CRUMBS!

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THERE WAS a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day. And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate full of sores, and desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table. St Luke 16.19

THERE’S AN EXTRACT from a sermon by Dean Jeffrey John of St Alban’s in the Back to Church Sunday Special that arrived with this week’s UK Church Times. In it the Dean tells of visiting the Cathedral, a week before he was to be installed as Dean, “in civvies to see what it was like.”

At that time, though, there was still quite a fuss about my coming here at all. And, on that first Sunday, there were people who had come up from some churches in London, who were trying to collect signatures for a petition to stop the installation.

So, on my first Sunday here, I had this wonderful experience of being asked to sign a petition against myself.

There was laughter in Bramhall Parish Church when I shared this story this morning. Thankfully, however, and a cause for joy in me, many spoke to me afterwards of their being appalled to hear of such a thing happening in a church, to anyone, anywhere, for any reason.

For much of my adult life I’ve witnessed sections of the Church meting out torture (and torturing herself in the process) to those deemed, by them, unworthy of a full place. It has been a most unseemly spectacle – and surely extremely painful for some kind souls in leadership positions, to whom we all too willingly abrogate our own responsibility for the well-being of others, leaving ourselves free to pelt them with negative judgments whenever the fickle mood takes us. We can hardly be surprised that it has also been a period of decline and loss of faith in the Church – even at the same time there’s been a rise in interest in the things of God.

We won’t be pushed around any more

Two World Wars left millions worldwide wondering whether they’d been sold a pup. Millions more absolutely knew that they had been. People all over the world are rising up to this very day and – peacefully – showing bullies that they won’t be pushed around anymore. Thank God for the “feet of them that bring good news” – “for the poor.”

I’m minded to pray for a world, and for religious communities of every tradition within that world, that have learned something of lasting value from the tragic divisions of the past. I’m minded to wonder what might be the nature of the “hell” to which “a certain rich man” allowed himself to be carried off? Isn’t hell a lasting sense of burning shame here in this world before it’s anything else? Shame, in the light of the loving presence of God, because we not only failed to help “a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at [the] gate full of sores” but we compounded the injury, steadfastly pretending that we hadn’t even noticed he was there.

Many will have heard, some will have read, and more will hear of Dean Jeffrey’s story in days and months and years to come. I shall continue to pray that the Church in every corner of the world lives to recognise the absolute shamefulness of “people who had come up from some churches in London, who were trying to collect signatures for a petition to stop the installation.” Let s/he who has the time and funds to draw up petitions pray instead “Father forgive them (those hell bent on crucifixion and exclusion “outside the city wall”) for they know not what they do.”

Jeffrey John concludes, writing, of course, about adherents of Christian faith

We are Catholic, in the sense we mean in the creed: “I believe in one holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.” Catholic implies universal, for everybody — young, old, black, white, male, female, rich, poor, gay, straight, married, single, and whatever other categories you can think of.

We are all here on an equal basis,which is that none of us qualifies to be here. We are all here because we are all sinners looking for forgiveness; we are all wounded in one way or another, and looking for healing; and we are all children of God, looking to be strengthened by his love, so that we can go out and live a decent life as his people in the world.

It’s a message that doesn’t apply only to the Church though. We live – and ought to rejoice in – a “catholic” world.


BAPTISM & BIRDSONG

I COULD BARELY BREATHE during BBC1’s Birdsong tonight. May the God of life help us never, ever, ever to forget again the realities therein represented. After last week’s episode I’d spent a lot of time thinking up excuses to avoid tonight’s, but in the event sat dumbstruck under a sense I can only describe as “responsible obligation”. The terrible, terrible and overwhelming waste of not one but two World Wars, early in the same century, swamp the soul. I thought my chest would burst in the scene when the two German soldiers told Wraysford that the War was finished. Over. Told, terrified and terrifying, with all the dear longing and hope in the world – the dead Jack Firebrace’s “Love is all there is Sir. To love and to be loved”, hanging in exploded dust.

Today I baptised a young woman, two young boys and three beautiful infants. They’re all treasured. This world’s peace and your life’s purpose are intimately bound, I told them, their parents and their godparents; those baptised into the faith of the Christ today must play their part well in ensuring that no religious, political or sociological dogma should ever again lead to such a monstrously great lie, a madness of such inconceivable proportions, that so set tender-hearted men against each other that hell was created upon the face of the earth. No religious certainty, no political ideology, no nationalism nor false pride should ever again be allowed to prevail over “Love is all there is Sir. To love and be loved.”

Six new Christians. May they herald a purer, higher form of Christianity for today and for the future. May they mingle with wider religious representation. May they be salt and yeast and light and love in the world. May they never be taught, or learn by any other means, how to hate another human person by reason of their colour or creed, gender, race or sexuality. And may they ever be profoundly grateful for the comradeship, the basic goodness, compassion and self-sacrifice of the millions who gave up their lives – God help humanity – without ever fully understanding why. May they follow the example – all this is to say – of our Lord Jesus Christ, who was always more concerned to serve than to be served, to offer worth to others than to be himself worshipped. May it be that when any of us feel burdened with a desire to persuade others of our own doctrine we might follow Archbishop Sentamu’s advice the other night: “ask yourself first how your doctrine measures up to your Jesus”. How does it, how do I, measure up to Love?

THE COMPASS

Compasses

THE COMPASS CAN BE RELIED UPON AT ALL TIMES our Scout Leader told us this morning. I thank God for Paul, and for Scouting and Guiding and the good hearted folk of St Michael’s. Scouts and Guides, and older folk and younger, were glad of the sunshine for our annual outdoor parade. Speaker Skip told us of journeying, of a rucksack’s contents for safe orienteering, of Saul’s conversion and of the lodestar God has given us in Jesus as ‘compass’ for his people. He told of his own being awed by the majesty of creation as he lay with friends (on the way home from the pub!) gazing upon clear night sky and countless stars.

Our parish is blessed by many and varied examples of leadership – each of whom, in their own unique way, looks to the compass, the leadership and pattern of Jesus. Maybe that’s why Bramhall is often described as such a happy community. Maybe that’s why I felt so deeply for the lostness I sensed in the grieving response of a Jacko fan to a critic he believed had contributed towards the singer‘s death: “I hope you go to hell. Thanks for killing our icon”. Oh how we need to choose icons with care; for we all need a compass in this world. And we need so much to be able to rely upon it.