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Priestly Ponderings Farewell

PRIESTLY PONDERINGS parishofficeemwt@gmail.com

Now is the time to say “Goodbye”.  My retirement begins in early October following my final service at East Malling on the 11th October at 10am.  Of course, you are most welcome to join my wife and I for that occasion so that we can say goodbye to as many of you as possible

It is a little short of 14 years that I have been your Vicar here in Wateringbury and I just can’t believe how quickly that time has passed by. I arrived in the January of 2002 and was immediately made welcome by the community and I thank you all for that.  I am so aware of how fortunate I have been to be so intimately involved with the community, particularly through Baptisms, Weddings and Funerals (and you can imagine how many of those I have conducted over these years!).  I have always viewed my role as one of being the servant to others and this has always been a privilege and a joy.  I have taken the community very seriously and enjoyed a strong relationship with the many groups, organisations and institutions which form a strong community here in Wateringbury  (This especially includes our School, uniformed groups and local businesses). I have found the community have always been supportive of the Church too.  For all of this I offer you a most sincere thank you.

Moving on into retirement will be interesting, challenging and exciting.  I have many hobbies and interests that I am looking forward to pursuing and so I shan’t be bored.  I shall be standing to one side and allowing my successor an opportunity to establish themselves and I respect this protocol.  This, of course, is difficult for my wife and I because we have established many friendships and acquaintances but we understand how important it is.  However, we shall take away many very happy memories of our time with you all, it has been such a joy for us both.

Wateringbury has been a most wonderful place to serve and to be a part of and work in.  There is something so very special about it which includes its diversity, friendliness and joy.  I find the people here genuine and sincere and I have only ever experienced much support, respect and love.  You are all so fortunate to be a part of this most fantastic community.  Take good care of it and value it.  It’s worth looking after.

Jean and I thank you all for the past 14 years and pray that God will Bless you all for the future. 

Rev Jim

October 2015 Beneficial News

Please click HERE for October’s Beneficial News Letter

Sermon for 6th September

Healing Mark 7:24

Jesus wants to get away from it all but his bolt hole is discovered by a woman whose daughter he cures. He goes elsewhere and cures a deaf and dumb man. Everyone’s amazed and the more he says ‘don’t tell anyone’ the more they do.

An apt summary of today’s gospel? Need any more be said? (And I’m not expecting the answer ‘No’ !)

A parody in what I’ve just said of the way Mark writes his gospel. It’s crisp; it’s punchy; it focusses on action: it includes 17 miracles and has few parables and direct teachings. So when Mark plugs in some details in his narrative it pays to look at them as we’ll see.

Last week’s gospel reading, focussed on the opening verses of Chapter 7 describing Jesus’ row with the Pharisees over the question of cleanness and uncleanness. A whole ritual had been established for washing up to the elbows after touching cups and vessels which might have been contaminated by contact with Gentiles. Jesus and the disciples stand accused of breaching these man made rules and tradition.

It’s a tense time. Jesus is preached out, prayed out and peopled out. He just wants to ‘get away from it all’; to have some ‘quality time’ on his own or whatever the current idiom is.

But no sooner does he find a ‘bolt hole’ than his cover is somehow blown. And there’s a woman knocking at the door asking him to do a job. (Know the feeling chaps?) And here’s where the details first come into play: for Mark gives us a careful description of the woman.

She is from the area, a mother, a Syro Phoenecian – one of the Gentiles. She has come to see if Jesus will do something for her demon possessed daughter. She’s hoping that he might do something to heal her deepest sorrow. Perhaps she knows it’s a long shot. He’s a Jew and she’s a Gentile and between the two stand centuries of bad blood. She is intruding and he’s tired. Her biggest fear is that he’ll tell her to go away or be unable or unwilling to do anything. And he does indeed give a troubling response to her request: (v27) “ First let the children eat all they want , he tells her, “for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs”.

The detail in focus here is “dogs”. We all know that the word can be used in a pejorative sense: we talk about ‘things going to the dogs’ During Chairman Mao’s Cultural Revolution in China it was used as a term of abuse for Westerners – they were called ‘running dogs of imperialism’. And that abusive usage of the word ‘dog’ would no doubt have been common amongst the Jews in talking about the Gentiles.

 

But the precise word which Jesus uses is less harsh than it might initially sound. In the Greek text of the gospel the word used refers to household dogs -domestic pets or puppies. The word ‘children’ in this gospel passage Jesus uses as a simile for the Jewish people.

The woman must wonder for a moment precisely what Jesus’ response could mean. Does he mean that for now, he could only help his own – the Jews?

She concedes that what he says is right (v28) and is inspired with the courage and wit to say that ‘even the puppies under the table eat the children’s crumbs’. Jesus greatly appreciates her answer: not because it was a clever one but by the faith bound up in the woman’s response. Her answer says I need you. I know that by just a crumb of your power my daughter will be healed.

And Jesus responds to her faith regardless of her being a Gentile and once again challenges the established order of things: (v29) ‘for such a reply you may go: the demon has left your daughter’.

Shades of another healing story when Jesus again responded to a Gentile’s plea and healed the Roman Centurion’s servant. On that occasion he said (7:9) ‘I have not found such great faith even in Israel’.

In the second healing story Jesus has moved to a different area where some people bring to him a man who was deaf and could hardly talk and challenge him to lay his hands on him and heal him. Is the crowd looking fo some kind of show at the expense of this deaf person? Jesus takes him aside and heals him in a way that stands in sharp contrast to the approach in the previous story. He begins by putting his fingers into the man’s ears. He then spits (presumably onto his fingers) and touches the man’s tongue. Jesus seems to be making contact symbolically or ritually with the defective parts of the man’s body.

Why in this instance Jesus touches and spits when at other times he simply speaks a healing word is unclear. What is made clear and again we return to the detail in the text, is the source of Jesus’ healing power. He acknowledges this by looking up to heaven, symbolically the location of God, and groaning or sighing.

Jesus’ efforts, albeit different this time , result in an immediate healing. The man hears perfectly and now speaks clearly.

Jesus’ injunction to them not to tell is a bit of an enigma: for earlier (Ch5) in the gospel after he has healed a demon possessed man who tries to become one of is followers, he says to him (v19) ‘ Go home to your family and tell them how much your Lord has done for you’ and that’s exactly what he did in the surrounding towns as well. ‘And all the people were amazed’ as it says at the end of that story too.

 

As well they might be for by these healing miracles Jesus was transforming the old order of things and bringing in the new order of God’s Kingdom. Just as foretold by the prophet Isaiah when he said of the coming Messiah: (35:5-6) ‘ then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then will the lame leap like a deer and the mute tongue shout for joy’. Compassion and healing available to all regardless of who they were.

 

Which leads us to consider: is that transforming power still at work – does God heal today? To which the answer must be an unequivocal ‘Yes’. Much as Jesus did not have a sole way of healing, so there are different approaches today: prayer, the ‘laying on’ of hands, the Oil of the Sick. The rest of the morning could profitably be spent on this, but I’ll make just a couple of comments.

Should people today expect a miracle or be open to that possibility? God does sometimes respond to prayers for healing by working a miracle. And yet there have always been those with strong faith and beset by illness who were not healed. My friend’s wife, very much a person of the charismatic church, suffered the ordeal of Multiple sclerosis before dying but remained rock steady in her faith to the end, even publishing a little booklet of her thoughts and prayers.

In some way, even when God does not work a miracle of physical healing, Jesus always heals his children when they come to him. Sometimes he brings them into a closer and deeper relationship with him, giving contentment and peace even in the face of death. Even when he allows them to die, they are not beyond his healing power.

Death ushers them in to the great and final healing of those who go to be with Christ, where they find that peace which the world cannot give.

We can take comfort as did the Syro Phoenecian woman and the deaf and dumb man that we too can bring our sorrows and pain to Jesus. We can be confident that when his children ask, he never turns them away at the door: never fails to give his children the bread of his healing power. Amen

 

Sermon for 9th August 2015

Trinity 10

Before I continue with the sermon this morning I am going to ask you to do something a little different. I want you to listen to the reading not with a heart of faith but with a sceptical mind. If it helps, imagine that you do not know that Jesus is anything else but a teacher. You are a first century person who has just been introduced to him. [Read John 6:35, 41-51]

Pretty incredible isn’t it? For someone to make such claims. What if, later today, you were introduced to someone and that someone said, “Hi, I am the bread that has came down from heaven.” You would look at your friend who just introduced you to this person and you would say, “I’m sorry, what did he just say?” Anyone who seriously made such claims would easily be labeled a nutter!

But, of course, in other areas of life we find it all the time. The first person who I can clearly recall laying such claim to being a great “I am” was Cassius Clay/ Mohamed Ali. Of course, in his case he too turned out to be the Greatest, the Greatest Boxer, perhaps in our life time. But others commonly lay claim to being the greatest, “I am this and I am the other”, I’m the greatest footballer, or rugby player (we’ll leave Cricket out for the moment!), or if you watch X factor “I know I am the best singer, you’ve just got to believe in me!” and so it goes on. But we never accept these people’s credentials. But people to whom Jesus was addressing were being asked to do just that.

Jesus makes a very assertive “I am” statement in today’s Gospel, and does so no fewer than four times: “I am the bread of life.” Indeed, it’s one of many “I am” assertions he makes throughout the Gospel of John. In chapter 8 he says, “I am the light of the world,” and “I am from above.” In chapter 10: “I am the gate for the sheep,” and “I am the good shepherd.” In chapter 11: “I am the resurrection and the life.” In chapter 14: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life,” and in chapter 15: “I am the true vine.”

Each time he makes an “I am” statement, it is highly inflammatory for his listeners, and sometimes dangerous for himself. When he makes the assertion in chapter 8: “before Abraham was, I am”, they pick up stones to throw at him. In chapter 10, when he says: “I am in the Father,” they try to arrest him.

My examples of “I am” aren’t particularly good ones to be honest because what is actually happening here that Jesus in stating “I am.” He is making an outrageous statement because it goes right back to the Divine Name of God. In fact it goes all the way back to the book of Exodus, when from the burning bush God instructs Moses to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. At first Moses shrinks from the task. This great man and lawgiver is reduced to a gibbering idiot, feebly asking: “Who am I?” He protests that if he tells the Israelites he’s been sent by the God of their ancestors, they’d ask: “What is his name?” and he stammers, “what shall I say to them?” But God, cutting right through his prevarication, replies: “I AM WHO I AM… you say to the Israelites, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’”

No wonder the Jews were aghast to hear Jesus claiming “I am”. As far as they were concerned, if you felt able to assert “I am”, you were effectively claiming to be God. They just didn’t understand that Jesus was God.

And Jesus pushes it even further when he claims, not only to be the bread of life, but superior to the manna God sent Moses and their ancestors in the wilderness. Rather than merely providing physical nourishment from one day to the next, Jesus, the bread of life, will provide eternal sustenance.

Discovering your identity, your true identity, can often be a problem for people. If you’re a rebellious teenager, or you’ve ever been one, or the sibling or parent of one, you’ll know how agonising a young person’s search for identity can be. Nor is such confusion confined to teenagers The German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer also wrestled with identity. His poem “Who Am I?” was published a year after he was executed for plotting against Hitler. In it he draws out the bitter contrast between the confident, easy-going man other people see, and what he knows of himself: “restless and longing and sick”.

As far as Jesus’ listeners were concerned, to be human is to be humble enough to ask the question asked like Mohamed Ali, Hitler, Bonhoeffer and Moses: “Who am I?” and anything else was blasphemy. But Christians believe that, through the sacrifice of Christ upon the cross, all people have a way of asserting “I am”. Again, the key is to be found in John’s Gospel. In chapters 10 and 14 Jesus says, “I am in the Father and the Father is in me,” and also: “No one comes to the Father except through me.” Bonhoeffer acknowledges this in the last line of his poem, when he has a flash of inspiration in the midst of his dark thoughts: “Who am I? They mock me, these lonely questions of mine. Whoever I am, thou knowest, O God, I am thine.”

The German theologian tells a story of a hungry man passing a store with a sign in the window, “We Sell Bread.” He entered the store, put some money on the counter, and said, “I would like to buy some bread.” The women behind the counter replied, “We don’t sell bread.” “The sign in the window says that you do,” the hungry man said. The woman explained, “We make signs here like the one in the window that says ‘We Sell Bread.’” But, as the theologian concludes, a hungry man can’t eat signs. A hungry man needs the Bread of Life, as we all do.

Life sometimes fools us too. Bread isn’t always found where it seems to be. Like the crowds looking for something else or that man looking in the wrong store, we often miss the point when God offers us enduring life in Jesus as the Bread of Life.

Today we gather in this church to receive a taste of food that will help us remember who we are.  I mean the bread of life, our Father’s gift to us.  This is the food of God’s kingdom, and reminds us that when Jesus said “I am the Bread of Life” then he truly is.

Priestly Ponderings June 2015

Priestly Ponderings June 2015

CHALLENGING POVERTY

 About 2.7 billion people, over a third of the worlds population, live on less than  U.S.$2 a day. It causes 21,000 child deaths per day. Over the last year, there has been an increased awareness of the plight of the poor and 2015 will be a particularly significant year for poverty. In May the Pope called on the United Nations to initiate a “worldwide ethical mobilization” that would address the plight of the poor. The Millennium Development Goals (agreed by the United Nations in 2000 and whose aim was to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger by 2015) are to be revisited and redefined in 2015.

 Although some people feel the UK economy is picking up, this isn’t true for many. The number of people using foodbanks continues to grow (One estimate reaches 1 million).The Bishop of Truro and Frank Field MP chaired the all party parliamentary group which produced the report ‘Feeding Britain’ calling upon the government to eliminate food poverty in Britain by 2020. ”Listen to God: Hear the Poor” was an initiative launched by the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster last April when the Archbishops were encouraging churches to join them in praying for the work of the Church helping those in need.

 Churches in our Diocese are encouraging us all to raise awareness of poverty by understanding the reasons and discovering how God blesses the poor. So important, however, is to explore how we might respond. So communities and parishes are encouraged to explore the theme in creative, innovative and eye-catching ways, involving local communities where possible. Already a number of folk in our church at Wateringbury have undertaken “Living Below the Line” challenge (living on £1 per day for 5 days) to enable them to experience the hardships of life in poverty. There has also been conferences where we have learned more about poverty and what can be done to tackle it. We also manage our own food bank scheme.

 Poverty is challenging and complex. Over the years, countless lives have been transformed when poverty is confronted.  The challenges may seem overwhelming, but we really can make a difference as we seek justice for the poor and food for the hungry towards our commitment to tackle the causes and effects of poverty in different parts of the world.

 I pray that Challenging Poverty will provide opportunities to make that difference.

Rev Jim Brown

 

Priestly Ponderings May 2015

WHO SHOULD YOU VOTE FOR?

 It’s only a few days away and you will be called upon to vote for a new Government. Who will you vote for and why? The current election campaign is much the same as I have ever experienced in my lifetime. All the usual political sound bites. It’s all about our Nation, our economy, our health service, our education system and so on. But I want to focus on what our nation might be doing for the “common good” and not just about ourselves looking inwardly. Despite the fact that the church is encouraged to contribute to the political debate more actively, I have to disappoint you because I shan’t be advising you which party to vote for!

 It seems strange to me that we continually ignore the fact that there is a side effect to globalisation, i.e. that problems that once would have stayed local now have far reaching effects worldwide. For example, a bank lending too much money in one country can now affect the world economy and not just their own nation. But we still operate as a nation as if no other country is affected by our decisions or problems etc.  We tend to ignore the issues that affect us all as a species of humanity, Climate Change, Human Rights, Demographics, Terrorism and Pandemics, Human Slavery, Species Loss and much more. We make little or no progress to solving such issues because we are not organised to do so. We operate as a number of nations in just the same way as we did 2 or 300 years ago, organised in to 200 or so individual states. It’s all wrong because we end up looking inwards. These worldwide issues need our attention but you are unlikely to hear them debated during the current election campaign.  I can’t find these issues in any of the major parties’ manifestos. It’s no good simply blaming the politicians either because they are responding to what we tell them we need. We tell them we need more wealth, more prosperity, faster economic growth, a better health system, etc.

 It needs to change so that countries can work together to solve the really serious problems we face. So perhaps we could start by asking our politicians when they knock on our doors what their manifesto says about global issues and the “Common Good” and not just the domestic matters that we are so familiar with.  It might take them by surprise but it needs to happen!

 Jesus was a tough political commentator. He taught us  not simply to concern ourselves with being rich,  having a big house or a well paid job.  Jesus would want to know how his nation would help other nations for the benefit of others.  So I ask, What does my country do to contribute toward the common good?  What does my country do to help other countries and address the global issues which concern us all.  We cannot live in isolation from such issues.  I want to be a part of a country that is actively “Good”, which is not the opposite to bad but the opposite to selfishness.  So when we meet our politicians on the doorstep please ask them “What is it that can make our country “Good”?”

 We can change the world by being “Good”.  I really do want to live in a “Good” country and I hope you do too!              Revd Jim Brown

Priestly Ponderings April 2015

The important message of Easter

 I have been asked so often “Why does the date of Easter change each year? Why can’t we set the date?” The reason the date of Easter changes is as follows:

  Easter Day is the first Sunday after the first full moon that falls on or after the vernal equinox.

 As you might expect it’s not quite that simple – firstly the ‘full moon’ is not the observed astronomical full moon, but rather a ‘paschal’ or ‘ecclesiastical’ full moon that is calculated by formula to avoid the variations in the astronomical calendar, although the two usually correspond to within a day.  The vernal equinox is also fixed as the 21 March. This formula was first established by the First Council of Nicaea convened in 325 AD by Constantine.  The resulting tables are now used in all Western Christian churches.  (The eastern Orthodox churches use a different means of calculating Easter which can result in it falling on a different day.)

 I am sure you will agree that the formulae has all the hallmarks of something established by a committee!  As far as I have been able to determine there is no deep theological reason for it and neither would there be any theological objection to fixing Easter more closely – to this end the second Sunday in April has been suggested which would fix Easter between the 8th and 14th April – although agreement on this would require the establishment of a new committee…

 None of this is really important, it’s what we are celebrating at Easter as Christians which truly counts beyond a date in the diary! Every Sunday we celebrate the Risen Lord, Jesus Christ, but we  focus on that event each year at a feast day called Easter ( “Easter” is a word derived from the Easter, the Teutonic goddess of spring).

 We do not need to complicate these facts anymore than I have done so already. Easter has a very simple message which is that Jesus Christ died for us all on the Cross by seeking forgiveness for our sins. Through this one act we have been forgiven all our sins. Now that is worth taking seriously and far more important than a date in the diary!

 May the Risen Christ be with you all this Easter.

 Rev  Jim Brown

Priestly Ponderings March 2015

PRIESTLY PONDERINGS parishofficeemwt@gmail.co

 A Christian View on Tax Avoidance

 Lord Green of Hurstpierpoint is an ex- HSBC head who has recently stepped down from a leading financial services body. This is amid claims that he was in charge of the HSBC when it enabled tax avoidance.  During my articles in the Rostrum I am very unlikely to become involved in politics, particularly party politics. But this is a different issue and is a matter of Ethics which should engage us all. When this issue emerged a few weeks ago it was natural that fingers should point at Lord Green, who also happens to be an Anglican Priest and has been since 1988!  He has written books on the ethics of business, he was appointed as a trade minister in the government and has been appointed by the Church of England to chair a report on leadership training for senior clergy which has proved unpopular with some church members. This clearly causes the church a degree of embarrassment but it’s opposition to tax evasion, or aggressive tax management strategies, remains firm.  And so it should!

 As a priest in the Church of England I firmly believe that our faith, and any normal respect for humanity, requires us to work with and for the poorest in our society, the less able and those who have needs. It grieves me to think that thousands of British bank customers have deposited billions of pounds in Swiss bank accounts in order to avoid tax. This is an avoidance of our responsibility towards the “Common Good”.

 The Christian perspective is quite simple, everything we have is fundamentally God given. Every Sunday, upon receipt of our offertory collection in church, I use the following prayer:  “All things come from thee and of thine own do we give thee”.  Or to put it another way, God created everything and so everything is fundamentally God’s. So, however much of the worlds resources we appropriate for ourselves, or however much we label as “ours”, God’s ownership is primary.  At best our ownership is simply temporary stewardship.  Therefore, all that we have in our private Swiss bank accounts needs to be justified because all that we do have we actually have on loan. The big question is what we do with this money.  Or, let’s put it another way, for whom is this money good news?

  The Revd Jim Brown

Lent Lunches 4, 11, 18 March. 12.30 to 2pm

Priestly Ponderings February 2015

LOVE BINDS US TOGETHER

 I don’t spend much time watching TV but one programme I really enjoy is 24hrs A&E. The programme is a documentary following a 24 hour period in a London hospital A&E department. I really enjoy watching the varying responses by the patients and family and friends. It is quite fascinating insight in to people’s lives. They often express themselves with no inhibitions and, when faced with tragedy or trauma, folk tend to demonstrate their love for one another quite freely. The programme actually begins with words from a consultant and he explains that if people do face death then how much nicer it is for people to use the words “I Love You” as their final words. The programme tends to illustrate the very best of human behaviour and restores my faith in people. It can be touching and so very emotional.

 Conversely, events recorded on our TV screens covering the most bizarre and tragic terrorist attack in Paris can have the opposite effect. The perpetrators of those utterly inexplicable crimes were evil!   I can’t begin to understand how religion can ever be a part of their actions and it is a huge insult to the millions of peace loving Moslems throughout the world to suggest that it is. It is for this reason that France declared war on the terrorists and not Islam. Knowing that these terrorist attacks are not about religion, we have to reach a point where we stop blaming Islam. Ironically, terrorism is actually an act against the very religion they claim to believe in. It’s an acknowledgement, on the part of the terrorist, that the religion and its teachings aren’t enough to convince people to follow it.

 I look forward to the day when an act of terrorism by self-proclaimed Muslims will be universally dismissed as nothing more than a criminal attack of a thuggish political organisation. For me, religion—no matter which one—is ultimately about people wanting to live humble, moral lives that create a harmonious community and promote tolerance, friendship and, most importantly, love with all people. If God is involved it can be nothing less!

 Let’s return to my favourite TV programme. Unlike some of the patients in 24hrs A&E, the victims of the terrorist attacks in Paris had no opportunity to say their final words “I Love You” to their loved ones. Their lives were extinguished at the pull of a trigger without their family surrounding them with their love. All religions, including Islam, promote the aim to love one another. If we love one another then we will remain united when we face an attack by any evil. Love will bind us together.Revd Jim Brown

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