Advent doodle 1: Hills of the North, rejoice

I don’t know yet if I’ll try for (let alone succeed at) a doodle a day again, but here’s day one, based on the readings from today’s Eucharist (bits of Isaiah 2 & Matthew 8) and the hymn that seemed most to resonate with them.

We are those who come
from North and South
and East and West;
We are those who come
not in our own right,
but by the grace of God;
We are those who come late,
unclean, and unprepared;
We are those who, as beloved guests,
sometimes need reminding
that we do not own this:
it is a gift that we may come as we are
to become all we were created to be.

 

New communion hymn

I was procrastinating, and this happened. Tune is ‘Slane’.
As ever, help yourself if you would like to use it. 

Come to God’s table! for all is prepared,
The bread we have offered is broken and shared,
Christ’s presence among us is food for the soul,
reviving, renewing, and making us whole.

Come to God’s table! and drink of the wine,
the blood of the Saviour, both real and a sign,
The cup of salvation both priceless and free,
transforming God’s people into all we can be.

Come to God’s table! we come as we are,
we bring all the burdens we’ve carried so far,
in body, in spirit, in soul, mind and heart,
to feed on the grace which God alone can impart.

Come to God’s table! then go in that grace
to hold all the earth in a heav’nly embrace,
Sent out in the Spirit to tend and to care
in thought, word and action, our life is our prayer.

Crumbs

This is the rough gist of what I preached yesterday at Westcott. The text was Matthew 15.29-37.

There are many scriptural paradigms for what we do when we ‘do this’ in remembrance of Jesus, and each of them brings something distinct and valuable to the table, as it were. If we look only to the Last Supper, we miss out.

We can look at the parable banquets, with their slightly uneasy take on inclusion and exclusion; we can look to the barbeque on the beach and its focus on reconciliation and mission; we can look to the Emmaus Road and see the connection between understanding and recognition in the breaking open of the word and the breaking of bread; we can look to the other meals that Jesus shared – the hospitality of Martha and Mary, the prophetic action of the woman at the home of the Pharisee, the transformation of Zaccheus, and so many more that are not even recorded. Each of these stories brings something profound and vital to what we do when we share the bread and wine.

So what does this particular story – the feeding of the slightly less impressive four thousand – bring to this particular table, on this particular Wednesday evening, in this particular place?

Well, first it brings a connection between the sharing of bread and the ministry of healing – interestingly, there is no mention of Jesus telling any parables here, no teaching, no prophecy, exhortation, just a crowd of people who came with needs, and found those needs met in Jesus.  And maybe, at this stage in term, this is precisely what this story brings to the table for you: that we may come to Jesus for healing and for sustenance, and sometimes it’s OK to leave the learning for a while.

It also brings the compassion of Jesus to the fore. There is no Johannine talk here of spiritual bread, but instead a concern for the wellbeing of those who have gathered. ‘We must feed them or they may faint as they journey home’.  They came with needs, and had those needs met, and were given food for the journey.  We might speculate about whether any of them were among the 3000 Pentecost converts, but we will never know.

And where are we in this story?  Are we the 4000 random people who came once and went their way? Or are they the people we will go on to serve in ordinary parishes up and down the country, who come once and may never come again? Are we the 70 who were sent, or even the twelve? Either way, the story brings us one more crucial thing: Leftovers. It’s all about the leftovers.

Break a nice crusty loaf, and the crumbs get everywhere. That’s why you need a dog. Because if you are used to breaking bread, you’ll know that those crumbs have been destined for the dog since before the loaf was even baked.  Those crumbs belong to the dog.  Wouldn’t it be terrible if nothing ever fell from the table? If there were no scraps, no leftovers?

I would encourage you, then, to identify within yourself what it is you are receiving – healing, reconciliation, or whatever – and more importantly, what it is you have spare – your leftovers, once you have taken your fill. Because these are what you take with you when you leave here, these are the loaves that you continue to break and share. These are the loaves whose crumbs fall to the floor – crumbs which, in the purposes of God, already belong to someone and will be just the food they need.

 

St Luke’s Day 2015

A sermon based on Luke 10.1-9

When I read this gospel reading today, the thing that struck me (and that had never particularly occurred to me any of the other probably hundreds of times I’d read it) was the peculiar way that Luke talks about peace: ‘Whatever house you enter, first say, “Peace to this house!” And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you.’  It almost makes it sound as if the peace is a tangible object, something you could hold in your hand and offer to someone.  For Luke, peace isn’t an abstract noun, a concept, an ideal, it’s something very real indeed.  With this thought in mind, I wondered how this tangible kind of peace might draw together some of the big themes in Luke’s gospel, and indeed, with St Luke himself.

The first thing people probably think of when asked about St Luke is that he was a physician, a doctor. One who laid down the tools that would heal the body in favour of those that heal the soul.  So the first thing I wondered about was how this tangible peace relates to healing, to wholeness, to restoration, within the human being. I don’t know your names, let alone your stories. I don’t know what hurts you carry with you from the past or the present, the scars that come from your own mistakes and sins, or from the sins of others. I don’t know your doubts and uncertainties or fears about the future. But I do know that in the Eucharist, Jesus comes among us offering us each something tangible – a peace that the world cannot give, a peace that is about forgiveness, about the healing of old wounds.  I do know that when Jesus comes to meet us, he comes bearing that gift and he stays here, holding it out to us, giving us as long as we need to work out how to take that tangible peace in our hands and into our hearts. Luke the physician is intimately concerned with the healing not just of the body but of the whole person, and locates a person’s encounter with Christ at the centre of that process. As we celebrate Luke the physician today, we have another chance to take into our hearts and hands that tangible peace and let it work in us.

The second thing people might think of when they consider Luke’s gospel as a whole is his concern for the gap between the rich and the poor – he writes more about this than any of the other gospels – and his particular focus on the outsider, the outcast, the people who don’t fit in. Jesus’ ministry is seen by Luke as one of integration, that brings the outsiders into the centre of the community, breaks down boundaries and restores communities to wholeness.  This tangible peace, then, is not just about the healing and wholeness of individuals, it is for the healing of communities, it is for the building of communion in places of deep division. And Jesus does this sometimes with the skill of a surgeon – he cuts through the trickery and hypocrisy of the religious leaders of his day and their obsession with boundaries and pecking orders, so that the people themselves can finally heal – be reconciled with one another, despite their differences, and with the God who made them all and loves them all.  So as we celebrate St Luke’s concern for the poor, the sinner, the outcast, and his desire to show what reconciliation looks like in real life, we have a chance to look at the tangible peace that is offered to this church community, to this village, and beyond. We have a chance to ask ourselves, where are the divisions here? Who finds it hard to fit in? How do we already welcome the stranger and the outcast, and how can we do more, in Jesus’ name?  When we take this gift of tangible peace, we take it not just for our own healing, but for the wholeness of those around us, and for the gradual mending of relationships, for the melting of old grudges, for the possibility of diversity in unity.

The third thing people might know about the gospel of Luke is that, of all the gospel writers, he is most concerned to root the story of Jesus in history – we can see this most easily by the sheer number of difficult to pronounce names (of people and places) in Luke’s gospel – he talks about who’s who, he mentions the names of the places Jesus went, and the names of all the Roman Governors, and the High Priests.  This is partly because one of Luke’s concerns was to establish that Jesus wasn’t a myth, an idea, he was a real person, and everything in the gospels actually happened. But more profoundly, rooting Jesus’ story in political history shows that this tangible peace is not something limited to the individual, nor even just to the local community, but is a gift to the nations, and to the whole world, given to real places and real times. And it’s offered to our own time and our own place, just as it was offered to Jesus’ time and place.  Throughout the last two thousand years, there have been glorious moments when, by the grace of God, our own nation, and even the world has grasped this peace with both hands, often at great cost, and taken the peace of God into the heart of our national and international relations. And we know all too well that there have been even more times when Jesus has patiently held peace out to us and, as a species, we have failed to grasp it.  As we celebrate St Luke, we celebrate someone who understood that the grace of God can work not just within individuals, or local communities, but in the political sphere. And so we think beyond the village, beyond the places where we ourselves live and work, and pray earnestly for that peace which the world cannot give to be given now to the world, and for the leaders of the nations and all who hold the future of this planet in their hands to be given the wisdom, humility and courage to reach out and grasp what God most desires to give us. And we think about our own role in enabling that kind of tangible peace – our democratic right to vote, our spending power, our engagement with current affairs are just some of the ways in which we can contribute to the peace of God taking root and growing here and now.

So today, keep in your minds that image of Jesus’ disciples, sent out by him to take a tangible gift of peace. And then realise that he sends us out today to do the same, he gives us that same peace, for ourselves, for the people we meet and for the wider world. Whether it’s in our own hearts, in our relationships, in our community, at work, in our dealings with people face to face or online, our interaction through commerce and comment with people we’ll never meet, let us bring that tangible peace with us, and may we let it be the very first thing we offer, wherever we are, and whatever we do.

A Hymn about bread (which could be for Corpus Christi)

This one goes to the tune ‘Kingsfold’.  Thanks, as always, to those who helped me get it ready for posting, and further comments are of course always welcome. I guess this would work for any communion service, but I had it in mind for Corpus Christi. 

A gift each day, our daily bread
reveals your faithful love,
you keep your pilgrim people fed
with manna from above.
We live, not by this bread alone,
but by your holy Word:
so feed our hearts, and make us one
in you, O Christ our Lord.

All are invited, called from far
and near, to eat this fare;
As all we have, and all we are,
are gifts to grow and share.
You call us now as servants, guests,
as sisters, brothers, friends:
to gather and be richly blessed.
with life that never ends.

In broken body, life-blood shed,
true love was once made known.
In pouring wine and breaking bread
that love again is shown.
We are your body, fed today
for strength, for grace, for good:
Break us and send us out, we pray,
to bring the world its food.