Finding the lost Ark

ark of the covenat

Whenever I hear a bible passage that mentions the Ark of the Covenant, I think about the film that launched Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones – Raiders of the Lost Ark

The film tells of the battle to find and control the object which we heard described in our first reading – the Ark of the Covenant – the precious object which was lost when Jerusalem was captured by the Babylonians in 586 BC.

What is this important relic?

Well an Ark – Latin arca – is a chest – something used safely to carry important things – think of Noah’s ark which carried the people protected from the flood.

This Ark of the Covenant was used to carry the tablets of stone on which are written the 10 commandments – The summary of the law – the eternal promises – to honour God and not to steal, not to kill, not to commit adultery – the things which are the basis of our relationship with God and one another to this day –

The promises which are so easy to say but turn out to be so hard to keep – at least for a lifetime.

In the Old Testament, the tablets were a physical representation of this covenant between God and man.

And from the Ark emanated the Glory of the Lord – in the form of a cloud of smoke by day and of fire by night

This acted as a beacon for the Israelites to follow as they wandered through the desert.

Metaphorically and literally, they followed God by following the law – written on the tablets – carried in the Ark.

In one of the Film’s opening scenes, Professor Jones says that all the mythical power of these ancient objects is “mumbo jumbo”

In the film’s final scene, the Ark is opened and the Glory of God erupts killing everything in sight!

If you haven’t seen it – you should.  It’s a classic.

 

 

So what do you think?

Is this all mumbo jumbo?

Do you hear bible passages like this – about the Ark of the Covenant and think: “what a load of nonsense? What could this possibly mean to me?”

Here are my thoughts on the subject:

For the people who wrote the bible – there was no science – there was no understanding of the world of things. Our current understanding of the material world – everything we learn in physics, chemistry and biology – is little more than a few hundred years old.

Before modern science, the only way that people had to explain and describe things was through stories and the bible is full of them – stories of creation, of Adam and Eve, the tower of Babel, Noah’s Ark .

These stories work on more than one level

On the one hand, they are explanations of natural phenomena – like rainbows

But then rainbows are also symbols of hope, it is impossible to see one without feeling a lift in your spirit

For on another level these stories are explorations of the human condition – what it means to be alive.

Thirdly, they help us understand how we have got to where we are today – the origins of our rituals and sacred objects

The passage we have just heard explains some of the things we see here in Chapel today.

We have here a sanctuary which replicates the tabernacle of the Israelites – it represents the idea that there are some places – thin spaces – be it a tent or a chapel – a mountain – or indeed a pulpit – where we feel closer to God

Then we have lampstands – on the altar we have candle sticks

Because, though we are a long time out of the caves of our ancestors, keeping a flame alight is still a very important thing to us – have you ever found yourself mesmerised looking into a fire?  It’s because human beings have spent half a million years longer worrying about the camp fire going out

Finally, and most importantly, these stories are part of a metanarrative – Greek meta- meaning beyond – a story which is bigger than any individual story – the overarching framework of the universe in which we live.

The Bible begins with the first piece of this metanarative – the story of creation

Science explains this in terms of the big bang – OK – but it cannot begin to explain the why.

The big story in Genesis is that creation is a deliberate act of an agent – that we are not here by chance

Moreover, that each of us is made in the image of God.  That in each of us a divine spark has been placed – the spark that we call life.

If you know anyone who has struggled to have a child you know that this spark of life is not trivial – it is a gift.

It is the real magic in the universe

In this season of spring, the natural world bears witness to such new beginnings – new life

I have been abroad on business for a week and when I left the trees were brown

I have returned and there is verdure everywhere – the trees are full of leaf and blossom.  I am shocked by this every year

The remarkable, underlying creative power in the world is made manifest in all its glory

It seems obvious to me that there is something very powerful at work here – the nonsense is the idea that this power could be kept in a box

 

A Christian writer, Irenaeus, wrote in the second century – “the Glory of God is a man alive” – a living human being.

So, ladies and gentlemen, while we increasingly understand the science, let us not lose sight of the story – that each of us has been given a piece of that divine spark to dwell within us

And as you develop the story of your life, your place in the metanarrative of the universe, think on this:

What if you are indeed a manifestation of the Glory of God?

Would it not then be important to nurture the divine spark that lies within you?

Might it then be your vocation to help guide others through the wilderness?  A column of smoke by day and of fire by night

Now that would be really frightening – that might change how you view your life

But that, I believe, is no mumbo jumbo,

That, I believe, is God’s covenant with you,

Because – brothers and sisters in Christ – I believe that you have found it.

The Ark of the Covenant is you!

Amen.

Sermon given by Rev Christopher Hancock at Epsom College, 28th April, 2018

Shiny happy people – sermon for the Feast of the Transfiguration

Readings  

Daniel 7:9-10,13-14

2 Peter 1:16-19

Luke 9:28-36

 

You know what it’s like when someone looks different

They’re beaming

Perhaps they have had good news

Perhaps they are pregnant

Perhaps they are in love

Perhaps both

You see them differently – they are changed – transformed

The outward appearance reveals an inner, hidden secret

That is what is going on here

The secret of Jesus being the Messiah cannot be hidden any longer

Peter has already guessed it: earlier in this chapter we read:

Once when Jesus was praying alone, with only the disciples near him, he asked them, ‘Who do the crowds say that I am?’ They answered, ‘John the Baptist; but others, Elijah; and still others, that one of the ancient prophets has arisen.’ He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Peter answered, ‘the anointed one’, [in Greek, the Christ; in Hebrew, the Messiah] of God.’ (Lk 9:18-20)

But having been revealed as the Messiah, Jesus has a warning for them:

Then he said to them all, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it. What does it profit them if they gain the whole world, but lose or forfeit themselves? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words, of them the Son of Man will be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.  (Lk  9:23-26)

We had a foretaste of the Son of man coming in Glory at the end of time in our reading from the prophet Daniel

As I watched, thrones were set in place,
and an Ancient One[d] took his throne;
his clothing was white as snow,
and the hair of his head like pure wool;

I saw one like a human being
coming with the clouds of heaven.
And he came to the Ancient One
and was presented before him.
To him was given dominion
and glory and kingship,
that all peoples, nations, and languages
should serve him.

 

So now when we see Jesus transformed, with his face shining like the sun (says Matthew) and clothes dazzling white (whiter than bleach could make them says Mark) the disciples should be thinking perhaps of the prophesy of Daniel

Instead Peter is thinking of Moses in the desert in Exodus on a mountain receiving the 10 commandments from God and having his face shine having seen God

Moses came down from Mount Sinai. As he came down from the mountain with the two tablets of the covenant in his hand, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God (Ex 34:29).

Peter sees Moses and Elijah and so starts thinking in OT terms about building tents for them

But this is not a return of Moses and tabernacles and the old laws

We are in the world of the prophesies of the coming of the Messiah

We are in the book of Daniel not Exodus

This is made clear when we hear that a cloud appears – the clouds of heaven.

If we were in any doubt then we have a voice from heaven to tell us – this is my beloved son – listen to him.

The disciples are terrified

In Matthew’s account:

When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, ‘Get up and do not be afraid.’ And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone. (Mt 17:6-7)

But Jesus came and touched them, saying, ‘Get up and do not be afraid.’ And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone. (Mt 17:6-7)

How do they react to this dramatic encounter – do they go and tell the world that the Messiah has arrived?

When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.

Disappointing

 

Well what are we to make of this?

Where are we in the story?

Surely we are the disciples?  As in 2 Peter – the “eyewitnesses”

Perhaps, like them, we have difficulty in recognising Jesus as our saviour

Perhaps, like them, we have difficulty telling people about our experience of God in Jesus Christ – though I know we all have those experiences

The good news from the Gospels is that this secret cannot be hidden

The truth as revealed by Jesus that God is love – the ultimate creating, renewing, restoring power in the universe, cannot be kept a secret

We will shortly meet with one another and with Christ in our holy Communion

We will meet with Jesus, face to face

Is it a co-incidence that the communion wafer is a gleaming, shining white circle like a face?

And as we receive Christ into ourselves should we not let that shining become a part of us?

Let ourselves be transformed by the knowledge of the love of God?

So that it shines out into the world through our faces and through our lives

So that people will look at us and say:

“you look different, what has changed?”   Amen

Sermon given by Christopher Hancock for the Feast of the Transfiguration at St Martin’s Epsom and St. Stephen-on-the-Downs, Langley Vale (6th August, 2017)

A word to the Wise: Teach the hearts of thy faithful people

Readings for Morning Prayer Pentecost, Year A

Genesis 11:1-9

Acts 10:34-48

Today is Pentecost or in old language ‘Whitsun’

So called because the coming of the holy spirit was associated with baptism and this was a great day for baptism – when of course those to be baptised wore white.

Indeed, we have had a baptism here this morning

‘But why then’, you may say, ‘is the liturgical colour red?’

The colour of fire but also the colour of blood – the colour associated with a saint who dies a martyr’s death.

And there is an alternative etymology for Whitsun

That the word comes not from white but rather from ‘wit’

Meaning wisdom –vision –skill

For the feast of Pentecost is when wisdom and vision and skill came to the Apostles.

The disciples were gathered together to celebrate the Festival of Weeks or Shavuot – when the Jews celebrated the first fruits of the harvest but also the giving of the law to the Jews on Mt Sinai.   This day fell 50 days after Passover so penteconta (Greek for 50) became our Pentecost.

This was the day when the Apostles went from being a bunch of talentless and despised no hopers – fishermen, tax collectors and tentmakers to be Saints Peter, Andrew, James and John, Matthew and Paul

Lives which would, by tradition, at least all end in a violent death.  Preaching the Gospel of peace handed to us by our Lord Jesus Christ, has always been hazardous undertaking.

 

Earlier this morning we had a geography lesson and looked at how the Jews from all over the eastern Mediterranean were gathered in Jerusalem and could understand the Gospel message as spoken by Peter (Acts 2)

It was the very opposite of Babel

Instead of a loss of knowledge and communication – there was an explanation for the meaning of the history of Israel from the time of Moses and the giving of the first law through to the Joel and the prophets

There was the ability to communicate that meaning to all

It seems to me that we are at a point where we have a decision to make: whether to put up our walls and to stop talking to people of other nations, or else to listen to them and try to understand them

We see today the issues which arise when people see the world in a different way

It was no different when it was the IRA, the Red Brigades, the Baader -Meinhof Gang – people who saw the world in a different way

How do we remove such communication issues?

We must surely talk, not close ourselves off

We must inter-act

We must not allow a return to Babel

But rather proclaim a new Pentecost when people hear anew the message of peace and equality of all before God which is the Gospel of Jesus Christ

This is a universal truth outside of all doctrine, all ritual – outside of issues of infant versus adult baptism, outside of different versions of baptismal vows, outside of all ritual liturgy and liturgical colours.  As we learned in our reading from Acts:

the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles, for they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter said, ‘Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?’

We who have received that baptism should be mindful that the spirit is available to all

So let’s be inclusive – open to all – looking for the spirit in all whom we meet

For those of us who are baptised, let us use the water in the font today to remember our own baptism

Remember those whom we have brought to baptism – children, god-children

Remember too the lessons of the complex imagery of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost

  • We might need a bit of new fire – of kindling the flame, breathing on the embers of our hearts
  • A new wind to give us a new direction- breathing of new life into our lungs and our lives
  • Water to wash away our transgressions and refresh our lips to sing new praise
  • A new light to show us the way in the dark recesses of our lives
  • A fire to melt our hard hearts and forge them into one in strength and solidarity removing the dross of our lives so that we might live in the spirit with good ‘wit’ and right judgement

As our Collect has it:

O God, who on this day
didst teach the hearts of thy faithful people
by sending to them the light of thy Holy Spirit:
Grant us by the same Spirit
to have a right judgment in all things,
and evermore to rejoice in his holy comfort;
through the merits of Christ Jesus our Saviour,
who liveth and reigneth with thee,
in the unity of the same Spirit,
one God, world without end. Amen.

(BCP Collect for Whitsun)

Sermon delivered by Chris Hancock at St. Martin’s Epsom,
Choral Mattins on the Feast of Pentecost, 4th June, 2017

The Stony Path – seeing God with Stephen

Image result for cornerstone

Readings for Easter 5, Year C

What a fantastic set of readings we have this morning

Of course, I feel a particular empathy with Stephen

He too was a Deacon

Like him I have dared to preach the Gospel in the presence of a tough and unforgiving congregation

Like him I have been executed by the people of Epsom – albeit in a play

I am even considering a mission to Langley Vale – where of course St Stephen’s Church stands and going and asking people there about their faith.

The Vicar has warned me that I might get thumped – if not stoned – on the doorstep

Well – I have got a stone here to defend myself and also as a visual aid

Have you spotted the link in our bible readings this morning?

The Stoning of Stephen from Acts as he looked up to heaven seeing the glory of God and the ascended Christ, standing at the right hand of God (presaging the Ascension later this month)

In our Psalm, we heard the petition to ‘be my strong rock, a castle to keep me safe, for you are my crag and my stronghold’

Then in the first letter of Peter we read that Jesus was

a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and [we] like living stones, [should] let ourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

Finally, in our reading from John we hear more about the dwelling place that is built with Christ as the cornerstone, his father’s house in which there are many dwelling places.  Where ‘dwelling place’ draws on a word play with the ‘dwelling’ of the Father in the Son and so, ultimately, the dwelling of he in us and us in him which we will celebrate a little later this morning

This text – ‘in my father’s house there are many mansions’ as we know it in the more familiar King James translation – is of course one of the standard texts for funerals

In John’s account, the impending death of Jesus gave rise to a lengthy discussion with the disciples about who and what Jesus was and what the meaning of his life might be.  His death and resurrection would force them to think afresh about the meaning of his life and indeed the meaning of their own lives.

Such is the way with funerals.  I am sure we have all had the experience of attending a funeral and it forcing us to think about the finite fragility of human life against the infinity of the divine.

When we attend a funeral we are forced to look into the face of the almighty whether we like to or not.  This is no less true of the minster taking the service.

I have now taken seven funerals and one moment has come to have greater and greater significance for me

Towards the end of the service it is traditional to stand at the foot of the coffin and say these words of commendation

Go forth upon your journey from this world, O Christian soul;
in the name of God the Father Almighty who created you;
in the name of Jesus Christ who suffered death for you;
in the name of the Holy Spirit, who strengthens you; …
May your portion this day be in peace and
your dwelling place the heavenly Jerusalem

As I have come to know these words by heart I have raised my eyes to look across the coffin into what lies beyond and I have come to realise that, at that moment, I am looking across the body of the deceased, into the face of God.  From whom all things have surely come and all things will surely return.

So what might it be to see God as Jesus did, to see Jesus as the disciples did, to see God and Jesus as Stephen did

John’s Gospel makes it clear that to see Jesus is to see the way

‘How can we know the way’  asks Thomas

Because you have seen me says Jesus and ‘I am the way the truth and the life’ .

So as we think about what our Gospel might be, what our mission as a church might be, we can find the answer in these great chapters of John’ s Gospel – the ‘final discourses’ that we have been working through this Eastertide.

Fundamentally, our mission is to do service in Christ’s name  – forgiving , healing, loving – ‘as the Father sent me so I am sending you’ (Jn 20:21)

Indeed, we should do ‘greater works’ than Jesus as we remain on earth and he has left it (Jn 12:12)

Above all else, the way to live our lives is in love and peace with one another and so to build up the body of Christ here on earth as ‘living stones’ in the building of the Father’s house

‘This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you’ (Jn 15:12)

We might use the prayer time of the Novena between Ascension and Pentecost to think what we might do to love one another better,

  • what it may mean to love one another in these communities of Epsom and Langley Vale
  • to think again about who are neighbour might be – do we even know them?

Have we invited them to church, have we shared our faith, have we asked them if they need anything

It might be costly – as it was for Stephen – but we should be like Stephen and always keep our eyes on God and look into the face of Christ and he will show us the way

If we can do that – continually looking and turning to Christ – then, and perhaps only then, we can be worthy of Peter’s call to be a royal priesthood, to be living stones – not dead pagan idols selfishly serving ourselves but ‘living stones’ built into a spiritual house so that God can remain in us as He remained in Christ.

In our Eucharist we receive Christ into ourselves so that we, the many dwelling places, may be where Christ resides.  We receive Christ into ourselves so that we may use the power of his love to love in his name.

And so we pray:

Grant us, therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the flesh of your dear son Jesus Christ
and to drink his blood,
that we may evermore dwell in him
and he in us. Amen.

 

 

Sermon delivered by Revd Christopher Hancock at St. Martin’s Epsom, 14th May 2017

 

 

 

 

Come and See – the Glory of God in John

Psalm 86

Jeremiah 31:27-37

John 12:20-33

Those who know the Gospel of John will be familiar with its frequent references to light and dark, to seeing and being blind, to people asking to see Jesus.

These Greeks brought to Jesus by Andrew in Christ’s last days on earth mirror the very first meeting between Jesus and Andrew, who was then a disciple of John the Baptist.

‘Behold the lamb of God’ said the Baptist predicting Christ’s sacrificial death.

‘Come and see’ said Jesus in reply

Now these Greeks say they want to see Jesus

I have been inviting people to come and see, come and see the Epsom Churches together Passion play and I have been getting a variety of reactions

In a world used to special effects does the sight of a slightly portly Anglo-Saxon walking past Macdonald’s and being strapped – not nailed I am assured –  to a piece of wood outside Marks and Spencer become just faintly ridiculous?

Is that not just a bit amusing, a bit silly – what insight can that offer into the divine narrative

Well I have been doing my best to get into the part

I have taken Lent seriously and lost almost a stone.

I have grown a beard – to a variety of views …

Still my family tell me it will be embarrassing

Embarrassing like the decline in numbers in the church – it just doesn’t cut it anymore, doesn’t speak to people the way it perhaps once did

I already have some experience of this – I have carried a cross in a Good Friday walk of witness on Headley Heath

People walking their dogs look at you as if on the loose from a psychiatric institution.  (As if taking an animal for a walk were not also actually a rather bizarre thing to do?)

So why do we do this?

Why do we witness to Christ’s passion in public?

Well certainly we are not at the time that Jeremiah spoke of when ‘no longer will a man need to teach his neighbour to know the Lord’

I think people are a bit uncomfortable about the whole Idea of religion, especially Christian religion.

Which brings people face to face with suffering and shows them that they are responsible for it

This is clearly one of the Gospel messages of the passion – that there is suffering in the world

And that through the incarnation God is in it with us

The ultimate in kenosis is for the immortal to die

Not only that,  but we participate in the killing – ‘Then “Crucify!” is all our breath’ …

It is disturbing – not easy

There are elements of Greek Tragedy

We suffer in watching – are we cleansed by it – does Aristotelian catharsis work in us?

There is something deeply uncomfortable in watching someone be deliberately killed.

It is not and was never meant to be an easy ride to take up your cross and follow me

And how far is this from the glory of God of which Jesus spoken so often?

Now is the son of man glorified and God is glorified in him (Jn 13:31)

This Glory which is a theme through John’s gospel being mentioned over 20 times.

This was also the glory of which Jesus had spoken on the death of Lazarus, the story in the Eucharistic lectionary for today

The story of Lazarus which sets up the story of Calvary, helping us understand it

This sickness will not end in death – no it is for God’s glory – so that Gods son may be glorified through it  (Jn  11:4)

But the first mention of Glory comes earlier, with the first miracle:

Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him. (jn 2:11)

And was set out as John’s purpose at the very beginning of the Gospel

The word was made flesh and dwelt among us and we have seen his glory – the glory as the only begotten of the father (Jn 1)

God’s glory was a theme of the old testament – we had it in our Psalm

All the nations you have made shall come
    and bow down before you, O Lord,
    and shall glorify your name.
For you are great and do wondrous things;
    you alone are God.

So what are we to make of this glory and how to reconcile it to the ridiculousness of the cross which Paul acknowledged:

 Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom,  but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength. (1 Cor 1 22-25)

The message of John is that bad things happen so that God can show his glory, that glory can only come after dishonour

Sometimes you have to go down in order to come up

We had a graphic depiction of this at the St Martin’s school end of term service here on Friday

It began with five candles alight on the altar – each representing one of the key events of Holy Week.

Five candles for Palm Sunday with its hope of triumph

Then one was extinguished leaving four candles – I resisted the temptation to make any Ronnie Barker jokes – this was a representation of  the four cups of the Seder meal which begins Passover

Then three candles – for the prayers in Gethsemane – the three central characters – Jesus with Peter and Judas – the best friends who let him down

Two candles for the trial before Pilate – a chance to plead innocence and escape – a chance not taken

The final candle – a red one for crucifixion on Calvary

And we then we relit them all – for Easter Sunday – five candles – a light divided but undimmed[i]

Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. (Jn 12:24)

A dramatic and challenging idea – but an idea that we have no problem telling in literature

In the story of Aslan in Narnia

In the sacrifice of Harry Potter’s parents

As Obi Wan says in Star Wars:  ‘You can’t win, Vader. If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.’

Even in Game of Thrones we hear that ‘what is dead can never die’ – that death is a prerequisite for immortality

That is what we believe in as Christians – in God’s incarnation as a human being and its corollary that he suffers with us

In an immortality – in a glory – that comes through suffering, through self-sacrifice even to the point of death

That is why we should invite people to come and see the Epsom Passion Play

Since a part of the glory of God is in his suffering with us

When I am lifted up I will draw all men to myself (Jn 12:32)

We behold his glory on the cross – here above us

A stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles

And so we who have beheld his glory say to others – ‘Come and see!’

 

Sermon given by Christopher Hancock at St Martin’s Epsom on Sunday 2nd April, 2017.

[i] From the Exsultet

Rise and Shine – I have had an Epiphany!

So it’s over.

I was in London on Friday and the streets were littered with the sad sight of horizontal browning Christmas trees cast out into the street

Retailers everywhere had religiously taken their decorations down in order to avoid a year of bad luck – there was even a toppled pine on the manicured gravel outside Buckingham Palace

Epiphany marks the end of Christmas and having Epiphany at the end of the holiday gives the impression that the wise men arrive late at the party

Having got lost following the star – they overruled the sat nav and went to Jerusalem – surely the king must be born in a palace in Jerusalem, not in little Bethlehem?

We have the sense that the shepherds and the angels have left, all the champagne and canapés have gone and they catch the holy family as they are packing their bags about to head off to Egypt

.Like a church visitor in the offertory hymn, apologetically they fumble in their wallets and pull out some gifts

Who are these not so wise men?

Matthew calls them Magi – Persian astrologers – and they provide an important role in his gospel

They come from the east from the land of the birthplace of Abraham, Abraham who was introduced as the ancestor of Jesus in the genealogy with which Matthew began his gospel (Mt 1:1)

They come from the East – from the land of Balaam, the famous diviner in the book of Numbers (Numbers 22-24).

They struggle with the interpretation of the signs of the times and as such remind us of those other stories of divination – the interpretation of dreams by Moses – Moses who was rescued from a jealous tyrant and would rescue his people – Moses who is the prototype for the messianic saviour Jesus

Their gifts of Gold and Frankincense recall the prophesies of Israel which we have just heard in Isaiah 60 and in Psalm 72.  The songs and prophesies which themselves recall the visit to Solomon of the Queen of Sheba who ‘came to Jerusalem with a very great retinue, with camels bearing spices, and very much gold’ (1 Kings 10:2);

The visit of the Magi is:

  •  a proof of kingship
  • a fulfilment of prophesy, and
  • perhaps most importantly for us, it is a prediction of the important role of the Gentiles – that the future of Christianity which began as a message to the Jews is to be taken up by the rest of the world.

The worship of the foreigners in chapter 2 of Matthew is to culminate in chapter 28 of the Gospel – when the disciples saw him and worshipped him just as the Magi had done – and he sent them to ‘make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit’.

But I am getting ahead of myself – for this is not Easter but the Feast of the Epiphany

What is Epiphany?  It means not arrival but appearance

This whole season of Christmas and Epiphany is called the ‘Manifestation’

When God makes himself known to man in the person of Jesus Christ

We will be studying Matthew’s account this year, but remember in the Gospel of Mark that Jesus first appears at the Jordan ready to be baptised by John for today is also the feast of the Baptism of Christ

We have further choices of ‘epiphany’ in the other Gospels

–        In Luke it is the birth of a poor child in a manger worshipped by lowly shepherds

–        While the high Christology of John sees Jesus as being one with God from the beginning of creation (John 1:1)

And so we can reasonably ask ourselves – where do we see Christ?

Personally – I had an epiphany standing here in the run up to Christmas

It makes me sound like Bill Nighy in ‘Love Actually’ – you know the bit at the end of the film when he turns up at his ‘chubby’ manager’s house because he realises that actually, that is the person whom he loves.

When I arrived here I struggled with this building – struggled to make it fit – struggled to find God in it

Then one day at a school’s service, I found myself saying the Aaronic blessing here at the crossing:

The lord bless you and keep you – the lord make his face to shine upon you (Nm 6:24-26)

I realised I could see the faces of Christ shining upon me in all directions

–        Mark’s miracle worker Christ healing the woman with haemorrhages in the window above the west door

–        Luke’s vulnerable infant in the Mother’s Union banner

–        Matthew’s Christ as king – risen, ascended glorified in the east window above the altar

–        And John’s Christ in the midst of creation in the Benedicite window

This brought it home to me that Christ was right here in this place all the time

Like Bill Nighy’s ephipany – love was right here, in front of us

‘It’s a terrible mistake but you turn out to be the love of my life’

Might that be our epiphany too – that actually it is here in this place that we are most ourselves, most at home, most loved?

And that set me wondering about these wise men – these gentiles, who ‘rejoiced with exceeding great joy’

Were these not us – the people here today

The mass of the shepherds and the angels – the thousand plus people who were here at Christmas – they have gone

And we – the wise or not so wise men – are left

And so what should we do – we who are left at the end of the Christmas party?

What is our response?  What gifts do we bring?

Surely we can learn from the Magi who reached inside their treasure chests to see what they could offer:

–        Gold – Gold is our stewardship – the gifts of money that we make to keep this church functioning – let’s give more and make it flourish!

–        Frankincense – is the basis of incense and represents our worship – let us worship like the wisemen – ‘rejoicing with exceeding great joy’

–        And Myrrh – myrrh is the gift which was not imagined in the old testament – it is both the ointment of healing and the bitter perfume of funeral preparations.

It calls to mind the healing of Christ’s ministry and his ultimate offering of himself

– it is our calling to heal the world, it is a reminder that it is only when we give ourselves up to Christ that we truly follow him

If we do all of these three things then we can go beyond being not so wise men and embody the star itself – being a light to bring others to Christ

And so I call upon you, the Magi of St Martin’s to ‘Arise and shine’ like the star in this year of 2017, arise and shine to the people of Epsom, arise and shine and witness to the Epiphany of Christ in this church of St Martin of Tours.  Amen

Sermon given by Revd Christopher Hancock at St Martin of Tours, Epsom
on the Feast of the Epiphany, 2017

Sermon for U2charist on New Year’s Day

2017-01-01-ch-photo

 

Sermon

 

May I speak In the name of the living and loving God whom we know as + Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Amen

Well, what a pleasure it is to be here on New Year’s Day – which is also the Feast of the Naming and Circumcision of Christ

As we have just heard in our Gospel passage

“After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb”.

It seems appropriate that we celebrate this feast on New Year’s day.

For nothing is more new than things which don’t even have names yet.

Have you ever given a name to something new – a pet, a house, a baby

When you name something you in some way shape its future, determine how people will interrelate to it – even give it a destiny.

Joseph and Mary called him Jesus – in Hebrew Jeshua or Joshua – which means: God saves

What a destiny!

This is the same name as the Joshua who was a hero in the Old Testament

A great warrior – a warrior who held a spear

In fact, a certain desert plant – the Yucca Brevifolia – which looks like a man holding a spear – is commonly called the Joshua Tree – and gave its name to an album recorded by a certain Christian rock group, after seeing these trees on a tour of the USA.

A moment’s digression on U2.

Why their music?  How do they reflect a Christian message?

First, and importantly, they have licensed for free their music for liturgical use.

In fact, they began as a Christian group – our Vicar, Nick Parish, saw them at the Greenbelt Festival in 1979 where they were a supporting act for Cliff Richard (O tempora, o mores!)

Their lyrics include a strong theme of relationship – they have a longing for relationship at their heart

‘I have climbed the highest mountains I have run through fields Only to be with you’ |
(I
still haven’t found what I’m looking for)

‘I want to be with you night and day ‘ (New year’s day).

We’re one, but we’re not the same We get to Carry each other Carry each other’
(One)

Personally, I believe that there is a fundamental relationality between all things

When we recognise that and give it a name – that name is love.

But it’s something that needs to be worked on

As Bono put it:
‘One love, we get to share it., Leaves you baby, if you don’t care for it.’ (One)

 U2 literally take ‘Pride in the name of love.’

Not only in their lyrics but also in their lives – Bono has fronted charity efforts from Live Aid to the UN but beyond this U2 are a band which has been together since 1976 – that’s a 40 year relationship more than all but the longest marriages.

So back to Jesus – or Joshua – whose name means saviour

We may ask ourselves: What does it mean for us to call Jesus saviour?

Jesus seems a far cry from a man holding a spear

Through our nativity services and in our crib scene we have seen Christ as the vulnerable baby born into poverty, the infant lying in a humble manger

Today’s Feast of the Circumcision may even be seen to prefigure the crucifixion (we see Christ hanging on the cross above me here) the vulnerable child who was cut and bled as an 8 year old Jewish boy would ultimately be cut and bleed on a cross – executed as a criminal.

What is saving about that?

What is saving about God’s incarnate weakness?

Well Christianity is all about the story and the story does not end there

Each Massacre of the Holy Innocents by a violent and jealous king is followed by the visit of the wise men from the east (see me here next week to hear more about that)

Each Good Friday crucifixion is followed by an Easter Sunday resurrection

The love of self-sacrifice defeats the spear which was thrust into Jesus side.

The Christian story is that Jesus saves because love wins.

This seems very apt for our other celebration today in the world of New Year celebrations

For this is 2017

I have just returned from America where they are preparing to inaugurate President Trump

What does that portend?  For America, for the world?

New things – scary things!

For some the New year – the future itself is scary

Brexit

Retirement

Getting a job?  Keeping a job?

Fighting an illness

The future can be frightening

But the Christian message is not to be afraid – ‘be not afraid’ of things which are strange and new – but rather to embrace them

As the shepherds did rejoicing in the news

As Mary did – pondering these things in her heart

Because the New Year offers the opportunity for new starts.

‘Do not remember the former things or consider the things of old’ (Isaiah 42:18)

‘Behold I am making all things new’ (Rev 21:5)

As in our New Year’s resolutions…

At the beginning of each year we recognise we have a new start -all is brand new – like new shoes, new carpets, a new car – spotless

If only things would remain so

But they don’t

Shoes get scuffed, carpets get stained, cars get scratched (my car recently hit an invisible wall)

Gym memberships taken out in January get forgotten in February.

And so it will probably be with many of our new year’s resolutions

We fail in them – we give up – we fall back.

We may find ourselves holding again the stone which we have just let go.

But the loving message of Jesus our saviour is that does not matter

What matters is what we do next – do we give up or do we live in hope and try again.

In the words of the Baptism service – the candidates are asked ‘Do you turn to Christ?’

The response ‘I turn to Christ’ is not a one off but said in the present continuous –

I turn to Christ

I turn again

I start again

I keep on turning

Because such is the creative, renewing power of God, just as the sun rises at the end of every night, so we can start again each morning – whatever we have done the previous day

The loving God gives new life – light in the darkness

God saves us from ourselves

So I pray that whatever you have dropped into the ‘dustbin of sin’ tonight you remember that should you find yourself holding it again – Jesus says let it go again

Should you find yourself standing in the darkness – then look East to the resurrection and find the light of hope.

Should you find yourself standing alone – then know that whatever you are suffering – Jesus has suffered and is suffering with you.

And perhaps most importantly – if you find yourself wondering how to live your life – wondering what to do, what direction to take.  Remember to lo,ok to your relationships – to share your troubles and your joys with those whom you love and in particular those with whom we shall share this feast, this Eucharist of our Lord tonight.

‘One love, we get to share it., Leaves you baby, if you don’t care for it.’

Amen

Sermon given by Revd Christopher Hancock at St Martin of Tours, Epsom, on the Feast of the Naming and Circumcision of Christ, 1st January, 2017

Transforming lepers – transforming lives (Sermon preached by Christopher Hancock, 9th October, 2016)

Sermon on Luke 17:11-19; 2 Kings 5:1-3, 7-15c

I am beginning to know something of what it is like to be a leper.

As you may have noticed I have been regularly wearing my dog collar and walking around Epsom.  I have been wearing it when I need to (when I am explicitly on church business saying morning and evening prayer, conducting pastoral visits and the like) and when I don’t (when going to the Post Office, Ryman’s, Staples, Maplin, Greggs., McDonald’s, various Public Houses).   You will form an impression of the sort of person I am from the places I frequent.  A busy person who doesn’t have much time for lunch but likes beer and gadgets and Post-Its.

Why am I doing this? – my children often ask me this.

I confess to mixed motives.  It took me the best part of five years to get ordained, jumping through numerous ecclesiastical hoops, completing dozens of essays, and filling in countless forms – I feel I have earned it.

Secondly, I like wearing a uniform – I miss my school uniform – I like to know what I am wearing when I get up in the morning.  I don’t like choices – even deciding which tie to wear can cause me great irritation.

Finally, and most importantly, it is a form of easy, low impact evangelism – both for the Gospel and for the Church of England.

Indeed, before my ordination both Andrew, Bishop of Guildford, and Paul Bryer, Archdeacon of Dorking, specifically asked me to wear my collar as much as possible.

By being seen to be a normal person doing normal things I am hopefully helping to remove some of the pre-conceptions that people have about the church of England and its priests.  To transform people’s beliefs

And I know this is a genuine issue– I can tell because of the reactions I get – and this is where the leprosy parallel comes in.

Women with children often move their push chairs to the other side of the pavement – I like to think it is out of respect – I fear it is because they assume that a man dressed in a collar may be dangerous to their children.

Muslim men will also physically move away from me which is quite amusing.  Am I for them Haram – unclean – or am I the representation of a Crusader?  Something to be feared either way.

Children stare and parents take them by the arm as if I were some unfortunate

Some people cross themselves – what is that about?  I am not an undertaker or a vampire.

That people behave so strangely suggests there is indeed a problem.   Hopefully, the more they see me the less odd it will be and the more that they will think about the second part of this soft evangelism.

Because by being seen I am hopefully making people think about God – even for just a moment.  To think about what they are doing in life and why – to have a sense that they are a small but important part of something much bigger.  To remember to count their blessings and acknowledge their infirmity.

And I can see that also works – I can see that from the way that some people smile at me as if reassured by my presence while some people refuse to meet my eye and look away – some people have a problem with God – I would love to know why …

To do that I would need to stop and talk to them – to get to know them as people.  But that is getting harder as we have fewer full time priests with the time to meet people where they are.

When I was reading the lectionary for this morning and in particular as I thought about Naaman and these 10 lepers I came to see that the Church of England itself is in danger of becoming a leper in its own community.

Increasingly shunned from hospitals and schools, even the leadership of the Church talks about it being in slow and ineleuctable decline as if it had a terminal and incurable illness.

Well, perhaps – and certainly if the Priesthood of the Church hide themselves away and if the management of the Church gives up on its position in society and builds smaller and smaller colonies for a smaller and smaller group of increasingly homogenous believers then the end is certain.

But I would not be happy with that and I doubt you would either.

So what can we learn from these bible stories of healing that may be relevant for the Church of England that it might be healed and given new life?

This is after all the challenge from the Bishop of Guildford with which we are wrestling at the moment to respond to his call for a Diocesan Mission Strategy – that we look to transform our church so that it can transform the lives of others.

And I think we can indeed learn from this morning’s stories of miraculous healing – from Naaman and from the 10 lepers.

First there is the all-important point of contact – of transmission of the Gospel:  for Naaman the story of Elisha comes from a captive slave girl – even the most unlikely people can be evangelists.

Each of us can be the one who calls others to God.  Indeed each of us should do this.  But let us challenge ourselves.  How many people have we invited to join us in church today?  Just imagine if we had all brought juts one extra person with us.

How do we do that?  Well how does Jesus meet the Samaritan leper?  He gets out and meets the people – he travels from Galilee to travel to Jerusalem and meets the lepers on the way.  We need to keep doing that – getting out and meeting people – meeting Jesus where he is – out there with the people.

Then there is the question of what we do, how we receive the Gospel – what do we do with it?

For Naaman it is obedience, humility – recognising that he does not have all the answers.  He is healed by bathing in the river Jordan – the rivers of Damascus do not cut it.  He has to be obedient to the word of God’s prophet Elisha, move out of his comfort zone and try something new.

Part of our transformation may lie in understanding what we can do ourselves and for what we need assistance from others.  That we may need to move out of our comfort zone and ask for help.

So do we need to do things radically differently?  Not at all – the transformation process does not need to be difficult.  There is no need for complex ritual or liturgy.  Whether for Naaman or the lepers it is just a question of hearing God’s word for us and doing it.  Of listening to God and reacting.  Keeping it simple.

That does not mean to say that we ignore tradition and what has gone before.  Jesus who came to change ‘not one letter, not one stroke of a letter’ of the law, reminds the cleansed lepers that they need to see the priests as prescribed by the law of ancient law of Israel – read it for yourselves in Leviticus 13 and 14.  (It’s a bit grim so you might want to save it to read until after lunch).

Finally, for the healed there is joy and thanksgiving.  In Luke’s story it is the Samaritan Leper who comes back and says thank you – he rejoices – eucharizon in the Greek – the same word as our Eucharist – the celebration of our salvation through union with God in Jesus Christ – a celebration in which we shall shortly share in our communion.

And so his cleansing is moved to a deeper spiritual level because he has fully received his healing – in his heart as well as in his body.  The Samaritan allows Christ to transform his view of the world, of how he sees himself in life.  Ultimately, to feel the joy of being loved by God in Jesus Christ.

It is interesting and perhaps encouraging that even Jesus only converts one in ten of those whom he heals.  That then is the target for us – that we make a lasting impression on one in ten of those who touch this place in the course of a year.

For we know that if we can but plant this mustard seed of faith in the hearts of a few, then with that faith they themselves will move mountains.  Because at the heart of both healings is simple faith – of understanding that we all sit under God who loves us.

So what then are the lessons for us?

  1. To get out and meet people – to offer them to come and see.
  2. To submit to the will of God in honesty and humility – to get out of our comfort zones – acknowledging that we may need help to see through his mission for us
  3. To honour tradition but keep it simple – there is no need to reinvent the wheel
  4. Above all to allow ourselves to be transformed so that we may transform others

And what might that transformation look like?

Well let me share a vision that I have had:

In my three months here I have seen that this church is formed from many different groups and constituencies, different strands of faith if you will.

If we can agree on a common purpose for our work here then these fibres can be woven together to form a great rope, a hawser that we can use to drag the super-tanker that is the Church of England – to drag it closer to the people whom it serves – to move it faster than it ever believed possible – to turn the talk of decline to rejoicing for growth

How best to do that you must decide but you will see some ideas starting to take shape on the board at the back of church – for me it seems that doing more with the many children of this Parish is very likely to be a part of that vision.

I encourage you to share your ideas either by writing on the lovely multicolour Post-Its or by speaking with me, or Nick or the Church wardens

And my prayer is that, by uniting these many strands into a single great cable, we may in turn draw open the very gates of heaven that through them the people of this Parish may enter into the kingdom of God.

That would be a transforming church indeed.  Amen

Sermon preached at St Martin’s, Epsom, by Christopher Hancock, 9th October, 2016

Collect for the Guildford Diocesan Mission Strategy
Transforming Church – Transforming Lives

God of our salvation, you sent your Son to draw all people into your abundant life:
grant that your church, empowered by your Spirit,
may be the instrument of your transforming purposes in the world,
that all may know your power  to heal and to save.
Through Jesus Christ our Lord. AMEN

Lost and found – Sermon on Luke 15:1-10

Sermon for Proper 19C  Luke 15:1-10

Personally, I never lose things – ahem.  Well not often.

In the weeks prior to my ordination earlier this year, I needed to prove I was a Christian.  To do this I needed to produce my baptism certificate – somewhat late in the process I thought but the Church works in mysterious ways.  Anyway I was sure that my parents must have it – as I knew I did not.

A lengthy discussion ensued with my mother saying very forcefully that I was baptised on Lady Day 25th March, 1968 – but she did not have the certificate and so she must have given it to me with other important papers at some time in the past.

However, I could not find it.  I turned the house upside down, discovering all sorts of interesting and forgotten documents –  ‘O’-Level and ‘A’-Level certificates, Grade 4 bassoon exam. (Result: Merit).  Grade 5 bassoon exam (Result: Fail).  My cycling proficiency certificate, my Puffin club badge!

I did not remember ever having seen this baptism certificate and I became increasingly suspicious when, after a little research, I found that Lady Day in 1968 was a Monday.  Surely I was not Christened on a Monday?

I called the parish where I was baptised and – sure enough – they found the entry in their registers – Sunday 24th March, 1968.  A certified copy was duly produced and here I am today.

Parents of Jaime and Wilfred take note – perhaps one day your sons will be called to be ordained – don’t lose the certificate that you will receive later this morning!

Why do I say all of this?

Well – I suppose this draws together several of the kinds of loss which are explored in our Gospel reading this morning

There is the loss of an object – the certificate – and the turmoil which ensued in looking for it

There is also a loss of truth – resulting in a loss of identity – a fact about myself was now wrong (it was not quite Justin Welby finding he was the son of a different father but I felt a small tremor as I had been filling in ecclesiastical forms incorrectly for years)

There is no such thing as a simple parable and like the parable of the prodigal son which follows, these apparently simple parables explore the complex questions of what it is to be lost – to lose oneself or to be lost to others.

We can be lost like a sheep because we have strayed we have been in error – made a mistake – as we say in the Prayer Book act of confession ‘we have erred and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep’

Or we can be lost like a coin because we have got mislaid, disconnected from where we should be – we have lost our bearings and forgotten who we are – we can get lost in the woods – we can be lost in life – we can get the date of our baptism wrong or we can forget that we have even been baptised at all.

These parables also explore response to loss:

It is dislocating – emotional – we search – turning a house upside down to find a lost coin [or indeed a baptism certificate] or we leave home and livelihood behind in or to go in search for a lost sheep.

I lost a child once – in a department store in America …

This was my first child and I had no experience of toddlers – of their speed of movement and spirit of adventure.

I was in a changing room trying on different pairs of trousers

My young son, William, was with me – in my care.  ‘Keep your eye on him!’, my wife had warned me, sternly.

Well no sooner had I removed my trousers when little William crawled under the partition wall to enter the next cubicle – so I quickly put my trousers back on and went to get him – but he wasn’t there!

I left the changing room and instead of William, I found my wife.

‘William is with you?’ I said in a hopeful tone?

I shall never forget the look she gave me.

‘You have lost our son?’

So we searched the store high and low – in a state of complete panic – imagine trying to find a runaway 2-year old in a forest of clothes racks

Well I am here today to tell the story so you know that we found him

But I have never forgotten this – because my wife has never let me

In fact, I was in good company – because not only did David and Samantha Cameron leave their child behind in a pub, but Jesus own parents lost him in Jerusalem, on the way back from the Passover (Luke 2[1])

Where did they find him?

In the temple – in church – in fact he had never left – they had moved on but he had remained constant –  there may be lesson for us in this – in particular for those of us who may feel that they have lost Jesus and keep on looking for Jesus in new places – but perhaps he never left the place where we first found him – ‘Did you not know I would be in my Father’s house?’

Some of us know the experience of finding God again after a period of distance, of dislocation, of loss

When you find something you think you have lost it is like receiving something for the first time – like receiving a gift – and the Greek word for joy which is used repeatedly in our Gospel reading – Chara – is from the same root as Charis or gift from which we get Eucharist – that perfect symbol of the gift we have of union with God and with all of God’s creation

A gift we shall receive afresh in a short while this morning

So there is joy in the shepherd in finding and in the sheep in being found

There is joy in finding God and Luke tells us that God also  rejoices in finding us

There is a harmony in this reciprocity, a resonance which speaks of the warm feeling we have when we feel that we are known, loved, found, understood.

A feeling I find each time I receive the Eucharist – when we deliberately remember our relationship with all creation, with God and with Christ – as we do this ‘in remembrance of Him’.

So what then might be the messages for us?

We should clearly keep a close eye on those for whom we care – putting them before ourselves and not just before our modesty in changing rooms in foreign countries!

But also to look out for the lost that may be in no-one’s care – those who have strayed themselves or been mislaid, perhaps those who have been left behind by change thinking they must move but needing to be brought back to where they began

We should rejoice too in those who are found – as we rejoice today in Jamie and Wilfred who are about to become the newest Christians in the world

In particular, we should rejoice here in Church

For this may be where we ourselves find God – where we find ourselves and where Christ finds us.

It is so much easier to find God if we are finding Him every week – so much easier to remember where He is.  I hope parents and Godparents you will hear this and bring Jamie and Wilfred in time to confirm their relationship with God through Jesus Christ and to join us in sharing this gift.

So, in conclusion, I pray that we will all keep coming here and keep finding Jesus as He promised us:

‘For when two or three are gathered together in my name – there I will be in the midst of them[2].

Amen

 Sermon delivered by Rev Christopher Hancock, St Martin’s Epsom, 11th September, 2016.

[1] Luke 2:41-52

[2] Mat 18:20