You are invited to a ‘campfire service’ for LGBTQI+ people, friends, colleagues and supporters, at St Mary’s Church, Quarry Street, Guildford, on Wednesday, March 15, from 7.30pm. Hot chocolate and flapjacks will be offered on arrival.
The theme of a “campfire service” arose from considering how much strength we can receive when we gather together around the warmth of a fire. God is with us, in darkness and in light, when troubled and when at peace. When two or three – or more – gather together, the presence of Jesus, and the warmth of fellowship, is with us.
There will be songs and testimony, prayers and words of hope. As we draw together, we find courage not to be scared of the night. We are able to see more in the darkness because of each other’s light.
A new six-week course for small groups starts next week in the parish – Talking Jesus.
This course will look at how we can share our faith naturally with those we meet. There will be videos, practical tips, a look at what exactly it is that we are sharing, and plenty of opportunity for discussion.
The course will take place in person and via Zoom for those who prefer this and there are at least two groups planned – Tuesday evenings in person, starting on October 11th at 7.30pm, and Wednesday evenings on Zoom, starting on October 12th also at 7.30pm.
Conversations with Christians are one of the most important influences in bringing people to faith. This course will inspire you to share your faith and will give you practical suggestions to help you to be natural and relevant as you talk about Jesus with the people you meet.
In today’s meditation, Pilate knows he will live with regret and Barabbas celebrates strength and yet can’t look on the man who has taken his place and is now going to die. There are questions to meditate on: what we do for an easy life, how we forgive ourselves, what causes might be worth fighting for or even risking our lives for, what about pacifism?
Media outlets have a new rival – the Roman Broadcasting Company (RBC) whose reporter has been recording virtual interviews, trying to uncover the truth behind strange events taking place in Jerusalem almost 2,000 years ago. The interviews will be broadcast on this website on Sunday, May 31, in a Pentecost service which will be online from 9am.
The RBC will be investigating stories of ordinary people being transformed from scared individuals into confident and joyful women and men who started telling everyone about Jesus, a man from nearby Galilee who had been killed by crucifixion but had risen again and was offering a new way of living and coming close to God.
The story, of course, is the one recalled in chapter two of the book of Acts, when the disciples received the Holy Spirit and began a new ministry which saw the beginning of what became the Christian church. This story will be celebrated on Sunday, May 31, in three services – a formal one and an informal one available in the morning, and an all-sung service in the evening, available from 6pm. The informal service will include a dramatised version of the story involving the RBC interviewing witnesses of the events. You may also want to have a candle, a pot of bubbles and also cake to help you take part!
Here’s what Lesley Crawley has to say about it: “A few days before the events we celebrate at Pentecost, the risen Jesus had ascended to heaven and had promised that the disciples would receive power when the Holy Spirit came down on them, enabling them to be brave and follow Jesus in loving service to others. This is what we are reflecting on here. And of course, the Holy Spirit wasn’t just for those early disciples but is available to all of us and is in us as we work to help others and love others, trying to be the hands and arms and heart of Jesus today.
“So come and join us online on Sunday, May 31, at our formal or informal services in the morning or our all-sung service in the evening from 6pm. Even the sermon is being sung! It’s all on https://badshotleaandhale.org/ and everyone is welcome!”
Pentecost also marks the end of The Kingdom Come, the period from Ascension Day which each year is dedicated to prayer. We are celebrating Thy Kingdom Come with a different version of the Lord’s Prayer each day at noon and sharing resources from the Thy Kingdom Come organisers.
2 When John, who was in prison, heard about the deeds of the Messiah, he sent his disciples 3 to ask him, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”
4 Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: 5 The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy[a] are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. 6 Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.”
7 As John’s disciples were leaving, Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed swayed by the wind? 8 If not, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear fine clothes are in kings’ palaces. 9 Then what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 10 This is the one about whom it is written:
“‘I will send my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way before you.’[b]
11 Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet whoever is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.
A Vicar was fed up, waiting for the plumber to come. Eventually he sent him a note that simply said Matthew 11:3. When the plumber looked it up he found the verse “Are you the one who is to come or look we for another”? So the plumber sent a note back, simply saying Isaiah 50:2a “why did no one answer when I called”?
Sorry – couldn’t resist the dreadful joke.
John the Baptist was undoubtedly a great man of God – one of the greatest prophets that the Jews had seen. In fact the New Testaments work hard to say that although John the Baptist was great, Jesus was greater, because there were many groups who followed John the Baptist as their leader even after the death and resurrection of Jesus.
John the Baptist had huge numbers of disciples, his teaching was transformative, he challenged materialism, challenged injustice, challenged the dreadful leaders of his time and was well respected by everyone for it. He ended up in jail, of course.
And jail is not an easy place to be. Not that I have personal experience of it, but in my rebellious teens I dated someone who had been in and out of jail, as had his friends. They spoke of it with horror. To do six weeks was unbearable, to do a long stretch such as a year was unthinkable. In jail they lost their freedom, their choices, their family, their girlfriends, their sense of self, their self-esteem, their ability to distance themselves from those who hurt them. They became completely disorientated and fearful.
So this passage does not show John the Baptist in his best light – Jesus is different than what he expected – are you the one or are we to look for another?
Perhaps it is the difference between his rather sober, austere outlook and rather angry God, who condemns things like adultery, compared with Jesus and his disciples having fun at parties and Jesus whose God forgives things like adultery. Jesus wasn’t doing religion in the same way as John.
And this is of course a huge challenge in the church today – people failing to understand others and the way they worship God – the various factions all too quickly throwing stones.
But the other thing to learn from this is how difficult it is not to lose our way when we are in situations that feel like prison. Of course they may not be actual prisons, we can get imprisoned in thought patterns, imprisoned in negative relationships, imprisoned by pain.
Being alone can impact on this too – have you heard the story of the man who went to his priest and asked why he was feeling so cold, so far from God. The priest simply got the fire tongs and took one of the coals out of the fire and put it on the hearth. The coal went from burning white hot to red hot to black. The priest then put it back in the fire. And within minutes it was on fire again. We need each other. The spiritual journey is not undertaken alone.
Jesus is very gentle with John – pointing out the evidence and then commending him. He does say that John is lacking something though, those who are least in the Kingdom of God are greater than John – perhaps he is the sense of the Holy Spirit at that time. If you compare John’s experience in prison with Peter’s experience when he was imprisoned then perhaps it is different – they sing hymns and an earthquake releases them, or Paul’s experience of ministering to his jailers. I don’t know.
But perhaps today is an opportunity to ask ourselves whether we have any prisons in our lives and whether we need to ask the Holy Spirit into them to transform them. I’m going to finish with that beautiful poem by Bonhoeffer, articulating his experience of imprisonment:
Who am I? They often tell me
I stepped from my cell’s confinement
Calmly, cheerfully, firmly,
Like a squire from his country-house.
Who am I? They often tell me
I used to speak to my warders
Freely and friendly and clearly,
As though it were mine to command.
Who am I? They also tell me
I bore the days of misfortune
Equably, smilingly, proudly,
Like one accustomed to win.
Am I then really all that which other men tell of?
Or am I only what I myself know of myself?
Restless and longing and sick, like a bird in a cage,
Struggling for breath, as though hands were
compressing my throat,
Yearning for colours, for flowers, for the voices of birds,
Thirsting for words of kindness, for neighbourliness,
Tossing in expectation of great events,
Powerlessly trembling for friends at an infinite distance,
Weary and empty at praying, at thinking, at making,
Faint, and ready to say farewell to it all?
Who am I? This or the other?
Am I one person today and tomorrow another?
Am I both at once? A hypocrite before others,
And before myself a contemptibly woebegone weakling?
Or is something within me still like a beaten army,
Fleeing in disorder from victory already achieved?
Who am I? They mock me, these lonely questions of mine.
One of my friend’s husbands called it the Holy Spook.
And also it can make us think about people who seem a bit weird:
In one church which was quite formal a woman who had just become a Christian, and she was really excited about what she’d experienced, about the Holy Spirit. And in the middle of the service she shouted out, `Hallelujah!’ And the churchwarden was standing at the back, and he came up to her and tapped her on the shoulder and said, `Madam, you mustn’t say that here!’ And she said, `But I’m so excited! I’ve got religion!’ So he said, `Well, you didn’t get it here, madam.’
It might be worth looking at the Bible to see instances of the HS.
The Holy Spirit was in creation – brooding over the waters… it is creative and brings change.
The Holy Spirit gives gifts – in Exodus one of the craftsmen was named as filled with the HS to perform all sorts of crafts – creative again.
Gideon was afraid until he was filled with the HS.
The HS enabled Samson to break free of his bonds.
In Joel it says that the Holy Spirit is for all people – all people – you, me, everyone.
It will result in old men dreaming dreams and young men having visions, and all of us, women too will have this fantastic sense of God within us and of God’s dreams and visions.
I was talking to someone this week who told me that she suddenly realised that she had faith, and with this realisation came this sense of God within her. Wow! It made me realise how exciting being a Christian is – sometimes we just take it for granted. We compared notes – I feel the HS in my heart, for her it was partly in her heart and in her gut too – this sense of God with us.
Remember the Holy Spirit is for us all – every one of us, those of us who are near and those who are far away, and it will cause something new to happen, something creative, something that frees us, something that gives us a vision for the future.
When we try to be Christians in our own strength then it is like a balloon filled with air –we have to hold it to keep it up. That is sometimes called muscular Christianity – we toil, we struggle, we do it in our own strength. But if we have a balloon filled with helium then it will rise up to heaven unless we keep it down. Perhaps it is our fears, or our sins or our circumstances that keep it down. Perhaps we need to be freed of some of this stuff.
I believe that the Holy Spirit come to give us freedom. The Bible tells us that it was for Freedom that Christ has set us free, no longer to be subject to a yoke of slavery. It seems to me that it is mostly the fears that stop us being free.
When I was preparing for this sermon I looked in a book that gives quotes or thoughts for each sermon and it used an essay about the film Shirley Valentine as the example for Pentecost. Which surprised me rather. If you haven’t seen the film then it is a gentle comedy of a woman, middle-aged wife and mother who is stuck. Stuck in her life. Rather unhappy. She goes to Greece, I think, on holiday with another woman who is her friend and meets a Greek called Costas and has a torrid affair. Then at the end of the film she calls for her husband and he comes out and walks past her on the beach. She calls to him and he doesn’t recognise her and she responds:
“I know. I used to be The Mother. I used to be The Wife. But now I’m Shirley Valentine again. Would you like to join me for a drink?”
The last line of the film is from him “Er… thanks”.
I was a bit non-plussed – I’m used to Christian books moralising at me. What was this story saying?
I think it is that the Holy Spirit frees us to be truly and wonderfully ourselves. And the real us is beautiful and happy and open and free and finding that person and letting her or him out of the cages that we put her or him in is part of the work of the Spirit.
Each night I use an Ignation style of prayer, and in this prayer the first part is Consciousness – becoming aware of God, then the second part is freedom – which still surprises me. God is not foreign to my freedom – God wants to set me free.
But the HS also is about sending us out. It is interesting that the HS enabled everyone to speak in languages that others could hear. It was like a reversal of the Tower of Babel curse, where people could no longer understand each other. The HS allows us to connect more deeply with others. Psychologists tell us that the most important thing for us all is to have connection. As Christians we might say love.
So where is the HS leading us as a church? It makes sense to try to see what the Spirit is doing and join in.
Unlike the vicar who enjoyed sitting at the bottom of his garden where a train line ran past. And when asked why he liked watching the trains he replied that it is the only thing that moved through his Parish without him pushing it.
It isn’t like that here – much is moving, it seems like loads of trains are happily moving and building up steam and it is nothing to do with me or Alan – we didn’t touch them!
Let us watch and pray and asked to be filled and freed and join in with what God is doing to serve those who we live alongside.
Well today we are welcoming Jesse to the Church or more specifically to the Church of England, but what does that mean?
I heard that there was a very good programme on the telly called “Midwives” or something like that… where a nurse inadvertently applied for a job at a hospital run by nuns. At the interview she was asked the question whether she had a faith, and she replied “No, I’m Church of England”.
We might think that is funny but when I was a teenager I asked my dad whether he was a Christian, to which he replied “well I’m not Muslim, am I?”
Mmm… I think there is more to being a Christian than that. I think there is even more to being a member of the Church of England than that!
We don’t become Christians by an accident of birth – it is a process of new birth. Jesus says that we become Christians by being born of the Spirit and Water. And I don’t think he was talking about having a Scotch on the rocks, as uplifting as that might be!
We become Christians by something we do – which is turning our hearts and minds to God,
Something that God does – which is giving us the Holy Spirit and Something that the Church does – which is Baptism.
So today we are baptising Jesse and we hope and pray that when he is old enough he will find God and decide to turn to God. He will then have the opportunity to be Confirmed and the Bishop will pray for him to receive the Holy Spirit.
For some people here there has never been a time when they didn’t know God in their lives through the Holy Spirit. For others, like me, the decision came later. I was an atheist, and quite an ardent atheist before I stumbled upon the church, and little by little it seemed to make sense, until the day when I had to admit to myself and to God that I believed in God. This wasn’t insignificant for me – it was a massive change in my worldview and also, I believed that if there is a God with a plan for my life then I should seek that God with all my mind, heart and soul…. And look where I ended up!
There are many metaphors in the Bible for the Church and I thought it might be helpful on this special day when we are welcoming a new member into the church to think about these Metaphors.
The first is that we are a Temple made of Living Stones. This is the only reference to a building in the New Testament – We are the Temple – us. Church doesn’t mean a cold building with uncomfortable pews and stained glass windows. Church is the people inside. Talking about uncomfortable pews – have you heard the quote by Abraham Lincoln where he said that if all the people who fell asleep in churches on a Sunday were laid end to end they would be a lot more comfortable?
But it is more exciting than that – we are living stones and when we come together we make a Holy Temple – a place perhaps where we can sense the presence of God.
Another metaphor for the church is that it is the bride of Christ – becoming part of the church is like being married to Christ. We seek to Love Christ, to walk alongside Christ. St. Augustine prayed, `You have made us for yourself, and our hearts find no peace until they rest in you.’ Finding the community of the church where together we express our love and joy in Christ is something that answered a need in me – people talk about having a God-shaped hole, and for me I found that becoming fully part of the Church answered my restless heart. It was a falling in love for me, a marriage, when I worship in church it is a desire to tell God how I feel.
The final metaphor for the church is the Body of Christ, and I think this is favourite for many of us. Each one of us has gifts and skills that we bring to the church, and today Jesse is part of this family, part of this body. Together we aim to be Christ to each other and Christ to the world.
I have found the church to be the place for authentic and profound relationships and the place where people who need healing, love, forgiveness can find it.
I’ll finish by quoting Teresa of Avila who lived way back in the sixteenth century:
Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
John 8:1-11 but Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. 2 At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. 3 The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group 4 and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. 5 In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” 6 They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him. But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. 7 When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8 Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground. 9 At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. 10 Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11 “No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”
I’ve been thinking a lot about sin, in preparation for this sermon…. And a memory came back to me that characterises sin for me. I was eighteen and an engineering apprentice. We had to learn how to weld and used various techniques, and it all went pretty smoothly, but the final type of welding required very, very high electric currents. I was with my friend Audrey and we were in a booth that had a metal table and a metal cage around us. The idea being that the welding stick had a high voltage that was earthed when it touched anything metal. So we were wearing protective clothing with a visor that was so dark that you could literally see nothing – it was pitch black and I stood in the total blackness in the booth waiting for her to begin welding. I did see one flash on the table and then after that there were flashes of light from over my head, to the right, to the left, back on the table, then over in another corner… all over the place – accompanied by crashing and banging. I was terrified. I couldn’t run because I couldn’t see and I couldn’t take the visor off because of the flashing arcs of light that would blind me. When Audrey had finally stopped she told me what had happened. She had accidentally welded the welding stick to the specimen, and then she was trying to shake it free, in the process she managed to crash it into the cage in various places and everywhere it made contact with the metal it earthed and so the arcing started.
Why is this like sin? Well because I think what happens to me, and sometimes to others, is we have some issue that is perhaps unseen, a bit like getting the welding stick stuck to the specimen. Let’s say that issue is crushing unworthiness, or fear of the future, or a bad marriage, or a deep grief, or perhaps a desperate shame. But you don’t see any of that, you don’t know about it because it is hidden so deeply. What you perhaps see is me grumpy with my kids, super sensitive about certain things, you see me overworking, or eating too much, or you see me sullen in meetings… All these things are like sparks flying all over the place, and sometimes these are the things that we focus on as sins… but they aren’t ever going to be solved because they aren’t the real problem. The real problem is what happened in the darkness, the wrong thing got welded..!
Turning to the passage, I have struggled more and more with it as the years have gone on. I’ll try to explain why.
For a start Jewish Law says that people can only be accused of adultery if they were caught actually in the act. The law also said that both parties were guilty. So why is only the woman accused of it. Where is the man? It isn’t as if he wasn’t there when the Pharisees turned up. Why did he get away Scot free? Well presumably because being a man he was worth more than her. But what sort of betrayal is this? Betrayal of justice, betrayal of love….?
Or is it worse than this. Is this whole thing a set-up? After all it is only the Pharisees who accuse her… and it seems very convenient that a bunch of Pharisees catch a woman in the very act of adultery in close proximity to where Jesus is teaching so that they can publicly test him and force him to choose between obedience to the Law and the mercy that characterises him. Perhaps she was forced to commit adultery?
Then she was brought before Jesus. The text tells us that Jesus was sitting down and that she was forced to stand. My guess is that as they brought her straight from the act that she was naked, which is why Jesus mostly seems to be leaning forward, bowing his head, drawing in the sandy soil and protecting her modesty.
It is a horrible scene of betrayal and humiliation, all with the aim of catching Jesus out. As a woman and as a priest I have heard horrific stories of abuse and humiliation such that I don’t think I can be shocked any more. For me, these stories wash over my consciousness as I read this story and I am transfixed and appalled by the scene that has developed.
Perhaps you too know stories of shame and humiliation. I confess that as I read this story I have a growing anger towards the Pharisees. We don’t know whether the woman has transgressed in this way or not. But what about the sins of the Pharisees? What about the way they let injustice rule and they let the man go? What about the way they are publicly humiliating this woman just so they can continue their vendetta against Jesus? If they were concerned about her sin and thought Jesus could help then why not let her be clothed and go to him privately? Anger begins to burn in me.
But of course I am doing exactly the same thing as the Pharisees. They are drawing tighter and tighter circles of sinfulness around her and I am doing the same to them.
Jesus is different. He drew an expanded circle of sinfulness that included everyone present and then an even more expansive circle of forgiveness in the words “Neither do I condemn you”.
Once we judge someone then it is difficult to hear God over the clamour of our own ego. Once we have judged then it is difficult to change our minds without losing face. We are called to be open and expansive, not to judge, that we might be able to discern God in amongst our everyday lives. To do this we need a soul that is at peace, not one that is awash with judgement, anger and pride.
But two questions remain for me:
“Is the woman really guilty?” I find myself asking – I’m still struggling to get away from this judging mentality. Jesus said “Go and sin no more” – does he think she was caught doing something wrong? And how could he possibly know if he was clothed in the same humanity that we have, how could he know without asking more questions?
Well, the truth is of course that all of us sin, including her. All of us fall short, and we flail around creating sparks here and there… perhaps some of us have deeper hurts that drive these things and we need to find the courage to deal with them.
I heard a story about a woman who said to her Orthodox priest that she thought confession was useless for her – she didn’t do all those disgusting things that other people do. The priest replied that she should tell this to her husband and children and come back in the morning to tell the priest her decision on whether she wanted to confess. In the morning she came back a different person… and with a very long list.
It is easy to let pride get in the way of our relationship with God. This is why in every mosque, when they do those beautiful mosaics, they always have some flaw in the pattern somewhere – to remind them of their humanness, their brokenness, their incompleteness.
My second question is why the woman remains there once all her accusers have gone. Jesus is sitting down, the woman is standing there, possibly naked…. the text says that everyone goes – including the disciples and all the people who Jesus was teaching. They all slip away and the woman is alone with Jesus. What has happened to her? At the beginning of the story she was dragged along and forced to stand, now she is there voluntarily.
Somehow, in all her nakedness and vulnerability, being with Jesus is safe. Knowing that she was a sinner and an accused woman, she still remains.
I find this surprising, and then I wonder why.
I wonder whether I can be naked before God, real and vulnerable.
Is that an issue for all of us… and if so why?
I wonder whether this Lent we can hear the words of Jesus “Go and sin no more” but also hear the words “neither do I condemn you”..?
Serving the Villages North of Farnham: Badshot Lea, Hale, Heath End & Weybourne