in the streets. And Baptist writer, William Shurden, said that, when you read the lyrics of this song, you "sniff the powder of dynamite."

    What song am I talking about?

    Well, it’s the Magnificat – Mary’s song – which you heard just now in our reading from Luke’s gospel. The Magnificat is so-named, of course, because magnificat is the first word – meaning magnify – in Latin version of this song. This song is sung by an unmarried teenage peasant girl who has just found out she is pregnant, a girl we know as Mary. And Mary is a very special person chosen by God for a very special role in his plan for the salvation of the world.

    Step for moment with me inside these ancient words, and hear the voice of this young mother as she announces that a new day has dawned, both for her and for us. She glorifies God as she sings of what he is going to do for the world through her.

    This song – like much of what we read in the Bible – is both a comfort for us and a challenge to us. You can divide the song into two sections. The first section – verses 46-50 – brings us comfort, and the second section - verses 51-55 – challenges us. You might want to look at the text on your service sheet.

    We could call the first section “The gift of God’s grace”. This is the comfort.

    In verses 46-50, we see something wonderful and true about God: He loves the underdog, the disqualified, and the unimpressive. Mary stands before the Lord just as we do - needy, flawed, with nothing to merit his favour, nothing to earn but judgment. She is amazed at a God who knows her so well and chooses her anyway.

    That all sounds fairly uncontroversial, I hear you say. Why all those warnings? Nothing so revolutionary in that.

    But hold on. The second part is coming. This is where Mary turns her attention to world and its systems, and interprets the meaning of Christ's coming for this earth. We could call this section “God’s transforming power”. This is the challenge.

    In v. 51-55, Mary sings of radical reversals of what our world values, shifting everything in order to bring God's justice for his people. Three groups of people will be impacted we are told: the helpless, the humble and the hungry.

    Firstly, in verse 51, we learn that God will rescue the helpless.

    He has shown strength with His arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.

    Mary is just a young girl, not a political analyst. She is standing in the living room of an older relative in the hill country of Judea, singing this song. But she sees it all coming. Her boy-child will up-end all the centres of power humans have established on this earth. This baby is God's signal to power-brokers in every strata of society: the end of human self-centred ambition is at hand.

    Secondly, in verse 52, God will exalt the humble.

    He has brought down the powerful from their thrones and lifted up the lowly.

    Mary's song means we need to reverse our ambitions if we want to flourish in God's world. We need to stop buying into the idea that if we're going to get anywhere in life, we've got to be assertive and stand up for our rights! There's a higher law at work than the "law of the jungle." Jesus gives it to us in Luke 14: Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.

    Thirdly, in verse 53, God will fill the hungry.

    He has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty.

    Mary’s words here do refer to the physically needy of this world, to those without food, but they also refer to the spiritually needy, to those who are conscious of the God-shaped hole in their lives. Hungry people have one focus—where to find food. Deep inside them humans also have the sense that whatever else in life they have, they must know God?

    So, in this song – this revolutionary song - Mary announces that a new day has dawned, both for her and for us. She glorifies God as she sings of what he is going to do for the world through her.

    What we need to understand is that these promises are come in two stages.

    There is the promise of the new heaven and the new earth at the end of time, when God will make all things new in his kingdom. This is the hope which we share with all those who follow Christ as their Lord and Saviour.

    But there is also the promise of a foretaste of his kingdom here and now, and, as I said earlier, there is in this promise for us both comfort and challenge.

    We receive the blessings and encouragement of being God’s people and this brings us comfort.

    Personally, Mary stands before the Lord just as we do. We too are needy, flawed, with nothing to merit His favour, nothing to earn but judgment, but her words remind us that the church of Jesus Christ is for people who feel their own emptiness. Here's a gift you won't find under any tree this Christmas - the gift of God's grace – his unconditional love - in Jesus Christ, who has come for each and every one of us.

    BUT

    Looking at the big picture, we also need to remember that God loves everyone else in this world too. We are therefore also called to be his agents of change in offering his blessing and his comfort and his encouragement to those around us – to a needy world.

    God loves the forgotten and the passed over. He shows mercy to those who don't deserve it. He chooses the lowly over the proud, and he finds the hungry and fills them. God is on the side of those who can't take care of themselves. And he calls on us to play our part. He calls on us to seek humility, not glory. To labour for the Lord, not ourselves. To stop caring who gets the credit. To give without expecting anything in return.


    This is the challenge. What are we doing for the forgotten and the passed over, for those who cannot take care of themselves? What are we going to do to be God’s agents of change in our world today?

    Are you now beginning to sniff the powder of dynamite in this message? I hope so.

    There are so many areas of our life today where those who cannot speak up for themselves are finding it increasing difficult to cope, or even survive. Health and social care. The benefits system. Housing. Training and employment. The divisions between different groups in society and between different parts of the country. And the pandemic has just made things even worse.

    What can we do?

    We can write to our MP. Some MPs are more proactive than others, but they do take notice when their constituents lobby them about particular issues.

    Let me give you one small example. Our local MP Mike Amesbury tabled his school uniforms bill in February last year after winning a Private Members' bill ballot, and as a result of lobbying from his constituents. The bill will help families across England struggling with uniform costs, because schools must now keep rules regarding branded clothing items to a minimum, and uniform suppliers must give the highest priority to cost and value for money. This bill has just become law.

    We can also give financial or practical support to charities which are looking to change the world we live in.

    Again, let me give you a small example. Crisis is a national charity for people experiencing homelessness. It offers year-round education, employment, housing and well-being services. It also campaigns to end homelessness for good, by suggesting possible solutions, including how long it will take and how much it will cost. This is just one of hundreds of charities which can give us the opportunity to make a difference, and to become agents of change for God.

    And what about discussing these issues with friends and family, and especially with children and grandchildren? They are the leaders and influencers of tomorrow.

    Above all, let me suggest that if the message which we preach, and the actions which we take, in our world in 2021, do not sound revolutionary, do not upset those with power and influence, do not bring into question the existing structures, then perhaps we are not simply not radical enough. And if there isn’t a sniff of the powder of dynamite – why not?

    Oscar Romero was Archbishop of San Salvador in the 1970s, during a time of great political and social turmoil in his country. He spoke out courageously against violence, and supported the demands of the poor for economic and social justice. He became increasingly unpopular with the authorities, but, despite receiving threats, he refused to be silenced. On 24 March 1980, he was assassinated in his cathedral whilst presiding at mass.

    Let me finish with some words of his:

    he essence of the church lies in its mission of service to the world, in its mission to save the world from in its totality, and of saving it in history, here and now. The church exists to act in solidarity with the hopes and joys, the anxieties and sorrows, of men and women. Like Jesus, the church is sent to ‘bring good news to the poor, to heal the contrite of heart, to seek and save what is lost’,

    Amen

    The YouTube link is  https://youtu.be/zzG6j6djhWc

  • Third Sunday of Advent
    Published: Monday 13 December 2021 09:56 AM
    Author: The Revd Canon Paul Dawson

    Rejoice in the Lord always, again I will say rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone.

    I was watching an article on YouTube about a used car salesman. As a small boy he’d been fascinated by cars. As a teenager he’d bought some cheap old cars, done them up and sold them for a small profit. Over time he bought better cars and more of them. Eventually he found himself renting a plot of land and setting up his own business.
    He still loved working with cars, especially quirky British models most other dealers wouldn’t touch. The cars were great, it was his customers that drove him mad.
    Anyone who has worked face to face with the public will have some sympathy with the car dealer, and also John the Baptist when he says to the crowd – You brood of vipers. I can think of a few teachers who might like to use that phrase at a parents’ evening. But we’re not meant to go round upsetting people so sometimes what needs to be said doesn’t get said.
    Rejoice in the Lord always, again I will say rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone.
    Let’s take another look at that verse. Firstly – rejoice. Today is Gaudete Sunday, from the Latin, rejoice ye. We light the rose coloured candle in our Advent ring because rose is the liturgical colour for joy.
    Advent is a tough season. We are watching, waiting, preparing. It is a time for self-examination and in former times for fasting. By the third week of a fast people were weakened. Gaudete is a sign of God’s grace, the fast is relaxed, we draw close to the birth of Christ. This is a day to rejoice at hope that is entering our world.
    And then gentleness – let your gentleness be known to everyone. We tend to think of gentleness as tenderness or kindness, as a mother is gentle with her child. But in ancient use gentleness had another meaning, in the Psalms for example it means loving correction. So when a parent disciplines a child, and takes the tough responsibility for guiding a child through the complexities of life, that also is gentleness.
    It is the same loving correction we hear in the voice of prophecy, the voice of a loving parent reaching out to rebellious and disobedient children. A voice that is often ignored, and often resented, but a voice that speaks in love and will not give up.
    I often find myself saying to parents preparing for baptism, if you’re doing parenting right then at some stage you will be the worst parents in the world. The meanest, the most strict, the ones who set a curfew when everyone else is allowed to stay out all hours. That is the price you pay for gentleness. But in the long run you also reap the rewards.
    John the Baptist saw the need for change. As I said last week the unpopular word ‘repentance’ means to go beyond the mind you have, to think better of yourself, to think better of others, to see new possibilities. But change is hard.
    The used car dealer said that 60% of his customers were fine. Many of them came back and bought more cars from him. But 40% were bonkers. They lied about faults on cars they were trading in. They’d buy a £500 banger and then expect the same warranty as a brand new car. They’d be late for appointments, promise to view a car which had to then be prepared and got ready and then they’d never turn up.
    Ha! I thought, you want to try being a vicar mate.
    Some of John’s crowd got the message – then what should we do? I suspect it wasn’t 60%, just a few, but they understood the need for change.
    His advice was very practical and down to earth, share a spare coat, share food, don’t cheat, don’t abuse power to extract money out of others, don’t trade in a car with a broken gearbox (no I made that one up, John didn’t say that.)
    But think about it – we know things in our world aren’t as they should be. I was reading a new report on Afghanistan, the desperate poverty affecting millions, and with the Taliban in power what can we do?
    As a school governor I read the report that says when children have to self-isolate due to Covid that absence counts against the school’s attendance records. So are teachers meant to encourage children with Covid to attend? It doesn’t make sense to me. What can I do?
    We know there are families locally fearful of winter heating bills, or struggling to put food on the table. Is that something we can make a difference about?
    I read of a teacher in Uganda, a man with 20 years experience, earning £30 a month, who has had to give up teaching to run a farm to feed his family. How will his children get an education?
    Same question as the crowd asked – then what should we do?
    About Afghanistan, I don’t know. I suspect there isn’t much I can do other than be aware and pray and watch for when things might change. We need to discern what we can change and what we can’t. Don’t let one prevent us from doing the other.
    About school attendance – well I have a good track record of asking awkward questions to those who make silly policies.
    About local families – well we have our Foodbank and we know that works.
    About Ugandan children’s education – well our Christmas card present aid gifts can make a difference. So far we can send some chickens, a nanny goat, a sewing machine, some cocoa saplings, pay for schooling, cover the cost of antibiotics, and provide clean water.
    There are some things we can’t change. There are others we can. At a wide range of levels we know things could be, ought to be different. We know change is needed.
    These point of unease are important. They are the moments when the prophetic voice within us is awakened. They are Advent moments, times when we experience the otherness of God’s kingdom. A different reality draws closer.
    Therefore rejoice, even though we are still in the fast God’s graciousness is glimpsed. John’s message is to value those moments of awakening. They lead to the question – what should we do? And that makes it possible for us to be part of a different future.

    The Youtube linke is https://youtu.be/2v_dq8L9Nh4

  • Second Sunday of Advent
    Published: Tuesday 07 December 2021 09:38 AM
    Author: The Revd Canon Paul Dawson

    “And did those feet in ancient time?”

    My text is a question mark. Not any old question mark, but specifically the question mark from William Blake’s poem Jerusalem. Billy Bragg once said that when you sing that hymn you have to sing the question marks, they make a difference.

    Hubert Parry set the words of Blake’s poem to music to support a 1918 rally campaigning for Votes for Women. He recognized in Blake’s words a vision of England, not as it is, but as it might be. When you include the question marks Jerusalem become aspirational - it is about what might be, if we have the will and the determination to make it so.

    Aspirations do not come cheap, the metaphorical Jerusalem comes at a price. Blake writes of weapons, the bow of burning gold, the chariot of fire, the sword that will not sleep. And of courageous resilience, the mental fight with which this new land is forged.

    1918 was of course a time when the nations had been put through the furnace, and what had emerged was still being shaped. The future was being written - and we are still living through the consequences of those days. We also write the future. It is said that the final cost of the economic meltdown presented by Covid will be paid for by our children, and quite possibly by our grandchildren.

    New lands, new visions, are built by people. To change our land, and our future, begins by changing ourselves. The unknown 14th century writer of the Cloud of Unknowing wrote, “It is not what you are or what you have been that God looks at with his merciful eyes, but what you desire to be.”

    Not what you are or what you have been…., but what you desire to be.”

    John the Baptist stands at the heart of our Advent journey. When Luke speaks of him he begins with those who held power at the time, Tiberius, Pilate, Herod and Philip, Annas and Caiaphas. Between them they embodied political, military, economic, social and religious authority. They were the big players, the movers and shakers, they made policy and they wrote the rules. The future surely lay in their hands.

    Yet when change came it came not through them, but by John son of Zechariah, living in the wilderness. And his message was of repentance.

    It’s not a word we use too much today. People associate repentance with guilt, repentance means religious people telling everyone else how to live, repentance implies accusation. But if that’s how we think about repentance then it’s like singing Jerusalem without the question marks. We get it wrong, because the meaning is something else entirely.

    To repent means quite literally “to go beyond the mind you have.” To enlarge the scope of what you think possible. To believe more of yourself, and of others, and for others. Repentance is aspirational, because it dares to believe things might be better.

    The powerful often think far too small. Their power makes them fearful. They have too much to lose to hope for better things. And of course, as history shows, and shows time and time again, by their power they have lost everything.

    But not John - John who had nothing to lose gained everything, and his message endures - and what a message.

    I cannot help but come back to his burning passion for the words of Isaiah - Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill laid low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth.”

    Blake and John would get on well together. Because John’s proclamation has a fiery message if you read between the lines. His world was dominated by the Roman roads. Straight, smooth and level they pointed to Rome, seat of imperial might. They were symbolic, and more - because the roads enabled troops to swiftly descend on anyone who stepped out of line.

    The roads were a sign - the Romans couldn’t control so vast an empire with the limited troops they had, so they built their roads. The roads spoke of who was in charge, and where power was held and what would happen to anyone who dared to think differently. So when John quoted Isaiah you can almost hear him saying - it is God who holds authority, and the Lord who wields power, and not the Emperor, and not Pilate and not Herod. And the future is in God’s hands, not theirs.

    Repentance is about being set free, free to think beyond, free to think better, free to hope more.

    Now this week - it may not be the best idea to go into work tomorrow and invite everyone to repent. It’s not a line which will appeal to many down the pub. We may be wiser to begin with ourselves, and ask - as do Blake’s question marks - what stands in the way of my best aspirations,
    what makes me doubt God’s best hopes for me;

    what prevents me from seeing myself as God sees me, not as I am, nor as what I have been, but as what I desire to be.

    If repentance is about going beyond the mind that we have, to enlarge our hopes, to believe more of ourselves and others, then John’s message is just as relevant today as it was then. It is, as David Adams prays, to dare to stand before God, and to catch a glimpse of glory.

    Holy God, we look for you, we long for you.
    Let us see that you are come among us;
    make us aware of your presence
    and grant us a glimpse of your glory;
    through Jesus Christ our Lord.
    Amen.

    The YouTube link is  https://youtu.be/L9h1sZmvYbo

  • Christ the King
    Published: Tuesday 23 November 2021 09:36 AM
    Author: The Revd Dr John Stopford

    Christ the King John 18: 33 -37.

    Once again we arrive at the last Sunday of the Churches year, next week, Advent Sunday, begins our new year and our preparation to celebrate again greeting Jesus into our world.

    This last Sunday of the Churches year is known by many as the celebration of Christ the King. In Christian terms it is a fairly recent innovation only starting to be celebrated in the Roman Catholic Church in 1925 and being accepted into the Anglican lectionary in 1970, over 50 years ago I know, but in church time very recent.

    Prior to that, and still in some churches, today is known as stir up Sunday due to the collect or post communion prayer which begins; stir up we beseech the O Lord.

    Many think it is so called because today you should stir in all the ingredients of the Christmas pudding, but now I guess most come from M & S or similar, if there are any on the shelves this year.

    In fact it is a call to stir up the hearts of all faithful people to worship our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Christ the King.

    One of the most difficult concepts to preach on, or for any of us to understand, is that of the Holy Trinity, One in Three and three in one. Father Son and Holy Spirit, all God and yet all different in form.
    And it is that part of the Trinity we call the Son, Christ, who we also call King.

    I know that at times we talk of our God and King, not least in that great hymn, but today is designated as Christ the King which I think is much more accurate and helpful.

    What do you think of when you hear the word King?

    The most important piece on a chess board, the king in each suit in a pack of playing cards, King Street which occurs in many cities and towns.

    I used to get the subway at King and Bathurst in Toronto when I first lived there. You may think of Elvis Presley, known by many as The King. There was a hurricane King in Florida in 1950 which caused massive damage.

    The word King appears in so many different ways in our usage but probably most of us think of a male Monarch when we hear the word King.

    A supreme or absolute head of a state and government, either in reality or symbolically. A monarch is normally not elected but usually comes to power by right of birth and holds the title and post for life.

    So a King is not just a name for things, but someone who is real, someone who we can see and hear, now or in the past, just as we see and hear each other.

    God is the supreme being the creator of everything but who we cannot see, even Moses hid his face in the presence of God.

    But, as we will celebrate again in just a few weeks, Christ was sent by God to be with us in human form, to be real.

    In his trial and at His crucifixion many called Him mockingly King of the Jews, but He was and is King over all creation.

    This is referred to in our reading from John's Gospel when Pilot questions Jesus. Jesus, a King but not an earthly one.

    And that is what we celebrate today, Christ who was real and in human form and is now still real but returned to the father and sits at His right hand.

    He came to us not only to show us the way to eternal life.
    Christ came to us, to all of creation, to make clear the power and the love of God for all His creation and so it is right that we call Him King, supreme and absolute head of our church and of our lives.

    He also came to teach us and to show us how God wants us to live in His creation, how to be good stewards of our world and how to live together with each other, however different we may be.

    But although today we celebrate Christ the King we cannot separate Him from God the Father or the Holy Spirit, as all are one, part of the Holy and eternal Trinity which has the ultimate authority over everything.

    I believe it is good to remind ourselves of these things before we get carried away with our celebrations of the birth of Christ and all that goes with the celebration of Christmas.

    In our reading we saw a questioning Pilot, he did not understand what was going on, I doubt he understood the reply Jesus gave to him. He was a man of the world and understood the power a King could wield and yet in front of him was an ordinary man who did not even claim greatness.

    There is nothing wrong in not understanding everything, even in having doubts about our faith or aspects of it, we are in good company, then and now. Remember not long after his appointment even our Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby admitted to having doubts from time to time.

    Perhaps the most common cause for doubt is the question I was often asked by those I met in the hospice, patients or their relatives or by those grieving when I meet to discuss funeral arrangements.

    Why does God allow suffering? So and so went to church regularly was a good person and yet why are they suffering now or did suffer.

    There have been over the centuries many answers given to this question, I would suggest that many of them have been the cause of even greater pain and suffering by loading guilt on to pain by trying to say that suffering is a punishment for sin. Or that if we still suffer even though we pray that is because our faith which is not strong enough.

    I do not accept either of those ideas.

    Others have tried to say that it is through suffering and dealing with it that we grow, the no pain no gain approach. Again I do not accept that.

    Still others say that suffering is what allows God to show his love for us. Sorry, again that does not strike me how the God I know would behave.

    So what is the answer, and this is where I admit to having a real problem, I don’t have one.

    Suffering, pain, does exist, I have seen it affecting many people who I know had a strong faith, who I know had tried their very best to lead a good life, never hurting anyone or causing suffering to others. And yet still they suffered.

    I am absolutely convinced that God does not impose suffering on us nor is it a result of our own sin or actions. Although I do accept that there are lifestyle issues which can bring pain and suffering on ourselves at times.

    In the end I think we have to make a choice, to accept our great limitations, that there is so much we do not understand and put our trust in God to guide us, wherever it may lead knowing he is always with us whatever happens. Or we can blame God for everything and be constantly angry.

    It is perhaps summed up well in the prayer by Reinhold Neiburh the American Theologian. You probably recognise the first part often paraphrased, but I would like to read it all as it was written.

      


    God, give me grace to accept with serenity
    the things that cannot be changed,

    Courage to change the things
    which should be changed,
    and the Wisdom to distinguish
    the one from the other.

    Living one day at a time,
    enjoying one moment at a time,

    Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace
    taking, as Jesus did,
    this sinful world as it is,
    not as I would have it,

    Trusting that You will make all things right,
    If I surrender to Your will,
    so that I may be reasonably happy in this life,
    and supremely happy with You forever in the next.

    AMEN

    The YouTube link is https://youtu.be/3GiyQHrI31U

  • First Thursday Cafe
    Published: Tuesday 09 November 2021 10:08 AM
    Author: Linda Dutton pcc@stmaryswhitegate.org

    The start of our ‘First Thursday Café’ was welcomed by 20+ visitors who enjoyed coffee, tea and cake along with friendly conversation. This was a tremendous opportunity for some to catch up after a long period of isolation due to the pandemic.

    We look forward to seeing everyone again at 10.30am on the 2nd December. Don’t forget everyone is welcome so please bring a friend or neighbour.

  • All Saints
    Published: Tuesday 09 November 2021 09:46 AM
    Author: The Revd Jane Millinchip

    Revelation 21:1-6
    John 11:32-44

    It’s 1861. 160 years ago. The Americans are in the midst of a civil war. Italy is united for the first time under King Victor Emmanuele II. In Russia Tsar Alexander II has just freed the serfs. Nearer to home, Queen Victoria is on the throne. Thomas Cook is organising the first ever package holiday from London to Paris. The first ever full census of the population is taking place. And somewhere in the backstreets of London a silversmith is crafting something of beauty in his workshop. Let me show it to you.

    When I was staying with my sister in Cambridge a few weeks ago, we went into an antique shop, and came across this. It is a communion set with a chalice and a paten, in silver, made in London in 1861 specifically for home communions. It is still in its original travelling case, lined with red velvet. It is well-used and well-loved.

    And this started me thinking. Thinking about whom this communion set might have belonged to. Who he was (and in 1861 it was inevitably a man). Where he lived and worked. Thinking also about the people who had received communion from him. In their own homes. Because they were too ill or infirm to go to church. Thinking about how they would have felt. Encouraged. Reassured. Cared for.

    Today is All Saints. The day when we remember especially all those faithful Christians who have gone before us. Not just those who have been recognised by the church as saints. St Mary. St Thomas. But also our parents. Our grandparents. Those who worshipped in this church in times gone by. Those we know only through the stories of their lives or the books they wrote. And the previous owner of this communion set and his parishioners.

    In Hebrews chapter 12 verse 1 we read this
    Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.

    Yes, as we sit in church here in this morning, we are indeed surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses. In other words, by all those who like us followed Jesus as Lord and Saviour, and who, as our Christian brothers and sisters, can still today encourage us to persevere in the faith. And we give thanks for them.

    I wonder who comes into your mind?

    For me there is Brian. A quiet reflective man. With an enormous hug and the strongest ever handshake. Brian who never had very much money, and only possessed two items of footwear: a pair of sandals and a pair of wellingtons.

    For me there is Norman. A caring schoolmaster. But so caring and concerned about other people, that, when he became a headmaster, the demands of the job were so great that he took refuge in alcohol.

    For me there is Joanna. A dynamic colleague and someone with great emotional intelligence. Who sat talking with me for literally hours during my ordination training.

    And then there is C.S. Lewis, whom I only know through his writings of course. Converted to Christianity from atheism as an adult. For me someone who explains the Christian faith probably better than any other person.

    Who is in your mind at this moment? Whom do you especially give thanks for this morning?

    Come back with me again to 1861. As the silversmith is crafting the communion set in one part of London, the Revd Edward Hayes Plumptre, aged 40, and chaplain and Professor of Theology at King’s College London, is walking the streets of the capital, before going back to his lodgings to write hymns. And it is Edward Plumptre who wrote our last hymn this morning. Would you like to turn to it? It is 814 in your hymn books.

    In this hymn, Edward Plumptre above all wants to emphasise Christian unity. The importance of the faith we share with others in our own day and down the ages. A faith which is bigger and greater and stronger than the things which divide us.

    And in order to emphasise this, he reminds us of God’s faithfulness to each successive generation, and of our responsibility to recall this and talk about it. In verse 1, we sing

    Our forebears owned thy goodness
    And we their deeds record;
    And both of this bear witness:
    One church, one faith, one Lord.

    He reminds us however that being a Christian has never been easy. In verse 3, he speaks of many a day of darkness and many a scene of strife.

    In our own personal lives, there have undoubtedly been dark times, when perhaps we have even questioned our faith and questioned God, just as Mary in our gospel reading questions Jesus with the words: Lord if you had been here, my brother would not have died.

    Certainly, as we think back to the lives of Christians who have gone before us, there have been many times when the faithful few [have] fought bravely, and continued to share the good news, the gospel of redemption, sin pardoned, hope restored, against overwhelming odds, and in the face of persecution. And we remember that we are part of a world-wide church of well over 2 billion believers, where many still fight for the freedom to follow Jesus, and to preach the gospel.

    Verse 4 of our hymn follows up on this with a challenge. The stories of these faithful people can inspire and encourage us, in the words of that verse from Hebrews, to run with perseverance the race marked out for us, but it often feels as if we too are part of the faithful few, in a world which is increasingly secular, and where traditional Christianity seems to have lost its appeal to most people. The challenge then to us is this. In our time and our place, are we going to evade the conflict and cast away our crown? Are our hearts going to fail and our hands hang down?

    The answer in this hymn comes back loud and clear: NOT SO! We will hold our nerve unflinching. And we will do this because, as verse 5 tells us, we are not in this alone. God’s mercy will not fail us. His right hand (his strong hand) will help us. He is with us every step of the way.

    On this All Saints Sunday, as we give thanks for those who have gone before us, we remember that we are all working together for the same goal, that is the coming of God’s kingdom throughout the world and in all creation. This is the moment which St John describes in our first reading from Revelation 21. And this is also the moment which is described so beautifully in that most well-loved hymn ‘For all the saints’ which we sang earlier. As I close, listen again to those encouraging words:

    From earth’s wide bounds
    From ocean’s farthest coast
    Through gates of pearl
    Streams in the countless host
    Singing to Father
    Son and Holy Ghost
    Alleluia! Alleluia! Amen

  • Bible Sunday
    Published: Monday 25 October 2021 09:27 AM
    Author: The Revd Canon Paul Dawson

    The fear of the Lord is clean and endures for ever. Psalm 19:9
    The fear of the Lord, what does that mean to you? Are we here to put the fear of God into people? Are we here to put the fear of God into ourselves?
    Fear is something we do not like. It is a negative word. Why would we associate ‘fear’ with God?
    But in the Bible fear is not always to be avoided. In the book of Proverbs for example, chapter 9, verse 10, The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. The fear of God is something different, something positive, something to be sought after.
    The Bible is full of surprises, surprises we often miss because we don’t read it often enough or carefully enough. For example, I was at our Deanery Synod meeting last Wednesday. The topic was our environment, something naturally on our minds as we near the global summit of world leaders. So let me ask you a question, in the Bible who is your neighbour?
    Who is your neighbour? Any ideas?
    Our first answer is that our neighbour is people. But let me point you to the Bible Jesus grew up with, what we call the Old Testament. In Leviticus 19: 18-20. Verse 18 says, You shall love your neighbour as yourself. OK – that’s fine, but then come three examples of who your neighbour is.
    Firstly – your animals. You must look after them properly.
    Secondly – your fields. You must tend them wisely.
    Thirdly – people. You must treat them with respect.
    So when God says love your neighbour he is not just talking about human beings. He is also talking about your animals, your cattle, sheep, elephants, giraffes, penguins, fish, birds. The loss of each species is the death of your neighbour. God takes it seriously.
    God is equally serious about your fields, how they are ploughed, how they are fertilised, how chemicals are used, how crops are engineered, how hedgerows are maintained, how land is drained. Jeremy Clarkson may not sound like an angel but his series on farming tells us that what we ask of our farmers is unsustainable. The National Farmers Union voted him Farming Champion of the Year. A voice for the land is a voice for our neighbour.
    Finally you get to people. The animals and the fields come first. Your neighbour is your animals, your fields, and then people.
    The fear of the Lord is beginning of wisdom – because the first step towards life is knowing that God is different to us.
    Take our reading from Isaiah. There are three paragraphs, three sections. Take the middle one first – verses 6-9.
    “My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your way my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
    Remember the story of Adam and Eve, where did they go wrong? Well obviously an apple was involved. But what was the intention? It wasn’t because they were hungry, nowhere does it say that they ate the apple to survive, they had plenty to eat.
    No, listen to the words of the serpent, “God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God.” See that’s where humanity goes wrong, when we think we can be like God. When we think that over there are the animals and the birds and the insects, and the fields and seas and the air. Those are over there, they are things. And we are over here, we’re like God. All those things belong to us and we can do whatever we want with them.
    But then we read Leviticus. Look after your neighbour. And your neighbour is first of all your animals and your fields. People are included, but they are not separate and they do not come first.
    In other words – you are not like God. You are not God. You are part of creation. God is different. God is not like us, and we are not like God. We are not over here with God, we are over here with the animals and the land, we are part of creation, not separate from it.
    My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways. God is different. That’s the fear of the Lord, the beginning of Wisdom. Knowing God is different.
    Then we look at the first paragraph in Isaiah, verses 1-5. “Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labour for that which does not satisfy?”
    Jane referred to this a couple of weeks ago, the energy we expend seeking happiness in all the wrong places, all the wrong things. We see this all around us, a society never healthier, never richer, never safer, never better educated, yet beset by anxiety and unease. We look for meaning in all the wrong things.
    God says – life, the fullness of life, is abundant, it is without money, and without price. Incline your ear to me, listen, so that you may live.
    But we don’t listen, so we don’t live. At least we do not live as God offers. We have not heard that our self-sufficiency is a myth. We still think we are over here, godlike and in control. Not over here, part of a complex and incredible world. But also a fragile and broken world.
    So what can God do about this? What does he do about it? The third part of Isaiah, verses 10-11. “
    For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return until they have watered the earth – so shall my word be that goes out of my mouth, it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose.”
    Rain cannot fall without watering the earth. God’s Word cannot be given without making God’s will known.
    We meet because we have heard this Word. The Word made flesh, that dwelt amongst us. And his Spirit, sent to those who listen. To remind us that we are not like God, God is different from us, that is the fear of the Lord. It is the beginning of Wisdom because when you know God is different, God is not like us, you can begin to understand that God’s will is for us to be like him. And to see his creation as gift and abundance, and to be part of it joyfully, thankfully, reverently and carefully.
    God is not like us – but he wills us to be like him. Which is why humanity is given choice. Know that God’s way is different, and choose to follow it.

    The YouTube link is https://youtu.be/YeZiM3QPhtA

  • Twentieth Sunday after Trinity
    Published: Monday 18 October 2021 09:13 AM
    Author: The Revd Dr John Stopford

    In the verses just before our reading from Mark, Jesus gives his final and most detailed prediction of his trial, suffering, death, and resurrection. He is about to enter Jerusalem and confront the temple-based authorities.
    So James and John seem to think this is an appropriate time, perhaps their last chance, to request privileged places for themselves to Jesus’ right and left.
    In doing so, the sons of Zebedee appear to have misunderstood almost everything Jesus has said and done, except perhaps for the transfiguration. They recognised that glorification awaited Jesus. They expected that the authority Jesus had exhibited in his ministry would lead to something big, perhaps to a royal rule, and they wanted a special place in that.
    When Jesus gently chastises them for their ignorance and speaks about “the cup” he must drink and “the baptism” he must undergo, he reiterates that violence and death await him in Jerusalem.
    Although James and John affirm their willingness to endure suffering with Jesus, he waits until later to explain that they will fail to do so in the immediate future. Instead he addresses their desire for power and prestige. He comments on the nature of human power–the kind of power that will soon crush him in the political spectacle of his trial and execution–and on the meaning of his death. He puts his life and death, along with the lives and sufferings of his followers, in complete opposition to such expressions of power, the power which seemed more normal, even to his disciples.
    James and John are not the only disciples enticed by visions of a triumphant reign, we hear that the rest of the Twelve fume over the brothers’ bid to outflank them in prominence. Jesus corrects their vision by holding up the behaviour of the Roman authorities as negative examples. They regularly “overpower” and “tyrannise” others. They rely on coercion and control to maintain their dominance and position.
    In absolute contrast, greatness among Jesus’ followers is measured by their ability to live as servants and slaves, even if that life means suffering oppression at the hands of those who wield earthly power.
    Jesus has spoken in similar terms, where he compares himself to a child, an image of powerlessness and vulnerability.
    Jesus’ final line — “For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many” — connects to his preceding words about service and enslavement, indicating that his death will be just as much an example for them as was his way of living.
    At the same time, Jesus’ mention of a “ransom” indicates that his death will be more than just an inspiring example or a martyr’s tragic protest against an unjust system.
    The word used in Greek, lytron indicates that his death does something; it secures a release.
    The context in which this statement appears is about power and servitude, not the problem of sin or the need to secure forgiveness.
    Furthermore, the Old Testament usage of lytron, while sometimes referring to a redemption or purchased freedom, just as frequently refers to God’s acting to deliver people. A lytron is a liberation wrought by divine strength, not by payment such as the examples of lytron found in Exodus 6:6; Deuteronomy 15:15; 2 Samuel 7:23; Psalm 69:18; Isaiah 43:14.
    Jesus therefore declares (without stopping to clarify precisely how) that God, through Jesus’ death, will free people from oppression and captivity, restoring them to membership in the community that corresponds to God’s reign.
    All this to me raises some questions:
    From whom or what does Jesus’ death deliver people? According to the immediate context, it delivers those who believe from the accepted norms of social and political power that human beings concoct to control each other. According to the story of the passion and resurrection, God defeats the power of death itself.
    What about sin and forgiveness? The Gospel of Mark promises forgiveness. Repentance and forgiveness are part of Jesus’ proclamation and ministry. But Mark presents these topics as subordinate pieces in a more comprehensive apocalyptic showdown that sees the cosmos and human existence transformed by God’s reign and the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
    Who benefits? The mention of Jesus as a ransom on behalf of many emphasises the contrast between many and the one who acts on their behalf. Here, “many” has the sense of “all” or “everyone,” which is in keeping with the cosmic scope of Mark’s apocalyptic drama.

    The latter verses from Mark describe Jesus as a servant, an example which he instructs his disciples to follow. It could be assumed that Jesus acts as he does so we do not have to do so, but I do not believe that is how it is presented here.
    The idea of a vicarious atonement — Jesus as a sinless sacrifice carrying the full burden of human sin to satisfy God or cosmic justice and therefore release us all from any responsibility is a nice thought, but I suggest not what it intended.
    So what does it mean for the church, for congregations, and for individual Christians to imitate Jesus, who submits to the designs of his powerful enemies? And how do we, when and where we live, experience the realities of the liberation that God has accomplished for us through the death of Jesus Christ, and not through our own success or failure at adopting the role of a servant to others?
    I’m not sure that I can give you an easy and adequate answer to
    That question but Perhaps Kipling sums it up in his poem Mary’s
    son.

    If you stop to find out what your wages will be
    And how they will clothe and feed you.
    Willie, my son, don’t you go to the sea,
    For the sea will never need you.

    If you ask for the reason for every command,
    And argue you with people about you,
    Willie, my son, don’t you go on the land,
    For the land will be better without you.

    If you stop to consider the work that you’ve done,
    And to boast what your labour is worth dear,
    Angels may come for you, Willie my son
    But you’ll never be wanted on earth dear.

    The Revd Dr John Stopford

    The YouTube link is https://youtu.be/LYTnKhvh9Rs

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