Around and about

The site is looking really good at the moment. The wildflower meadow under the statue of St Mark at the Down Road end of the site is in full flower. This was planted in 2019 and it is in its second year of flowering. It is full of British wildflowers which are attractive to bees.

The roses are in full bloom in the memorial garden and around the St Mark’s Road boundary of the site. These are Rosa Rugosa Alba.

The Sheddington vegetable plot is looking good.

Our no mow May for the grass has turned into, not even mowing in June as our gardener’s van has broken down but the bees and other insects seem to be enjoying it!

We will be putting more posters up around the site with the title ‘Hope on the Railings – the summer edit’ to encourage people to stop and spend a moment reflecting on the beauty of creation.

Prayer During the Day for Mothering Sunday 14th March

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Mothering Sunday

Mothering Sunday is likely to be difficult for many this year. This is the second year we are in lockdown and just popping round to mum’s house with a bunch of flowers is completely out of reach for those who don’t live close to their mothers. It is always a complicated festival as adverts for cards and flowers and gifts are hard on those who wanted children but didn’t have them or those who have difficult relationships with their mothers.  In 2021 there will be many households where mum died of Covid and there is no one to send flowers and a card to. It will be a first for many and there will be grief.

For others the celebration of Mother Church is equally difficult. We know that the church struggles with issues around sexuality but in 2021 it has been made clear that it also struggles with racism. Along with the stance that some churches take on women’s ministry, we have a church that does not welcome everyone, however much we want to believe it does.

That is uncomfortable but we cannot heal what we cannot name.

As a mother I can stay with all honesty that motherhood is not easy. For all those mothers who have homeschooled this past year I salute you. A tough gig got so much harder. Mothering is not all hearts and flowers however nice it is to get chocolates, flowers, a card and maybe a nice bottle of rose for Mothering Sunday (I can hope they are reading this!)

This week in our gospel we see one of the most harrowing images of the cost of motherhood. Mary the mother of Jesus is at the foot of the cross. The Mary that we saw on our Christmas cards as a young woman with her new baby is alone but for three friends. She watches her son dying. The son she gave birth to, nurtured as a toddler, raised as a child and was angry with as an adult is dying slowly. What can she do? She can’t make this better. All she can do is be there. That takes courage.

We live in a world that is full of words yet sometimes the most powerful thing we can do is be present, wordless. To witness.

As Christians we may be moved to pray yet the words won’t come. If the pain is too great, then words fall silent. Perhaps all we can do is hold our hands in a gesture of prayer, or just want to pray and hope that is enough.

As Jesus is dying he sees his mother and his compassion overcomes his pain and he names her new son his friend the beloved disciple. If we believe that Jesus is both fully human and fully God, we see in this act God’s loving kindness and justice and mercy in the words of Jesus. That is what our God is like. God sees us. God is with us even in times where words cannot do justice to the pain that is felt.

We face the reality of what happens next over Easter. The pain of Good Friday and Holy Saturday. Frightened women at the tomb on Easter morning and the joy at the resurrection.

Our God is a God of surprises and Easter Sunday is coming but until then we are seen and we are loved.

Gospel Reading John 19.25b-27
Standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.  When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, here is your son.’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’ And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.

Lent 3 Sunday 7th March

7 March 2021

This week Jesus goes into the temple and turns over the tables driving out the money changers and telling the dove sellers to ‘take these things out of here.’ It is familiar to us yet for those present on that day it would have been shocking. Going to the temple, changing their money and buying doves for sacrifice was how faithful Jews practiced their religion. It seems very unfair of Jesus to do this but look at where this reading is. It is right at the beginning of John’s gospel and follows hard on the wedding at Cana. John is crafting a story that points again and again to who Jesus is. When he is asked by the crowd for a sign for why he is doing these things Jesus says that if the temple is destroyed he will raise it up in three days. He is not talking about bricks and mortar but about his body. In this reading John is pointing to Jesus as the means of salvation and not temple practices. This is something that doesn’t make sense to the disciples at the time but later they remember and suddenly the resurrection starts to make sense.

How does it make sense to us?

One commentary I read this week said of today’s gospel ‘when people focus too much on a physical location they miss out on God’s glory around them.’ The people in the temple on that day two thousand years ago missed God’s glory in the person of Jesus because they were focused on their spiritual practices that were focused on things; a building, money, sacrificial animals. They saw what they expected to see, what their history and prayer practices told them they would see and they missed God’s glory.

Like many other churches, at St Mark’s we are planning to get back into church for services. We don’t have a date yet but it is likely to be before Easter. In all the planning and risk assessments which have to be done a concern is that in the rush to get back to doing what we did might we be in danger of missing God’s glory and God’s call in the new situation we find ourselves in?

Recently I recommended a book ‘Sacred Pathways’ by Gary Thomas to someone who is new to ministry. Then, as you do, I reread parts myself. It helped me, when I was in a very traditional church, understand why some people were so attached to things that did not bother me. Thomas describes nine different ways that people typically walk their spiritual journey. I remember when I was at an ecumenical service where the priest wore shorts and a t-shirt to preside. I was struck by the sensitive way he presided yet many of the people with me could not get past the fact he was not wearing a clerical collar and vestments. This wasn’t because they were old fashioned, but because symbolic dress was important to them and for it not to be present got in the way of their prayer.

Gary Thomas cites the importance of ritual or liturgical pattern and of symbol and image for traditionalists. This might include written prayers, liturgy, the flow of the liturgical calendar, how many candles are on the altar and liturgical colour. These are all the scaffolding of a spiritual life.  When we get back into church at St Mark’s the scaffolding will mostly still be there – the services will be a bit shorter but they are familiar, the altar will have the right liturgical colour and the music that is played on CD will be the right hymns for the season. They are there for a reason Evelyn Underhill calls ritual and symbol ‘signs of the supra-sensible action’ which Thomas says are ‘the ways that we use the physical world to express non-physical (spiritual) truths.’ (p83) God is so big that we need a way to manage our encounter and for this semi traditionalist that is what all the symbol and ritual does.

What our reading from the gospel today reminds us of however is that we need to be aware that the scaffolding is not the structure and that if we focus too much on the physical we are in danger of missing God’s glory. I always feel that priests, church wardens and treasurers need a free pass on this as we are so involved in the structure of the church and it not falling down but perhaps we need to listen harder!

As a traditional church with people that are more than likely to prefer a traditionalist way of praying we need to be aware that we are approaching a new season. What do we keep the same? What do we adapt?

There will be a new normal in the months to come we need to be aware of the temptations of our type of church. It is easy to serve God without knowing God. It is easy to get so caught up in holiness we forget to reach out and minister to others. We can judge those who don’t use the same ritual as us whether that is BCP or the correct number of worship songs. Thomas concludes his section on traditionalists with this ‘No symbol or ritual has absolute value of itself.  A symbol represents a hidden reality. It is there to evoke the mysterious.’

With today’s reading in mind, with the image of Jesus in the temple what is there in our life or in our church practice that is in danger of becoming that physical object that gets in the way of seeing God’s glory around us? What needs to change? What can stay the same?

‘Sacred Pathways; Discover Your Soul’s Path to God’ Gary Thomas published by Zondervan Revised Edition 2010.

 

Gospel Reading John 2.13-22
The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money-changers seated at their tables. Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. He told those who were selling the doves, ‘Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a market-place!’ His disciples remembered that it was written, ‘Zeal for your house will consume me.’ The Jews then said to him, ‘What sign can you show us for doing this?’ Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’ They then said, ‘This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?’ But he was speaking of the temple of his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.

 

Prayer During the Day for Sunday 28th February

Lent 2 prayer during the day

Here is the right video. Apologies – not sure what happened there!

‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.’

Jesus has harsh words for his disciples this week. We have jumped forward to the middle of Mark’s gospel where Jesus’ friends have seen miracles and thousands of people flocking to hear Jesus’ teachings. They have seen the extraordinary and now he is saying that it won’t end in a palace with good living and servants tending to their every need but with suffering and the cross. The people who listened to Mark’s gospel for the first time some forty years later knew that the story didn’t end there. They knew that there would be joy and resurrection but it still remains a temptation today to ignore the tough parts of the journey and fast forward to the end. The Christian story is one of resurrection and life in all its fullness, but it doesn’t sugar coat the calling on all Christians to take up their cross and follow Jesus. It is just hard to hear.
So how do we reflect on this gospel story at a time of Covid? We heard the good news this week that all restrictions that have been placed on our lives may be over by midsummer. With the spring flowers peeking out over the soil and better weather this week it has meant a great lifting in mood for many of the people I’ve spoken to this week. The temptation is to put this past year behind us and race forward to how it always was.
This is likely to bring disappointment.
It is human nature to want to create a happy ending. That is why our fairy tales finish with the line ‘and they all lived happily ever after.’ We know that in real life that doesn’t happen. Life is much more complicated and random. Bad things happen to good people yet we persist in believing the universe is fair and if we play by the rules all we will be safe. The last year has taught us that this really, really is not the case. The virus doesn’t respect a framework of fairness however much we want it to be true.
Jesus teaches his disciples that following his way will not be easy. There will be opposition. Perhaps the most powerful opposition is within ourselves.
As we look back over the past year it is easy to downplay what has been hard. You hear people say ‘others have it worse’ and not look at their own grief and loss. Or perhaps how much the last year has been really good but that is not the story that people want to hear.
The journey of a Christian is transformation into the likeness of Christ but if we can’t look at how we have felt during the last year how can we look at bigger issues in our lives? If we can’t look at ourselves how can we pick up our cross.
Maybe that is our cross.
It is said in work with trauma that if it can’t be named it can’t be healed. In Christian language that is the beginning of repentance which is the work of Lent.
Can we acknowledge that there is a cross in our lives? That it is our work to carry it? Can we name the pain and loss and bring it before the one who loves us more than we can imagine?
For those who lose their life for my sake and for the sake of the gospel will save it’

Hellebores in bloom February 2021

Prayers during the day 21st February Lent 1

Lent 1 prayer during the day

Did you make pancakes this week? We love pancakes at the Vicarage and usually make a big deal of getting everyone’s favourite fillings* together on the table and then we share making them and eating them together. This year we did the pancake event two weeks early as it was important for us to all be together rather than on the right day. And that has been something that has happened time and time again this past year. We can’t celebrate when we want to. We can’t be with the people we want to be with. So much that is important about being family and community has been taken away by the pandemic.

This has all meant that the beginning of Lent and this week’s reading about Jesus going into the desert did not fill me with joy. As far as giving things up I made this poster for the outside of the church. If you don’t want to give up anything for Lent then this vicar is giving you permission because we have already given up so much this year.

One thing I’ve noticed this year is the speed at which our reading from Mark 1 9-15 goes from triumph to desolation. We hear about Jesus’ baptism and affirmation as the beloved son but next moment Jesus is driven into the desert to be tempted.  This year I wanted Jesus to have a bit more of the good stuff before he was off to the long hard road in the desert. This may say more about me than the gospel but it is indicative of pandemic fatigue; that we are nearly a year into living with restrictions and lockdown.

Yet the desert is a powerful place of change and transformation. It is the place where the early church fathers ran to find Jesus when their world became too comfortable. It is the place where without distractions we are alone with God. It is the place where we are ourselves. We are ourselves without the social mask as there is no one to be social with. We are present before God as we are in all our imperfections and faults. No wonder the desert is a hard place and it is seem as a place to be avoided or rushed through.

As we begin to think about how we might find a new normal perhaps we might reflect on how the past year has been a desert. For many it has been very hard. Part of the recovery from trauma is to name what has been difficult. Others may well have had it harder but to deny that this last year has been costly will keep us in denial and out of touch with who we are as beloved children of God going through a unique moment in history.

If we can name what is costly we might be able to find some wisdom and truth in the desert. This isn’t easy but some questions to ask might be:

What have we learnt about ourselves?

What have been our distractions?

What were our temptations?

This is not easy work. We hear how in the desert the angels waited on Jesus so it is ok to find this hard.

The strange thing about trauma is that afterwards; after the frantic coping, the grieving and the lament there is the moment when we come out of the desert, the dark place and say ‘and yet.’ And yet I learnt that God is with me, and yet I learnt that I have good neighbours and yet I am more resilient that I thought I could be

Jesus went into the desert. After struggle and hard times he went into the next stage of his ministry. How might we learn from the desert experience we have been in and are perhaps still in and live in the next stage of our Christian lives?

If that feels very challenging it is worth remembering that in Charlie Mackesy’s book The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and The Horse, the boy asks the horse a question: “’What is the bravest thing you’ve ever said? asked the boy. ‘Help,’ said the horse.” If you are feeling in need of help, be brave and ask for it.

These words come from later in Jesus’ ministry ‘Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.’

Have a blessed, desert Lent

*butter and marmite in case you were wondering.

 

Mark 1.9-15In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’

And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.’

 

Prayer During the Day 14th February

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This week’s service is in podcast form. The vicar is feeling a bit rough and waiting for a covid test to come back so this was one way of getting the service uploaded. We discovered that pauses don’t work too well in this for so if you need longer to reflect after a reading please hit the pause button. We may use podcasting again and will give ‘how to signal a pause without using lots of silence so that people think you have fallen asleep’ some thought. God bless!

 

A Reflection on the Transfiguration for Valentine’s Day by Revd Vanessa Cole

Love it or hate it, Valentine’s Day is upon us.

It would be easy to think that Valentine was the founder of Hallmark (or vice versa) and that love is something which can only be expressed through excessive gifts and dates at luxurious restaurants and hotels. These may certainly be expressions of love (and if your love language is ‘gifts’ then well appreciated ones), but love is so much more.

The marriage service begins with a line about love: God is love and those who live in love live in God.

Love ‘lifts us up’ according to the ballads and love songs. Love is where we find ourselves, our ‘other halves’ (a cliché that particularly riles me), home, heaven… Love is kind, love is gentle, love bears no record of wrongs, according to St Paul’s Hymn to Love.

But today I want to think about how love transforms us. It has been said that every woman is beautiful on he wedding day. It is more than just the expensive dress and hours spent in the beauticians chair. The joy that emanates from a blushing bride as she basks in the love of her brand new husband, would outshine the most lavishly dressed beauty queen.

Love isn’t just for newly weds and love birds, or even for fortunate Valentines; the love that transforms, transcends the every day is a gift from God for each and every one of us.

In this week’s gospel passage Jesus himself is transformed by the Father’s love. In a prophecy-fulfilling moment Jesus takes his closest disciples up a mountain, a high mountain Mark tells us, and as they reach the top something unbelievable happens: so unbelievable that Peter, James and John are told not to mention the incident to any of the others when they re-join them.

At the top of this mountain something quite literally awesome happens to Jesus: his clothes become dazzlingly white as he is ‘transfigured’. The disciples’ spiritual heroes stand alongside Jesus, despite being long gone. Peter is flustered and says too much, the others are silenced. The man before them is no longer their friend, their teacher, their rabbi… the humanity seems to fall from Jesus as his deity quite literally shines through.

As wonder-ful as this moment is, there is more to come: the cloud of God’s presence comes over them all and God the Father speaks the most treasured words any of us can ever hope to hear:  This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him! MARK 9:7

Within each of us is a need to be loved. We can pretend that we are independent, that we don’t care, that we are happy being single, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t also need to be loved. At this time of year we can often confuse passion and lust with love, but as stirring as they can be they cannot replace the un-conditional love that God bestowed upon Jesus, and if we were only aware, has for us too.

The love that Father God bathed Jesus in on that mountainside quite clearly had a very physical impact upon him, but love goes deeper than the skin. When we come to God the Father and open our hearts to him, we too can bathe in that transformational love: Love that doesn’t seek anything in return, love that doesn’t have to be bought or earned, love that will not remove itself upon a whim. The love of God is love at its purest, its truest: love that sees us for who we are and who we can become with a little TLC.

If Valentines day is making you feel less than lovely, then these words are for you:       This is my child, the Beloved.

Our clothes may not become dazzling white, and we have no deity to shine through. It is highly unlikely that any prophets will appear alongside us. That doesn’t mean that God can’t transform us though. Throughout the Bible we hear the stories of people who were thought of as not just unlovable, but untouchable. As Jesus came near them, their outer shells fell away as the love transformed them into children of God.

As children of God it is our inheritance to live in love, and to spread that love to others who are feeling unlovable. Jesus called his first disciples to love their neighbour, to love their enemies. This Valentines I hope and pray that you feel as beloved of God as did Jesus that moment on the mountainside, but also that you can share the love with those round you. Times are tough, many are feeling low and is if they are running on empty. Isolation and loneliness are the silent side effects of the pandemic, people need our love.

This Valentines we have a new challenge: to reclaim the gift of love from the market place and do whatever we can to bathe our neighbourhoods and communities with God’s abundant love

Prayers During the Day for Sunday 7th February

Here is the link to the service sheet. The reflection for Creation Sunday is below the video
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Reflection for Creation Sunday Colossians 1 15-17

Today is Creation Sunday. As Christians we believe that God pushed the start button of Creation. How this all happens is the work of the scientist but  with the core belief that Creation is God’s work and as such is precious, is key for  Christians. It should affect how we behave.

The great hymn of praise to Jesus at the beginning of Paul’s letter to the Colossians reminds us that God is in all and that Jesus is God.

Christ is the image of the invisible God,
the firstborn of all creation;
for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created,
things visible and invisible,
whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers
– all things have been created through him and for him.
He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. Colossians1.15-17

We hear the same themes of Creation and Jesus as God in our gospel reading

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. John 1 1-3

This week we have seen a few spring days as January left the building and February gave us hints of the spring to come.  On my walks around the parish there have been the natural sculptures of bare branches against the blue sky and the first spring flowers in the gardens. Creation in beautiful and it has been easy to worship the Creator God outside. It won’t be long before the warm weather is here and lockdown begins to be lifted and we can return to life as it was. But should we?

I was at a theology lecture this week where the question was asked ‘what do we want to keep from our lockdown experience and what do we want to lose?’ That is a big question. It applies to national life, church life and our individual lives so there is lots to think about and it will take time. What I took away from that evening was the need to pause, to consider and to reflect on the experience of lockdown, how we got here and only then, look to the future. The temptation will be to try and recreate the old normal and pretend that the last twelve months didn’t happen. This was what happened a hundred years ago when the Spanish flu pandemic was forgotten as people raced into the roaring twenties.

If creation is not chance but the work and intent of the divine then perhaps we need to treat it as something to be wondered and worked with rather than used and abused. Perhaps on this Creation Sunday we need to remember that this world is God’s Creation and not ours. Our role is as good stewards of that creation. As stewards of Creation how do we prevent another pandemic? What conditions of animal husbandry led to crossover of the virus from animal to human and how might that be changed? How might we in our individual and local lives work with the natural world around us, rather than using it and letting others deal with the damage?

These are big questions and what we might do that is work in progress, but pausing to wonder at the beauty of Creation and worshipping the one who made in – Father, Son and Holy Spirit is a good place to start our journey out of lockdown. Let’s press the pause button.

We act because we worship, not worship after acting.

Pause.

Prayer During the Day Sunday 31st January

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What do we mean by authority? Who has it? Why do they have it?

These are key questions for our time as we live in a pandemic. There is so much fake news around that we need to know who is giving us information. When it comes to vaccine safety do we listen to Kevin the Keyboard Warrior or Chrissie that we meet in the Co-op. The people tell us that Covid19  is fake and the hospitals are empty. Or do we listen to the scientists and doctors who are working in labs and hospitals? Who has the authority to help us make decisions that can have a huge impact on our lives and the lives of others?

Thanks to the Downing Street News Briefings, we now know the names of some of our top scientists and epidemiologists. The people who spend all day in labs and in front of students are now in front of the nation. The authority they have is twofold. They have positional authority because of the roles they have and they have relational authority because of what they do.

An example is Chris Whitty the UK’sChief Medical Officer. He has a role because he has studied medicine. If you are sick you go to a doctor.

We all know some professionals who know lots of stuff yet are actually not that much good in the day to day work. In my own field of vicaring I have priest friends who are fabulous theologians yet are seriously out of practice in doing funerals. At a funeral you need someone who cares not a clever sermon.

In the case of Chris Whitty we found out in the news that he has been volunteering in a North London respiratory ward. He has relational authority because of what he does. He has seen the effects of the pandemic on people with serious Covid infections first hand and not just in statistics.

Anyone in leadership has both types of authority. Those in leadership know that they have to use them wisely. I can insist that something is done because I’m the vicar and the buck stops with me. Mostly that is not the best way to use authority. A better way is to show what can be done, listen to people and work together. This is what Joe Biden meant in his inauguration speech when he said ‘we’ll lead not merely by the example of our power, but the power of our example.’ Leaders need to do as well as be.

In our reading from the gospel today, a story from the beginning of Mark’s gospel we hear that Jesus has authority based on who he is. No one in the synagogue that day has any inkling that the one who is teaching the scripture is the one who was present at the making of the world but the demons who are present in an afflicted man do. Jesus has positional authority because of who he is, the son of God and the second person in the trinity. But he also has authority in what he does – he heals the man and continues to heal and teach and practice compassion and love throughout his ministry.

As we make decisions about the pandemic can we think about where we get our information from – scientists or keyboard warriors.

As we make our decisions about faith can we go back to the person of Jesus because of who he is and does? A person of goodness, love and healing.