ThScottish Episcopal Church in the North West Highlands

Serving the Scottish Episcopal Anglican Communities in the North West Highlands of Scotland

Epiphany 2 – 14th January 2018

(preached by the Rev’d David Higgon – Associate Priest)


 

 Did you notice how economic Jesus was in the use of his language?  He found Philip and said to him ‘follow me’ and Philip in turn says to Nathaniel ‘come and see’.  These short soundbites – come and see, follow me – are a gift in our texting, tweeting, messaging, emailing, Facebooking Instagram culture.

Now I am ambiguous about social media and am often confused by it. What is the point of Twitter?


  Social media is a two edged sword capable of great benefits and but which also can have negative effects especially on young lives where it can expose them to significant emotional risk.


It has a negative effect on me at times. I find myself checking my phone for messages and emails, and I should know better, as my formative years were lived well before the advent of social media and mobile phones, in what my children quaintly refer to as the olden days.


  I too have been conditioned to expect an instant response to my communications – I find myself getting annoyed when I am trying to get hold of someone and I receive the response I am sorry that the person you are calling is unavailable please leave a message after the tone, or when people don’t phone me back after I leave a message. I also get annoyed when I get calls I didn’t expect from people calling me or trying to scam me.   


  Can I ask you, when did you last get an unexpected call from God? Perhaps you have but haven’t recognised it or acted on it.  Samuel hears God ‘s call but doesn’t recognise it because as it says, the word of the Lord was rare in those days, visions were not widespread.  So perhaps like Samuel, we are not expecting a call from God.  Well that maybe a little surprising given the commitment we made together last week.


Who remembers the prayer that Nicholas led us in last week, the Methodist Covenant Prayer?

A covenant with God

I am no longer my own but yours.

Put me to what you will,

rank me with whom you will;

put me to doing,

put me to suffering;

let me be employed for you,

or laid aside for you,

exalted for you,

or brought low for you;

let me be full,

let me be empty,

let me have all things,

let me have nothing:

I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things

to your pleasure and disposal.

And now, glorious and blessed God,

Father, Son and Holy Spirit,

you are mine and I am yours. So be it


The focus of the prayer was to open our lives to God’s calling.  In the Methodist Church the payer is the focal point of the annual covenant service which is held specifically to help people hear God’s offer and God’s challenge to us both individually and as a community of faith together.


  What God offers through the Covenant is a loving relationship. It is not like a business contract for the provision of goods and services, with scripture as the contractual small print, containing penalties for non compliance of our contractual obligations.  Rather, it is the means of grace by which we accept the relationship God offers and then seek to sustain it by how we live our lives.


  You could say that the Methodist Covenant prayer is bit like a set of New Year Resolutions, but ones which emphasise the importance of doing and being as much as believing.  Yet more than that, the prayer represents a commitment to being a disciple and putting God first in our lives in what we do, what we say and who we are as I have said both individually and together as Church.  


  Last year we registered as an Eco Congregation which means the church will focus more on environmental issues.  And at our vestry meeting when we agreed to follow this initiative, it was seen as a vestry as being part of our mission for outreach into our community.


  John’s Gospel opens with the words, ‘In the beginning was the Word’ – and it is our language ability, our words and especially our intention to communicate that makes us unique amongst God’s creatures.  We can use words to spread the gospel and but we can also bring the kingdom closer through our actions in our care for this world.


  The start of our eco congregation journey begins with words.  When you navigate you need to know where you are starting from to work out how to get to your destination and in the same way we will begin our environmental journey by identifying and affirming the environmental work we are already doing, and to identify our further priorities. We need to do this together and I have an environmental checkup to help us with this.  This covers practical things like making our church building move environmentally friendly: how we can support our community in caring for our immediate environment.  It covers worship and our theology to assess how it connects with God’s gift of creation.  It asks how we engage with issues of climate change in what we can do in our daily lives to reduce our carbon foot print and what we can do as a church to benefit the environment and people across the world.  We are setting up a small group to work through this check up and draw up an action plan for the next year.

  It’s important that we recognise that it is not just what we say, or how we say it, but whether our values and actions match our message. Do we ‘walk the talk?’ How can we ‘speak truth to power’?  We have an opportunity together to respond to God’s offer of a loving relationship by our response to his call through our own demonstration of love and care for his creation. And the good news is that we don’t do this just in our own strength – but in God’s.

END


The Epiphany – Sunday 7th January 2018

(preached by Fr Nicholas Court, Rector)

 Text: When they had heard the king, they set out;
and there, ahead of them,
went the star that they had seen at its rising,
until it stopped over the place where the Child was. 


  Isn’t it strange that it’s not unheard of for the people who cast musicals for the big screen, don’t always take an ability to sing as one of the critical criteria.  Inappropriate casting is not a rarity – such as Dick van Dyke as a cockney chimney-sweep in Mary Poppins – but you would think that the ability to sing might be the starting-point when casting a musical.  However, that didn’t stop Rex Harrison taking on the role of Professor Higgins in My Fair Lady, nor Lee Marvin being cast as Ben Rumson in the 1969 film version of another Lerner/Lowe classic Paint Your Wagon – neither of whom could sing a note in tune – and yet Lee Marvin’s rendition of Wandr’in Star managed to keep the Beatles off the Number One slot with their song Let it Be.  So, who are we to judge?  It seems that all this apparent misjudgment by the casting director turned out to be anything but.   

 The song Wand’rin Star contains the lines: ‘I’ve never seen a sight that didn’t look better looking back’.  And it is, of course, a wandering star that takes centre stage, along with the Magi and the Christ Child, in today’s celebration which marks the conclusion of Christmas.  We are given that picture of the Magi – helped by many a representation of the Bethlehem scene – not wandering aimlessly like Lee Marvin, but travelling purposefully to meet a very different sort of King.  It’s perhaps hard for us to imagine how people used to use stars to guide them with any degree of accuracy, let alone to a particular house, so maybe the point is not to obsess too much with the detail, but to stay with the message of the story that these wise men were on a search and God guided them, and they were wise enough to use the signs provided – without going into too much detail about how you actually follow a star.  I’m always struck by the fact that the story doesn’t give any room for the Magi getting lost or taking interesting detours, though of course we have left them twelve days to arrive in the Church calendar, and we think of them journeying ‘over moor and mountain’ to reach their destination – the King born under a wandering star that ‘did both stop and stay right over the place where Jesus lay.’

  So what of Lee Marvin’s character, born not a royal king under a spotlight, but a drifter, destined never to arrive but always to be moving on?  The film paints him as something of a hopeless case, but maybe he’s a good balance to the wise men, or at least to the idea that the wise always have the sense to travel in straight lines, and that the Bible and signs from God help them avoid getting too lost.  But wisdom hasn’t always been associated with knowing where you’re going.  Perhaps because he wanted to do penance, St Columba set off from the coast of Derry in a coracle in AD 563, with 12 companions.  His strategy to get away from Ireland was to look back from the highest vantage point of wherever he landed, and, if he could still see Ireland, to carry on – knowing that he hadn‘t yet arrived in the place God had in mind for him.  The place he eventually reached was an island we call Iona, and the hill he climbed there to assure himself he had gone far enough is known in Gaelic as Carn Cul Ri Eirinn (Hill of the Turning Back to Ireland).

  The Church of today is often characterised as being on a journey too; and sometimes some parts of that Church are seen as running on ahead – but if it’s simply to then look back and check we’re headed in the right direction, I think that’s not a complete waste of time.  The General Synod of the Scottish Episcopal Church was accused of doing something like this when it amended the Canon on marriage in June last year to make it possible for same-gender couples to have a Church wedding – but I guess that within a handful of years (as with so much else) people will look back and wonder what all the fuss was about.  If the Church is to remain relevant, I think it might take St Columba as its patron and its example – and if that takes some scouting ahead and looking over horizons, then it must have the courage to do so.

  But if we are following Jesus, we must admit that He’s jolly hard to keep track of.  Even the Gospel accounts don’t help us to predict much: they differ in where they set elements of His ministry, such as whether He preaches His sermon on a mountain or a plain, and in the order in which He does things, such as when he goes up to Jerusalem and His Passion.  Then, occasionally, He disappears in the middle of a scene, or He’s taken off into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit.  So Lee Marvin is a balance to those who think that we can always travel in straight lines or even sometimes with a clear idea of where we’re heading.  

  The story of the wise men travelling holds wisdom for us because fundamentally their journey was and is one of recognition and fulfilment. They travel from a distant country – from exactly where we can’t be sure - risking danger along the way, simply to acknowledge Jesus Christ as something greater than they could ever be.  They are the first people outside Israel to pay homage to the Messiah and therefore to make His universal kingship manifest – that’s what the word Epiphany means – manifestation or unveiling.  They come, they arrive and exchange their gifts for the gift of having seen Jesus, and then they leave, their work as far as Matthew’s Gospel is concerned, done.

  This sort of following has a humility about it; the focus is not on the wisdom of the wise but on this kingly Christ who they find seated on His Mother’s knee.  It reminds us that our own fulfilment will be in God, and in this passing life we see only pale reflections – tantalising glimpses of Jesus and of a kingdom both present and yet to come, and sometimes more of a provocation to wonder and wander than a solution and a destination.  There will be times when we have something to aim for and there will be times when we will find ourselves wandering; but if the point is to leave our old selves behind, then that wondering and wandering will always be worthwhile.

  As a conclusion this morning, I invite you to join together in saying the Methodist Covenant Prayer, which many Churches use on the first Sunday of each New Year.  In a sense it places us in the shoes of the Magi, and with them and their destiny as our security, we head off into 2018, trusting that where we allow God to lead, our journey will never be pointless or mere wandering.  And we know we will have reached our goal, when, like Columba, we can know we have arrived only by looking back. 

I am no longer my own but yours.
Put me to what you will,
rank me with whom you will;
put me to doing, put me to suffering;
let me be employed for you or laid aside for you,
exalted for you or brought low for you.
Let me be full, let me be empty,
let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things
to your pleasure and disposal.
And now, glorious and blessed God,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
you are mine and I am yours.
So be it.
And the covenant made on earth,
let it be ratified in heaven.
Amen.

END


Christmas Sermon 2017


(preached by Fr Nicholas Court - Rector)

  A few years back, I celebrated the 25th anniversary of Ordination to the Priesthood with the congregation of St Mary-by-the-Cross in Tongue, on the north coast – and it’s rather worrying to contemplate that in 18 months time it’ll be my 30th anniversary!  At the rather splendid tea afterwards, they made a little presentation to me – a box set of that wonderful TV series Rev.   Someone must have told them how much I had enjoyed the series when it was on TV, and I have enjoyed dipping into an episode here and there either on a day off or sometimes when there’s not much on live TV.  For those of you who missed it altogether, let me explain something of what the series was about.

  The character of the title – Rev – is a priest working in the East End of London; and to my mind it is the one of the few such shows I’ve ever seen that gets near the reality of life as an ordained minister – and not just life as a priest, but the day to day ups and downs of serving a parish in the 21stcentury.   If you missed it, the programme features a mild-mannered young priest called the Reverend Adam Smallbone.  He has a Church with a struggling congregation, a popular Church school and an old people’s home in the parish, a long-suffering wife, an extremely irritating Reader colleague who is very much more critical than helpful, and a rather sarcastic Archdeacon who appears mysteriously from the back of a black taxi whenever things are going wrong.  And things do go wrong, regularly and spectacularly, as they do in the lives of clergy and their parishes in the real world.

  But the wonderful thing about Rev is that it is not just broad ‘laugh-out-loud’ comedy, like The Vicar of Dibley or Father Ted.  However ridiculous the plots and characters in Rev may appear, there is always a germ of truth – I can personally vouch for most of them from my own experience!  Indeed, along with the really excellent series Broken, which was shown earlier this year on TV, Rev ought to be an essential part of the curriculum at every Theological College.  For example, in the Christmas special, after a truly appalling Christmas Eve, Adam finally snaps and loses it during the midnight service, and starts singing and dancing very badly round the altar – dancing so dreadful and mad that it makes the Reverend Richard Coles’ recent efforts on Strictly look like he knows what he’s doing on the dance-floor.  This Vicar had spent the day cooking breakfast for his cold weather shelter guests, going to visit a parishioner in the old people’s home but finding she had died and no one had told him, and trying to safeguard some quality time with his family.  All very realistic and believable scenarios – if you’ve ever spent time in a manse or rectory on Christmas Eve!

  And throughout the episodes Adam has a running conversation with God.  He’s often quite rude to God, and raises questions, complains a lot, but always ends up turning the problem over to God to sort it out.  Adam is a faulty human being who misunderstands things, breaks the rules, drinks too much, can’t quite quit smoking, rather fancies the head-teacher at the school, and has a hard time saying ‘No’ to people.  But the one thing he seems to miss about himself is that he is absolutely tailor-made for the job.  His heart is where it ought to be, and although he doesn’t see it, he lives and breathes the ministry he’s called to, he genuinely tries to love the people he is called to serve, and he knows that God loves them infinitely more than he ever can.  It’s actually a very inspiring picture of an incarnational ministry.  In other words Adam is someone who walks daily with Jesus, isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty, and puts what little money he has where his mouth is - to use a whole mixed bundle of bodily metaphors. 

  What drives the Rev’d Smallbone on is the thing we’re celebrating tonight/today - a faith whose cornerstone is the revelation that God became incarnate, a member of the human race, of the same flesh and blood as the rest of us, at a specific point in our history on this planet.  It’s a truly astonishing claim.  It may even be scandalous to suggest that such a thing could come to be, but it is what Christmas is all about.  But why would God do this?  Rowan Williams answered that question on Radio 2’s Pause for Thought:  “In the complete mess of the first Christmas, God says, ‘Don’t worry – I’m not going to wait until you’ve got everything sorted out perfectly before I get involved with you.  I’m already there for you in the middle of it all, and if you just let yourself lean on me a bit instead of trying to make yourself and everything around you perfect by your own efforts, everyone will feel a little more of my love flowing’. (end of quote)  Perhaps he had Rev in mind when he said that, because I know that he is also a fan of the show and even invited the cast to drinks at Lambeth Palace when he was Archbishop of Canterbury.  In his Pause for Thought, Rowan Williams describes well the messy sort of Christmas that Adam Smallbone is involved in, and why it is precious.

 What are the words and phrases that come to mind when people think of Christmas?  Families coming together; the joy of a birth which surprises everyone; a Baby who brings good news for those at the bottom of the pile?  None of the above?  Adam’s Christmas doesn’t appear on the surface to be a feast of classic family togetherness.  It’s not primarily a celebration of the joy of birth, though his patient wife finally gets the positive pregnancy test she has been hoping for.  It’s not even a reminder to be generous to the poor, though the programme ends with Adam and his parishioners sharing Christmas dinner with a load of homeless people in the Church.  All of those things are part of Christmas, and an important part.  But the message is not to do with what we do for each other - but what God has done, and is doing all the time, for us.  Children get and understand this, but we grown-ups might worry about whether the birth narratives in Luke and Matthew tell it just as it was; we feel a regretful nostalgia for the comforting certainties of childhood, and even John Betjeman’s powerful words might or might not help:

No love that in a family dwells,
No carolling in frosty air,
Nor all the steeple-shaking bells
Can with this single Truth compare –
That God was Man in Palestine
And lives to-day in Bread and Wine.

  But our incarnational faith is founded on just that.  We may not have to be particular about the ox and the ass in the paintings, but they serve to illuminate a claim that is truly astonishing.  When we allow ourselves to strip aside the tinsel and turn the lights out on the Christmas tree, the salient facts remain, and they are these: God came gladly, graciously, quietly dancing into the mess of human history.  God is here already.  It doesn’t all depend on us.  When we make fools of ourselves, as Adam Smallbone so regularly does, it doesn’t matter.  Love comes down at Christmas and dwells among us.

  It’s a big idea to swallow, but without it Christmas is little more than the sentimental invention of Charles Dickens or Bing Crosby, a warm and friendly occasion for eating, drinking and gift-giving.  We all enjoy that, but it doesn’t go nearly far enough, because God deliberately comes into our mess – literally into the mess and stench of a stable - into our own personal mixtures of failure and success, joy and sadness, and makes Himself part of it.  That’s how God comes and chooses to be with us.  That’s enough for the God who loves us, and so it should be enough for us too – and way beyond what we can hope to truly understand.  But if we let God in, then He will do the rest.  May that be His gift to us all this Christmas.  Amen.

END




25th & 26th November 2017 – Christ the King

(preached at KLB, Ullapool & Lochinver)


 

 I was listening to a very entertaining program on Radio 4 a week or two back called Andy Hamilton Sort of Remembers.  The series is a set of monologues taking – as most good comedy does - a sideways glance at the way of the world, how we interact with it and what we think we remember from the way things used to be – hence the title.  On one of these programs recently, Andy Hamilton was telling his audience about a conversation he had with a married couple who were both doctors, who he met on holiday.  The conversation came round to things they remembered from a life working in various hospitals, and they were telling him about one particular, very highly thought-of surgeon, who was known for being a man of rigid habit.  He would arrive at exactly the same time every morning on the dot, would use the same locker every day, and every morning before going into the same operating theatre as the day before, he would take a little black book out of his locker, read it for just a few seconds, replace it in the locker and head off to do his first operation of the day.  The day came when he died very suddenly, and this couple were there when his widow came to collect his things from his locker.  Curiosity got the better of them, and they couldn’t help peeking into the little black book before handing his things onto his family – they just wanted to know what it was he read every day of his working life.  They opened the book and read the only line it contained.  It read: “The appendix is on the same side as the window!”  They understood then why he always used the same operating theatre!

  Points of reference are important – all the time whether we realize it or not, we’re using pointers and clues to help us remember other more important things – this might be something as important as which side the appendix is on, or even keeping ourselves on what is sometimes called a ‘moral compass’.  The points of reference in the Christian life are not all plain sailing.  I think people outside the Church look in on us and think it must be so easy being a Christian, because there seems to be this strange idea that the Bible is some kind of solution to all our problems; so, you meet with a problem, and you go to your Bible as your first point of reference, look up the chapter and verse, and - hey presto – job sorted!  Well – yes and no!  The Bible was never intended to be a book we could go to and find instant fixes.  It’s not like the website on the doctor’s computer which they go to once he or she has diagnosed your problem, and which then suggests the particular drug which will sort it out.  And that is because faith isn’t a solution – it’s to do with relationship – the relationship we have with God and – because of that - with each other.

  And today, we find our points of reference have us looking in two different directions – forward and backwards!  This Sunday it’s the Feast of Christ the King, which means we are also about to embark upon the great season of Advent.  Christ the King is the final Sunday of the Church’s year, and as with all new year’s eves, we look back; but there’s not a lot of point in looking back if we stay looking back and don’t then look forward as well.  We view what lies ahead by taking on board what has happened in the past, because this is the way we learn.  Advent, which is so nearly upon us, means ‘coming’ or ‘moving towards’, and it brings with it not just the sense of anticipation, but becomes the reference point for our journey towards the celebration of Christmas.  

  This Christ the King Sunday is the perfect starting-point for our anticipated launch into Advent, because it’s a reminder that we acknowledge Jesus not just as the Son of God but also our King.  What does that mean for us nowadays, when many would have us believe that monarchy is not much more than symbolic and little more than the outdated centrepiece of great state occasions such as the Opening of Parliament or Trouping the Colour?  This is why it’s always important to read the Bible in context; and is a reminder that much of what we find in there was written for particular instances.  So, although the scriptures do indeed contain the word of God, those words are not crafted to apply to every set of circumstances, at all times and in all places; and that’s why we must always read what we find there with our brains engaged and not in neutral!

  Kingship, royalty, and sovereignty meant very different things in the Middle East of 2,000 years ago compared with what they mean now.  And it’s that very fact that makes the title of this Sunday perhaps rather strange to us.  It seems that everyone – from His disciples to Pontius Pilate and Caiaphas - was expecting something very different from what they got in Jesus.  Kings were above all to be feared – feared because of their power.  But this King played with their expectations, and so the people push and push Jesus until they push Him right over the edge.  Christ the King gives us an image of royalty which is based not on power nor on fear, but on servanthood.  This, after all, is a King who kneels in front of His subjects, takes a towel and bathes their feet.  This is a King who rides a donkey in His triumphal procession instead of a warhorse.  This is a King who dies in place of those who deserve it most.  And this is a topsy-turvey sort of King whose heart breaks when He is rejected or sees the marginalized trampled upon - and yet bears that pain and transforms it into a brand new sort of liberation for those who dare to take the risk of enlisting in His army – the liberation of eternal life in God.

  If Christ our King speaks to us of the putting right of things, then Advent joins with this theme by speaking to us of new beginnings.  Beyond the obvious of it being the start of a new Church year, and beyond the chocolates hiding behind those countdown windows in our Advent calendars, this new beginning brings with it a challenge.  In a world where - by and large - instant gratification is the only sort thought to be worth having, Advent calls on us to wait – to pause – even to enjoy the view – to stand a stare.  But this shouldn’t imply inactivity.  There is always work for us to do, and a task that will not end until our days are over – to share the Good News of Jesus Christ – using words if we have to!  This is only doable if we treat every new morning – each new day - as a fresh start; because Christ our King, whose coming among us is heralded by Advent, asks us each day the question He asked Peter – “Do you love me?”  And if we dare to answer that with a “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you”, He will always come back at us with – “Well, what are you going to do with that?”  Perhaps we could do a lot worse than use this coming Advent as a chance to think what our answer to that second question is going to be, and then pray for the strength and courage to do it.

END


Sunday 19th November 2017

(preached by Fr Nicholas Court, Rector)


Text:  “To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability.”

  Each month we send pocket-money to our grandchildren, and they get the number of pounds to match their ages.  So Toby at 12 years of age gets £12, and his brother Ben who is 10 gets £10, and so on for all 6 children.  And although there is disparity in what they get, they understand that as they get older, they will get more.  So I was interested laying awake in bed a few weeks back just after waking up, to hear the 6.45am daily mathematical challenge on Radio 4’s Today Program which posed an interesting pocket-money related challenge, and it went like this - If I give my child pocket-money of 1p one week, 2p the following week, 4p and then 8p and then 16p – doubling up every week, so by week 8, for example, he or she will be receiving £1.28, how many weeks, months or years will it take for them to have saved £1 million?  Any guesses?  …………… Well, I cannot accept any credit for solving this one, but then I don’t need to because I live with a maths teacher. You might quite reasonably guess at something like 20 years or more – perhaps even a lifetime.  The answer is just 27 weeks!  Surprising, isn’t it?  

  It’s a reminder perhaps that when we’re faced with what seems to be not all what it turns out to be, we have to take time and work it out – not to think that it’s beyond us.  Which is another way of saying that you have to read carefully when you read, and this applies as much to when we read scripture as it does to how we read and solve problems; none more so than the Gospel passage we have just heard, when Jesus is trying to put into picture language what the Kingdom of Heaven is like.  ‘The kingdom of heaven is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away.’

  It is a very famous parable – perhaps not least for its peculiarity.  Let’s start with where it fits in, because it’s always important to place Bible passages in their context.  Immediately before this parable Matthew has Jesus telling another parable, the one about the bridesmaids – which we heard last Sunday.  Immediately afterwards Matthew has Jesus talking about separating the sheep from the goats.  So, we might reasonably think this run of three stories is all about judgement.  The bridegroom arrives and finds dopey bridesmaids who have run out of oil; the Lord of all divides the righteous and the unrighteous; and the rich man returns and finds some of his servants have invested badly.  In Luke’s Gospel, this story gets told just after the splendid story of Zacchaeus the rich tax collector who repents and through that finds a new view of generosity. That’s the story that ends with Jesus’ words: “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham”. (Luke 19:99)

  So the context here has something to do with making the right decisions well.  Immediately after the parable Luke tells the story of Jesus entry into Jerusalem on a donkey.  Told in this way the parable begins to sound as though it might be about the fact that we stand very close to God sometimes without being aware of it.  Perhaps it’s also to do with what we might do with that knowledge, how will we live wisely and make the right sort of decision, like Zacchaeus??

  Now for the parable of the talents itself - to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one.  When we hear the word talent we perhaps more usually think about a unique ability - perhaps tap dance while making porridge, or an unusual facility to play the spoons.  We think about what we are good at and how much we achieve.  That is not what’s meant here.  A talent is a sum of money – in fact, one talent was a great deal of money.  It was what a labourer could expect to earn in fifteen years.  In context, five talents would enable us to kick start the fund to turn the Rector’s dream of having a new Church built here, or solve any potential worries for the Treasurer until she retires!  

  But – as I said earlier - you have to read carefully.  Whilst money features in it, this is not a story about investment and banking.  It is not all about what you do with a sudden windfall from the Lottery.  We hear the words and perhaps that’s what we tend to think .  “Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents”.  The sums of money, though, beggar belief.  This is a story about a master who has Donald Trump-like riches and trusts his servants with far more than is good for them.  This story is about the size and scale of living in the world, it is about the possibilities of failure and success.  So, we hear the story of a man, going on a journey, summoning his slaves and entrusting his property to them.  In the Bible, the man who goes on a journey, or the king who will be coming back is nearly always code for a story that started a while ago and is yet to be concluded.  It is code for the story that God tells, the one that begins with us losing our way in Eden and trying to find our way home.  This is really not story about Philip Hammond and the Governor of the Bank of England.  It is a story about the living God.  God has given us gifts, and the possibilities those gifts open up for us are out of this world.  We can land robots on comets six billion kilometres away; we can paint the Sistine Chapel; compose the oratorio the Messiah; and we can split the atom and then decide how we’re going to use it.  The possibilities are out of this world.

  So what are we going to do with the possibilities before us?  When we ask that question, it’s then that the parable gets really interesting and quite clever.  We can be brave, bold and ambitious – ‘The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents’.  We can be more cautious -  ‘In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents’ - and that is the sort of choice we understand.  It’s the language of The Apprentice and endless other talent shows in which the size of our dreams and the extent of our amibition is challenged.  Do we behave as if we live between the possibility of ambition, or of caution.  In the parable of the talents however, there’s a third option.  The man who buries the money in the ground, treats it like a corpse, and sees no chance of life or growth.  The real temptation, when the possibilities are enormous, frightening, overwhelming, is to pull the duvet over your head and pretend it is not your responsibility – or not to think about it all.

  Threatened simply by the job of living, the easiest thing is to pretend that the decisions I make don’t matter in the bigger scheme of things, pretend that ethics is what they have to worry about in hospitals and courts, pretend that my vote makes no difference, pretend that I do not need to know, still less care what is happening in Yemen or Syria or North Korea.  The temptation is to make life bearable by forgetting that it really matters.  They say that is how most of us die - with regrets.  If this is true, I wonder if it’s because the possibilities open to us are so great and too alarming.  Might it be because we choose to pretend that the present moment is not the prequel to eternity.  Or might it even be because we find it simpler, and a lot more comfortable, to forget that there is not a moment of our lives in which we do not we stand in the presence of God.  We all do this to some extent.

  The parable of the talents is not a reminder that we will be judged, though it is true that we will be.  I think it’s much more a lesson in perspective, of where we stand, of what ultimately matters.  This week, why don’t we commit ourselves to recovering just a little of the sense that this moment - and what we do with it – what really matters.  Make that donation to charity you’ve been thinking about, see the person I have been putting off, read the news, write that letter.  This parable is a challenge to see the beginnings of great possibilities – not in some undefined future – but in the present moment.  For every Christian, it’s the challenge to live in this moment as though it really is the preparation for eternity.

END


Sunday 19th November 2017

(preached by Fr Nicholas Court, Rector)


Text:  “To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability.”

  Each month we send pocket-money to our grandchildren, and they get the number of pounds to match their ages.  So Toby at 12 years of age gets £12, and his brother Ben who is 10 gets £10, and so on for all 6 children.  And although there is disparity in what they get, they understand that as they get older, they will get more.  So I was interested laying awake in bed a few weeks back just after waking up, to hear the 6.45am daily mathematical challenge on Radio 4’s Today Program which posed an interesting pocket-money related challenge, and it went like this - If I give my child pocket-money of 1p one week, 2p the following week, 4p and then 8p and then 16p – doubling up every week, so by week 8, for example, he or she will be receiving £1.28, how many weeks, months or years will it take for them to have saved £1 million?  Any guesses?  …………… Well, I cannot accept any credit for solving this one, but then I don’t need to because I live with a maths teacher. You might quite reasonably guess at something like 20 years or more – perhaps even a lifetime.  The answer is just 27 weeks!  Surprising, isn’t it?  

  It’s a reminder perhaps that when we’re faced with what seems to be not all what it turns out to be, we have to take time and work it out – not to think that it’s beyond us.  Which is another way of saying that you have to read carefully when you read, and this applies as much to when we read scripture as it does to how we read and solve problems; none more so than the Gospel passage we have just heard, when Jesus is trying to put into picture language what the Kingdom of Heaven is like.  ‘The kingdom of heaven is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away.’

  It is a very famous parable – perhaps not least for its peculiarity.  Let’s start with where it fits in, because it’s always important to place Bible passages in their context.  Immediately before this parable Matthew has Jesus telling another parable, the one about the bridesmaids – which we heard last Sunday.  Immediately afterwards Matthew has Jesus talking about separating the sheep from the goats.  So, we might reasonably think this run of three stories is all about judgement.  The bridegroom arrives and finds dopey bridesmaids who have run out of oil; the Lord of all divides the righteous and the unrighteous; and the rich man returns and finds some of his servants have invested badly.  In Luke’s Gospel, this story gets told just after the splendid story of Zacchaeus the rich tax collector who repents and through that finds a new view of generosity. That’s the story that ends with Jesus’ words: “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham”. (Luke 19:99)

  So the context here has something to do with making the right decisions well.  Immediately after the parable Luke tells the story of Jesus entry into Jerusalem on a donkey.  Told in this way the parable begins to sound as though it might be about the fact that we stand very close to God sometimes without being aware of it.  Perhaps it’s also to do with what we might do with that knowledge, how will we live wisely and make the right sort of decision, like Zacchaeus??

  Now for the parable of the talents itself - to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one.  When we hear the word talent we perhaps more usually think about a unique ability - perhaps tap dance while making porridge, or an unusual facility to play the spoons.  We think about what we are good at and how much we achieve.  That is not what’s meant here.  A talent is a sum of money – in fact, one talent was a great deal of money.  It was what a labourer could expect to earn in fifteen years.  In context, five talents would enable us to kick start the fund to turn the Rector’s dream of having a new Church built here, or solve any potential worries for the Treasurer until she retires!  

  But – as I said earlier - you have to read carefully.  Whilst money features in it, this is not a story about investment and banking.  It is not all about what you do with a sudden windfall from the Lottery.  We hear the words and perhaps that’s what we tend to think .  “Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents”.  The sums of money, though, beggar belief.  This is a story about a master who has Donald Trump-like riches and trusts his servants with far more than is good for them.  This story is about the size and scale of living in the world, it is about the possibilities of failure and success.  So, we hear the story of a man, going on a journey, summoning his slaves and entrusting his property to them.  In the Bible, the man who goes on a journey, or the king who will be coming back is nearly always code for a story that started a while ago and is yet to be concluded.  It is code for the story that God tells, the one that begins with us losing our way in Eden and trying to find our way home.  This is really not story about Philip Hammond and the Governor of the Bank of England.  It is a story about the living God.  God has given us gifts, and the possibilities those gifts open up for us are out of this world.  We can land robots on comets six billion kilometres away; we can paint the Sistine Chapel; compose the oratorio the Messiah; and we can split the atom and then decide how we’re going to use it.  The possibilities are out of this world.

  So what are we going to do with the possibilities before us?  When we ask that question, it’s then that the parable gets really interesting and quite clever.  We can be brave, bold and ambitious – ‘The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents’.  We can be more cautious -  ‘In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents’ - and that is the sort of choice we understand.  It’s the language of The Apprentice and endless other talent shows in which the size of our dreams and the extent of our amibition is challenged.  Do we behave as if we live between the possibility of ambition, or of caution.  In the parable of the talents however, there’s a third option.  The man who buries the money in the ground, treats it like a corpse, and sees no chance of life or growth.  The real temptation, when the possibilities are enormous, frightening, overwhelming, is to pull the duvet over your head and pretend it is not your responsibility – or not to think about it all.

  Threatened simply by the job of living, the easiest thing is to pretend that the decisions I make don’t matter in the bigger scheme of things, pretend that ethics is what they have to worry about in hospitals and courts, pretend that my vote makes no difference, pretend that I do not need to know, still less care what is happening in Yemen or Syria or North Korea.  The temptation is to make life bearable by forgetting that it really matters.  They say that is how most of us die - with regrets.  If this is true, I wonder if it’s because the possibilities open to us are so great and too alarming.  Might it be because we choose to pretend that the present moment is not the prequel to eternity.  Or might it even be because we find it simpler, and a lot more comfortable, to forget that there is not a moment of our lives in which we do not we stand in the presence of God.  We all do this to some extent.

  The parable of the talents is not a reminder that we will be judged, though it is true that we will be.  I think it’s much more a lesson in perspective, of where we stand, of what ultimately matters.  This week, why don’t we commit ourselves to recovering just a little of the sense that this moment - and what we do with it – what really matters.  Make that donation to charity you’ve been thinking about, see the person I have been putting off, read the news, write that letter.  This parable is a challenge to see the beginnings of great possibilities – not in some undefined future – but in the present moment.  For every Christian, it’s the challenge to live in this moment as though it really is the preparation for eternity.

END


All Saints – 3rd November 2017

(preached by Fr Nicholas Court (Rector) at St Mary-by-the-Cross, Tongue)


Text: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.”  (Matthew 5:6)

  I’m sure I’m far from the only person who misses Rabbi Lionel Blue, whose first anniversary of death will be next month.  His wisdom and quirky – often uniquely Jewish way of looking at life – often made him the go-to person for when terrible or incomprehensible national tragedies happened.  The BBC’s Today Programme’s Thought for the Day slot became a forum for his remarkable wisdom, down-to-earth common sense, and for some very memorable stories and jokes.  Perhaps it was his cosy, fireside voice telling homely stories out of which he would draw a moral.  It wasn’t everyone’s cup of breakfast tea, but it was effective: several of his Thoughts for the Day have stuck in my mind.  One centred on a story about two couples playing bridge.  One player makes a grand slam, and sits back, exultant.  ‘You idiot!’ hisses his partner, under his breath: one half of the couple he has just beaten with this winning hand is his boss, and - in his partner’s mind at least - this game of bridge is part of a bigger game of promotion, pay and power.  To his mind, by winning the small game he may have lost him the big one. 

  Now, in the world of big business, the promotion game is itself part of an even bigger game, the game of life, in which there are many ideas about what counts as being a winner.  Is it just that, business success?  Is it about wealth, power, fame?  Or is it quality of life, retiring to the Highlands, perhaps; or perhaps even retiring to where the sun can be depended upon to shine rather more than it tends to in these parts.  Or is success something to do with having good friends?  Or is it something more simple but more challenging, such as integrity, being and continuing to be a person you can face with a clear conscience in the mirror every morning?   I suspect we each have our own list, and I also suspect that believers and atheists might have quite a few items in common.  The question that will really sort us out, though, is this: do you think that the game of life is itself part of a yet bigger game – that there’s more to it than simply being a winner? 

  Lionel Blue once told another story, about a funeral he took for someone who had done very well in the business game.  He had been very successful, but in acquiring this, others had got trampled upon and squashed.  In the address he had given at the funeral, Lionel had talked about heaven; but over the tea and refreshments afterwards, one of the mourners said to him, ‘He wouldn’t want your heaven, Rabbi.  He wouldn’t know what to do with it.  So much of him was bound up with this world that I doubt if there is much left for the next.’ 

  Although far from unique among the world religions, for the Christian, this ‘next’ world is inextricably bound up with the ideas of eternal life, life with God.  It’s the one which Jesus speaks about when He says of those who are shut out and rubbished because they are His followers, ‘Surely your reward is great in heaven.’  He hints at it again when he addresses this world’s winners and losers with those teasing future tenses of His – ‘Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled’… and perhaps even more telling if we were to continue that reading – ‘Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry.’ 

  But all this begs a question – “When will this next world, this topsy-turvy future, begin?”  That’s partly a question about when God will make this gone-wrong world of ours come right, and there is no shortage of unhomely stories to rekindle our impatience for that day.  We don’t have to look very far, do we?  Perhaps we can take some comfort in that it seems clear that the world of Jesus’s time was in just as much turmoil – although perhaps in less danger from itself.  Just as today, the weakest went to the wall, and a big part of society – and a large part of being a winner - revolved around who you excluded just as much as about whose company you were seen to be keeping.  It’s no wonder Jesus was so misunderstood, deliberately seeking out and being seen to mix with all the ‘wrong’ sorts of people.  When Jesus gives that part of His teaching we call the Beatitudes, He shows us that in our hearts, the next world can begin now.  Indeed, for some it’s already dawning - people who have seen what the real game is (if you like), and whose lives show that they are learning to play it, both in the big calls and the small decisions of life. 

  These are the ones Jesus calls ‘blessed’, and the ones we call saints, whose great festival of All Saints we’re celebrating today.  To receive this title is nothing to do with having your life endorsed in retrospect by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints; saintliness is (as Marks & Spencer used to put it) exclusively for everyone.  All we need, Jesus seems to say, is to listen to His voice, dare to live as though His words are true, and discover that this is the only game that matters in the end. 

  A great listener to his Master’s voice was a person who has for some while been on the Vatican’s saint agenda: currently called ‘Blessed’, he is one last push from the summit in the long climb to becoming ‘Saint’ John Henry Newman.  If he makes it, he will join all the other men and women and boys and girls whose lives the Church has officially recognised as showing what is called – rather oddly - ‘heroic sanctity’.   I have an etching of the great man himself hanging in my study – a gift he made to my 4 times great uncle John Keble – a lifelong friend.  The great thing is that it’s signed by him.  (I wonder what price the signature of Saint John Henry Newman might fetch on eBay!)   

  But what does it matter, whether the title ‘Saint’ get prefixed to anyone’s name.  Sainthood – that quality which becomes evident in someone’s life because they seem to have this ability to plant and fit their own footsteps so neatly into those of Jesus – is really neither here nor there at the end of the day.  Way back, when he was just plain Cardinal Newman, he wrote a prayer that suggests that he might not now be all that bothered about these efforts on his behalf - like a true saint.  The prayer forms a near-perfect reflection on the Beatitudes, and goes like this:

Teach me, dear Lord, frequently and attentively to consider this truth: that if I gain the whole world and lose thee, in the end I have lost everything; whereas if I lose the whole world and gain thee, in the end I have lost 

nothing.  Amen.END


Loving our Neighbour and Modern Slavery

 

Preached by the Rev’d David Higgon – Sunday 29th October 2017

 

Well its good to back from my travels: from a family visit to Derbyshire where I am still licenced as a priest. It is a very interesting contrast between two Dioceses.

Here we have a large geographical area and a small population and there the Geographical area is much smaller but with a large urban population It is not without its scenery in contains one of the loveliest parts of England, the Peak District

So you couldn’t find  two diverse more  dioceses in the Anglican Communion and you would expect the challenges in the two diocese to be equally diverse and in many ways they are . Derby is very much a multicultural city with a wide mix of people from different ethnic backgrounds.  

But are the issues affecting the North West Highland that different from those of Derby?

Well there are very many issues in common that relate to our love of God and neighbour .

 

In today’s Gospel Jesus answers a trick question that has been asked to test Jesus and he gives what may have been a surprising answer.

When asked which commandment in the law is the greatest? ’You may have expected Jesus to answer the question by stating the ist of the 10 commandments:

I am the lord your God . You shall have no other gods but me,

Jesus answers,  ‘“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.”

This is the greatest and first commandment.

And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” and then he says that ‘On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.’

According to Jesus, the whole of all the Law is grounded in the love of God and neighbour, it is at essence  about right relationships with God and creation.

 

From this perspective , true love for God is never an individual or an inward thing, but is something that should be evident in all other relationships with others.

 

So it is not enough to ‘not do harm’ to live and let live. We are called to be active as God’s people enacting the Creator’s love for his creation.

With deference to Lennon and McCartney the answer is not found in the song ‘All you need is love’.

It has to be more than that - our ethical rules or norms, our moral compass so to speak, must be grounded in, and must be a demonstration of love (Love of God and love of neighbour) in both intention and purpose.

But how do we demonstrate in both intention and purpose our love of God and neighbour.

There was a very recent report by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary that said that police forces are failing to tackle modern slavery and human trafficking and the reason is  because the cases are too difficult and senior officers believe the public lack sympathy for the victims, This leaves  victims exposed and allows perpetrators to continue to exploit the vulnerable. The chilling thing in the report was that in one case, the inspectorate was told: “The public view is, they are not our girls.”

You may find this attitude appalling but it is a common view.

 

In  Derby Diocese the church has been active for many years in tackling the issue of modern slavery, indeed the Bishop of Derby was a key figure in getting the Modern Slavery Act passed through parliament in 2015.

Slavery was abolished and outlawed in the 19th century but there are more slaves today than in 1833

There are an estimated   21-36 million global victims of slavery in the world today- the UK Home Office est. 10-13,000 thousand victims but many see this as the tip of the iceberg.


It is the fastest growing criminal industry in the world  and

Modern slavery takes many forms:

  • Labour exploitation

  • Sexual exploitation

  • Begging – can yield £200.00 per day

  • Families enslave other family members, particularly children

  • Trade in organs

  • Forced marriage


Government believes it has solved the problem through human rights legislation – people are adult and liberal and make their own lifestyle choices.

But unfortunately, as the report last week indicates it is far from being solves because too many of do not consider it to be our problem but even more concerning, there has been a collapse in neighbourhoods where people looked out for each other – now many are just trying to survive.

Bishop Alastair once told his clergy of a victim  of Modern Slavery,  named Mary from the Democratic Republic of Congo. She had been  kidnapped during a war and became a sex slave to a group of soldiers. Because she was dependent on them she remained silent, particularly after another girl who refused to submit was shot in front of her. After a peace settlement she returned home where one of her abusers  became a senior person in her community.

Well you may think that modern slavery is something that would happen in the Democratic Republic of Congo but Mary’s  situation was not that different to ours where many people turn a blind eye to slavery.

In a village near Chatsworth. The Home of the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire in Derbyshire,  a brothel was established with a girl brought in from eastern Europe. Her passport had been confiscated and that was allowed to perpetuate because people remained silent.


There are numerous cases of  forced labour and benefit fraud. Big business can employ people from agencies, unaware they are forced labour.

The fact is that It’s less risky to trade in people than in drugs.

.

Locally there is the case of ABDUL Mkith who was sent from He was caught by police in 2003 in Ullapool on a drug courier run to Sutherland and ended up living with foster parents, Freddie and Patsy Anderson, who helped him change his life for the better.

The solution to modern slavery already exists with the community and that  the church , which is present in all communities and at the heart of many, has a primary responsibility in leading efforts to end modern slavery.

 

We need to hear again Jesus’ call to love God and to love our neighbour and to demonstrate that love in intent and purpose.

 

• We, like our ancestors, can be part of bringing an end to slavery

• We can pray for those trapped in slavery, for those exploiting them, and for the authorities who deal with these issues

• We can support charities working with those who have been trafficked or enslaved

• We can talk about the issue with our friends and family

• We can learn about the way slavery is included in the supply chains for our food and clothing

• We can look out for the signs of those who are trapped in forced labour and report it to the Police

• In all of this we can try to live out the commandment of Jesus , to love God and to love our neighbour as ourselves.’

 

Lord our God,
give us grace both to hear and to act on 
the great commandments of your kingdom,
that we may love you with all our heart,
and love our neighbour as ourselves –
today, tomorrow and always. 
Amen.

Being blessed

 

Preached by the Rev’d David Higgon – Sunday 5th November 2017 (All Saints)

 


  • Bless you!' we say when someone sneezes. Why is that – who knows –I was always told as a child that when someone sneezed it gave the devil a chance to steal their sour so you had to bless them immediately as a shield against evil. Some say that Pope Gregory in 6th cent ordered unceasing prayer during a time of plague, and sneezing being one symptom of the plague had to be met with an immediate blessing.

  • We say bless you when we want to wish someone  well .

  • We say it too as a way of thanking someone for a kindness. '

  • Ah, bless!' is a common term of approval when a child says or does something cute.

  • We speak of being 'blessed' with good health or a sense of humour, often attributing such things to luck or good fortune.

  •  

  • In today's Gospel, Jesus speaks at some length of what it means to be blessed. His use of the term, though, seems directly to contradict our ordinary understanding of the word. It has nothing to do with giving a verbal pat on the head, and even less to do with a response to cute child

  • . Neither has it got anything to do with luck, or good fortune, or even with wishing others well.

  • In fact it is quite the opposite. Those whom Jesus pronounces as blessed seem in fact to be in a state which is the opposite of what we might expect: they are 'poor in spirit', meek and in mourning, reviled and persecuted.

  • One translation for ‘blessed is the word ‘happy’ – and when you apply this to what Jesus said , then the contrast is striking.  the happy are those who mourn, happy are the persecuted !

  • In the Early Christian Church, the first people to be commemorated as 'blessed' or 'saints' were the martyrs who had suffered persecution and given their lives for the faith.

  • Matthew's Gospel and the book of Revelation were both compiled during the persecution of the Early Church at the end of the First Century A.D. The picture of blessedness given in Revelation refers to those who stand firm under persecution, and it emphasises the greatness of the reward that awaits the faithful.

  •  

  • In our reading from Revelations and Matthew's Gospel our earthly life in the context of eternity. The readings provide a picture of the future that is full of hope for all, especially those who are disadvantaged in terms of the values of today’s world.

 

This month is a month for celebrating some notable saints especially here in Scotland We begin with a celebration of All Saints and ends with a celebration of St Andrew , the patron saint of Scotland and scattered through the month are commemoration of lots of other Saints, not least St Cecelia the patron saint of music.

We have a tendency to commemorate the past saints but shy away from celebrating the present. That may have to do with the idea that you are only canonised as a saint by the church once you are dead.  It used to take a while for the church to canonise someone as  being so ‘blessed’ as to be worthy of sainthood, maybe it was good to allow the dust to settle. But the blessed, the saints, are here and now amongst us today. And Paul in his letters referred to the saints in the present tense.

Today , in our celebration of All Saints, we have  an opportunity to commemorate the anonymous saints, both living and dead . There has been no shortage of people who have given their lives as witnesses to the light of Christ . Those who were and who are still are victims of persecution in Europe African and Asia and throughout the world. Christians who have become witnesses against oppression and injustice  who have worked amongst the poor, the diseased and terminally ill. Unnamed ordinary Christians who have shown the enduring significance of the Good News preached by Jesus Christ.

 

 

Jesus in the sermon on the mount, makes it clear that blessedness awaits the faithful in a life yet to come.

This is indicated by the use of the future tense in several of the Beatitudes: the pure in heart will see God, and the meek will inherit the earth. But in others, the present tense is used. The poor in spirit and those persecuted for righteousness' sake already possess the kingdom of heaven.

The blessedness of which Jesus speaks is of the 'now' as well as the 'not yet'.

  •  

  • Our everyday use of the word blessed has connotations of good fortune but in Matthew’s gospel, the term is linked to lowliness, dependence, sorrow and suffering. I would recommend you get hold of a copy of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Cost of Discipleship which highlights the way Jesus speaks of 'Blessedness' that embraces values and attitudes that are the reverse of those we normally think of as bringing happiness and prosperity.

  •  

  • Jesus teaches us that blessedness in the now and present  is on one hand realised in the way in which we respond to the experience, of persecution and rejection. But it is also characterised by action, by the demonstration in our intention and purpose to love God and to love our neighbour as ourselves. .

  • This involves being passionate about justice, and being pro-active in showing mercy and working for peace and working to care for God’s creation and to end the iniquity of modern slavery in our society  

  • Such action is the means by which God's kingdom comes now.

  • As well as holding out a promise and hope for the future, the Beatitudes challenge us radically to revise our understanding of success, and to live in a way which can make a difference to our world now.