Sermon, Feast of Christ the King, Sunday 26 November 2023 – Joseph Steadman

Today is the Feast of Christ the King, or – as our Roman Catholic friends call it,
with characteristic flair – the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the
Universe. It’s the final Sunday of the Church’s year, and the culmination of what
has become known in the last century or so as the Kingdom season, which we
have been observing here at St Mark’s.

There’s a temptation, I think, when we think of the Kingdom, to think about
what happens next—we begin with the feast of All Saints, then the
commemoration of All Souls, and then of course Remembrance Sunday. And the
readings we hear have a distinctly eschatological flavour to them—especially this
year, when our readings come from the Gospel according to St Matthew, whose
account of Christ’s teaching ends with the vivid vision of the Last Judgment we
heard a moment ago.

But if we focus on what happens next, there is a risk that we might forget about
what happens now. Because we are not called simply to wait around until God
brings the Kingdom to us. Rather, we are called to cooperate with God in bringing
the Kingdom closer—day by day, and year by year. After all, Jesus Himself taught
us to pray: “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven”.
That’s an idea that John F Kennedy, who died sixty years ago this week, echoed
at the conclusion of his inaugural address. He said, “let us go forth to lead the
land we love, asking His blessing and His help, but knowing that here on earth
God’s work must truly be our own”.

Now, by this point you may be wondering why I’m the one standing here in the
pulpit this morning. Well, as many of you will know, I’m one of the
Churchwardens here. And that means that it’s my job – along with Jane, Colin,
and many others – to make sure we can keep doing what we do at St Mark’s.
So, in the next few minutes I’d like to persuade you that one way of working to
bring the Kingdom of Christ closer is to consider providing financial support for
what we do here.

I’m going to start by saying something about what funding parish churches need,
then talking about why what we do here is important, and finally identifying howyou can help, by asking you to do three practical things—perhaps think of it as a New Year’s resolution for the turning of the Church’s year.

What? It might surprise you to know that parish churches receive no central
funding—nothing from the Government, nothing from the Church of England.
In fact, it is parishes who are asked to provide a lot of the central funding for the
church, through contributions to the Common Fund. In 2024, the amount we need to provide is £91,300, which reflects the cost of supporting and housing a parish priest, training the next generation, supporting diocesan schools, and funding the Diocese itself. And the day to day running costs of everything we do here are roughly the same again. Then, of course, there are the one-off, often eyewatering, costs that come with maintaining a historic building.

It is only through the generosity of our congregation, friends and neighbours –
with the help of income-generating activities like the nursery and the café, and
William’s work with the Diocese in Europe – that we have historically been able
to meet those costs.

Why? Now, I hope you will agree with me that what happens here at St Mark’s is
important. You probably think it goes without saying. But sometimes, I think it’s
worth saying these sorts of things out loud.

Our worship here offers a glimpse of the Kingdom of Heaven. Through our
worship, we bear witness that at the very foundation of the universe is a force of
love so generous, so powerful, so abundant, that it overwhelms every human
brokenness, overpowers death, and still continues to flow—as we will sing in a
moment, “sin and death and hell shall never stifle hymns of love”.
And that love is what underpins the ministry we offer. One of the wonderful
things about the Church of England – for all its faults – is that it seeks to be a
Christian presence in every community. St Mark’s is here for the people of
Primrose Hill and the surrounding area. Every so often a survey comes out
showing that regular church attendance is falling—though looking around today,
you wouldn’t know it. But I don’t think that needs to worry us. Because St Mark’s
is here when people need us. It is here at important moments in the life of the
nation, to make space for people’s feelings and to be a focal point for the
community. It is here at important moments in people’s lives – when a baby is
born, when a couple marries, when a loved-one dies – not asking whether they’re
part of the club, but generously offering care, comfort and compassion. And it is
here at other times, too, when we might not even realise it’s needed—a moment
of quiet contemplation when someone is having a difficult time, the unexpected
joy of an inspiring piece of music, or something as simple as a coffee and a pastry
on a cold Sunday morning.

And that same love overflows into the world as we are sent out each week “to live and work to [God’s] praise and glory”. In a moment I’ll come back to how we
do that, because – frankly – that’s way more important than money.

How? But first, I said I would tell you how you can help, and that I’d ask you to
do three practical things as your New Year’s resolution. So here they are.

1. The first practical thing is easy. There are leaflets at the back of Church called
“Leaving a Legacy”.
Pick one up, take it home, and read it. That’s all.

2. The second practical thing asks a little more of you. If you haven’t already set
up a standing order for regular giving, might you consider starting one? You
can find our bank details at the beginning of your service booklet. It’ll take
perhaps five minutes, maybe with an extra minute to email William with your
Gift Aid details. But it will make a real difference. And if you have got a standing order in place, might you consider updating it? You may have set it up several years ago, and in the meantime the cost of everything has gone up—you could even use the Bank of England inflation calculator to work out the new amount, if you want to be scientific about it.

3. The third practical thing is the most demanding, but it also potentially has the
most impact. (This is where I put my barrister hat on.)

Please, if you haven’t already, think about making a Will. It is the only way to
ensure that your wishes are carried out after your death—otherwise, the rules
of intestacy will apply and that will very probably not be what you would have
wanted. It needn’t be expensive, or complicated – and the legacy leaflet has
details of low-cost and free will-writing schemes – but it is vital.

And once you have made provision for your loved ones in your Will – or if
you already have a Will you’re happy with – I’d like you to consider leaving
a legacy to St Mark’s. It’s inheritance-tax-free, and if you leave 10% or more
of your estate to charities – including St Mark’s – the rate of inheritance tax
on the rest of your estate is reduced to 36%. It’s a win-win.

If you do decide to leave a legacy to St Mark’s…

First of all, thank you.

Second, it would be really helpful if you could let William know, in complete

And third, please make sure you actually execute it properly! You need to sign
it in the presence of two witnesses who then sign it in your presence, otherwise
it’s not worth the paper it’s written on.

So—three practical things. Read the leaflet, think about your standing order, and
make a Will.

I hope I’ve persuaded you that providing financial support to St Mark’s is one
way you can participate in bringing the Kingdom closer. Colin, our Treasurer,
would probably be happy if I stopped there. The rest of you might, too, since I’ve
probably already gone on longer than I was supposed to.

But I am going to carry on a little longer. Because not everyone has money to
spare at the moment, and many people will have other causes that are near to their hearts, and – anyway – there are far more important things than money.

Turning back to this morning’s readings, we have a blueprint for how we can
bring the Kingdom closer.

In this morning’s Gospel, the ones who inherit the Kingdom are the ones who
have treated others as they would treat Christ himself. St Matthew records the
words of Jesus: “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my
brethren, ye have done it unto me.” And that in turn means asking how Christ
would treat them. It means returning something of the ridiculously generous,
outrageously self-sacrificing, totally revolutionary love of Christ to those in
need—the ones He calls His brethren.

And in the New Testament reading, St Paul writes that the church is Christ’s body.
Combined with the Gospel passage we heard, for me that calls to mind a reflection attributed to St Teresa of Avila, a 16th century Spanish mystic, although it was probably actually written in the late 19th century. It goes like this.

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.

Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.

In a few minutes, we will each come forward to receive Christ’s sacramental body. As you do so, I’d like to invite you to join with me in reflecting on how you can answer the call to become Christ’s body on earth.

How will your feet walk to do good?

How will your hands be a blessing?

How will your eyes look compassion on this world?

And then, when we sing our final hymn, I’d like you to pay attention to the words
of the third verse. It asks two more questions, which you might like to think about as you go out into the world this week.

And if your answer to those questions includes giving some money to St Mark’s?
Then thanks be to God.

Sermon, Second Sunday before Advent, 19 November 2023 – The Reverend Paul Nicholson

‘The day of the Lord is at hand’, asserted the Old Testament prophet Zephaniah, and if you glance through it, you’ll notice that in the New Testament Epistle offered for today, St. Paul, writing to Thessalonian Christians, holds pretty much the same view: ‘the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night’. We hear quite a lot of this ‘day of the Lord’ in our readings in church at this time of year. Arising, as our faith did, from Judaism, it was natural that the first Christians should take on and adapt their inherited Hebrew ‘eschatology’ – the thinking and writing about ‘the last things’. The Biblical scholar William Barclay wrote that for 1st century Jews,

‘….all time was divided into two ages. There was the present age, which was wholly and incurably bad. There was the age to come, which would be the golden age of God. In between, there was the day of the Lord, which would be a terrible day. It would be a day in which one world was shattered and another was born….the New Testament writers to all intents and purposes identified the day of the Lord with the day of the second coming of Jesus Christ.’

Persecution and hardships experienced by both overlapping faiths at this time often stimulated some of the most graphic and vengeful apocalyptic texts, right up to the Book of Revelation and beyond. We perhaps get a glimpse of that at the end of our Gospel today, where the ‘unprofitable servant’ is cast into ‘outer darkness’, accompanied by Matthew’s almost trade-mark ‘weeping and gnashing of teeth’! So, what do we make of all this, two thousand years on?

Speaking personally, these words stimulate two reactions. The first is a certain embarrassment at the archaic world-view they represent, and an intention not to let their hateful images detract from the revolutionary love and generosity of Jesus himself, and his radical way of being – which even the church has been slow to realise and catch up with. It has always been too easy (and more convenient) for the church at various times to ‘weaponise’ apocalytic texts like these to scare people into dull conformity, rather than facing up to the dynamic implications of the kingdom of God that Jesus actually preached. That is to be no better than the terrorist extremists who use their vengeful religious writings to justify violence and killing. Some so-called Christians manage to sabotage the true Gospel, even to this day. But just look at the main thrust of Jesus’ teaching this morning – from which we realise, by the way, the origin of the sense we often give to the word ‘talent’ now, and in which he illustrates the real call of the kingdom of heaven. Those words, ‘unto everyone that hath shall be given, and ye shall have abundance : but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath’, may sound at first harsh and callous. But they should not be understood as some manifesto for the ‘prosperity Gospel’ blasphemously purveyed by certain mega-church organisations. They are really expressing the simple blessedness and the continuing fertility of maximising our gifts and our abilities in the service of God and of others, and not wasting them only on ourselves.

At the same time, though, my second reaction to Biblical Eschatology is to find in it so much contemporary resonance. So many of the scenes which our news bulletins currently bombard us with – whether of the destruction and killing of war, or the devastation of extreme weather patterns brought on by climate change – are rightly described as nothing short of apocalyptic. They seem to embody Paul’s words: ‘For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them’. We are seeming to find in these biblical scenarios less about future judgement, and more increasingly a description of the horrific lived-reality of numerous peoples in the world here and now. We may well be justified in reinterpreting the ‘day of the Lord’ – as indeed the Jewish prophets did throughout biblical revelation, when in their own changing circumstances they described it variously in terms of comfort and assurance rather than threat.

I acknowledged just now the part that extreme religious writings are playing in world conflicts. But in a recent book, ‘The Imaginations we live by’, James Walters – Professor in Practice at the Department of International Relations at the L.S.E, and an Anglican Priest – makes the point that a variety of imaginative frameworks shape all our thoughts and attitudes. One of these frameworks, he says, can be ‘an over-optimistic imagination of social progress and of the ability of science and technology to eliminate human want and suffering on their own’, whereas religious imagination, properly shaped by scriptural texts, patterns of prayer and collective worship can build up a measured picture of the world and of our place within it. However, he admits that this positive influence of faith is sidelined in ‘the modern Western-European understanding of religion as an essentially private matter – personal rather than social, spiritual rather than political, supplementary rather than fundamental to everyday life’. But, however the world may trivialise the place of faith, we who follow Christ know that his way is concerned with the ultimate, transcendent realities, and gives answer to those who shrug and say indifferently, ‘the Lord will not do good, neither will he do evil’, to quote Zephaniah. His way gives answer to humanity’s persistence in continuing old acquisitive patterns of behaviour, in planning which exploits the earth and fellow humans, when increasingly ‘they shall… build houses, but not inhabit them; and they shall plant vineyards, but not drink the wine thereof’, ‘when neither their silver nor their gold shall be able to deliver them’. Christ’s answer is for us to follow the gentle rule of his Kingdom, expressed by Paul in his encouragement to the Thessalonians:

‘putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for an helmet, the hope of salvation. For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ, Who died for us, that, whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with him.’


Sermon, Remembrance Sunday, 5th November 2023 – the Vicar









In today’s first lesson, Micah hears the nations of the world saying: Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, …we will walk in his paths: for the law shall go forth of Zion, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.

We hold in mind the departed of this parish in War, so our minds and memories ponder current conflicts.

Might we, unusually perhaps on Remembrance Sunday, consider the Battle of Gaza of 31 October – 7 November 1917. It was the third of that year, a decisive year in WWI.

Let me introduce you to some of the key players, whose respective roles in this battle or on the international stage, help us gather its significance then and now.

First, General Sir Edmund, later Viscount Allenby, Commander of the British Forces of the Sinai and Palestine Campaign from 27 June 1917. He had served alongside General Haig on the Western front. A month after his arrival he received a telegram, telling him his only son had died in action in France.

We all know something of David Lloyd George, the Welsh born British Prime Minister of WWI. One thing it might be important to hold on to, was something he told the Jewish Historical Society in 1925

I was brought up in a school where I was taught far more history of the Jews than about my own land. I could tell you all the kings of Israel. But I doubt if I could have named half a dozen of the Kings of England.

Four other less well known men need an introduction as well.

The first is the Shariff of Mecca and King of Hejaz, Hussein bin Ali al-Hashimi. His two sons would later reign as King Faizal of Iraq and King Abdullah of Jordan, the Hashemite Kingdoms founded after the War in Transjordan and Mesopotamia.

Chaim Weizmann 1874-1952 was a Russian born Jewish academic came to England 1904, where he taught Chemistry at Manchester University. He was a convinced Zionist, and from 1906 he conversed regularly with Arthur Balfour, nephew of Robert, Lord Salisbury  and himself Salisbury’s successor as Prime Minister in the early 1900s, (hence Bob’s your uncle).

Sir Mark Sykes, a Lincolnshire baronet, whose childhood had been spent with his father travelling in the Middle East, an intriguing preparation for later diplomatic service in the Levant, which he loved.

The Great War, should have concluded by Xmas 1914. But as we know it went grinding on through 1915 and 1916 on all fronts and no end in sight.

Different political and diplomatic currents in the British establishment were seeking ways not only to end the war, but to secure Britain’s future post War interests. The creaking Ottoman Empire was perhaps an easy target for a short-term victory, and a long-term investment. It’s not clear how fixated the British were then on Iraqi oil, but they were determined on two things: to secure the Suez Canal; and secondly, to get one over on the French.

In the meanwhile, three parallel unaligned sets of conversations were taking place:

  • Between the Shariff of Mecca and the British High Commissioner in Egypt Sir Henry MacMahon.
  • Between Chaim Weizmann and Arthur Balfour (and through him with Lloyd George).
  • And between Sykes, and a French counterpart in Levantine diplomacy Georges Picot.

MacMahon, along with Lawrence of Arabia, was stoking up the Shariff to rebel against the Ottomans, with the prize being the Arabian lands from the Arabian Peninsula to the Turkish border to the North, the Persian boundary to the East, and the Mediterranean to the West. It was never made explicit in the letters, but it was understood by the Shariff, that this included Palestine.

On the other hand, Balfour and Lloyd George were convinced by Zionism, with a baffling occlusion to the Arab presence in the Holy Land. Their fascination with Judaism was complex. It contained a blend of deep admiration, conviction of the Biblical Covenantal character of the people of Israel, a strange sense that that international Jewry somehow held the key, through its perceived internationalism, to facilitating an end to the War, and according to many historians, who have read the detailed correspondence, a lingering and unpleasant antisemitism.

And Sykes and Picot managed to negotiate France getting Syria and Lebanon while forfeiting any presence in Palestine, which would be held by an international mandate. They by then had secured Morocco as the Western buffer to Algeria, as compensation for loss of Egypt. The straight-line borders say it all in terms of how borders were drawn.

Let us trace the events of 1917. There are several elements of this story which are not edifying, which does not mean they should not be told. Remembrance is after all about honesty, humility and the desire for grace.

The Sinai front was showing signs of collapse. Lloyd George believed morale might be boosted at home if the cracks in the near East could be exploited. Ieper and Passchendaele were mud-bound and indecisive. The Spring of 1917 saw the first two battles of Gaza. The Ottomans held firm, despite heavy attack, but Allenby was despatched to drive a third onslaught on Gaza and from there to continue up the coast, driving the Turks into their homeland. Lloyd George needed a hero, and Allenby certainly cut the dash, for which the Prime Minister was hoping.

All through the same Summer of 2017 Balfour was finessing what was to become his Declaration. Lobbied by Weizmann, he honed its provisions and contents. Both imagined the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine to be primarily a colony, sponsored by Britain. An essentially European enclave, upon which they both naturally agreed, but for the British Government, it would stand at the outer reaches of Suez, a bulwark against any attack on the Canal, the artery to India and the Far East. Balfour believed the energy and ingenuity of Jewish settlers would transform the barren terrain of Palestine, and he and Lloyd George were convinced of the destiny for which they were paving the way. Much of the 19th c had seen millenarian and Evangelical sectarians and Anglicans seeing mission amongst the Jews as a divinely ordained task. How much of this was conscious is hard to determine, but it was bound up with their vision. Plans were put before the cabinet in early October 2017, and two senior politicians stood robustly against it, Edwin Montagu – himself Jewish, but fiercely proud to be British and resistant to any notion of Judaism being a race apart rather than a religion; and Lord Curzon, who detected immediately the difficulty of a plan for a Jewish homeland, against the provision of support for Arab Palestinians. Curzon’s objections served to modify what would otherwise have been a declaration blind to the needs of the Arab population of Palestine. As Allenby embarked on command of the third Battle of Gaza 31 October 1917, the War Cabinet considered the final draft of Balfour’s proposed declaration.

Having been agreed, Arthur Balfour wrote to Lord Rothschild

Dear Lord Rothschild, I have much pleasure in conveying to you, on behalf of his majesty’s government, the following declaration of Sympathy with Jewish Zionist aspirations, which has been submitted to and approved by the cabinet.

His Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.

I should be grateful if you would bring this declaration to the attention of the Zionist Federation. Yours Arthur Balfour.

The letter was published on 9 November 1917, but its contents were overshadowed by dramatic events in Russia. The Bolshevik uprising and arrival of Lenin caused Russia to begin disengagement with the War. As well as changing the axis of the conflict, weeks later, the Communists used their awareness of allied negotiations, to publish for the world to see, the contents of the Sykes-Picot discussions, which clarified the post war intentions of France and Britain. When by early 1918 the Shariff of Mecca was aware of the criss-cross of British double or even triple dealing, his disgust was apparent, and all Arabia with him, as their aspirations for control of Palestine, which seemed to have been promised in all sincerity by MacMahon, were decimated. As Oxford Jewish historian Avi Shlaim observed:

Thus, by a stroke of the imperial pen, the Promised Land became twice-promised. Even by the standards of Perfidious Albion, this was an extraordinary tale of double-dealing and betrayal.

None of this was before Allenby had won the third Battle of Gaza on 7 November 1917. The British press, hungry for good news, was delirious that at least on one front a British Expeditionary Force was at last making progress. The tone of the reporting was frightening to British Imperial officials. The Evening Standard declared Allenby a latter-day crusader. A section D notice had to be issued by the Ministry of Information, reminding Editors of the nearly 100 million Muslim subjects of the Empire and the march on Jerusalem was to defeat the Ottomans, and no echo of Mediaeval crusading. Nevertheless, following the Prime Minister’s wishes, Allenby made his way to Jerusalem. Military historians regard his achievement in taking Jerusalem remarkable, given the difficulty of the terrain and the complex supply lines for water and munitions.

However, Jerusalem had no military or strategic value, sitting way above the Levantine coast, in the Judaean hills. But its capture by Allenby on 8 December was the Christmas present Lloyd George needed. Huge advantage was gained by Allenby’s entry into Jerusalem. Unlike the preposterous arrival of the Kaiser in 1898 on horseback, dressed almost as a Crusader Knight at Sion Gate, as we see on the front of this order of service, Allenby dismounted from his stead and walked humbly into the city. The comparison of choreography was deliberate.

Allenby’s words to the inhabitants of Jerusalem struck an immediate chord with all who heard and read them:

Since your city is regarded with affection by the adherents of three of the great religions of mankind and its soil has been consecrated by the prayers and pilgrimages of multitudes of devout people of these three religions for many centuries, therefore, do I make it known to you that every sacred building, monument, shrine, traditional site, endowment, pious bequest, or customary place of prayer of whatsoever form of the three religions will be maintained and protected according to the existing customs and beliefs of those to whose faith they are sacred.
Guardians have been established at Bethlehem and on Rachel’s Tomb. The tomb at Hebron has been placed under exclusive Moslem control.
The hereditary custodians at the gates of the Holy Sepulchre have been requested to take up their accustomed duties in remembrance of the magnanimous act of the Caliph Omar, who protected that church.

With hindsight after Versailles, Balfour was able to say with regret:

The literal fulfilment of all our declarations is impossible partly because they are incompatible with each other and partly because they are incompatible with the facts.

On a day of remembering, perhaps to remember that 106 years after the three Battles of Gaza, conflict there now, stemmed from words half said, promises half kept, and visions half dreamed. Might we pray for forgiveness and healing, and all the more earnestly for peace?

Jesus prays in today’s Gospel for selfless love of others, Micah foresees all nations seeing God’s law coming forth from Zion transforming the world. May selflessness, characterise the pursuit of peace, and might the ultimate peace of Jerusalem, and God’s law shine in the hearts of all. Amen.








Sermon, 5 November 2023, Fourth Sunday before Advent – Rosamond Miskin

War is very much in the news at the moment.  The war in the Middle East and the Russian invasion of Ukraine.  You could say that the whole history of mankind has been one of conflict between nations.  It has also been a history of civil war and tribal enmity.

What stands out, in my mind, as a reason for all this conflict is the desire to conquer and occupy land that you believe is rightfully yours.  If you achieve your objective, you then build upon the land structures that affirm this belief and assert your presence.  The story does not end there though as there may be further invasion by an outside party who will destroy what you have built, kill your people and build anew to reflect the new state of affairs.  In his book entitled ‘Modern Theology’ James Mackey writes that ‘no circle is more vicious than the circle of violence, and there is no logic of violence, however plausible it may sound, which is not in fact circular’.

There is much sorrow in this process.  The loss of loved ones, the trauma of survivors of all ages, and the destruction of beautiful buildings containing art treasurers of great interest and beauty.  It is a negative process that goes on repeating itself throughout human history.

What, then, may bring this cycle of destruction to an end?  War weariness?  A reduction in the desire to conquer and possess land?  Prayers for peace answered or perhaps new generations putting the sacredness of human life above all other considerations.  Time will tell, but I believe that the New Testament provides us with the ultimate answer.

To find that answer we can turn to today’s Gospel reading from Chapter 24 of Matthew.  Here, Jesus foretells the destruction of the Temple and the wars that will follow, not to mention famine, earthquakes and the persecution and killing of his disciples.  There will, he says, be an increase in lawlessness and ‘the love of many will grow cold’ – what a chilling expression that is.  Yet, as Matthew goes on to reassure us, that is not the end of the story.  Jesus then says to his disciples that those who endure to the end will be spared, the good news of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the world as a testimony to all the nations; and then the end will come.  From subsequent verses of Matthew’s Gospel we are told that the Son of Man will come on clouds of heaven to gather his elect from the four winds ‘from one end of heaven to another’.

The ultimate answer then lies not on earth but it comes down from heaven.  You might ask why it must be this way.  Why does God, who loves us, not intervene earlier to put an end to war and suffering?  If we look at Psalm 107, God does, according to the Psalmist, answer those who cry to him in distress and deliver them from destruction, but war, and its aftermath of horrors, has continued across the centuries.  In his Commentary on the Gospel of Mark, Rowan Williams writes that ‘God does not step down from heaven to solve our problems but is in the heart of the world in our suffering’.  I would also say that God has given us freedom of choice and for many the choice is war and its aftermath. I believe, though, that in verse 13 of today’s Gospel reading, a way forward is offered when Jesus says to his disciples that ‘anyone who endures to the end will be saved’.

Endurance is a word that features often both in the Old Testament and the New.  In Psalm 43, the Psalmist initially mourns the fact that God has ‘cast him off’ and he calls upon God to send out his light and his truth.  Then he corrects himself, calling upon his soul to continue to hope in God who is ‘his help and his God’. In Psalm 107, the Psalmist knows that ‘the steadfast love of God endures forever’. God, then, will not abandon us even if we choose to walk away from him.  Jesus certainly knew that God looked to him to endure.  As he says in the Garden of Gethsemane: ‘My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want’. There was also the endurance of the early Christian martyrs.  So when we endure hostility this imitates the enduring love of God and demonstrates our faith in his ultimate loving purpose for us and the promise of his kingdom, even in the darkest hours.

We can also say that although the loss of beautiful buildings is a source of sorrow, we can take comfort in the words of St Paul to the Corinthians.  Our bodies, Paul writes, are God’s Temple in which God’s spirit dwells, and the foundation of the Temple is Jesus Christ.  Christ is our foundation stone and we belong to Christ and Christ belongs to God.

So let us endure what we must endure, keep hope in our hearts and pray for a better world to come.

Sermon, All Souls, 2 November 2023 – the Reverend Paul Nicholson

Take him, earth, for cherishing,
to thy tender breast receive him.
Body of a man I bring thee,
noble even in its ruin.

Once was this a spirit’s dwelling,
by the breath of God created.
High the heart that here was beating,
Christ the prince of all its living.

Those are the opening verses of an early Christian burial hymn by Prudentius, who was born in Spain in the mid 4th century. He had worked as a Roman civil servant, but from his early 50s gave himself over entirely to Christian devotional poetry, some of which is preserved in our hymn books in English translation – for example, the Advent to Christmas hymn, ‘Of the Father’s heart begotten’. Helen Waddell’s translation of his burial hymn inspired a wonderfully powerful choral setting from the English composer, Herbert Howells – written for a Memorial Service for President John F. Kennedy in Washington DC, one year after his assassination.

We have seen so much upsetting news coverage of killing and death over the last few weeks, and today as we continue to absorb those horrifying images, whilst we also remember and commit to God our own dear departed loved ones and friends, this hymn of Prudentius perhaps gives us space to honour both. For it holds each and every human body in the highest regard, as the very home of life and spirit – ‘by the breath of God created….noble even in its ruin’. Tonight’s Epistle (1 Peter 1: 3-9) affirmed that by his resurrection, Jesus Christ has won for us a ‘lively hope’, and ‘an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled … that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you’. It’s in that same confidence that Prudentius’ hymn continues, reminding the earth that its cherishing of this body is but provisional:

Guard him well, the dead I give thee,
not unmindful of his creature
shall he ask it: he who made it
symbol of his mystery.

Comes the hour God hath appointed
to fulfil the hope of men,
then must thou, in very fashion,
what I give, return again.

In a Remembrance-tide reflection on Prudentius’ burial poem written originally for the Church Times, Andrew Davison underlines that for the author, the body is symbolic of God’s mystery, and that as such, it will be raised at the general resurrection. But referring to images in subsequent verses he continues: ‘In the mean time, dust is what we shall become. This dissolution is a metaphor for all human frailty. Human life, for Prudentius, has the character of something holding together, but only just. We will come apart, but – such is the Christian hope, and never more than at this time of year – God in his mercy catches the essence of each human self at its disintegration, the “spirit” or “soul”. He holds it fast, kept until the resurrection of the body and restoration to…Paradise’. Here are the hymn’s final verses:-

Once again the shining road
leads to ample Paradise;
open are the woods again,
that the serpent lost for men

Take, O take him, mighty leader,
take again thy servant’s soul.
Grave his name, and pour the fragrant
balm upon the icy stone.

Sunday 3 September 2023 Trinity XIV Proper 17 Year A – The Vicar

Today’s Gospel is the immediate continuation of last week’s. There Simon Peter in a moment of extraordinary insight understood, or so we thought, who and what Jesus was – in his words then declares “The Messiah, the Son of the Living God.”

Today, following Mark’s order of things, St Matthew takes the narrative forward. Jesus continues to instruct his disciples and to show them that “he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things… and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him and began to rebuke him, saying “God forbid, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” But he turned and said to Peter “Get me behind me Satan!”

It’s quite a dramatic turn around, is it not? Just before this Simon son of John is named formally as the Rock, the foundation of the Church itself, against whom the powers of death will not prevail, and then at the next turn, this rock-solid foundation is being addressed by Jesus as Satan, the accuser, the tempter, the antithesis of God’s plans and directive power.

And then to the punchline perhaps: Jesus makes clear that any who follow HIM, must deny themselves, take up their cross and follow him. To be saved is to lose, to lose is to find true life in Him.

Taking up the cross, each of us having a cross to bear – tend to be slightly pietistic, and possibly rather depressing terms that Christians use. Sometimes one might even say of a difficult friend or relative that they are the cross we might be having to shoulder. It’s not difficult to see how this terminology has become pretty standard. In the United Kingdom at least, persecution is not something most Christians are acquainted with. I am sure when this term was used, almost certainly, by Jesus, and remembered as the Gospels were being written down, persecution was a reality. Peter had been crucified, by tradition upside down, and most of the Apostles, including Paul had died martyrs’ deaths. For most, crucifixion would have been normal, although Nero took mass torture and capital punishment, particularly for Christians, to new depths of awfulness.

At a personal level now, the recognition of our frailty, our inabilities, the difficulties which life has dealt us, all of these, we might characterise as our cross. The human condition, upon which thinkers of all kinds have reflected in so many ways, might itself be a way of describing what Milan Kundera termed The Unbearable Lightness of Being. I am not absolutely sure that Jesus meant that, that life itself was a cross. But for so many, weighed down with the intolerable anxieties of existence, it’s understandable that life itself might be seen as a cross, however tragic that this is the case.

The character of sin, our fallen nature, and living with an acute awareness of human degeneracy, for many towering Christian figures has been of profound importance. Martin Luther’s terror at his own sinfulness, triggered a Reformation, the shock-waves of which we are still feeling. We may ourselves feel burdened by shame, guilts and fears which threaten to overwhelm us. Ministry to those affected by suicide, acquaints us with the after-effects of just such overpowering feelings of despair at human limitation. There are so many in the history of the Church, saints and sinners alike, who have borne the weight of the cross, it takes so many different forms, but let it not leave us in despair.

Without being glib or morose, might we seek from the great treasure-trove of the Church’s medicine chest? Sin’s darkness can overwhelm, that’s its danger if we are not careful, but Jesus’s words to Peter about the gates of hell not prevailing against him, take us towards the Church’s teaching on forgiveness and grace. Repentance, confession together are the sacramental reality which unburdens us the weight of sin. When we confess our sins, however inadequately, the promise of forgiveness outweighs anything lacking. The chance for personal confession is always on offer in the Church of England, with the comforting words that “none must, some should, all may.” The unburdening of the weight of sin in personal confession can be a very wonderful release, the weight of the Cross can be laid down.

May we return to the cross itself for one moment before concluding. I am very struck by a contemporary writer, who, rather despite himself, has found that from being a popular ancient historian he has become something of a Christian apologist. You may have come across his excellent podcast, recommended to me by a parishioner: The Rest is History. This is Tom Holland, whose book Pax, has been recently published and I have not yet read, but his book Dominion I have, and really enjoyed. It is the cross itself with which he begins in the discussion of what he calls, the making of the Western Mind. Drawing on Horace, Tacitus and Seneca, Holland reminds us who view the cross as a symbol of a faith, and possibly an adornment, that in the 1st c. it was a brutal instrument of utter humiliation. It existed in a coercive society as the means of suppressing those who underpinned it, slaves. The Romans knew it was abhorrent, they avoided mention of it. “Some deaths were so vile, so squalid that it was best to draw a veil across them entirely.” St Paul of course said it first, “we preach Christ crucified, the cross a stumbling block to Jews and to Greeks (that’s everyone else) foolishness.” When Jesus said “take up your cross” and how necessary it was for the Messiah to die this way, he would have revolted his hearers. This is why Peter is so vehement in his reaction.

Simon Peter had been named the rock, but he wanted to disassociate the Messiahship of Jesus from the Messiah’s need to die. In this the rock became himself a rock of stumbling.

If Peter is in some measure us, let us learn from this, not to make God is our own image. Words from what for many was their confirmation hymn:

O let me see thy footmarks

And in them plant mine own

O guide me, call me draw me

Uphold me to the end

And then in heaven receive me

My saviour and my friend.


Sermon for Harvest Thanksgiving (Trinity XV) – 17 September 2023 – Tessa Lang

Welcome to Harvest Thanksgiving 2023 this Sunday, Trinity XV, where
every portion of the order of service points to the power of giving

For example, the liturgy for The Blessing of the Harvest Gifts rejoices
that: ‘springtime and harvest shall not cease’…and neither should our
thanks, as ‘All things come from thee, O Lord’. His generous provision
for his people activates the wonder and gratitude that is the wellspring
of creative human expression…such as voiced in a near-delirious
prayer of thanksgiving by poet e e cummings:

i thank You God for most this amazing
day: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun’s birthday; this is the birth
day of life and of love and wings: and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any—lifted from the no
of all nothing—human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?

(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

A wonderful attribute of Christianity is its materiality, where the physical
is portal to the metaphysical, and the shared experiences of being
alive–senses and emotions, food and drink, waking and sleeping,
disease and healing, birth and death, sowing and harvest–structure our
understanding and practice of faith. In this way, we arrive together at
the appointed time for the annual “Thank you” segment of Sunday Live
at St Marks…to hear a remarkable story…remember the love and
bounty of God…and rededicate ourselves to his purpose. This priority
looms increasingly acute as the actions of humanity encroach upon and
degrade the systems supporting our planet, and statistics report a
falling away from Christian identity and belief in our nation.

Today’s New Testament Lesson speaks to an existential situation in the
Church Paul founded in Corinth. In the second epistle the evangelist
needs to answer growing protests about his ministry and methods,
warn against false teachings, and calm internal power struggles. Tothis
daunting set of pastoral tasks he must add preparation of the
ground for collection of aid for the church in Jerusalem, suffering
hardship and privation of famine and facing an equally dangerous if
different sort of threat. His message is direct and personal:
“Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not
grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver.” Sowing
bountifully to reap bountifully is the pathway for connecting to God’s
unstinting grace, and success is certain. Much later at another flash
point in church history, Luther warns that losing touch with ‘Christ the
Saviour and Comforter’ impoverishes our very souls; worse, it is a
failure of faith that obstructs God’s plan of bounty for all.

For the love of God outshines human-dictated regime and law, as
demonstrated in the remarkable story we hear today, when only the
Samaritan returned to give thanks to Jesus after nine fellow lepers who
were also cleansed did not. Luke reports the words of the Lord: “They
are not found that returned to give glory to God, save this stranger. And
he said unto him, Arise, go thy way: thy faith hath made thee whole”.
No matter the affliction, however hidden or serious, we sinners can
connect to the power of thanksgiving by acknowledging the presence
and mercy of God in our lives. We are then saved to go on our way in
newness of life, restored to our birthright as children of God, sowing the
good news and actively sharing our faith. This is the energetic
ecosystem spoken into being at the beginning, connecting creator and
his creation with the hearts and hands of his people.

I think we can agree what is before us today is a bumper crop of
blessings – the gift of resources and time to provide for our physical
needs year after year, abundance in all things meant for us through
God’s grace, the transformation to spiritual health through faith in Jesus
Christ. All are freely given, if wildly undeserved, like the miracle
cleansing of 10 lepers that took place along the rancorous border
between Galilee and Samaria. A long-standing and irreconcilable
schism between the tribes had created antagonism associated with this
region that lay between Galilee and Judea. Although a direct and open
route to Jerusalem traversed Samaria and was much used by Gentiles
conducting trade, the historian Josephus reports that 1st century Jews
were at risk of trouble if they used it. At the very least, they considered
themselves exposed to unclean people in an apostate land.

Nevertheless, his is where we find Jesus and his apostles in Luke
Chapter 17, as they take their final journeys throughout the north before
travelling to Jerusalem together for the final time. There is intention
behind every word and act of Jesus, and we can be sure there is good
reason for this stop in questionable territory, notwithstanding a mission
to sow the seeds of faith amongst the Gentiles: Gadarenes, Samarians,
Romans, Syrians, Cyrenians, Greeks and Cypriots, Princes from the
East. This Messiah is global, delivering upon the Father’s promise to
save the world through his chosen people. Starting, it seems, in

During the three previous years, Jesus has conducted a one man, rock
star tour of healing and restoration of health, senses, even life itself. He
could travel nowhere alone, save on a mountaintop to pray with the
Father. As John informs us, the disciples saw innumerably more
miracles than are written down for a specific purpose in unfolding God’s
plan for salvation to those coming after his time on earth. Matthew
relates that a mere touch of the hem of his garment was sufficient to be
made perfectly well. News travels, and the later days of his ministry on
earth must have been mayhem. Taking the road less travelled could
have its benefit.

What happened here is reported by Luke, the saint of eyewitnesses and
fact checking himself, although it reads like a parable. The embodiment
of human misery and misfortune presents itself as a group of 10 lepers.
This cruel disease had manifestations so hideous and contagious that it
was deemed divine punishment for sin. Any sufferer was immediately
cast out, quarantined for the duration of a miserable lifetime, excluded
from family and community, work and worship. Their only companions
could be others punished with the same fate. The disease was such a
dire threat that chapters of Leviticus are devoted to how to identify and
isolate those infected. The arbiters of public health were the priests,
who diagnosed the condition, enforced its management, and exercised
an elaborate sacerdotal procedure to ritually cleanse and restore to the
community anyone fortunate enough to be healed. Sacrifices,
pilgrimage and anointings all paid their part. The trouble was, there are
no accounts of natural or spontaneous healing of leprosy anywhere in
the Old Testament. Only supernatural intervention, as in the case of
Moses’ sister and Naaman the Syrian warrior, was effective. Little
wonder that leprosy cures feature in the New Testament, during the
time Jesus the Christ is incarnate on earth.

As part and parcel of the physical degradation wrought by the leprosy
bacterium to skin and limb, causing damage to the nervous system and
severe disfigurement from infection and tissue loss, the voice is
weakened and distorted. Not only does a sufferer not look like his or
herself, but they also no longer sound like themselves. No matter: the
only word they need to speak is “unclean”, to announce the danger
they represent. No one in their right mind would reach out to them,
although Luke in Chapter 5 tells us that Jesus healed a leper with his

Somehow, this band of 10 lepers must have heard about Jesus and
most likely, could not believe their luck now that their hope for healing
had arrived in the neighbourhood. Standing a way off, they marshalled
their voices to beg him, as Master, for mercy…the prayer of those who
have no power of their own, nothing with which to bargain. The prayer
of all who sin.

On this occasion Jesus does not go to them or touch them. Instead, he
instructs them to “Go shew yourselves unto the priests”, as we now
know, to have their cleansing certified and the procedure to return them
to full life undertaken. As they move off in obedience to Jesus’
instruction and no doubt, with exhilarating hope, they are cleansed and
restored to physical health. The priests, the temple and the rest of their
interrupted life awaits; there can be no looking back.

The Samaritan leper is the odd man out. He is unlikely to be welcome in
a Jewish temple, even though physically cleansed. He had just
experienced total transformation at the word of the man called Jesus,
whom many claimed was the Messiah, the Christ of God. In a moment
of spiritual insight, the former leper understands that only here is his
high Priest and his God, and he is going back to glorify him in his newly
strong voice, and to bow down and worship. No other path unfolds
before him. Jesus being who he is, I do not doubt that he came this
way to save this leper.

And that is the power of thanksgiving. It ignites faith, it restores
connection to God, it sends forth in newness of life, it increases his
blessings exponentially, in ways we may hope for but cannot imagine.
For this we give thanks to God for what he does for us, for the harvest
of all good things, from our daily bread to eternal life.

In the eucharist we ask for mercy, we repent our sins in the hope of
being acceptable to God, we approach the Lord’s table as we have
been instructed, with thanks; we partake of divinity, with thanks; and we
return again and again, with thanks. This too is the precise structure for
the salvation of an afflicted stranger we meet through Jesus on the road
to Calvary. Sound like anyone else you may know?

Then Paul’s message deals with the connecting part of the circuit, and
that is to be thankful for what we can give to the activity of God. When
the two connect, giving to God and thanking God for his gifts, we abide
in his new creation, nothing less than the Kingdom of God. We are the
10% who give more than gratitude to God – they give themselves, like
the healed Samaritan.

At St Mark’s, are especially fortunate that our harvest sacrifice of thanks
and praise features gifts for body and soul – glorious music, precious
liturgy, cheerful giving, apple cider to wash down Little Bread Pedlar
pastries and West Country cheese.

Which brings to mind a recent Guardian report of a seed-scattering
event to re-stock native species of wildflowers and grasses across
habitat-depleted acres, starting in Cornwall. There was joy at the doing
of it – cider probably featured there, along with country fiddling and
dancing. There will be more joy next spring and summer, as the first
species emerge and the landscape becomes more beautiful, varied,
and alive. There will be healing in time, after seasons of returning to the
image in which they were created. Here is a living example of how
giving with thanks brings God’s harvest home. Amen.

Sermon, Trinity XII, 27 August 2023 – Ros Miskin

The theme of my sermon today is concealment.  Is concealment wise or unwise?

Does it bear fruit or is it destructive?

In today’s Gospel reading we learn from the words of Jesus to his disciples that he does not want them to tell anyone that he is the Messiah, the Son of the living God.  He praises Simon Peter for saying that he is the Messiah as it has been revealed to Peter by God, but the Gospel concludes with a stern order from Jesus to his disciples not to reveal this title to anyone.

This concealment of his identity is wise because Jesus, at this particular time, is undertaking his earthly ministry, and only when he has been raised from the dead and ascended to heaven can the word be spread that he is the Son of the living God. Until that time Jesus does not want to apply the title of Messiah to himself because of the implication of an earthly, rather than heavenly kingdom.  Implication, because in popular Jewish opinion the one through whom God would restore the Kingdom of David would be a king triumphant who would not suffer.  Jesus, in this instance, is accepting concealment as necessary in the fulfillment of God’s divine purpose, which takes us on a journey in stages from Creation to the Book of Revelation when we are given the vision of the new Jerusalem.

Setting aside this particular concealment, Jesus runs heavily in the opposite direction when referring to the Jewish leaders, the Pharisees and the Sadducees.  The Pharisees, who distrust him, resent him, and have malicious intent against him, are condemned outright by Jesus, throughout Matthew’s Gospel, for concealing their true intention to bring him down and eventually kill him.  This concealment is unwise because it hides murderous intent. It involves saying one thing whilst meaning another.  We can find an example of this concealment in Matthew chapter 22 when the Pharisees, whilst plotting to entrap him, say to Jesus: ‘Teacher, we know that you are sincere and teach the way of God in accordance with the truth..’.  Jesus retaliates with ‘why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites?  He sees right through them.

In his earlier chapter 10, Matthew warns the disciples that they will be dragged through the mud before governors and kings but they must not fear because nothing can be concealed from God.  As it is given: ‘for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known.  God sees all, even a sparrow that has fallen to the ground.  So you cannot get away with unwise concealment.

In Matthew chapter 23, Jesus denounces the Pharisees and the Sadducees in their placing of heavy burdens on others and doing nothing themselves.  He accuses them of locking people out of the kingdom of heaven because they cannot get in themselves.  All this is concealed by appearances; taking the place of honor at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues.  Appearing righteous but inside full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.  All very unwise.

The Jewish leaders, then, come under heavy fire in Matthew’s Gospel for unwise concealment and this attack on their behavior can also be found in the Gospels of Mark and Luke. Concealment does not get a good press in the Bible.

Yet there may be times when concealment could be deemed to be wise.  You might want to protect a child from the full knowledge of a traumatic episode.  You might also want to protect a vulnerable elderly person from bad news.  Where concealment becomes, as Shakespeare wrote ‘like a worm in the bud’ is when it is there to cover up ill intentions and malpractice.

Sometimes, in our history, there have been attempts made to conceal dark periods by pushing them underground in a frenzy of merriment.  I think here of the dance floors of the 1920s under which lay the horrors of the first war.  This was understandable concealment generated by fear, but I believe it is better to acknowledge that those bad times happened and let time and tide ease the pain.

Probably, at some stage in our lives, we have all wanted to hide something from others.  One of the most popular children’s games is hide and seek.  There is the excitement of being in a hiding place, provided it is not prompted by fear, but to cover up wrongdoing can generate a succession of problems, sometimes for generations to come.  Let us not go down that path if we can avoid it.  Let us instead be guided by God towards an open minded and honest society for the benefit of all.







Sermon, Trinity XI, 10 September 2023 – the Reverend Glen Ruffle

It is absolutely wonderful to be here on what I really do think is my last Sunday with you all! Never say never, but there really is no other date in the diary (in the foreseeable future)!

Well, the gospel reading we had today is one that has caused some controversy over the years. And I have to say, I’m not convinced that the language of the King James Bible has helped us today…

It has of course been greatly influential on our history and poetry, but I sometimes feel we need to hear things in a more modern way, and so I’m going to give you again the passage that was read, but in a way that hopefully makes it a bit clearer.

The reason for this, is that some people have concluded that Jesus is racist and sexist in this passage – he calls the foreign woman ‘a dog’! Let me be clear: he is absolutely not being racist or sexist, but our cultural distance from the actual event hides that fact somewhat.

So here goes. What you are about to hear is a terrible translation from the Greek, but I hope it gives you an idea of the actual meaning:

  • Jesus, who is a big fan of the England football team, went over to Germany (I should probably say Spain, given that it’s the final of the Women’s World Cup, but Germany came to mind given our long sporting rivalry!) There, a German woman, wearing the colours of the German football team, started shouting for help.
  • She said “Help me kind Sir, honourable Englishman”.
  • The disciples said “Get rid of her, she is annoying us and she supports the German team. We all know the rivalry between the England and Germany football teams!”
  • Jesus said “I was sent only to England supporters”.
  • But she threw herself before him and blocked the way. She begged him, “Help me, sir!”
  • He said, with a kind smile and a twinkle in his eye “Is it right for me to give my time and energy, which is meant for the England supporters, to you, a supporter of our great rivals, the German team?”
  • She replied “Yes it is!”. She recognised his smile and playful tone. “Because even when England win against Germany in the final, we still know that we came second in all the world”.
  • Jesus answered with a smile “You have huge faith and have shown it. I will heal your daughter”. And her daughter was healed instantly.

How does that make you feel? In that light, I hope, you can see this is not a rude encounter, but one in which a total outsider is commended and rewarded for her faith. (I also hope my ancient Greek teacher never reads that translation)!

Jesus meets this woman, who is from absolutely the worst possible background. She is a Canaanite, Syrophoenician, gentile! The worst kind of person! The Kings of Israel had a long history fighting these people.

And yet she comes to him, showing amazing faith. This Jesus is someone from outside of her community, outside of her comfort zone. Yet she reaches out to him. It is like a true supporter of the Labour Party deliberately choosing to go to the Conservatives for help – and showing the Conservatives lots of respect at the same time!

Jesus’ first response is as much to the disciples as it is to her. The disciples see her only as a problem, and as an outsider trying to break in on their nice day. “Send her away! She has nothing to do with us!”

Jesus says what they are thinking “I was sent only to Israel’s people”.

The woman comes and stops him in his tracks. She is going to chase the Lord, knowing that if you really want something, you will ask, you will seek, and you will knock. This is general life advice: people who really want things make big sacrifices.

Jesus, with a smile, tests her. Clearly she recognises him as Lord – she uses that word – but Jesus, to use an awkward phrase, plays “devil’s advocate” with her. He says “Should I take the bread for the children of Israel and give it to a dog?”.

She recognises that he is being provocative, and she recognises that he is inviting her to argue with him in an intellectual game. Yes, he has called her a dog, but that is the word all Jews used for non-Jews at that time. Jesus is using a great teaching method, that when your professor argues with you, making the opposite points, it forces you to think and argue and develop your own ideas, and it allows for ideas to be tested and developed.

So she responds with a wise smile, recognising the game Jesus is playing with her. “Yes Lord, but even the dog gets the crumbs that fall from the children’s table”. And Jesus was so delighted with her answer, he healed her daughter.

So what do we take away?

  1. The woman passionately believed in a God of abundant blessing. If the Jews were blessed, then God would give them so much that everyone else would also be blessed. In my analogy, if England won, then Germany would still be delighted, as they came second in the entire world! Silver medal – better than no medal! The leftovers on the table would be so much that those down below will also get food! God is seeking to pour out blessing – but he also looks for a faith response!
  2. This women is from the outside, with no right to the blessing, sees and understands God better than the disciples do. She knows that the God of the Jews promised to bless Abraham and through Abraham the whole world. The disciples are so insular and self-obsessed, they miss the mission of God to bring the whole world back to him.
  3. We also see that Jesus invites the woman to engage, to chase, to argue with him. We see him giving her some barriers, but she leaps over then. She really believes Jesus can give her the answer she wants, and she won’t let the disciples, or being called a dog, or being from the wrong ethnic group stop her getting the healing she wants for her daughter.

This woman is an example of the kind of faith Jesus loves. It isn’t very English, it is about chasing, pursuing and hounding the Lord. Do we, when we pray, really beg God for a response? That is the kind of faith he invites us to have! When was the last time we wrestled in prayer, begging God for an answer? Wrestling in prayer, worshipping him and submitting our lives and our desires to his will?

Because this is the heart of it: this might be the last time I preach here at St Mark’s – unlike last time, there really is no further date in the diary when I am scheduled to be here. So let this be the message I want everyone to hear:

We are like the disciples. We say to people “go away, you are annoying us, you are from the wrong group, you make us unclean”. Yet Jesus is clear – no person can defile you. The problem is in your own heart, not in a different person. And each one of us carries that problem. We call it sin.

Sin leads to death. We can’t avoid that. But Jesus died – and rose from the dead. So first of all we must submit ourselves to Jesus. We must metaphorically die, letting our desires go and laying our hopes on the cross.

Then, we receive forgiveness and begin to let him live his life through us.

Sometimes he will pick up your desires and use them for his glory; sometimes we will have to let them go. That can be painful – death is always painful. But by dying to Jesus and letting him live through us, we bring God’s rule to this earth. We are no longer our own property, we become agents of God’s Kingdom.

So my desire for everyone in this church, and for myself, is that we learn to daily die, to repent and turn from our way to the way of Jesus, and let Jesus live through us.

And then this Syrophoenician Canaanite woman can be a guide to us: to seek the welfare of others with a passion. To pray and worship fervently, with real faith, believing God wants to answer and change us and our situations.

Let us pray:

Father God, we thank you for Jesus, who died and rose from the dead.

We thank you that in him and through him we too can have life.

We repent of our selfish ways, and ask that you will live in us and through us. We give our lives to you. We ask that you will let us be agents of your Kingdom on earth.

Help us to love you and trust you more. Help us to pray with greater passion and urgency, and to know you want to answer us and lead us ever closer to you.

In and through the name of Jesus our Lord,


Sermon for the Feast of the Transfiguration, Sunday 6 August 2023 – Tessa Lang

From St Luke, chapter 9: v 28 and 29
“And it came to pass about an eight days after these sayings, he took
Peter and John and James and went up to a mountain to pray.
And as he prayed, the fashion of his countenance was altered, and his
raiment was white and glistering.”
From 2 Peter, chapter 1: v 19
“We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well
that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the
day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts.”

Good morning, and welcome back to the Holy Mountain for the
Transfiguration, an event so radically illuminating and foundational that
we encounter it twice every liturgical year, at two different fixed times.
One sits as the tollgate to the Lenten passage at the close of Epiphany
season, when we can hear its message as motivation and comfort for
the long weeks of penitence and reflection ahead. It uplifts a reluctant
pilgrim with a glimpse of the Christ, the son of God who became fully
man – ie. what he was not – whilst remaining what he has ever been –
fully divine. It is a fit time, between Christmas and Pentecost, to reprise
the miraculous events of Jesus’ incarnation in earthly space and time
and take heart in his glory and redemptive love. Each of these events –
from birth and presentation in the Temple to Passion and Resurrection –
has multiple ties back to the Hebrew scriptures and are deeply
embedded in writings of the Prophets. From Genesis to Malachi, these
steppingstones lead only to Christ, concealed in plain sight in the Old
Testament, revealed in divine purpose and glory in the New.

Some 5 months later, the 6th of August is the date for the official Feast
of the Transfiguration, so it does not always occur on a Sunday. Any
day of the week, I love the word ‘feast’; it creates an anticipation of
bounty, joy, good company and in my mind, fully deserves its own
Sunday. According to The Catholic Encyclopedia, ‘feast’ is defined as a
“commemoration of sacred mysteries and events in the history of our
redemption”. It is not a “cunningly devised fable”, not myth or
metaphor, but eyewitness reports from a time and place. Our second
invitation to witness the majesty of the living God comes in Week 10 of
the long season following Pentecost, a stretch of “after Trinity” Sundays
that examine the nature of the Kingdom of God, and the conduct and
mission of his Church. Into a season of instruction and application
drops a shining moment of elevation from this world to that which is
eternal, yet available to be grasped here and now, if briefly. As Jill
describes it in C S Lewis’ The Silver Chair, this experience is “too
exciting and scrumptious for words”. Luke describes eyewitness
accounts of Jesus emerging from a veil of flesh to a metamorphosis so
beyond human understanding it cannot be described as anything other
than ‘altered’ or changed, arrayed in pure light, radiating energy that
literally flames and sparks with self-generated power: the Son of God
as the life-giving, glistering sun.

The Transfiguration is included in all three Synoptic Gospels, and in
Second Peter. The fourth gospel writer, John, also an eyewitness, does
not mention the specific incident. Instead, it seems to have irradiated
his entire book with the message and metaphysical wonder of the
experience. How else could his Prologue speak of “the Word made
flesh” who not only lives amongst us as well as in the bosom of the
Father, and is the Word that expresses the Father as it calls all things
into life?

It is interesting that all three gospels cite the trigger for the
Transfiguration experience as Peter’s confession that Jesus is the
Christ of God. For the first time in nearly 3 years of living and travelling
with Jesus, witnessing him preach, heal, cast out demons, feed the
multitudes, resurrect the dead, subdue wind and water, Peter is moved
to speak as himself and not as others speak. It is an opening of his
mind, a John Donne-like “battering of his heart”, Luke follows it soon
after by recording Peter’s impetuous speech on the Mountain, spoken
from a place of faith beyond his ability or need to understand. Jesus
recognised it as such.

We may find it more difficult to credit such ability to discount a nearly
numberless sequence of miracles! For us, seeing is close to believing,
as in an often-paraphrased quote from a Poe short story “Believe
nothing of what you hear and only half of what you see.” The
emergence of deep fake images hint at the danger in such an
assumption. One of the churches in Wittenberg where Luther nailed his
95 Theses to the door now boasts a Chatgpt priest dispensing a
blessing for a donation! Radio 4 reports it does a brisk business.
Both are a reminder we alone can do nothing, create nothing to gain
forgiveness, redemption, and eternal life without a live faith in the living

For the Jews, a deeply imbedded tradition of holy men doing
miraculous deeds as moved by God poses a different barrier to
discerning divinity. Seeing is not believing unless reported by reliable
sources. The bar is high because some their people have seen and
recorded miracles such as Moses parting the waters, ascending Mt
Sinai to receive the Law, feeding the children of Israel for 40 years
wandering in the desert. Or Elijah triumphing over 450 prophets of
Baal, bringing the widow’s son back to life and passing straight from
earth to heaven in a fiery chariot. The prophets acted as God’s proxy
because the Scriptures told them that no mortal can tolerate the sight of
God almighty. Divinity must always be veiled, separate, apart, not
walking about looking like everyone else.

They also believed that the appearance of the Messiah would produce a
total transformation: an imminent restoration of their people to the
Promised Land and reconstruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, fully
aligned with Mosaic Law and the Prophets. Advance organisation
would be provided by Elijah, returned to serve his nation after being
‘taken up’ from Mount Carmel centuries before. The Kingdom would
manifest on Earth as a righteous and triumphant upgrade in preparation
for the Last Day, when God’s people would be resurrected all at once,
soul and body re-joined. They knew that resurrection was possible as it
occurs 3 times in the Torah scriptures, when God brought the dead
back to life acting through the prophets Elijah and Elisha.

Instead, Jesus confuses them by giving strict instructions to keep this
joyous news strictly to themselves until AFTER his time of suffering,
death, and resurrection, to be mirrored in a difficult life for his followers.
At this point, Luke tells us that Jesus withdrew to pray as was his habit,
this time taking Peter, John and James, his closest disciples. In Jewish
tradition, neither sight nor hearing counted for evidence unless there
were 2 or 3 witnesses.

It was while he prayed that Jesus’ transfiguration spontaneously
occurred. Next Moses and Elijah appeared in glory: the lawgiver and
nation-builder with the prophet and defender of the faith, both having
departed the earth centuries before. Here is a mind-bending disruption
of the time-space continuum, a multiverse on a mountaintop, where
Jesus Christ, the patriarch and the prophet discuss what Luke
describes as Jesus’ imminent ‘decease’ which he ‘should accomplish’
in Jerusalem. How will he achieve the ultimate Passover, where his
sacrifice is sufficient to justify the sinner once and for all? Do Moses
and Elijah appear to ask Jesus about his plans and satisfy the curiosity
of ages past, or did they know enough to lend him support before his
passion? After all, Moses did have early form in Passover
accomplishment. Is the scene one from the divine eternal present,
providing a glimpse of each Hebrew’s mountaintop moments
simultaneously from what we would call the past?

We recall the time the Patriarch received the Law from the Almighty on
Mount Sinai. Though cloaked in cloud, divine radiance yet caused
Moses’ face to reflect a glow too bright for Hebrew eyes. However, the
protective veil worn to return to the tribes was soon removed when
reflected glory faded. Moses may represent God’s gift of the Law, the
foundation of Jewish religion, but he was a sinful man with conscious
murder on his hand and display of lethal temper, doubt, and arrogance
as God’s appointed leader of his people that deprived him of entrance to
the Promised Land although the Almighty himself undertook his burial.
Now he stood, redeemed and glorified, once again on holy ground.

The Prophet’s epic battle against the priests of Baal on Mount Carmel
saw him spared death in anticipation of returning to prepare the way for
the Messiah. His role now assigned to John the Baptist’s preaching of
repentance and Baptism; he too stands in the presence of the living
Christ on the holy mountain. Once again, he is empowered by God and
represents the 40 or so prophets who throughout the ages have put
down markers that lead to our redemption through Jesus Christ whose
creative love sustains all life.

All too human, the disciples fail in prayer and fall asleep, so do not hear
the full discourse. Were they overcome by doubt, overwhelmed by the
prospect of the last Passover and Passion? Did they lack the
imagination to grasp the moment as did Thomas Aquinas, who when
confounded by doubt, chose to believe in a bigger God, a more
miraculous salvation? C K Chesterton calls this “believing in MORE
reality, not less”. The shock and wonder of such a spiritual awakening
kept the writer alert to the blessings and pitfalls that beset the Christian,
given imaginative life in The Screwtape Letters, written from a senior to
a junior devil. John Bunyan had written about this territory, the road
from the City of Destruction to the Celestial City in The Pilgrim’s
Progress, hundreds of years earlier. Considerably earlier still was St.
Augustine’s epic “The City of God”. Although the way is unique and
planned for each of us, the path is well known, taking us both higher
and deeper in everyday relationship with God.

When the disciples do wake, Luke tells us simply that they “saw his
glory and the two men that stood with him”. There is no doubt who is
the source of power. No sooner did they spy Moses and Elijah than
they departed, spurring Peter to speak up. “It is good, Lord, to be here”
cried out Peter the impetuous, not knowing what he said, or why, but as
a spontaneous expression of the joy of this mountaintop moment of
communion with God. He wants to DO something to keep it going, build
tabernacles, set up camp, keep eternity present, skip straight to glory
past suffering, death, and resurrection. But we have not yet
accomplished that height in God’s plan.

The words barely out of Peter’s mouth, a cloud comes and overshadows
them with God’s awesome presence, delivering the abiding take-away
from this momentary enlightenment:

“This is my beloved son: hear him.” And believe every word in the
biggest, most direct, most remarkable way. Because of his unique
person within the Trinity, Christ hears God and passes the Word to us.
In turn, God hears his Son’s prayers on our behalf.

The first time we hear God the Father affirm his son’s divinity, he speaks
to John at the Baptism of Jesus. This time, at the Transfiguration, he
speaks to the key disciples. Now that Jesus is crucified and risen, he
speaks through his son to all of us, endlessly available. Enjoy the light
shows and glimpses of the unseen should you be graced with them in
your lived life. And always pay attention to the Word as Christ walks
with you, sometimes to a mountaintop moment, always back down
again, through the spiritual landscape of your life. Stay connected
through prayer and with each other. Tis Good, Lord, to be here. AMEN

Sermon, Trinity VII, 23 July 2023 – the Vicar

Following the Parable of the Sower last week images of seed-time and harvest continue: Jesus is clear “the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels.”

Before we look at the Gospel passage, and as we have not been reading much of Romans so far since passages from it have been the NT choice, let us just remind ourselves of what this great Epistle of Paul’s is addressing and then we might see how today’s two readings speak to one another.

Rome in the first century world featured as daily reality as the Church was growing and expanding from Palestine throughout the Mediterranean world. As you know all roads let to it, and it sat at the epicentre of an Empire, the like of which had never really seen. Arguably there was a rather fascinating relationship between the Empire and its Jewish subjects, who rather uniquely were allowed to practise their religion differently from everyone else. In short Jews were exempted the requirement to owe allegiance to the Emperor cult as it grew in the 1st. c.

St Paul’s other letters were to Christians in churches which he had founded, and of which he was in some sense their spiritual head.

The Epistle to the Romans is different. Paul is writing to Christians who generally have not been evangelised by him, although from the greetings at the end of the letter he seems to know or have met a large number of Christians living in Rome. They are resident in that great City, with all it represents as the seat of imperial governance. If Paul was writing in about 55 AD, he is writing to a community which had been divided for practical reasons, because the Jews of Rome had been expelled by the Emperor Claudius in about 49 AD, following an uprising. Two key people, Priscilla and Aquilla, a couple Paul had met then in Corinth during that exil,e had managed to return home, following Claudius’ death.

About 30,000 Jews lived in Rome, and it seems some of their synagogues in the early 50s AD and before the expulsion were already centres of very early Christianity. Roman non-Jews seem to have been drawn to these meetings. In Rome today there are churches which seem to have been built on the foundations of just these early meeting places which may have been synagogues before they were churches.

One of the key issues for a community which has emerged from Judaism, but itself was decimated the exile of the Jews, is how does the message of Christ sit within the intricate legal framework and demands of Judaism. Gentile proselytes realised the great demands of the Jewish Law, and while some did convert, many remained friends of Judaism but not full initiates. So the questions for them as Jewish-leaning Gentile followers of Christ were comparable with the radical Gospel Paul was preaching of a renewed attitude to the Law and Covenant – which had put him at odds with Palestinian Christians and Judaisers.

What Paul has been addressing in the intense discussion with his readers until this point has about the nature of the Law, which was both utterly attractive for its certainty for non-Jews but impossible to take on in its fullness at the same time. Before that he has reminded his readers of what baptism is about.

Chapter 8 is one of the high points of the tussle which Paul has, because it is so intensely personal for him. At the end of Chapter 7 he says:

I delight in the Law of God in my inmost self, but I see in my members another Law at war with the law of my mind… Who will deliver me from this body of death?

Chapter 8 begins:

For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set me free from the law of sin and death.

This is what today’s passage as the Epistle then explores. He wants his friends, and they are his friends and equals not his children or converts to know:

You are not in the flesh, you are in the spirit, when the Spirit dwells in You.

He begins the passage we have heard:

All who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God… you have received the spirit of sonship. When we cry Abba, Father, it is the Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children then heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.

Behind this passage are two themes. The experience of the Children of Israel as they crossed the Red Sea in their flight from Egypt. This was their adoption as indeed God’s children, God’s chosen people. It is more than an adoption. The waters of the Red sea part as they were brought to birth as a new people in God’s eyes. This imagery is strongly implied in the waters of baptism, and Paul has spoken about this insistently in chapter 6. The implications of this are now apparent in chapter 8. We can cry Abba Father. But as the Spirit wells up in us to make this cry, our calling is the voice of Christ in the Garden in his agony. He cries Abba – daddy, dearest Father as his Passion is clear before him. The Spirit gives us utterance as our will and Our Lord’s are united. His death is our death to this world, and so:

…the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.

Paul has been saying as much to those he converted. Those in Rome have heard the Gospel and know Jesus already, but perhaps this is new to them: that their suffering and death is their identification with Jesus, and so they are being revealed alongside him. At the moment, following recent persecution, they are hiding. Paul is preparing them for something he knows will befall him and which his own eventual journey to Rome in the few years ahead will make manifest.

….and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly we await adoption as sons, (to wit – know this) the redemption of our bodies.

What of the Gospel passage and the wheat, the weeds and the angels?

God lets the wheat and the weeds grow together. Nothing must endanger the wheat, a premature pruning would be a danger.

Perhaps as Christians we fear that our prayer, our witness is an impure mixture of wheat and noxious weeds. St Paul says “it is the Spirit that intercedes for us”. The Spirit’s leading causes our prayers to join with the essence of prayer and connection at the heart of the life of the Trinity. When our prayer reaches the Father, because our words have been joined with the Spirit’s, the Father listens only to that portion that is true. Our hearts and conscious prayers are refined by the Spirit at work in us. We are not the weeds, the tares, the Spirit bears fruit in us, despite our dullness and helps us to cry, Abba, Father.



Sermon, Trinity V, 9 July 2023 – the Vicar

My father, whom I am sorry you did not know, because he died about a year before we came here, was full of funny sayings, which continue make me smile when I think of them.

Dad would not eat pork, ham or sausages without English mustard, French would not do, neither Meaux nor Dijon. The suggestion of mustard with either lamb or beef would always elicit his oft used dictum “Mustard with mutton is the sign of a glutton, mustard with beef is the sign of the thief.”

I was reminded of this and smiled again when recently Beatrice was recommended a thoroughly good recipe website, with really good ideas for supper Mustard with Mutton – Diary of a Glutton – do take this away as a top tip.

Of course, in today’s Gospel Our Lord caricatures himself as glutton:

“For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say he has a demon; the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say “Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!”

He goes on to say “Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.” What’s going on here?

First of all, where are we in Matthew’s Gospel narrative: Jesus’s preaching ministry follows on from the confirmation of the 12. At much this time, John the Baptist is arrested, and John sends from prison his disciples to see Jesus. John’s fate seems to be attracting opprobrium, despite the sensation he had been. Jesus begins today’s reading slightly despairing “What do  people want? On the one hand you had the ascetic Baptist who ate and drank nothing and on the other hand you have me, who is happy to go to outcasts and sinners and enjoy a party, and you’re not happy with either. What’s this like, well it’s like children playing make believe games, who could pretend a jolly game like a wedding

“saying, We have piped unto you, and ye have not danced”

Or one the other hand a sad game, like a funeral procession, which you would probably see every day in the market place, going by, and it would be easy to imitate with the exaggerated dirges of the professional mourners verging on something over the top

“we have mourned unto you, and ye have not lamented.”

Like children (without screens in those days), who just won’t get into the imaginative spirit, nothing is good enough for a bit of pretend or imagine or dream.

And so John is dismissed and Jesus derided. You recalcitrant market-place-children, just won’t dream a little.

Jesus is pretty clear that “this generation” is not just missing the point, it’s going to miss the boat too.

There’s something self-conscious about this reference to himself as a glutton and drunkard, which is not just about Jesus liking his food, or his mustard with 1st century mutton.

Bear with me, this glutton and drunkard saying has a pre-history: There’s a rather chilling example of what happens to rebellious sons in the Book of Deuteronomy chapter 20:

“If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son, who will not obey the voice of his father and mother…. they shall say to the elders of the city, this our son is stubborn and rebellious, he is a glutton and a drunkard. Then all the men of the city shall stone him to death.”

It is not just that Jesus loves a good dinner; he realises that he is being cast as THE stubborn and rebellious SON, the inaccurate and inexplicable euphemism for this is gluttony and drunkenness. Thus, forebodingly Jesus foresees that he will be rejected and put to death.

There are several ironies in this passage. The children at the start of the reading just won’t play. They’re so busy with other preoccupations, that they won’t dance to either the tune of JBAP or Jesus, both of whom exemplify the truth at the heart of the dance. But they are not really the children this is all about, they are really the adults – this generation, the Children of Israel, who will not see perhaps because they are so caught up in their righteousness and sense of self importance what the Kingdom’s message is proclaiming.

But there are other children referred to in this story this morning. Not children actually, but infants – very little ones, about them Jesus says:

I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes. 

The market place children are too full of care, they are the wise and prudent. It’s the babes that all truth is being revealed to. They who should not understand are being offered it all on a plate, indeed their burdens are in the process of being lifted.

It’s no accident that in the first lesson that the Messiah appears as a humble man, on an equally humble beast of burden. This sets the tone for what the Lord’s coming kingdom will be characterised by, and made evident, as Jesus himself enters Jerusalem in like manner in the time ahead. In the meanwhile Jesus says to the infants:

Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

The irony here of course is not just about the children not being children but grown ups, but what Jesus is offering rest, and an easy burden, is actually rather more than that. His light burden which he offers his infants, is his cross, he’ll tell us this very directly in chapter 16 “if any will come after me let them deny themselves, take up their cross and follow me.”

But because Jesus takes this freely, willingly and lightly himself, so he is strengthening our arms and our shoulders, and most importantly our resolve so that we might

Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.



Sermon Sunday 16 July 2023 Trinity VI – the Vicar

Last weekend I spent some time with a farmer relative. He’s the son and grandson of generations of farmers who loves the land enjoys explaining what his life and work consists of. His favourite occupation is using his rather splendid tractor to plough, tend or drill his fields. It’s so state of the art it can calculate the precise quantities of fertiliser or seed needed according to the drainage or quality of the soil – it’s something to do with satellites. It’s all very mind-blowing.

I don’t think the sower, whom Jesus almost certainly would have seen going past, was able to calculate soil depth and drainage with anything like that degree of accuracy! We’ll come on to the story in just a minute. It’s one of the greats for good reason, it connects with something pretty primitive in all of us. The idea of seed-time and harvest has multiple resonances, and for all our disassociation with nature, especially in Town perhaps, it situates us hearing Jesus’s words alongside one of the most fundamental exercises of the stewardship of God’s creation.

I have good news and bad news for you. Let’s save the good news till the end.

This last week the General Synod met in York. I have very mixed feelings about Synods and I don’t tend to follow them with huge interest or to report on them.

On the hand lots of people sitting in hot rooms for a very long time (five full days – over a weekend in July) is just incredibly off-putting; on the other, a national Church, which has always set store by a fully engaged discussion between Bishops, Clergy and People has to have a mechanism for this to happen.

What took place there over last weekend and into this last week might merit some telling. There was nothing boring about how it conducted its business, indeed, for many of the wrong reasons, what went on managed to attract a considerable degree of press interest.

It did not start well. The Archbishop of York managed to give the impression in an unscripted remark that there were problems with calling God Father. It was something of a storm in a teacup but before things had got started there was unfortunate press interest. It all got a lot worse on Sunday, when for any who did not already know, a really grim administrative falling out became uncontainable and the optics of it have been terrible.

If I try to pot the story, forgive inevitable omissions of detail.

  • In the fallout from the many abuse scandals, the Independent Commission on Child Sexual Abuse urged the Church of England to appoint an independent safeguarding standing body to call the Church to account in relation to this area.
  • In early 2022 a Commission was appointed comprising 3 members. They were given until the end of 2023 to define their terms of reference.
  • One of the three, the chair was responsible for a databreach and had to stand back during an investigation. The two other members continued to work on the terms of reference. A new interim chair was appointed whom they did not get on with.
  • Eventually in June this year things were so bad that the situation became irretrievable. As things unravelled the two original members let their situation be known on social media and they were asked to leave.
  • Because they had seen their task as primarily the understandable championing of the rights and grievances of survivors, those groups and other supporters were vociferous in the defence of the two who were let go. The Archbishops’ Council were clearly saddened by what had happened but felt they had no choice but to begin constituting the Independent Board afresh.
  • Those who left have reported their concerns to the Charity Commission.
  • For what it’s worth my view is that the lack of absolute clarity from the Archbishop’s Council at the outset allowed the group to start its work before the terms of reference were in place, and it is hard to see how this was not going to become complicated.
  • There is no question that abuse in and the connected with the Church has been catastrophic and ruinous to people’s lives. The Church needs help in making sure that it endangers no one and helps everyone. Abuse comes in many forms, and because the faithful are at their most vulnerable when before God, they are most easily exploited, and power in the hands of the unconscious or the perverse is most lethal.
  • There was a failure in getting this group’s work started. Clarifying the difference between the process of its establishment and the group’s eventual tasks was not effective. The group started its work when it was not ready. Because its outreach to victims and survivors was so nurturing and good, sight seems to have been lost of how that might have been better timed.
  • Sacking good people, well intentioned people always looks bad.
  • It was all utterly awful, and would have been better avoided if possible.
  • I hope this helps disentangle some of what you might have seen reported.
  • While occasionally taken aback by some of what goes on “at the centre” of the Church of England, this was not its finest hour, but let it not be misunderstood, the Church dearly wishes to be accountable and safe, and I hope it can achieve that this time.
  • Bureaucracies don’t like admitting they were wrong or did not communicate well. They were wrong to lack clarity and to communicate expectations with directness. I hope they learn in future.
  • The second excitement at Synod was the update on the status of services of blessing for same sex couples.
  • In February the House of Bishops did two things at once.
  • They offered an abject apology to gay people for appalling behaviour towards them on the one hand – it was grovelling in the extreme, and almost just a fraction embarrassing.
  • After issuing that, they then let be seen the draft sets of prayers for blessing ceremonies. On this hand the services were unusable and also embarrassing.
  • At some level this was all politics.
  • We cannot pretend that the Church of England was not born of politics and there is no pretending it does not live by and through a constant trade-off or compromise between two irreconcilable visions of the Church. Of all Churches, for all is bumbling and chaos (as just cited), it is a meeting point of mutually exclusive ways of being, and this will mean abrasive and ugly rows. Playing or being involved in politics over issues which really matter, especially at the moment, when issues about gender and sexuality are contested in extraordinary ways in our society, will be costly and if we are in this organisation we are not going to be untouched by this.
  • While I struggle with the prayers as proposed, I cannot help but see how they came about. The small print allows clergy a bit of latitude to add and supplement, which as the time comes I will be inclined to do.
  • At Synod, the update led to fierce discussions in and out of the chamber. I don’t do social media, there was a storm there too, which I have been spared.
  • It seems no one is happy, and in November this will be repeated when the Synod will meet again. They’ve got in a tangle now over whether or not there should be a vote about it.

Synod also discussed whether or not there should be charges for marriage, and I must admit I am with those who thinks that as with baptisms, we should not charge statutory fees for marriages. Clearly musicians must be paid, but fees for pastoral offices were waived during the pandemic and I think this was a positive innovation.

I said there would be some good news, at the end. Waiving marriage fees might be good news for some, but I can offer better than that.

Today’s Parable of the Sower Gospel, and its precursor from the prophet Isaiah present the best possible news. There’s something I saw in this reading that I had not seen before. I don’t know if my farmer relative and his tractor might have helped.

It’s about the maths.

Seed is sown a bit indiscriminately as hand sowing is probably wont to do. The seed goes in four directions: the path, rocky ground, thorns, and good soil. We don’t know what proportion went to which soil type – but that is not the point. When the harvest came, from the good soil, even if it was only a quarter of the total sown, some gave a hundredfold, some sixty, and even the worst thirtyfold.

Any farmer would be pleased that after an inauspicious start. Isaiah foresaw this “My word…shall not return to me empty, it shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” He carries on and underlines the word he sends out and waters and tends like seed is in fact his people. He continues speaking to the seed “You shall go out with joy and be led back in peace, and the mountains and hills shall burst into song and all the fields shall clap their hand.”

I am sure as Jesus saw the sower, he was reminded of this passage and wished to confide in his disciples a truth they would come to see only much later.

So many realities obscure our vision of God is doing, of what a rich harvest he is preparing. Let not human error, bureaucracy and fallibility renew our vision, of the whole of creation, fields of corn on the hillside, clapping hands and singing for joy.

Sermon, The Visitation of Mary, 2 July 2023 – Rosamond Miskin, LLM

May I speak in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit

At present, if we look at the state of the world today, you could say that joy is in short supply.  So many disasters; the terrible rail crash in India, the death of 800 people at sea, the implosion of the Titan sub that led to the deaths of its five passengers who wanted to plumb the depths of the ocean to explore the wreck of the famous ship, Titanic, that sank in 1912. Then there was the random murder of the two students in Nottingham who had been enjoying a night out.

These are just samples of the tragedies that go on time after time.  Now accompanied by climate change, the after effect of the pandemic, which has left many people grieving, and the cost-of-living crisis causing anxiety and despair.

You could say, then, that we are in a joyless world.  Yet all is not lost.  We, as Christians can, despite all the horrors, keep joy in our hearts.  We can keep singing praises to God for offering us his son, Jesus, as our hope of eternal life and salvation for us all.  Our joy rests not only in any happy present moments that continue to exist in our troubled times but also in this message of eternal salvation.  This does not mean that we do not feel devastated when tragedy occurs, but we have faith, when we feel we are in the dark, that nothing can separate us from the Divine plan that God has for all of us to share in his eternal kingdom. It is a plan rooted in love that will always triumph in the end over fear.

For an affirmation of this joy in God’s purpose for us we can find it expressed loud and clear in today’s Gospel reading which describes the Visitation of Mary to Elizabeth, wife of Zechariah.  When Elizabeth hears Mary’s greeting, she is filled with the Holy Spirit and blesses Mary and the fruit of her womb.

Elizabeth’s unborn child, to be known as John the Baptist, leaps in her womb for joy. Mary then gives us her Song of Praise in which her spirit rejoices in God.  The role of the Holy Spirit is evident here.  Mary’s spirit is the source of her joy and Elizabeth’s blessing upon Mary is prompted by the Holy Spirit. Joy all around then, brought about by the activity of the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit can do this because it is the messenger from God, offering us the love of God.  If we look at St Paul’s letter to the Romans, in his Chapter 12 he urges true Christians to be ‘ardent in spirit’. In verse 15 he says ‘Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep’.  If we allow the Holy Spirit to be our inspiration and guide then we too can find joy in a troubled world.

The Holy Spirit was active in Mary and Elizabeth as they were both women of faith in God.  Elizabeth ‘believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her by the Lord’.  Belief, despite being barren and in old age, that she would conceive a son.  Mary, having been told by the angel Gabriel that despite being a virgin she would conceive also, submits herself to God’s will.  Initially perplexed she then says: ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.’

Such is the huge significance of this rejoicing that it is expressed whilst Jesus and John are still in the womb.  In the old age of Elizabeth and the virginity of Mary, the circumstances of these two impending births are unique and the narrative that describes these two women coming together to rejoice is also unique in that it only features in Luke, nowhere else in the New Testament.  You could say that Elizabeth and Mary were able to rejoice because of their unique status as the mothers-to-be of John the Baptist and Jesus the Son of God. That may be so, but we can all rejoice in pregnancy and birth.  We can also find in today’s Gospel reading a value put upon unborn life.  When reading articles on the Visitation on the internet, I came across an article by the Bethlehem Lutheran church which says that in Luke’s text ‘we learn to care for unborn life’.  The circumstances in which Elizabeth and Mary find themselves is unique in one sense but their meeting each other as two pregnant women is an everyday happening that might apply to any woman living in any age.  What is happening is that Elizabeth is helping us to recognise salvation and Mary, whilst standing for continuity and history, inaugurates a new era.  Nevertheless, as given in the Commentary on Luke by James Woodward, Paula Gooder and Mark Price: ‘salvation is also expressed in everyday life’.

Another characteristic of both Elizabeth and Mary is that they are both humble.  In this manner they find favour with God.  They are both the mothers-to-be of two men, Jesus, and John, who will also live a life of humility and service to God.

I would like to conclude my sermon by reflecting upon images of the Visitation in art.  Many of the images I looked at depict Elizabeth as an old woman, but I found it interesting that in the ancient icons of the Orthodox church both Mary and Elizabeth look of the same age.  Was there a religious motive for not portraying Elizabeth in old age?  I do not know but we do know from the Bible that Elizabeth was in old age and her husband Zechariah loses his speech temporarily for not believing it possible for his wife to conceive at her age.  He did not, at that moment, see that ‘nothing is impossible with God’.

That sentence is very uplifting, and we can keep it in mind when we are going through hard times.  So let us take heart and continue to rejoice, as Elizabeth and Mary did, in the love of God.

Sermon, Trinity II, 15 June 2023 – the Vicar

Today’s readings present on the one hand in the Book of Exodus the calling of the Children of Israel to be Kingdom and Nation of Priests, and on the other the naming of the 12. The first is in some measure the precursor of the second of course. Just as Moses sets forth before Israel how God had formed them as a nation, so Jesus’s gathering of the 12 is his reconstitution of Israel. In both cases this is born of divine compassion.

Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I bare you on eagles’ wings, and brought you unto myself

But when Jesus saw the multitudes, he was moved with compassion on them, because they fainted, and were scattered abroad, as sheep having no shepherd God’s self-identification with his people is from the outset – when they were suffering in Egypt, he bound himself to them. In turn Jesus has compassion on the crowds, and the 12 become the new structure of a divinely ordered nation, once again bound to God in this personal way, which in the New Paschal Mystery, with Jesus’s death as the lamb of God of the renewed Passover.

These great themes of adoption, Passover, divine compassion and feasting, which the Passover meal is par-excellence, are responded to in the motet we shall hear during communion today, Byrd’s incomparable Ave verum corpus.

 HAIL, true Body born of the Virgin Mary, who truly suffered as a sacrifice upon the Cross for man, whose pierced side flowed with water and with blood, be for us a foretaste [of heaven] in the trial of death.  O sweet and holy Jesus, Son of Mary, have mercy on me.

It’s one of the devotional hymns associated with the Feast of Corpus Christi, which we marked just over a week ago, always observed on the Thursday after Trinity Sunday.

As we are having this motet today as part of the wider music festival that shapes the month of June, I wanted to say something about the composer William Byrd born 1540 died in 1623. It is an important anniversary.

It was not without significance that two pieces, two very different pieces of William Byrd’s were sung during the Coronation in May. Something of the contrast between them tells us about the man and the times in which he composed. His place in the firmament of English choral music is so important, and we have been so lucky these last three weeks to hear music by him.

And William Byrd holds a very special place in my musical sensibilities, 30 years ago this Summer we had the Byrd 4 part as the mass setting. In a way the powerful musical impulses of work represents a striving to hold in tension almost irreconcilable dichotomies of faith being battled over in the 16th, which only music can transcend, operating in spheres way beyond words.

Byrd’s life is hard to piece together, not unlike Tallis his teacher before him, there are fragments only about their early lives and there is an element of conjecture. Certainly from 1569 Byrd was a gentleman of the Chapel Royal, a musician at Elizabeth’s court. But there is much evidence to suggest he may have sung there too a boy, and so was in Royal musical circles, if not service, for much of his long 80 year life. In a way as a Catholic, as we shall discover, in the reigns of Elizabeth and James, he hid in plain sight, under their noses. They were cultural connoisseurs, Elizabeth particularly, and for all her independent spirit, was clear that she had no interest in “making windows into men’s souls”. A genius on the scale of Byrd, pupil of his great master Tallis was to be harnessed not fettered. Indeed, Elizabeth gave them the publishing rights for all published music and music paper in her realm from 1575-1595 – although Tallis died in 1585. An important monopoly its publications give us some insight into their remarkable range as composers, and their ability both to accommodate in their lifetimes the ebb and flow of ecclesiastical change.

The first of Byrd’s compositions played in May was his beautiful piece Prevent us O Lord. In the tradition of Tallis’s deliberate clear propositional Protestant style, it sets to music words of a collect in ways which underline meaning. Its elegance is assured, clean, pure and didactic. There is no doubting its intention of the dependence of the faithful upon God in all things. It was composed we think in 1580 – as fevered anti-Catholic feeling was running high, Jesuit missionaries were coming to England, and plots against the Queen were emerging. It is a statement of Court religion, utterly reliant on the the Book of Common Prayer and Elizabeth’s Settlement.

The Gloria from the Mass for Four Voices, the setting we heard two Sundays ago, was sung soon after Prevent us O Lord. Each of them bracketed the swearing of the controversial Coronation Oath. The Gloria came as a Catholic blast just after it in fact. Its origin is very interesting.

It was written about 1593, maybe earlier. For some time by then Byrd had taken something of a back seat at the Chapel Royal. He still composed music of all sorts for use at court, but in his retreat with his many children in Essex, under the patronage of the Petre family at Ingatstone Hall, he wrote music for secret celebrations of the catholic mass, by missionary priests. Not to attend worship locally as an Anglican, which he did not, resulted in heavy fines which he paid, was one thing, to attend secret masses and to write for them was extremely dangerous.

He did this while on the payroll of the Chapel Royal, and still dedicating work to the Queen.

We can only speculate on what drew him from the Established religion and who knew what about his practice of the old faith, that meant he was able to survive with relatively little scrutiny, although there were moments of sanction, and he was not spared considerable fines.

Elizabeth did not cause him to confess, and he leaves us almost no words of his own, but his music tells its own tale.

There are scholars like Diarmaid Muculloch who maintain that the choral tradition, central at the Tudor Court throughout the 16th c with all its changes, and in the Cathedrals, was the single biggest brake on full reformation in England. I am inclined to agree. Byrd, and Tallis before him, exemplified what the reformers were so keen to underline as essential: musical adornment should merely point the meaning of words of the new liturgy. But behind this clear and deliberate and beautiful music, were men whose entire lives since 1505 in the case of Tallis and 1540 in the case of Byrd, had been shaped by music making in Catholic settings. Tallis as lay singer in a monastery, until it was dissolved in 1540, Waltham Abbey, Byrd, probably as a boy in the chapel royal, during the reign of Catholic Queen Mary (with a choir directed by Tallis). Mary’s heart was buried in St James’s in the chapel itself under the choir-stalls. I like to think it was buried there because her heart was lost in the sublime music-making of Tallis in her reign. Byrd was always loyal and understanding of his Patron Elizabeth, but his heart was lost too, in that ancient inheritance of the Catholic faith, whose residue, despite the convulsions of the age, and because of his quiet persistence, was not lost in Anglicanism.

It is easy to see why one late-16th-century music collector described Byrd as “a glory to our race, and a nightingale to our people”.






Sermon, Trinity III, 25th June 2023 – Lessons from the last 15 months – the Reverend Glen Ruffle

“And now, the end is near, the time has come, the final sermon…” 

If someone had said to me in 2018 that I would have to sing in public (I admit, badly!), then I don’t think I would have even continued talking to William about priestly ministry. I don’t sing.

And yet here I am, and William I am sure remembers perfectly well my horrified reaction when he told me I would have to sing at the eucharist!  “Sing” of course is a strong word for my efforts… I do heartily apologise to the amazing choir for my noise! I am not gifted in the vocal department, but thanks so much to Mike and Simone for giving me a few lessons, and helping me to lose the immense fear I had.

This is my last regular Sunday at St Marks. But I’ve learned that in God’s hands, never say never. I said goodbye to Moscow in 2018, only to end up back there in 2021. I’m not ruling out, however unlikely, another return…though I fear it will be a long time before anything changes in that situation.

Since I left Russia, it’s been an adventure. I arrived in Primrose Hill in March 2022, a little lost and confused, but equally slightly excited. I felt totally cared for, and that is credit to William and Beatrice, and the church, who really did welcome the stranger at short notice!

Though William doesn’t believe it, I spent 3 genuinely lovely months in his basement. Then 3 equally lovely – though very hot – summer months with Judy, who kindly opened her house to me. I woke up every day thinking “how on earth did I get to live in Primrose Hill? I’m so blessed!” And finally I found a bit more stability in an office block with some rooms attached to it, near Westbourne Park.

And on top of all that, I also got to attend the Lambeth Conference, spend 4 months studying in beautiful Annecy in France, visit Geneva, do some training in Cologne (and Woking!), get priested, and – oh yes – get engaged to be married!

If ever I thought joining the church would be nice boring tea parties in the garden of a village vicarage, that idea is long gone…

I’ve been trying to think what the key takeaways are – what have I learned? Of course, I’ve learned so much about vestments – chasubles, dalmatics, stoles, maniples, burses and copes. I could go on. But what has been the real, more deeper learning?

First, I like that sparrow in today’s reading. God knew where I was, where I fell. And God saw, and God cared. And God said, “in this difficult time, I will test you. But if you respond well, you will grow so much!” I really think, in all the experiences of life, it is how we respond that makes us. Every situation offers a choice: humbly continue to love, try to care, be honest and open; or attack the other person, be selfish, cynical and self-seeking, and blame everyone else.

Adam and Eve: eat the apple, or obey God. Abraham: obey or disobey God’s request to sacrifice Isaac. Would he trust that God knew best? Joseph: stay with the Potiphar’s wife, or do the right thing and run. The Bible is full of key moments where how we respond is what makes us.

I’ve done some stupid things this last year, but also some good things, and I know its the challenges I have embraced that have made me a much better person.

Some of you are aware as well that I have been working part-time for the Anglican Communion, the global network of Anglican churches across the world. This has been fascinating. But the key issue facing us all is one of unity.

There are movements in the global church to separate from the Communion because of disagreements over practice and theology. I completely agree that these things are important, but do disagreements really mean we have to start a new denomination? Cannot we continue to sit in the same room, the same family, and do the harder work, of continuing to talk? I can’t get rid of my cousins – they are my blood family! I might not speak to them, but the genetics mean they are always my cousins.

The same with our faith: if we still hold to Jesus Christ as central, as the Way, the Truth and the Life, and if we still stand in the footsteps of our Christian ancestors, knowing that the path of following Jesus is not the easy way – it will produce difficulties for us if we do it rightly – then surely we can support and encourage each other rather than going to sit in different rooms!

Our gospel reading today talked of this: if we are disciples, we are not above our master. We must realise that God is holy and all powerful: fear only him, not people! Because yes, this world will mock us.

And if we are disciples, then that can have a deep personal cost. The gospel reading says if your family reject you because you follow Jesus, you ought to choose the harder choice of staying with Christ. Discipleship can be costly.

But the gospel says continue to worship God, for he alone can destroy body and soul in hell. Think on that: it is an amazing bargain for us! All we do is say before temporary, fallible people, that we belong to Jesus – and we get claimed before almighty, eternal, infallible God! It’s a bargain!

And who are we to judge? Jesus calls us to humility. Ought we not to worry about our own sins rather than those of someone else? God is the judge of the other person, just as he is the judge of you and me. It’s like the sheep and goats: in the Middle East they all look similar, but God knows the difference. When time is called, God will separate them and he will decide who is truly his, and who is not. It’s not our call to judge one another! If we do, we steal God’s job!

So let us not argue, judge and fight. We have that in Parliament every day – and have you ever seen a Labour MP eviscerate a Conservative and the Conservative respond by saying “Oh, you are right! How silly I was, I will change my mind”. Of course not! Attacking and blaming does not work!

Real change comes from dying to our own desires, and learning to walk together, listening to the other, and learning to trust.

So they are my two take aways from the year, two ways I have been formed. Embrace the strange challenge of the new. Thuribles, chasubles, choreography around the altar – for me it was all new. I could have said “no!”; I could have offended lots of people being stroppy, sticking to the comfort of what I knew from my limited experience. Instead I have mostly tried to learn, and what a reward it has been. Thank you to all of you – even in your weak moments, you have taught me!

And stick together in love. Yes we will disagree, but the world is full of people who disagree. The church ought to be different, saying loudly and clearly “we disagree but we are still committed to each other!

And Yes, you might be right; but Jesus never asks us to win arguments; he calls us to serve him, sacrifice our lives to his goals, and to serve each other. Find your life to lose it; lose your life to find it.

I went to Russia to a life I knew; I lost it. A new life was given to me here – and I feel like I have found so much. So, to all of you, thank you.


Sermon, Ascension, Sunday 18 May 2023 – Ros Miskin

May I speak in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit

It gives me much pleasure to have this opportunity to preach to you this evening here at St Mary’s.

An evening that is of great significance in our Christian calendar as it is the evening of Ascension Day.  The Ascension marks the culmination of the earthly existence of Jesus as he is swept up into heaven to sit at the right hand of God and be glorified. Preceding this great event was the commissioning of the disciples and here I take my text from the Gospel of Mark.  ‘Jesus himself sent out through them, from east to west, the sacred and imperishable proclamation of eternal salvation’.

Reading through other references to the Ascension in the New Testament, whilst we can find it in the Gospels of Luke and John and the first chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, there is no reference to it in Matthew’s Gospel.  Matthew’s finishing point is the commissioning of the disciples on the mountain of Galilee.  Perhaps this is because it has coincided with the Resurrection.  Luke tells us that Jesus leads the disciples to Bethany, then lifts up his hands and blesses them ‘withdraws and is carried up to heaven’.  This blessing, according to the Jerome Biblical Commentary, is the only mention in the Gospels of Jesus blessing people.  The only mention, but not so in art. By the 9th century, in the domes of churches we can find Christ making a blessing gesture with his right hand.

In John chapter 20 we have the powerful scene in which Mary Magdalene, having wept by the empty tomb where Jesus was laid, sees Jesus and tries to hold on to him.  Jesus replies: ‘Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father.  But go to my brothers and say to them, I am ascending to my Father to my God and your God.  Here we find the universal application of the Ascension; it is there for all of us.  Finally, in the first chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, we are told that the disciples will, by the power of the Holy Spirit, be witnesses to the ends of the earth.  Jesus was then ‘lifted up and a cloud took him out of their sight’.  Two men then appear to the disciples in white robes telling them that Jesus will come back the same way.  We can take this to mean that the Ascension will eventually be followed by Jesus coming again in glory.  As the Nicene Creed gives it to us: ‘he shall come again in glory to judge both the quick and the dead: whose kingdom shall have no end’.

The New Testament, then, is telling us of the commissioning of the disciples by Jesus and his ascension to heaven.  Looking at these texts, though, I would say that it is a bit of a bumpy ride in terms of some uncertainties. Let us have a look at these uncertainties. First, there is a question mark over the Ascension narrative in the Gospel of Mark.  If some of the most ancient authorities are right, then Mark ends at verse 8 of chapter 16 which would omit his Ascension narrative of verse 19.  It is not certain but I think it is probable that verses 19 and 20 can be included because verse 20 contains the words ‘good news’ which is the expression used by Mark at the outset of his Gospel. His opening sentence reads: ‘the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God’. These words ‘good news’ are I believe the defining words of Mark’s Gospel.

The ride gets bumpier when we look at the writings of the third century philosopher, Origen, who concluded that the Ascension was an ascension of the mind not body.  Following the questioning posed by philosophy, if we look at today’s world, with its developments in science and cosmology, they do not sit easily with the concept of a physical heaven.  In his book ‘Meeting God in Mark’ Rowan Williams responds that there is no evidence from heaven that God exists, but God changes things from the heart of the world, not by intervention from the sky.  He does not need a banner in the sky to proclaim his existence.

The debates will no doubt continue but what stands out in my mind when reflecting upon the Ascension, is the cloud. The cloud that, according to Acts, lifted Jesus up and took him out of sight. This text would not make sense if it were an ascension of the mind rather than the body. The cloud features in depictions of the Ascension in art and the cloud of incense in our worship demonstrates that God is present but cannot be seen by us in our earthly life.  As St Paul puts it, we cannot yet see God face to face, only in the mirror darkly.  The Old Testament also gives us the cloud.  In Exodus, God leads Moses and the Israelites in ‘a pillar of cloud by day’ to guide them on their way.  The cloud means that which is above us, present, but we are to rely upon faith in God not the bodily presence of God.

When we look up at the clouds, climb mountains and send rockets into space, I believe that we are affirming that ascension is life affirming, exciting and joyous.  In a ninth century manuscript, known as the Drogo Sacramentary, we see Jesus on his last step to the top of a mountain and God holding out his hand to lift him up.  With this joy in mind, let me finish with the joy of the Psalmist who wrote in Psalm 47 that ‘God has gone up with a shout’.


Sermon, Sunday 14 May 2023,Acts 17: 22-31 and John 14: 15-21, Double Baptism – The Reverend Glen Ruffle

“To the unknown god” – perhaps it should be ‘to the unknown song’ given Britain’s latest Eurovision disaster! But it was “to the unknown god” that the words inscribed on an altar in Athens 2000 years ago appealed, and they are the words St Paul leapt upon. The unknown God: this is the God I preach to you!

Paul said: God is not unknown! God has revealed his character to us: God saved his people from slavery in Egypt. He made them into a mighty nation. He makes promises with us – and keeps them. His love extends to every person on earth. He will bring judgement and fairness to the earth.

It’s judgement and Love. Many people find those two idea hard to sit together – if you love me, you won’t be angry at me. Instead, you will give me what I want and make me happy.

But in the gospel today, Jesus said “If you love me, you will obey my commandments”. If you love someone, you will listen to them, and trust them. If you trust them, you will obey them.

Parents are given to us to help us and lead us. Parents have to balance love and judgement all the time. If parents don’t use discipline, their children grow up without structure, become selfish and ruin the lives of other people. If parents don’t use love, their children feel unwanted, insecure and lost.

So we listen to our parents and we obey them, because we know that they want to help us, that they have our best interests in their hearts. The same with God: his desire is that we become loving and compassionate and follow his lead. Look at the world today: it is a mess. This is what happens when we follow our plans. But if we stop, and say to God “we will follow your plan”, then we begin a new abundant life.

So love and obedience are very much linked! If we love our parents, we obey them. If we love God, we obey him. They want “what is best for us”, and this means character formation, making you more like Jesus. You might think a shiny Lamborghini is best for you, but without the right character, it really is not!

Baptism is a moment when we stop our lives and say “we recognise that when we do our thing, it is not so good. We want to follow God’s way, God’s path. So we want to start again”.

So the water is like washing ourselves: we wash the old dirt and old me away. And then we are clean and fresh, ready to start again: symbolic of a new life, a new decision to trust God, to follow God, and to love and obey God.

But we also become part of a bigger family. Baptism is like the entrance into the Christian family. Everyone here, if they are Christian, become like extended family.

So this message is to everyone here: it is also your responsibility to love and care for these children. So make sure you love, protect and nurture them and their families as much as you can!

It is our responsibility to teach and train these young lives in how to live a life pleasing to God. So let us make sure that when they see us, they see us doing the right things!

It is our responsibility to support and pray for these children and their families. So make sure you do that and offer your support and kindness, and hold them in prayer.

So let us now bring these children before God as we pray for them and their families at the start of this journey.

Sermon, Luke 22:24-30: servanthood and coronations, 7 May 2023 – Reverend Glen Ruffle

Well, I received a phone call at 8.30pm yesterday asking me if I was free to help out, so apologies if this is a little ill-thought out!

There is a bumper sticker somewhere along the lines of “He who dies with the most toys, wins.”

The aim of the game of life is to acquire as many toys – a cars, partners, clothes, jewellery, money – as one can. The winner is the person who dies with the most.

On this account, Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos or Bill Gates could be the greatest. But then again, Pharaoh Khufu’s pyramid is still standing as a memorial to his power and might 4500 years after Khufu passed away, and it’s still drawing tourists to it. That’s a high mark to beat! They say if humans disappeared overnight, one of the few structures to survive the onslaught of nature would be that pyramid!

Or perhaps the answer of who is greatest is closer to home: King Charles III is said to have private wealth of some £600 million – though John of Gaunt, who lived 700 years ago and is a distant ancestor of King Charles, in modern money had a net worth of around £100 billion.

Who is the greatest? Khufu? John of Gaunt? Charles? Elon?

If you don’t have that much money, maybe you are more like the disciples of Jesus, squabbling over who they thought should be considered the greatest among them. When you don’t have money, you often use another currency to show how good you are – maybe the disciples were arguing over how many hours they spent praying, or who could preach the longest (maybe I could win that…!).

And Jesus replied “you have not understood. It’s not about being great. I have come not to be served, but to serve”.

Yesterday at the coronation of King Charles III, we saw a spectacular show of power. King Charles has the power and authority to declare war. Our brave servicemen and women are loyal to the sovereign (thankfully not the government!). And yesterday we saw the massed ranks of some of the forces that Charles can call upon. It was a display to the world that you don’t mess with Britain; you don’t mess with the King.

And in this world, where dictators invade other countries, and steal billions from their own people; where other dictators threaten nearby countries and global war; in this world, you need to be wise as serpents. Until the Kingdom of God is fully here, peace is secured for us because burly men are prepared to do violence on our behalf to keep us safe should the need arise.

The Christian church works to bring peace into this world. It is the mission of each and every one of us, if we call ourselves Christian, to try and bring peace to this world. But until the world submits to the lordship of Jesus, peace will not happen. That is why the gospel message is REPENT, turn from your ways, and follow Jesus. Obey Jesus. Only by doing that will the world find a new way of living.

And that is the great juxtaposition we saw yesterday. In the midst of the glory, pomp and power, where the world’s leaders and representatives had gathered to honour King Charles III, we had the monarch, the sovereign, the source from whom authority comes in this realm, submitting all of it to the authority of God. All the power of the world, handed over to Jesus.

The King was presented with the Bible, and told:

“to keep … ever mindful of the law and the Gospel of God as the Rule for the whole life and government of Christian Princes.”

Charles was given the Bible. He was offered it. God’s Word, offered to him, as it is offered to us:

“receive this Book, the most valuable thing that this world affords. Here is Wisdom; This is the royal Law; These are the lively Oracles of God.”

The Bible, which tells us to flee worldly wealth; to serve one another, to especially think of the poor and suffering; is not going to help anyone increase their earthly glory. It instructs us that in this life humility is the path God leads us on.

The monarch, having been pointed at the Bible, then answers this question:

“Will you…cause Law and Justice, in Mercy, to be executed in all your judgements?”

Yet if you use your power to cause Law, Justice and Mercy to be executed, you will deprive yourself of many opportunities for self-enrichment!

The monarch was then given a sword with the words “receive this kingly sword…a sign…of justice; not of might, but of mercy. …With (it)…do justice, stop the growth of iniquity, protect…help and defend widows and orphans…”

In the midst of the ancient Abbey, surrounded by the most powerful people on earth, Charles III was told to only fight to protect the weak, widows, and orphans.

The coronation thus shows us a new way of being King. Yes, there are palaces, grandeur, homage and lots of money. This is the ‘world’ part – it is needed as part of this corrupt and fallen world. Dictators will only pay attention to myriads of soldiers marching.

But King Charles III, at the heart of the ceremony, as the disciples were, was commissioned for a servant role by Jesus. Yes, he has power. But it is not for him. It is for the widow, orphan and victim. The coronation is a Godly contract: you, Charles, are given power and authority. But in return, you must fight all your life for the cause and welfare of those who have so little.

You, too, if you are a Christian, have been given a commission. As Charles embodies the nation, we too were in that coronation. We too are commissioned to use our power, influence, money for the benefit of the orphan, widow and victim of injustice. We are commissioned to serve.

I believe King Charles III has shown and modelled to us in his past campaigning to reduce emissions, in his construction of a town that is beautiful and well-designed, in his advocacy for sustainable farming, that he has been somewhat of a maligned prophet. That is what happens in this world. When you stand for the principles of God, you become a target for those in opposition.

We will face persecution for doing right, but we have been commissioned to go forth for our King’s King. We have been given the gospel message, calling people to repent, to stop their selfish ways and to follow the humble way of Jesus, speaking for the poor and lonely.

He that is greatest, let him be as the servant.

Let us pray for ourselves and for King Charles as we embrace this call to serve.



Sermon, 30 April 2023 With Notes: Take Heed – Living in the Light of Christ’s Return – Tessa Lang

St Mark 13:5 And Jesus answering them began to say, “Take heed lest
any man deceive you…:10 And the gospel must first be published
among all nations … :13 And ye shall be hated of all men for my name’s
sake: but he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved.”

Welcome to a theological portmanteau on the last day of April, when we
celebrate our patronal festival, the feast of St Mark the Evangelist. It is
also the 4th of 6 Sundays of Eastertide, inviting us to bask in the wonder
and welcome relief of the resurrection, and this year only – to anticipate
the imminent 6th May Coronation of King Charles III. Given such a
dazzling array, there is no time to waste.

How action-packed, how like St. Mark, who writes in active voice,
largely in present perfect tense, and employs the Greek word for
‘immediately’ at least 40 times in 16 fast-paced chapters, the shortest
of all the gospels. The work is also now acknowledged as the first and
earliest account of Jesus’ life, ministry, passion, and resurrection.
Though a seed-bed for St. Matthew (26 chapters) and St. Luke (24
chapters), Mark’s gospel is in high contrast to St. John (21 chapters)
where a highly structured theology informs the report of “the disciple
that Jesus loved.” Mark’s episodic narrative strings together a selection
of miracles, signs, and parables with over a third of the book focused
on his last week of life on earth. Its chronology is vague (lots of “ands”
“afters” “in those days”); its original ending may leave the reader on a
cliff edge, longing for more.

There is something about Mark that conjures art-based comparisons –
last year a Broadway musical involving a scheme to build morale and
resistance to temptation and this year, perhaps a film that depicts a
behind-the-scenes look at someone and something the film-maker
loves very much, and wants his audience to understand, as well – Mark
as the mature Spielberg or Sam Mendes perhaps.

He enters apostolic history as John Mark, appearing in the Bible as the
son of Mary Mark, a wealthy Hebrew widow of a Roman citizen (Coptic
records name him as Aristopolus Marcus) late of Cyrene in North Africa.
We meet this cosmopolitan and devout lady in a dramatic incident in
Acts 12, when Peter turns up at her front door in Jerusalem following an
angel-enabled escape from Herod’s prison; inside, many believers were
gathered to pray. The servant who answers the door leaves the fugitive
outside whilst she relays his arrival! Fortunately, Peter gains safe entry
in good time.

From this report, we understand that Mark’s mother made her evidently
large and staffed house available as a church and refuge; this puts Mark
squarely within apostolic and earliest Christian circles, most likely
involving contact with Jesus and developing a student/disciple/paternal
relationship with Peter. His home is the probable location for the Last
Supper and a teenage Mark most likely the man with a water jug who
escorts Jesus’ two trusted apostles to the Upper Room to begin
Passover preparations. Later that momentous night, he appears as an
unnamed young man who fled naked from the scene of Jesus’ arrest
when his robe was lost in the scuffle.

As you would expect, more than one image of our patronal saint is
available at St Marks, and each reflects a different aspect of his work
and character. Taken together, they instruct us in his life and theology
in a typically Marcan fashion – vivid, compelling, committed to his
stated mission to convey “the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God”
in emphatic style.

These accessible works of art do more than bring us into the presence
of our patronal saint; they form a gateway to other symbolic realms
present in our worship for today. You will find this expressed in the
words of special prayers compiled from a rich seam of previous Orders
of Service for the Coronation by Rev. Joanna to bless replica regalia
crafted by the children of St Mark’s. As symbols of service, advocacy,
and power, they represent the crown jewels bestowed upon the new
sovereign once he has taken the oath to uphold the law and the people,
been anointed with holy oil, and consecrated king. The form and
meaning of this treasure dates to Edgar, crowned the first Anglo-Saxon
king of Britain in 959, and also acknowledged by the Welsh and
Scottish kings. Sadly, the original items did not survive the upheaval of
the 17th century English Revolution, save for the anointing spoon. The
rest of today’s regalia dates from the Restoration of the monarchy.

Read or listen carefully to the prayers to appreciate their significance:
the Orb is set under the cross to remind the anointed king that he and
all the world are subject to God’s kingdom through Jesus Christ; the
Sceptre represents kingly power to be used with justice and mercy for
the welfare of all; the crown signifies royal majesty through God’s grace.
As Canon Charles Gore once observed, Anglican theology is best
revealed in its spoken prayer, which aspires to order and connect this
earthly kingdom to a higher realm. Enthroned between the two is the
sovereign, sworn guardian of the nations and its laws, a defender of
faith, and a reflection of God’s plan and peace to the extent of his or her
princely virtues. That is the structural position of kingship, the pattern
for beginnings and endings throughout history, a point of intersection
between time and divinity. Inhabiting the role is a very particular
individual, who can only be alive in the shared present moment that
daily challenges those of faith, of any faith, and those of none.

Let us too start with the present familiar. Behold, the figure of Mary
Mark appears on the high altar reredos with her son depicted as a
young boy who carries one of his attributes like a schoolbook, a fitting
tribute to the Christian education Mark received from his mother. The
volume represents his future Gospel, often lettered with the Pax Tibi
(Peace be with you Mark my Evangelist in full translation.) This angelic
greeting of his relics upon safe arrival from Alexandria to Venice in the
11th century demonstrates that the Evangelist was on the move in the
name of Christ, even after death.

In the centre of the stained glass rose acting as a glorious giant halo for
the ascended Christ high atop the reredos is the head of the Lion of St
Mark; his customary wings are not visible, but his green colour is
striking and perhaps invokes the hue of a Venetian lagoon. It may also
image Mark’s apocalyptic perspective of radical evil received at Peter’s
knee, as stated in 1st Peter: “Be sober, be vigilant; because your
adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he
may devour”. It is a cosmic battlefield out there, and Mark is all about
preparing and strengthening Christian troops. Visually, if Mark is
depicted with red robes, holding a red-bound book and sometimes with
red hair, then green must represent the opposite force. To Mark’s
passion and mission, evil matches its demonstrable ability to renew
itself in human behaviour and events; it is evergreen in a fallen world.

John Hayward’s design above the All-Saints chapel visualises Mark
being taught by Peter, whose curiously enlarged mouth speaks to
Mark’s disproportionate ear. Peter’s disciple takes the message to
defend the faith and the faithful to heart, and it becomes central in his
ministry and gospel. Scholars and historians from the 1st century to
contemporary theologians acknowledge Mark’s Gospel is an accurate
record of Peter’s teaching, pulsing with the lifeblood of direct testimony,
a collection of episodes in an “oral tradition” serving the needs of the
church of the day. Its pre-eminent position superseding Matthew was
not generally agreed until well into the 19th century; now 20th century
theologians such as Professor Morna Hooker assert a considered
theological backbone hides in plain sight: Jesus does not just
announce the coming of the Kingdom, he brings it as irrevocably as an
old wineskin will burst if new wine is added. The new covenant with the
living triune God is a total gamechanger, available immediately!

On the eve of St Mark’s liturgical feast day, we were treated to a live
performance of his gospel, set in Rome shortly after the trauma of
Peter’s crucifixion, under ongoing threat of violent persecution. It is
devised as a two-hander, with an anxious and grieving Mark dictating to
a Roman scribe-for-hire just doing his job until words of Jesus Christ
begin to sink in, working a transformation to conversion. Time is of the
essence. Fledgling Christians drawn from non-Jewish communities
were beset by false prophets and deceivers from within and statesponsored
oppression from without. Their continued existence
demanded a gospel to show them how to live in truth and light until
Jesus returns to usher in kingdom come. As the evangelist sifts
through his memories, the selection process favours forthright accounts
of Jesus in action, showing not telling how the Son of God delivers
redemption and new life with authority and supernatural mastery as
incarnation of the triune God.

He intentionally avoids extensive reference to Old Testament tradition
with its legalistic approach; it is for the other gospel writers to see to
that, although Mark personally had full access to Jesus in his aspect of
Hebrew Christ or Messiah as son of a Jewish mother and one of the
first battalion of 72 apostles post-crucifixion, accompanied by his older
cousin and evangelism-mentor Barnabas. He served St. Peter as
disciple, scribe, and gospel writer, and later, was also of service to St
Paul although it took many years to recover Paul’s confidence after
Mark went AWOL, returning to the comfort zone of his Jerusalem base.
Mark knew first-hand about the pain of failure and the value of second
chances and family support when “enduring until the end”.

That is some pedigree. What sort life did Mark make of it?

Let’s apply Marcan method and view for ourselves in another John
Hayward window, found above the St Mark’s Altar on the south wall of
our church. It is crowned with a golden image of St Mark’s lion, wings
present and folded, a lion gone over fully to the light! Beneath him are
two sections, like tablets, starting on the left with the distinctive
architecture of his North African birthplace and childhood in Jerusalem,
faint outlines of a presiding maternal figure and a running boy who has
lost his clothes. Instruction during youth with St. Peter takes centre
stage (note the way Hayward identifies Mark with red hair, boy and
man, and ultimately, with red wounds). Later, he ministers to the apostle
when he stayed in Mamartine Prison awaiting gruesome crucifixion.
This vignette also puts us in mind of Mark’s subsequent work for St
Paul, incarcerated for the second and final time in the same grim prison
prior to execution during the persecutions of Nero. (A Roman citizen,
Paul would not have been crucified.) The right-hand section depicts the
winding path of evangelism, followed by a sacred ministry as leader in
the early church and first bishop of Alexandria, ending in a gruesome
martyr’s death after two days of public torture.

Perhaps on subsequent Patronal Feasts, I can paint St Mark’s gospel’s
theological portrait … from its blockbuster first 13 verses of prologue
that take us from Jesus’ sudden eruption into history by the Jordan to
temptation in the wilderness…its 22 miracles and signs, 10 parables of
which 3 are unique…the ministry and passion in Jerusalem…abiding
themes and structure. For now, I will fast forward to its end, chapter 16:
1 – 8, where the original manuscript ends in the empty tomb.

The stone has been rolled away by the time the women arrive, the body
has vanished and, in its place, sits an angel who confirms that Jesus of
Nazareth has indeed risen. In the penultimate verse he says: “But go
your way, tell his disciples and Peter that he goeth before you into
Galilee: there shall ye see him, as he said unto you.”

Direct, brief, just the facts, ma’m. You’re good to go. Then the final
verse tolls, the human reaction to the horror, grief and awe experienced
over barely 3 days when only the women remained on the scene as
witness and to minister as best they could. They could not yet do
anything for they were afraid. Here is the very essence of human
suffering: to possess good news and dazzling prospects yet struggle to
connect with them. For the experience of connection marks both the
point of departure and the finish line. Mark dramatises this principle; it
shapes the coronation ceremony and T S Eliot expresses it this way:

Little Gidding, Part V. from T S Eliot’s “The Four Quartets”

We are born with the dead:
See, they return, and bring us with them.
The moment of the rose and the moment of the yew-tree
Are of equal duration. A people without history
Is not redeemed from time, for history is a pattern
Of timeless moments. So, while the light fails
On a winter’s afternoon, in a secluded chapel
History is now and England.

With the drawing of this Love and the voice of this

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

In a few days’ time, the machinery and memory of church and state
meets at that point, the core of our most profound heritage, where we
find one who is neither English nor British but a Palestinian infant from a
young migrant family displaced by political oppression; in adult life, he
was condemned as a convicted criminal and put to death — Jesus of

Today, and on Coronation Day, we can celebrate our fellowship in the
Church of England. We claim what we can love about this heritage. Let
us rejoice, always confessing our sins. Let us abide with the king of all
who calls us to love one another as he loves us and be fruitful to the
glory of God. Long may our beginnings and endings connect us through
his grace.

Alleluia. Amen. And God Save the King.