Sunday, 26 August 2018

Sunday . . .

Heavy rain and a bank holiday weekend - even so, fairly pleasing numbers in my churches this morning. The rain had slackened by the afternoon, which was just as well, as I was due to go to the Steam Festival near Shrewsbury, where I was leading the annual service. This normally takes place in the ring, with steam vehicles, but not this year as everywhere was far too muddy. But I had a great afternoon looking at vintage vehicles, some static and some working, meeting a few old friends and revisiting some childhood memories too. The reading I chose and my short address follows (and we raised £42 for the Severn Hospice) . . .


WHEN Jesus had finished addressing the people, he entered Capernaum. A centurion there had a servant whom he valued highly, but the servant was ill and near to death. Hearing about Jesus, he sent some Jewish elders to ask him to come and save his servant’s life.  They approached Jesus and made an urgent appeal to him: ‘He deserves this favour from you,’ they said, ‘for he is a friend of our nation and it is he who built us our synagogue.’  Jesus went with them; but when he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends with this message: ‘Do not trouble further, sir; I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, and that is why I did not presume to approach you in person. But say the word and my servant will be cured. I know, for I am myself under orders, with soldiers under me. I say to one, “Go,” and he goes; to another, “Come here,” and he comes; and to my servant, “Do this,” and he does it.’ When Jesus heard this, he was astonished, and, turning to the crowd that was following him, he said, ‘I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.’ When the messengers returned to the house, they found the servant in good health.

The reading partly I chose provides a good example of what it means to have faith. The centurion was so confident that what Jesus ordered would happen that he sent his servants to turn Jesus back; he didn’t need to enter the house, his word would be enough. As a non-Jew, the centurion felt he was unworthy to have a Jewish rabbi enter his house. But as an officer in the Roman army he knew all about giving orders, and he knew that once given, any order he gave would be obeyed.

And the reading also reminds me that there’s a sense in which the machine age has potentially turned us all into officers. The machinery we celebrate at this fair greatly empowered its new owners. For the most part, it did in the end also empower and ease the lives of the workers. But perhaps we’ve lost touch with the wonder of that these days.

After all, this is how we live today. We walk into a room, flick a switch, and the room’s lit up straight away. We sit down, pick up the remote, point and press, and immediately we’re watching Corrie or East Enders, or maybe University Challenge or Mastermind if you prefer. And when I sat at my desk to write this, I didn’t need a pen, thanks to the wonders of Microsoft Word.

Technology gives us an easy life, but we no longer see the workings or understand the process, and that’s a shame. Now that everything’s digital, you press a button and you’re really not always sure what will happen. Microsoft Word is a good example of that, Mr Gates: I press a button, and a poster prints with the border only half the size it should be. That’s not how it was on the screen, and I’ve no way of knowing what glitch in the machinery caused it to happen.

But that’s my problem. Here you have real machines, and the workings are very visible. You pull a lever, turn a wheel, and a whole army is at your disposal, with the different components working together, supporting, controlling and  co-ordinating with each other, making you the possessor of power. Steam especially has that sense of being alive about it, which is why it continues to thrill those who’re easily bored by boxes filled with microchips.

The apostle Paul came up with the great image of the Church as the body of Christ, each part working in harmony, making its own distinct and special contribution, under the control of Christ as the head. If only Paul had seen a traction engine - I feel sure that would have been his image instead: each part in good fettle, doing what it should, under the control of Christ as the driver. The Church as a machine, achieving what it needs to because every part is working well.

Of course, even the best machines do break down; for that matter even the best armies will probably have the occasional grumbling or rebellious soldier. But just as the Roman centurion naturally understood the authority of Jesus, so should we who have machines at our disposal. We give the command, and it is done. And of course, our making of machines is our creative response to the creative power that made us.

And when he gives the command? Well, every part of the complex machine that is us needs to be working well, needs to be taking orders. Each part needs to be in the right place, doing the right job. Machines don’t work if you replace one part with a totally different one. If things aren’t working as they should, the machine will lose power, and it’ll maybe break down altogether. So if we’re serious about being God’s people, we need to be a well-oiled machine, which is not, by the way, a reference to the beer tent; we need to hear and obey the orders given, to respond as we should to the pull of lever or the turn of the wheel; we need to know our place and play our part, so that, in all of his people together, God’s will is done. Amen.

Saturday, 25 August 2018

A sermon for Trinity 13

Tomorrow I'm preaching at Leighton and Marton. I'm also due to be going to take the Sunday service at the Shrewsbury Steam Fair, but that's looking a bit doubtful at present - I've seen the weather forecast for tomorrow, and it doesn't look good.

Anyway, here is my address at the morning services, based on Ephesians 6.10-20 and John 6.56-69:

“From that time on, many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.”

Having based last week’s sermon on the first line of a hymn, today I found myself with a song by the Eagles in mind, as I started to think about what to say. I’ve always liked the Eagles. Many of their songs are thoughtful and a few are quite challenging; often they have something to say, and they make good music.

Air guitarists (real ones too, I guess) may go for ‘Hotel California’, but the song in my mind was ‘New Kid in Town’. It’s a song about the being the latest thing; the kid who, having just arrived, is an overnight sensation, the guy they all want to know.  Malcolm became an instant celebrity in my school. He arrived out of nowhere part way through our first year;  his dad was in the RAF, so he’d seen quite a bit of the world - Germany, Cyprus, even Singapore. For a while he was a shining light in our little school (and, all these years later, we’re still friends).

But as that Eagles song goes on to say, being the new kid in town only lasts until the next new kid arrives. And when that happens you may find that just as quickly you’re forgotten, once there’s a new latest thing, a new star to rave about.

That’s life, I guess. Things come into fashion and then they go out of fashion again; crazes spring up, for a while everybody’s doing it, then they burn out and the next latest thing takes over. People too come into favour and then go out again. Boris is always doing it. The charts are littered with one hit wonders, and you get sporting heroes who for a moment or two can do no wrong, then turn out to have feet of clay. Today’s society like none before seems obsessed with celebrities, people very often famous mostly just for being famous, followed on Twitter by thousands, and then just as quickly dumped.

But as we found in our Gospel reading, even some of the disciples of Jesus walked out on him. After this point in the story they no longer went about with him. Why was that? The celebrity culture of their day, perhaps. Now that Jesus was no longer new and fascinating, it was no longer trendy to be seen with him. After a while the latest thing starts to seem a bit tarnished. Maybe other rabbis were around, with more interesting stories to tell.

Or possibly less challenging things to say. One reason why people had started to walk away was that they were beginning to find the things Jesus was saying difficult to take. Some of his words sounded quite shocking. Maybe they’d started to feel he was demanding too much; maybe they were worried about the way he seemed to be offending some of the religious leaders of the day. Not only was it no longer trendy to be seen with Jesus, it was perhaps beginning to feel not all that safe, as Jesus began to ask more than some were ready to give, and to challenge things they weren’t prepared to change.

Perhaps they’d been following their own idea of what the Messiah should be and how he should behave. They couldn’t cope with the real Jesus, who said difficult things, and made big demands, and wasn’t always comfortable or safe to be seen out with. There are times in life when you have to stand up and be counted, and there were some among his followers who weren’t up for that.

Church used to be much more popular, and certainly more secure in its place in society, than it is now. I think we’ll all agree about that. I remember how as a little boy at evening service I couldn’t see up the church because the pews in front of me were all full of big grown-up people. That was probably harvest festival, but even so, people went to church in a way they now don’t.

Things change. And while there are times when everyone’s happy to hear what we believe and say as Christians and churchfolk, we shouldn’t let it go to our heads, because there’ll also be times when no-one wants to know us, and when people make fun of us, or worse. It’s when things are not so good that you find out who your real friends are. It’s when the road gets tough that you need people with some stickability about them. That’s the point we reach in today’s Gospel. The real friends of Jesus, his real disciples, were the ones that stayed with him when others turned against him. The ones that were more than fair weather friends, and who weren’t there just so that a bit of his celebrity would rub off on them.

Stickability was much needed in the early days of the Church. Things were often tough. St Paul wrote many of his letters, including his Letter to the Ephesians, to people who knew what it was like to face opposition and even persecution. Today we’ve heard from the closing chapter of Ephesians, and as he wrote Paul clearly had in mind the very effective armour with which a Roman soldier was kitted out. So he instructed his readers to put on the whole armour of God.

That’s how we’ll stand firm against the wiles of the devil, says Paul. By taking the armour of truth, righteousness, faith and peace. This is the armour we take when we choose to live in an honest, open, scriptural and loving way, when we’re looking to the power of the Holy Spirit, when we’re bonded by the Spirit in fellowship together, when we’re firmly joined to the example of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The fundamental base for this is prayer. Paul writes that we need to be watchful and alert as we pray, looking out for whatever temptations might lead us astray, taking account of the troubles, needs, challenges, opportunities that face us in our daily lives.

Bishop Alistair quizzed me about my prayer life when I was interviewed. If I’m honest I don’t find prayer easy, and I hugely admire those people I’ve met who’ve been deep and natural prayers. But I do know how necessary it is to all I do as a priest and indeed as a Christian, and I need the discipline of regular prayer. But it isn’t so much about keeping monastic hours of prayer or using the right words. It’s about being deliberately and faithfully open to God’s presence. Words, in fact, can sometimes get in the way. Any discipline of prayer needs to make space so we hear what God might be saying to us.

Paul talks about praying at all times. In monasteries, as well as the hours of formal prayer, everything done is done prayerfully – from reading the scriptures to greeting guests to cleaning the kitchen to digging the monastery garden. It’s all done to the glory of God, offered to him, in all that is done, God’s help and direction and presence is sought. For “to pray is to work, and to work is to pray,” as the saying goes.

My prayer can be a matter of "new kid on the block” enthusiasm, I'm afraid, in that I take it up with great gusto, and for a while I get a lot out of it, but then as perhaps it begins to feel burdensome and difficult, or squeezed out of my schedule by other stuff, I start finding excuses to miss. In other words, it can easily go the same way as all those other things I try to do: that course of study or healthy diet, or all those New Year resolutions - it becomes one more thing I enthusiastically start but don’t keep on with as I should.

But I shouldn't give up; prayer is not an optional extra, it's the vital heart of the thing. Having the whole armour of Christ requires us to build our lives around a discipline of prayer. The soldier doesn’t don his battle armour only when he feels like it, or give up on it when other more interesting things come along. He just does it, for he knows his life depends on it. Our best efforts may fall short, and we can be fickle and half-hearted in our allegiance. But God is never less than whole-hearted with us. His love for us never fails, and we can trust in that love; it's a love in which each one of us is personally known and treasured. That's what I believe anyway. And so with Peter I say: “Lord, to whom else can we go?  You have the words of life.”

Tuesday, 21 August 2018

Nature Notes - Song Thrush

Out for a stroll a few weeks back, I came across a table bearing slices of cake, neatly wrapped and priced, with an honesty box for hungry walkers. I decided I fitted that category, so I stopped, paid my money, and enjoyed a very good and generously cut slice of home-made sponge. While I stopped to eat, the peace was disturbed by an insistent tapping sound.

A little bit of quiet delving revealed the origin. A song thrush was working at his anvil. “Anvil” is the name often given to stones selected by song thrushes to bash snails against, so that the shells are broken and the bird can eat the contents. I’m not sure whether it quite counts as “using a tool”, which is something some birds do, in the crow family especially, but a thrush will often have its favourite anvil stone, and if you find one it may well be surrounded by lots of bits of broken shell.

A large pebble I brought home from a childhood holiday and placed in my own little garden plot (I and my brothers each had one) was, to my delight, taken over by a local song thrush. Finding the one on my walk took me right back to those days.

Song thrushes were commoner then, though they never were as common as their relative the blackbird. Today there would be about five million breeding pairs of blackbirds in the UK, and maybe a little over one million pairs of song thrushes. A decline of more than 50% in the numbers of song thrushes in little more than 25 years has caused some concern, but more recently there has been a slight recovery.

Song thrushes are a little bit smaller than a blackbird. They are birds of mostly larger gardens, parks, woodlands and well-grown hedgerows. Song thrushes like plenty of trees around and are seldom very far from cover. The sexes are alike, and they have a distinctive speckled front, plain brown back and wings, and orange on the underwing, though this is only briefly visible in flight.

Though famous for its song, usually delivered from a prominent position perhaps near the top of a small tree or bush, for me the song isn’t as inventive or attractive as that of the blackbird. It consists of short phrases which are repeated several times. Like most songbirds, it sings through the spring into early summer, but it will sing a bit in the autumn and through the winter too, though not as much as its larger relative the mistle thrush. It will sing quite late into the evening.

As well as snails, song thrushes eat worms and many kinds of insect, as well as berries and other fruits. They nest in trees and shrubs, well concealed, where three to five chicks are raised. They are semi-migratory, and the song thrush you see in the winter might not be the same as your summer resident. They remain one of my personal favourites!

Sunday, 19 August 2018

A sermon for today . . .

. . . based on verses from Ephesians 5, and "Servant Song" :-

Our readings this morning touch on faith and practice, and I want to think a little about the reading from Ephesians. Much of this Letter centres on how Christians should live together in fellowship, and it’s important stuff I think. However good we are at important things like  maintaining our buildings, paying our parish offer and being good at worship - and they’re all really important - they come second to the call to be in fellowship: fellowship with Christ, and fellowship together as his people. One of my favourite hymns begins with the line “Brother, sister, let me serve you, let me be as Christ to you.” Let’s use that line as a way in to thinking about Christian fellowship.

The first two words are brother, sister. And I’m reminded that the very first message Jesus sent to his disciples on the morning of the first Easter Day called them his brothers. And he told Mary Magdalene to tell them “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”

In the car the other lunchtime I found myself listening to “Call You and Yours” on Radio 4, and feeling rather sad as so many people called in to talk about splits and rifts and divisions within their families. In my family we’re always falling out, but we always just as quickly fall back in again, and woe betide anyone else who might attack or smear or threaten any one of us. But there are serious splits in maybe five percent of families in the UK, and that translates as several million people. So in our human families we don’t always get on together as well as we might; what about the family of God?

Sadly, churches are made up of human beings, and as much at risk of splits and dissentions as any other human organisation. But it’s a shame when that happens, because fellowship is fundamental to our call. And in God’s family, our relationships should take their cue from him. Paul said to the Ephesians: “As children of God, aim to be as like him as you can.” How can we mere mortals aim to be like God? By trying our best to be like Jesus.

So the first line of that hymn, the Servant Song as it’s known, goes on to say, “Let me as Christ to you.” Being Christ-like together surely means being humble, patient, forgiving, helpful, supportive, caring, all the things we see in Jesus when we read the Gospels. When Jesus said, “Follow me,” he wasn’t just saying literally walk behind me along the road, he was also saying learn from me, follow the things I do.

Blessed are the meek, said Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. But being meek doesn’t mean being a soft touch. There’s no Christian ministry of being a doormat, as I’ve said many a time before in sermons. People who follow Jesus know from him what we stand for, and if we’re truly following him we’ll be firm in our support for what’s good and right in the world, and equally firm in our opposition to the things that do damage, and to everything that’s unfair and unloving.

To say that takes me to the middle bit of that first line of our hymn, which is the four words: “Let me serve you.” Serving is the “why” of our fellowship. That’s what takes us, or should, from being a comfortable holy huddle, happy together without much regard for what goes on outside, to being something more world aware, more apostolic, hard-working. I believe that the God I serve and worship is offering himself as Father to every person, whoever and wherever they may be. I believe that we’re all his family, if we choose to be. And I believe that even when people turn their back and walk away he still loves them. I love the picture Jesus gives us of the father watching from the rooftop for his prodigal child to return. Christ loves people like me, but he loves people who aren’t very much like me too.

So our fellowship should be purposeful and outward-looking. And for me, the test of a Church isn’t how many people are in the pews or on the electoral roll or the list of regular givers; nor how lively and joyful our worship is.

Don’t get me wrong: as our church grows, and our giving grows, and our worship grows in spiritual strength and beauty, I’ll be the first to rejoice. But the main test of whether we’re getting it right is that we’re asking things like “How can we serve the people here? How can we help make a positive difference to this community? How can we make our bit of the world a better place?”

Oscar Romero, the Archbishop of San Salvador, was gunned down as he said mass in his cathedral. I’ve taken a quote from him as my thought for the week, and I’ll read some of it now: “Every effort to better society . . . is an effort God blesses, that God wants, that God demands of us.”

Archbishop Romero was of course ministering in a part of the world where monstrous injustices were being done by the ruling powers. But even in our own peaceful and fairly comfortable communities there are things we can do, things that need doing. Things that could be better, people who need a bit of help or light or comfort in their lives. We may be few in number, weak in resources and maybe very aware of our own smallness - but even the tiniest Christian congregation has the privilege and call to pray together for the whole community. That means those who’d like to be here but can’t be, those who get distracted and never make it, right across to those who have no time for either church or God. Remember that God loves every single one of them.

At our communion service, and often at other services too, we’re sent out with words like “Go in peace, to love and serve the Lord.” God calls us together in worship, but then God sends us out into the world, and he sends us, as the response at communion puts it “In the name of Christ. Amen.” I hope our worship helps bond us in fellowship and lift us in spirit, but it’s also given us to use, given so we can be made useful, together, to God. And can I just say now that all that I’ve said this morning will be my theme, God willing, throughout my ministry here: “Brother, sister, let me serve you, let me be as Christ to you.”

A sermon from last Sunday (12th August)

Based on Hebrews 12.1-17 and Luke 12.32-40 :-

“Have no fear, little flock.” Those of us with a clear memory, if only from childhood, of the Church as well-attended, strong and self-assured can often find ourselves (a) very aware of our present smallness, and (b) as a result, maybe a bit depressed and even fearful. For me, as a country vicar these days, with a congregation of a dozen or so in a church built to seat hundreds, it’s all too clear that the established Church isn’t what it was.

But those words of Jesus remind me that the Church started small, and on the edge of things, and maybe even fearfully, since there was plenty of opposition. The disciples needed those words of encouragement. While now being small when once we were large does bring its own problems and issues, not least how I deal with a grade one listed monstrosity (sorry, with a valuable part of our historical and architectural heritage), we shouldn’t be afraid of being small, for much of what Jesus said and other folk wrote in New Testament scripture was addressed to small people, in small groups.

Though I could ask, how small are we really? For the beginning of our reading from Hebrews describes us as being part of a very great company. In the previous chapter, the writer of Hebrews lists some of the people who, in Old Testament times, had lived by faith in God. All these “won God’s approval by their faith.” And we live out our faith in company with them; when we sing to God, our songs join in with a great chorus of the praise of saints and angels.

But I’ll accept it often doesn’t feel like that, here on the ground. We’re small, we know we’re smaller than we used to be, and to be honest, for the most part we seem to be getting on a bit. We can have an uncomfortable sense of the world having moved on somewhere else, leaving us behind. And there is some truth in that.

To be the faithful remnant is a very Biblical calling, but it won’t always feel all that comfortable, especially when much of the media seems biased against religion, and churches and chapels making an easy target for those who want to criticise or poke fun. It is, of course, much easier to criticise the Church than to go after other faiths. If instead of comparing burkas to pillar boxes, Boris Johnson had made fun of the robes worn by (say) nuns or monks, would there have been even a fraction of the protest and kerfuffle? I think not.

The Letter to the Hebrews was written to a church familiar with opposition and persecution, and so to people who perhaps were asking, “Why is God allowing this to happen to us?” Its writer speaks about the need for discipline, and also reminds them that the cross is our sign. From those for whom much has been given, much will be expected.

And he encourages them to “Aim at peace with everyone.” Paul has similar things to say in his letters, while, in our reading from Luke’s Gospel, we find Jesus instructing his disciples to be ready for action, always on the watch. Small and vulnerable groups of people, in testing times, are being told to offer peace to friend and enemy alike, and to be alive to every opportunity for service and witness.

In this way, says Jesus, “Provide yourselves with purses that won’t wear out.” The way of the world is not to be our way. To be honest, I worry more about the Church when it’s big and rich and influential than when it’s small. A rich and powerful Church is tempted to be conformed to the ways of the world, to be more concerned with its own standing and prestige than with the Gospel call to humble service. It won’t find it easy to aim at peace with everyone, it can throw its political weight around, and it can even be itself a source of oppression.

Back Boris Johnson’s comment about the burka; support came from the slightly unexpected source (to me anyway) of Rowan Atkinson. Old Blackadder has played a few vicars in his time, and he caused a bit of a stir with his portrayal of the Archbishop of Canterbury not long ago. I rather think he used to be a churchgoer, but he does seem to have put those days behind him. This is what he said about vicars. ‘I used to think that the vicars I played, or the exaggerated sketches that were written about clerics, were unreasonable satires on well-meaning individuals, but actually, so many of the clerics that I've met, particularly the Church of England clerics, are people of such extraordinary smugness and arrogance and conceitedness who are extraordinarily presumptuous about the significance of their position in society.’

Well, though I don’t recognise in those words most of the vicars and ministers I’ve known through the years, I can’t say he’s completely wrong. I have known, or known of, a few vain and pompous churchmen. But I quote Atkinson’s words to make the point that loss of status and position may not altogether be a bad thing. There are plenty of examples of bloated, corrupt and cruel churches when you read your church history. Plenty of damage done. But you also see that where faith has really been lived and preached, it’s often been on the edges of things and in situations of vulnerability and smallness. I think of Francis of Assisi, I think of some of the Celtic saints who brought the faith to these islands, I think of  John and Charles Wesley; William Williams, the author of “Guide me, O thou great Jehovah” was another. He started off in the church, but gave that ministry up to be a travelling preacher. And the crowds flocked to hear him.

Here are two important things: firstly, the truth is still the truth even if most people refuse to accept it. And history shows us how the Gospel truth remains alive even when the Church itself becomes corrupt and lazy.

And we are in the service of the truth. So, secondly, how does, how should the truth we serve affect us? Someone who thinks they know the truth when other folk don’t could be smug and self-satisfied, and liable to look down on others. But that’s not what this truth does to us if we really know it. The truth we know and hold is the truth of the cross, the truth of the love that holds nothing back, that gives everything, that lays it all down. This is a truth that convicts us, exposing our sin and frailty, that we’d like to hide away but can’t.

It was this truth that strangely warmed Charles Wesley’s heart, as he came to see that he’d nothing of his own to be proud about. Like Paul, he could boast only about Jesus Christ, and him crucified. But he also knew that despite his own deficiency he was known and treasured and loved, claimed by grace. And there’s grace enough for everyone, the amazing grace of which John Newton wrote: “I once was lost, but now I’m found.”

And this truth will naturally lead us to be at peace with all. For there’s no-one to whom the offer of grace is denied. We who know the truth have the obligation to live that truth with humility and generosity. We serve and follow the Man for others: our highest aim is to be as like him as we can be. We may be small, but we’re still called by him to be in the business of “fishing for people.” We may be weak, but we have access to our Lord in prayer, and his Spirit is with us. And we’re surrounded by a great crowd of witnesses; our humble attempts at praise are joined with theirs.

The kingdom is everywhere and anywhere that God is praised and served and witnessed to. “Have no fear, little flock. Your Father has chosen to give you the kingdom.” That kingdom is witnessed to not by what we have, but what we give; not in status and worldly approval but in humility; in the sharing of peace and the outreach of a hand; and through amazing grace.


I've missed posting a weekly sermon over the past couple, not because I haven't preached, but because I just haven't quite got round to it! We are in the final run-up to my collation and installation service (i.e. the service at which I am formally made incumbent of the group of parishes in which I have been ministering on a semi-formal basis since the start of the year). That takes place at St Michael's Church, Chirbury, Shropshire on Tuesday 4th September at 7 pm.

But meanwhile parish life goes on, and - bearing in mind that I am supposed to be giving Sunday and the equivalent of two days each week - it certainly fills up all the time available, and a bit more. Last week that included the wedding of Mark and Aimie at Trelystan, one of my churches which is situated in a field on the top of the Long Mountain, just a short way into the Welsh side of the national boundary between England and Wales. There were eighteen bridesmaids, which beats my previous record of eight by some distance! They and the bride (and the bride's mother) all arrived sitting on straw bales on a trailer towed by a John Deere tractor. They were making more noise than the tractor. A very enjoyable occasion, even if Aimie and her entourage were a little late arriving! I wish them well!

In between parish duties, I set up sound relay systems for events, often for funerals where the congregation is likely to overflow the church or chapel. We had one such on Saturday at Kerry, piping the service out from the little Baptist chapel there into the beer garden of the Kerry Lamb pub just behind the chapel (there's a door from chapel to beer garden, which struck me as novel). We had maybe thirty or more outside. There was, however, a wedding at the same time at the parish church not far away. We'd been asked to keep the volume down so as not to disturb the wedding; in fact, as the wind was blowing from the church to us, the problem was more the other way round! But I think we managed to balance things fairly well.

Anyway, I shall post two sermons - one I preached last Sunday evening at Newtown Methodist Church, and the other today at my church at Leighton, and also (slightly amended) at the wonderful little Methodist chapel at Pentre Llifior, between Berriew and Bettws Cedewain, a place full of history and well worth a visit, but with a lively and very outward looking congregation.

Monday, 6 August 2018


A few words penned for tonight's Taize service at Trelystan, on the Long Mountain . . .

Here we are in a fairly high place, on the traditional day when the Church remembers and celebrates that strange event called the Transfiguration, that happened in a high place. In scripture, hills and mountains are often holy and special places, and Jesus often went up onto a hillside to pray. On this occasion he took Peter and James and John with him, and they saw him transfigured, shining with a dazzling whiteness. With him are the two great heroes of the Jewish faith, both of whom were recorded as having not died, but been taken up bodily into heaven.

What really happened up there? All we can really say is that it was something special, remarkable, and very strange. And just a fleeting glimpse: after a moment Jesus was just Jesus again; and they had to go back down the mountain, back into the rough and tumble of life at ground level. They were headed for Jerusalem, and Moses and Elijah had been talking with Jesus about what he would be in Jerusalem to do. I don’t suppose very much of what the three disciples had seen made very much sense - not then. When everything seemed to go wrong in Jerusalem they were as shattered and fearful as any of the others. Later, in the light of Easter, they would come to understand more clearly, but there was a lot they would have to go through first.

“Now we see through a glass darkly,” wrote St Paul in chapter 13 of I Corinthians. “Now we see through a glass darkly, but then we shall see face to face.” I have a habit on these warm sunny days of wearing my clip on sun glasses, forgetting to take them off when I go inside, and then wondering why everything around me’s so dull. Now we see through a glass darkly. I think that’s true, generally, in life. We don’t see or understand everything there is to see. So was Jesus really transformed and transfigured on the mountain, or was it that the three disciples were suddenly able to see him as he always really is? Did scales somehow fall from their eyes - or maybe from their minds - that for most of us, most of the time are firmly held in place?

Theologians - and psychologists - talk about “disclosure moments” - times when the penny drops, times when we suddenly come to understand something that up till then was closed off from us, times when we see the world around us with a new and discerning clarity. For some it could be the moment of being brought to faith; for some it could be the discovery of a particular call, a decision made, a direction set for future travel; or it could be a sense of profound and unfailing peace to help bring us through a difficult or sad or testing time in our life’s journey. It can happen during prayer or on a retreat; or it could be sparked off just by something someone says, or the particular words or tune of a song; it could be the view from a mountain-top, for they always are special places; it could be a great cathedral or abbey. But it could be anywhere, and maybe just out of the blue; it can’t be planned for or generated, it just happens.

Or at any rate that’s my experience: they happen, they’re real, and they’re precious but brief and momentary things, that won’t necessarily change the whole course of a life. Though sometimes, for some people, they may do. For me the disclosure moment or religious experience has usually been mostly a bit of a nudge. But to me it seems that these moments are always given for a purpose: maybe to correct me, maybe to confirm a call, or to restore my confidence and faith. But not just to make me feel good - what we’re given we’re given to use and to share.

And so it was for the disciples that day: what happened on that mountain, when they saw for a moment the truth of Jesus the Son of God - this was part of the process of formation that would turn them from being disciples - learners and followers - into apostles: into those sent to share the message, and to lead the way. “This is my Son, my beloved,” said the voice they heard. “Listen to him.” And so must we, for we share their call to sing God’s praise and share God’s glory not just in the special moments but in every part of our lives.