For the love of an orchestra

In the New testament the Apostle Paul in his letters paints a vivid picture of the Church as a body. It’s an obvious image to use as we only have to look at one another or in the mirror, and we get the picture.

There’s clearly been some questions raised about spiritual gifts with some early church converts rather liking the ecstatic gifts in favour of those less glamourous perhaps. So, Paul writes how in the church there are many gifts all coming from God. He lists nine on one occasion but doesn’t suggest the list is exhaustive as many agree so we can happily add others, such as administration, practical gifts, hospitality, encouragement, gifts in the arts, baking, and music. It would seem that the essence is the diversity of gifts, and not necessarily in each one in particular, for unity is not uniformity.

Paul did not have at his disposal a rather beautiful image of the church, which I might be bold as to suggest is like a full orchestra and chorus singing something rather appropriately such as Handel’s Messiah.

Now in this picture the conductor is God in Trinity, they can take turns for various sections. But for the rest of us Paul might have written something like this taking some poetic licence of course.

Now if the viola player should say, “Because I am not a cellist, I do not belong in the orchestra,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the orchestra. And if the triangle player should say, “Because I am not a clarinettist, I do not belong in the orchestra,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the orchestra. 

If the whole orchestra were a violinist, where would the sense of percussion be? If the whole orchestra were a tuba player, where would the sense of woodwind be? But in fact God has placed the instruments in the orchestra, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all drummers, how would the orchestra sound? 

As it is, there are many instruments in the orchestra. The harpist cannot say to the double bass player, “I don’t need you!” And the piccolo cannot say to the pianist, “I don’t need you!” On the contrary, those instruments of the orchestra that seem to be quieter are indispensable, and the instruments that we think are louder we often treat with special honour.

Every instrumentalist and singer is needed just as we are all needed in the church. No one can say as I often hear, ‘but I’m only a ……..’

However when we are playing and singing in such an ensemble we don’t get to hear what it actually sounds like together. To us our section may be a bit of a cacophony, so we have to remember that the audience is the Trinity as well.

We don’t often play or sing every note in a bar, and there are times when we may be doing nothing. As Mark my colleague noted, these are called ‘rests’. A timely reminder to take them too as a gift from God.

And always remember ‘if we sound our own trumpet our notes are usually flat’.

Keep the faith, but never ever to ourselves.

Love Philip x

PS check out ‘Love of an orchestra’ by Noah and the Whale.

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St Peter and St Paul Stokenchurch

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Resources for Children and Families

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The School Assemblies website are during the current situation with Coronavirus publishing short Pause for Thought clips and suggestions rather than their usual assemblies, these they hope will be useful for parents to use at home and for schools to utilise as a resource as they encourage home learning. The Pause for Thought sessions begin in the April lists and the website can be accessed by clicking here.

Roots at Home: Worship and Learning Resources for the whole Church

With worship services and groups of all kinds currently suspended, Roots have created two sets of resources one for adults and another suitable for families and children. These resources are © ROOTS for Churches Ltd (www.rootsontheweb.com) 2002-2020 and are reproduced with permission.

Adult resources click here.

Families and children resources click here.

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Prayer during the week

Other resources from around the churches of the Diocese

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Services on the BBC

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  • BBC Radio 3 broadcasts Choral Evensong at 3.30pm on Wednesdays repeated on Sunday afternoon at 3pm (times can be subject to alteration)

Gifts of grace

I have been reading a little book of meditations for Christmas and one of the entries invites the reader to reflect on the importance of rest. The reading for that day is Mark 6 30-34 where Jesus hears all that the disciples had done that day and after listening to everything Jesus says “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while”.

This time after Christmas is a good time to rest, leaving behind the business of preparations for the festive season and not being persuaded, for a while at least, to get back to the pressure and expectations which often seem to dictate our lives. The writer of this particular meditation also invites us to think about the gifts we have received in relation to God’s gifts to us.  I thought about what I had received this Christmas and how I could relate some of these to God’s gift to me.  My eldest grandson gave me the latest Mary Berry cook book, I am a great fan of hers and I was delighted to receive it. It gives me a new insight to provide food, for myself and others and finding new ways, new recipes, of doing this.  The spiritual food offered to us by Jesus will nourish our souls.  If we return to the recipe book (the bible) we will discover new and exciting ways of understanding God’s love and his message to us. Sometimes when I try to cook something without reading the recipe properly or skip it altogether because I think I know how to do it, well it usually goes wrong.  I can relate this to not spending time to listen and be with God and making time to read the words that will nourish my life and guide me to offer the right “food” for others whenever I can.

Another gift I received was from my other grandson which was a lovely warm scarf.  He chose it with such care knowing the colours I like from the shop which I especially like also!  Receiving a gift like this is reminds me of the gifts God gives us. He knows what we need, what will suit us and when we accept it with love and gratitude it will keep us warm in our hearts as we come to realize his amazing generosity and love for us. The gift of a new day, the beauty we see all around us, all come from God.

Finally I’d like to share with you part of an article I read in the Church Times from Rev’d Lucy Winkett who tells of a “gift” she received. Lucy is the vicar of St. James’s church in Piccadilly which is in the heart of the city where many rough sleepers can be found.  Rev’d Lucy writes…

“Last week a man who was homeless smashed a window into the basement of the church and slept in a chasuble that he found there. He said that he had had a good night’s sleep – on the sofa rather than the street, wrapped in green silk and gold thread.  Even though the dry cleaning bill was higher than usual, I can’t think of a better use for it. And he doesn’t know that his gift to me is that he’ll always be with me at the altar, when I wear that same chasuble to break, for the people, the body of God”.

Lucy quotes also the words of the theologian Gustavo Gutierrez who says that “It matters where we put our bodies because it mattered where God put God’s body: on a cross.”

What did Santa bring you this Christmas?

Christmas, Santa Claus, Gift, Art, Abstract, Watercolor

What did Santa bring you, this Christmas?

If, sadly, it was some variation on the poet John Betjeman’s theme of a “hideous tie, so kindly meant”, perhaps you should blame it on St Matthew’s three kings, whose feast day—the Epiphany—falls tomorrow on the 6th January, and who possibly may of originated the tradition of gift-giving at Christmas time (along with St Nicholas a story told in an earlier posting on this blog).

Except of course, that Matthew doesn’t say that there were three:

The early Christian scholar and theologian Origen apparently deduced this in the 3rd century, from the clue of the three gifts. He also doesn’t say that they were kings, either, but wise men: most likely followers of the ancient Zoroastrian religion of ancient Persia which believed that evil on earth would be vanquished by a virgin-born Saviour.

And of course, they did not give gifts to each other, but brought them for the new-born Christ child.

Another tradition, this time traceable to the Venerable Bede in the 8th/9th century, who names them as Melchior, the eldest, whose gift was gold for the King; Balthasar, middle-aged and black, who brought myrrh which “a future tomb foreshows”, and Caspar, the young man, whose gift of incense witnesses to the high priesthood of Christ.

Whatever their number, names ages and ethnicity, and whether we should regard their figures as historical or more symbolic, these wise men stand for all of us, and their pilgrimage for our spiritual journey:

So we might ask of them, and of ourselves, two questions.

The first would be Jesus own question to the crowds following John the Baptist: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see?” (Mt 11.8) A cute cuddly baby or the awesome, challenging desire of the nations, and Lord of eternity?

The second would be a child’s question to a parent returning home from a business trip: “what did you bring?” What can we possibly offer Him?

The answer is not far to seek, as I found out one Sunday before Christmas whilst I was serving my curacy in Bracknell, I had just taken our monthly family service and had asked members of the congregation to write on gift tags what their present to Jesus would be this year, and then hung them on the tree in the church.

Reading them afterwards in the empty church, I was very moved because so many of those tags offered the best and most precious of all possible gifts: the same one featured in Christina Rosetti’s Christmas Carol ‘In the bleak mid-winter’, and Peter Cornelius’ wonderful anthem (see below) ‘Three Kings from Persian lands’, that of:

Offer thy heart to the infant King: offer thy heart! Offer ourselves!

Happy New Year and stay safe and well.

God’s Top 12 Gifts to Us

Over Christmas I shared at three services what I think are God’s top 12 gifts to the world. They are of course up for discussion, debate and disagreement. Let us know what yours might be.

Here they are in reverse order.

12: Choice. At number 12 is the ability to appreciate all the other 11. To be able to think and to receive them.

11: Creation: The world God has made for us is beautiful even if we spoil and pollute it. Everything, our earth, the universe and us.

10: Rest: God gives us rest and time off. This is such an important gift that it is even a commandment. At the end of a rest day, we say to God, ‘but I haven’t done anything’ and he replies, ‘that was the point’.

9: Food: And all the sensual things we enjoy, that we taste, smell and touch.

8: Arts: Music, dance, drama, entertainment, story, poetry. We are created and as such creative beings. There’s still more new songs to sing, stories to tell.

7: Humour: Laughter, fun. I simply couldn’t live without this. A fav Tim Vine joke. I went to the gym the other day and they asked how flexible I was and I said I can’t make Tuesdays.

6: Diversity: We are all different, the world is full of different cultures. I love this Acrostic. Different Individuals Valuing Each other, Regardless of Skin, Intellect, Talents or Youth.

5: Friendship: This is one of God’s first ideas. It is not good that we should be alone. All friendships, across generations and gender.

4: The Word: God is not so mysterious that he hasn’t told us anything about him and how we can know him. And of course The Word is supremely Jesus.

3: Now: The past is history, the future’s a mystery, but today is a gift, perhaps that’s why we call it the present. This moment right now in which you are reading this is beautiful.

2: Love: God’s love, mercy, grace, forgiveness. All freely given.

1: Himself: But the top gift is God himself. Ourselves is also the best gift we can give to anyone. John 3:16 says that God so loved the world that he gave…’ but I love 1 John 3:16 ‘This is how we know what love is. Christ gave his life for us, we too ought to give our lives for each other.

And our response to all of these gifts, and there are many more is simply. Thank you.

Keep the faith, but never ever to ourselves. Love Philip x

The Hope of the World

On December 25th, this coming Saturday, we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ: the amazing day God entered the world he created in the form of a baby, to live among us and draw us to God. This is a reason for celebrating! Christmas Day is not the whole story but only the opening chapter, the beginning. Our celebrations can only be complete if they include what that special baby , God in human form, went on to do later in his life, and when we look at what he did, and what that can mean for us.

His birth was in humble circumstances (a manger normally used by animals). His early boyhood was as a refugee in another country (Egypt). His 3 years of public ministry included unsettling, sometimes radical teaching, many miracles, and God’s truths told through stories people could relate to. Within the space of a single week, Jesus went from the rapturous adulation of the crowds on Palm Sunday to betrayal by one of those closest to him, and mocking and torture. Then his death, the wonder- filled sacrifice of himself, and the triumph of light over darkness and death, and the promise of forgiveness of sins and eternal life through his resurrection.

A well-known carol summarises it this way: ‘Born that we no more may die…Born to give us second birth’. (Song: Hark the Herald Angels Sing). That is why we celebrate Christmas, and Jesus is who, what and why we remember and adore!

It is lovely to celebrate Christmas with all the traditional trimmings: lights, trees, gifts, music, lots of special food, as long as we continue to remember exactly who, what and why it is that we are celebrating.

But the sad fact is that many people say that the birth of Jesus is ‘irrelevant’ to their Christmas. For millions of people the nativity has become just another ingredient in all the must-haves of the secular Xmas story. Some would say that calling Christmas ‘Xmas’ is in itself a crossing- out of Christ from Christmas.  The real story, the full story, begins with a manger and a birth, and ends with the cross and a resurrection. Without the cradle, there can be no cross.

I understand that research reveals that 40% of people do not even realise that Jesus was a real person who actually lived. People need to be helped to put the whole story together by connecting the cuddly little baby Jesus born at Christmas with the tortured Christ crucified and resurrected at Easter to bring us salvation and to put us right with God.

For without Christmas there can be no Easter; and without Easter there is no point in Christmas: we need to protect and project their Christian foundations. Jesus is central to both.

For several years now there has been a campaign to highlight that ‘Christmas Starts with Christ’ and there was a poster featuring an image of Christ carrying not a cross but a Christmas tree, with the simple message:

‘Remember why’.

Let’s remember who, what and why we are celebrating this Christmas, and rejoice and be thankful that he came to bring hope to all, and the opportunity to live life to the full through him!

A truly happy Christmas to you all.

Let there be light

As I write this, it is just two weeks to Christmas Day. There is still much to do in just two weeks but I’m sure I am not alone in this, it is the time of year when you suddenly feel you are running out of time! But this entry is making me stop, stop and think once again about what I want to say and to reflect once more on the wonder and mystery of what God did for us all at Christmas. Something that recently stopped me in my tracks was visiting the wonderful Crib Festival at Holy Trinity this week.  Although I had heard a lot about it, I was not prepared for the beauty, stillness and peace it evoked in me when I finally saw it completed.  It was almost like a sanctuary, a place to go to be at peace and be with God. Then there was the outdoor nativity event which the Lane End Players performed with such sensitivity, it was clear that an enormous amount of planning and work had gone into what was a wonderful depiction of the Christmas story. 

Both of these events used light to their fullest effect. The cribs were displayed with votive candles and streams of tube lights woven in and out along the displays.  The lights were dimmed in the church to enhance the effect of soft lighting.

The nativity scene used dramatic light as each of the scenes changed as we were taken through the story. The Kings pointed into the night sky as they set off to follow the star and on that night in Lane End there were many in the night sky to choose from!

Jesus described John the Baptist as a lamp that gave light (John 5:35) born into his generation for the unique purpose of pointing others to Jesus and revealing who Jesus was.  We too are his lamps, filled with the light of the life of Christ by his Holy Spirit so that others may come to know him.  But what are we doing with our lamps and with whom are we sharing this light? Are we trying to hide our lamps within our home, church and circle of Christian friends, or are we lamps with legs – taking Christ’s light into the world of those who live in spiritual darkness, those who live in poverty, loneliness, those whose lives have been sacrificed in caring for another in fact all those to whom Jesus came, to bring Good News of God’s love? 

I found this lovely item recently which I have had to edit a little.  It is credited to Sally Lloyd-Jones a New York Times bestselling writer.

“The bible says that God sang and danced for joy as he made you. That he knows every day you’ll ever live, hears every whisper hidden in your heart, holds every tear you ever cried.

Because he can’t stop loving you. He would move heaven and earth to be with you.

And one night, long ago in Bethlehem, he did just that. He came down, God himself came down.

How did he come? With trumpets, flags and big armies? No.

He came in the quiet, when no one was looking, in the dead of night.

Where did he go? To the important people? To a palace or a castle? No.

He came to a poor homeless couple in a tumbledown stable on the outskirts of a nothing town. Shh! Do you see that little baby sleeping in his mother’s arms? He is God Almighty, Maker of the stars! Mary and Joseph named him’ Emmanuel’ which means ‘God has come to live with us’.

The King of heaven, the great creator of the Universe, the maker of the stars and galaxies has made himself small and come down as a tiny baby. But why? Why did he leave his palace and his throne and step out of Heaven and come down?

For just one reason. So he could be with you. Because he just can’t stop loving you”.

May the love of the Christ child be with you all this Christmas. May his light shine through each one of us so that our lamps shine into the darkness for others. Help us all to remember that His light is with us always and the darkness can never overcome it.

Twas The Night before Christmas

Moon, Silhouettes, Santa Claus, Reindeers, Santa

Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house

Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;

In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;

Then what to my wondering eyes should appear,

But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer,

With a little old driver, so lively and quick,

I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.

More rapid than eagles his reindeers all came,

And he shouted, “On Dasher” and reindeer’s name;

So up to the house-top, the reindeer soon flew,

With the sleigh full of toys, and St. Nicholas too.

Down the chimney, he came with a leap and bound.

He was dressed all in fur, his belly was round,

He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,

And filled all the stockings; then turned with a jerk,

And laying his finger aside of his nose,

And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose;

But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight,

Happy Christmas To All, And To All A Good-night

Abridged version, Clement Clarke Moore 1779 – 1863

This poem is traditionally read on Christmas Eve, so why I am sharing it now when Christmas Eve is still a good couple of weeks away?

If you are a resident of Ibstone you may have already guessed as the church there is dedicated to St Nicholas, whose feast day was last Monday the 6th of December. I think that St. Nicholas is rather a superior saint to have as a Patron. After all, it is he upon whom Santa Claus is based!

All saints have legends associated with them, and there is one relating to St Nicholas that possibly has a grain of truth, that about a poor man who had three young daughters. The man could not afford a dowry for their marriages. Eventually his plight was so desperate that he was even considering selling them into slavery, which would have meant prostitution. St Nicholas, the bishop, heard of this and sold some of his possessions and went late at night to the man’s house. He threw three bags of gold through the man’s open window and so saved the girls from an uncertain future. This was meant to be an anonymous act of charity but, somehow, got out—and St Nicholas was soon revered as the benefactor of children. And from that we eventually get Santa Claus and presents coming down the chimney!

Whatever gifts St Nicholas gave, he clearly reflected the giver of all good gifts. Whatever status he accorded to children; he clearly reflected the one who taught that children are our role models for the kingdom. St Nicholas was a faithful mirror of the Lord, in whatever he did St Nicholas reflected most clearly the calling of all of us to be “other Christs” in our own time and place.

It is not the purpose of Advent to give us enough time to do our Christmas shopping, any more than it was St Nicholas’ purpose to become Santa Claus. It is, rather, to make us aware of our individual callings to become other Christs in our world today. I would hope and pray that, that possibility, as Nicholas himself has shown, is hidden in each of us like a Christmas surprise. It is there because God put it there. God is, after all, the giver of all good gifts, the one who can turn a baby into a Saviour, an obscure fourth century bishop into Santa Claus, and all of us into the saints of God.

The truth of the Christmas story lies in the manger.

I believe in Christmas.

Actually, I believe in lots of things, not just because I’m an Anglican Vicar. For some of the things I believe in, the reason is, I just do, not very scientific I know. The last year, and even now life continues to be challenging. Perhaps some Christmas plans may get tweaked, it’s good to live one day at a time.

So, I believe in Christmas, because each year it still seems to offer something a bit different, something a bit mystical, a bit magical and stuff that quite frankly many find hard to believe in; angelic hosts, moving stars, and the audacious thought that God could be born into a world he conceived.

Now I can’t provide many answers that will satisfy the greatest minds or the simplest ones, I just believe that something a bit special transforms the atmosphere up to and around the 25th December that can go on right through the year.

At Holy Trinity in Lane End we are going to display as many nativity scenes as we can muster from all around the world starting on Monday 6th December. With a bit of creative lighting and candle light the space will become magical, as all the scenes focus on a teenage mum, a new born baby, a stepfather and a variety of assorted characters. A great event for all the family with some surprises and a bit of thinking outside the crib. It hopefully provides a bit of an oasis in the frenetic rush of shopping to ponder whether anyone important might start their life in such a humble place.

Can we even do Christmas with a little less consumption and an eye on the parts of our community that call us to believe in them?

The crib scenes may not all be historically accurate, we really don’t know. We don’t know the time of year Jesus was born, it probably wasn’t snowing or when the wise men arrived and much more. But there is one thing we do know for that was the sign to the shepherds from the angels. That they would find a baby lying in a manger. And that’s exactly what they found, thus confirming the angel’s message, as if all that singing in the sky wasn’t convincing enough. For the truth of the Christmas story lies in the manger.

You see if someone is born in a palace you will need an invitation to see them, but if someone is laid in a feeding trough for animals, well anyone can turn up whenever they want to.

I believe in Christmas and I’ll just go on believing in it because I do, and in a God in a manger, an unlikely saviour, and in one who loves us whether we believe or not.

Thoughts rush through my head, my mind’s in a whirl. that a kid born in shed could save the world. For sheds are at the bottom of things, and not a place fit for kings. For can this manger saviour be no strange behaviour. And am I allowed to come near or will I be expelled from here. For sheds and babies shouldn’t mix, but when the world is in a fix, I’d rather trust in this event, for this kid in shed is heaven sent.

Keep the faith, but never ever to ourselves. Love Philip x

PS if you can’t make it to Holy Trinity, check out St. Peter & St. Paul, Stokenchurch. Saturday 18th 10am to 2pm for a mini Crib Fest and some festive refreshments.