Sunday, 14 November 2010

Remembrance Sunday 14th November 2010

Would the children please come to the front as I’ve got some things to show them?

We’re about remembering this morning.

On my desk I’ve got a little list to help me remember things I’ve got to do. Some times I do this to remember knot hankie. Other times I use some of these show yellow 'post-it' notes and stick them somewhere to help me remember.

Today is Remembrance Sunday when we remember all those people who died in the World Wars. Just as the little yellow note is a visual reminder of the things we need to do, the poppy is our visual reminder to remember those sad times.

In the early part of the 20th century, the fields of France and Belgium were filled with red poppies. The flowers grew in the same fields where many soldiers lost their lives fighting in World War I.

John McCrae was a Canadian surgeon in the First World War. He wrote poetry and produced a famous poem called "In Flanders Fields". The day before he wrote this one of John's closest friends was killed and buried in a grave decorated with only a simple wooden cross. Wild poppies were already blooming between the crosses that marked the graves of those who were killed in battle.

"In Flanders Fields" was first published in December, 1915 in England's "Punch" magazine. Within months it became the most popular poem about the First World War. Many people felt the poem symbolised the sacrifices made by all those who participated in World War I.

David Shankland reads:

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Today we also remember that out of that sadness and terrible events there must be a longing for peace and that we should ALL work to make everyone's lives peaceful.

We can also remember the other sign mentioned in the poem. That of the cross. It reminds us that Jesus loves us so much he died for us. It reminds us of the victory of Jesus over death because Jesus is alive today, and he gives his life to people today.

I have a very special cross – here it is.

It was given me thirty years ago by a miner's widow.

During the First World War, her father, a British Soldier fought in one of the trenches in the Somme surviving 4 years of World War between 1914 and 1918 to return to his native Yorkshire. He took with him a spent brass shell case from the trench of the Somme. In his spare time he took that case and moulded it into a crucifix, an image of the Cross of Jesus.

Years later his daughter gave me that crucifix when I visited her in her old age in Doncaster.

Here it is. A cross made from a shell to show God's love.

A cross made from a weapon of destruction to hold Jesus our crucified Saviour.

I keep it on my desk to remind me of Jesus as One who can turn the raw material of our lives with all its pain and sorrow into a thing of beauty, just as the brass shell became this crucifix.

Through the cross of Jesus we know God has overcome the worst things in the world that can ever come against us – sin, fear, doubt, disease, even death – all these powers are overcome.

Jesus, the Son of God, has been through the darkest valley so I know that there is nothing God and I together cannot overcome in this world or the next.

So on Remembrance Sunday we’re asking God to give help to the living and rest to the departed, peace to the earth and heavenly life to men and women.

There are few more concise and beautiful prayers than the one carved on the outside wall of Westminster Abbey which I have copied onto the back page of our service sheet.

May God grant to the living grace, to the departed rest, to the church and the world peace and concord and to us sinners eternal life.

As we move now into prayer I want us all to say that prayer together but first I invite the cubs to lead us. Let’s keep quiet for a moment.
Reader 1 Walk among us Jesus
Reader 2 and be with soldiers and peacemakers.
Reader 1 Walk among us Jesus
Reader 2 And be with the hungry in their need.
Reader 1 Walk among us Jesus
Reader 2 And be with the frightened and lonely.
Reader 1 Help us see them,
Reader 2 Hear them
Reader 1 And in their darkness make us part of your light.
Reader 2 Amen.
Let’s all join together in the Westminster Abbey prayer:
May God grant to the living grace, to the departed rest, to the church and the world peace and concord and to us sinners eternal life. Amen.

Saturday, 6 November 2010

Baptismal eucharist 7th November 2010

Little James and his parents were in church and there was a baptism.

The boy was taken in by all of this. He observed the priest saying something whilst pouring water over the infant’s head.

With a quizzical look on his face, he turned to his father and asked with all the innocence of a five year old ‘Daddy, why is he brainwashing that baby?’

Out of the mouth of babes!

As we baptise Barnie today we will be reminded of what it is to be a Christian.

We will say we turn to Christ, repent of our sins, renounce evil and believe in God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

As we say it we will all be a little more brainwashed into Christianity. At no other place does the Church of England make it so clear what it is to be a Christian than in the baptism service. As John Barnabas is so young he relies on his parents and sisters for most things. They have to speak for him today and we join with them in making the statements of Christian faith.

We will be brainwashed that bit more, we will, as Paul says, let this mind be more in us that was also in Christ Jesus.

As we say what we believe our words enter our ears and descend to our hearts so that we believe it all the more.

Little James had a point.

In choosing baptism for their children Stephen and Dawn are seeking to influence them by Jesus. They know that their children will be influenced by all sorts of worldly things and have concern that in all of this they will have the spiritual focus that Jesus offers.

In today’s scripture readings we are reminded about the central doctrine of Christianity which is the resurrection.

The passage from Job is a rare glimpse of life after death in the Old Testament. I know that my redeemer liveth Job says in words made famous by Handel’s Oratorio Messiah. Then in the Gospel reading Our Lord speaks of the existence of those who are considered worthy of a the resurrection of the dead being like angels...children of God being children of the resurrection.

The background is a conflict between Jewish Pharisees and Sadducees who believed respectively in a future resurrection and in no resurrection. We can remember which side was which because the Sadducees were sad you see!

Anyway Our Lord comes down clearly with the belief of the Pharisees, a belief the truth of which his own resurrection was shortly to confirm. The dead are raised he concludes God is god not of the dead but of the living; for to him all of them are alive. (Luke 20.37, 38)

The hope of Christians for life after death is based not on wishful thinking but on the very nature of God himself who is decidedly a God of the living.

One of the things we get brainwashed or disciplined into as Christians is coming to church on a Sunday. Barnie’s sisters Grace and Sadie got an award for their Sunday attendance last week. We Christians gather on a Sunday because our God’s the God of life.

Sunday’s the day life triumphed over death in the resurrection of Jesus and there’s no more meaningful thing in life than what conquers death.

Earthly life’s a prologue. The book of life proper starts beyond the grave with Christianity’s Founder who is the life, the truth and the way.

Life is what Jesus is all about. We rejoice today that he’s given it to Barnie and that he’s got something more than earthly life up his sleeve for this little man and for all of us.

God who gives us life wants to give us his life.

I came to bring them life and have it to the full Jesus says in St John 10 verse 10.

For a Christian the glass is never half empty it’s half full at the least and it gets to overflowing.

Another scripture, again from John, makes this plain. Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. Jesus says Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.

When we choose Jesus there’s a fruitful overflowing.

As someone said God wants spiritual fruit, not religious nuts.

Religion can get a bit nutty, yes. It’s God-given but it does get man-handled.

We seek for Barnie the spiritual fruitfulness that is already growing around him in the Hitchen family. I can’t resist applauding Grace in particular for her cheerfulness faced with a broken collar bone, grace in name, grace in deed.

For us Christians we are so in name – our service requires us to say so again – but we seek to be so more in deed.

I have a final image from a book, which perhaps came into my mind by the vision of Stephen cycling day by day to the station. It’s called Bicycling with God and depicts the Christian life as life on the two seated bicycle we call a tandem.

At the start of the story the Christian is in the front seat steering the bicycle whilst God patiently pedals behind him. At some point they decide to swap seats and then the story becomes more exciting and energising and less predictable.

As many of you may know the Hitchens are committed to diplomatic service in the Middle East which makes for an adventure which little Barnie is now joined into. There have been comings and goings from Horsted Keynes and there will be comings and goings in years to come.

May God take the front seat in their travels, Jesus be in their adventures and the Holy Spirit bring excitement and energising to them all as life moves on from this great day in their family and God’s family here at St Giles!