It is to the shame of the Christian church (of all denominations) that its history is peppered with examples of violence, extremism, and the oppression and abuse of those who should have been cared for and protected by the church. Yet at it's inception, when God came to us in Jesus - fully human, fully divine, - the followers of 'The Way' (as Jesus disciples and followers were sometimes called) practiced a faith which was radically inclusive of women, children, and those from other racial, political, social and religious backgrounds. The reason for this radical inclusivity is found in Jesus himself, who, constantly in his ministry defended the oppressed, the weak, the underprivileged. Even one's feared enemy could, according to Jesus teaching in the parable of the Good Samaritan, be the source of rescue and salvation. It is the 'foreign' Samaritan and not his own countryfolk who save the man who is robbed and beaten by thieves on the road to Jericho.
My hope and prayer is that the 21st century church can become more true to its origins in Jesus 1st century teaching and ministry and be joyfully diverse and welcoming. When we welcome people into church, we are not so much welcoming them into a 'building' or 'club of like-minded, like-voting people' - though sadly the church has sometimes given this impression; rather, we are inviting people into relationship with God and the knowledge of God's love for them - just as they are, where they are.
Christ unites us, but he does not homogenise us!
If your local church isn't diverse enough, join it and change it!
May God richly bless you this month and lead you into a deeper knowledge of how much He loves you.
Ask someone to draw or imagine a picture of Jesus, and the chances are that the image they come up with will be either a picture of baby Jesus or Jesus Christ on the Cross. These two images 'bookend' our faith and are also how non-Christians view our faith. There are of course all sorts of other images of Jesus which are important to draw upon from his life between the events of his birth and death and also, vitally, images of his resurrection. But perhaps it is those two 'bookends' which most powerfully tell of God's love for humanity and why Christ Mass is good news for all the world.
The painting which Lynn New - (local artist and Licensed Lay Reader in these parishes} has designed for our parish Christmas cards, wonderfully incorporates these two 'bookend images'.
In the centre of a radiant golden star which, being cross-shaped, echoes Ihe crucifixion, there is a nativity scene - the vulnerable baby (fully human and fully divine), just visible as a tiny detail in the manger. Cross and nativity-scene meet wilh a gathering of coloured human shapes who are drawn in need or curiosity to the miracle of Jesus' birth and the power of the cross. Above the cross/star, a host of Angels swirl in a dance which declares without words: 'Peace, goodwill to all humankind'. If the human shapes in Lynn's painting remind you of hopes, dreams or burdens that you carry, - you will not be alone in seeing that. If they remind you of refugees seeking safety, peace and freedom, you will not be alone either.
Lynn's card reminds us that the miracle of Christmas is that Jesus Christ comes to meet us where we are, comes to the dark and suffering places in our world and in our personal lives, and shares our burdens, sufferings, hopes and dreams. Comes as one of us, and one who knows us and loves us. Loves us enough that when WE lead Him to the cross, Jesus does not exact vengeance, but returns instead Love, Mercy ond Forgiveness.
At Christmas we celebrate God made flesh, a Saviour who knows what it is like to be us. Those two 'Bookends' - The Crib and the Cross are what enable us with all our personal struggles and global problems to nevertheless call out 'Happy Christmas'.
May God bless each of you this Christmas - and may you know Jesus' presence with you as your friend and Saviour. Anthea, Luke and I wish all who read this a very happy Christmas!
November is not only a month of remembrance but also that of anticipation: the 'expectant waiting' which is so vital to the period of 'Advent' in the Church Calendar, which begins on the 29th November. In this period of 'waiting' we focus on the world's needs: it's sorrows and it's wrongdoing. We look at the suffering, the injustice, the oppression and violence still present in our world; and we recognise our need of a Messiah, a Saviour. And miraculously, God himself comes as our saviour, humbly and vulnerably as one of us, entering fully into the deepest of personal woes, the darkest of global crises. In the darkening month of November, we anticipate the light of hope which will shine 'In the bleak mid-winter'. I love the following poem by R.S. Thomas which is often read at Christmas, but is perhaps better read during Advent:
And God held in his hand
A small globe. Look, he said
The son looked. Far off,
As through water, he saw
A scorched land of fierce
Colour. The light burned
There; crusted buildings
Cast their shadows; a bright
Serpent, a river
Uncoiled itself, radiant
On a bare
Hill a bare tree saddened
The sky. Many people
Held out their thin arms
To it, as though waiting
For a vanished April
To return to its crossed
Boughs. The son watched
Them. Let me go there, he said.
On Saturday 19th September this year, Lynn New along with four others from around the Diocese of Portsmouth, was Licensed as a Lay Reader. Lay Readers have a particularly valuable role in the leading of worship, in preaching and teaching, and in the work of pastoral care and sharing of the good news of God's love in our churches and communities. Each one of those Readers Licensed, is a uniquely created human being, and each one brings their own unique gifts and experience to their ministry.
It is not only Lay Readers who are called by God however. The Christian church is a place where everyone matters and where everyone can play a vital role in the life of the church and its care for God's people. Some ministries happen almost invisibly, flowers are placed and replaced, woodwork polished, garden and graveyard tended. The lost are befriended, the sick comforted, those seeking answers are given more questions and food for thought. Collectively and individually our broken world and its people are held in prayer before a loving God.
Sometimes these ministries seem like ineffectual drops of goodness in a world where there is such need and such sorrow, and yet again and again I have heard people tell how even the smallest of acts has brought healing and peace to their lives.
If you are feeling nudged to participate in this 'work of the Kingdom' - don't hesitate! No matter how big or small your act, you can make a difference, and as you do so, you will sense God's grace and love moving in your life too, and a deeper sense of belonging and peace.
And spare a thought for those particular ministries of Lay Readers in our diocese who have studied and worked so hard to draw closer to God and to God's people. They Bless us through who they are and what they do.
Looking at the two words bracketing the linking 'in' of the heading of this article, you can rightly assume that I am musing about (principally), two things: Companionship and Community.
The word 'companion' derives from the Old French word: 'compaignon' - meaning 'One who breaks bread with another', and has its origin in the Latin words com, 'together with' and panis, 'bread'. We might think that breaking-bread together is something which normally happens when people who are already established as friends or at least acquaintances come together to share food. Yet in many cultures and beliefs it is the act of sharing food (of which bread is often a staple), which initiates relationship. The word communion comes from the Latin communion 'sharing in common' and relates as much to the sharing of thoughts, feelings and beliefs as it does to holding material things 'in common'.
In the service of Holy Communion (sometimes called 'the Lord's Supper' or 'Eucharist') enacted and celebrated by Christians throughout the world, we share in the eating of bread and the drinking of wine as we remember God's great love for us and God's giving of Godself to us in the person of Jesus Christ.
In the Eucharist we say: 'though we are many, we are one-body, because we all share in one bread'
It is Jesus Christ 'the bread-of-life' who brings us together, despite differences of background culture, social status, gender or lifestyle. Jesus often brings together people who would in other circumstances be so aware and focussed upon their differences that they would hastily speed-off in opposite directions.
The church is not meant to be a group of homogenous individuals all talking the same way or liking the same things. True, those individuals will discover areas of 'communion' - of shared thinking and feeling, as they break-bread together. Yet a healthy church will demonstrate the diversity of God's creation and God's love for all people in all their variety, and then that church will celebrate that diversity as we recognise God's love for each of us and as we in turn share love for Jesus.
Idealistic? Delusional? I'll let you judge. Yet I am never so aware of God's love for people, all people, than when I take services of Holy Communion. I am so aware of God's love for people at these moments that it even blasts my own prejudices and preconceptions to smithereens and I feel, as Michael Ramsey once said: 'With God, with the people on my heart, and with the people with God on my heart'