Monday, 30 November 2015

Advent: Alert and Waiting (Luke 21:25-36; 1Thess 3:9-13)

Can you think of a time when you were waiting, desperately waiting for someone or something to arrive?  I have vivid memories of waiting for my Grandparents to arrive.  Standing in front of the window in the living room looking out and watching every car go by to see if it was them.
          Another memory of being alert and waiting is my son Michael who was a goal keeper for a football club.  I can still see him when the other team came near the goal.  He would bend down, hands apart, watching the ball intently, waiting for the goal kick to come so he could stop it.  Alert and waiting.
          Today is the first Sunday of Advent.  Advent is taken from the Latin word, adventus, which means ‘coming’.  A modern dictionary defines advent as, ‘the arrival of a notable person, thing, or event’.  In advent we spend four weeks, four Sundays anticipating, expecting, longing for, hoping for the coming of Christ.  We look for his second coming which we believe might happen at any time.  We celebrate his first coming by anticipating and expecting the glory and light of Christmas morning.  Are you waiting?  Are you alert and waiting?
          This morning our scripture readings remind us that God can come and break into our world at any time.  (Jeremiah speaks of the Lord coming to fulfil God’s promises to establish justice and righteousness in all the world.)  In Luke’s gospel we read: "Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly, like a trap…Be alert at all times."  In Paul’s letter he tells them as they wait: And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you. And may he so strengthen your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.
          Are you waiting?  Are you alert and waiting? This morning I want to explore two ways we wait and are alert.
First, Jesus tells us as we wait for him to come again, we need to avoid becoming preoccupied with the pleasures and worries of this world.  That line from the song or hymn is apt, ‘this world is not our home, we are just passing through’.  As we wait we keep our eyes upward to the things of God.  Now this does not mean we become so heavenly minded we are no earthly good.  Nor does it mean we cannot be fully human embracing and enjoying this life that God has given us.  But God is in us, drawing us into his ways.  We are children of the kingdom of God so our values and priorities are not of this world or selfishly focused on ourselves.
          St Paul says, ‘strengthen your heart in holiness that you may be blameless’.  What does holiness mean to you?  To be holy means to be set apart for God.  A holy life is a life where we seek to honour God in who we are, what we do and what we say, in private, in our homes, at work, at play, at school, wherever.  The path to holiness is a long and winding road, with ups and downs, barriers to climb over and go through.  But placing our lives within a life of faith, hope and love gives us direction and perseverance.  In Christ we are becoming.  We wait by being his, by a deepening commitment to live God’s love and to reveal the grace that has touched us.
          In Advent take a little extra time to draw near to God.  Are you in an Advent study group?  Go along to a mid-week service and say a prayer or two.  Read a spiritually eye opening book.  Add a little extra time to your prayer time.  Take a few extra moments for devotions.  Contemplate the mystery, the glory, the truth that was revealed in the manger and all that will be revealed when he will come again.  In faith, hope and love, we wait.
          Are you waiting?  Are you alert and waiting?  A second way Paul suggests we wait is to increase and abound in love for one another and for all. Relationships are hard and challenging.  I read a saying this week that I liked:  A perfect marriage is just two imperfect people who refuse to give up on each other.  That is love.  Love does not mean everyone is your best friend and that you even like everyone.  Love means respecting everyone and striving for the best for all you love.  Many churches could use a bit more love.  We show our love by how we talk about others and how we speak to each other.  It is good to share our opinions, but diplomacy is the loving way.  We can even argue in a loving way.  Love is how we conduct and how we end the discussion or argument. 
          And again, learning to love is another long and winding road with its ups and downs, and barriers to cross and go through.  But it is what we seek to be, loving, for love has touched us.  God is love.  If we live in God, we will grow in love.  As you wait, contemplate the ways of love and let it permeate who you are, what you do and what you say.
          Are you waiting? Are you waiting and alert?

In conclusion, we wait by living a life of faith and hope and love. We walk a path in and towards holiness.  We also walk a winding road in and towards love.  When he came the first time he revealed what it means to be holy and what love really is.  He will come again and may he find us a holy people with hearts full of love.
                       Revd Dennis Stamps

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Paris - A Sermon Considering our Christian Response

St Nicholas Church Harpenden,
15 November 2015
2nd before Advent                                                       
Hebrews 10:11-14, 19-25; Mark 13:1-8

The events in Paris have rightly stopped us all in our tracks.  Sadly, we are becoming used to acts of terrorism but the level of atrocity Friday night shocks us.  Partly because it is so close to home.  Partly because so many were killed and injured.  Given these events, what are we to think?  What can we say?

          Reactions to such events vary.  Every immediate reaction is valid as it is our humanity and our personality responding.  But as Christians we have to be thoughtful and prayerful in how we respond in the long term.  We must be thoughtful and prayerful in the theology we use to interpret these events to ourselves and to others.

          Of course an immediate response is to ask why?  There is no easy answer to this and we must avoid any attempt to give a quick, facile answer.  God has given to his creation a measure of freedom.  Human beings use that freedom to do evil as well as good.  God does not ‘stop’ things.  He is not a puppet master controlling all the strings.  Thus, he shares in our pain and sorrow when evil acts.  He has promised that because of Christ’s passion and resurrection, one day, evil will be judged and banished in the new creation.  As Christians we have the confidence that evil will not prevail.

          Another reaction is shock and sadness which is often accompanied by a feeling of helplessness and vulnerability.  It is in some ways a compassionate reaction which identifies with those who were the victims.  But we can not rest in that place.  There is something we can do.  We can turn our sadness and helplessness into loving action, to become a force for good and kindness in the world.

          Another reaction is anger.  Again, this is a valid and understandable response.  But we cannot rest in that anger, for if we nurture that anger we will eventually want and need to direct that anger against something or someone.  In too many cases, anger leads eventually to blaming others and to revenge.  There is in these criminal events a rightful justice which must follow.  We hope and pray that the police and authorities will bring to justice some or all of those involved in committing these atrocities.  But we must not allow ourselves to become agents of anger who become hardened in some way to other humans or groups of humans.  It is common and a very primitive response to seek to protect our communities by becoming tribal.  So often after an event like this, people begin to persecute others.  No doubt many Muslims and even the refugees who themselves fled the ones who have claimed responsibility will face abuse by those whose anger leads to inappropriate revenge or prejudice.

Let me share with you reflections which the former Bishop of St Albans, Christopher Herbert, wrote after the London bombings in 2005.

He said: "We cannot avoid considering the nature of evil in attacks such as these. I will not use the word “sick”, of the perpetrators, because that is not strong enough and in any case is based on the notion that the person is unable to choose what causes the sickness, but to plant a bomb is to make a deliberate and wilful choice – a choice which flies in the face of all normal understandings of what it means to be human. It is to decide to destroy, rather than build up, to fragment rather than to reconcile, to maim rather than heal. Evil and chaos are horribly intertwined.

The question we have to ask is how to defeat evil – and the answer lies not only in the physical sphere in which we have to decide how we shall physically resist it; it also resides in the legal sphere, in which in a democratic society, law has to take its proper and un-corrupt course. It lies in the mental sphere in which we have always to search for and uphold truth with tenacity and humility. It lies in the moral sphere in which we have to commit ourselves to try to live righteously, whilst recognising that we are also very flawed and need to seek God’s mercy and forgiveness when we get things wrong.  It lies in the spiritual sphere when we have to commit ourselves daily to goodness and light, offering ourselves, our souls and bodies to God in Christ, that we may be part of his atoning and healing love for our world.

Evil, ultimately, is overcome by goodness; darkness, ultimately, is overcome by light – but the cost can be, and frequently is, very high. The crucifixion of Christ was the place where all that was evil took chaos to its final destiny, death – but was then transformed by the power and glory of Christ’s resurrection.

We need, as Christian people, to seek God’s strength that we may be courageous; to seek his mercy as we recognise within ourselves our own propensity for sin and evil; to seek his wisdom that we may know how to help change the hearts of all those, terrorists included, who want, out of malice, to cause suffering and despair.

In the end, the only way is the way of Christ and the way to Christ. It is to that way we need during events such as these to commit ourselves afresh – because to do so is in itself a way of combating evil and chaos". End of quote.

          This leads me back to our readings this morning.  The violence of Jesus’ words in Mark 13 is there.  The Romans would one day destroy that which the Jewish people cherished and even held sacred: the temple.  That destruction would not only destroy the temple; it would involve the bloodshed of many.  It would be a ruthless violent imposition of power.  But Jesus does not call the disciples to arms.  He simply warns that change will come; that evil will have its day.  He puts it into perspective this violence; this change is but the birth pangs of a new age.  A new age will be the triumph of good over evil, of light over darkness, of life over death. 

Jesus’ prediction of the second temple’s destruction is just before the greatest in-breaking of God into our history, the cross and resurrection.  The cross and empty tomb changed it all.  For centuries Jews knew how to relate to God by keeping the Law and making sacrifices in the Temple.  But Jesus was the final sacrifice whose pure love and innocent blood brought redemption for all people for all time.  He made the temple redundant because his righteousness becomes our righteousness through faith.  Because of Jesus we can call God, Our Father.  The cross and empty tomb began a new age. 

This morning we stand in the shadow of darkness and violence.  We cannot be complacent and simply carry on as is if nothing has happened, as if nothing is different.  We must ensure that we are not part of the problem, but part of the solution…as God would have us be.  We must, however, avoid the solutions which are driven by purely primitive emotions and reactions.

          Each day we must recognise that we have God’s presence and power in us, transforming us and leading us.  Yes, as humans we will stumble in his leading.  Sometimes we will do things in our own strength.  But God is there with us and in us.  As we follow the way of the cross in the power of the resurrection we can be instruments of peace and life.  In so doing, we can overcome the tendency toward bitterness and revenge.  We can overcome the darkness and the evil around us.  As we heard from the letter to the Hebrews: Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful.  And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the end of days approaching.

Revd Canon Dennis Stamps

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Remembering: the lion will lie down with the calf

Evensong - St Nicholas Harpenden, November 8th 2015
Isaiah 10 v 33 - 11 v 9 & John 14 23-29

May I speak in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Remembering.  Today, and into next week we will spend time remembering all those who have lost their lives or been affected by war.  It is an important act of remembrance, and sadly the process of doing it, doesn’t seem to alter the levels of violence around the world.  The usual aim of remembering something is so that you achieve something, or at least perhaps have the ingredients for dinner.  The act of remembering those who have died though is more mixed.  It can bring happy memories of that person, or perhaps sadness or anger at how they died.  

This evening’s readings seem to me to be focussing on peace, reconciliation and remembering.  Often if we have a loved one who has died from an illness we will focus our emotion on perhaps raising money or awareness of whatever affected them.  For others it might mean raising awareness of personal safety issues, traffic problems, addictions, or bullying.  I am sure you can think of others.

But that act of remembering brings about some emotional response and perhaps a desire to see a change, in order to prevent the same thing happening to someone else.  We remember, often, in order to make things better.

However the act of remembering those who have died during war and conflict, also requires us to recognise our differences, and those things which cause us to begin arguments in the first place.  Those differences which can cause us so much pain, are elements which our Old Testament reading tells us need not be a barrier to peace.

I think there is much hope in this evening’s readings.  They link together some key themes for today, of peace, reconciliation and remembering.  

The passage from Isaiah almost seems like a dream which might be too good to be true.  An ideal in so many ways.  It speaks of a king with all the elements one would wish for in the perfect leader.  Superhuman wisdom, with the natural flair for creating justice in society, bringing about good and preventing evil, while also ensuring his or her own personal integrity.  Not matter what your opinion is of any given world leader or head of state, this is an enormously tall order.  But nevertheless the ideal, the hope, is written there... that this person, who is consumed by - and able to bring about righteousness, is coming.

What follows is the incredible image of absolute opposites living very comfortably side by side with each other.  The wolf shall dwell with the lamb.  The leopard shall lie down with the kid.  The calf, the lion and the fatling together.  And even more remarkably they will be led, shepherded, by a little child.  The state of peace which this brings up is a thing of such beauty, and yet as one commentator wrote, it is really not what our most hopeful personal image is likely to be.  

George Kilpatrick suggested that our ideas about this perfect existence are more likely to revolve around material things.  We don’t expect to deal with wild animals by care and negotiations, but by using weapons.  I read one of his commentaries which was published in 1956.  Even then, nearly 60 years ago, he can see our priorities as being very different to those in Isaiah…
            “The ideal he (man) has set before himself is almost wholly a matter of physical condition, a higher standard of living, social security, old-age pensions, state medicine, unemployment insurance etc.  He has heard, but he does not believe, that to seek “first the kingdom of God” (Matt 6 v33), the kingdom of right relationships, will result in these blessings.  He proposes to seek economic and social reform first, confident that improvement in material circumstances will induce a change of heart and a new spirit among men”

Kilpatrick tops this off by writing, “In all of history there is not a shred of evidence to support that view.  It is in flat contradiction to the wisdom of Jesus Christ.”

Well, that’s us told.  Who hasn’t succumbed to retail therapy to make themselves feel more hopeful and better about life?  And for that short amount of time, it works.  But it doesn’t last.  Kilpatrick pulls no punches pointing out that what we should be striving for is much more based on relationships and living alongside each other peacefully, despite our very clear differences.

I suppose deep down we know this.  It’s just easier to go and buy a pair of shoes.  Shoes don’t argue with us or present us with ideas which question our belief system, moral compass or way of life.  Agreeing to disagree and love someone despite them seeming to be the polar opposite of you is a huge undertaking, and yet wouldn’t the world be more peaceful if we did?  
But for now, I would look great in those shoes so I will start there and worry about peace later.

Today - Remembrance Sunday - should be a time for considering just this.  Of course, wars are started for all sorts of reasons, and on a more domestic level we fall out with people over sometimes the silliest of things, but perhaps if we could all respect each other’s differences, there is a chance this image from Isaiah might actually become something we can see in our own lives.

Eastbourne Pier has recently been bought by a man called Sheikh Abid Gulzar.  Having completed the deal last week, and held meetings with locals to get their ideas about how the pier should be developed, he now plans to have it blessed.  He said,
            I think a blessing of Eastbourne pier before Christmas would be very apt and relevant for the town and indeed the wider community.  I am a Muslim, my operations manager Manas is a Sikh, and other members of staff are Christians - I want to emphasise the importance of diversity and accepting each other’s culture.  We must all respect each other and we should all have the freedom to follow whatever religion one may wish to.  But that doesn’t mean we cannot all come to together as one and join together.  I would like the pier to be blessed with a clear message - to live together and act together. And that is what I would like to do in the next couple of weeks.”  

What struck me about his statement wasn’t that he was supporting one faith over any other, but that he wants everyone to come together and act together, regardless of their background and faith.  

I guess that’s fairly straightforward though, in encouraging people to live alongside each other.  But what happens if you have really deep seated fundamental problems with someone who has wronged you or your loved ones in some way?  How on earth is it possible to try to live with them peaceably?  Buying shoes is so much simpler.

Terry Waite - the envoy for the Archbishop of Canterbury was kidnapped in 1987 and held for five years in Beirut by Islamists, chained to a radiator.  He had gone there to negotiate the release of hostages.  Twenty Five years later he returned to meet with Hezbollah, the terrorist organisation which held him.  He talked before the meeting about how he had no hard feelings.  That “people” focus on individuals like him, the westerners, without thinking about the many Lebanese who had been killed.

The entire exchange is documented on the Telegraph’s website, but essentially Waite suggests they leave the past behind them, and says “I believe that reconciliation between larger groups, political groups, has to begin here with our own personal reconciliation”, adding “ The only way to reconciliation is to grow and not to look back but look to the future.”

He then went on to suggest that Hezbollah could help refugees in the country over the Christmas period as a specific act towards the Christians during the festive Christian period.  Waite was told he was welcome back at any time.

Is this a scenario in which the lion lies down with the calf?  They seem unlikely bedfellows.  Perhaps even more amazingly, Waite was interviewed earlier this year and said he would risk kidnap again to go and talk to ISIS.  We are not all peace negotiators, and perhaps our personal reconciliation is not as dramatic as that of Terry Waite and the officials of Hezbollah, but we all have little steps we can take.

I’ve just started reading a book called The Forgiveness Project by the journalist Marina Cantacuzino.  It’s a remarkable book detailing many people’s true stories about their struggles around forgiveness.  I heard her speak at Greenbelt, and was amazed at people’s capacity to seek reconciliation and attempts to find forgiveness and to forgive.

There stories from all over the world, England, Ireland, Chechnya, US, South Africa, Australia, and Lebanon to name just a few, but I want to tell you the story of Bassam Aramin from Palestine.  He explains about how, while growing up, their homes were invaded and local children killed.  Having watched another boy shot and killed at the age of 12 Bassam, not surprisingly developed deep need for revenge at a very young age.  He considered himself a freedom fighter, but to everyone else he was a terrorist.  Bassam ended up in jail, after throwing a grenade he found, which exploded.  Nobody was injured.  I won’t go into detail here, but his seven years in jail were brutal.  One of the Israeli guards asked him one day how he had become a terrorist, as he seemed so quiet.  An unlikely person to end up in jail.  

Bassam explained he was a freedom fighter, and eventually persuaded the guard that it was the Israelis who were settling on Palestinian land.  Not the other way around.  They became friends….the guard even smuggling some coca cola in for them one day.

Bassam said, “Seeing how this transformation happened through dialogue and without force made me realize that the only way to peace was through non-violence.  Our dialogue enabled us both to see each other’s purity of heart and good intent.”

Bassam was released around the time of the Oslo Accords when there was hope of a two state solution.  This didn’t happen, but instead of letting his resentment grow, he and others who believed in a non violent way forward, began meeting in secret with former Israeli soldiers.  The soldiers were refusing to fight, simply on moral grounds.  They didn’t want their society suffering further.  Bassam says,
            “It was only later that we both came to feel a responsibility for each other’s people”

We’ve heard three stories of people who can recognise, but see beyond their differences, and are trying to live alongside people with other views or opinions….. creating an environment where our differences need not lead to violence.  It sounds idealistic, but they are finding ways to pursue this ideal.

And there are tons more stories like these out there.  I think it might just be possible to learn to live peaceably, and to avoid conflict.  But it needs to be our goal, our ambition, the thing which motivates us more than new shoes to make us feel better.  

If you’re in need of extra inspiration, I can recommend you watch last night’s episode of Doctor Who.  I wish I had seen it before writing this.  A truly thought provoking story about words versus conflict.

Our gospel reading from John has some beautiful words in it.  
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.
I do not give to you as the world gives.
Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.

But just before that we are told that we must remember.  This instruction is to the disciples to recall the significance of Jesus’ actions after the resurrection.  To remember the importance and relevance of his teachings and actions, while remaining unafraid in the times ahead.  

Today, as we remember all those who have fought in wars, both those who died and the survivors, let us honour their memory by pledging to seek for peace and reconciliation wherever we can.  Let us remember the deeds and words of Jesus, and strive to focus on building a world where we recognise and respect differences and learn to live with each other, peacefully.  Where the lion might lie down with the calf.

Rachel Wakefield

Saturday, 10 October 2015

Our Job Description?: Matthew 10:1 - 22

Evensong - St Nicholas Church - October 4th

I had to laugh when I first read this evening’s gospel text.  You see I had just spent the weekend de-cluttering the house.  I’m not particularly good at this, I tend to be the type of person who thinks I should keep something - just in case I might need it in the future.

I might lose weight, gain weight, need to go to a fancy dress party, need dressing up clothes for the kids, and so on.  I might want to read those novels again (unlikely), and who knows if the children will want to return to sticking bits of felt onto card.  Again, unlikely, but you never know.

So when I read the passage telling the Twelve Disciples to go out into the world and take nothing with them, I had to smile.  If God is calling me to do just that, there’s a higher chance today than last week, but there is definite room for improvement!

It’s okay, I know the central point of this passage isn’t about clearing houses out, but it does make you think about what you actually need to respond to God’s call.

Let’s go back to the start of the passage from Matthew, where we learn who the Twelve Disciples are.   You would think that if Jesus was going to pick a group of people to go and do his vital work, they would be people with something to recommend them.  That they would have some kind of medical, missional, educational or pastoral work on their CV.  But no….if they do we hear nothing of it.  They are simply twelve men selected to go and heal people, spreading God’s love.  They are known as apostles which is like being an ambassador for Jesus - not just a messenger.

Their job description is quite a mighty one… reads…..
            “As you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The Kingdom of heaven has come near’.
            Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons”

No mention of how these men might be able to fulfill these requirements.  Then Jesus tells them about the package…..
            “You received without payment; give without payment.  
Take no gold, or silver, or copper in your belts, no bag for your journey, or two tunics,
or sandals, or a staff; for laborers deserve their food.”

Good, so they have a job description, which we are fairly sure they haven’t the experience for, the payment is not financial, but is overwhelming given that it comes in the form of God’s grace.  The provision of equipment is negligible, and we discover that as they go from place to place doing God’s work, that they might not be welcome in the places which they travel to.

Perhaps they get training before they go…..I mean I had to study hard to become a Reader and write lots of essays and reflections…..Dennis too studied to become the Rector here?  Presumably Jesus will put the disciples through a training course?

No, of course not!  The best advice he has for them is that if they come to a place where they are not welcome they are to “shake the dust” from their feet as they leave.  While this might seem a little throw away, I think this is actually a stunning piece of advice.  It relates to what the Pharisees would do when they left what they believed to be heathen areas.  Here though, the apostles aren’t to do it in some self righteous fashion, but in what theologian John Oman called the “Sacrament of Failure”.  

How wonderful to be trained or advised in what to do when you fail.  It just isn’t something we tend to come across.  Children are taught about being tenacious and resilient…..but not really what to do when faced with failure.  As Christians we often face negative and cynical responses to our beliefs, so perhaps WE should train ourselves to do this.  It might help us manage whatever life throws at us a little more easily.  The apostles were advised to perform this small ritual, not in anger or irritation at the situation, but out of love so that they can move on to the next thing and leave that failure, disappointment or setback behind.  And as we learn, any judgement on those who made us face failure, lies with God - not us.  We can shake the dust off our feet and move on.

So, we have a quite remarkable job description.  It seems we don’t need any experience.  We are given training at facing failure, and the payment is God’s grace.  We expect nothing, but potentially give people hope and faith.

Sounds ideal really.  Job satisfaction guaranteed maybe?  However we discover there will be moments of disagreement and persecution.  Jesus says…
            “See, I am sending you out like sheep in the midst of wolves;”

I wonder if at this point any of the apostles began to wonder if this was something they could get out of doing?  I mean it doesn’t seem as if they applied for the job….they were called....head hunted if you like.   Now it seems part of the job could land them in some tricky situations.  I suspect that once they had been called though, there was no going back.  Some theologians think that this section was added on later, and may well not have been mentioned at the same time as the original calling.  

Once again we find the apostles being given advice about difficult situations.  What should they do if they are persecuted and caught up in the troubles outlined here.  Well they are told to be
            “wise as serpents and innocent as doves”

Christ is telling them not to provoke people, or encourage violence.  They are to be wise, and move on if they are not welcome in a place, but certainly not to court trouble or martyrdom.  Life is too precious for that.  Instead they are encouraged to use words and love to engage people.  

The point at which our text from Matthew’s Gospel ended this evening says this…..
            “you will be hated because of my name.  But the one who endures to the end will be saved”

There is something about this line which, if you have read or seen the Hunger Games, might chill your bones.  The Hunger Games is the story of an annual competition where the wealthy select a group of youngsters from the poor area, who literally have to fight for their survival….the winner being the one who stays alive and isn’t killed.  Here in Matthew’s Gospel though, this isn’t as brutal.  This is encouragement to us all to keep going.  God’s grace isn’t only for the last one standing.

This is the job description which faces us.  We are called to show God’s love and spread the message of his grace to all.  We will face problems, but we must shake the dust off our feet and move on so that we don’t get bogged down in negativity.  Some days that seems impossible to do, but God says to stick with it, and he will give us the words, the wisdom and the action to see it through.  We take nothing with us - what we need will be given to us, and what do we get…...well….materially we get nothing….but we gain God’s grace.  That is our reward.  It is what we are called to do….can we?  Undertake the most immense job, for no material reward?  

I’m going to finish with a story that was in the news this week.  It’s about a man, Tim Butcher, who lost his ring….it sounds like a parable already, and it quite possibly is.  It was his father’s gold ring, and his father’s before that,  When his Dad died he inherited it.  He wasn’t really a ring wearer, but put it on his hand as he grieved.  He lives in Cape Town, and shortly after flying back from Britain after the funeral, Tim went for a walk along the beach.  On returning home he realised the ring was missing from his hand, and we can only imagine the feelings which consumed him.  Just as in all good parables about missing things, he looked everywhere but couldn’t find it, and assumed he must have left it on the beach.

He returned to the area which stretched around 200 metres from the car park, but couldn’t find it.  He enlisted the help of local metal detector users.  One came and looked, another lent him his equipment, but all he found was an old phone from around 2001, a 50 cent coin and a stack of bottle tops.

He couldn’t bring himself to tell his Mum he had lost the ring….then a third detectorist came along to help.  There’s always a third in a parable right?  This man had only one condition.  If he found something, he did not want payment or a reward.  Tim wondered if he was being taken for a ride.  People never behave like that.

Eight days after the ring was lost Alan arrived and looked at the area.  He considered the wind, the tide and currents...then set to work.   After finding some odds and ends, the miracle Tim wanted - happend.  Having made a hole about 40cm down something had caught Alan’s expert eye.  Tim’s Dad’s ring.

These are now Tim’s words…..
“This could not be happening. My eyes, prickly with tears and blurry with expectation, couldn't see straight to begin with. And then there it was, Dad's ring, his dad's ring, 90 years of accompanying the Butcher boys on life's journey and lost by me on a beach in Africa after a few weeks' custody.
Alan grinned, the kids capered, the dog joined in and for a moment all was madness. I hugged this big, bearded stranger.
And private though this miracle was, there was a greater miracle at work. My saviour refused all reward. He was firm, he was insistent. No, he would not accept a fee; no, he did not want petrol money; no, he did not want a celebratory drink nor fish and chips to drive home with. He wanted nothing more than to give something back.
I went down to that beach that day to find a ring. What I actually found was more valuable still - that there remain some decent souls out there.”

That’s all we have to do.  We don’t need training.  Just give and not receive.  We have what matters already.


Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Holy Communion and John 6:56: eat my flesh and drink my blood

            So why do you come to Sunday morning worship?  People come for all sorts of reasons and that is perfectly fine.  However, the theology and practice of the church says that we gather to worship as a community of faith each week to do two primary things.  First, we gather to give honour and glory, praise and thanksgiving to God who is our heavenly Father and Lord of All and who has come to be our saviour in Jesus Christ.  Second, we gather to be formed and shaped as children of God, as disciples of Christ, in order to serve one another and to be witnesses in the world. 

            One of the ways we are formed and shaped as children of God is through the sacrament of the Eucharist or Holy Communion.  What is a sacrament?  One definition states:  ‘‘The sacraments are outward signs of inward grace, instituted by Christ and entrusted to the Church, by which divine life is imparted to us. The visible words and actions by which the sacraments are celebrated signify and make present the graces communicated in each sacrament.’
            In John’s Gospel we hear these profound words, Those who eat my flesh and drink by blood abide in me and I in them…whoever eats my flesh will live…the one who eats this bread will live forever. 
            Holy Communion is a sacrament of the church by which we partake of the graces of God that give us life.  The outward and visible signs are the elements of bread and wine along with the Eucharistic or thanksgiving prayer. Breaking bread as a community of faith to remember Jesus, especially the events of the Last Supper has been a part of the church’s life since the early days after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension (the Book of Acts records this as a common meal in the home after worshipping at the Temple).  The sacrament developed over time to become the Lord’s Supper (this is what Paul called it in his letter to the Corinthians) and then it became what we call the Eucharist in the 90’s CE in the document, the teaching of the twelve apostles (Didache).
            At the last supper Jesus took the bread and gave thanks and said this is my body.  He then took the cup of wine, gave thanks and said this is my blood.  So the elements of bread and wine remind us of that last supper.  The bread and wine become a sacred means of remembering what Jesus did on the cross, offering his broken body and shed blood to bring us our salvation, forgiveness, deliverance, and adoption as children of God. 
            The Eucharistic prayer is a means of remembering as well as we tell the story of God’s promise of redemption and salvation to his people.  Included in that story is the remembering the resurrection by which Jesus’ death on the cross is vindicated or declared as more than just a death, but a redeeming act of God to triumph over sin and all that is evil.  The prayer also in effect consecrates or makes ‘holy’ the ordinary bread and wine to become instruments of God’s presence and grace.  There are all sorts of theories about how this happens and it is not necessary to get caught up in all that technical discussion.  What is key is that when we partake of the Holy Communion we encounter God’s presence is a special and life giving way.
            At Holy Communion we are remembering even celebrating what God did in Christ to redeem us.  And we are receiving through God’s special presence in the sacrament the gift of grace.  In a sense, because Holy Communion is a sacrament God promises to be present in a special way.  This grace that comes to us in the bread and wine enables us and empowers us to live our faith in our daily life.  Through Holy Communion we are reminded of God’s saving promises and work in our lives and we are renewed in faith to go out and be the light of Christ in the world.
            Interestingly, the church recognises one other key aspect to the sacrament of Holy Communion.  Because it is a family meal, Holy Communion forms us as community of faith.  Just as baptism gives the person being baptised a new identity as a follower of Christ, so Holy Communion forms us as the body of Christ giving us a way to recognise our corporate and mutual nature as a church.  As St Paul says, through the Lord’s Supper we are made into one body. 
            In all this, we are simply saying Holy Communion is a family meal.  Through it we remember what God has done for us in Christ, through it by Gods’ special presence we receive strength and grace to live the Christian life, through it by our fellowship around the table or altar we are formed and shaped to be the body of Christ.
            Yes it is a bit mysterious.  But the sacrament is the way we have been given to enter into spiritual things in a deeper way.
            My early Christian years were in what we call non-conformist low-church.  Holy Communion was celebrated every now and again, maybe quarterly.  It was presented as a way to remember the Lord’s Supper, as a way of thanking God for what was done in the past.  As I have grown in my faith and understanding of scripture and theology, particularly with regard to the sacraments, when I come on Sunday to church, I find Holy Communion a wonderful moment of encounter with God.  No, I don’t have goose bumps and go all faint.  It is that it is more than just remembering something God did in the past.  It is about meeting God in a special intensified way in the present.  It reminds me that God wants to be a part of my life and it reminds me that I am his and he is mine and his banner over me is love.
            In conclusion, God promises that wherever two are three are gathered in his name he is present.  God is always present as we gather to worship, to honour and praise our awesome God.  Holy Communion is a special moment in our worship in which God comes to us in a special way.  Through the visible symbols of bread and wine and through the words we use, God’s grace comes to us to help us to follow Christ and to be the disciple or child of God calls us to be.  May we all be open to receive God’s presence and life as we partake of the bread and wine, the body and blood of Christ.

Sunday, 5 July 2015

Finding Power and Strength When We are Weak : Mark 6.1-13 & 2 Cor. 12.2-10

For power is made perfect in weakness…whenever I am weak, then I am strong.  These words from St Paul have confounded spiritual thinking since they were first written.
          In the USA, there is a particular heresy which reflects the spiritual longing of many people.  It is called the prosperity Gospel.  The central belief here is that if you believe in God and walk in God’s ways then you will be blessed.  Blessing means a life filled with material things and with being protected and guarded from the trials and tribulations of life.  It is such a human longing to have a life where there is no struggle, no pain, no problems.  While we may not be foolish enough to subscribe to a prosperity gospel, many of us live with the longing for a life spared the struggles and hardships of life.  But even Jesus himself endured the pain of rejection by those who knew him.
          St Paul’s words about finding power and strength when we are weak suggest that that there is another way to view our hardships, another way to view the times when we are weak.
          This morning reflecting on the Gospel reading and St Paul’s letter to the Corinthians I want to look at three ways we experience power and strength we are weak.
          The first way we find power and strength in our weakness is that often in such moments God works in surprising and unexpected ways. 
          Control is the characteristic of the successful and powerful person today.  Control comes through having all the right information, through managing one’s life so there are minimal disruptions, and through dictating what others will do for you.  Today we often speak about people being control freaks.  Control freaks like to know in advance exactly what is going to happen…no surprises.
          Jesus faced a peculiar situation.  In his own hometown, despite people being astounded by his teaching and amazed at his deeds of power, people simply did not believe.  They even took offence at him, ‘Why this person is not special, he is the carpenter, Mary’s son.  We know his brothers and sisters.  Who does he think he is?’  The bible says, he could do no deed of power there in his hometown, that he was amazed at their unbelief.  We glimpse Jesus vulnerable, rejected, hampered in his ministry, possibly dejected.  It is a moment of weakness.
          But what emerges from this episode.  He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two.  What emerges from Jesus’ experience of being limited and cramped in his ministry is the mission of the twelve.  Jesus finds a new and creative way to expand and extend his ministry through others.  His ministry takes a new path forward.
          Sometimes we want to control what happens; we want our plans to be clear-cut and unhindered.  We get upset when the day or our plans do not go like we expected.  But often, that is the moment when instead of us being in charge, instead of us having it all figured out, that we have to think outside the box, that we have to open ourselves to thinking creatively.  It becomes a vulnerable moment when the Spirit can move and show us something new and surprising, when God can work in a creative and innovative way, like Jesus sending out the twelve. 
          A second way that we can experience power and strength in our weakness is by finding the help and assistance of others when we are weak.
          Self-sufficiency is a key quality of the successful person today.  These lines from the Henley poem, Invictus, are the mantra for our times: ‘I am the master of my fate; I am the captain of my soul.’  It is perceived as weakness to need others, to be dependent.  But there will always come a point in time when we cannot manage on our own, when we will need others.  There is power and strength to be drawn from this mutuality, this community, even this dependence on others.
          God has created us to be in relationship with others.  One of the great lessons we can learn is how to make ourselves open and vulnerable to others.
          The reality is, with others we can achieve so much more.  It may be slower; it may be more complicated.  But working with and alongside others achieves more and benefits more.  The common good is the Christian perspective.  Jesus’ mission was transformed as he passed the baton on to the twelve.  After his rejection by his hometown, he found strength and power in being with his followers and sharing his life and work with them.  St Paul likewise, though a strong character, cherished the mission team he worked with: Timothy, Titus, Sylvanias and many others.
          We are not self-sufficient.  We are dependent people who need each other.  The reality is we find strength and power when we open our lives to others and let others share in our life and our work.
          A third way we find strength and power in our weakness is by discovering afresh God’s presence and grace. 
          Sometimes in life when everything is going well, we feel great, in charge, in control.  There is, in a sense, no need for God.  It is when the need or weakness emerges that we suddenly become aware of our own inadequacy and of our need for God.  You heard about the atheist who fell off the cliff and cried out, ‘God save me’.  Suddenly his coat caught on a branch stopping his fall, and said, ‘Never mind God, this branch caught me’.  But God is not the God of the gaps, only there when we need him or when we can’t make it on our own.  None the less, when we face our weaknesses, we often realise our need for God.  St Paul, wrestling with this thorn in the flesh, prayed that God would take it away, but it didn’t go.  As a result he discovered that God’s grace was sufficient to help him bear this problem.  As a result of his need, St Paul discovered afresh and in a deeper way that God was there for him.
          The reality, of course, is that we are never alone or forsaken.  God is always with us.  But sometimes it takes a moment of weakness or vulnerability for us to see that God is there with us and for us.  When we are down and we discover God’s presence afresh, we find new strength and power, even grace to carry on.

          In conclusion, often our desire is to be in control of our lives in order to ensure that we display no weakness.  But life is not ours to control.  We will all face moments of weakness and vulnerability, moments when our need is greater than our own ability.  We can curse those moments as some kind of failure or we can open ourselves to the way of the cross, to the laws of the Kingdom of God, in which weakness is strength.  When we are at our wits end, when we cannot triumph in our own strength, when we cannot succeed as we will—those moments are not failures, but opportunities.  In those moments we can discover new and creative possibilities that we had not seen before, we can discover that others are there for us to help us on our way, and we can discover God’s gracious presence to sustain and help us. 

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Transforming Our Fear and Finding the Peace of Christ: Mark 4:35-41

Lets start with a story. And its the story of a young boy who was in the kitchen as his mother was making dinner. Now you may remember the pantry or larder that we used to have in our kitchens. They were a bit dark and you were never quite sure what you might find if you ventured inside. Well the boys mother asked him to go into the pantry to get her a tin of chopped tomatoes, but he didn't want to go in alone. ‘It's dark in there and I'm scared’ said the boy. His mother persisted and asked him again, but again the young boy declined. So finally she said to her son, ‘It's OK - you don’t have to be scared. Jesus will be in there with you.’ So the young boy walked hesitantly to the door of the pantry and slowly opened it. He peeked inside, saw it was dark, and was about to leave when all at once he remembered what his mother had told him, and said: ‘Jesus, if you're in there, would you hand me that tin of tomatoes please?’

Fear. Most of us encounter situations that will lead to that type of instinctive human response. It’s the instinctive response of the disciples who are caught up in a violent storm whilst crossing the Sea of Galilee in a frail sailing vessel, and can resonate with us in the winds and waves that we sometimes face in our own seemingly fragile lives. None of us are immune. Whether its a fear of the future because of all the changes that have happened or are happening in our lives; losing our health, and being dependent on others to take care of us; fear of being unable to support ourselves financially; or fear of losing a loved one, and the loneliness that that would entail for us - we know what fear feels like. So how might we understand better the way in which God is active in the fragility of our lives?

Mark describes for us how in this story Jesus conveys three important things which we might take hold of in the midst of difficulty and distress. Firstly recognising that God is present with us; secondly discovering that we can trust him with our lives; and thirdly that he wants to transform us from the state of paralysis which fear can cause in us. Recognition - trust - transformation.

Firstly then we are encouraged to recognise that God is, if you like, in the boat with us. To begin with though we need to understand the context in which Mark is writing. Mark writes to a community which is in the midst of persecution,  leading lives which were at risk and governed by fear. It’s a desperate community where fear is all encompassing and pervasive. So this story set on the Sea of Galilee would have urged that community, and also us, to recognise that God is with us in the midst of the storm. That he is with us. Not remote and uninvolved.

We might think that it was patently obvious that God was with those disciples. Jesus was after all in the boat. But listen to what those disciples say. ‘Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing.Teacher, they call Jesus - not Lord. They do not recognise who he is. But then Jesus rebukes the wind and gives a command to the sea: ‘Peace. Be still!’ And the storm is calmed. Its a repeat of a the episode in Capernaum where Jesus rebukes and commands a demon to be silent. On that occasion also the disciples ask who this Jesus is, that he commands even unclean spirits and silences them. And as the phenomenon of silence is again delivered at his command on the sea of Galilee, Mark moves the disciples toward the recognition that this Jesus is no ordinary teacher. He is no other than the incarnate God of their ancestors. The same God described in todays Psalm - 107 - as the one who: ‘commanded ...... the stormy wind’ . 

But there is something else. We often wonder where God is in the stormy wind. The disciples desperately wondered that whilst their boat filled with water. And Job in the old testament spends 37 chapters giving voice to the question - Where are you? The disciples - Job - we all plead, for God's presence with us. A sense that God is near, concerned, interested, and cares for us.  We might not always readily recognise his presence just like those disciples. We want him just to do something. But Mark encourages us further that the deep calm sleep which Jesus initially displays is not inactivity or detachment on his part. Instead its a picture of that which he offers to us  in contrast to the destruction of the storm. Sometimes we just need to be still and know that he is God.   

The second thing that Mark urges us to do in this story is to consider the question of trust. I was at the Abbey with others last thursday evening to hear the Archbishop of Canterbury speak. One of the stories he told was of the former Archbishop of Saigon who was arrested and imprisoned in Vietnam for 13 years. In solitary confinement for most of that period, subject to torture and having to listen to others undergoing the same, he was challenged to consider whether he could trust God when God was all that he had left. How do we respond in difficult circumstances?Can we trust him? When Job complains about his own suffering, God answers him by taking him on a whirlwind tour of wonder at the power behind creation. And God points to himself as the one who is both intimately involved in all that he has created and who remains in control of it. To Job God says - I am in control - trust me. Similarly, Jesus asks the disciples in the boat, ‘Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith’, before they too are awestruck at his command over creation by calming the storm.

In the difficult moments of our lives can we still have faith?  When we are losing something, can we hold onto a basic trust in God, no matter what the circumstances? Because that is the challenge - to entrust ourselves and our very lives into the care of this God - especially when we’re afraid. And how might we trust? Its a difficult thing. But it will involve us letting go of whatever it is we’re afraid to lose—whether  it is our health, our financial security, our relationships, even our very life. Because the essence of fear is an insistence that we are in control.

The disciples battled with the boat in the storm rather than trusting Jesus whilst he remained asleep. They couldn’t bring themselves to trust in Jesus, who was with them, until they were so desperate that they shouted at him in frustration. Sound familiar? The real essence of faith is letting go. And its in the letting go that we find peace, contentment, even joy taking the place of fear—regardless of our circumstances. We can’t pretend that’s easy, because it’s not.  Mark though urges us to look beneath our fear and see the sustaining hand of the God of grace and mercy, even when life’s twists and turns daunt us. 

Thirdly, Mark presents a Jesus who calls us out of fear. Fear is no way to live. God desires for us to flourish, to be whole, and we cannot do that by living in our fear. This story in Mark’s gospel follows directly after Jesus has delivered the parable of the sower. And Jesus asks us to consider whether we will sow this seed of faith or trust upon fertile ground. The fertile ground that vests in him so that our fears might be transformed. Because he does not want us to remain in our fear and be governed by it. And so he encourages us not to remain in the midst of the storm, but to trust in him to transform that which we find disabling and debilitating. The disciples fears are not evaporated as Jesus calms the wind and the sea. Instead he transforms them from the paralysing anxiety that they create, and which assumes the worst, to a kind of holy awe at the presence and power of the God in their midst. That's the invitation for us as well: to bring our fears, anxieties, and concerns to God as best we can. And to watch as they are transformed so that we become increasingly aware of his presence.
So what in the end does Jesus have to say to us as we live out the unpredictable lives which give rise to our fears. Well you have to wonder if the disciples would have got into the boat if they had known that they were going to sail into the storm. Maybe not. But thats what the Sea of Galilee is like apparently. Calm and serene one moment but subject to sudden changes which produce gale force winds the next. There are just some things that you cannot predict. There is always a question as to whether we would have avoided changes in our lives had we known they were afoot. But life isn’t like that. Its not a question of if change will happen, but rather when. We can fear all sorts of things that life might throw at us sometimes - the  wind and waves of fear that manifest themselves in our lives as disapproval, rejection, failure, meaningless, illness - all kinds of adversity.
But if we will listen to the God who is with us and who asks us to trust him, so that he may transform our fears, we might too hear these words from Isaiah:
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
   and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;    
do not fear, for I am with you,
   do not be afraid, for I am your God;
I will strengthen you, I will help you,
   I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.’

Then we might know the image conveyed for us by Mark this morning. The image of Christ with his arms extended wide over the whole of our lives saying, ‘ Peace . Be still’!
Revd Shaun Speller, Curate, Parish of Harpenden

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

God's Rule in Our Lives and in the Church : Mark 4:26-34

Image result for kingdom of GodAlmost all of us have some sort of dream of some kind of utopia or paradise where all things are happy and good.  It is that fantasy or day dream we have when things are a bit bleak or when we are sitting in the garden or in a comfy chair recovering from a hard day.  Is the kingdom of God some kind of utopia or paradise?  The Gospel text is about the Kingdom of God.  I want us to think about what it means to you and me today.
First, what is the kingdom of God?  It is not some tangible realm where a ruler has some empire.  It is not the new heaven and earth that is to come.  It is not a place.  It is a way of being.
The problem is in a monarchy when someone mentions the word kingdom, we have a vision of some queen or king ruling over their kingdom.  But the phrase we translate, KofG, is actually more verbal.  It would be better translated as the reign of God or God’s reign.  It is the reality of God reigning over our lives and creation; God ruling or governing over all things.  It is the taking back of the world and humankind from the influence of selfishness (thinking we can do it all without God) and from the influence of evil forces and impulses (call it the devil, Satan or whatever).
       St Paul in one of the extremely rare comments about the KofG outside the Gospels states, For the kingdom of God is not food and drink but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.  St Paul describes the effect of God reigning in the lives of a Christian as righteousness, peace and joy.   But the KofG is more than just an inner spiritual reality.  The reign of God affects the earth and all powers and principalities.  So Jesus can speak of his mission as preaching good news to the poor, proclaiming freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, releasing the oppressed, proclaiming the year of the Lord's favour.  Wherever God’s reign is established things are transformed, turned upside down or right side up, back into their rightful and God designed purpose.  Where God is king, things are put right, justice reigns, the needy are cared for, the oppressed are set free.  The Kingdom of God is God’s rule in our hearts but also God’s transforming rule in the world, a social and political reality.
        In sum, when we think of the Kingdom of God we are not thinking of a specific place and concrete realm, but God’s reign over our hearts and lives and over the church and all creation.
Secondly, Jesus inaugurated the KofG.  You can kind of say that Jesus’ incarnation, coming to be with us in flesh and walking among us, was a reclaiming mission.  Jesus’ specific message about the Kingdom of God is recorded as, ‘repent for the KofG has come near’.   Another way to say this is: the KofG is in your midst.  In Jesus, the reign of God was being established in a new way.  It was being inaugurated or instated by Jesus’ message of God’s love and grace and of God’s judgment.  It was being initiated by Jesus’ actions, his healing, exorcisms, miracles, meals with sinners, touching the untouchables.  In Jesus’ life, message and actions the KofG is began in a new way.  In Jesus’ life, message and actions, we see what the reign of God looks like.
Thirdly, what do we learn about the KofG from these parables we heard?  First we learn that God causes the growth.  Our responsibility is not to bring in the KofG.  God has done that in Jesus Christ.  We are to witness to the KofG, that is to point it out to others in word and deed.  We are to live out the KofG in our lives and in the mission and ministry of the Church.  We display the reign of God in our lives by the way we live and by our words and deeds.  The church by the way it is and by what it does on Sunday and throughout the week, displays the reign of God to others in our community and beyond.  One thing we can be asking ourselves is how are we revealing the reign of God or the KofG in our  lives and in the life of our church.
Habitat for Humanity was founded by a Christian who believed that everyone had the right to a roof over their head.  He formed an organisation in which teams of people go to many different countries, mostly in Africa and South America, but even in Europe.  Through volunteer labour they build homes and people are able then to buy them at cost with no interest loans.  If they help build it as well this counts as payment toward the home.  One man put his faith into action and now thousands of families now have a simple basic home which they own and helped build with others.  This is the KofG on display.
The parable of the mustard seed says we need to recognise that KofG starts small and grows into something large.  We don’t always notice the growth but it is happening even while we are sleeping.
In one sense, the KofG began with Jesus, one person in Palestine and has slowly grown to be one of the most significant religious and faith movements in the history of humankind.  It is still growing even if in some places it is in decline.  In parts of Asia it is one of the fastest growing religious movements.  It is still growing rapidly in parts of Africa and South America.
In another sense, the reign of God on display can begin where we are.  It can start small but grow into something amazing.  In a parish in Birmingham, there was an old school house.  Someone in the parish got the idea that the church could use it as a church hall and maybe to have a place for community groups.  The parish was able to obtain it and fix it up.  It grew to become one of the largest and most active community centres in Birmingham, Centre 13.  A small idea grew into a city-wide and flourishing ministry.  This is a sign and symbol of the KofG.
       The way we participate in the KofG is not by striving to do all the right things, not by struggling to make things happen.  Nor is this a passive role, of sitting down and waiting and watching.  No, it is an active role of living out our faith with humility, integrity and action.   Living out our faith personally and as a church will mean sometimes we need to discern what God wants us to do (MAP).  We must pray and tune ourselves into God’s ways and God’s will.  We must then act as we believe God is calling us to act.  We may at times get it wrong and even fail in our efforts.  But God calls us to be faithful.
       In conclusion, the kingdom of God is God’s reign, God’s rule, God’s lordship being established over each of us and over all of creation.  God will bring it to fulfilment just like the little mustard seed grows into a large mustard shrub.  As children of God who have been brought into the KofG by faith in Jesus Christ, we bear witness to God’s reign. Our lives and the life of the church is a sign post, a large billboard of God’s reign.  We share in and partake of the KofG and its fulfilment by letting our lives be transformed and by bearing fruit that reveals God’s transforming power in our homes, in our communities and in our churches.  May God help our life and the life of the church to witness and to display the KofG in word and deed.