Parish of Exning with Landwade

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Easter Sunday 2016  Andrew Rycraft

EASTER DAY 2016

Mary Magdalene went to the Disciples with the news ‘I have seen the Lord’

Have any of you received Easter Eggs this morning ??

SHOW REAL EASTER EGG

The only ones actually called Easter Eggs – all the others now just called Chocolate Eggs, so as not to offend anyone !!  

The Real Easter Egg is very special because not only do you get a chocolate bar inside, but you also get a copy of the Easter Story.

So today is Easter Day – the joyful culmination of our Lenten journey through Lent.

It feels to me that this year we have had a really good journey through Lent leading up to Easter today.

We started with the Ash Wednesday service here, and then started a very successful Lent Course with the Churches Together in Newmarket,. Very well supported by members of this Parish. Susan’s instigation of a daytime session at The Stable in the centre of Newmarket worked very well, as did the evening sessions at P&E.

Also, during Lent also we had our Parishes Away Day at Clare Priory, when 28 of us from Exning parish, and from St Marys & St Agnes got together to enjoy fellowship and to worship together.

Our discussions entitled ‘Growing in God Together’ were very wide-ranging, and by the end of the Day we had reached some Conclusions about areas of our church life that would be good to Focus on.

Two important themes that emerged were that the need for More Prayer, and for better Communications between ourselves and with our local communities.

And of course last week was Palm Sunday, with another visit from Midnight the Donkey, and then we entered Holy Week, which again has been particularly rich this year.

Maundy Thursday saw 200 children from Exning School, and their parents, here in St Martin’s for their Easter Service. And then in the evening we had our own version of the Passover Meal here in church.

Good Friday started with the two events at P&E – the Quiet Hour at Midday, followed by the Final Hour led by the Lay Elders.

And then on Good Friday evening here in St Martin’s we were treated to Christine’s Good Friday Reflections based on the Life of the Virgin Mary, and Mary’s experiences as a Mother following Jesus from the Cradle to the Grave. I am sure that all of us who were there were deeply moved by this story told with Readings, Poems, Images and wonderful music and Singing. I understand that Christine has already had some ideas for next year, and I for one look forward to that.

And yesterday evening we had the Easter Vigil and Service of Light when we brought the light of Christ, in the form of the lighted Paschal Candles into St Martin’s, and at last we were able to celebrate the Joy of the Resurrection, by shouting ‘Christ is Risen’.

Easter is the most important Festival in the Christian Calendar – not Christmas, as many people outside the Church might think.

If Easter didn’t happen, if Jesus had not been raised from the dead, there would be no reason to celebrate his birth.

 

As St Paul so clearly says in 1 Corinthians Ch 15 v 17:-

“If Jesus Christ has not been raised, then our faith is futile, we are still in our sins”

At the end of Our Gospel Reading this morning we hear of the Joy which Mary Magdalene experienced when she saw her risen Lord. She ran off to the other Disciples shouting ‘I have seen the Lord !’

In this version of the Easter story from John’s Gospel, Mary Magdalene is the first to appear on the scene – we are told it was still dark on the first day of the Week. 

People believed that the dead person’s spirit remained in the vicinity of the Tomb for three days, so they would have commonly have visited the tomb during the first three days after burial.

However, the Jewish Sabbath Regulations prohibited such visits on the Sabbath, so the earliest that Mary could visit was after sun had gone down on the Sabbath (our Saturday evening).

Mary saw that the Stone had been removed from the entrance to the Tomb – it appears that she didn’t look inside, but she assumed that someone had taken Jesus’ body away.

Just imagine how she must have felt – the emotional impact of finding that the grave of a loved one had been desecrated. She would have been shocked and horrified.

So she runs off to find Simon Peter, and what is described as the Disciple whom Jesus loved, who we assume was John.    They both run to the Tomb, but as John was much younger, or perhaps much fitter, he gets there before Peter.

John looks inside the Tomb, saw the linen cloths lying there but doesn’t go in.

Apparently the opening of the Tomb would have been only about three feet, say a metre high, so he would have had to bend down. Presumably they had candles so that they could see inside.

Then of course, Peter comes along and in typical style doesn’t hesitate to actually go into the Tomb to check for himself – and of course he finds the abandoned grave clothes – and the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head was folded up separately. Then John also goes inside to satisfy himself that Jesus body is not there.

At this stage it didn’t occur to any of them that Jesus had risen from the dead. They just thought that someone had stolen the body.

It seems that Peter and John then went away, but Mary Magdalene remained at the Tomb weeping – and she bent over to look into the Tomb, and saw two angels in white, one sitting at the head and one at the foot of where Jesus body lay.

The angels spoke to her, and asked her why she was crying - and Mary responds with those words which seem so familiar from the Easter Story:-

‘They have taken my Lord away – and I don’t know where they have laid him’

And then Mary turned round from looking into the Tomb, and saw a man standing there, who she assumes is the Gardener. He asks her:-

Woman, why are you crying ?

And she responds, rather accusingly:-

‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will go and fertch him’

Then that word from Jesus which changes everything. He calls her by name – saying ‘Mary’. She immediately recognised his voice, and says ‘Rabboni’ or Teacher.

A wonderful moment.

But as you can imagine, Mary wants to grab him and give him a big hug – but Jesus says:-

‘Don’t hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father’ – and tells her to go and tell the other Disciples.

Which of course she does, shouting ‘I have seen the Lord’.

You can just imagine the excitement in her voice.

The agony of seeing the Crucifixion, Jesus limp body being taken down and buried, and then suddenly there he is standing in front of her, and in his familiar voice calling her name.  Very quickly her emotions change from great Despair to great Joy.

As we celebrate the Joy of Jesus Resurrection today, as Mary Magdalene did on that first Easter Day there are a number of people in our congregations who are suffering at the moment.

For them they are still suffering with Jesus on Good Friday, and have to wait for their Resurrection moment, whether in this world or the next. 

They can be assured that God is with them – he knows all about Suffering. Before we could experience the Forgiveness of Sins, His son Jesus Christ gave himself as a Sacrifice for us by dying on the Cross.

So in the joy of this Easter Day,

let’s spare a thought, and our prayers for those who are suffering today,

whether in our own congregations, our own families, or those affected by recent events in the World – the bombings in Brussels, the continuing War in Syria, and those Refugees desperately seeking to find a safe place to live.

 

AMEN      

 

Remembrance Sunday (Address 8 November 2015) Andrew Rycraft

REMEMBRANCE SUNDAY 2015

Remembrance Sunday, and Armistice Day itself, 11th November, which falls on Tuesday this  year, have been an important part of the life of our nation – since it was first inaugurated by King George V in 1919, following the end of the First World War.

Of course the First World War was not the first War that this country had been involved in – there had been many conflicts over the centuries, but nothing that involved the vast loss of life in the years 1914 to 1918.  Hardly any family in this country was not affected in some way.

One of my uncles died in Iraq and a great uncle died in Belgium. And in fact my Grandfather died some years later as a result of the conditions he was living in while serving in Egypt. I expect most of you here can tell a similar story.

Although I only arrived here in Exning in January this year, I know that on this very day last year 8th November, over 100 Exning residents were out in force to take part in the Re-enactment of the Enlistment that took place 100 years ago, and particularly to remember the young men of Exning who gave their lives for this country.  There is a wonderful selection of photos  recording that very special event, both on the Parish website, and in the Books on Display at the back of the Church.

 

I know that a tremendous amount of work went into making it such a successful event, thanks to John Saville and others who put it all together.And the book ‘Exning Remembers’ written by Tony Pringle provides details of the 80 men of Exning who sacrificed their lives, and lots of other interesting local information and photos.

One particular link in that Book with this Church is the story of Lieutenant Kenneth Perry, who was killed in action on 1st November 2016. His home was at Harraton Lodge, Exning – just round the corner from here, and in his memory his Widow presented to Exning church, the impressive Processional Cross which we are using today.

As a follow on to the Re-enactment last year, each month since then a separate sheet has been included in our weekly Church news-sheet, with a reminder of those who died in a particular month during the War, giving their names, addresses, rank and regiment. A stark reminder of how deeply it would have affected the local community here in Exning. And you will see that Kenneth Perry is included in this month’s mauve sheet, showing those who died during the month of November.

Last year, in 2014, we were all reflecting on the onset of the First World War 100 years ago, which started on 4th August 2014.

It is interesting to note that it was only 7 days after that date, on 11th August 2014, that the famous poster with Lord Kitchener pointing at the reader and saying ‘Your Country Needs You’ was published. Following the publication of that poster, 100,000 men enlisted in the first two weeks, and nearly half a million signed up during September.  These were all volunteers – conscription wasn’t introduced until 2016.

As we are now a year further on from the Commemorations in 2014, we might perhaps focus more closely on the events that took place 100 years ago this year, in 1915.

 

From an East Anglian point of view, in January 1915, the first Zeppelin bombs in this country fell on Great Yarmouth and Kings Lynn. The first Zeppelin raid on London came in May of that year -  making the nation realise how vulnerable the capital was to a direct attack by Germany. In 1915 also, the Germans used Poison Gas for the first time – at the Second Battle of Ypres in April 1915.

And one extraordinary fact is that at the end of October 1915, Steel Helmets were introduced at the British Front for the first time.  It seems unbelievable, looking back now, that our troops would - up until then- have been fighting on the front line wearing only soft army hats.

October 1915 also saw the tragic Execution of the British Nurse Edith Cavell, executed by German firing squad for helping Prisoners of War escape from Belgium to Holland.This event was remembered this year, on the 100th anniversary of the date when she was executed. 12th October 1915.

Edith Cavell, as I expect you all know came from our neighbouring County of Norfolk. In fact, when I was at Primary School in West Norfolk, one of the school houses was named after her, as a Norfolk heroine.  You may have seen her Memorial outside Norwich Cathedral.

Edith Cavell  initially trained as a Nurse at the London Hospital, then after 10 years of nursing practice, she was asked by the Surgeon to the Belgian Royal Family to set up a Nursing School in Brussels. So she went off to Brussels in 1907 – 7 years before the outbreak of War. Her Nursing School became a model of good practice, with a reputation for high standards of training.

When in 1914, German troops marched into Brussels, she was determined to remain there. She told her nurses:-‘Any wounded soldier must be treated, friend or foe. Each man is a father, husband or son’.

Then, one day, two wounded British soldiers came to her door – she hid them, gave them nursing care, and helped them to escape.  This work escalated, and she became a central figure in a large resistance network, helping large numbers of prisoners to get to freedom. In June 1915, her Nursing School was searched, she was arrested and interrogated and sentenced to execution by firing squad.

A priest from the local Anglican Church took Communion to her in her cell. He said to her ‘We shall remember you as a heroine and a martyr’ – to which she famously replied:-

 ‘Don’t think of me like that – think of me as a Nurse who tried to do her duty’

Edith Cavell had a deep Christian faith. Her favourite book - which she would have had with her in her condemned cell – was ‘The Imitation of Christ’. A devotional book written in the 15th Century by Thomas a Kempis. I have a copy here, which is dated 1900 – so I guess it would have been very similar to the one that Edith Cavell would have been reading in those fateful hours before her execution.

Her execution provoked public outrage in this country, and the British Government exploited her death as Propaganda. ‘Remember Edith Cavell’ became an Army Recruitment slogan, and in the following eight weeks recruitment figures doubled.

Although the 100th Anniversary of this and other events during the First World War have drawn our attention to that particular conflict, our armed forces have of course been involved in a number of other War situations in the years since then – not least in the Second World War (when another 25 men from Exning died), but also in Korea, Aden, Northern Ireland, Iraq and Afghanistan.

The numbers of lives lost may not have been as great as in the First World War, but for every individual who has lost their life serving their country, there is a grieving family whose lives have been devastated.  And for every life that is lost, there are many more who return home maimed for life, either physically or mentally. In the First World War, it’s estimated that nearly 2 million British & Commonwealth soldiers returned Wounded. And similarly in the more recent conflicts, large numbers of our  service men and women have returned home wounded in mind or body.

Just over a year ago, we withdrew from Afghanistan after 13 years, but during that time 453 service personnel were killed, and many more very seriously wounded. For them the toll of their war service on their physical and mental well-being continues.

The reality of this was really brought to life for me by the TV programme DIY SOS a few weeks ago.  They were renovating a whole street of houses in Manchester for War Veterans. As you probably heard, Princes William and Harry got involved with this project, and the programme highlighted one particular Veteran from Afghanistan – a triple amputee.

He lost both legs and one arm when an IED exploded. A young man with a wife and young family, who came back from Afghanistan with his life changed for ever. His greatest desire was to be able to get upstairs, so that he could read bed-time stories to his children. His newly renovated house will have a lift so that he can do that.

As the world continues to be a very dangerous place, our men and women in the forces today have no idea where the next theatre of war will be.

We have been fortunate enough in this country to live in peace for the last 70 years, and we all look forward to that time when people living in other parts of the world will be able to have the same experience.

As we watch the news on TV, and read our newspapers, we see the people of Syria and other countries in conflict, desperately fleeing in the hope of finding peace for themselves and their families in another country.

As we heard in our Bible reading this morning:-

‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God’

No nation wants to be at War, so we must pray for all those who seek to maintain peace in the world.

The Prophet Micah writes in the Old Testament:-

‘God shall judge between many peoples

and shall arbitrate between strong nations far away

they shall beat their swords into ploughshares

and their spears into pruning hooks;

nation shall not lift up sword against nation

neither shall they learn war any more’

 

So today - as we remember the courage and bravery of those who have given their lives in the service of this country, our prayer must be that those prophetic words of Micah will become true, and that the world will become a more peaceful place, so that there will no longer be any need for people to sacrifice their lives in war.

Andrew Rycraft

 

THE POWER OF JESUS’ NAME (Sermon 27th Sept 2015)  Andrew Rycraft

This morning I would like to talk about the Power of Jesus’ Name.

When we say our prayers, we usually end them by saying something like – we pray this ‘in Jesus’ name’ Or at the end of our Intercessions, we all say:-

Merciful Father, accept these prayers for the sake of your Son, our Saviour Jesus Christ.

And why do we do that ? – because Jesus said in John’s Gospel Ch 14 v13:-

‘And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father’

And there are lots of hymns involving Jesus’ name.     Can you think of any ?

At the name of Jesus, every knee shall bow   All hail the power of Jesus Name  

 How sweet the name of Jesus sounds, in a believer’s ear    Jesus, name above all names

Chorus – ‘and in Jesus’ name’

And the power of Jesus’ name is what our Gospel reading is about today. The Apostle John says to Jesus:-

‘Teacher, we saw someone driving out demons in your name, and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us’

And how does Jesus’ respond ?  He says ‘Do not stop him, for no one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me’

It seems that the Disciples were quite jealous of their status as one of Jesus’ chosen twelve.  We are told in Mark Ch 6 that Jesus called the Twelve together, and sent them out two by two, and gave them authority over evil spirits.  So the Disciples thought that they had a special status – that they could invoke Jesus’ name to drive out evil spirits, but assumed that no one else apart from Jesus’ himself could do that.

And there are also shadows here of the reading we had last week when the Disciples were arguing amongst themselves as to who was the greatest among them.

And there is a lesson there for all of us – as believers in Jesus Christ, we all have equal status in the sight of God. Just because some of us wear dog collars, and go around wearing funny clothes, that doesn’t mean that we are any more special than any other Christian.

Just like Lay Elders or Churchwardens, we just have a particular role in the church community.

When anyone prays in Jesus’ name, those prayers are heard by God. And that’s what Jesus was saying to his Disciples, when he said:-

‘For no one who does a miracle in my name, can in the next moment say anything bad about me’

Then he goes on to say that wonderful phrase:  ‘for whoever is not against us is for us’

And that is also very important for us, in the church to remember. It’s very easy for us to criticise other Christians who behave differently from us – to think that our way of worshipping God is the only right way of doing it. The Church, as the Body of Christ here on earth takes many forms – it might be Protestant, Catholic, Pentecostal etc. etc. but they are all worshipping in the name of Jesus. That’s why organisations like the ‘Churches together in Newmarket’ are so important. Christians from all denominations working together – in the name of Jesus.

This afternoon, John will be Commissioned as a Lay Elder, and Marion, Cheryl and Patsy will be Re-commissioned as Lay Elders for another three years. For all four of them this will be another staging post in their Christian life – fulfilling a particular function in the Parish – but they will all be doing it in the power of Jesus’ name.

Our first Bible reading this morning from the Letter of James seems to me to be particularly relevant, because it uses the word ‘Elder’ in relation to praying for the sick. It says:-

‘Is anyone among you sick ? Let them call the Elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord (again here a reference to the importance of the name of Jesus).

Lay Elders of course help with leading our services, and they do also have a Pastoral role, in practical ways, and in listening to and praying for and with people.

But coming back to my previous point, it doesn’t matter who we are, or what label we have, if we believe in Jesus Christ, we can pray in the Power of His name.

If you were listening to the Gospel reading just now, you might have been rather concerned about some of the wording – it does sound rather harsh and extreme. For instance, it says:-

‘If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out’.

It also talks about cutting your foot off, and plucking out your eye. This doesn’t sound at all like the compassionate Jesus, as we understand him.

I think the only explanation is that Jesus here, as in other passages in the Gospels is using metaphors and hyperbole to make a point.  He is exaggerating to gain our attention.

Then Jesus goes on to say:-

‘If anyone causes one of these little ones – those who believe in me – to stumble, it would better for them if a large millstone were hung around their neck, and they were thrown into the sea’

So what are we to make of all that ? Again I think Jesus’ is exaggerating to make a point.

One of the Bible commentaries I read, says that when Jesus talks about ‘these little ones’ he is talking about new Christians – those who are still babies in their Christian faith. And he is warning his Disciples, and us, that we must be careful not to say things to these new Christians which would make them stumble in their faith. We must encourage them in any way we can.

And when Jesus talks about cutting off hands etc – he is talking in metaphors. Fortunately, he doesn’t mean that we should literally be chopping off our hands.

Somebody suggested that we might re-phrase Jesus words to say:-

‘If it costs an arm and a leg to resist temptation, then it’s worth it’.

In other words, we need to cut off bad habits, resentments or anything that stands between us and God.

What I would like you to remember from this sermon is just simply:-

 ’The Power of Jesus’ name’

and to know that when you say your prayers ‘In Jesus name’ they will be heard.

And to remember that anyone who truly calls on the name of Jesus is a Christian, just like us, regardless of what denomination they belong to.

Towards the end of John’s Gospel, in Ch 21, it sums up by saying:-

‘Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

AMEN

 

September 6th, 2015 ~ St Mary's Patronal Service -- Andrew Rycraft

ST MARY’S PATRONAL FESTIVAL 6TH SEPT 2015

Firstly, thank you to Father John for inviting me to preach at this special Patronal Service -here in your beautiful St Mary’s Church.

It is always rather daunting to preach from a strange Pulpit, and I am little nervous preaching from this particular pulpit knowing that during the seventeenth century, the then Rector, Robert Cook, died while preaching in the Pulpit

Hopefully that won’t happen this evening. Although in the sense that Comedians die on stage if nobody laughs at their jokes, I could suffer the same fate  

As many of you may be aware, I only moved to Exning in January – and prior to that I was based in a rural parish in deepest, darkest Oxfordshire.

But, as it happens, the main church which I looked after there was also dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary, which makes it doubly special that I am here with you tonight.

There they celebrate the Birth of the Virgin Mary on the 19th September, for reasons that I haven’t got time to go into this evening. If you would really like to know, please see me afterwards

The Virgin Mary is of course the great example of humility and Godly obedience.

You will remember that in the account of the Annunciation in Luke’s Gospel – the Angel Gabriel appears to Mary, and informs her that she has found favour with God, that she will conceive and bear a son, who will be called Jesus, and he will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. He will reign over the house of Jacob, and of his kingdom there will be no end.

And what is Mary’s response ? – she asks how this can be when she is still a virgin, and when the Angel explains that this will happen because the Holy Spirit will come upon her, she simply says:-

‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word’

The ultimate example of obedience to God.

And of course Mary did come from a very humble background, which she highlights in that beautiful Song of Mary, the Magnificat, when she says:-

‘My soul doth magnify the Lord: and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.

For he hath regarded: the lowliness of his handmaiden.

For behold from henceforth: all generations shall call me blessed.

For he that is mighty hath magnified me: and holy is his Name’.

 And then later on:-

‘He hath put down the mighty from their seat: and exalted the humble and meek’    

It is a very attractive image of humility. 

And talking of Images, there is certainly no shortage of images of the Virgin Mary in this Church !

Just before the service, I did have a quick look round and found Fifteen representations of the Virgin Mary, either on paintings, stained glass and sculptures. 

Those of you who know this church well will probably be able to point out some that I missed.

I love the painting at the back of the church - - of Mary and the baby Jesus, and Mary’s cousin Elisabeth with the young John the Baptist. Painted by a follower of Caravaggio – my favourite artist.

My personal favourite image of the Virgin Mary is this Icon of Mary with the baby Jesus….

SHOW ICON -  Our Lady of Vladimir. A 12th Century Russion Icon – the original is in Moscow.

Of the 500 or so churches in Suffolk, I understand that 150 are apparently dedicated to the Virgin Mary. No other individual saint even reaches a third of that

Of course, the dedications can vary – sometimes it’s the Assumption but usually, as here, the dedication is celebrated on the Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Which of course is the 8th September, and this is the nearest Sunday.

So why are so many churches called St Mary’s ?

I think it must stem from the so-called ‘Cult of Mary’ that developed in the Medieval Church. Particular devotion to Mary was also enhanced, particularly in this part of the world, by the Vision of Mary appearing to the noblewoman Richeldis de Faverche at Walsingham in 1061.

I was aware that you had a Parish pilgrimage to Walsingham back in July, but it’s only recently that I have read about St Mary’s long association with Walsingham.

Newmarket was a stopping point on the Pilgrimage route, and I understand that there was back in the 13th Century a Chapel of the Blessed Virgin Mary on this very site. Built for the benefit of Pilgrims on their way to the Shrine of Our Lady at Walsingham.

For those of a Catholic persuasion, The Virgin Mary is of course the one who intercedes in our prayers, and that is illustrated in the use of the Hail Mary prayer:-

Hail Mary, full of grace

the Lord is with thee

Blessed art thou amongst women,

and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.

Holy Mary, Mother of God,

pray for us sinners, now

and at the hour of our death. Amen

 

The Eastern Orthodox Church also hold the Virgin Mary in high esteem.  In fact they celebrate the Nativity of the Virgin Mary on the same day as we do, on 8th September.

 

Their description of Mary is THEOTOKOS – God bearer, a description I rather like. So they call this the ‘Feast of the Nativity of our Most Holy Lady, the Theotokos’.

 

Like a number of traditions which have developed during the life of the Christian church, some of the traditions associated with the Virgin Mary are not supported by anything that can be found in the Bible.

 

Today we are celebrating the Birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary, but there is nothing in Scripture about the birth of Mary or her parents. The names of Mary’s parents, Joachim & Anna for instance come from the apocryphal ‘Gospel of James’ which is not an accepted part of the canon of Scripture.

However, Mary herself does appear a number of times in the Gospels:-

In Luke’s Gospel of course we have the Annunciation of Mary, her visit to her cousin Elizabeth, and then the Birth of Jesus, and the flight into Egypt.Then there was the family pilgrimage to Jerusalem when Jesus was 12, and he got left behind in the Temple.

When Jesus performed his first Miracle, or Sign as John’s Gospel describes it – the turning of water into wine at the Wedding in Cana, Mary was there.

Later in Jesus’ public ministry Mary appears with relatives outside a house, but Jesus seems to give her a snub. In Matthew Ch 12, when told his mother and brothers are outside, Jesus responds:-

‘Who is my mother, and who are my brothers’ and pointing to the disciples, he says ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother’.

Then, there is no mention of Mary in the Gospels until she appears again at the Crucifixion.

As Jesus hung, dying on the Cross, you will remember that he entrusts the care of his Mother to John, the beloved disciple.

The last glimpse we have of Mary is in Acts Ch 1 v14, where we are told:-

‘The Apostles were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary, the mother of Jesus’

So not that many references to Mary during the adult life of Jesus, but it seems unlikely that she wasn’t there somewhere in the background. Sometimes we just have to apply our imagination to visualise the situation.

Remember they weren’t very far away from where Jesus had been brought up – in his home town of Nazareth. It’s worth recalling that most of Jesus’ ministry here on earth took place in the region of Galilee – a relatively small area. Places like Nazareth, Cana and Capernaum are all within a radius of 20 miles or so, on the Western side of the Sea of Galilee.

During Jesus three years or so of ministry, it seems inconceivable that his mother Mary was not very much part of the story, despite the fact that she doesn’t often get a mention. Not surprisingly, the Gospel writers concentrated on the activities of Jesus himself.

When we see on our television screens , the desperate Refugees who have fled to Europe from Syria, it is sobering to look at the Map of the Holy Land and to see how close Syria is to Galilee and the places where Jesus walked. Mary, of course, would have related to today’s desperate Refugees from the Middle East.

Remember how after the Birth of Jesus in Bethlehem, an Angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said ‘Get up, take the child to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you’. So Mary and Joseph, and the Baby Jesus became Refugees in a foreign country, until it was safe for them to return.

What can we learn today from the example of the Blessed Virgin Mary:-

Three things I believe – Faith, Humility & Obedience.

1. FAITH: To remember the Words of the Angel Gabriel at the Annunciation – ‘nothing will be impossible with God’. It is tempting for us to try and put human limits on what we think God can do.

2. HUMILITY: Mary’s example of a loving mother from a humble background, whose love was unconditional, and who followed her son in his ministry, and ultimately to his death on the Cross. Always humbly there in the background, knowing that she had borne the Son of God.

3. OBEDIENCE: Mary’s obedience to God. As soon as the Angel Gabriel explained to her that she was to conceive the Son of God by the Holy Spirit, she immediately accepted the situation – ‘let it be with me according to your word’.  We can’t begin to emulate her purity, but we can respond willingly to whatever God is calling us to do.

I would like to conclude by praying what is believed to be the Church’s oldest prayer to Our Lady (translated from the Greek):-

Let’s pray:-       

O Mother of God

we take refuge

in your loving care.

let not our plea to you pass unheeded

in the trials that beset us,

but deliver us from danger

for you alone are truly pure

you alone

are truly blessed.

 

AMEN

 

 

TAKE TIME OUT FOR GOD’ -- July 19th  ~ Seventh Sunday after Trinity -- Andrew Rycraft

‘TAKE TIME OUT FOR GOD’

My theme for today is ‘Take Time Out for God’ – or as it says in our Offertory Hymn today ‘Take time to be Holy’.

It is not easy these days as we get ourselves so busy with various activities, and we are bombarded by Television, Computers, Tablets, Smartphones etc. There always seems to be something to take our attention. But what can be more important than spending time with God ? – it’s so easy to crowd him out of our lives.

We do need to take time for Him, and we need to Listen to what he is trying to tell us.

Those of you who know about the Rule of St Benedict will know that the very first word of the Rule is ‘Listen’. It says:-

‘Listen carefully – to the master’s instructions, and attend to them with the ear of your heart’

For anyone who is not familiar with the Rule it was written by St Benedict in the 6th Century, and it is the rule by which Benedictine Monks & Nuns and many other Christian religious communities throughout the world live by, even today.

So taking time out for God and listening to Him should be an important part of our lives as Christians.

As most of you know, I have just come back from two weeks holiday, and this is very much the holiday season. But most of us forget that the word Holiday comes from Holy Day, days that were specifically related to a Festival or Saints Day. A time to be with God.

You may wonder how this relates to today’s Bible readings – apart from the fact that I have just come back from a lovely quiet relaxing holiday in Ireland J

You might want to grab your pew bible at this stage – and find Mark Ch 6.

My theme of ‘Take Time Out for God’ does in fact relate directly to today’s Gospel passage from Mark Ch 6.

You may have noticed that we have been looking at passages from Mark Ch 6 for the last three weeks. As I have probably mentioned before, Mark’s Gospel is packed full of action, and Ch 6 is no exception.

Two weeks ago, we started at the beginning of Ch 6, and had Jesus in his home town of Nazareth preaching in the Synagogue, and the locals took offence at him saying ‘Is this not the Carpenter, son of Mary, brother of James etc’ and Jesus says to them in verse 4:-

‘Prophets are not without honour, except in their home town, and among their own kin’

And in the same reading, verse 7 onwards, Jesus calls together the twelve Apostles and sends them out two by two, giving them authority over the unclean spirits. And we are told in v 12 that they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. They cast out demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.

Last week, you had verses 14-29, the story of the beheading of John the Baptist, but today’s reading starts at verse 30, and it really continues the story from the week before.

At the Family Service a few weeks ago I  remember Susan saying that Mark’s Gospel often contains a series of sandwiches, stories within stories – and the Story of the Beheading of John the Baptist is an example of that – squeezed in between the account of the Apostles being sent out by Jesus, and their return.

So as you’ll see in verse 30 it says:-

‘The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all that they had done and taught’

You’ll remember that Jesus had sent his Apostles out in two by twos – not in 4x4s J - and now they were reporting back to him.

But because there were so many people milling around, and Jesus could see how exhausted his Apostles were, and that they hadn’t even had a chance to eat, he says to them in the final part of verse 31:-

‘Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest’ – which of course is where my theme comes from.   Jesus taking his Apostles away to a quiet place.

And as we read in verse 32:-

 ‘They went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place’ – but sadly in their case, it wasn’t solitary for long – because many of the crowd who had been following Jesus recognised them and ran around the Lake of Galilee to get to the other side before they did .

According to William Barclay, in his bible commentary on this passage, at this particular place it would have been four miles across the Lake by boat, and ten miles round the top of the lake on foot.

On a windless day, or with the wind against you in the boat, an energetic person could walk round the top of the lake and be there before the boat arrived. And this is exactly what happened; and when Jesus and his disciples stepped out of the boat, the very crowd from which they had sought some peace was waiting there for them.

Jesus could have been angry with the crowd, but he wasn’t. His heart goes out to them.

As it says in verse 34, he ‘had compassion for them’ – the Greek word is in fact much more earthy than that, expressing the wrenching of internal organs – we might say gut-wrenching. He just couldn’t be angry with them or ignore them.

On this occasion, Jesus’ desire to take himself and his Apostles off to a quiet place is scotched by the crowd desperate to see him, but the desire was there and we know that on many occasions Jesus did take himself off to be alone with his Heavenly Father. To be spiritually restored, and prepared for what lay ahead.

As a parish, I believe we need to ‘Take time out for God’ – there are a lot of exciting possibilities for the future, but we need to be careful that we don’t try to do too much.

Anything we do for God must be done well, and we need, as St Benedict tells us, to Listen to God.

And as it says in Psalm 27:-

‘Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labour in vain’

We can only discern God’s will, as his people, if we take time for him, pray together and listen to him.

When I say ‘Listen’ – of course I don’t mean that we will necessarily audibly hear his voice.

But God does speak to us in so many ways – it might be through the words of Scripture, it may be though what someone else says, or it may be in many different ways that we feel that we are being nudged in a particular direction.

And we have to be open to changing our minds. Our initial ideas may not be right, in which case we have to lay those down and go back to prayer.

Yesterday a number of us were here for our Parish ‘In Day’ – when we looked at various practical aspects of our Worship, to see ways that we can enhance the quality of what we do here on Sundays. I hope that people found that helpful.

Following on from that, I would like to encourage short periods of prayerful silence during our Communion services – for instance after the Bible readings and after the Sermon.

Just a short opportunity to reflect on the readings, and on the Sermon, before moving on to the next thing. I know to a certain extent this is done already, but I just want to encourage that, and explain why we do it.

There is also a quiet prayerful time after the distribution of Communion, while the Priest is doing the ablutions and clearing up at the Altar.

These quiet times, although short, are a time when we can connect with God, and perhaps hear his voice.

Having had the Parish ‘In Day’ I would like us now to consider having a Parish ‘Away Day’.

As part of my theme for today of ‘Taking Time out for God’ I think it would be good if we could, like Jesus said to his Disciples ‘Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest’.

The Away Day would be a time for Fellowship, Quiet Prayer and Reflection on the future of the Parish. If anyone has any ideas as to Location, and when this should take place, please let me know. We don’t have to rush into it – it could be in some months time.

I would like to conclude by reading to you the very meaningful words of the Hymn I mentioned at the beginning ‘Take time to be holy’ – if you want to follow the words as I read it, it’s number 625 in Mission Praise.

Take time to be holy, speak oft with thy Lord;
Abide in Him always, and feed on His Word.
Make friends of God’s children, help those who are weak,
Forgetting in nothing His blessing to seek.

Take time to be holy, the world rushes on;
Spend much time in secret, with Jesus alone.
By looking to Jesus, like Him thou shalt be;
Thy friends in thy conduct His likeness shall see.

Take time to be holy, let Him be thy Guide;
And run not before Him, whatever betide.
In joy or in sorrow, still follow the Lord,
And, looking to Jesus, still trust in His Word.

Take time to be holy, be calm in thy soul,
Each thought and each motive beneath His control.
Thus led by His Spirit to fountains of love,
Thou soon shalt be fitted for service above.

 

Andrew Rycraft (Revd) 19th July 2015

 

 

 

Pentecost 2015 -- Andrew Rycraft

SERMON for PENTECOST 24TH MAY 2015

Pentecost is often described as the Birthday of the Church – that’s when Christianity took off – when the Disciples were dramatically filled with Holy Spirit.

Why is Pentecost called Pentecost ?

Anyone who was here on Ascension Day might remember that I explained the reason that Ascension Day was always on a Thursday was because it is 40 days after Easter. And here we are 10 days later at Pentecost (50 days after Easter).

Pentecost was in fact one of the three great Jewish pilgrimage festivals – these were Passover, the Feast of Tabernacles and Pentecost.

As many as 180,000 people flocked into Jerusalem for these Festivals – two thirds of which came from other countries. So it was in this context, with all these people milling around in Jerusalem, that the dramatic outpouring of the Holy Spirit took place.

If you look at today’s reading from Acts, you will see how dramatic it was:-

‘When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.’

It’s difficult for us to imagine what an extraordinary event this was – remember that the Disciples were all together in one place – they were inside a house. It could even have been in the Upper Room where they shared the Last Supper with Jesus, and also where he appeared to them after the Resurrection, once without Thomas and then a week later when Thomas was there.

SHOW PICTURE – this is one idea of what the scene might have looked like – with the tongues of fire resting on each of the Disciples.

They were all filled with the Holy Spirit - and they were speaking in other languages.

And there must have been quite a lot of noise coming from this house, because it attracted the attention of passers-by. And as it says the crowd assembled outside this house in bewilderment -  a lovely word – bewilderment. They were bewildered because they realised that when they heard the sound of voices coming from the house, they were speaking in their own languages. And we are told that this was a crowd of God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven.

The reading then lists all the countries they are from – Parthians, Medes, Elamites, residents of Mesopotamia, Judaea and Cappadocia etc. etc. I won’t read them all, but if you look at where these countries were, and their modern equivalents – sadly there are currently some of the most troubled parts of the Middle East – places like Syria, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Lebanon & Palestine.   And ironically in those same countries today Christians are being persecuted for their faith.   

But it was the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on that Day of Pentecost, which led to Christianity eventually spreading throughout the world. Christianity is still the largest religion in the world, with 2.1 Billion followers – and it’s growing all the time, particularly in places like China, Korea and South America.

But the Spirit of God didn’t just suddenly appear at Pentecost. It was there at the beginning of Creation – in the second Chapter of Genesis v7 it says:-

‘then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being’

And then it was God’s spirit which inspired Moses and all the great prophets. But the big difference on the Day of Pentecost was that instead of God sending his Spirit to the chosen few – on that day it became available to all believers.

And it is the Holy Spirit which enables Peter and all the apostles to boldly preach the Good News of Jesus Christ.

Remember that these were just simple fishermen, not in any way used to speaking in public – but on the Day of Pentecost, Peter and the Apostles came out the house where the Holy Spirit had descended on them in tongues of fire, and Peter stood up in front of this large crowd, and addressed them in a loud voice, saying:-

‘Fellow Jews and all you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning !’ – and then he goes on to refer to what the prophet Joel had said about God pouring his Spirit on all people’

The reason that Peter says they are not drunk is that because some people in the crowd, having heard what was going on in the house, thought they must have had ‘too much wine’

Some of you might have heard of the book called ‘Nine o clock in the morning’ by Dennis Bennett. It is referring directly to Peter’s comment – and it’s about Dennis Bennett’s church in America – an ordinary Anglo-Catholic Church that was transformed in the 1960s by the coming of the Holy Spirit.

The significance of Peter referring to it as ‘only nine o clock in the morning’ was apparently because this was the hour for morning prayer, before which a Jew would not have eaten, and would certainly not have been drinking wine.

Today’s Gospel reading from John gives us the background to the arrival of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Jesus says to his disciples:-

When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father – the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father – he will testify about me. And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning.

And in Luke’s Gospel, the risen Christ had told his Disciples:-

 ‘Stay here in Jerusalem until you have been clothed with power from on high’.

So it should have been no surprise to them that something was going to happen, and they would be empowered – but they probably had no idea how it would happen, or exactly when.

Different translations of the Bible use different words to describe the Holy Spirit – Advocate, Comforter, Helper, Friend etc.

Jesus had told his Disciples before he was arrested that it was necessary for him to leave them, because as he said ‘Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go I will send him to you’

So you can see that it was all part of God’s plan.

What can we learn today from what happened on the Day of Pentecost ? 

I think there are three specific pointers which it gives us:-

1. The first thing that Peter did in talking to the crowd was to refer them to the words of the prophet Joel – in other words referring directly to scripture. And that’s what any of us who preach should be doing today – to preach and teach starting with the Bible.

2. You may remember that a bit later in Acts Ch 2 we are told that three thousand people were baptised, and those new Christians apparently then devoted themselves steadfastly to the Apostles teaching and Fellowship, in the Breaking of Bread and Prayer.

And that’s an excellent four point model for us as the Church today.

Teaching, Fellowship, Breaking of Bread and Prayer.

3. It’s significant that the Disciples came out from behind closed doors to meet the people where they were.

And that’s what we need to do as a Church – to get outside the Church and meet people where they are. If we can’t get them into Church, we need to go out into the Community where they are. I know a lot of that already goes on within this Parish, but we can always do more.

Today was all about The Holy Spirit, and next week will be Trinity Sunday, so again we will be thinking about the Holy Spirit, and his role in the Trinity with the Father & The Son. 

But remember that today, Pentecost, is the Birthday of the Church.

Amen

 

 

 

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