At Knodishall

 

We were up in the northern part of the diocese this morning near Thorpeness at Knodishall for a lovely summer Benefice service (Aldringham and Friston folk were there too, with a really rather good Benefice choir singing some of my favourite classic anthems). The church building is small but perfectly formed – I love the way the lichen on the brick buttresses is slowly blending them in with the stonework – but it’s not easy to find, down a quiet lane well out of the village, so take a map.

In spoke about what I call Life Mark 1 and Life Mark 2. The first comes on the rations, it’s what we’re born with. It’s a roller coaster mixture of God-given goodness, and Murphy’s Law catastrophe, beauty and brokenness, fruitfulness and frustration. We give it our best, but the harder we try the more poured-out we become. Life Mark 2 is about being poured into, not out, God in his love meeting us in our need – but we have to want it and choose it. Definitively, as Jean and I did when we married 40 years ago. And continually, just as any relationship including ours need to be always being nurtured and refreshed. To change the metaphor, just as plants need light and water, warmth and nutrients to grow, so our life in the Spirit need prayer and the sacraments, fellowship and the scriptures to stay well and survive. 

So today was a day for choosing life, and what a great group of people to be choosing it with. Well done to them as they work hard with Rev Sheila during the interregnum, and our prayers are with them as we choose a new priest in charge to lead both their Benefice and that at Aldburgh.

Punch is 110 today!

Huge congratulations to Doris Punchard of St Matthew’s Church, Ipswich who is 110 years old today! We’re just back from her birthday party at Maundy Money receiver Freda Smith’s house, where a large group of family and friends gathered to celebrate with her and see the card from the Queen. Someone told me that “Punch” is now the 17th oldest person in the country, and that Ipswich scores particularly highly on the longevity stakes. There was certainly one other centenarian present and going strong. Punch herself used to be church treasurer and still scrutinises the accounts with a watchful eye. One of the great things about the congregation at St Matthew’s is that it has both young and old people in it and from across the continents too, so were treated to some lovely saxophone playing by a young lady from Calcutta and a trampoline was on the go too, alongside the tea and cakes. A great afternoon in every way.

Sermon for the Friends of St Edmundsbury Cathedral

Friends! Not Romans and countrymen this time, but Friends of this beautiful Cathedral Church of St James and St Edmund. Friends: it’s a word we’ve become very familiar with for those who like you support some great building or enterprise; and perhaps a bit too familiar, as it has wonderful resonances and implications, if we dig a bit deeper, that can strengthen and encourage our endeavours even more. So let’s go digging.


But first let me repeat the thanks that I gave earlier at the AGM to our Dean and Chapter, to all the team that keep this great cathedral in such good heart, and to all you its friends for your invaluable support.

 

Let’s dig in fact right back to the beginning, and the Garden of Eden, and the wonderful picture of God walking in the garden in the cool of the day and dropping in, as it were, on Adam and Eve for paradise’s equivalent of a cuppa – except of course that it then all went horribly wrong. Before that the relationship had been one of care, love, colleagueship, even playfulness. Imagine God rounding up the animals and bringing them to Adam to be named. We could I think call it friendship.

 

It’s picture language of course, a fascinating mix of ancestral memory and quite sophisticated theology, addressing the great theme of Paradise Lost, of how we have on the hand a strong sense of beauty and truth, of how things could and should be, and considerable capacity to achieve it – witness for example the millennium tower above us – but how we also have on the other hand the continuing and seemingly inevitable experience of a different tower, that of Babel, of confusion, of fall. So we long for what was, we strive for what could be, and we ride the roller coaster of success and failure, aspiration and disappointment that is the human condition.

 

Without faith, that rather Stoic philosophy is our lot. But Paradise Lost is not the end of the story. Paradise is in the end also to be regained. God does not only create, he restores; and he chooses to do that work of restoration in colleagueship, in friendship in fact, with the very race whose own choices have made that work necessary. So in the end the calling of a body such as this is not only to be Friends of a Cathedral, but Friends of God, and not only to restore a building but to restore the kingdom of heaven, of which a place of worship such as the one we are gathered in now and an act of worship such as the one we are sharing now can of course be foretastes.

 

Friends of God. In Judaism, Christianity and Islam alike it is Abraham above all who is given this title, which is mentioned three times in the Bible, the third being in the passage from the Epistle of James that we heard earlier. “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness, and he was called the friend of God.” St James, whom we ought of course to take very seriously in a church dedicated in his name, is making a very particular and very Jamesian point. Luther, who prioritised pure faith above all things, called his letter a right strawy epistle because  of it. The point is this: James uses Abraham as the perfect example of how faith needs to show itself in good works if it is to bear the fruit it is meant to, to have a legacy and come to completion.  That makes Abraham a very good model indeed for the Cathedral Friends and indeed for a legacy campaign! Thinking more widely, he speaks of the importance and value of making long-term, lived-out commitments that give a lead to others and see a project through. Well done to the Abrahams of today, and the committee are waiting to hear from those who might be feeling the call afresh today.

 

Enthusiasm for and commitment to the good works that the Cathedral needs is a prime purpose of the Friends. Alongside sits a second, the encouragement of the Dean and Chapter in their leading of the living work of the Cathedral today. This is a form of friendship too, though we need to go to our second reading to see it in full. In that passage from St John’s Gospel Jesus remarkably extends the very special gift of friendship with God out from just Abraham to include all those who keep his commandments. “You are my friends if you do what I command you.” These are not the words of a control freak. The command in question is simply this, that we love one another as he has loved us. When we love one another in the Christian fellowship, in the fellowship of this Cathedral, we are being the friends not just of one another but of Christ, of God. Rather more scarily, as the letters of John warn us, when we fail to act in love and friendship towards one another, our love of God, our standing as his friends, is also at risk. So do not neglect those  little kindnesses, those quiet encouragements, that can make all the difference. And do think twice before saying or doing those things that you know on reflection are not likely to help. Our friendship and fellowship together is a precious and powerful gift, but a vulnerable one too.

 

Enthusiasm, encouragement – and a third dimension, encounter. If we are to sustain the first two, we need the third, because it is only our personal and corporate encounter and friendship with God that can in the end give us the resources to keep our hopes high and our sinews strong. Jesus invites us to abide in him, and it is in the context of that abiding, that willingness to look up from our tasks and our anxieties and look to him, that he is able to carry on making the Father’s will known to us and so too the coming of his kingdom. Whether it is the Lord’s Prayer on your lips as you plop into the pillow last thing at night, or a full-scale Eucharist like this one here today, it matters and will go on mattering that with those we are encouraging and for the good works that have engaged our enthusiasm, we seek to encounter the God whose friendship is the foundation on which all our towers are built.


So thankyou again for your enthusiastic raising of the resources the cathedral needs, for your encouragement of its people, and for your willingness to seek that encounter with God on which our friendship depends. Amen.

 

The Heartbreak and the Healing

 

THE Royal British Legion is encouraging everyone in the UK to turn off their lights between 10pm and 11pm on 4 August to mark 100 years since the outbreak of World War 1 – leaving only a single light or candle for this symbolic act of reflection and hope. ‘Lights Out‘ could be one of the largest participatory events of its kind ever seen in the UK, and will complement the candlelit vigil held at Westminster Abbey on 4 August.

You can take part by turning off your lights and having a moment of reflection at home or by attending a candlelit vigil at your local church.

Churches across Suffolk will be holding candlelit vigils and other events of commemoration during Sunday 3 and Monday 4 August and would welcome anyone who would like to spend a time of prayer or reflection, or simply to contemplate the names on the church memorials, particularly if they are relatives.

You can download the publication ‘The Heartbreak and the Healing’ to find out how some Suffolk churches plan to commemorate WW1.

Read more at http://www.angelsandpinnacles.org.uk/latest-news/ww1-heartbreak-healing/

Who is Generation Next?

sri-ncb-generation-nextThe National Children’s Bureau and Ipsos MORI have published a survey of `Generation Next’ – those children born after 1995. It shows that children and young people born around the millennium are responsible and pragmatic, more concerned with good exam results, career and family than hedonism. They want stricter age restrictions on social vices such as gambling, and believe that race and gender will not hold them back but that a lack of affluence will. They are also disengaged from mainstream political parties but not from the political issues that affect their lives. Key findings from the survey of nearly 3,000 children aged between 11 and 16 include: 69% of girls and 56% of boys say they are worried about job prospects; 35% believe that it is easier to get a well-paid job if you are from a rich family or if you have been to a private school (27%); Less than two in five expect life to be better for Generation Next than it was for their parents (37%) and 25% believe it will be worse; Around two in five think the legal age at which you can buy cigarettes, get married, join the army or be held responsible for a criminal activity should be raised, but 39% want the voting age lowered.

Go to http://www.ipsos-mori.com/researchpublications/publications/1683/Who-Is-Generation-Next.aspx to download the report and find out more.

A very appropiate collect for St Swithun’s Day

This seemed just right to be praying this morning as we start to move on together after yesterday’s vote:

Almighty God,
by whose grace we celebrate again
the feast of your servant Swithun:
grant that, as he governed with gentleness
the people committed to his care,
so we, rejoicing in our Christian inheritance,
may always seek to build up your Church in unity and love;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.