From Inclusion to Justice (A sermon preached on Sunday the 25th of April, 2020)

Reading: Acts 4: 1 – 37

Theme: Inclusion, Justice, The Church of England, Racism.

From Inclusion to Justice

The sermon script

I wonder if you will think back with me to a time when you have visited a different church to the one you regularly attend. Whether that be for a family event such as a baptism, or because you are on holiday in a different part of the country. Let’s imagine that this service, or event, is taking place during the service and you have arrived in plenty of time, nervous that you may not find the church or be able to park. You arrive as it is with plenty of time and you enter through the doors, unsure of what to expect. You are greeted by someone who is friendly, potentially too friendly for an “anglican” church. They give you your books, oh the days when we collected liturgies and hymn books before services began, and you enter the main body of the church. Now you face the real dilemma, you see back in your home church you know where to sit. Three pews back on the left, preferably behind the pillar so the Vicar can’t see you snoozing during the sermon. But, here, in this new place you do not know where to sit, you do not know the etiquette of this space, the subtle dance of choosing a seat. Eventually you settle for a seat, because this church does not have pews, 4 rows back and on the right. You feel settled, far enough away to not be noticed but close enough to observe what is going on. Then someone arrives, you know you have chosen the wrong seat, they look at you with disdain as they walk past. You are in their seat. You begin to feel uncomfortable, wishing you could leave, glad you don’t have to come back. You don’t look like this congregation anyway, don’t sound like them, so at the end of the service you slip away, unnoticed, unwelcome, uninvited, unsure who sat in your pew while you were away.

We have all been in a situation where we have felt judged, felt that others have looked down on us because of how we look, what we have said, what kind of education we have received. This does not just take place in society but in the church as well. A fresh light this week has been shone on the Church of England and has demonstrated the extent to which those who are not like “us” have often been sidelined and not heard. I do not know how many of you have watched this weeks Panorama documentary but it was an important moment because it revealed the extent to which the Church of England has failed to include the full diversity of our world in the life of the church. 

The reading we had this morning from Acts (Acts 4: 1 – 37) demonstrates that this problem is not a modern one; power only sees power. It is the same now as it has always been. Those who speak a certain way, hold certain positions and think they are entitled to certain privileges often ignore, or mistreat those who do not have those same privileges. Yet, in the face of the situations in Acts 4, Peter and the other disciples stand in the face of this and proclaim a different message. Often, the church has talked using the language of “inclusion’. In fact a whole charity has been formed to focus on the premise that we can make our churches more inclusive. More and more I find this language disconcerting. In our reading from Acts “Peter stands next to the man God has healed not by the power claimed by the elites…. but only through the Holy Spirit” (Willie James Jennings, Acts: A Theological Commentary of the Bible, Westminster, John Knox Press: Louisville, 2017).. The language of Inclusion creates an image which portrays a certain group as holding the power. It is suggesting that the judges can heal the man without the intervention of the Holy Spirit. Inclusion suggests that we, as Norbury Church, hold the right to invite others to the table. It suggests we can sit in a position above God and choose what our church looks like. 

There is though another way. A way modelled for us by those early disciples. A model that should hopefully move us from “inclusion” to “flourishing”. A system which does not make us into the builder who picks and chooses which stones to build our church but instead becomes a community that reflects the full diversity of the Kingdom of God. Peter, part way through our reading stands and offers this model. He demonstrates that in Jesus we have an example that was rejected, a judge that was judged in our place. “Jesus is the cornerstone of any building effort that would move us towards life. Jesus enacts a new social order that saves. No one else can do this.” There was a powerful moment in a Panorama documentary  this week where the current Archbishop of York Stephen Cottrell is presented with a stack of reports which have been written in the last 50 years that depict the issues of racism in the Church. Going all the way back further than the Faith in the City report written in 1985 the Church has known about these issues, the Archbishop acknowledged that he had helped write many of them, but still things have not changed. The elites, who have made it to the top, sit and look down and judge, often thinking they are sitting in the place of God. Yet, “God waits in silence with those brought in courts, standing in front of tribunals, juries, and officers of the law and listening as the judge of this world, not only in courtrooms but also in boardrooms and legislative halls, decide on their future and plan their destines, and God reminds all those in power that a judgement is being brought on their decisions and their lives” (Jennings, Acts). Often God waits in the Church as well. Waiting for us to listen, waiting for us to understand, waiting for us to respond. Hoping, beyond all hope, that we will hear the truth that is on offer. That “Jesus is the cornerstone of any building effort that would move towards life. Jesus enacts a new social order that saves. No one else can do this” (Jennings, Acts). No report, no Task-Force, no one other than Jesus. 

I often return to the writings of James Cone when discussing race because his work is seminal. He understood, and located, that challenge of the black man in America within the arms of Jesus. He saw in the lynchings of the 1960s a proclamation of God’s saving power. Not in the hands of the elites, not in the power of those who judge, but in the dying arms of Jesus on the cross. 

It is in the arms of Jesus, not in a desire for inclusion, that we can all find our equal nature. Jesus came, not to save you and me, not to make a cosy social club of like minded individuals, not matter how inclusive we try to be, but instead to make us all equal. To remind us that God, in all His power, comes to be judged. Comes to enact a new world order; one not based on the power of the elites but a boldness of the oppressed. A boldness to speak out and be heard. I pray that we can do that listening. I pray that we can listened to our brothers and sisters who have not been heard. I pray that we will not be so anxious about loosing control that we will be willing to let others come and occupy this space. A space that God has prepared for all His children. I pray that we will not be like those judges, that we do not become choosy about which bricks to use, but that all may come and find a hope in this place. That all may come and enjoy the fullness of God’s Kingdom, not because we are “Inclusive” but because we have all been included by the saving power of the Cross.

Amen.

Why do we eat hot cross buns on Good Friday?

In 2019 the U.K. shopper splashed out an extra £31.8 million on them, taking total sales to £153.1 million by the end of January 2020. These buns are no longer the common bun that I remember from childhood, but they are filled with all sorts of interesting things. The trend of making the hot cross bun into something else seems to be prevalent, but why has this little bun become synonymous with Good Friday and Easter Sunday?

There are many myth’s and legends around cross shaped bread, for it is the cross, I think, that makes this bun unique. The bun seems to become popular in 1733, around the same time that the familiar nursery rhyme first appeared, but in fact it is likely that the bun was around much earlier. Both the Ancient Greeks, and Egyptians, however, baked bread at a similar time of year to mark the beginning of spring. The Egyptian’s even marked their buns with the image of an ox horn to their goddess of the moon. 

Yet, this bun seems to have been strongly tied to the Christian faith. In part this is because of the line in the 1733 rhyme:

“Good Friday comes this Month, the old woman runs, With one or two a Penny hot cross Bunns.”

But, this is not the only rumour, or link. Some link the bun back to a monk of the 12th century who put an incensed cross into a bun. Yet another theory ties the bun to a different 14th century monk  in St. Albans. Or, a more popular protestant theory ties the bun to the Elizabethan era. In her history of English Bread, Elizabeth David, argues that this popular bun was part of a royal decree. It is believed that some time after the reformation Elizabeth I restricted London bakers from making hot cross buns “except it be at burials, or on Friday before Easter, or at Christmas.” This, I think, furthered link the tradition of eating hot cross buns at this time of the year. It became such a strong part of our tradition that Boswell wrote in 1773: “Being Good Friday I breakfasted with him and cross-buns.”

Which ever theory you prefer the truth is that the cross is a common sign in  the Ancient World and it can represent a wide range of things. For us though, at this moment, it reminds us of the cross of Christ. As we have travelled through lent I have reflected much on the feeling of similarity. Normally lent marks a distinct change in the patterns of our lives and the pattern of the church. Yet, much like the commonality of the hot cross bun all year, this year has felt like an extended period of lent. We have all suffered for such a long time; not being able to see family, consigned to our homes, and distant from the church services which connect us to God, our faith has been rocked and we have felt caught between Good Friday and Easter Sunday. 

Yet, there is also much we have gained. When I think about God I am drawn to the idea of mystery. The mystery of the resurrection is one such example. We put our faith in a grander narrative. We trust that God has a greater plan and that we are called to be a part of that plan. This year, more than any other, we need to put our trust in the resurrection. We need to set our sight not on the cross but on the empty tomb. We need to hold fast to the promises of the resurrection knowing that God offers a greater plan. 

One final theory that I came across when researching hot cross buns seemed so far fetched that I almost liked it. A few years ago one C of E spokesperson, responding to a question about the hot cross bun suggested that that in addition to the cross and the communion-ish bread, the bun’s spices “represent the spices Jesus was wrapped in in the tomb”. 

Although almost farcical this is a helpful way to shift our thinking. As we prepare for Good Friday and Easter. I want us to shift our attention from the cross to the empty tomb. As we move further into Spring I want us to focus our attention on the hope of the resurrection. In Roman’s 8 St. Paul writes:

“We know that the whole world has been groaning in labour pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patient.”

Let us patiently hold onto our hope. Let us shift our gaze from the suffering of the world to the hope of the resurrection. Let us not be like the world, indulging all year round, but let us patiently stand fast trusting in the hope before us. 

Even the fire could not warm my heart as I heard the cock crow. 

Staring through the musky dark I knew I had to go. 

Getting up I searched my heart,

feeling it break apart.

Struggling for words I pulled my cloak tight

ashamed as I took flight.

I could not wait, I had to go, I did not want to see.

I could not watch my Saviour be punished for me. 

One fleetingly look back, the embers of the fire glowing on the ground. The gaze of the bystanders, the tears still stinging my eyes, and then I flee. 

It was going so well, only a few days ago we were riding into Jerusalem celebrating a king. It feels like hours ago that I vehemently told Je.. told him that I would not deny him. Not me Jes… Not me. I would die for you! 

Now I can’t even say your name. 

I could not wait, I had to go, I did not want to see.

I could not watch my Saviour be punished for me. 

I hear that sound once more echoing around my brain. The cockerel  crow taunting me. Telling me to go. It’s know that I abandoned him and now it tortures me, forces me to go.

What else could I do, I could not stand for thee. 

They would torture me. 

And why should I be tortured? You promised to be a king. 

You tricked me. You were nothing more than a fling. 

A fleeting moment of hope in a world full of despair. You were never meant to be king. You are not the Chosen One, the Messiah, you tricked me. I did not flee. They shall never punish me. 

I feel my feet slowing now, my heart stops racing. For a moment I breath deeply and I begin to see. The moment he cleared the temple, the moment of transfiguration. The miracles, the healings, cheap parlour tricks to entertain and confuse. Tricks to hide your real purpose surely. 

I feel the tears begin again, my heart knows even if my head says no. You are more than a political activist, more than a magician, more than some ….., you are my Saviour and you came not just for me. 

The tears burn down my flesh, a reminder of what I have just done. A reminder of the prediction you made of me:

‘Truly I tell you, this day, this very night, before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times.’

He knew and yet he did not dismiss me, 

he let me journey with him too Gethsemane.

I denied him. I could not even admit to following thee. 

Jesus they will surely hang you from a tree,

and what of me?

Jesus would you truly die for me?

What a fool I have been, there is no hope now. They will kill him and there is nothing that we can do. No words can save him now, no promises, no hope, no glory. Punishment and death. I cannot be a part of that. I cannot go back now. I must flee. I must run. I must not be seen with thee.

Two world’s collided, how could I have known that it would not work? How could any of us have known that following you would lead to our own moments of doubt. Our own moments of Calvary. I wonder where the other disciples are now. Maybe I should find them. Maybe they are like me, confused, scared, alone. Maybe they too are preparing to flee.

Surely Jesus, you did not come to suffer for me?

Surely they will set you free?

What if they set Christ free, what if he is set free and I am not there. What if the others are all waiting for him and I have gone. Just Me? One of his trusted disciples, fled because I was scared of what they would do to me. 

I cannot go back, no I cannot watch, I cannot see any way back for me.

Even the fire could not warm my heart as I heard the cock crow. 

Staring through the musky dark I knew I had to go. 

Getting up I searched my heart,

feeling it break apart.

Struggling for words I pulled my cloak tight

ashamed as I took flight.

I could not wait, I had to go, I did not want to see.

I could not watch my Saviour be punished for me.

What else could I do, I could not stand for thee. 

They would torture me. 

And why should I be tortured? You promised to be a king. 

You tricked me. You were nothing more than a fling.

 Jesus they will surely hang you from a tree,

and what of me?

Jesus would you truly die for me?

Surely, you did not come to suffer for me?

Surely they will set you free?

Reading the Psalms: What’s in it for me?

I wonder what kind of relationship you have with the psalms?

You may be able to remember them being sung in church. You might even be picturing the choir chanting a psalm at evensong. Or you may be able to recite psalm 23, or sing it, it you are confident enough to do so. The psalms are an important part of our bible, yet they can often be missed. They can be consigned to a favourite few, or a sung chant. I want to suggest that in doing this we miss a rich tapestry of our faith which can help draw us closer to God.

The psalter includes some 150 psalms, split into five books. These 150 psalms span the breadth and width of human emotions; there are songs of praise, psalms of lament and everything in between. Rather than being intimately connected these psalms offer both a breadth of emotion as well as a variety of composition. The poetical style does not match, each psalms is different and within that difference we can see the beautiful expanse of God. 

If they are stylistically different they are also written for different purposes. There are psalms which are intimately personal. That speak of the troubles “I” have faced, whether that be from the perspective of David or some other author. But, there are also psalms which are communal. Psalms which call us to come together as a collective and sing or weep. It is important to be reminded that in the psalms we find our collective, and our individual, emotions expressed. They can be used both to connect individually but also to pray corporately. Their purpose vary and yet they all seem to draw us closer to God.

It could be easy to think that if the psalms being stylistically different and vast in number and breadth lacks any structure or way of categorisation. No way to connect to them bar their numerical order. This is not the case, many academics have attempted to categorise the psalms. The easiest set of categories, I think, is offered by Walter Brueggemann, who divides the psalms into three basic types:

Psalms of orientation.

Psalms of disorientation.

Psalms of reorientations. 

As I have said there are other ways of categorising the psalms, the German scholar Weiser, offers another robust division. For this blog however I want to focus on Brueggemann’s division for I think it can help us deepen our use, and understanding, of the psalms. What follows is a brief exploration of the three types of psalms and a look at how this can relate to our every day life.

Psalms of orientation.

In the rawness of life, it is often this group of psalms that help orientate our struggles. In this group of psalms we find the ‘articulation of our deep human experience’ (Brueggemann, Praying the Psalms, 4). Think about the last time you were disorientated, or in need of refuge. Think about the last time you went for a walk alone, without a map, and got lost. It is at those moments, the moments of deep panic that we reach out and ask for help, or yell depending on the situation. We can take a similar stance in our daily lives as well. When something rocks us or happens that we did not expect we reach out to find orientation. After a recent difficult situation a friend reached out to me not looking for an answer but to help orientate their experience. To simply be heard and to know that life is hard for all of us. Psalm 57 verse 1 puts it like this:

Be merciful to me, O God…

   for in you my soul takes refuge,

in the shadow of your wings

   I will take refuge.

In our moments of distress the psalms, I want to suggest, offer us a way to find orientation in God. They offer us security, and refuge, when we are struggling. They remind us to look beyond ourselves and trust in God. These psalms of orientation open up new possibilities and create new relationships. They promise that God’s refuge is open to all who believe in him.

Psalms of disorientation.

The most common question I get as a vicar is “why does God allow us to suffer” and although I am not going to answer such a question here it is a good way to frame psalms of disorientation. Brueggemann write: ‘These psalms attest us that the life of faith does not protect us from the pit. Rather, the power of God brings us out of the pit to new life which is not the same as pre-pit existence’ (Praying the Psalms, 35). When God rescues us it does not come with the promise that life will be easy, but instead that our lives will be changed. That our reality will shift from where we were to where we now are. God does not promise a life free of suffering but instead a life lived in relationship. Yet, the psalms of disorientation speak of not the a life lived in relationship but a life lived in the pit. Psalm 30:9, for example, speaks of the pit as a place which is void from God:

What profit is there in my death,

     if I descend into the pit?

Will the dust praise you?

     Will it proclaim your faithfulness. 

These psalms are often the hardest to read, but they are also often the easiest to relate to. They are the psalms we often turn to when life is hard. They give us a vocabulary for our pain. They show us that life is not always simple and that people of faith have walked the same path that we have. 

In lent these psalms act as a reminder that the life of faith is not one of “perfection” but has trials and tribulations within it. There are psalms which vocalise pain, not just physical pain but mental anguish too, loneliness, oppression, bereavement. Yet, this is not a bad thing. It gives us a language to use. A language which we often fail to use in worship, but a language which can connect us to God in the hardest of times. The next time you face suffering I recommend you look at the psalms for in them you will find a voice. In them you will find struggle and hardship and, I pray, you will find a reminder that God is with you even in the darkest of moments. 

Psalms of reorientation. 

If we return, for a moment, to our analogy of being lost there is a great joy when we are found or reorientated. If we think of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15: 11 – 32 the father throws the greatest banquet when his son returns. These psalms of reorientation are similar. They are the moments when the people of Israel celebrate. They include words of thanksgiving and praise:

Yahweh is king! Let the earth rejoice!

      Let the many coastlands be glad. 

(Psalm 97:1)

Yahweh is king!

      Let the peoples trembler!

He sits enthroned between the cherubim!

      Let the earth quake!

   (Psalm 99:1)

The psalms can help us to celebrate the very experiences of our re-orientation. They give language to our moving out of the pit into the new life of God. The papal preacher His Eminence Raniero Cantalamessa speaks of a deep sense of joy that new believers can experience. This is what these psalms evoke as well. There is a deep sense of celebration that what was lost is now found, what was dead is now alive. John Bell describes this as deep praise. Not simply a buttering up of God for our gain but a deeper sense of gratitude of simply being in God’s presence (John Bell, Living With the Psalms, 144). Not singing for the sake of singing but a deeper reverence that God is good no matter how hard life may get. This is what reorientation is about it is a sense of thanksgiving which is not based on the ups and downs of life but is much deeper. It is a reorientation into the very experience of knowing the love of God, of being welcomed home by the loving father.

It is easy to simply dismiss the psalms as something that are too difficult to read, or not relevant to our day to day lives and yet they are filled with so much depth. This lent our church has met each week to discuss different psalms brought by a member of the group. It has been fascinating. There have been moments of praise and moments of lament. Psalms which orientate and psalms of disorientation. Through it all I have been reminded how important the psalms can be in our everyday lives. How often in the psalms we can find words which not only reflect our mood but offer a deeper sense of revelation. Psalms which speak not just to our day-to-day lives but to our very soul as well. If you have not read the psalms I encourage you to use them more. Pray with them, meditate on them, use them to help connect you with God. I encourage you to use them not just because they are part of our Holy text but because they cut through the thousands of years between us and them and speak to our very souls today. They meet us where we are at and minister to us in a way that very little else can. They help remind us that our orientation is not in the world but in the arms of God, and they give us a way to express that even when we are too weary to speak. These are the words of faithful followers of God who have grappled just like us and have trusted in God even when life has been hard. These beautiful prayers offer us a deeper sense of connection to God than many worship songs, or hymns, can today. I urge you therefore not to abandon the psalms but to pray them. Not to ignore them but to engage with them. So that in creating a relationship with them you may deepen your relationship with God.

Bibliography

John Bell, Living the Psalms, (SPCK, 2020)

Walter Brueggemann, Praying the Psalms 2nd Edition, (Cascade Books, 2007)

**Both links take you to Amazon Associates and are paid links.

Weekly Insight (3)

This week I have been thinking a lot about leadership, especially church leadership. This is in part because I was writing a blog post about faith, leadership and jazz (shameless link: https://boundbygrace.org/2021/01/18/disneys-soul-jazz-leadership-and-faith/) and also because Norbury Church took part in the 3rd session of lead academy churchNEXT.

For those who wonder what ChurchNEXT is it is a learning community of churches from around the U.K. who want to “embrace the gospel opportunities for the post COVID world.” It has been an amazing opportunity for several of the team from Norbury to gather with other churches and discuss the possibilities and challenges that have risen out of COVID. I may write a specific blog about the process (if there is interest). For now however, I want to dive into my weekly insights with the caveat that leadership has been on my mind A LOT.

Something I’ve read

This week I want to offer to offer insights from two books I read. Well, one I read and one I looked at for a second time.

The first book was by Helen Cameron, Living in the Gaze of God. This book is primarily about ministerial flourishing however there are lots of nuggets of wisdom in it. The book is structured around a need to be attentive to our own needs and expectations as we live in partnership with others. This is especially important for those who are called to supervise others well. Cameron writes:

Honesty to ourselves and others about our perceptions is vital if we are to be safe practitioners, safe containers of pain and suffering of others and if we are to reflect the glory of God at work in us and the world. (9)

I wonder when you were last honest with yourselves and reflected about what you bring to the relationships around you. I found it a challenging question to ponder as I talked to both our leadership team, friends and family this week.

The second book was Sam Wells, Improvisation. Structured around the themes of improvisation this would be good read for anyone interested in jazz, drama or theology. Wells, with his usual style, manages to blend together the art of improvisation and Christian ethics in a way which is poetic and challenging. Definitely one to read if you haven’t before.

Something I have listened too

This week I listened to a podcast by the wonderful author Brene Brown. In this particular episode of her podcast series Dared to Lead Brene interviews president Barak Obama after the launch of his recent book. In this honest, and telling, episode Obama describes the challenges he faced and the practices he put in place so as to help achieve a better world.

I have also spent a lot of time listening to the new playlist for Disney’s Soul. Those who have read my earlier podcast will know why! This was helped by Abbie asking for it every time I brushed here teeth in an evening. Her recommendation for the week would be the song It’s alright from the movie Soul so make sure you check that out!

An interesting idea I came across

One of the key aspects of improvisation, which I knew about before this week, is yes and. Yes and is about the ability to receive what the other offers and improve upon it. About taking the melody played on the piano and adding something to it with the Saxophone. It is about receiving the offer from the other actor and continuing the drama. The opposite of this is to block, to shut down the song or play by simply saying no.

I wonder what you are more prone to do. Are you the kind of person who loves the spontaneity of saying yes and. Or, are you more likely to say no and shut down the possibility? Why not ponder this week which kind of person you are and how you could say yes and to someone in your life this week. It maybe even that you need to say yes and to God.

Weekly Insights (2)

This week has mostly been holiday. It felt odd taking holiday Wednesday to Wednesday but who knows what normal looks like anymore? This weeks insights focus around the theme of “wellness”. January is the time that we create hopes and dreams of what we could be. Often, in the moment, we forget who we are and where we have come from as we idealise what could be.

All of my three insights this week focus on being the “best” you, you can be while also grounding us in the reality that, at times, life is hard.

Something I’ve read

I am going to be a little biased this week and say one of the best things I read came from my lovely wife. In her honest and open reflections Ash reflected upon the difficulties that we can sometimes face and the need for peace.

I will not spoil her wonderful words any more but simply offer a link to her blog post:

https://believinghealthy.wordpress.com/2021/01/12/not-hope-but-peace/

Something I’ve listened too

This week I listened to two things which I found helpful and I will offer both as a way for you to learn and reflect. The first was a conversation between Nicky Gumble and Timothy Keller, two influential Christian leaders.

The conversation brushed over many topics but at its heart were Timothy Keller’s grappling with faith, the resurrection and his cancer diagnosis. Keller offers poignant reflections about how faith can change and develop even when facing the darkest of moments and, as he spoke, I was drawn back to C.S. Lewis’ short book, A grief observed*. Lewis, facing a difficult loss, offers similar reflections on faith and doubt at moments of darkness but both point to the light of the resurrection and the peace that it can offer.

The second conversation I listened too was the Hypermobility podcast, a recommendation from a member of our parish who suffers from EDS. This podcast offers real, and practical, advice for those who suffer from Hypermobility Disorders on how to enable conversations around pain.

Early on in the conversation one of the hosts helpfully reframes how a person with EDS could speak about their pain in terms of EDS rather than simply in terms of pain and what others may see as unnecessary “complaining”. I offer this podcast both for those who suffer from, or know someone who suffer from, hyper mobility disorder but also for us all to help gain insight on what it is like to suffer from such pain and how we can better help those who do.

An interesting Idea

This week, as I prepared to preach, I reflected on our reading from the Old Testament. The story of Samuel’s call is one which sits close to my heart and in it there is a wonderful moment in which Samuel says to God “speak Lord, your servant is listening.” In the depths of night, when Samuel did not know what was going on, he trusted that God would speak to him and he was eager to listen.

As I have pondered what it means to face different challenges and find hope I was caught by the idea that God can offer us peace if only we listen.

So, this week, why not find a quiet space and pray “Speak Lord, you servant is listening,” and hopefully God will speak words of peace to you.

A prayer

A prayer for peace from the Book of Common Prayer

Lord God, all holy desires, all good counsels, and all just works come from you. Give to us, your servants, that peace which the world cannot give, that our hearts may be set to obey your commandments. Defend us also from the fear of our enemies that we may live in peace and quietness, through the merits of Jesus Christ our Savior, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Amen

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Weekly Insights (1)

I am going to attempt to blog more regularly in 2021 and therefore each Friday will be releasing a blog post. These scribblings will include something I have read, something I have listened too and an interesting idea. This is both an attempt to offer you, my lovely reader, some new ideas but also to keep me accountable. It is very easy to settle into a pattern of watching the latest TV and not striving to learn. Yet, the most important thing we can do is experience new ideas.

So, in an attempt to keep me learning please indulge me and maybe you too will learning, or uncover, something new too.

Something I have read

This week I have been reading atomic habits by James Clear. This is a great book for anyone who wants to achieve their goals and make sustainable changes in their life. I am only partway through as it is quite a slow read if you want to really address the issues discussed. This week I have been thinking about the habits that form my daily routine.

James Clear argues that one of the main challenges to changing habits is maintaining the awareness of what you are doing. Clear recommends making a list of your daily habits and putting a +, -, or = sign next to each one. The “+” recommends positive habits, i.e. taking a shower, the “-” equates to negative habits, i.e. checking your phone when you get up, and the “=” sign reflects neutral habits like getting up.

I definitely recommend atomic habits to anyone who wants to make a positive change to their life in 2021.

Something I have listened too

Every few months I like to change up the routine of my daily quiet time. Last year I was working through the Bible in a year and tended to read chunks of scripture in my quiet time. At the start of January I picked up the app “Lectio 365” which is a great prayer app that you can listen too where ever you are. It’s a great one for the commute, for the kitchen sink, or sat at your desk. The app tends to take a theme for the week, or a longer period, and the daily prayer time uses that “theme” as its structure.

The app is currently looking at the Beatitudes from Matthew 5 so each day you are offered a time to pause, a piece of scripture to reflect on and a time then to pray. Each “episode” is only about 10 minutes so it truly is a great way to start the day with God!

An interesting Idea

Those of you who know me well know that I have a real love of coffee, in fact I am drinking a coffee as a write this, so I thought it would be interesting to learn a bit more about caffeine this week and see what effects it has on the human body.

While reading some interesting articles I stumbled across a piece of research which suggests that caffeine can help improve Bee’s memory. Researcher’s found that caffeine, which in high doses, can be poisonous to all animals, is, in small amounts, helpful in improving the memories of bees. In fact, in one study, it was found that the reward is such that caffeine can pharmacologically manipulate the behaviour of pollinators and reward them by improving their memories of which plants to return too.

The study may not have impacted my consumption, but at least I learnt something new!

A prayer from the week

This week the Church has celebrated the Epiphany. It has remembered the visit of the Magi to the Christ child. In a week where authority figures have caused great chaos, and demanded to be worshiped, it is good to remember that it was not the Jewish leaders who first worshiped Jesus but foreign travellers. I wonder what that could teach us about our lives and worship.

O God,

who by the leading of a star

manifested your only Son to the peoples of the earth:

mercifully grant that we,

who know you now by faith,

may at last behold your glory face to face;

through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,

who is alive and reigns with you,

in the unity of the Holy Spirit,

one God, now and for ever.

Collect for the Epiphany,

Church of England, Common Worship

Black Lives Matter – a challenge to respond written for Norbury Parish Church

In light of the appalling death of George Floyd I want to rededicate myself to become more educated about my own implicit racism. I want to learn how to speak out against racism and support those who suffer because of it. I want to be a minister and pastor who can say black lives matter because God loves all people. What follows may be clumsy. It does not fully articulate the pain and hurt I, or others, feel but it is a response to the current situation. It is a challenge to those who attend Norbury Parish Church to educate themselves and to rededicate themselves to help grow our church into a place which is truly welcoming to all. 

No matter how clunky, or clumsy, our voices may sound we need to speak out. We need to acknowledge the implicit role we all take when a black person dies because of race and we need to be move from silence to lament and out of our lament we need to respond. Our responses may be cautious, clumsy, and in some ways quiet, but if we do not respond the situation will never change.

In the past few weeks it has been hard not to think about racism. The appalling death of George Floyd has sparked a lot of passionate discussion about racism both in America but also here in the U.K. as well. As you read this I am sure you will have your own thoughts and opinions about race and racism in the U.K. but I want to challenge you, and us as a church, to think more deeply about racism. I want to challenge us as Norbury Parish Church to think about what it means to say we are “welcoming to all”, yet our church is monochrome. I want us to think about what we are saying without words, and I want us to become more educated and more compassionate towards those who do not want to come into our building. I want us to be able to respond to both explicit and implicit racism and truly become a community that values people for who they are. 

In 2016 I arrived at Duke University with very little understanding, or knowledge, of my own implicit racism. It was only through sitting through American History classes, and seeing horrific pictures of black people being lynched that I realised I was part of the problem. I had lived a fairly settled life and failed to educate myself on the struggles of others. I had been implicitly racist because I had benefited from a system that was set up for me. For that I can only apologise to those whom I have benefitted from. 

While at Duke, and ever since, I have chosen to educate myself about racism. I have read authors such as James Cone and Ronald Thurman. I attended a Racism Equity Training Course where I further came to terms with my “whiteness” and the role I have played in building a culture which benefits white males. I have listened to black feminist theologians and tried to disrupt the voice in my head that says everything is okay. I may have not protested but I have tried to become more educated. 

I want to urge you to become more educated. I want to urge you to read voices that are different to your own. Challenge yourself to move past the status quo and see things differently. Read Renni Eddo-Lodge’s book, “Why I am no longer talking to White people about race.” Continue to read it even when you feel uncomfortable. Watch videos and TV programs, read black and minority ethnic authors and try to change your perspectives. 

We all play a part in racism, and we as a church play a part in racism. When we gather as a church and feel comfortable we are implicitly being racist. When we say nothing we are implicitly being racist. When we fail to welcome the “stranger” because they do not look or sound like us we are being racist.

I want Norbury Parish Church to reflect the amazing diversity in the Kingdom of God. I want us to stand up and say Black Lives Matter, because they do. I want us to become more educated and I want us to respond out of the discomfort that will cause us. 

 The world is full of injustice and intolerance which we often choose to ignore but I want us to stand up and see it for what it is. I want us to acknowledge the implicit role we play in it and I want us to change. Our response will no doubt be clunky and clumsy. It may be quiet but I hope it is practical. I pray that we as a church we continue to be a community that stands against injustice and intolerance and I challenge you to respond. To listen to the marginalised voice. To acknowledge the implicit role we all take when we benefit from a white culture. And to change. I challenge you to grow in love and to use your voice however timid it maybe. However clumsy, or clunky it may sound, I want us to be a community  that speaks up for change. 

Norbury Parish Church COVID19 – Pastoral Letter 1.

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ, 

May I share with you a prayer for times such as these:

Keep us, good Lord, 

under the shadow of your mercy.
Sustain and support the anxious, 

be with those who care for the sick,

and lift up those who are brought low;

that we may find comfort 

knowing that nothing can separate us from your love

in Christ Jesus our Lord. 

Amen. 

It is with a heavy heart that we are stopping corporate worship at Norbury Parish Church. As of Sunday the 22nd of March we will not be gathering for collective worship in our church. That does not mean we cease to pray. May I encourage you to pray earnestly for those who are in need; for Hazel Grove; for our world, for our leaders and for all those who suffer due to the COVID19. 

We are in constant conversation about how we may best serve our congregation in times like these. We shall share material through our Facebook Group and website, for those who have access to computers, so that we may continue to gather in some sense and worship together at 10.15 each Sunday; even if we may be separated in our own homes.

For those who cannot access computers; we will endeavour to produce a list of phone numbers for our ministry team to use to contact all parishioners to know how best to serve those who are vulnerable or isolated. If you wish to help us in doing this in any way please do contact me through my email; jcaskwith@gmail.com or via the Vicarage phone which is 0161 759 8531. 

We do not know what the weeks or months ahead will look like but a team of us from Norbury Parish Church will endeavour, where we can, to care for those who are in need. I ask you to keep a discipline of prayer and encourage you to stay safe and follow the national guidelines with regards to self-care. 

Every Blessing,

J.C.Askwith

Vicar of Norbury Parish Church.

Journey of Hope in Neston

Lent may be past us but in Muthuraj Swamy’s Reconciliation which was the Archbishop of Canterbury’s 2019 lent book, the author writes: ‘Reconciliation begins with God, because it is God who initiated – and continues in – relationship with the world.’ The word reconciliation can be scary for so many reasons. It requires us to be willing to offer ourselves, to acknowledge our mistakes and be willing to listen to the other. It is however, ultimately about relationship. 

Over the past five months I have journeyed with twenty other Christian leaders as we have explored the work of reconciliation and peace in the U.K. and Ireland. We have visited several sights of pilgrimage, we have been taught lessons by those who are further along the road than us and we have supported each other as we have quickly learnt what it means to invest deeply in relationships.  

This journey has been a real privilege, it has opened my eyes to the breadth and diversity of the wonderful work that the church is involved in: the supporting of prisoners, working with divided communities, walking alongside people who have been abandoned by those who swore to protect them and it is a journey which I hope to share with you. 

For those of you who have accepted the offer we will journey together over the next month, we will share stories together as we come to appreciate the work of God in each of us, and hopefully we will end the month more enthused to listen to what God is up to here in Neston. 

The call to reconciliation is for all of us however and I encourage you, whoever you are, to think about the part you play. I encourage you to think about the ways you can help to be a part of our community, and to that end I leave you with this reminder from Swamy: ‘In reality reconciliation is greater. . . it is a long process of building relationships.’ 

I pray then for your relationships, I pray that you may begin to find words of peace and hope this month and remember that we are called to the work of reconciliation by the one who formed us, loves us and is one-in-three, the beautiful dance that is, the Trinity.

Amen. 

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