Saturday 5 December 2009

Seeing and not seeing

One of the great things about painting, even in a very amateur way, is that it makes you really look at things. Mind you, the end result might not be much like what you saw; but it is still worth trying. This week we were aiming to paint in red and green ... the idea being, I guess to produce something Christmassy - holly & ivy and all that. But we had some marvellous red chard growing in a pot this year, so I attempted a portrait of that. Thought I'd better tell you or you would not recognise it; but it was fun to do.

In case that depresses you too much, you might prefer to see the view towards the Needles a couple of days back, when the weather was brighter than today. It is all about looking, and really seeing: 'for he spoke to them in parables; that seeing they might not see'. I think many of us just now are loking for the signs of the times, discerning what the future holds for us. It is certainly not dull.

Monday 30 November 2009

Walworth 2

Maybe you had better see the sermon, not just the illustrations, from Advent I in Walworth: for what it is worth, here it is:-

Pray for strength … to stand with confidence before the Son of Man [S Luke 21.36]

The world's biggest particle accelerator, the Large Hadron Collider, is in operation again after more than a year of repairs. The European Organisation for Nuclear Research, Cern, said in a statement on Friday that particle beams are once again circulating in the LHC, and that a clockwise circulating beam was established at 10 PM local time. There now, I knew you’d get excited by that…. NOT! If you have a long memory, it was in 2008 that it was first switched on, this billion pound experiment; and it came to a halt because of a bad connection. Then this year it was going to run, only a bird dropped a bit of biscuit into the works. Now it is going again, and we have to hope there are some useful bits of knowledge to come from it.

First time round, the papers were saying “the world could blow itself up”… now there have been too many damp squibs and no one seems worried any more. But we always have to have something to worry about. If you have long memories, and are very old, you might remember the H bomb; that was going to explode the world. Around the year 1999 people were full of predicitions of the end of the world; some, you may remember, set off up a mountain to wait for it to happen; then, they came back down again. And do you remember all the computers in the world were going to crash because their clocks could not manage with 2000?

Our children were very fond of Henny Penny; she rushed around like – well, you could say like a headless chicken – saying “the sky is falling, the sky is falling” and a lot of other animals believed her. So when Jesus talks about the end of the world, and he does, he issues a stern warning too:“Take heed that you are not deceived: for many shall come in my name, saying, I am the Christ; and the time draws near: don’t you go after them. And when you shall hear of wars and commotions, do not be terrified: for these things must first come to pass; but the end is not yet”. We are not to be deceived, wars and famines and floods and tidal waves happen, and go on happening. The end of the world is altogether different, and it will be seen with the coming of the Son of Man in a cloud, with power and great glory.But what about the meanwhile? It is for this meanwhile, the time between now and the end of the world, that the Church is given to us. And year by year, as the old year ends and we prepare for a new one, we are faced with ourselves, and how we are to make ourselves ready.

For you here at St John’s this is a very particular time of renewal. You are marking the 150 years of this church’s life by rededicating yourselves in the service of the Saviour. How much people gave up back in the 1850’s; and all to be able to build this church for their descendants, among them you. In its time, such a modern church; reassuringly gothic, but with marvellous up-to-date touches like (as I guess) cast iron columns. What nerve; what far-sightedness!
So today’s gospel might have been written with you in mind. It tells you how you must start getting ready; pray, that is the key to it all. Pray for strength to stand with confidence before the Son of Man.

Those dear people of a century and a half ago might seem a bit strange to us; it was the time Dickens writes about, children being sent to work in factories, soot and filth and disease everywhere. Your church was started to minister to the poor and the sick and the dying in this part of Southeast London. It was for the sake of those who had never been inside a church building that St John’s was saved for and paid for and eventually built.
There are still so many outside these walls who still need the love of Jesus to be shown them. Words are not enough, we have to live in the way he wants. It begins with us, and with our life of prayer. Only when we are ready to face Jesus ourselves can we begin to show the love of Jesus to other people. Your patron saint, John, tells us “now are we the sons of God, and it does not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.” We are to be like Jesus; but for that to happen, we must meet him; and to meet him, we must be ready. Meeting Jesus unprepared would be a terrible thing. We have to be ready … and today’s gospel says it, for that we need strength: “pray for strength that we may stand with confidence before the Son of Man”.

So the message of Advent, and the message of your 150th anniversary, are the same. They are about being ready to meet Jesus face to face. And how do we do that? Easy, really; just love the Lord your God with heart, soul, mind and strength; and love your neighbour as yourself. Well, no, of course it is not easy; it is a lifetime’s work.

But begin the other way round; if you love your neighbour as yourself, first you must love yourself. We all of us have things we don’t find loveable in us; our bad temper, or our greediness, or our tendency to lie or whatever. No good pretending that is not us; but face it. And face it with God’s help – the help he has given us in the sacrament of forgiveness. If we all started there, this church and parish would be transformed. Well, you can’t do it for other people; but you can do it for yourself. Make a promise to go to confession before Christmass; make an appointment with your priest TODAY. That will be the very best start to the renewal of St John’s in its 150th year.
Then, once you are able to forgive yourself and so to love yourself, start doing the same for other people. Forgive them as you are forgiven, and you will start loving them too. What a transformation that would be for St John's if it was known as the one place in Walworth where you could be accepted WHOEVER you were and WHATEVER you had done. That is what the church is meant to be; the place of forgiveness and welcome.

We are talking about having the confidence to face Jesus when we come face to face with him. It is not IF we meet him, it is WHEN. Pray at all times, he says, for strength to survive all that is going to happen, and to stand with confidence before the Son of Man. It means being forgiven, and then forgiving other people; it means loving other people because we have learned to love ourselves; and from that we shall be able really to love God. No one can hate the brother he has seen, and love God whom he hasn’t seen. Simple as that.

We shall all of us be renewing our promises of baptism soon; as you do that, realise what it will involve:
Confession, so that we can be forgiven and come to love ourselves
Generosity, in forgiving and loving other people.
Praying to be ready, so that we can look forward with confidence to seeing God, because we have learned really to love him.

May this be a marvellous year for St John’s; and so it will be, if first you are committed to it, and looking forward to a marvellous year for yourself.

Sunday 29 November 2009

Walworth the Visit

Former students of St Stephen's House are working in very diverse situations. Fr Simon Askey is no exception (on the left in the picture above). Formerly a member of SSM (as Br Gary) he undertook legal training while still a monk, and has held a number of teaching posts since then. Now he has a very high-powered job coordinating the teaching of a number of Universities in England and overseas. This week he is just back from the USA and Hong Kong, and goes off again to the Far East in a few days time. In the interim he assists at St John's Walworth; and so he persuaded his Vicar, Fr John Walker (on the right in the photo), to invite me to preach for the start of the church's year of celebration which marks its first 150 years. The congregation renewed their Baptismal promises at the start of the year.
Jane and I had a marvellous time there. The church barely gets a mention in Pevsner - just the barest note that it is by H Jarvis, with some fittings by Comper (on the left, the Lady Chapel). The reality is a lively and happy worshipping community, many of the people with their origins in Sierra Leone and the West Indies though many of them have been in Walworth for twenty years and more. I also met a couple from the Philippines - they are soon to be married, he is a widower and his bride-to-be admits to being over 80! There was also a splendid number of children - all very well behaved - a good serving team, and some fine congregational singing.

On a Sunday like this it's good to be retired and able to visit places which are quite new to me; though the driving becomes more of a bore each time. Thanks to an old friend, Eileen Slatter, Jane and I were able to drive up on Saturday and stay the night in her flat before driving home to Lymington on Sunday fortified by a great Vicarage lunch. I was baptised in South London, where my grandmother lived. Holy Innocents South Norwood was the church; like Walworth it is now in Southwark diocese, though all those generations ago it was part of 'Canterbury without' - a little enclave of the Archbishop's, surrounding his former palace in Croydon. It was swept up in a tidying effort in the mid twentieth century. Now we look as though we might be getting some new peculiars, in the Ordinariate. Hurrah!