The Rector Writes Summer 2017

For our God is a consuming fire.’ (Hebrews 12:29)

Dear sisters and brothers

I sit here tonight with a heavy heart. Behind me, on the television, scenes of the fire at Grenfell Tower, London, are being played out before a shocked audience. Up to this point the true scale of the tragedy is yet to be revealed, but the signs are not good. By the time of publication the true horror will have been revealed.

There have been many tragedies involving fire in the UK through the ages, from the Great Fire of London in 1666, to the Bradford City Stadium fire in 1985, to name but two. This latest tragedy will now unfortunately be remembered in the same vain as all those that have gone before.

As Christians we have a great respect for fire, not just because of its properties to heat and bring warmth, but because its theological representation throughout the Bible. Fire is a necessary part of life, it does – as said – bring heat and warmth, but it also has other uses for everyday life such as lighting, protection, cooking and purifying. Sadly it also brings destruction in the most devastating of ways.

‘And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night.’ (Exodus 13:21). Fire has always played a pivotal role in God’s Kingdom, from the animal sacrifices of the Israelites in worship, to the Almighty’s lighting of the way with a pillar of light as the Israelites travelled the desert searching for a new home.

‘John answered them all, saying, “I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire’’… .’ (Luke 3:16). Fire becomes less practical, but more symbolical in the New Testament, as shown in this passage from the Gospel of Luke. John the Baptist tells of the coming of the Messiah who will not only cleanse us, but also purify us through the fire of the Holy Spirit. As we know, fire can both destroy and bring about new life; this is often witnessed after a forest fire, where new and abundant life springs forth from the ash of the forest floor.

And then we have the Book of James Chapter 3 verse 5: ‘So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire!’ This passage talks about the spoken word, and how language can be both healing and destructive, resembling a wild fire that burns everything in its path if it not kept in check.

Fire is a powerful tool that can bring life or take it. It has many practical uses, but is seen by Christians as a powerful representation of the Lord, the Holy Spirit. However it can also be very damaging, both physically and spiritually if not respected and contained, as we have so heartbreakingly witnessed in London today. Like the Holy Spirit that brings life to all and does not discriminate, so too does fire not discriminate, it doesn’t care who you are or what you are, it will consume you and devastate you without a second thought.

So in a paradoxical way we see fire as both bringing eternal life, but also taking life in the most horrific of circumstances. Our thoughts and prayers are always with those who have so tragically been affected by fire.

Fr. David

The Rector Writes June 2017

 Dear sisters and brothers

‘The Miners united, we’ll never be divided!’ 

So went the chant during the now in/famous event of contemporary British political history.

I recently attended a play at St Oswald’s C of E Primary School, based on the miners’ strike of 1984/85 – and what a superb play it was! But it got me to thinking – which is probably the whole point of it – as to what really unites us, and what really divides us.

As we know, from this fairly recent event in our history, the miners were united, but they were also divided. Many were unfortunately caught up in the crossfire between the Government and the NUM, both determined in their own way to unite the country behind their cause; the resulting action being that their stubbornness and lack of conciliation is still witnessed today in divided communities right across this country’s once proud coalfields.

Even today, nearly 35 years later (yes, it really is that long ago!) divisions within general society are as strong as ever. We have the usual political divide between supporters of the main political parties, but now we have added to that mix Scottish Nationalism and Brexit, divisions that have again affected families and communities here in the UK, and of course the wider EU.

Even in the United States of America there has been a seismic shift in national politics, with real division between Republican and Democrat, white-collar worker and blue-collar worker, those native to America, and those looking for a better life as an immigrant in the land of opportunity. And the Christian Faith is certainly not protected from this division. Catholic, Anglo-Catholic, Evangelical, Baptist, Pentecostalism, Free Church – there are many divisions in how we understand and witness theology and method, with gender difference and same-sex difference being the current hot potato, with, I believe, a lot more heat to come.

But if we take the two commandments of Jesus, to: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind’… and…‘Love your neighbour as yourself’ we see that God wants us to be united; to put away the unimportant things of the earth and focus on what is really important – love – love for God, love for our neighbour; unconditional love that transcends politics, faith, race, colour, gender, sexuality.

We don’t always have to agree – it would be very boring if we did – but we must agree to disagree and appreciate another person’s point of view, and especially their right to have it.

I think it would be lovely if one day we – as a human race – could all sing together:

‘God’s people, united, we’ll never be divided!’

Fr. David

Our Associate Priest Writes May 2017

Christian Aid :
Forgiving, for-giving and forgiveness
 

The month of May contains Christian Aid Week (14th-21st) and focusses our attention (if indeed we need reminding!) on those who are, to use a well-worn phrase, ’less fortunate than our selves’. In many ways, the situations in which people find themselves, have nothing to do with ‘fortune’ or ‘fate’ or ‘luck’. It is the result of human actions, bad choices made by the individuals themselves and/or unforeseen outcomes of the practices, policies and procedures of governments or corporations that create much human misery and suffering. Of course, the easiest explanation is to lay the blame at the feet of those who suffer, blame them for their own inadequacies and shortcomings and this leads to either benign indifference- ‘better to leave them alone to sort things out themselves’, or malign neglect – ‘nothing to do with me, they deserve all they get! After all charity begins at home’.

Our response as Christians has to be different, indeed, we cannot ‘do theology’ with our backs turned against the suffering of the world. The question of ‘aid ’ finds its way into the life of our Church and finds expression, not only in prayers and intercessions, but also in our general attitude and disposition to life itself. We are to ‘be a Good neighbour’, indeed to ‘love our neighbour’ and many commentators suggest that it is in the parable of the Good Samaritan that we find an answer to the question ‘who is my neighbour’. Also in St Matthews’ Gospel, Jesus says

‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’(Chap 25 v 40)

But do we have a ‘duty’ or ‘obligation’ to respond to those who suffer? Are we not ‘called’ to help those who suffer from hunger, ill health, imprisonment and oppression and are ‘in need’ and require our aid? Do we think that because we ‘help’ in whatever way we can, that we are ‘saved’ or blessed?   We cannot do any of these things for ourselves, for our own sense of well-being. or for our own satisfaction. We do them, we give, because we love God, we love His son and we love our neighbour – acting not out of duty, obligation or our own sense of worth etc but out of and in love. There is no other reason than we are all God’s children and, in loving one another as Jesus loves us, we ask to be forgiven for our foolish ways- after all would we need Christian Aid if we truly loved our brothers and sisters? We are for-giving and the spirit of forgiveness lies at the heart of Gods’ gift to us -to give and not to count the cost save that of knowing that we do Gods will in the mind of Christ. Amen

Father John

 

The Rector Writes April 2017

The Rector Writes               April 2017

Dear sisters and brothers

The day of pranks and foolery is upon us as April Fools’ Day raises its head once again for another year. But what is the history behind this day, and why do we still adopt an attitude of tomfoolery and practical jokes in celebration of this day?

The origins of April Fools’ Day are uncertain, but one theory is that it began in 1582, when France adopted the Gregorian calendar. Before this time, New Year’s Day fell on March 25, rather than January 1. Those who continued to celebrate the old New Year at the beginning of April were called “fools” by their early adopting contemporaries. Even before this transition the New Year had long been associated with the term “fool.” In medieval France the Feast of Fools fell on January 1. At this popular festival hijinks abounded: Christian ritual was burlesquely imitated, a fake pope was elected, and high and low officials swapped jobs for a day. Feast of Fools was likely modeled after the similarly themed pagan festival Saturnalia.

As this French tradition died out during the 16th century, a new one sprung up in the form of April Fools’ Day, or All Fools’ Day. In France the fooled party is called the poisson d’avril, which literally means “April fish.” The customary prank involves pinning a paper fish, also called the poisson d’avril, to a friend’s back, said to symbolise a young, easily caught fish and a gullible person.

This is not the only April Fools’ custom involving paper and backs. In Scotland, April Fools’ Day is called Gowkie Day—gowk is another name for the cuckoo, which is a common symbol of the fool. The pranks continue into April 2, Taily Day, when friends traditionally attach a “kick me” sign to their friends’ backs.

But the tomfoolery of this April Fools’ Day will soon be forgotten by the 9th of the month, for that is when Holy Week begins, and thoughts turn to our Lord’s Passion. And central to the Passion is the ultimate fool, the evil court jester, the one who played, not a prank, but the ultimate betrayal of his loving friend and companion. This character is infamously known as Judas Iscariot.

But did Judas get a raw deal from those who wrote and compiled the Christian Bible? Has he been wrongly vilified by the Church, Christian historians and simple Christian folk alike through the ages, as someone who ultimately sent Jesus to the cross? Yes, it was he who betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver, but wasn’t that supposed to happen? Isn’t Judas just part of the prophesy that was laid down in ancient scripture, when it was written: ‘Even my close friend in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted his heel against me (Psalm 41:9). In a strange way, aren’t Judas’ actions a fulfilment of the prophesy which led to the death and resurrection of God-made-man so that we may be redeemed? Surely then, what Judas did was to play a part in the salvation of humanity; and yet we see him as the ultimate villain, the fool whose actions resulted in what we now know as Good Friday.

At the time of the Last Supper Judas had already made his choice to betray Jesus when Satan entered him (Luke 22:3). Perhaps Satan’s hand in the betrayal was to tempt Judas into making the decision or perhaps to keep Judas from losing his nerve by entering him. This is an extremely unique event:  Satan is never mentioned as ‘entering’ anyone else. Satan has become personally involved because the previous efforts to stop Jesus have failed.

Another angle here is: What did Satan stand to gain by getting Judas to betray Jesus? Why did Satan want to kill Jesus? He should have been able to understand that it would be Jesus’ death and resurrection that defeated him. Clearly Satan tried to stop him from going to the cross in the temptations, and tried to slow him down or stop him throughout his ministry, so why help him to the cross now? Perhaps he thought that if he could not stop Jesus in the world, he could stop him in death. Maybe he thought that he could hold Jesus in the grave.

Whatever the answer Judas eventually took his own life in the most graphic of ways. And yet, even though our Lord said of Judas: ‘…woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born (Matthew 26:24)’, it is without doubt that Jesus had forgiven him by the time of his Passion.

Lent and Easter are times for us to reflect on the Passion of our Lord, and on the things that are wrong in our lives, holding our relationships up to God and asking his forgiveness for all that we have done. We therefore must remember that if Christ can forgive and love those who betrayed him and sent him to the cross, he will surely forgive us our transgressions.

Fr. David