Depending on where you look the Pastoral Letter about the General Election from the Archbishops of Canterbury and York has been both praised and criticised. The Daily Mail is excited that the Bishops have seen the light and abandoned trendy leftie causes. So a thumbs up from the Mail which is surely a bit of a worry in itself. In today’s Guardian there is an article gently chiding the Bishops for not being bold enough in their call to Christians to take their responsibilities seriously – Come on bishops, be bold. Promote some real Christian principles, because Anglicans are, according to YouGov, almost twice as likely to vote Conservative as Labour, which suggests that they haven’t quite got the hang of their own religion (Michele Hanson). And all this from an atheist. Continue reading “We have a decision to make”
My God, how wonderful thou art
This is the text of the final talk in a series of talks for Lent 2017 given in the parish church of St Peter and St Paul, Lufton
John Newton, born in 1725, led an unpromising early life, pressed into the Royal Navy, captured and enslaved, he became the first mate and later captain aboard slave ships. During a serious illness in West Africa he acknowledged his need of God and was converted. In time, not immediately, he renounced his former life, married his childhood sweetheart and after a time working in Liverpool as a tax collector sought ordination. It took him seven years, because of his life as a slaver and as a virtual pirate, to persuade a Bishop that he should be accepted and was eventually made perpetual curate of Olney in Buckinghamshire in 1764. He worked there for seventeen years until he moved to St Mary, Woolnoth in London, where there is a memorial to him.
At Olney his assistant was William Cowper. Together they compiled a new hymn book, Olney Hymns, in 1779. The hymns were written not for the church services but for the prayer meeting. Continue reading “My God, how wonderful thou art”
As Pants the Hart for Cooling Streams
This is the text of the first of a series of talks for Lent 2017, given in the the Parish Church of St Peter & St Paul, Lufton
I’ve entitled this series of talks Hymns and the Faith. In each of the talks we’ll look at one or more hymns to see what we can learn from them about the history of singing hymns in church, and also about what singing hymns can teach about God, about Jesus and about the teachings of the Christian faith.
This first talk I’ve called As pants the hart. The hymn was published in 1696 in the New Version of the Psalms of David in Metre by Nahum Tate and Nicholas Brady. It is, of course, a metrical version of Psalm 42. The original version was much longer than the version we find in our modern hymn books which have only three verses from Tate and Brady’s hymn and a doxology added. Continue reading “As Pants the Hart for Cooling Streams”
Sometimes reading the Bible is hard
At Morning Prayer throughout November we have been reading the Book of Revelation. To be honest I can’t say that I’ve been enjoying it.
At Morning Prayer throughout November we have been reading the Book of Revelation. To be honest I can’t say that I’ve been enjoying it. Its world view, its philosophical assumptions, its literary style, its imagery are all so far removed from my own experience and understanding that I find it difficult to access and even to make sense of.
I’m not alone. Throughout Christian history the place and authority of the Book of Revelation has been disputed. To this day some Eastern Churches do not include it in the canon of New Testament books. It is not read in the Divine Liturgy of the Eastern Churches, although it is read in Catholic and Protestant liturgies. Martin Luther, at the time of the Reformation called it neither apostolic nor prophetic, John Calvin wrote commentaries on every book of the New Testament – except Revelation. Continue reading “Sometimes reading the Bible is hard”
The 15th August (the day that I’m writing this blog) is the Feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In the Catholic Church it’s the Feast of the Assumption of Mary, in the Orthodox Churches it’s the Dormition (or Falling asleep) of Mary, but in the Church of England it is just the Feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
There can be no doubt that the place of Mary in the piety of the church has been a bone of contention, especially between Catholics and Protestants, for centuries. Today, in the C of E some churches will call today the Assumption, others the Falling Asleep, others will probably ignore it altogether. Continue reading “Magnificat”
The Lord is risen indeed!
At our celebration of the Eucharist on Easter Day we will hear, as we always do, the account from John’s gospel of the discovery of the empty tomb and a first encounter with the risen Lord (John 20.1-18). He tells how Mary goes early in the morning to complete, what the disciples could not complete because of the Sabbath, the burial ceremonies for Jesus, or perhaps she goes simply to spend a little time with her thoughts in the quiet of the early morning.
John brilliantly gives us a sense of the panic in Mary’s mind as, finding the stone rolled away and the tomb empty, Mary runs to find Simon Peter and tells him, They have taken the Lord out of the tomb and we don’t know where they have put him. Continue reading “The Lord is risen indeed!”
When you pray, say …
Prayer is a tricky business. Or at least so it would seem from conversations that I’ve had with other Christians, with people on the fringe of Church life and non-Christians who challenge me about it. And, if I’m honest, it can be a bit of tricky business for me too. And lots of teaching on prayer appears designed to make us feel guilty about it.
And because so many of us find it tricky, we also find that it becomes a source of guilt and anxiety for us. We don’t feel that we pray for long enough or often enough; or we don’t pray well enough; we don’t know what to pray about; our prayer is too formulaic and stale, lacking variety and inspiration; we get too easily distracted; and everybody else seems to do it better than me. You probably have your own anxieties that you could add to the list. Continue reading “When you pray, say …”
The True Meaning of Christmas
The words the true meaning of Christmas crop up quite a lot at this time of year. Often they’re heard when someone is bemoaning the rampant commercialism and consumerism that accompanies the run up to Christmas. And then again you hear them when someone is complaining that the Christmas promotions in the shops in the high street and the advertisements on television appear to start earlier and earlier each year. You hear them when someone takes exception to the over-the-top Christmas decorations which some people put up outside their homes.
On the other hand, in an almost opposite case, you will hear them spoken when we hear of a local council or business “cancelling” the Christmas party or refusing to display Christmas decorations or preferring instead a “non-religious” alternative because the celebration of such an overtly Christian festival might offend people of another faith, or none. Continue reading “The True Meaning of Christmas”
My Father was a Wandering Aramean
My father was a wandering Aramean (Deuteronomy 26.5). These words are a reference to Jacob. His grandfather Abraham lived a nomadic lifestyle. He drove sheep and wandered from place to place, setting up camp where he found good pasture. Sometimes he stayed for a short time and sometimes he remained for weeks, months or even years. But nowhere did he settle long enough to call it home. His son Isaac and his grandson Jacob (who was renamed Israel) lived this same nomadic lifestyle. In this way they accumulated great wealth but called nowhere home.
But they travelled always with a promise. God had made a covenant with Abraham in which he promised that Abraham would be the father of nations (it’s what his name means) and that God would provide him with a homeland and that his descendants would become a people beyond counting and a blessing to the world. Continue reading “My Father was a Wandering Aramean”
The fact that you’re reading this suggests that the “Rapture” did not take place as scheduled on 21st May. But then, I don’t suppose that you thought it would. Neither did I.
The whole idea of the rapture grows out of a particular way of reading the bible. The idea that scripture can be read in such a way as to make it possible to predict the date of the Second Coming requires an especially literal understanding of the text.
Such an understanding of scripture is remarkably modern. Certainly those who wrote the books of the bible would be surprised, and perhaps a little amused, that people would try to make sense of the stories in this way. Of course, believing that things are either literally true or untrue is very modern way of looking at things. And today we are not used to handling texts that give what look to us like factual accounts of events as if there might be a different way of understanding them. We may still like metaphors as a literary device in a piece of descriptive writing or in a poem but we are not at all comfortable with an extended text which we need to understand metaphorically. And so we fall into the trap of interpreting the bible as if its reliability were simply a case of black or white. Continue reading “In Raptures”