“If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come, and stay at my home”

Preached by Canon Lesley McCormack at St Michael and All Angels on 1st of May 2016. 

I wonder; I wonder what it must have been like, sitting by the poolside in Beth-zatha, with all those people, each living with their own problems and struggles, longing to be healed, longing to be made whole.  Over the years, he had seen so many broken people come.  He would talk to them, and some he would get to know, listening to their stories.  Then after a while, sometimes days, sometimes weeks, occasionally much longer, they would go – rejoicing in the possibility of new life.  But still he remained.

What was wrong with him, I wonder – and how old was he when he first arrived.  But so long he had been here – years and years had passed, it seems!  And nothing, for him, had changed.  Just the same routine, the same struggle, day after day – begging for whatever charity he could get from anyone who happened to pass by; and never, never succeeding in getting into the pool first.  It just became normal – oh, long ago, it became normal – a sad, hopeless, way of life!

The pool was a well known place of healing, and what is believed to have been the original site has been excavated by archaeologists and I visited when I went to the Holy Land seven years ago.  I remember trying to imagine the people who, over the years, had sat there, waiting for their moment, struggling to get into the waters for healing.  Evidence suggests it wasn’t just a Jewish place of healing, but was regarded by others also as a sacred site and at one time was dedicated to the healing god Asclepius.  Today the site is watched over by the Crusader Church of St. Anne.

At the time of Jesus, the waters in the pool would bubble up periodically; it was believed that when the waters bubbled up, the first person in would be healed.

Into this scene comes Jesus who seemed to know that the man had been there a long time (rather as he seemed to know the life story of the woman at the well in Samaria).  And he asks the man, somewhat disconcertingly out of the blue:  “Do you want to be made well?”  But perhaps the question was not just about being made well, but about being ready to begin a new life, in place of resignation to sad hopelessness.

But our man did what I know I can sometimes do when I am challenged, and perhaps many of us do the same:  make excuses! Albeit very practical reasons for not expecting to be made well.

Jesus, the life-giver, cuts through it all with those words ‘Stand up, take your mat and walk.’  These echo the words spoken by Jesus to the man lowered down through the roof by his four friends.  On both occasions, and at once we are told, the men are made well, pick up their mats and begin to walk into new life.

And all of this takes place on the Sabbath.  In a profoundly symbolic sense, the man is brought into the Sabbath rest of God, and glimpses the ‘Joy of heaven to earth come down’.  Jesus chose to face the consequences of the ensuing controversy rather than waste time waiting another day; kowtow to his critics was never an option!

Like the man who had lived with disappointment for 38 years, Luke tells us in Acts that Paul also has had to live with disappointment.  Clearly, Paul had a very particular idea of where he would go and what he would do, but this was not to be – but something prevented him, disrupted his plans.  So we read in Acts that having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to preach in Asia, he diverted to Phrigia and Galatia, was stopped from going to Bithynia and so went to Troas via Mysia.  If you look at this on a map, it is clear that Paul had planned to go North and East, but this was thwarted and instead he goes North West ideally placing him so that he could respond to his dream, his vision – the nudging of God urging him to travel to Macedonia across the Ageaen Sea.

Having crossed the sea, Paul goes to Philippi and it is here that he meets Lydia, who was possibly Greek, but certainly according to Acts a dealer in purple cloth.  Purple dye was expensive, very expensive!  In the 4th Century, the historian Theopompus reported that ‘purple for dyes fetched its weight in silver’.  Consequently, purple dyed textiles became status symbols.  We might therefore assume that Lydia was a wealthy woman, otherwise she would never have afforded to buy the cloth in which she dealt.  She was a woman of means, a woman the world.

So here we are, at this place of prayer by a river and a conversation opens between her, Paul and his companions.  She listens eagerly, intently, with heart and mind opened by God.  What she hears has an immediate impact and her response is equally immediate; she and her household are baptised.  Lydia hears the invitation, grasps it and quite literally walking into the waterfor baptism, walks into the promise of new life.

But there is a second response to this extraordinary gift of God, and she offers hospitality reflecting if you like God’s invitation to all of us to ‘Come and eat’.

And who know, that gift of hospitality, making people feel welcome may have been instrumental in the foundation of the Philippian Church.  Hospitality is fundamental to the Gospel, to mission, to living out the love and welcome we are called to proclaim. This love is the kind of love that is willing to take a risk, commits itself in trust, long before it has full knowledge of where it might lead!

And so it was with enormous sadness and regret that I learned of the shocking news that on Monday night, MPs voted to block a new law that would have fast-tracked 3,000 refugee children reuniting them with their families here in the UK.  I simply cannot comprehend how our government can think it is acceptable on any level to turn our backs on the needs of vulnerable, frightened, traumatized children who desperately need to know once more what it is to feel safe, warm, loved and protected.  ‘Let the children come to me’ said Jesus to his disciples as they tried to stop them approaching.

Living the life of the gospel, demands our willingness to take risks.

The man at the pool of Beth-zatha was faced with a choice.  Stay with the life he had with its grim familiarity which lent its own sense of safety – or risk accepting the invitation to take a step into the unknown with its life-enhancing possibilities!  ‘Come and stay at my home’ says Lydia to the strangers she has only just met at the water’s edge, reflecting the open welcoming love of God revealed in Christ

The life of open, welcoming, sacrificial, self-giving love is the life we are all called to live as people who dare to call ourselves followers of Christ.  It may be risky, it will be costly.

But such a life always brings with it life-enhancing joys and possibilities that will turn the world upside down, turn night into day,  and enable us to glimpse God’s new creation of healing, wholeness and peace.

Amen

 

Come and have breakfast

Preached by Revd Dr John Smith on 10th of April 2016 at St Peter & St Paul and St Michael and All Angels. 

Up two long flights of escalators, always crowded, always chasing and up into Holborn Tube station. Despite the escalators, a better station than Covent Garden with the lifts, or Leicester Square which is always chaotic. Out into the street, is it always raining?  More people, many more but I have this sense that God is here. I don’t understand it but it is what I feel.

And then I wondered, will it always be like this? What about 1000 years from now? I don’t have the imagination for the buildings or the technology. I can only think of us – human beings, God’s children – what will we be like? Will we be even more selfish or might it be a world that has rediscovered its sense of meaning.  Will we still sense God, as I do now, or will it be non-sense – God present, but not sensed.

I stand there; no, I don’t walk on and think. It undermines it to call it a story – this story of Jesus Christ, his living and dying and rising; his loving, and loving by doing and healing and caring.

I think, this cannot be lost, it will not be lost. This Jesus, this Son of God who transforms our lives, who loves us, who gives us the responsibility, and what a responsibility:

Christ has no body now but yours
No hands, no feet on earth but yours.
Yours are the eyes with which he sees.
Yours are the feet with which he walks.
Yours are the hands with which he blesses the world.

So let’s start with our Gospel reading. Jesus stands there by the Sea of Tiberias, looking out for the disciples – he always travels towards those in trouble. It is the third time that the disciples see him since he rose from the dead. They are still lost and floundering, back fishing and even losing their touch with that.  Fish from the other side they did, and there were fish in plenty. A foretaste of the future, perhaps. A moment of recognition, an invitation – “Come and have breakfast.” Very human but divine too.  “Join me.” It has happened before, of course – he fed the 5000 – five barley loaves and two fish and enough left over to share with the world.

And then there are those words to Peter, three times he asks, “Do you love me?” Peter, the one who ran away, left him, denied him – forgiven and given work to do – feed my lambs, tend my sheep, feed my sheep. These are “do something” words.  Saying “do you love me” is not enough. This is where Eliza Doolittle comes in – fed up with just words:

Words, words, I’m so sick of words!
I get words all day through;
first from him, now from you!
Is that all you blighters can do?
Don’t talk of stars, burning above;
If you’re in love, show me!
Tell me no dreams, filled with desire,
If you’re in love, show me!

Jesus wants this…doing and serving and caring is loving and kingdom stuff. Saying it is just saying it – almost meaningless. So Jesus fed, and now we do too. If you’re in love, show me.  The impulse to share food is basic and ancient, no wonder the old stories teach that what you give to a stranger you give to God. The more we are open to the stranger, whether we like them or not, we will see more and more of the Holy. Jesus said, “Come and have breakfast”, fed his disciples and us too. Jesus fed the 5000. No questions asked, no entry ticket…the insider, the outsider, the believer, the atheist, the lover and the thief are all in.

The night before he died he took bread and wine that became his body and his blood – do this in my memory and I will be there with you. And now we will take bread and wine which will become his body and his blood and we will share it too. We will not keep this to ourselves.  For this place, this church, this life of ours is a house where love is found in water, wine and wheat . This is a house where hands will reach beyond the wood and stone to heal and strengthen, serve and teach. This is a house whose doors are open – this church – our lives, our doors, too.  Time and time again we must say, as our Archbishop has said of God’s love, it’s extremely easy, God’s love is offered without qualifications, without price, without cost, to all people in all circumstances, always.

Help people grow and flourish into the people God’s love has called us to be. But somehow we make so many barriers, too many hurdles to jump. So, as Christians, we try to offer God’s love, but it comes with a cost: the cost of giving our time, our skills, our labour, our money. We share what we are and what we have. We crack the shell that protects us.

A tiny and very arthritic Miss Lewis went to her church every week to collect groceries, climbed the stairs – slowly, ever so slowly – went to her room – she only had one room – cooked on the hotplate, put the food into nice clean plastic containers, struggled down the stairs and gave the food to the homeless in the street.  I call that Holy Communion.  Food to people who do not belong and who people do not want.

Jesus stood by the sea and saw the disciples struggling. “Come and have breakfast”, the fire is alight. Share your food with mine. Share your lives with mine. It is a Christian call.

Listen to this prayer from Uruguay. It is said when bread and wine are brought to the altar. It calls for all of us to be involved, not just in the eucharist, but beyond these walls – not just for us but for everyone.

Let us celebrate the Supper of the Lord. Let us make a huge loaf of bread and let us bring abundant wine. Let the women not forget the salt, let the men bring along the yeast. Let many guests come: the lame, the blind, the crippled, the poor.  Come quickly.  Let us follow the recipe of the Lord. All of us, let us knead the dough together with our hands, together we knead hope.  Let us see with joy how the bread grows. Because today we celebrate the meeting with the Lord. Today we renew our commitment to the Kingdom. Nobody will stay hungry.

We, you and I, will not be hungry because we are loved.  The world will not be hungry because we love; and when we love we respect and honour and don’t hold on.

We are pilgrims on a journey
fellow travellers on the road
We are here to help each other
walk the mile and bear the load.

So let this house proclaim from floor to rafter: all are welcome, all are welcome, all are welcome in this place.

I come up the escalator. Holborn Station, a crowded London road, Christ palpably present and thought,” what will it be like 1000 years from now?” And knew, that with Christ’s help and ours – loving one another and we are loved – all will be well in the Kingdom of God.

God’s love does make a difference if we let it. Makes a difference to their lives, helps them see the world differently because the world is different when we love and serve one another. It is the spark that sparks and endless spark. If you love, show me, fire me, do something.

Amen.

 

Have you believed because you have seen me? Blesssed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.

Preached by Lesley McCormack on Sunday 3rd April 2016 at St Peter & St Paul and St Michael and All Angels.

(holding up Bible) This is God’s story, the story of God’s interaction with his beloved creation.  But this is also our story, this is our song and now in the Easter season, we revel in the most astonishing and glorious part of the story of God’s dealings with his children, with the song of Miriam and Moses still ringing in our ears – “I will sing to the Lord, glorious his triumph, glorious his triumph! I will sing to the Lord”.

But not all are singing, it appears.  Some are in hiding, behind locked doors.  Hiding, we are told from fear of the Jews.  Yet they themselves are Jews, the one who led them was himself a Jew.  Perhaps it was the Jewish religious authorities that gave them cause to fear for Jesus had threatened the structures, purpose and the very meaning of the Jerusalem Temple at a fundamental level.  Or perhaps it was fear of the Romans, for accounts in Josephus indicate that the Romans would kill the followers as well as the leader of any Messianic group to ensure that the sedition did not spread, for holding on to power at all costs – that is what mattered to the Romans.

But mention of a locked door might also have been the means by which John was communicating something about Jesus resurrection body – a body that could still eat bread and fish and yet profoundly different, no longer constrained by the limits of time and space.

But I also wonder if they were, in a way, hiding from God – like Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden?  For what was the last thing they did before the arrest of Jesus?  They fled, they denied knowing him, they turned their backs even though so shortly before they had said they would die for him!  But now their friend and leader, the one who had so inspired and encouraged them – he is dead, the body gone from the tomb.  And if that wasn’t enough,  Mary Magdalene has told them  that she has seen Him!    None of it makes any sense – utterly incomprehensible.

Then suddenly, into this room where fear-filled men had gathered (but also it must be remembered the fearless Mary of Magdala who had come to them with extraordinary news) into this room, even though the door is locked, Jesus is there in the middle of them.  He doesn’t say what might have been expected – it doesn’t say ‘Well, where did you all go’ or ‘Why did you abandon me when you professed such loyalty!’.  No, nothing like that – rather, he looks at them and says ‘Peace be with you’. He shows them his hands and his side, presumably with the mark of the nails and the cut of the spear and again he speaks – ‘Peace be with you’.  They are words that remind us of the words so often used by God when he introduces himself or his messengers – ‘ Do not be afraid’.

These are words that are so much more than a greeting or words of reassurance; they are words that offer release from that which binds – be it fear, or doubt; guilt or shame; or any of the many things that serve at different times to bind and paralyse. These  are words that give courage and energy; words that unlock doors.  ‘As the Father has sent me, so I send you’ says Jesus.  The disciples are to continue the work begun in Jesus.  They cannot, must not remain behind closed doors or the resurrection will mean absolutely nothing.  John Dominic Crossan in his book The Resurrection of Jesus, says that the Resurrection is less about the exultation of Christ, and more about the transformation of the world, about collaborating with the ‘non-violent God of justice and peace’.  These people who are confused, unsure, doubting and struggling to understand are the same people that Jesus sends out to continue his work.  And he empowers them for this work he calls them to do.

There is a wonderfully intimate moment  which again resonates with Genesis, for here in Johns Gospel there is no roaring wind or tongues of fire; rather the gift of the Holy Spirit is given quietly – He breathes on them and in that moment I imagine an experience of such closeness.  The breath of the Divine inspiring, empowering, energising these disciples.  We are drawn back to that image of God in the Garden of Eden breathing life into the first human being.  Here we witness the new creation.

Meanwhile, Thomas has been conspicuous by his absence, and is, it seems, not unlike many of us at times, struggling with his own doubts.  The other disciples share their experience with him, but he remains unconvinced by either their stories or their transformation from defeat to joy.  ‘No!  Unless I can see the marks of the nails and see the hole in His side made by the spear, I will not believe!’

A week passes, and then, through closed doors, ‘though no longer locked, Jesus is among them once more with those same words ‘peace be with you’ and immediately offers Thomas the opportunity to do what he said he needed to do.  But that offer was enough for Thomas; he is able to make what is the first full profession of faith in the divinity of Christ in the Gospel and proclaims ‘My Lord and my God!’  Jesus turns to Thomas and says ‘have you believed because you have seen me?’  Then it is as if he turns to me, to you to all of us …….’Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet have come to believe.’

In that moment, Jesus steps out of this story we are reading directly into our lives.  This is our story, this is our song, a song sung in the continuing hope and power of the resurrection.

The reality of the resurrection is lived out and sung in every small step that is taken to push back the darkness of violence and injustice in our world; it is lived out and sung in every small action that shines like a light in the dark places of peoples lives and the lives of communities.  The reality of the resurrection is made visible in efforts of young people like Katy Campbell who threw us a challenge to help her support Care4Calais and put together boxes of food and provisions for refugees living in camps in Calais.  It is made visible in the commitment of our volunteers who, week by week push back the darkness of injustice by making soup and providing nourishment, friendship and companionship to people who have little or nothing.  It is made visible through the love of friends, and neighbours; through the forgiveness of those we have hurt or wronged; through the constant love and support of those nearest and dearest to us; through the countless acts of generosity, kindness and compassion expressed in so many different ways in the ongoing worship, mission and ministry of this community.

Belief in the Resurrection is what drove Francesco Tuccio, a carpenter in Lampedusa to go down to the shoreline and gather wood – the broken fragments of a boat carrying Eritrean refugees wrecked at sea off the islands coast in 2011.  He went in search of the debris after meeting some of the survivors in his parish church; people grieving for their drowned relatives and friends.  At his carpenters bench he made small crosses from the salvaged wood to give to these people who had lost everything; crosses of wood that smelt of the sea and in which he recognised something of the holy.  He then made a large cross to hang in the church as a constant reminder of the suffering of refugees, but also a reminder to them, and to all who looked upon it, of their rescue.

A member of the British Museum heard Signor Tuccio describing his work; deeply moved she made contact with him and, unbeknown to the museums director Neil MacGregor, asked if he would make a cross for their collection.  Some while later, a parcel arrived.  What she unwrapped was a rough cross, bearing flakes of the blue and yellow paint that had once adorned another boat, one wrecked in October 2013 with the loss of 366 lives.

Two things happened as a direct result:  Mr. MacGregor accepted the cross as the last item to enter the collection under his supervision; and the Italian Navy initiated its Mare Nostrum sea-rescue mission.  That simple blue and yellow cross serves as a sign of the solidarity of those who, having little themselves, cannot turn away from the plight of those washed up on their shores.  That is the power of the resurrection.

Alleluia, Christ is risen.  He is risen indeed, Alleluia!

Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things

 Preached by Lesley McCormack on 31st January 2016 at St Michael & All Angels.

1 Corinthians 13:1-13
Luke 2:22-40
Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things

This morning Luke is moving us on from stories of Jesus birth to his arrival at the temple for the first time.  The angels we met just a few weeks ago with their song of joy and words of encouragement have departed, and other characters come to fill their place – Simeon and Anna – two human messengers declaring  God’s love in a world yearning for consolation.

Who are Simeon and Anna.  Well, we know very little about Simeon.  All that Luke tells us, apart from his godliness, is that he lived in Jerusalem, that the Holy Spirit rested on him, and drove him in to the temple at the right time to meet Jesus. We have assumed that he is old and in most works of art he is depicted as very old indeed.  The reality is that Luke makes no mention of his age at all. We know too, that Simeon had been ‘looking forward to the consolation of  Israel’

Anna, on the other hand, we know to be old, because Luke tells us so.  She had been married, but after seven years, her husband died and for 84 years she has lived as a widow.  Anna lived in the temple  – this was her vocation as a prophet,  living a life dedicated to God through worship, prayer and fasting.

So here we have two people, living  lives of faithful,  loyal obedience in accordance with the Law, rituals and codes of Judaism.  But far from making them satisfied with its provisions, their faith, their understanding has kindled within them a flame of expectancy.  Simeon is looking for the consolation of Israel while Anna was looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.  Faithful, prayerful study of the scriptures, properly understood produced men and women champing at the bit for the coming of God to his people.

Simeon is waiting in patient hope, as generations of Jewish men and women had been waiting for the last 500 years,  for ‘the consolation of Israel’; a hope rooted in the words of the prophecies of  Isaiah spoken to a community in exile – ‘Comfort, O comfort my people says God’.  Simeon longed for that promised consolation.  With all faithful Jews, he  may well have imagined a future glory of Israel as liberation from her enemies, freedom from Roman occupation, and restoration to the grandeurs of King David’s reign, establishing once more prosperity and peace of God’s people.

But then, on this particular day, something extraordinary happens.  There were people milling around the temple as there were every day, and among them, a young couple with their baby.  Mary and Joseph come to fulfil religious rituals involving the redemption of the firstborn and the purification of the mother after childbirth, marking her re-entry into society.  The purification involved sacrifice, and the gift offered varied according to the means of the family – for the poorest, the minimum was a pair of doves.  Luke tells us this is what Mary and Joseph offered and so makes the point that their baby was born in to poverty and is living in poverty.  Rituals completed, they could simply have quietly disappeared out of the temple and walked the three miles or so back to their home in Nazareth.  BUT

Simeon is a man rooted in God, open to the nudgings of God, open to be surprised by God.  And something moves him to approach this very ordinary, inconspicuous family group. And immediately he knows!  There may be no grandeur here, no power or wealth; no warrior in his midst – just a baby in the arms of his mother supported by Joseph.  But without any doubt THIS IS IT – mysterious and strangely different to what was expected, but this was the long awaited moment!

Simeon gently takes the baby from his mother, and speaks in those remarkable words we know as the Nunc Dimitus, words that have brought comfort and peace to people down the years at the end of each day and at the end of life.  Is it these words, I wonder, that lead us to think of him as an old man?  Perhaps he was but we simply do not know.

Mary and Joseph, were amazed at what was being said – and no wonder;  if the experience of the words of angels months earlier wasn’t disconcerting enough, what on earth did this man mean.  For Simeon’s prophetic words speak of joy and hope, but also the storm of division, controversy and pain.

 We know what Mary and Joseph could not – that those words point us towards Holy Week and the Passion.

Anna, meanwhile, is caught up in this drama.  But while Simeon held the baby, praised God and blessed Mary and Joseph, Anna did something else entirely – she told all who were looking and searching about this child.

For now, Mary stands cradling her child in the safety of her arms, full of joy and hope, wonder and anticipation; but a time would come when she would stand, longing to cradle her son once more and take away his pain, but have instead to experience the unimaginable pain of watching her son suffer so cruelly and die.

……Love bears and endures all things.

This, Luke is saying, is what happens when the kingdom of God confronts the kingdom of the world

Gulwali Passarlay was a torch bearer for the 2012 Olympics.  During a recent interview he said “My name is a mix of three words – Gul, which means flower; wali, which means friend of God and Passarlay which means spring. So I am a mix of three beautiful things!”  Gulwali was born in Afghanistan in 1994. His father was a doctor.  When he was three or four, his parents sent him to live with his grandparents in the mountains of eastern Afghanistan. He has many happy memories of that period of his live. But all this would change.  Gulwali was 12 when the war was at its height.  In 2006, after his father and other family members were killed, his mother decided to pay for him to be smuggled out of the country to a place of safety.

Love bears and endures all things.

He recalls “Alone, I moved across eight countries – Afghanistan, Iran, Turkey, Greece, Italy, Belgium, Calais in France and the UK. My journey was filled with everything – I endured imprisonment, hunger, cruelty, brutality, loneliness, terror and even nearly drowned while crossing the Mediterranean Sea. I sometimes wonder if it was all worth it because I am so far away from my family. I recently lost my little sister, and my grandmother. I wasn’t there by their side, and I miss them very much.

And a sword will pierce your own heart too.

Now, aged 21, Gulwali is completing his final year at Manchester University where he has been studying Politics and Social Science, and dreams one day of returning to his homeland and entering politics there, longing to make a difference for his people ‘so that children like myself don’t have to leave their homes, and their mothers.’

Simeon and Anna were open to God, willing to be surprised by Him; willing to see the work of God in totally new and unexpected ways; open to have their understanding of the ways of God challenged and changed.  They were driven in their longing to see God glorified.  And God’s glory encountered in the Temple that day, was quite unlike anything they had imagined, a baby cradled in his mother’s arms.

And what of us – all of us here – are we driven with longing to see God’s glory? Are we open to being surprised by God?  To the possibility that His glory may be revealed in totally unexpected ways?  Are we open to the possibility that His glory can be revealed in the dignity, determination, gifts and qualities of people like Gulwali desperately seeking safe haven and new opportunities to grow and flourish.  And are we then ready to respond with the light of love that is of God himself,  a love that dispels the darkness of ignorance and bigotry.  Are we ready to reach out with a love that is patient and kind, not arrogant or rude; the love that does not insist on its own way and is not resentful; the love that bears and endures all things?  Are we ready to confront the kingdoms of this world with the values of God’s kingdom? Because if we are, and if like Anna we proclaim it to all, there may yet be hope for the thousands of children travelling in search of security, love and peace.  Amen