The news this week has been all
about Europe – for two very different reasons.
The 100th Anniversary
of the first day of the Battle of the Somme on Friday, and just a
week before that the Result of the Referendum, which I sense was
somewhat of a surprise result, whichever way you voted.
Without going into the Politics
of it all, there seems a certain Irony that these two events should
And if you are Welsh of course,
there is a third reason why Europe is very much on your mind at the
moment. To get to the Euro semi-finals is an amazing achievement,
particularly for what someone on Radio 4 described as a country
roughly the size of Wales !
I was at the Cathedral yesterday
for the ‘Exploring Prayer Day’, and one of the Workshops I attended
was a wonderful Prayer Walk in the Abbey Gardens, where we stopped
in the Herb garden, in the Water Garden, and in the Holocaust
Memorial Garden, which its stunning Teardrop sculpture.
It struck me as how poignant it
was at this particular moment in our European history to be
remembering the Jewish Holocaust of the Second World War.Whatever
our relationship with Europe, we must not lose sight of the mistakes
of the past.
The Archbishops of Canterbury and
York, in their statement after the result of the Referendum was
‘We must now unite in a common
task to build a generous and forward-looking country, contributing
to human flourishing around the world. We must remain hospitable and
compassionate, builders of bridges not barriers’.
There are long associations
between Christians in this country and the rest of Europe. At times
we have provided havens for religious communities exiled from
Europe, and at other times our own Catholics have sought refuge
across the Channel.
My hope is that our leaving the
European Union will not weaken our strong relationships and common
interests with other Christians throughout Europe, and that we can
continue to promote Christ’s command to ‘Love our neighbours’ in the
widest possible sense.
Coincidentally, I think our
Second reading from Ephesians is extraordinarily relevant to the
situation we find ourselves in today, when it says:-
‘Consequently, you are no longer
foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and
also members of his household, built on the foundation of the
apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief
Christianity was of course
brought to this country from Europe in the 6th Century,
in particular to England by St Augustine travelling from Rome. He
built his Cathedral at Canterbury, and despite Henry the Eighth and
the Reformation, the Church of England is still led by the
Archbishop of Canterbury.
100 years ago, when the Battle of
the Somme started, the United Kingdom was much more religious in
terms of church-going than it is today. Although, when it comes to
major National occasions of rejoicing or remembrance, even today,
everyone turns to the established Church, as they did for the Somme
Vigil last Thursday night at Westminster Abbey.
By the time the Battle of the
Somme finally ended on 18th November 2016, there had been
over 400,000 British casualties. Apparently quite a high proportion
of those were practising Christians, including Ordinands, Choir
members, Sunday-school teachers, servers etc.At one point in 1916,
it was estimated that 30 % of Army Officers were sons of Clergy.
We know that many of the young
soldiers would have carried copies of the New Testament with them,
given to them by private individuals, national figures, religious
organisations and groups - to comfort them on active service.
In an articlein the Church Times
this week by the Revd Dr Robert Beaken, he says that he has become
convinced that 1916 was the crucial year in the British war effort,
after which everything changed, and he thinks this is also true of
the Church of England.
He argues that the Great War in
general, and the Battle of the Somme in particular, made an impact
on the life and witness of the Church in two significant ways. That
is the Eucharist or Communion, and the question of Praying for the
Firstly, the Eucharist. In the
early part of the 20th Century, many Anglicans would take
Communion once a month or less. However, some British soldiers in
France began to derive great comfort from receiving Communion. We
know for example as they contemplated the possibility of death or
disfigurement, the words of administration from the BCP became very
important to them, when the Chaplain said ‘The Body of our Lord
Jesus Christ, which was given for thee, preserve thy body and soul
unto everlasting life’.
Those who did return home found
this was still important for them, and of course in the 100 years
since, for this parish and many others, our regular worship has
become primarily Eucharistic - for us for Three Sundays out of Four.
The Second legacy from the First
World War was the greater acceptability of Praying for the Dead.
This was something that was much frowned upon following the
Reformation, being seen as something that was abused by the
Catholics during Medieval times, but the large number of casualties
during the Battle of the Somme made some Anglicans think again.
They felt that deliberately not
praying for the dead didn’t seem right. Street shrines began to be
erected, bearing the names of those who had died.
In July 1916, I don’t suppose
anyone in this country would have foreseen the Development of the
European Union any more than they would have foreseen at the end of
the First World War in 1918, that within 20 years we would be
fighting another major World War in Europe.
The First World War was described
by some at the time as ‘The War to end all Wars’ but of course it
was far from that. Somewhere in the World there have been conflicts
between countries, and within countries over the whole of that 100
The First World War affected
virtually every family in this Country. One of my Uncles, and one of
my Great Uncles died in that devastating War – not at the Somme, but
in other action in Belgium and Mesopotamia – now Iraq.
Those young men went off to War,
full of hope and enthusiasm for fighting for their country, often
with their friends and neighbours in the so-called Pals Battalions,
with no idea how disastrously it would all turn out.
Today is St Thomas’s Day, and
those young men fighting at the Battle of the Somme who had been to
Church and Sunday School would have been familiar with the Story in
our Gospel reading today.
The story of the so-called
‘Doubting Thomas’. You may have heard me say before that I think
this title is very unfair – and for me he is the ‘Believing
Thomas.As it tells us in our Gospel reading, Thomas was not with the
Disciples when Jesus appeared to them. They told Thomas that they
had seen the Lord, but Thomas wanted proof – he said he would not
believe until he had seen the wounds of Crucifixion on Jesus’ body.
My point is that if any of the
other Disciples had not been there when the risen Jesus appeared,
they wouldn’t have believed either. And of course, when Jesus does
appear again, Thomas shouts out as soon as he sees Him – ‘My Lord
and My God’.
Thomas the Doubter becomes Thomas
the unhesitating Believer. He doesn’t have to wait to touch Christ’s
wounds, to know instantly that his Risen Lord is standing in front
There is a strong tradition that
St Thomas took Christianity to India. He was apparently killed by a
spear, and buried at Mylapore, near Madras – now known as Chennai.
So today, as we remember the
Martyrdom of St Thomas, and the sacrifice of those young men who
died on the Somme Battlefield, and as we contemplate the future of
this country outside Europe, let’s remember those words of the
‘We must now unite in a common
task to build a generous and forward-looking country, contributing
to human flourishing around the world. We must remain hospitable and
compassionate, builders of bridges not barriers’.
ENVIRONMENT SUNDAY 5TH JUNE 2016
I’ve always been interested in
Nature and the Countryside, long before words like Environment, Ecology
and Green became words that today slip so easily off everybody’s tongue.
When I walk in the Countryside I
continue to be amazed at the diversity of God’s creation, and when you
see the beautiful shapes and colours of wild flowers for instance, I
find it difficult to understand why anybody doesn’t believe in God. I’m
sure my mother stimulated this interest in nature in me from a young age
by teaching me the names of Wild Flowers and Birds etc.
Personally, I don’t see any
conflict between Darwin’s Theory of Evolution and a Creator God. The
Creation Story in Genesis was of course written centuries before Darwin,
and it was their way of explaining how the world came to be as it is.
This type of Narrative is not unique to the Jewish bible. Other
cultures in the Middle East at the time had their own similar creation
Although I don’t believe the
Creation story in Genesis is factually correct,I do get great joy out of
reading it, and hearing it read - and somehow it speaks to me of the
power of a benevolent all-powerful Almighty God, and it does contain
principles which ring true.
For instance, the two passages in
our Old Testament reading this morning bring out the fact that God has
given us dominion and stewardship over the plants and all living
If you look at the Old Testament
reading in your WEN sheet -
In Genesis Ch 1, God says to Adam
& Eve, representing humanity – I give you every seed-bearing plant on
the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in
And then right at the end in the
passage from Genesis Ch 9, after the Great Flood, God blesses Noah and
his sons, and says ‘Everything that lives and moves about will be food
for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you
Environment Sunday gives us the opportunity to
reflect whether we are taking seriously our responsibility to be good
stewards of the planet on which we live.Are we as a modern Western
society taking care for the Environment seriously – the answer has to be
a resounding No !
The majority of scientists now
agree that the way we live is affecting the planet, the Climate is
definitely changing, and unless changes are made to our way of life to
restrict the temperature increase, life will become increasingly
difficult, and many parts of the world will become uninhabitable.
As Christians we need to be aware
that the poorest people in the World will be most affected by the
increase in temperature and rising sea levels.In Christian Aid Week, we
learnt about the story of the young woman from Bangladesh who lives with
her family on a small island, which is subject to regular flooding.
Climate Change will make the
flooding of low lying areas like this more frequent, and this week,
nearer home, we have seen serious flooding in Paris and other parts of
Europe. It would be easy to take the attitude that the problem is so
enormous that nothing we do will make any difference.But that’s not the
case – as Tescos say in a rather different context – ‘every little
counts’- by us all being aware of ways that we can reduce our so-called
Carbon footprint, we can make a difference.
With the current flooding in
Paris, it seems somewhat ironic that the Climate Change Conference last
year was held in Paris. Substantial agreement was reached at the
Conference, and for instance, the countries present agreed:
keep global temperatures less than 2.0C (3.6F) above pre-industrial
times and "endeavour to limit" them even more, to 1.5C.
limit the amount of greenhouse gases emitted by human activity to the
same levels that trees, soil and oceans can absorb naturally, beginning
at some point between 2050 and 2100
review each country's contribution to cutting emissions every five years
so they scale up to the challenge
§For rich countries to help poorer nations by providing "climate finance"
to adapt to climate change and switch to renewable energy.
In the past I have felt very
frustrated that the Church didn’t seem to take environment issues
seriously.It was, and to some extent still is, treated as a fringe
activity. For instance, you won’t find much time committed in the
General Synod to the Environment – and yet Climate Change is undoubtedly
the most significant threat to the future of life on this Planet. We owe
it to our children and grandchildren to take it seriously.
As John & Sally pointed out to me
last year, when they were visiting Cornwall, people in the West Country
do seem to be more aware. In Truro Diocese their website has a special
page devoted to the Environment, and one of the items on there is asking
people to make ten pledges of ways they can make a difference and reduce
their Carbon Footprint.
When Rosemary and I were in San
Francisco a few years ago, visiting our son, Simon – we happened on the
Sunday to be at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco when they were
celebrating World Earth Day – and the preacher was a lady who was
designated as Canon for Environmental Ministry. An indication of the
importance they attach to the Environment.
The primary mover in this country
is an organisation called Eco-Church – it’s run by a Christian
environmental charity called A Rocha UK in partnership with the Church
of England, the Methodist Church, Christian Aid and Tearfund.Eco- Church
was re-launched at a service in St Paul’s Cathedral in January, and the
keynote speaker was Rowan Williams, when he said:-
‘Caring for the Environment is
not an optional extra for ‘tree-hugging eccentrics’. Instead of being a
side issue, he said, looking after God’s creation was inextricably part
of all Christians’ responsibility to their ‘brothers and sisters
worldwide’, especially those who were living in poverty.
At the heart of Eco Church is an
on-line survey – this enables churches to both record what they are
already doing to care for God’s earth, and to reflect on what further
steps they can take to that end, and then act accordingly.It covers
categories like Worship & Teaching, Management of Church buildings,
Community and Global Engagement and Lifestyle.
Depending on how you improve, you
can then qualify for Bronze, Silver & Gold Medals.
I would like us a Parish to
complete the survey, and then think about how we might improve our
score.If any of you have a particular interest in the Environment, and
would like to help with this, please let me know.
So as Christians what can wedo in
some small part to slow down Climate Change ?
The World Council of Churches
Climate Change Programme have made this statement:
‘This task requires a response
from each one of us. Through our own life styles we can continue to the
reduction of greenhouse emissions. Through our witness we can encourage
governments to advance on the road towards responsible reduction
What can we all do as individuals
? On the back of your service sheet are these suggestions from the
Christian Ecology website:
·Pray daily for the
necessary ‘conversion’ in ourselves, our neighbours and our leaders to
do all in our power to combat global warming.
·Buy ‘green energy’
from renewable resources.
·Cut out unnecessary
use of cars and inessential air travel.
·Buy food grown or
produced locally in order to reduce the distance that food is
·Cut down energy use at home:-
lightbulbs; turn off lights.
·Wear an extra jumper,
turn down the central heating thermostat by 1 degree C, and set the hot
water cylinder thermostat at 50 degrees C.
·Insulate hot water
tanks and pipes.
·Get rid of the power
shower and tumble dryer.
·Close curtains at
dusk to stop heat escaping through the windows.
·Switch off TV, video,
DVD player, set top boxes and computers at the wall rather than leaving
them on stand-by.
·Use full loads in
washing machines and wash at 30 degrees C.
·Choose the right size
pan for cooking food, keep lids on; don’t overfill kettles.
Small individual actions can add up to a huge impact !
Please take this sheet home with
you, and think about any ways that you personally, or we as a church
community, can make a difference. Amen.
Andrew Rycraft 05/06/15
Easter Sunday 2016
EASTER DAY 2016
Mary Magdalene went to the Disciples with the
news ‘I have seen the Lord’
Have any of you received Easter Eggs this
SHOW REAL EASTER EGG
The only ones actually called Easter Eggs –
all the others now just called Chocolate Eggs, so as not to offend
The Real Easter Egg is very special because
not only do you get a chocolate bar inside, but you also get a copy of
the Easter Story.
So today is Easter Day – the joyful
culmination of our Lenten journey through Lent.
It feels to me that this year we have had a
really good journey through Lent leading up to Easter today.
We started with the Ash Wednesday service
here, and then started a very successful Lent Course with the Churches
Together in Newmarket,. Very well supported by members of this Parish.
Susan’s instigation of a daytime session at The Stable in the centre of
Newmarket worked very well, as did the evening sessions at P&E.
Also, during Lent also we had our Parishes
Away Day at Clare Priory, when 28 of us from Exning parish, and from St
Marys & St Agnes got together to enjoy fellowship and to worship
Our discussions entitled ‘Growing in God
Together’ were very wide-ranging, and by the end of the Day we had
reached some Conclusions about areas of our church life that would be
good to Focus on.
Two important themes that emerged were that
the need for More Prayer, and for better Communications between
ourselves and with our local communities.
And of course last week was Palm Sunday, with
another visit from Midnight the Donkey, and then we entered Holy Week,
which again has been particularly rich this year.
Maundy Thursday saw 200 children from Exning
School, and their parents, here in St Martin’s for their Easter Service.
And then in the evening we had our own version of the Passover Meal here
Good Friday started with the two events at
P&E – the Quiet Hour at Midday, followed by the Final Hour led by the
And then on Good Friday evening here in St
Martin’s we were treated to Christine’s Good Friday Reflections based on
the Life of the Virgin Mary, and Mary’s experiences as a Mother
following Jesus from the Cradle to the Grave. I am sure that all of us
who were there were deeply moved by this story told with Readings,
Poems, Images and wonderful music and Singing. I understand that
Christine has already had some ideas for next year, and I for one look
forward to that.
And yesterday evening we had the Easter Vigil
and Service of Light when we brought the light of Christ, in the form of
the lighted Paschal Candles into St Martin’s, and at last we were able
to celebrate the Joy of the Resurrection, by shouting ‘Christ is Risen’.
Easter is the most important Festival in the
Christian Calendar – not Christmas, as many people outside the Church
If Easter didn’t happen, if Jesus had not
been raised from the dead, there would be no reason to celebrate his
As St Paul so clearly says in 1 Corinthians
Ch 15 v 17:-
“If JesusChrist has not been raised,
then our faith is futile, we are still in our sins”
At the end of Our Gospel Reading this morning
we hear of the Joy which Mary Magdalene experienced when she saw her
risen Lord. She ran off to the other Disciples shouting ‘I have seen the
In this version of the Easter story from
John’s Gospel, Mary Magdalene is the first to appear on the scene – we
are told it was still dark on the first day of the Week.
People believed that the dead person’s spirit
remained in the vicinity of the Tomb for three days, so they would have
commonly have visited the tomb during the first three days after burial.
However, the Jewish Sabbath Regulations
prohibited such visits on the Sabbath, so the earliest that Mary could
visit was after sun had gone down on the Sabbath (our Saturday evening).
Mary saw that the Stone had been removed from
the entrance to the Tomb – it appears that she didn’t look inside, but
she assumed that someone had taken Jesus’ body away.
Just imagine how she must have felt – the
emotional impact of finding that the grave of a loved one had been
desecrated. She would have been shocked and horrified.
So she runs off to find Simon Peter, and what
is described as the Disciple whom Jesus loved, who we assume was John.
They both run to the Tomb, but as John was much younger, or perhaps
much fitter, he gets there before Peter.
John looks inside the Tomb, saw the linen
cloths lying there but doesn’t go in.
Apparently the opening of the Tomb would have
been only about three feet, say a metre high, so he would have had to
bend down. Presumably they had candles so that they could see inside.
Then of course, Peter comes along and in
typical style doesn’t hesitate to actually go into the Tomb to check for
himself – and of course he finds the abandoned grave clothes – and the
cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head was folded up separately.
Then John also goes inside to satisfy himself that Jesus body is not
At this stage it didn’t occur to any of them
that Jesus had risen from the dead. They just thought that someone had
stolen the body.
It seems that Peter and John then went away,
but Mary Magdalene remained at the Tomb weeping – and she bent over to
look into the Tomb, and saw two angels in white, one sitting at the head
and one at the foot of where Jesus body lay.
The angels spoke to her, and asked her why
she was crying - and Mary responds with those words which seem so
familiar from the Easter Story:-
‘They have taken my Lord away – and I don’t
know where they have laid him’
And then Mary turned round from looking into
the Tomb, and saw a man standing there, who she assumes is the Gardener.
He asks her:-
Woman, why are you crying ?
And she responds, rather accusingly:-
‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me
where you have put him, and I will go and fertch him’
Then that word from Jesus which changes
everything. He calls her by name – saying ‘Mary’. She immediately
recognised his voice, and says ‘Rabboni’ or Teacher.
A wonderful moment.
But as you can imagine, Mary wants to grab
him and give him a big hug – but Jesus says:-
‘Don’t hold on to me, because I have not yet
ascended to the Father’ – and tells her to go and tell the other
Which of course she does, shouting ‘I have
seen the Lord’.
You can just imagine the excitement in her
The agony of seeing the Crucifixion, Jesus
limp body being taken down and buried, and then suddenly there he is
standing in front of her, and in his familiar voice calling her name.
Very quickly her emotions change from great Despair to great Joy.
As we celebrate the Joy of Jesus Resurrection
today, as Mary Magdalene did on that first Easter Day there are a number
of people in our congregations who are suffering at the moment.
For them they are still suffering with Jesus
on Good Friday, and have to wait for their Resurrection moment, whether
in this world or the next.
They can be assured that God is with them –
he knows all about Suffering. Before we could experience the Forgiveness
of Sins, His son Jesus Christ gave himself as a Sacrifice for us by
dying on the Cross.
So in the joy of this Easter Day,
let’s spare a thought, and our prayers for
those who are suffering today,
whether in our own congregations, our own
families, or those affected by recent events in the World – the bombings
in Brussels, the continuing War in Syria, and those Refugees desperately
seeking to find a safe place to live.
Remembrance Sunday (Address 8 November 2015)
REMEMBRANCE SUNDAY 2015
and Armistice Day itself, 11th November, which falls on
Tuesday this year, have been an important part of the life of our
nation – since it was first inaugurated by King George V in 1919,
following the end of the First World War.
Of course the First
World War was not the first War that this country had been involved in –
there had been many conflicts over the centuries, but nothing that
involved the vast loss of life in the years 1914 to 1918. Hardly any
family in this country was not affected in some way.
One of my uncles
died in Iraq and a great uncle died in Belgium. And in fact my
Grandfather died some years later as a result of the conditions he was
living in while serving in Egypt. I expect most of you here can tell a
Although I only arrived here in Exning
in January this year, I know that on this very day last year 8th
November, over 100 Exning residents were out in force to take part in
the Re-enactment of the Enlistment that took place 100 years ago, and
particularly to remember the young men of Exning who gave their lives
for this country. There is a wonderful selection of photos recording
that very special event, both on the Parish website, and in the Books on
Display at the back of the Church.
I know that a
tremendous amount of work went into making it such a successful event,
thanks to John Saville and others who put it all together.And the book
‘Exning Remembers’ written by Tony Pringle provides details of the 80
men of Exning who sacrificed their lives, and lots of other interesting
local information and photos.
One particular link
in that Book with this Church is the story of Lieutenant Kenneth Perry,
who was killed in action on 1st November 2016. His home was
at Harraton Lodge, Exning – just round the corner from here, and in his
memory his Widow presented to Exning church, the impressive Processional
Cross which we are using today.
As a follow on to
the Re-enactment last year, each month since then a separate sheet has
been included in our weekly Church news-sheet, with a reminder of those
who died in a particular month during the War, giving their names,
addresses, rank and regiment. A stark reminder of how deeply it would
have affected the local community here in Exning. And you will see that
Kenneth Perry is included in this month’s mauve sheet, showing those who
died during the month of November.
Last year, in 2014,
we were all reflecting on the onset of the First World War 100 years
ago, which started on 4th August 2014.
It is interesting
to note that it was only 7 days after that date, on 11th
August 2014, that the famous poster with Lord Kitchener pointing at the
reader and saying ‘Your Country Needs You’ was published. Following the
publication of that poster, 100,000 men enlisted in the first two weeks,
and nearly half a million signed up during September. These were all
volunteers – conscription wasn’t introduced until 2016.
As we are now a
year further on from the Commemorations in 2014, we might perhaps focus
more closely on the events that took place 100 years ago this year, in
From an East
Anglian point of view, in January 1915, the first Zeppelin bombs in this
country fell on Great Yarmouth and Kings Lynn. The first Zeppelin raid
on London came in May of that year - making the nation realise how
vulnerable the capital was to a direct attack by Germany. In 1915 also,
the Germans used Poison Gas for the first time – at the Second Battle of
Ypres in April 1915.
extraordinary fact is that at the end of October 1915, Steel Helmets
were introduced at the British Front for the first time. It seems
unbelievable, looking back now, that our troops would - up until then-
have been fighting on the front line wearing only soft army hats.
October 1915 also
saw the tragic Execution of the British Nurse Edith Cavell, executed by
German firing squad for helping Prisoners of War escape from Belgium to
Holland.This event was remembered this year, on the 100th
anniversary of the date when she was executed. 12th October
Edith Cavell, as I
expect you all know came from our neighbouring County of Norfolk. In
fact, when I was at Primary School in West Norfolk, one of the school
houses was named after her, as a Norfolk heroine. You may have seen her
Memorial outside Norwich Cathedral.
initially trained as a Nurse at the London Hospital, then after 10
years of nursing practice, she was asked by the Surgeon to the Belgian
Royal Family to set up a Nursing School in Brussels. So she went off to
Brussels in 1907 – 7 years before the outbreak of War. Her Nursing
School became a model of good practice, with a reputation for high
standards of training.
When in 1914,
German troops marched into Brussels, she was determined to remain there.
She told her nurses:-‘Any wounded soldier must be treated, friend or
foe. Each man is a father, husband or son’.
Then, one day, two
wounded British soldiers came to her door – she hid them, gave them
nursing care, and helped them to escape. This work escalated, and she
became a central figure in a large resistance network, helping large
numbers of prisoners to get to freedom. In June 1915, her Nursing School
was searched, she was arrested and interrogated and sentenced to
execution by firing squad.
A priest from the
local Anglican Church took Communion to her in her cell. He said to her
‘We shall remember you as a heroine and a martyr’ – to which she
‘Don’t think of me
like that – think of me as a Nurse who tried to do her duty’
Edith Cavell had a
deep Christian faith. Her favourite book - which she would have had with
her in her condemned cell – was ‘The Imitation of Christ’. A devotional
book written in the 15th Century by Thomas a Kempis. I have a
copy here, which is dated 1900 – so I guess it would have been very
similar to the one that Edith Cavell would have been reading in those
fateful hours before her execution.
provoked public outrage in this country, and the British Government
exploited her death as Propaganda. ‘Remember Edith Cavell’ became an
Army Recruitment slogan, and in the following eight weeks recruitment
Although the 100th
Anniversary of this and other events during the First World War have
drawn our attention to that particular conflict, our armed forces have
of course been involved in a number of other War situations in the years
since then – not least in the Second World War (when another 25 men from
Exning died), but also in Korea, Aden, Northern Ireland, Iraq and
The numbers of
lives lost may not have been as great as in the First World War, but for
every individual who has lost their life serving their country, there is
a grieving family whose lives have been devastated. And for every life
that is lost, there are many more who return home maimed for life,
either physically or mentally. In the First World War, it’s estimated
that nearly 2 million British & Commonwealth soldiers returned Wounded.
And similarly in the more recent conflicts, large numbers of our
service men and women have returned home wounded in mind or body.
Just over a year
ago, we withdrew from Afghanistan after 13 years, but during that time
453 service personnel were killed, and many more very seriously wounded.
For them the toll of their war service on their physical and mental
The reality of this
was really brought to life for me by the TV programme DIY SOS a few
weeks ago. They were renovating a whole street of houses in Manchester
for War Veterans. As you probably heard, Princes William and Harry got
involved with this project, and the programme highlighted one particular
Veteran from Afghanistan – a triple amputee.
He lost both legs
and one arm when an IED exploded. A young man with a wife and young
family, who came back from Afghanistan with his life changed for ever.
His greatest desire was to be able to get upstairs, so that he could
read bed-time stories to his children. His newly renovated house will
have a lift so that he can do that.
As the world
continues to be a very dangerous place, our men and women in the forces
today have no idea where the next theatre of war will be.
We have been
fortunate enough in this country to live in peace for the last 70 years,
and we all look forward to that time when people living in other parts
of the world will be able to have the same experience.
As we watch the
news on TV, and read our newspapers, we see the people of Syria and
other countries in conflict, desperately fleeing in the hope of finding
peace for themselves and their families in another country.
As we heard in our
Bible reading this morning:-
‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God’
No nation wants to be at War, so we must pray for all those who seek to
maintain peace in the world.
The Prophet Micah writes in the Old Testament:-
‘God shall judge
between many peoples
arbitrate between strong nations far away
they shall beat
their swords into ploughshares
and their spears
into pruning hooks;
nation shall not
lift up sword against nation
neither shall they
learn war any more’
So today - as we
remember the courage and bravery of those who have given their lives in
the service of this country, our prayer must be that those prophetic
words of Micah will become true, and that the world will become a more
peaceful place, so that there will no longer be any need for people to
sacrifice their lives in war.
POWER OF JESUS’ NAME (Sermon 27th Sept 2015) Andrew Rycraft
This morning I would like to talk about
the Power of Jesus’ Name.
When we say our prayers, we usually end
them by saying something like – we pray this ‘in Jesus’ name’ Or at the
end of our Intercessions, we all say:-
Merciful Father, accept these prayers
for the sake of your Son, our Saviour Jesus Christ.
And why do we do that ? – because Jesus
said in John’s Gospel Ch 14 v13:-
‘And I will do whatever you ask in my
name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father’
And there are lots of hymns involving
Jesus’ name. Can you think of any ?
At the name of Jesus, every knee shall
bow All hail the power of Jesus Name
How sweet the name of Jesus sounds, in
a believer’s ear Jesus, name above all names
Chorus – ‘and in Jesus’ name’
And the power of Jesus’ name is what our
Gospel reading is about today. The Apostle John says to Jesus:-
‘Teacher, we saw someone driving out
demons in your name, and we told him to stop, because he was not one of
And how does Jesus’ respond ? He says
‘Do not stop him, for no one who does a miracle in my name can in the
next moment say anything bad about me’
It seems that the Disciples were quite
jealous of their status as one of Jesus’ chosen twelve. We are told in
Mark Ch 6 that Jesus called the Twelve together, and sent them out two
by two, and gave them authority over evil spirits. So the Disciples
thought that they had a special status – that they could invoke Jesus’
name to drive out evil spirits, but assumed that no one else apart from
Jesus’ himself could do that.
And there are also shadows here of the
reading we had last week when the Disciples were arguing amongst
themselves as to who was the greatest among them.
And there is a lesson there for all of
us – as believers in Jesus Christ, we all have equal status in the sight
of God. Just because some of us wear dog collars, and go around wearing
funny clothes, that doesn’t mean that we are any more special than any
Just like Lay Elders or Churchwardens,
we just have a particular role in the church community.
When anyone prays in Jesus’ name, those
prayers are heard by God. And that’s what Jesus was saying to his
Disciples, when he said:-
‘For no one who does a miracle in my
name, can in the next moment say anything bad about me’
Then he goes on to say that wonderful
phrase: ‘for whoever is not against us is for us’
And that is also very important for us,
in the church to remember. It’s very easy for us to criticise other
Christians who behave differently from us – to think that our way of
worshipping God is the only right way of doing it. The Church, as the
Body of Christ here on earth takes many forms – it might be Protestant,
Catholic, Pentecostal etc. etc. but they are all worshipping in the name
of Jesus. That’s why organisations like the ‘Churches together in
Newmarket’ are so important. Christians from all denominations working
together – in the name of Jesus.
This afternoon, John will be
Commissioned as a Lay Elder, and Marion, Cheryl and Patsy will be
Re-commissioned as Lay Elders for another three years. For all four of
them this will be another staging post in their Christian life –
fulfilling a particular function in the Parish – but they will all be
doing it in the power of Jesus’ name.
Our first Bible reading this morning
from the Letter of James seems to me to be particularly relevant,
because it uses the word ‘Elder’ in relation to praying for the sick. It
‘Is anyone among you sick ? Let them
call the Elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil
in the name of the Lord (again here a reference to the importance of the
name of Jesus).
Lay Elders of course help with leading
our services, and they do also have a Pastoral role, in practical ways,
and in listening to and praying for and with people.
But coming back to my previous point, it
doesn’t matter who we are, or what label we have, if we believe in Jesus
Christ, we can pray in the Power of His name.
If you were listening to the Gospel
reading just now, you might have been rather concerned about some of the
wording – it does sound rather harsh and extreme. For instance, it
‘If your hand causes you to stumble, cut
it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to
go into hell, where the fire never goes out’.
It also talks about cutting your foot
off, and plucking out your eye. This doesn’t sound at all like the
compassionate Jesus, as we understand him.
I think the only explanation is that
Jesus here, as in other passages in the Gospels is using metaphors and
hyperbole to make a point. He is exaggerating to gain our attention.
Then Jesus goes on to say:-
‘If anyone causes one of these little
ones – those who believe in me – to stumble, it would better for them if
a large millstone were hung around their neck, and they were thrown into
So what are we to make of all that ?
Again I think Jesus’ is exaggerating to make a point.
One of the Bible commentaries I read,
says that when Jesus talks about ‘these little ones’ he is talking about
new Christians – those who are still babies in their Christian faith.
And he is warning his Disciples, and us, that we must be careful
not to say things to these new Christians which would make them stumble
in their faith. We must encourage them in any way we can.
And when Jesus talks about cutting off
hands etc – he is talking in metaphors. Fortunately, he doesn’t mean
that we should literally be chopping off our hands.
Somebody suggested that we might
re-phrase Jesus words to say:-
‘If it costs an arm and a leg to resist
temptation, then it’s worth it’.
In other words, we need to cut off bad
habits, resentments or anything that stands between us and God.
What I would like you to remember from
this sermon is just simply:-
’The Power of Jesus’ name’
and to know that when you say your
prayers ‘In Jesus name’ they will be heard.
And to remember that anyone who truly
calls on the name of Jesus is a Christian, just like us,
regardless of what denomination they belong to.
Towards the end of John’s Gospel, in Ch
21, it sums up by saying:-
‘Jesus did many other miraculous signs
in the presence of his disciples, which are recorded in this book. But
these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son
of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
September 6th, 2015 ~ St Mary's Patronal Service -- Andrew Rycraft
ST MARY’S PATRONAL
FESTIVAL 6TH SEPT 2015
Firstly, thank you
to Father John for inviting me to preach at this special Patronal
Service -here in your beautiful St Mary’s Church.
It is always rather
daunting to preach from a strange Pulpit, and I am little nervous
preaching from this particular pulpit knowing that during the
seventeenth century, the then Rector, Robert Cook, died while preaching
in the Pulpit
won’t happen this evening. Although in the sense that Comedians die on
stage if nobody laughs at their jokes, I could suffer the same fate
As many of you may
be aware, I only moved to Exning in January – and prior to that I was
based in a rural parish in deepest, darkest Oxfordshire.
But, as it happens,
the main church which I looked after there was also dedicated to the
Blessed Virgin Mary, which makes it doubly special that I am here with
celebrate the Birth of the Virgin Mary on the 19th September,
for reasons that I haven’t got time to go into this evening. If you
would really like to know, please see me afterwards
The Virgin Mary is
of course the great example of humility and Godly obedience.
You will remember
that in the account of the Annunciation in Luke’s Gospel – the Angel
Gabriel appears to Mary, and informs her that she has found favour with
God, that she will conceive and bear a son, who will be called Jesus,
and he will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. He
will reign over the house of Jacob, and of his kingdom there will be no
And what is Mary’s
response ? – she asks how this can be when she is still a virgin, and
when the Angel explains that this will happen because the Holy Spirit
will come upon her, she simply says:-
‘Here am I, the
servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word’
example of obedience to God.
And of course Mary
did come from a very humble background, which she highlights in that
beautiful Song of Mary, the Magnificat, when she says:-
‘My soul doth magnify the Lord: and my
spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.
For he hath regarded: the lowliness of
For behold from henceforth: all
generations shall call me blessed.
For he that is mighty hath magnified
me: and holy is his Name’.
And then later on:-
‘He hath put down the mighty from
their seat: and exalted the humble and meek’
It is a very attractive image of
And talking of
Images, there is certainly no shortage of images of the Virgin Mary in
this Church !
Just before the
service, I did have a quick look round and found Fifteen representations
of the Virgin Mary, either on paintings, stained glass and sculptures.
Those of you who
know this church well will probably be able to point out some that I
I love the painting
at the back of the church - - of Mary and the baby Jesus, and Mary’s
cousin Elisabeth with the young John the Baptist. Painted by a follower
of Caravaggio – my favourite artist.
favourite image of the Virgin Mary is this Icon of Mary with the baby
SHOW ICON - Our
Lady of Vladimir. A 12th Century Russion Icon – the original
is in Moscow.
Of the 500 or so
churches in Suffolk, I understand that 150 are apparently dedicated to
the Virgin Mary. No other individual saint even reaches a third of that
Of course, the
dedications can vary – sometimes it’s the Assumption but usually, as
here, the dedication is celebrated on the Feast of the Nativity of the
Blessed Virgin Mary. Which of course is the 8th September,
and this is the nearest Sunday.
So why are so many
churches called St Mary’s ?
I think it must
stem from the so-called ‘Cult of Mary’ that developed in the Medieval
Church. Particular devotion to Mary was also enhanced, particularly in
this part of the world, by the Vision of Mary appearing to the
noblewoman Richeldis de Faverche at Walsingham in 1061.
I was aware that
you had a Parish pilgrimage to Walsingham back in July, but it’s only
recently that I have read about St Mary’s long association with
Newmarket was a
stopping point on the Pilgrimage route, and I understand that there was
back in the 13th Century a Chapel of the Blessed Virgin Mary
on this very site. Built for the benefit of Pilgrims on their way to the
Shrine of Our Lady at Walsingham.
For those of a
Catholic persuasion, The Virgin Mary is of course the one who intercedes
in our prayers, and that is illustrated in the use of the Hail Mary
Hail Mary, full of grace
the Lord is with thee
Blessed art thou amongst women,
and blessed is the fruit of thy womb,
Holy Mary, Mother of God,
pray for us sinners, now
and at the hour of our death. Amen
The Eastern Orthodox Church also hold
the Virgin Mary in high esteem. In fact they celebrate the Nativity of
the Virgin Mary on the same day as we do, on 8th September.
Their description of Mary is THEOTOKOS
– God bearer, a description I rather like. So they call this the ‘Feast
of the Nativity of our Most Holy Lady, the Theotokos’.
Like a number of
traditions which have developed during the life of the Christian church,
some of the traditions associated with the Virgin Mary are not supported
by anything that can be found in the Bible.
Today we are
celebrating the Birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary, but there is nothing
in Scripture about the birth of Mary or her parents. The names of Mary’s
parents, Joachim & Anna for instance come from the apocryphal ‘Gospel of
James’ which is not an accepted part of the canon of Scripture.
herself does appear a number of times in the Gospels:-
In Luke’s Gospel of
course we have the Annunciation of Mary, her visit to her cousin
Elizabeth, and then the Birth of Jesus, and the flight into Egypt.Then
there was the family pilgrimage to Jerusalem when Jesus was 12, and he
got left behind in the Temple.
performed his first Miracle, or Sign as John’s Gospel describes it – the
turning of water into wine at the Wedding in Cana, Mary was there.
Later in Jesus’
public ministry Mary appears with relatives outside a house, but Jesus
seems to give her a snub. In Matthew Ch 12, when told his mother and
brothers are outside, Jesus responds:-
‘Who is my mother,
and who are my brothers’ and pointing to the disciples, he says ‘Here
are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in
heaven is my brother and sister and mother’.
Then, there is no
mention of Mary in the Gospels until she appears again at the
As Jesus hung,
dying on the Cross, you will remember that he entrusts the care of his
Mother to John, the beloved disciple.
The last glimpse we
have of Mary is in Acts Ch 1 v14, where we are told:-
‘The Apostles were
constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women,
including Mary, the mother of Jesus’
So not that many
references to Mary during the adult life of Jesus, but it seems unlikely
that she wasn’t there somewhere in the background. Sometimes we just
have to apply our imagination to visualise the situation.
weren’t very far away from where Jesus had been brought up – in his home
town of Nazareth. It’s worth recalling that most of Jesus’ ministry here
on earth took place in the region of Galilee – a relatively small area.
Places like Nazareth, Cana and Capernaum are all within a radius of 20
miles or so, on the Western side of the Sea of Galilee.
During Jesus three
years or so of ministry, it seems inconceivable that his mother Mary was
not very much part of the story, despite the fact that she doesn’t often
get a mention. Not surprisingly, the Gospel writers concentrated on the
activities of Jesus himself.
When we see on our
television screens , the desperate Refugees who have fled to Europe from
Syria, it is sobering to look at the Map of the Holy Land and to see how
close Syria is to Galilee and the places where Jesus walked. Mary, of
course, would have related to today’s desperate Refugees from the Middle
Remember how after
the Birth of Jesus in Bethlehem, an Angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph
in a dream and said ‘Get up, take the child to Egypt, and remain there
until I tell you’. So Mary and Joseph, and the Baby Jesus became
Refugees in a foreign country, until it was safe for them to return.
What can we learn
today from the example of the Blessed Virgin Mary:-
Three things I
believe – Faith, Humility & Obedience.
1. FAITH: To
remember the Words of the Angel Gabriel at the Annunciation – ‘nothing
will be impossible with God’. It is tempting for us to try and put human
limits on what we think God can do.
2. HUMILITY: Mary’s
example of a loving mother from a humble background, whose love was
unconditional, and who followed her son in his ministry, and ultimately
to his death on the Cross. Always humbly there in the background,
knowing that she had borne the Son of God.
Mary’s obedience to God. As soon as the Angel Gabriel explained to her
that she was to conceive the Son of God by the Holy Spirit, she
immediately accepted the situation – ‘let it be with me according to
your word’. We can’t begin to emulate her purity, but we can respond
willingly to whatever God is calling us to do.
I would like to
conclude by praying what is believed to be the Church’s oldest prayer to
Our Lady (translated from the Greek):-
O Mother of God
we take refuge
in your loving care.
let not our plea to you pass unheeded
in the trials that beset us,
but deliver us from danger
for you alone are truly pure
are truly blessed.
TIME OUT FOR GOD’ -- July 19th
~ Seventh Sunday after Trinity
-- Andrew Rycraft
‘TAKE TIME OUT FOR GOD’
My theme for today is ‘Take Time Out for God’ – or as it says in our
Offertory Hymn today ‘Take time to be Holy’.
It is not easy these days as we get ourselves so busy with various
activities, and we are bombarded by Television, Computers, Tablets,
Smartphones etc. There always seems to be something to take our
attention. But what can be more important than spending time with God ?
– it’s so easy to crowd him out of our lives.
We do need to take time for Him, and we need to Listen to what he is
trying to tell us.
Those of you who know about the Rule of St Benedict will know that the
very first word of the Rule is ‘Listen’. It says:-
‘Listen carefully – to the master’s instructions, and attend to them
with the ear of your heart’
For anyone who is not familiar with the Rule it was written by St
Benedict in the 6th Century, and it is the rule by which
Benedictine Monks & Nuns and many other Christian religious communities
throughout the world live by, even today.
So taking time out for God and listening to Him should be an important
part of our lives as Christians.
As most of you know, I have just come back from two weeks holiday, and
this is very much the holiday season. But most of us forget that the
word Holiday comes from Holy Day, days that were specifically related to
a Festival or Saints Day. A time to be with God.
You may wonder how this relates to today’s Bible readings – apart from
the fact that I have just come back from a lovely quiet relaxing holiday
You might want to grab your pew bible at this stage – and find Mark Ch
My theme of ‘Take Time Out for God’ does in fact relate directly to
today’s Gospel passage from Mark Ch 6.
You may have noticed that we have been looking at passages from Mark Ch
6 for the last three weeks. As I have probably mentioned before, Mark’s
Gospel is packed full of action, and Ch 6 is no exception.
Two weeks ago, we started at the beginning of Ch 6, and had Jesus in his
home town of Nazareth preaching in the Synagogue, and the locals took
offence at him saying ‘Is this not the Carpenter, son of Mary, brother
of James etc’ and Jesus says to them in verse 4:-
‘Prophets are not without honour, except in their home town, and among
their own kin’
And in the same reading, verse 7 onwards, Jesus calls together the
twelve Apostles and sends them out two by two, giving them authority
over the unclean spirits. And we are told in v 12 that they went out and
proclaimed that all should repent. They cast out demons, and anointed
with oil many who were sick and cured them.
Last week, you had verses 14-29, the story of the beheading of John the
Baptist, but today’s reading starts at verse 30, and it really continues
the story from the week before.
At the Family Service a few weeks ago I remember Susan saying that
Mark’s Gospel often contains a series of sandwiches, stories within
stories – and the Story of the Beheading of John the Baptist is an
example of that – squeezed in between the account of the Apostles being
sent out by Jesus, and their return.
So as you’ll see in verse 30 it says:-
‘The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all that they
had done and taught’
You’ll remember that Jesus had sent his Apostles out in two by twos –
not in 4x4s
- and now they were reporting back to him.
But because there were so many people milling around, and Jesus could
see how exhausted his Apostles were, and that they hadn’t even had a
chance to eat, he says to them in the final part of verse 31:-
‘Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest’ – which
of course is where my theme comes from. Jesus taking his Apostles away
to a quiet place.
And as we read in verse 32:-
‘They went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place’ – but
sadly in their case, it wasn’t solitary for long – because many of the
crowd who had been following Jesus recognised them and ran around the
Lake of Galilee to get to the other side before they did .
According to William Barclay, in his bible commentary on this passage,
at this particular place it would have been four miles across the Lake
by boat, and ten miles round the top of the lake on foot.
On a windless day, or with the wind against you in the boat, an
energetic person could walk round the top of the lake and be there
before the boat arrived. And this is exactly what happened; and when
Jesus and his disciples stepped out of the boat, the very crowd from
which they had sought some peace was waiting there for them.
Jesus could have been angry with the crowd, but he wasn’t. His heart
goes out to them.
As it says in verse 34, he ‘had compassion for them’ – the Greek word is
in fact much more earthy than that, expressing the wrenching of internal
organs – we might say gut-wrenching. He just couldn’t be angry with them
or ignore them.
On this occasion, Jesus’ desire to take himself and his Apostles off to
a quiet place is scotched by the crowd desperate to see him, but the
desire was there and we know that on many occasions Jesus did take
himself off to be alone with his Heavenly Father. To be spiritually
restored, and prepared for what lay ahead.
As a parish, I believe we need to ‘Take time out for God’ – there are a
lot of exciting possibilities for the future, but we need to be careful
that we don’t try to do too much.
Anything we do for God must be done well, and we need, as St Benedict
tells us, to Listen to God.
And as it says in Psalm 27:-
‘Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labour in vain’
We can only discern God’s will, as his people, if we take time for him,
pray together and listen to him.
When I say ‘Listen’ – of course I don’t mean that we will necessarily
audibly hear his voice.
But God does speak to us in so many ways – it might be through the words
of Scripture, it may be though what someone else says, or it may be in
many different ways that we feel that we are being nudged in a
And we have to be open to changing our minds. Our initial ideas may not
be right, in which case we have to lay those down and go back to prayer.
Yesterday a number of us were here for our Parish ‘In Day’ – when we
looked at various practical aspects of our Worship, to see ways that we
can enhance the quality of what we do here on Sundays. I hope that
people found that helpful.
Following on from that, I would like to encourage short periods of
prayerful silence during our Communion services – for instance after the
Bible readings and after the Sermon.
Just a short opportunity to reflect on the readings, and on the Sermon,
before moving on to the next thing. I know to a certain extent this is
done already, but I just want to encourage that, and explain why we do
There is also a quiet prayerful time after the distribution of
Communion, while the Priest is doing the ablutions and clearing up at
These quiet times, although short, are a time when we can connect with
God, and perhaps hear his voice.
Having had the Parish ‘In Day’ I would like us now to consider having a
Parish ‘Away Day’.
As part of my theme for today of ‘Taking Time out for God’ I think it
would be good if we could, like Jesus said to his Disciples ‘Come with
me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest’.
The Away Day would be a time for Fellowship, Quiet Prayer and Reflection
on the future of the Parish. If anyone has any ideas as to Location, and
when this should take place, please let me know. We don’t have to rush
into it – it could be in some months time.
I would like to conclude by reading to you the very meaningful words of
the Hymn I mentioned at the beginning ‘Take time to be holy’ – if you
want to follow the words as I read it, it’s number 625 in Mission
to be holy, speak oft with thy Lord;
Abide in Him always, and feed on His Word.
Make friends of God’s children, help those who are weak,
Forgetting in nothing His blessing to seek.
to be holy, the world rushes on;
Spend much time in secret, with Jesus alone.
By looking to Jesus, like Him thou shalt be;
Thy friends in thy conduct His likeness shall see.
to be holy, let Him be thy Guide;
And run not before Him, whatever betide.
In joy or in sorrow, still follow the Lord,
And, looking to Jesus, still trust in His Word.
to be holy, be calm in thy soul,
Each thought and each motive beneath His control.
Thus led by His Spirit to fountains of love,
Thou soon shalt be fitted for service above.
Rycraft (Revd) 19th July 2015
Pentecost 2015 -- Andrew
PENTECOST 24TH MAY 2015
Pentecost is often
described as the Birthday of the Church – that’s when Christianity took
off – when the Disciples were dramatically filled with Holy Spirit.
Why is Pentecost
called Pentecost ?
Anyone who was here
on Ascension Day might remember that I explained the reason that
Ascension Day was always on a Thursday was because it is 40 days after
Easter. And here we are 10 days later at Pentecost (50 days after
Pentecost was in
fact one of the three great Jewish pilgrimage festivals – these were
Passover, the Feast of Tabernacles and Pentecost.
As many as 180,000
people flocked into Jerusalem for these Festivals – two thirds of which
came from other countries. So it was in this context, with all these
people milling around in Jerusalem, that the dramatic outpouring of the
Holy Spirit took place.
If you look at
today’s reading from Acts, you will see how dramatic it was:-
‘When the day of
Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound
like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole
house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of
fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were
filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the
Spirit enabled them.’
It’s difficult for
us to imagine what an extraordinary event this was – remember that the
Disciples were all together in one place – they were inside a house. It
could even have been in the Upper Room where they shared the Last Supper
with Jesus, and also where he appeared to them after the Resurrection,
once without Thomas and then a week later when Thomas was there.
SHOW PICTURE – this
is one idea of what the scene might have looked like – with the tongues
of fire resting on each of the Disciples.
They were all
filled with the Holy Spirit - and they were speaking in other languages.
And there must have
been quite a lot of noise coming from this house, because it attracted
the attention of passers-by. And as it says the crowd assembled outside
this house in bewilderment - a lovely word – bewilderment. They were
bewildered because they realised that when they heard the sound of
voices coming from the house, they were speaking in their own languages.
And we are told that this was a crowd of God-fearing Jews from every
nation under heaven.
The reading then
lists all the countries they are from – Parthians, Medes, Elamites,
residents of Mesopotamia, Judaea and Cappadocia etc. etc. I won’t read
them all, but if you look at where these countries were, and their
modern equivalents – sadly there are currently some of the most troubled
parts of the Middle East – places like Syria, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Lebanon
& Palestine. And ironically in those same countries today Christians
are being persecuted for their faith.
But it was the
outpouring of the Holy Spirit on that Day of Pentecost, which led to
Christianity eventually spreading throughout the world. Christianity is
still the largest religion in the world, with 2.1 Billion followers –
and it’s growing all the time, particularly in places like China, Korea
and South America.
But the Spirit of
God didn’t just suddenly appear at Pentecost. It was there at the
beginning of Creation – in the second Chapter of Genesis v7 it says:-
‘then the Lord God
formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils
the breath of life; and the man became a living being’
And then it was
God’s spirit which inspired Moses and all the great prophets. But the
big difference on the Day of Pentecost was that instead of God sending
his Spirit to the chosen few – on that day it became available to all
And it is the Holy
Spirit which enables Peter and all the apostles to boldly preach the
Good News of Jesus Christ.
Remember that these
were just simple fishermen, not in any way used to speaking in public –
but on the Day of Pentecost, Peter and the Apostles came out the house
where the Holy Spirit had descended on them in tongues of fire, and
Peter stood up in front of this large crowd, and addressed them in a
loud voice, saying:-
‘Fellow Jews and
all you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen
carefully to what I say. These people are not drunk, as you suppose.
It’s only nine in the morning !’ – and then he goes on to refer to what
the prophet Joel had said about God pouring his Spirit on all people’
The reason that
Peter says they are not drunk is that because some people in the crowd,
having heard what was going on in the house, thought they must have had
‘too much wine’
Some of you might
have heard of the book called ‘Nine o clock in the morning’ by Dennis
Bennett. It is referring directly to Peter’s comment – and it’s about
Dennis Bennett’s church in America – an ordinary Anglo-Catholic Church
that was transformed in the 1960s by the coming of the Holy Spirit.
The significance of
Peter referring to it as ‘only nine o clock in the morning’ was
apparently because this was the hour for morning prayer, before which a
Jew would not have eaten, and would certainly not have been drinking
reading from John gives us the background to the arrival of the Holy
Spirit at Pentecost. Jesus says to his disciples:-
When the Advocate
comes, whom I will send to you from the Father – the Spirit of truth who
goes out from the Father – he will testify about me. And you also must
testify, for you have been with me from the beginning.
And in Luke’s
Gospel, the risen Christ had told his Disciples:-
‘Stay here in
Jerusalem until you have been clothed with power from on high’.
So it should have
been no surprise to them that something was going to happen, and they
would be empowered – but they probably had no idea how it would happen,
or exactly when.
translations of the Bible use different words to describe the Holy
Spirit – Advocate, Comforter, Helper, Friend etc.
Jesus had told his
Disciples before he was arrested that it was necessary for him to leave
them, because as he said ‘Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come
to you; but if I go I will send him to you’
So you can see that
it was all part of God’s plan.
What can we learn
today from what happened on the Day of Pentecost ?
I think there are
three specific pointers which it gives us:-
1. The first thing
that Peter did in talking to the crowd was to refer them to the words of
the prophet Joel – in other words referring directly to scripture. And
that’s what any of us who preach should be doing today – to preach and
teach starting with the Bible.
2. You may remember
that a bit later in Acts Ch 2 we are told that three thousand people
were baptised, and those new Christians apparently then devoted
themselves steadfastly to the Apostles teaching and Fellowship, in the
Breaking of Bread and Prayer.
And that’s an
excellent four point model for us as the Church today.
Fellowship, Breaking of Bread and Prayer.
3. It’s significant
that the Disciples came out from behind closed doors to meet the people
where they were.
And that’s what we
need to do as a Church – to get outside the Church and meet people where
they are. If we can’t get them into Church, we need to go out into the
Community where they are. I know a lot of that already goes on within
this Parish, but we can always do more.
Today was all about
The Holy Spirit, and next week will be Trinity Sunday, so again we will
be thinking about the Holy Spirit, and his role in the Trinity with the
Father & The Son.
But remember that
today, Pentecost, is the Birthday of the Church.
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