Saturday, 30 June 2012

Armed Forces' Day 2012

Today began at the National Memorial Arboretum with Johnson Beharry VC carrying the Olympic torch and will continue with a number of events to celebrate Armed Forces' Day (including a service of celebration and remembrance at 10:30). There are many others events (Birmingham has the torch and a major celebration going on) so why not find out where your local celebration is and go pay it a visit and celebrate those who wear uniforms and work for peace and the protection of this nation and others?

Who knows, might see you at the Arboretum perhaps?

Daily Office - Jun 30

Ember Day

Psalm 76
In Judah God is known; his name is great in Israel. At Salem is his tabernacle, and his dwelling place in Zion. There broke he the flashing arrows of the bow, the shield, the sword and the weapons of war. In the light of splendour you appeared, glorious from the eternal mountains. The boastful were plundered; they have slept their sleep; none of the warriors can lift their hand. At your rebuke, O God of Jacob, both horse and chariot fell stunned. Terrible are you in majesty: who can stand before your face when you are angry? You caused your judgement to be heard from heaven;
the earth trembled and was still, when God arose to judgement, to save all the meek upon earth. You crushed the wrath of the peoples and bridled the wrathful remnant. Make a vow to the Lord your God and keep it; let all who are round about him bring gifts to him that is worthy to be feared. He breaks down the spirit of princes and strikes terror in the kings of the earth.

Psalm 79
O God, the heathen have come into your heritage; your holy temple have they defiled and made Jerusalem a heap of stones. The dead bodies of your servants they have given to be food for the birds of the air, and the flesh of your faithful to the beasts of the field. Their blood have they shed like water on every side of Jerusalem, and there was no one to bury them. We have become the taunt of our neighbours, the scorn and derision of those that are round about us. Lord, how long will you be angry, for ever? How long will your jealous fury blaze like fire Pour out your wrath upon the nations that have not known you, and upon the kingdoms that have not called upon your name. For they have devoured Jacob and laid waste his dwelling place. Remember not against us our former sins; let your compassion make haste to meet us, for we are brought very low. Help us, O God of our salvation, for the glory of your name; deliver us, and wipe away our sins for your name’s sake. Why should the heathen say, ‘Where is now their God?’ Let vengeance for your servants’ blood that is shed be known among the nations in our sight. Let the sorrowful sighing of the prisoners come before you, and by your mighty arm preserve those who are condemned to die. May the taunts with which our neighbours taunted you, Lord, •
return sevenfold into their bosom. But we that are your people and the sheep of your pasture will give you thanks for ever, and tell of your praise from generation to generation.

Judges 12:1-7
The men of Ephraim were called to arms, and they crossed to Zaphon and said to Jephthah, ‘Why did you cross over to fight against the Ammonites, and did not call us to go with you? We will burn your house down over you!’ Jephthah said to them, ‘My people and I were engaged in conflict with the Ammonites who oppressed us severely. But when I called you, you did not deliver me from their hand. When I saw that you would not deliver me, I took my life in my hand, and crossed over against the Ammonites, and the Lord gave them into my hand. Why then have you come up to me this day, to fight against me?’ Then Jephthah gathered all the men of Gilead and fought with Ephraim; and the men of Gilead defeated Ephraim, because they said, ‘You are fugitives from Ephraim, you Gileadites—in the heart of Ephraim and Manasseh.’ Then the Gileadites took the fords of the Jordan against the Ephraimites. Whenever one of the fugitives of Ephraim said, ‘Let me go over’, the men of Gilead would say to him, ‘Are you an Ephraimite?’ When he said, ‘No’, they said to him, ‘Then say Shibboleth’, and he said, ‘Sibboleth’, for he could not pronounce it right. Then they seized him and killed him at the fords of the Jordan. Forty-two thousand of the Ephraimites fell at that time.
Jephthah judged Israel for six years. Then Jephthah the Gileadite died, and was buried in his town in Gilead.

Luke 17:11-19
On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, they called out, saying, ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!’ When he saw them, he said to them, ‘Go and show yourselves to the priests.’ And as they went, they were made clean. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus asked, ‘Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?’ Then he said to him, ‘Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.’

The Collect
Almighty God, you have broken the tyranny of sin and have sent the Spirit of your Son into our hearts whereby we call you Father: give us grace to dedicate our freedom to your service, that we and all creation may be brought to the glorious liberty of the children of God; 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. Amen.

Friday, 29 June 2012

Thought for the Day

They shall still bring forth fruit in old age Ps 92:14a 
Time we realised that what's in the head and heart are the treasures and the means of grace for younger generations.

July? Sorry, it's fully booked!

Yesterday I was asked if I could do something next month and was stunned to find that July is, for the time that they wanted, a completely booked month. Now when I told the person this they responded with the comment that it was only a couple of hours (actually I reckon three to four hours would have been nearer the mark) and that I must have some free space somewhere. I had to tell them that in fact July was closed thanks to the various things that had all crowded in to it.

"But you're a Vicar," they exclaimed, "How can your diary be completely booked?"

I recalled the wise words of Hugh Wilcox, a man I did training with back in the dim and distant past of an ordination placement in Ware, Herts. He told me that ordination was something that would leave me challenged and called upon and that when I could not do something the response should not an explanation but the simple statement that I was 'unavailable'. So I told them that I couldn't do anything on their first choice day of Saturday.

And of course back came the response that I couldn't have a month ahead of me which had something happening on every saturday. I explained that there were weddings and events that had long since been booked in and ran them through the diary entries to prove it. As we went through the entries they commented that I did stuff every day of the week and that I seemed to be pretty busy all of the time (and this was a surprise).

What was sad about yesterday's request was the fact that I would have enjoyed doing the event and that even they'd known they were going to do it in July they had not decided which date until this week (and even then it was flexible as they'd got no one booked to come yet).

A plea - when you are going to do something, decide on a date and work to it. Book the venue, invite those you want to attend and set the thing in concrete as far back as you can because who knows, the Vicar might just be busy!


Daily Office - Jun 29

Peter and Paul, Apostles
Ember Day

Psalm 71
In you, O Lord, do I seek refuge; let me never be put to shame. In your righteousness, deliver me and set me free; incline your ear to me and save me. Be for me a stronghold to which I may ever resort; send out to save me, for you are my rock and my fortress. Deliver me, my God, from the hand of the wicked, from the grasp of the evildoer and the oppressor. For you are my hope, O Lord God, my confidence, even from my youth. Upon you have I leaned from my birth, when you drew me from my mother’s womb; my praise shall be always of you. I have become a portent to many, but you are my refuge and my strength. Let my mouth be full of your praise and your glory all the day long. Do not cast me away in the time of old age; forsake me not when my strength fails. For my enemies are talking against me, and those who lie in wait for my life take counsel together. They say, ‘God has forsaken him; pursue him and take him, because there is none to deliver him.’ O God, be not far from me; come quickly to help me, O my God. Let those who are against me be put to shame and disgrace; let those who seek to do me evil be covered with scorn and reproach. But as for me I will hope continually and will praise you more and more. My mouth shall tell of your righteousness and salvation all the day long, for I know no end of the telling. I will begin with the mighty works of the Lord God; I will recall your righteousness, yours alone. O God, you have taught me since I was young, and to this day I tell of your wonderful works. Forsake me not, O God, when I am old and grey-headed, till I make known your deeds to the next generation and your power to all that are to come. Your righteousness, O God, reaches to the heavens; in the great things you have done, who is like you, O God? What troubles and adversities you have shown me, and yet you will turn and refresh me and bring me from the deep of the earth again. Increase my honour; turn again and comfort me. Therefore will I praise you upon the harp for your faithfulness, O my God; I will sing to you with the lyre, O Holy One of Israel. My lips will sing out as I play to you, and so will my soul, which you have redeemed. My tongue also will tell of your righteousness all the day long, for they shall be shamed and disgraced who sought to do me evil.

Psalm 113
Alleluia. Give praise, you servants of the Lord, O praise the name of the Lord. Blessed be the name of the Lord, from this time forth and for evermore. From the rising of the sun to its setting let the name of the Lord be praised. The Lord is high above all nations and his glory above the heavens. Who is like the Lord our God, that has his throne so high, yet humbles himself to behold the things of heaven and earth? He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ashes,to set them with princes, with the princes of his people. He gives the barren woman a place in the house and makes her a joyful mother of children. Alleluia.

Isaiah 49:1-6
Listen to me, O coastlands, pay attention, you peoples from far away! The Lord called me before I was born, while I was in my mother’s womb he named me. He made my mouth like a sharp sword, in the shadow of his hand he hid me; he made me a polished arrow, in his quiver he hid me away. And he said to me, ‘You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified.’ But I said, ‘I have laboured in vain, I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity; yet surely my cause is with the Lord, and my reward with my God.’ And now the Lord says, who formed me in the womb to be his servant, to bring Jacob back to him, and that Israel might be gathered to him,for I am honoured in the sight of the Lord, and my God has become my strength - he says, ‘It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the survivors of Israel;
I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.’

Acts 11:1-18
Now the apostles and the believers who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles had also accepted the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him, saying, ‘Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?’ Then Peter began to explain it to them, step by step, saying, ‘I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision. There was something like a large sheet coming down from heaven, being lowered by its four corners; and it came close to me. As I looked at it closely I saw four-footed animals, beasts of prey, reptiles, and birds of the air. I also heard a voice saying to me, “Get up, Peter; kill and eat.” But I replied, “By no means, Lord; for nothing profane or unclean has ever entered my mouth.” But a second time the voice answered from heaven, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.” This happened three times; then everything was pulled up again to heaven. At that very moment three men, sent to me from Caesarea, arrived at the house where we were. The Spirit told me to go with them and not to make a distinction between them and us. These six brothers also accompanied me, and we entered the man’s house. He told us how he had seen the angel standing in his house and saying, “Send to Joppa and bring Simon, who is called Peter; he will give you a message by which you and your entire household will be saved.” And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as it had upon us at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said, “John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?’ When they heard this, they were silenced. And they praised God, saying, ‘Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life.’

The Collect
Almighty God, whose blessed apostles Peter and Paul glorified you in their death as in their life:
grant that your Church, inspired by their teaching and example, and made one by your Spirit, may ever stand firm upon the one foundation, 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. Amen.

Thursday, 28 June 2012

Bomber Command - Now Give Them Their Medal!

Today the Memorial to those who flew with, and gave their lives sering in, the Royal Air Force's Bomber Command will be unveiled.

This long overdue recognition of the courage and commitment of the 55,573 who gave their lives and the many others who served in such an awful role is something to not only be applauded but should be the start of the process that sees those who served rewarded with a medal to recognise this.

Whilst some will speak of atrocities and war crimes what we celebrate today is the courage and duty of those who served. This memorial has been welcomed by many, including those who inhabit the places that were the targets of the bombing campaigns of the second world war - which is just, right and fitting.

'We will remember them'

Cathedrals - who needs them?

I appear to have lit the blue touch-paper with my passing comments about cathedrals yesterday if the three people I met whilst at 'Open Door' were anything to go by. Two of them left me in no doubt that these wonderful building were little more than a drain on the finances of the Church of England and that, "All those people who work in them and live around the close should be 'paying their way' rather than tasking money away from the church congregations that were in the towns and villages!" The other person told me that they love our cathedral as it's a place where they can go and find peace and great music - both of which help them with their own walk.

So there we have it, in a local poll 67*% of the people don't think we need our cathedrals! But are they right? I don't want to address the money bit at the moment as we are currently engaged in an exercise of 'sustainability' (which the diocese is calling 'plain speaking') and looking at clergy numbers and the like (more about that shortly methinks) and this might be part of the reason for the comments***.

So do we need our cathedrals? The majority of the comments made focussed on money. Money for maintenance of those wonderfully big and glorious buildings. Money for upkeep and keeping the doors opened. Money that some 'charge' (and here Westminster and Chester came in for the most flak) Christians to visit their buildings. Money for 'all those people' who work in the cathedral and the money that is paid out for the housing in the closes (with question asked about rent and 'grace and favour'). Yep, if my engagements yesterday are anything to go by, seems quite a few are uncertain about having one on the grounds of money.

Another issue that cropped us was the fact that whilst the building we have is splendid, it's not in the right place for a cathedral in a diocese which is shaped as it is (mainly because we've given bits off to form other diocesan structures elsewhere).

I have had discussions with some who considered the cathedral to be an outdated, outmoded edifice to days gone by and that they needed to be considered in the same light as other stately homes and heritage centres rather than anything that has a place in the community (but these people have never lived in a cathedral town - and I know that having one makes it a city, but that's just convention not community). A tourist feature not an ecclesiastical reality. A source of income for the place in terms of tourism and a source of self-sustaining for the cathedral itself.

BUT (has to be one)

The same responses to yesterday's closing churches conversation apply here and alongside them we have a multitude of other considerations to add into the pot.

The OLSX (Occupy London Stock Exchange) debacle did much to bring the Church, the CofE in general and St Paul's in particular into the public gaze. There was criticism for the fact that the place appeared more concerned with tourists and income than it did with standing with those who campaigned about institutional greed and the general imbalance of wealth (although of course to get wealth you have to be born rich or work and it seemed most of the protestors perhaps lived in neither of those camps!). Where doors should have been flung open and a welcome given, what many saw was a church that cared more about money that standing up for the rights of some and criticising the excesses of others.

Sadly, not one person could see the fact that the electricity, gas and other suppliers to St Paul's all wanted their payments. "Surely no one would cut off a cathedral or a church?" some asked when faced with this scenario. But of course they would, for we are but customers (and commercial, not domestic, customers too!). The cathedrals need to balance their books and the problem of charging admission rather than inviting donations is a tough one for, as we find with some of the churches in our town, many may come in but the donations are pitiful. All want the buildings to be open and available to them but this same 'all' expect the church to fund itself or be funded by some other body (just not them!). So we can ask for a donation or we can charge and I'm not sure which of the two is the right way pastorally, practically, financially and as criteria and responses on a list of other consideration.

On a value for money (which is mean and mercenary) I think that our cathedrals are worth their weight in jelly beans and centres of worship of the highest standard and as centres of excellence, facilitation and enabling. Here's a few 'for instances':

1. When it comes to the major festivals and holy days there is something special about making the journey to the cathedral and it becomes a sort of mini-pilgrimage and centre of celebration all rolled into one. Just speak to people on a Maundy Thursday and see how special it is to gather in a large, and generally splendid, building to celebrate as the many strands of Church together.

2. The ability to come into a scared space which has stood as the centre of Church in that region and in so doing understand that you stand in the company of generations of those who have worshipped before is something that cannot have a price placed on it.

3. To come into a cathedral and find oneself lost in the music and the excellence of the choirs (visiting and resident - and this is a factor, it is a venue for other choirs, organists, bell-ringers and the like) draws one into God and into a special place that all of us need from time to time. It is a safe haven in the storms of life.

4. They are churches and they have their own regular congregations. It's just that their church is a bit bigger than other peoples. They are the centre of community and engage as such with all the same things that we in our smaller places engage with and in.

5. Cathedrals are a centre for excellence and resource as the roles of those who act as missioners and facilitators clearly demonstrate. In fact I would rather that some of the diocesan sector staff worked out of the cathedral than the administrative offices as this would solidify and confirm the role and place of our cathedrals.

6. They engage with the schools and the 'Open Door' and other schools events are an extremely effective and valuable form of engagement between church and community (and not just the local community).

7. They do need to bring in the money to be self-supporting and this is an issue. I felt aggrieved when visiting Church House, Westminster to realise that popping in to the place next door would cost me (although another person later told me that had I asked there is a broom cupboard set aside for those cheapskates who tried the 'just want to pray' approach to getting in for free). I'm not that sure that the cathedrals do take way money from the parishes but as one of those yesterday argued - they cost money and that, even if it comes from a different pocket, is from the same pair of trousers! Think this highlights a need for involvement at parish and Deanery levels from the cathedral staff and some value for money input and engagement.

So there you have it - a real thinking on my feet fifteen minutes of cornflakes (Crunchy Nut), Tea (Darjeeling) and typing.

I hope it makes sense (and has some validity to).

Let's treasure our treasures and let's pray that they continue to flourish and support the wider Church in all and every respect. Pray for them, their congregations, those who work in (and out of) them and for those visitors too - might be the first chance some have to engage with God as we perceive Him to be!


* Sample of 3 in a poll conducted by strange Vicar**
** Thankfully none of those whose opinions were gained were from the church I'm in
*** There were also comments about paying for 'all those people in diocesan jobs'

ps. I've left the 'grace and favour' aspect as I know little of this and wouldn't know where to start.

pps. Interesting that those who were critical came from places that felt badly done with regard to parish share.

Daily Office - Jun28

Irenæus, Bishop of Lyons, Teacher of the Faith, c.200

Psalm 78:1-39
Hear my teaching, O my people; incline your ears to the words of my mouth. I will open my mouth in a parable; I will pour forth mysteries from of old, such as we have heard and known, which our forebears have told us. We will not hide from their children, but will recount to generations to come, the praises of the Lord and his power and the wonderful works he has done. He laid a solemn charge on Jacob and made it a law in Israel, which he commanded them to teach their children, that the generations to come might know, and the children yet unborn, that they in turn might tell it to their children; So that they might put their trust in God and not forget the deeds of God, but keep his commandments, and not be like their forebears, a stubborn and rebellious generation, a generation whose heart was not steadfast, and whose spirit was not faithful to God. The people of Ephraim, armed with the bow, turned back in the day of battle; They did not keep the covenant of God and refused to walk in his law; They forgot what he had done and the wonders he had shown them. For he did marvellous things in the sight of their forebears, in the land of Egypt, in the field of Zoan. He divided the sea and let them pass through; he made the waters stand still in a heap. He led them with a cloud by day and all the night through with a blaze of fire. He split the hard rocks in the wilderness and gave them drink as from the great deep. He brought streams out of the rock and made water gush out like rivers. Yet for all this they sinned more against him and defied the Most High in the wilderness. They tested God in their hearts and demanded food for their craving. They spoke against God and said, ‘Can God prepare a table in the wilderness? ‘He struck the rock indeed, so that the waters gushed out and the streams overflowed, but can he give bread or provide meat for his people?’ When the Lord heard this, he was full of wrath; a fire was kindled against Jacob and his anger went out against Israel, for they had no faith in God and put no trust in his saving help. So he commanded the clouds above and opened the doors of heaven. He rained down upon them manna to eat and gave them the grain of heaven. So mortals ate the bread of angels; he sent them food in plenty. He caused the east wind to blow in the heavens and led out the south wind by his might. He rained flesh upon them as thick as dust and winged fowl like the sand of the sea. He let it fall in the midst of their camp and round about their tents. So they ate and were well filled, for he gave them what they desired. But they did not stop their craving; their food was still in their mouths, when the anger of God rose against them, and slew their strongest men and felled the flower of Israel. But for all this, they sinned yet more and put no faith in his wonderful works. So he brought their days to an end like a breath and their years in sudden terror. Whenever he slew them, they would seek him; they would repent and earnestly search for God. They remembered that God was their rock and the Most High God their redeemer. Yet they did but flatter him with their mouth and dissembled with their tongue. Their heart was not steadfast towards him, neither were they faithful to his covenant. But he was so merciful that he forgave their misdeeds and did not destroy them; many a time he turned back his wrath and did not suffer his whole displeasure to be roused. For he remembered that they were but flesh, a wind that passes by and does not return.

Judges 11:1-11
Now Jephthah the Gileadite, the son of a prostitute, was a mighty warrior. Gilead was the father of Jephthah. Gilead’s wife also bore him sons; and when his wife’s sons grew up, they drove Jephthah away, saying to him, ‘You shall not inherit anything in our father’s house; for you are the son of another woman.’ Then Jephthah fled from his brothers and lived in the land of Tob. Outlaws collected around Jephthah and went raiding with him.
After a time the Ammonites made war against Israel. And when the Ammonites made war against Israel, the elders of Gilead went to bring Jephthah from the land of Tob. They said to Jephthah, ‘Come and be our commander, so that we may fight with the Ammonites.’ But Jephthah said to the elders of Gilead, ‘Are you not the very ones who rejected me and drove me out of my father’s house? So why do you come to me now when you are in trouble?’ The elders of Gilead said to Jephthah, ‘Nevertheless, we have now turned back to you, so that you may go with us and fight with the Ammonites, and become head over us, over all the inhabitants of Gilead.’ Jephthah said to the elders of Gilead, ‘If you bring me home again to fight with the Ammonites, and the Lord gives them over to me, I will be your head.’ And the elders of Gilead said to Jephthah, ‘The Lord will be witness between us; we will surely do as you say.’ So Jephthah went with the elders of Gilead, and the people made him head and commander over them; and Jephthah spoke all his words before the Lord at Mizpah.

Luke 16:19-end
‘There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. He called out, “Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.” But Abraham said, “Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.” He said, “Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house—for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.” Abraham replied, “They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.” He said, “No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.” He said to him, “If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.” ’

The Collect
God of peace, who through the ministry of your servant Irenæus strengthened the true faith and brought harmony to your Church: keep us steadfast in your true religion, and renew us in faith and love, that we may always walk in the way that leads to eternal life; 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. Amen.

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Let's close half our buildings!

Another conversation this week saw one of those present make the statement, "Let's close half of our church buildings!" They went on to explain how the CofE footed the bill for more historic and protected buildings than any other body and hw we should give them to the local communities as heritage centres and museums, art galleries and whatever else they could be used for.

"The time has come to take the Church back to the houses," he cried. "We don't need buildings and all the trappings of being settled that tie us down and make us ineffective. Let's go back to meeting in homes and being the Church where it is to be found."

"Oh No," thought I, "Not another one!"

But indeed it was and we were treated to a masterclass in how Church should be done (and this is the second of those this week for I was also regaled with a lecture on blank canvases and how they [the lecturer, priest and saviour of the faith] were the paints that would bring an incarnate and intoning presence to the lost!!!).

The Church should just abandon their building and withdraw to places where low-cost, high-efficiency Church could be engaged with. No need for all the old Common Prayer stuff or even Common Worship for each would be Church as they understood it to be for their community. There were no difficult places or tough areas, no needs to great and no problem too small. Church had to return to the days of Acts and be seen in the temples of today's society sharing God's love and His word.

Got to be honest and say that I must be losing it for by ten minutes I would normally have started playing with this newly-minted minister of hope, grace and uncontainable renewal. But I didn't and as the lecture unfolded I understood that behind the theology speak and the technical terms the Emperor was as naked as I (and probably just as scared about it).

Love, Prayer, Love and more love is the key. Love those around you and make them important and the opportunity to bless what God is doing (even though they don't recognise what's happening as being God yet) becomes a reality. It takes years to get them across the threshold and even then the work is only just engaged.

Our buildings are lighthouses amidst the rock and storms of life. They offer us the opportunity to be the curator of the local memories and custodians of the histories of our communities. The give us a place for the community to use and a safe haven for us to worship our God. They provide a place of sanctuary and a drain on our resources. But we need them.

We just need to make them fit for purpose or, as I recall +Willesden doing, go to the council and tell them that the wonderful listed building is theirs as it needs loadsa money spent on it and, being listed, loadsa other stuff too.

Let's forget the high sounding theological words and silly ideas that we could live effectively for anyone other than ourselves (and believe me, I am aware of many 'house churches' who exist as cosy little worshipping and self-serving groups with little (or no) impact on their communities and the lost. House church is a part of the whole and without the whole is often the recipe for ineffective, self-serving (and often smug, self-righteous, almost sect-like) expressions of Church.

Paul got it so right when he talks of a whole body and each member being connected to the other - Kingdom thinking in the church and across the Church - and buildings aren't the threat to this.

The Christians in Acts met in the central place in Jerusalem for the worship of God - nothing's changed today, so make the building central, not redundant (and treasure our Cathedrals - they are not a threat to the local parishes but a resource and a joy).


Volunteers - Communicating the Need

One of the most interesting comments in what has been a most interesting week so far (can't believe it's only Wednesday as the week so far has been crammed full of so much!) has bee that of a stressed cleric regarding the needs in their place of worship.

"I can't get them (the congregation) to understand what needs to be done or get them to do it!"

There was this church with loads of opportunities for people to get involved and yet they not only didn't want tio but (apparently) didn't seem to understand why they should be doing it anyway! A nightmare scenario indeed.

So I asked questions (as I do) and got answers (which often I don't) and it went like this:

So what needs doing? The answer to this covered the areas of outreach, children's work, music and doing general tasks in and around the service. It appeared that there were always people who were willing to have the jobs on the stage but when it came to being out of sight or engaged with people who were not church the volunteers all cried off. Many of those asked had done various roles when they'd first come to the church and were reticent to pick them up again. "Done that before" and "Don't have the time' were the top two responses.

In a time when we are looking at reducing clergy numbers the clergy are being blessed with the opportunity of engaging, equipping and releasing the laity (you know - God's people) to fulfil their baptismal calling and become the evangelistic, church-maintaining, church-growing people that they are meant to be. This is our (those who have been 'collared') opportunity to raise up a generation who will engage the world and take (and make) the Gospel real in it. To set people on fire for God such that others will come to watch them burn!

But of course there's the problem with volunteers in that whilst they can be enlisted and tasked with various aspects of being Church, many will submissively take the roles and produce little fruit ("I'm sorry it hasn't been done but I'VE been busy Vicar"). Some of my suggestions had been tried and when whatever it was hadn't happened the response was something along the lines of, "But at the end of the day that's your job isn't it?"

The person in question had come up with an amazing strategy for the church and its problems; They were going to leave! The intended destination was a flourishing church with teams for everything and a life where they, the minister, could spend time reading the Bible, praying and writing sermons. The problem is that they weren't opting out for an easy life but were opting in for a place which would see them establish some security of mind, body and spirit and have them working shoulder-to-shoulder with those who were seeking to build the Church.

A really lovely person came up to me recently and pointed out some areas that 'we' could be engaged in. My response was to applaud the fact that they were open and aware to the needs of the community and I asked how I might help them engage with this. The response was: "Oh, I'm not looking to do it, but I thought you ought to know so that you could!"

The problem before us is one of communicating the needs and helping those around us to understand that the needs exist and the solution stares at them in the mirror every morning. Older congregations are a great resource and newer members (give me twenty new believers and we can take the world) are a blessing but the job is there for all of us. But we can't try the 'embarrass the members' model (which some do) and we can no longer merely assign jobs (as in the 'Father knows best' model) but we can take someone and show them the needs and point them in areas where their passion is (or perhaps once was) and rekindle a fire within them.

So the answer to this? I don't have a clue!

I meet more and more clergy who are doing more with less and they are, generally, responding by closing stuff. Youth groups that were twice weekly now happen once a week. Coffee mornings have ceased and cloth is being cut accordingly. Where we had a church which was engaged with the outside world we are seeing the congregations huddle nearer and nearer the fire to escape the chill winds of mission and engagement outside.

But the future is bright - just wish this cleric was for all I have is a Bible and a desire to reach those outside and and use those inside tho be the vehicles of evangelism, social action and engagement.

As I say - been a long and exhausting week so far - still two hundred plus children are before me today as I engage with 'Open Door' in the parish church and the opportunities for conversation and the sowing of seeds with teachers, parents and the general populace outside the doors of the building has me buzzing and expectant.


Daily Office - Jun 27

Cyril, Bishop of Alexandria, Teacher of the Faith, 444
Ember Day

Psalm 77
I cry aloud to God; I cry aloud to God and he will hear me. In the day of my trouble I have sought the Lord; by night my hand is stretched out and does not tire; my soul refuses comfort. I think upon God and I groan; I ponder, and my spirit faints. You will not let my eyelids close; I am so troubled that I cannot speak. I consider the days of old; I remember the years long past; I commune with my heart in the night; my spirit searches for understanding. Will the Lord cast us off for ever? Will he no more show us his favour? Has his loving mercy clean gone for ever? Has his promise come to an end for evermore? Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has he shut up his compassion in displeasure? And I said, ‘My grief is this: that the right hand of the Most High has lost its strength.’ I will remember the works of the Lord and call to mind your wonders of old time. I will meditate on all your works and ponder your mighty deeds. Your way, O God, is holy; who is so great a god as our God? You are the God who worked wonders and declared your power among the peoples. With a mighty arm you redeemed your people, the children of Jacob and Joseph. The waters saw you, O God; the waters saw you and were afraid; the depths also were troubled. The clouds poured out water; the skies thundered; your arrows flashed on every side; The voice of your thunder was in the whirlwind; your lightnings lit up the ground; the earth trembled and shook. Your way was in the sea, and your paths in the great waters, but your footsteps were not known. You led your people like sheep by the hand of Moses and Aaron.

Judges 9:22-end
Abimelech ruled over Israel for three years. But God sent an evil spirit between Abimelech and the lords of Shechem; and the lords of Shechem dealt treacherously with Abimelech. This happened so that the violence done to the seventy sons of Jerubbaal might be avenged and their blood be laid on their brother Abimelech, who killed them, and on the lords of Shechem, who strengthened his hands to kill his brothers. So, out of hostility to him, the lords of Shechem set ambushes on the mountain tops. They robbed all who passed by them along that way; and it was reported to Abimelech.
When Gaal son of Ebed moved into Shechem with his kinsfolk, the lords of Shechem put confidence in him. They went out into the field and gathered the grapes from their vineyards, trod them, and celebrated. Then they went into the temple of their god, ate and drank, and ridiculed Abimelech. Gaal son of Ebed said, ‘Who is Abimelech, and who are we of Shechem, that we should serve him? Did not the son of Jerubbaal and Zebul his officer serve the men of Hamor father of Shechem? Why then should we serve him? If only this people were under my command! Then I would remove Abimelech; I would say to him, “Increase your army, and come out.” ’
When Zebul the ruler of the city heard the words of Gaal son of Ebed, his anger was kindled. He sent messengers to Abimelech at Arumah, saying, ‘Look, Gaal son of Ebed and his kinsfolk have come to Shechem, and they are stirring up the city against you. Now therefore, go by night, you and the troops that are with you, and lie in wait in the fields. Then early in the morning, as soon as the sun rises, get up and rush on the city; and when he and the troops that are with him come out against you, you may deal with them as best you can.’
So Abimelech and all the troops with him got up by night and lay in wait against Shechem in four companies. When Gaal son of Ebed went out and stood in the entrance of the gate of the city, Abimelech and the troops with him rose from the ambush. And when Gaal saw them, he said to Zebul, ‘Look, people are coming down from the mountain tops!’ And Zebul said to him, ‘The shadows on the mountains look like people to you.’ Gaal spoke again and said, ‘Look, people are coming down from Tabbur-erez, and one company is coming from the direction of Elon-meonenim.’ Then Zebul said to him, ‘Where is your boast now, you who said, “Who is Abimelech, that we should serve him?” Are not these the troops you made light of? Go out now and fight with them.’ So Gaal went out at the head of the lords of Shechem, and fought with Abimelech. Abimelech chased him, and he fled before him. Many fell wounded, up to the entrance of the gate. So Abimelech resided at Arumah; and Zebul drove out Gaal and his kinsfolk, so that they could not live on at Shechem.
On the following day the people went out into the fields. When Abimelech was told, he took his troops and divided them into three companies, and lay in wait in the fields. When he looked and saw the people coming out of the city, he rose against them and killed them. Abimelech and the company that was with him rushed forward and stood at the entrance of the gate of the city, while the two companies rushed on all who were in the fields and killed them. Abimelech fought against the city all that day; he took the city, and killed the people that were in it; and he razed the city and sowed it with salt.
When all the lords of the Tower of Shechem heard of it, they entered the stronghold of the temple of El-berith. Abimelech was told that all the lords of the Tower of Shechem were gathered together. So Abimelech went up to Mount Zalmon, he and all the troops that were with him. Abimelech took an axe in his hand, cut down a bundle of brushwood, and took it up and laid it on his shoulder. Then he said to the troops with him, ‘What you have seen me do, do quickly, as I have done.’ So every one of the troops cut down a bundle and following Abimelech put it against the stronghold, and they set the stronghold on fire over them, so that all the people of the Tower of Shechem also died, about a thousand men and women.
Then Abimelech went to Thebez, and encamped against Thebez, and took it. But there was a strong tower within the city, and all the men and women and all the lords of the city fled to it and shut themselves in; and they went to the roof of the tower. Abimelech came to the tower, and fought against it, and came near to the entrance of the tower to burn it with fire. But a certain woman threw an upper millstone on Abimelech’s head, and crushed his skull. Immediately he called to the young man who carried his armour and said to him, ‘Draw your sword and kill me, so people will not say about me, “A woman killed him.” ’ So the young man thrust him through, and he died. When the Israelites saw that Abimelech was dead, they all went home. Thus God repaid Abimelech for the crime he committed against his father in killing his seventy brothers; and God also made all the wickedness of the people of Shechem fall back on their heads, and on them came the curse of Jotham son of Jerubbaal.

Luke 16:1-18
Then Jesus said to the disciples, ‘There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was squandering his property. So he summoned him and said to him, “What is this that I hear about you? Give me an account of your management, because you cannot be my manager any longer.” Then the manager said to himself, “What will I do, now that my master is taking the position away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.” So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he asked the first, “How much do you owe my master?” He answered, “A hundred jugs of olive oil.” He said to him, “Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.” Then he asked another, “And how much do you owe?” He replied, “A hundred containers of wheat.” He said to him, “Take your bill and make it eighty.” And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light. And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.
‘Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own? No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.’
The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all this, and they ridiculed him. So he said to them, ‘You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of others; but God knows your hearts; for what is prized by human beings is an abomination in the sight of God.
‘The law and the prophets were in effect until John came; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is proclaimed, and everyone tries to enter it by force. But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away, than for one stroke of a letter in the law to be dropped.
‘Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and whoever marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery.

The Collect
Almighty God, you have broken the tyranny of sin and have sent the Spirit of your Son into our hearts whereby we call you Father: give us grace to dedicate our freedom to your service, that we and all creation may be brought to the glorious liberty of the children of God; 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. Amen.

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Daily Office - Jun26

Psalm 73
Truly, God is loving to Israel, to those who are pure in heart. Nevertheless, my feet were almost gone; my steps had well-nigh slipped. For I was envious of the proud; I saw the wicked in such prosperity; For they suffer no pains and their bodies are sleek and sound; They come to no misfortune like other folk; nor are they plagued as others are; Therefore pride is their necklace and violence wraps them like a cloak. Their iniquity comes from within; the conceits of their hearts overflow. They scoff, and speak only of evil; they talk of oppression from on high. They set their mouth against the heavens, and their tongue ranges round the earth; And so the people turn to them and find in them no fault. They say, ‘How should God know? Is there knowledge in the Most High?’ Behold, these are the wicked; ever at ease, they increase their wealth. Is it in vain that I cleansed my heart and washed my hands in innocence? All day long have I been stricken and chastened every morning. If I had said, ‘I will speak as they do,’ I should have betrayed the generation of your children. Then thought I to understand this, but it was too hard for me, until I entered the sanctuary of God and understood the end of the wicked: How you set them in slippery places; you cast them down to destruction. How suddenly do they come to destruction, perish and come to a fearful end! As with a dream when one awakes, so, Lord, when you arise you will despise their image. When my heart became embittered and I was pierced to the quick, I was but foolish and ignorant; I was like a brute beast in your presence. Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand. You will guide me with your counsel and afterwards receive me with glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing upon earth that I desire in comparison with you. Though my flesh and my heart fail me, God is the strength of my heart and my portion for ever. Truly, those who forsake you will perish; you will put to silence the faithless who betray you. But it is good for me to draw near to God; in the Lord God have I made my refuge, that I may tell of all your works.

Judges 9:1-21
Now Abimelech son of Jerubbaal went to Shechem to his mother’s kinsfolk and said to them and to the whole clan of his mother’s family, ‘Say in the hearing of all the lords of Shechem, “Which is better for you, that all seventy of the sons of Jerubbaal rule over you, or that one rule over you?” Remember also that I am your bone and your flesh.’ So his mother’s kinsfolk spoke all these words on his behalf in the hearing of all the lords of Shechem; and their hearts inclined to follow Abimelech, for they said, ‘He is our brother.’ They gave him seventy pieces of silver out of the temple of Baal-berith with which Abimelech hired worthless and reckless fellows, who followed him. He went to his father’s house at Ophrah, and killed his brothers the sons of Jerubbaal, seventy men, on one stone; but Jotham, the youngest son of Jerubbaal, survived, for he hid himself. Then all the lords of Shechem and all Beth-millo came together, and they went and made Abimelech king, by the oak of the pillar at Shechem.
When it was told to Jotham, he went and stood on the top of Mount Gerizim, and cried aloud and said to them, ‘Listen to me, you lords of Shechem, so that God may listen to you.
The trees once went out to anoint a king over themselves.
So they said to the olive tree, “Reign over us.” The olive tree answered them, “Shall I stop producing my rich oil by which gods and mortals are honoured, and go to sway over the trees?”
Then the trees said to the fig tree, “You come and reign over us.” But the fig tree answered them, "Shall I stop producing my sweetness and my delicious fruit, and go to sway over the trees?”
Then the trees said to the vine, “You come and reign over us.” But the vine said to them, “Shall I stop producing my wine that cheers gods and mortals, and go to sway over the trees?”
So all the trees said to the bramble, “You come and reign over us.” And the bramble said to the trees, “If in good faith you are anointing me king over you, then come and take refuge in my shade; but if not, let fire come out of the bramble and devour the cedars of Lebanon.”
‘Now therefore, if you acted in good faith and honour when you made Abimelech king, and if you have dealt well with Jerubbaal and his house, and have done to him as his actions deserved—for my father fought for you, and risked his life, and rescued you from the hand of Midian; but you have risen up against my father’s house this day, and have killed his sons, seventy men on one stone, and have made Abimelech, the son of his slave-woman, king over the lords of Shechem, because he is your kinsman—if, I say, you have acted in good faith and honour towards Jerubbaal and towards his house this day, then rejoice in Abimelech, and let him also rejoice in you; but if not, let fire come out from Abimelech, and devour the lords of Shechem, and Beth-millo; and let fire come out from the lords of Shechem, and from Beth-millo, and devour Abimelech.’ Then Jotham ran away and fled, going to Beer, where he remained for fear of his brother Abimelech.

Luke 15:11-end
Then Jesus said, ‘There was a man who had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, “Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.” So he divided his property between them. A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and travelled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. But when he came to himself he said, “How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.’ ” So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. Then the son said to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” But the father said to his slaves, “Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!” And they began to celebrate.
‘Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. He replied, “Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.” Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. But he answered his father, “Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!” Then the father said to him, “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.” ’

The Collect
Almighty God, you have broken the tyranny of sin and have sent the Spirit of your Son into our hearts whereby we call you Father: give us grace to dedicate our freedom to your service, that we and all creation may be brought to the glorious liberty of the children of God; 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. Amen.

Monday, 25 June 2012

Education - A return to the good old days

I see that most excellent of all ministers, Michael Gove, is preaching the old Conservative gospel of stratification by means of our educational processes. Having engaged in one of the most splendid knee-jerk responses to the GCSE re-sit as a panacea to poor teaching standards by proclaiming that things must change he has now turned his attention to the whole subject of examinations.

What this woefully inept and inadequate little chap has done now is to proclaim that we should return to the GCE for the able students and re-introduce CSEs for the 'less able'. This would fit in well with the current practice which sees those who can achieve GCSE grades A to C being pushed in that direction whilst the 'thickies' are led towards 'less academically strenuous' vocational qualifications.

This is a wonderful return to the days when the eleven-plus segregated children into grammar or secondary schools and by doing so assigned the blue or white collar at an early age. In one scholl we were being told we were the future of the nation whilst down the road our friends were being taught the basic skills to respond to the factory hooter as low aspirational drones.

Education is not about the potential for earning, although once again I have heard so called educators describe it as the means by which earnings can be maximised. Surely education is about realising the potential in a child so that they can be the best person possible in terms of skills, understanding and self-expression.

Not all children fared well with the GCE system whereby all the eggs went into one or two exam papers in the4 Summer term. GCSE is a very valid and valuable system and whilst we do need to raise standards (and stop putting out children into education too early as we do now) we need to have a system that continuously monitors and tests our children without the potential for raising grades unfairly (and this is what resits do - see postscript).


ps. One of our children was put in for a resit of a GCSE exam as part of a class-wide exercise. The teacher had 'forgotten' to teach certain parts of the syllabus and so, to counter this error the whole class was booked in to take the paper again (at the school's cost). Now ours did well and decided not to take the paper but it is this, not a return to GCE/CSE that Gove should be addressing. But then again that would be corrective not political!

England were unlucky last night . .

"Weren't they Vicar?"

These were the first words I heard this morning as I went to get something from the boot of my car! Looking around I can see no evidence of the many England flags that fl;uttered so proudly last night as I came back in.

Unlucky? Were we really unlucky?

Actually I think last night's result was fair and to be honest, had the Italians gone out it would have been the greatest footballing injustice since 'Arry left Spurs (still seventeen consecutive seasons of finishing below the Arsenal can do that I guess).

Here's the Vicar assessment of the match:

Joe Hart - made some great stops and had a generally solid game between the posts. (6)

Glen Johnson - Would fare better if he just kept it simple but still managed to be of use and shows great potential. (5)

Ashley Cole - was largely ineffective and the penalty he took would make an eight-year old blush. (3)

John Terry - was intermittently effective in defence and got himself in the right places at times. (6)

Joleon Lescott - Can't remember him being on the pitch! (2)

Steven Gerrard - A great first half but then that's all he appears to have these days. Should have been subbed by 70 mins as he effectively vanished from the game by then! (5)

Ashley Young - showed some of his now trademark diving (got a yellow for Italy with it) and managed to lose the ball at just about every opportunity. (2)

James Milner - looked a yard short on just about every occasion and would have been subbed within first third of the match had I been the England manager. No invention and little to make him an international player on last night's showing. (2)

Scott Parker - another player I hadn't realised had started the match until he was substituted. Tackled a few times, won the ball and passed it to a blue shirted player. Woeful! (1 1/2)

Wayne Rooney - the man who probably did the most damage last night. Sadly it was to the England side and his running around trying to look industrious as he (once again) showed that he's lost it was second only to his 'let's hit a satellite' bicycle kick - Balotelli he ain't (still, great hair). (4)

Danny Welbeck - missed a goal and ran around a bit. Another future member of the England team but did little last night. (5)


Jordan Henderson - well they said he'd come on a substitute but he didn't seem to be visible on my television! (2)

Andy (elbows) Carroll - Lucky not to get a booking as he combined rubgy union and association football. The man has height and a pony tail - not enough for international selection and his ability to have incomplete passes and give the ball away last night makes him another question mark for me. (3)

Theo Walcott - didn't do much but perhaps the overweighted passes and the fact they kept mainly to the other wing helped to make him ineffective. Another strong contender for the future England team though if his goal and assist is anything to go by). (4)

Last night we put our hope in Rooney, who has apparently lost his va va voom despite that wonderfully crafted deep-play goal on his return to the side. He was largely ineffective and lacklustre and Roy should have had the courage to sub him at half-time. The Captain is shot and though he's been a great servant of the game now needs to hang up his boots.

All in all we played a long ball, kick and rush, kick it anywhere in defence, Championship side (and I know that's an insult to the Championship!) and deserved all we got. Milner and Carroll are definitely not England quality and the two Ashleys defy anything other than a 'goodbye and thanks for all the fish' letter.

Nope - We deserved to lose last night. I only wish it had been the by the ball that came off the post with minutes to go. Would have been a proper defeat (I hate penalties) and spared me that awful extra-time.

Well done Roy - England went further than we expected. Now sort out your team and have the courage to say goodbye to the old guard and prepare for the World's in 2014.


ps. Man of the Match has to be the goalie - he at least kept a clean sheet for the 120 minutes and did what he was supposed to do!

pps. Did I mention that I had a 'von' in front of my name as as my normal substitute side (Holland) have gone home I guess that it's bratwurst for lunch today! Deutschland, Deutschland uber alles . . . :-)

Daily Office - Jun 25

Psalm 71
In you, O Lord, do I seek refuge; let me never be put to shame. In your righteousness, deliver me and set me free; incline your ear to me and save me. Be for me a stronghold to which I may ever resort; send out to save me, for you are my rock and my fortress. Deliver me, my God, from the hand of the wicked, from the grasp of the evildoer and the oppressor. For you are my hope, O Lord God, my confidence, even from my youth. Upon you have I leaned from my birth, when you drew me from my mother’s womb; my praise shall be always of you. I have become a portent to many, but you are my refuge and my strength. Let my mouth be full of your praise and your glory all the day long. Do not cast me away in the time of old age; forsake me not when my strength fails. For my enemies are talking against me, and those who lie in wait for my life take counsel together. They say, ‘God has forsaken him; pursue him and take him, because there is none to deliver him.’ O God, be not far from me; come quickly to help me, O my God. Let those who are against me be put to shame and disgrace; let those who seek to do me evil be covered with scorn and reproach. But as for me I will hope continually and will praise you more and more. My mouth shall tell of your righteousness and salvation all the day long, for I know no end of the telling. I will begin with the mighty works of the Lord God; I will recall your righteousness, yours alone. O God, you have taught me since I was young, and to this day I tell of your wonderful works. Forsake me not, O God, when I am old and grey-headed, till I make known your deeds to the next generation and your power to all that are to come. Your righteousness, O God, reaches to the heavens; in the great things you have done, who is like you, O God? What troubles and adversities you have shown me, and yet you will turn and refresh me and bring me from the deep of the earth again. Increase my honour; turn again and comfort me. Therefore will I praise you upon the harp for your faithfulness, O my God; I will sing to you with the lyre, O Holy One of Israel. My lips will sing out as I play to you, and so will my soul, which you have redeemed. My tongue also will tell of your righteousness all the day long, for they shall be shamed and disgraced who sought to do me evil.

Judges 8:22-end
Then the Israelites said to Gideon, ‘Rule over us, you and your son and your grandson also; for you have delivered us out of the hand of Midian.’ Gideon said to them, ‘I will not rule over you, and my son will not rule over you; the Lord will rule over you.’ Then Gideon said to them, ‘Let me make a request of you; each of you give me an ear-ring he has taken as booty.’ (For the enemy had golden ear-rings, because they were Ishmaelites.) ‘We will willingly give them,’ they answered. So they spread a garment, and each threw into it an ear-ring he had taken as booty. The weight of the golden ear-rings that he requested was one thousand seven hundred shekels of gold (apart from the crescents and the pendants and the purple garments worn by the kings of Midian, and the collars that were on the necks of their camels). Gideon made an ephod of it and put it in his town, in Ophrah; and all Israel prostituted themselves to it there, and it became a snare to Gideon and to his family. So Midian was subdued before the Israelites, and they lifted up their heads no more. So the land had rest for forty years in the days of Gideon.
Jerubbaal son of Joash went to live in his own house. Now Gideon had seventy sons, his own offspring, for he had many wives. His concubine who was in Shechem also bore him a son, and he named him Abimelech. Then Gideon son of Joash died at a good old age, and was buried in the tomb of his father Joash at Ophrah of the Abiezrites.
As soon as Gideon died, the Israelites relapsed and prostituted themselves with the Baals, making Baal-berith their god. The Israelites did not remember the Lord their God, who had rescued them from the hand of all their enemies on every side; and they did not exhibit loyalty to the house of Jerubbaal (that is, Gideon) in return for all the good that he had done to Israel.

Luke 15:1-10
Now all the tax-collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, ‘This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.’
So he told them this parable: ‘Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbours, saying to them, “Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.” Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who need no repentance.
‘Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbours, saying, “Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.” Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.’

The Collect
Almighty God, you have broken the tyranny of sin and have sent the Spirit of your Son into our hearts whereby we call you Father: give us grace to dedicate our freedom to your service, that we and all creation may be brought to the glorious liberty of the children of God; 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. Amen.

Saturday, 23 June 2012

Oldies* - the Church's most valuable asset

Some ten year's back I happened across a new book by Michael Apichella entitled, 'The Church's Hidden Asset (Empowering the older generation)' and a very helpful read it was too. It was a conversation about 'getting the older members to do stuff' that got me thinking about how they see themselves and how others see them.

As we find ourselves regarding those people who are Church more often than not we encounter the 'seasons' approach. Spring is full of potential and promise and how we move into Summer with all the blooming and the energy and activity. Summer starts to fade and we see a decline in energy and the wonderful displays turn to something just a little less than the whole that is Autumn. The hint of decline picks up and soon we come to Winter where all is barren and the once flower-filled fields and displays are now nothing but leafless, unproductive and seemingly lifeless creations.

The church is full of older people and this week, talking with someone from another denomination, I heard tales of multiple congregations of older folk with the average age of the congregations in the late sixties, early seventies group. Tales of (terminal) decline and more funerals than baptisms were, to be honest, pretty depressing and the saddest thing was that everything I heard supported the missioner's cry:
"Churches die old but grow young!"

The saddest thing was that this conversation, when joined to a couple of other conversations, painted a picture of people who came to 'their' church and were now just 'waiting for God'. In each and every conversation there were churches which were full of people who had once done and were now 'too old'. Not only that but they were 'too old' to let others come in and make the church vibrant and effective in their communities for as much as they longed for growth and new blood, they wanted church to continue to exist as they had known it and as they wanted church to be.

We have a group for the older people running in the church I belong to. The organisers recruit, support and manage the sessions without any input from the mainstream church. They put out the tables, book the speakers, do the catering and wash-up afterwards. The interesting thing is that those who run the group are, to quote one of the members, 'No Spring chickens'.

I travel to a good many places where I see the older people organising and doing in the church and community and this is something that I think we are missing because we fail to mobilise and engage the older members. After all, many of them have been sitting in their pews or seats for a good many years and know what Church looks like (although they don't always seem to have heard or read the majority of the Bible and many struggle to get into prayer and daily study of the word for themselves (perhaps because they haven't been taught to?).

A couple of points to take on board:

1. Children are not tomorrow's Church, they are the Church of today!

2. Older folk are not yesterday's Church, they too are the Church of today too!

A simple clue as to when you are too old to be doing stuff in Church are the words 'earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust'. When these have been said over you then it's O.K. to consider stopping doing things in Church (and start considering worshipping before the throne).

But until then - if you're breathing then you're still available to do a job.

Open your arms to new members, make the church inviting (and this means having an inviting congregation) and be willing to try different stuff - after all, the wrinklies that were around when you started at church probably thought you were outrageous too!


The term '*oldies' is one that I keep coming across in some quarters. One of the reasons for this is perhaps the magazine that bears its name and perhaps it is this that now sees many older people referring to themselves as such.

"Wrinklies' is a term used by someone in their early seventies who mentioned how when they joined the church many, many, many years ago the older folk, whom they referred to as 'wrinklies' were in fact probably much younger than they are now. It emphasises (for me at least) the fact that we are all tomorrow's older church members.

HTH and apologies for any offence that might be caused by the terms.

Volunteers - Recruit and RETAIN

As I have been thinking about volunteers I have come to the conclusion that whilst training is a moderately neutral element the real struggles come in the form of the high inertial load in getting people to volunteer and the working against those factors which would cause things to stop that we call retention.

One of the best ways to get volunteers is to get converts because as people come to faith it is relatively easy to harness that zeal and new found passion and make volunteering part of the discipleship package. The problems come when you try to get some of the church members who have been part of the congregation for some time to get themselves moving What one invariably finds is that they are stuck where they are or simply refuse to budge because "they've tried it before'. These people need a good push (a squib up the backside as my dear old Dad used to say).

The real issue therefore, especially if the 'done it all before' camp is to be believed, is that of retention. Keeping volunteers both doing and remaining when they stop doing (which I think is called 'being'. It's retention that I want to think about today:

The issues as I understand them are this:

1. The job gets boring - there needs to be some degree of challenge and development in the things we get volunteers to do,

2a. The organisation needs to be smooth (too many volunteers) - Many of those I meet who 'used to volunteer' ceased to do so because they turned up to find someone else doing the task they thought they were coming to do.

2b. The organisation needs to be smooth (too few volunteers) - Others who did volunteer find themselves 'attacked' because no one was on the rota and they get the flak for not having been present (when they weren't supposed too be!). Let volunteers experience stress and criticism too often and you'll lose them (and the people they fought with!).

3. Approbation - A bit of applause, recognitions, flowers, chocolates, a meal (or whatever) says that what the person does is valued (and so are they). Work without the volunteers receiving a bit of recognition and you'll be working without volunteers (just after the tough and unnoticed event they did)!

4. The 'lone volunteer' syndrome - Leave the job to one person and you can be sure that they will (usually) come to resent it and yet (often) will ensure that they maintain the status quo so that they are both Mary and Martha rolled into one! They make the job their won and ensure that it stays that way.

5. Progression - with some jobs what it is is what it is whilst others lead on to greater (perceived) things. The lack of progression, when it is expected, promised or has been the custom, leaves people feeling that they are not valued or up to the task. Either way, the potential for the volunteer ceasing is great - look at what the role is and where the last few people that were doing it have gone (and why they went too). The other side of this coin is the 'dead end' role. The singe task that leads nowhere and so results in someone being the magazine distributor for twenty years (I've met him) - a job they do with a deep lack of joy and eventual total disinterest.

Over the course of many years I have met volunteers who have served their body well and then folded because they didn't get (often promised) progression, recognition or support. Far too often they found themselves locked into mundane or boring roles and there was just no joy or fun in what they did. Worse still, most people let this continue because they didn't want to get lumbered with the job (and clergy are often very bad in this area).

So if you have volunteers you need to work to keep them. We might not have to do what they do but
we can still come alongside and say 'Thank You' and offer them some form of reward and recognition (and even think about helping the role change or them move to keep them fresh and enjoying it).

The workman is indeed worthy of something and if it's not money then it's respect, recognition and thanks!


Daily Office - Jun 23

Etheldreda, Abbess of Ely, c.678

Psalm 68
Let God arise and let his enemies be scattered; let those that hate him flee before him. As the smoke vanishes, so may they vanish away; as wax melts at the fire, so let the wicked perish at the presence of God. But let the righteous be glad and rejoice before God; let them make merry with gladness. Sing to God, sing praises to his name; exalt him who rides on the clouds. The Lord is his name; rejoice before him. Father of the fatherless, defender of widows, God in his holy habitation! God gives the solitary a home and brings forth prisoners to songs of welcome, but the rebellious inhabit a burning desert. O God, when you went forth before your people, when you marched through the wilderness, the earth shook and the heavens dropped down rain, at the presence of God, the Lord of Sinai, at the presence of God, the God of Israel. You sent down a gracious rain, O God; you refreshed your inheritance when it was weary. Your people came to dwell there; in your goodness, O God, you provide for the poor. The Lord gave the word; great was the company of women who bore the tidings: ‘Kings and their armies they flee, they flee!’ and women at home are dividing the spoil. Though you stayed among the sheepfolds, see now a dove’s wings covered with silver and its feathers with green gold. When the Almighty scattered the kings, it was like snowflakes falling on Zalmon. You mighty mountain, great mountain of Bashan! You towering mountain, great mountain of Bashan! Why look with envy, you towering mountains, at the mount which God has desired for his dwelling, the place where the Lord will dwell for ever? The chariots of God are twice ten thousand, even thousands upon thousands; the Lord is among them, the Lord of Sinai in holy power. You have gone up on high and led captivity captive; you have received tribute, even from those who rebelled, that you may reign as Lord and God. Blessed be the Lord who bears our burdens day by day, for God is our salvation. God is for us the God of our salvation; God is the Lord who can deliver from death. God will smite the head of his enemies, the hairy scalp of those who walk in wickedness. The Lord has said, ‘From the heights of Bashan, from the depths of the sea will I bring them back, ‘Till you dip your foot in blood and the tongue of your dogs has a taste of your enemies.’ We see your solemn processions, O God, your processions into the sanctuary, my God and my King. The singers go before, the musicians follow after, in the midst of maidens playing on timbrels. In your companies, bless your God; bless the Lord, you that are of the fount of Israel. At the head there is Benjamin, least of the tribes, the princes of Judah in joyful company, the princes of Zebulun and Naphtali. Send forth your strength, O God; establish, O God, what you have wrought in us. For your temple’s sake in Jerusalem kings shall bring their gifts to you. Drive back with your word the wild beast of the reeds, the herd of the bull-like, the brutish hordes. Trample down those who lust after silver; scatter the peoples that delight in war. Vessels of bronze shall be brought from Egypt; Ethiopia will stretch out her hands to God. Sing to God, you kingdoms of the earth; make music in praise of the Lord; He rides on the ancient heaven of heavens and sends forth his voice, a mighty voice. Ascribe power to God, whose splendour is over Israel, whose power is above the clouds. How terrible is God in his holy sanctuary, the God of Israel, who gives power and strength to his people! Blessed be God.

Judges 7
Then Jerubbaal (that is, Gideon) and all the troops that were with him rose early and encamped beside the spring of Harod; and the camp of Midian was north of them, below the hill of Moreh, in the valley.
The Lord said to Gideon, ‘The troops with you are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hand. Israel would only take the credit away from me, saying, “My own hand has delivered me.” Now therefore proclaim this in the hearing of the troops, “Whoever is fearful and trembling, let him return home.” ’ Thus Gideon sifted them out; twenty-two thousand returned, and ten thousand remained.
Then the Lord said to Gideon, ‘The troops are still too many; take them down to the water and I will sift them out for you there. When I say, “This one shall go with you”, he shall go with you; and when I say, “This one shall not go with you”, he shall not go.’ So he brought the troops down to the water; and the Lord said to Gideon, ‘All those who lap the water with their tongues, as a dog laps, you shall put to one side; all those who kneel down to drink, putting their hands to their mouths, you shall put to the other side.’ The number of those that lapped was three hundred; but all the rest of the troops knelt down to drink water. Then the Lord said to Gideon, ‘With the three hundred that lapped I will deliver you, and give the Midianites into your hand. Let all the others go to their homes.’ So he took the jars of the troops from their hands, and their trumpets; and he sent all the rest of Israel back to their own tents, but retained the three hundred. The camp of Midian was below him in the valley.

That same night the Lord said to him, ‘Get up, attack the camp; for I have given it into your hand. But if you fear to attack, go down to the camp with your servant Purah; and you shall hear what they say, and afterwards your hands shall be strengthened to attack the camp.’ Then he went down with his servant Purah to the outposts of the armed men that were in the camp. The Midianites and the Amalekites and all the people of the east lay along the valley as thick as locusts; and their camels were without number, countless as the sand on the seashore. When Gideon arrived, there was a man telling a dream to his comrade; and he said, ‘I had a dream, and in it a cake of barley bread tumbled into the camp of Midian, and came to the tent, and struck it so that it fell; it turned upside down, and the tent collapsed.’ And his comrade answered, ‘This is no other than the sword of Gideon son of Joash, a man of Israel; into his hand God has given Midian and all the army.’
When Gideon heard the telling of the dream and its interpretation, he worshipped; and he returned to the camp of Israel, and said, ‘Get up; for the Lord has given the army of Midian into your hand.’ After he divided the three hundred men into three companies, and put trumpets into the hands of all of them, and empty jars, with torches inside the jars, he said to them, ‘Look at me, and do the same; when I come to the outskirts of the camp, do as I do. When I blow the trumpet, I and all who are with me, then you also blow the trumpets around the whole camp, and shout, “For the Lord and for Gideon!” ’
So Gideon and the hundred who were with him came to the outskirts of the camp at the beginning of the middle watch, when they had just set the watch; and they blew the trumpets and smashed the jars that were in their hands. So the three companies blew the trumpets and broke the jars, holding in their left hands the torches, and in their right hands the trumpets to blow; and they cried, ‘A sword for the Lord and for Gideon!’ Every man stood in his place all around the camp, and all the men in camp ran; they cried out and fled. When they blew the three hundred trumpets, the Lord set every man’s sword against his fellow and against all the army; and the army fled as far as Beth-shittah towards Zererah, as far as the border of Abel-meholah, by Tabbath. And the men of Israel were called out from Naphtali and from Asher and from all Manasseh, and they pursued after the Midianites.
Then Gideon sent messengers throughout all the hill country of Ephraim, saying, ‘Come down against the Midianites and seize the waters against them, as far as Beth-barah, and also the Jordan.’ So all the men of Ephraim were called out, and they seized the waters as far as Beth-barah, and also the Jordan. They captured the two captains of Midian, Oreb and Zeeb; they killed Oreb at the rock of Oreb, and Zeeb they killed at the wine press of Zeeb, as they pursued the Midianites. They brought the heads of Oreb and Zeeb to Gideon beyond the Jordan.

Luke 14:25-end
Now large crowds were travelling with him; and he turned and said to them, ‘Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, saying, “This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.” Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.
‘Salt is good; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure heap; they throw it away. Let anyone with ears to hear listen!’

The Collect
Eternal God, who bestowed such grace upon your servant Etheldreda that she gave herself wholly to the life of prayer and to the service of your true religion: grant that we, like her, may so live our lives on earth seeking your kingdom that by your guiding we may be joined to the glorious fellowship of your saints; 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. Amen.

Friday, 22 June 2012

Daily Office - Jun 22

Alban, first Martyr of Britain, c.250
Psalm 51
Have mercy on me, O God, in your great goodness; according to the abundance of your compassion blot out my offences. Wash me thoroughly from my wickedness and cleanse me from my sin. For I acknowledge my faults and my sin is ever before me. Against you only have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are justified in your sentence and righteous in your judgement. I have been wicked even from my birth, a sinner when my mother conceived me. Behold, you desire truth deep within me and shall make me understand wisdom in the depths of my heart. Purge me with hyssop and I shall be clean; wash me and I shall be whiter than snow. Make me hear of joy and gladness, that the bones you have broken may rejoice. Turn your face from my sins and blot out all my misdeeds. Make me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence and take not your holy spirit from me. Give me again the joy of your salvation and sustain me with your gracious spirit; Then shall I teach your ways to the wicked and sinners shall return to you. Deliver me from my guilt, O God, the God of my salvation, and my tongue shall sing of your righteousness. O Lord, open my lips and my mouth shall proclaim your praise. For you desire no sacrifice, else I would give it; you take no delight in burnt offerings. The sacrifice of God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. O be favourable and gracious to Zion; build up the walls of Jerusalem. Then you will accept sacrifices offered in righteousness, the burnt offerings and oblations; then shall they offer up bulls on your altar.

Psalm 54
Save me, O God, by your name and vindicate me by your power. Hear my prayer, O God; give heed to the words of my mouth. For strangers have risen up against me, and the ruthless seek after my life; they have not set God before them. Behold, God is my helper; it is the Lord who upholds my life. May evil rebound on those who lie in wait for me; destroy them in your faithfulness. An offering of a free heart will I give you and praise your name, O Lord, for it is gracious. For he has delivered me out of all my trouble, and my eye has seen the downfall of my enemies.

Judges 6:25-end
That night the Lord said to him, ‘Take your father’s bull, the second bull seven years old, and pull down the altar of Baal that belongs to your father, and cut down the sacred pole that is beside it; and build an altar to the Lord your God on the top of the stronghold here, in proper order; then take the second bull, and offer it as a burnt-offering with the wood of the sacred pole that you shall cut down.’ So Gideon took ten of his servants, and did as the Lord had told him; but because he was too afraid of his family and the townspeople to do it by day, he did it by night.
When the townspeople rose early in the morning, the altar of Baal was broken down, and the sacred pole beside it was cut down, and the second bull was offered on the altar that had been built. So they said to one another, ‘Who has done this?’ After searching and inquiring, they were told, ‘Gideon son of Joash did it.’ Then the townspeople said to Joash, ‘Bring out your son, so that he may die, for he has pulled down the altar of Baal and cut down the sacred pole beside it.’ But Joash said to all who were arrayed against him, ‘Will you contend for Baal? Or will you defend his cause? Whoever contends for him shall be put to death by morning. If he is a god, let him contend for himself, because his altar has been pulled down.’ Therefore on that day Gideon was called Jerubbaal, that is to say, ‘Let Baal contend against him’, because he pulled down his altar.
Then all the Midianites and the Amalekites and the people of the east came together, and crossing the Jordan they encamped in the Valley of Jezreel. But the spirit of the Lord took possession of Gideon; and he sounded the trumpet, and the Abiezrites were called out to follow him. He sent messengers throughout all Manasseh, and they too were called out to follow him. He also sent messengers to Asher, Zebulun, and Naphtali, and they went up to meet them.
Then Gideon said to God, ‘In order to see whether you will deliver Israel by my hand, as you have said, I am going to lay a fleece of wool on the threshing-floor; if there is dew on the fleece alone, and it is dry on all the ground, then I shall know that you will deliver Israel by my hand, as you have said.’ And it was so. When he rose early next morning and squeezed the fleece, he wrung enough dew from the fleece to fill a bowl with water. Then Gideon said to God, ‘Do not let your anger burn against me, let me speak one more time; let me, please, make trial with the fleece just once more; let it be dry only on the fleece, and on all the ground let there be dew.’ And God did so that night. It was dry on the fleece only, and on all the ground there was dew.

Luke 14:12-24
He said also to the one who had invited him, ‘When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbours, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.’
One of the dinner guests, on hearing this, said to him, ‘Blessed is anyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!’ Then Jesus said to him, ‘Someone gave a great dinner and invited many. At the time for the dinner he sent his slave to say to those who had been invited, “Come; for everything is ready now.” But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, “I have bought a piece of land, and I must go out and see it; please accept my apologies.” Another said, “I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to try them out; please accept my apologies.” Another said, “I have just been married, and therefore I cannot come.” So the slave returned and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and said to his slave, “Go out at once into the streets and lanes of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame.” And the slave said, “Sir, what you ordered has been done, and there is still room.” Then the master said to the slave, “Go out into the roads and lanes, and compel people to come in, so that my house may be filled. For I tell you, none of those who were invited will taste my dinner.” ’

The Collect
Eternal Father, when the gospel of Christ first came to our land you gloriously confirmed the faith of Alban by making him the first to win a martyr's crown: grant that, following his example,
in the fellowship of the saints we may worship you, the living God, and give true witness to 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. Amen.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Daily Office - Jun 21

Psalm 56
Have mercy on me, O God, for they trample over me; all day long they assault and oppress me. My adversaries trample over me all the day long; many are they that make proud war against me. In the day of my fear I put my trust in you, in God whose word I praise. In God I trust, and will not fear, for what can flesh do to me? All day long they wound me with words; their every thought is to do me evil. They stir up trouble; they lie in wait; marking my steps, they seek my life. Shall they escape for all their wickedness? In anger, O God, cast the peoples down. You have counted up my groaning; put my tears into your bottle; are they not written in your book? Then shall my enemies turn back on the day when I call upon you; this I know, for God is on my side. In God whose word I praise, in the Lord whose word I praise, in God I trust and will not fear: what can flesh do to me? To you, O God, will I fulfil my vows; to you will I present my offerings of thanks, for you will deliver my soul from death and my feet from falling, that I may walk before God in the light of the living.

Psalm 57
Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me, for my soul takes refuge in you; In the shadow of your wings will I take refuge until the storm of destruction has passed by. I will call upon the Most High God, the God who fulfils his purpose for me. He will send from heaven and save me and rebuke those that would trample upon me; God will send forth his love and his faithfulness. I lie in the midst of lions, people whose teeth are spears and arrows, and their tongue a sharp sword.Be exalted, O God, above the heavens, and your glory over all the earth. They have laid a net for my feet; my soul is pressed down; they have dug a pit before me and will fall into it themselves. My heart is ready, O God, my heart is ready; I will sing and give you praise. Awake, my soul; awake, harp and lyre, that I may awaken the dawn. I will give you thanks, O Lord, among the peoples; I will sing praise to you among the nations. For your loving-kindness is as high as the heavens, and your faithfulness reaches to the clouds. Be exalted, O God, above the heavens, and your glory over all the earth.

Psalm 63
O God, you are my God; eagerly I seek you; my soul is athirst for you. My flesh also faints for you, as in a dry and thirsty land where there is no water. So would I gaze upon you in your holy place, that I might behold your power and your glory. Your loving-kindness is better than life itself and so my lips shall praise you. I will bless you as long as I live and lift up my hands in your name. My soul shall be satisfied, as with marrow and fatness, and my mouth shall praise you with joyful lips, when I remember you upon my bed and meditate on you in the watches of the night. For you have been my helper and under the shadow of your wings will I rejoice. My soul clings to you; your right hand shall hold me fast. But those who seek my soul to destroy it shall go down to the depths of the earth; Let them fall by the edge of the sword and become a portion for jackals. But the king shall rejoice in God; all those who swear by him shall be glad, for the mouth of those who speak lies shall be stopped.

Judges 6:1-24
The Israelites did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, and the Lord gave them into the hand of Midian for seven years. The hand of Midian prevailed over Israel; and because of Midian the Israelites provided for themselves hiding-places in the mountains, caves and strongholds. For whenever the Israelites put in seed, the Midianites and the Amalekites and the people of the east would come up against them. They would encamp against them and destroy the produce of the land, as far as the neighbourhood of Gaza, and leave no sustenance in Israel, and no sheep or ox or donkey. For they and their livestock would come up, and they would even bring their tents, as thick as locusts; neither they nor their camels could be counted; so they wasted the land as they came in. Thus Israel was greatly impoverished because of Midian; and the Israelites cried out to the Lord for help.

When the Israelites cried to the Lord on account of the Midianites, the Lord sent a prophet to the Israelites; and he said to them, ‘Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: I led you up from Egypt, and brought you out of the house of slavery; and I delivered you from the hand of the Egyptians, and from the hand of all who oppressed you, and drove them out before you, and gave you their land; and I said to you, “I am the Lord your God; you shall not pay reverence to the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you live.” But you have not given heed to my voice.’
Now the angel of the Lord came and sat under the oak at Ophrah, which belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, as his son Gideon was beating out wheat in the wine press, to hide it from the Midianites. The angel of the Lord appeared to him and said to him, ‘The Lord is with you, you mighty warrior.’ Gideon answered him, ‘But sir, if the Lord is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all his wonderful deeds that our ancestors recounted to us, saying, “Did not the Lord bring us up from Egypt?” But now the Lord has cast us off, and given us into the hand of Midian.’ Then the Lord turned to him and said, ‘Go in this might of yours and deliver Israel from the hand of Midian; I hereby commission you.’ He responded, ‘But sir, how can I deliver Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.’ The Lord said to him, ‘But I will be with you, and you shall strike down the Midianites, every one of them.’ Then he said to him, ‘If now I have found favour with you, then show me a sign that it is you who speak with me. Do not depart from here until I come to you, and bring out my present, and set it before you.’ And he said, ‘I will stay until you return.’
So Gideon went into his house and prepared a kid, and unleavened cakes from an ephah of flour; the meat he put in a basket, and the broth he put in a pot, and brought them to him under the oak and presented them. The angel of God said to him, ‘Take the meat and the unleavened cakes, and put them on this rock, and pour out the broth.’ And he did so. Then the angel of the Lord reached out the tip of the staff that was in his hand, and touched the meat and the unleavened cakes; and fire sprang up from the rock and consumed the meat and the unleavened cakes; and the angel of the Lord vanished from his sight. Then Gideon perceived that it was the angel of the Lord; and Gideon said, ‘Help me, Lord God! For I have seen the angel of the Lord face to face.’ But the Lord said to him, ‘Peace be to you; do not fear, you shall not die.’ Then Gideon built an altar there to the Lord, and called it, The Lord is peace. To this day it still stands at Ophrah, which belongs to the Abiezrites.

Luke 14:1-11
On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the sabbath, they were watching him closely. Just then, in front of him, there was a man who had dropsy. And Jesus asked the lawyers and Pharisees, ‘Is it lawful to cure people on the sabbath, or not?’ But they were silent. So Jesus took him and healed him, and sent him away. Then he said to them, ‘If one of you has a child or an ox that has fallen into a well, will you not immediately pull it out on a sabbath day?’ And they could not reply to this.
When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honour, he told them a parable. ‘When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honour, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, “Give this person your place”, and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, “Friend, move up higher”; then you will be honoured in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.’

The Collect
Lord, you have taught us that all our doings without love are nothing worth: send your Holy Spirit
and pour into our hearts that most excellent gift of love, the true bond of peace and of all virtues, without which whoever lives is counted dead before you. Grant this for your only Son Jesus Christ's sake, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.