blog http://www.nottinghamchurches.org/articles/sermons-2/ St Mary’s Obit service 2017: Sermon by Rev. Christopher Harrison http://www.nottinghamchurches.org/articles/sermons-2/st-mary-s-obit-service-2017-sermon-by-rev-christopher-harrison/ <p><strong><span style="text-decoration: underline;">St Mary’s Obit service 2017:  Sermon by Rev. Christopher Harrison</span></strong></p> <p><strong><span style="text-decoration: underline;"> </span></strong></p> <p>Today we give thanks for and commemorate all those who, over the centuries, have made St Mary’s what it is today.  There have been many remarkable acts of generosity, both financial and other, and it is wonderful that this journey of renewal, development and enhancement is still continuing as vigorously as ever.  A tremendous church building like St Mary’s should be viewed not through the lens of the present day, but as the result of the many layers of history which make up its composite and complex structure.  Each generation has made its contribution and left its mark:  from the Saxons whose original church on this site has been completely lost, to the Normans, a few traces of whose building remain; and then those visionaries from the medieval period who were largely responsible for the building which we see today, drawing on the huge and far sighted munificence of those who gave massive sums of money for the wellbeing of church and city.  Much work was also done to the church in the Victorian period in particular; there was also the building of the Chapel of the Holy Spirit in the early 1900s, the substantial programme of cleaning and repairs which took place some years ago, and more recently the installation of the new floor and the renewal of the roof. These are only the major items in a long series of works to the building, and indeed the pace of such works shows no sign of slowing down.  It is not just the large works which matter; we have all benefited from the installation of the kitchen and lavatories, as well as, more recently, the new digital organ; the wonderful new display boards will enhance St Mary’s for years to come; and the essential works to the chapter house, the war memorial and steps, and various areas of masonry and stonework, largely hidden to most of us, have all been important. </p> <p> </p> <p>Sometimes we know the names of those who left their imprint on St Mary’s; but there are probably just as many, if not more, whose names are not held in any records.   We give thanks by name, later in the service, for some of the more significant benefactors, through whose generosity St Mary’s is what it is today; but we must also remember the multitude of donors now forgotten or unknown, whose contribution is no less significant, even if more modest in scale.  Legacies such as those in recent years from Miss Philips and Mrs Feaver; a range of local and national trusts and charities; and of course the substantial contribution of the Heritage Lottery Fund to the recent roof and heritage education project.  The Friends of St Mary’s, of course, continue to play a very active and important role in enhancing the church, and we look forward to the completion to the project to gild the nave roof angels.  The roles of our church architect, Peter Rogan, and our Fabric Committee, chaired by Paul Sibly, have been crucial in all of these recent projects, and we are greatly indebted to them for all their work over quite a few years now.</p> <p> </p> <p>So what should this ancient commemoration mean to us today?  It is a reminder, first, of the continuity of the history of this city and of the role of the Church within it. We are connected in a visible and tangible way with those who have gone before us here.  This is not mere sentimentalism or nostalgia for its own sake, a backward looking escapism from modern life.  This service recalls those, known and unknown, on whose shoulders we stand, both here in the Church and in the city as a whole.  These were people who played their part in constructing a system of social, economic, ecclesiastical and political institutions which took centuries to build, establishing precious freedoms and rights which are still the envy of many other countries.  We neglect their memory at our peril.</p> <p> </p> <p>And then just ponder, as you look around you, upon the scale of their generosity.  The costs of constructing this building in today’s money would be colossal. This was money which our benefactors chose not to spend on some huge country house and estate, but on a building which would enable God to be worshipped at the heart of Nottingham for years to come.  Our largest benefactors were, of course, people of substantial means.  But we, their spiritual descendants,  should still be roused and inspired by their huge generosity – not forgetting, also, all those who gave much less, but from more humble means, and in a spirit of personal sacrifice. </p> <p> </p> <p>This, of course, is not just any ordinary building. Those who designed and built St Mary’s, through the goodwill of its benefactors, were building to the glory of God as well as demonstrating the fruits of Nottingham’s prosperity.  They worked at the limits of architecture and of construction techniques, as well as new exploring new dimensions of beauty as expressed through the qualities of this church.  In our own generation, as I have reminded us, we are playing our own part in conserving and enhancing the beauty of St Mary’s church, as well as carrying out essential repairs and maintenance to the highest standards possible.  In doing so, we are leaving our own mark on the Church in such a way as to show that we also value beauty, art and architecture in a church context, especially when these are an expression of what is divine and not merely human.</p> <p> </p> <p>We should remember also, on this day, that one of the strengths of St Mary’s is that it also represents a coming together of church and city, of God and industry, the worlds of finance and of spirit.  For much of this nation’s history this was a natural partnership.  Today, however, we have to work harder to enable such a partnership to bear fruit, both in terms of the Church’s impact on society, and in order to gain the respect of the increasing numbers of people for whom God means little or nothing. St Mary’s has a long tradition of being at the heart of civic life in Nottingham.  This means being active in public debate on matters of local and wider importance.  It means that St Mary’s should be a building where people can come together as representatives of church and other faith groups, local governments, public and private sector organisations, and all those other institutions which make up our city.  I hope and pray that this key role of St Mary’s church will continue and indeed grow, in spite of all the pressures on us in this increasingly secular age.</p> <p> </p> <p>The inheritance left to us in the form of this great building is not an easy one to manage.  Our benefactors have left us, as we all know, with the responsibility of covering substantial ongoing costs, towards which there is no automatic help from public bodies.  I have referred already to some of those who play a key role in this.  I must also mention our vergers Michael Scott and Duncan Purves;  all those who give of their time to care for the building and keep it open to the public, and indeed all those donate towards its upkeep and enhancement. </p> <p>If we can’t give much money towards the upkeep of this church – although every pound counts – then let it be the time, the skills, the talents that we can give; for what really matters is the fact that we give of ourselves for the benefit of others and for the glory of God, rather than just keeping everything for ourselves.  We therefore thank you, Lord God, for all those who have given so fully and so generously to you here in this Church; may we be good stewards of the inheritance left to us, and equip us with the financial and spiritual resources necessary to hand it on to those who will follow in the years to come.  Amen. </p> Thu, 20 Jul 2017 14:12:11 +0200 http://www.nottinghamchurches.org/articles/sermons-2/st-mary-s-obit-service-2017-sermon-by-rev-christopher-harrison/ Sermon for the Service celebrating 100 years of Women in the Royal Navy 9th July 2017 http://www.nottinghamchurches.org/articles/sermons-2/sermon-for-the-service-celebrating-100-years-of-women-in-the-royal-navy-9th-july-2017/ <p><strong><span style="text-decoration: underline;">Sermon given by Rev Christopher Harrison at a service to mark One Hundred Years of Women in the Royal Navy</span></strong></p> <p><strong><span style="text-decoration: underline;">St Mary’s Nottingham 9<sup>th</sup> July 2017</span></strong></p> <p> </p> <p>Our celebration today is not just of an anniversary.  It is rather a celebration of a journey which has taken place over the last hundred years.  A journey which started with modest but brave beginnings, which has seen the role of women in the Royal Navy grow and develop, and reach a point which, today, represents a considerable distance travelled since those early days 100 years ago.</p> <p> </p> <p>The Women’s Royal Naval Service was founded in 1917, during the dark and difficult years of the First World War. There were not enough men for all the jobs within the Royal Navy.  But this came at a time when in society more widely, women were finding new roles and seeking greater opportunities.  The Suffragette movement was part of this movement for change.  It therefore seemed increasingly natural that women should take on certain responsibilities within the Royal Navy, albeit within a distinct organisation known as the Women’s Royal Naval Service, WRNS, or Wrens.  There were, however, clear limits as to the roles which those in the Wrens could take on, under the motto ‘Never at Sea’.  But these roles soon grew from the clerical, the catering and telephonist jobs to sail making, driving, maintaining aircraft, signalling and coding.  Some Wrens worked overseas during the First World War, in Malta, Gibraltar and Italy.  Numbers grew rapidly, and at the end of the war in 1918 the Wrens had around 5,000 ratings and nearly 450 officers. </p> <p> </p> <p>By the time the Second World War began in 1939, the roles and responsibilities undertaken by the Wrens grew further.  Wrens became wireless operators, meteorologists, cipher officers, supply officers and Boats’ Crew Wrens.  Some of these tasks required considerable technical skills.  There were those who worked with the Royal Marines; some worked in combined operations, including service on the continent of Europe following the D Day landings.  Serving as a Wren did not necessarily bring with it a guarantee of safety; in August 1941 21 Wrens were killed on board the SS Aguila, when it was torpedoed en route for Gibraltar.   By the end of World War 2, around 75,000 Wrens had served, playing an invaluable role in our nation’s war effort and making their unique contribution to the Allies’ victory.</p> <p> </p> <p>After the War, the journey continued.  In 1949, following the outstanding service of the Wrens in the war it was announced that the WRNS would become an integral part of the naval service, along with the Women’s Royal Naval Reserve, which was formed in 1952.  However, women remained excluded from seagoing, flying, and weapons training roles.  But this was to change, and the formal integration of women into the Royal Navy gradually took place over a number of years as from the 1970s.  The training of men and women became more and more integrated, and an increasing range of naval roles became open to women.  HMS Mercury welcomed its first female First Lieutenant in 1979.  In 1990, the Royal Navy asked Wrens – both officers and ratings – to volunteer for service at sea, and the first group joined HMS Brilliant in October of that year.  The Women’s Royal Naval Service was formally disbanded on 1<sup>st</sup> November 1993, with around four and a half thousand women integrated fully into the Royal Navy. </p> <p> </p> <p>No longer were women simply playing a supporting role; they could serve in the Royal Navy on equal terms with men.  It was not long before women in the Royal Navy were given the opportunity to combine a career with family life.  Women soon began to take up a range of key roles such as helicopter pilot, minewarfare and clearance diving officer, and members of the submarine service.  Women soon rose to senior positions in the Navy and there were those who secured honours such as the Green Beret and Military Cross.  Women have served in the Royal Navy in conflicts such as the first Gulf War, the Balkans, the 2003 Iraq War and in Afghanistan.</p> <p> </p> <p>We are proud, here at St Mary’s, to join in the national celebrations of 100 years of Women in the Royal Navy.  The last hundred years have seen a remarkable journey from the time of the first Wrens.  It can be said with some truth, I believe, that while the increasing role of women in our armed forces generally has in some respects gone hand in hand with wider social changes, it has also helped to drive those wider changes.  As women have shown so clearly, by their role in the armed forces, that traditional stereotypes no longer apply, this has actively contributed to the creation of new and more modern role models, in which women are not automatically seen as just taking on the supporting roles, with the more important jobs being kept for the men.  I have to say that in our own parish it has been splendid to have the wisdom and experience of Rachel Farrand, who was formerly a member of the Royal Naval Reserve; and also at St Peter’s Sarah Newby, who has recently been accepted for naval training.</p> <p> </p> <p>We heard references in our two readings today to the power of the ocean.  We are also reminded of this by the fact that today is Sea Sunday, the day when we remember and pray for all seafarers, especially any who are in particular need or distress.  And so we recall that any form of service at sea, whether military or civilian, brings us face to with forces which are far beyond any human control.  The ocean is a wonderful, exhilarating place; but it also reminds us of our human fragility.  We can use and enjoy the ocean, but we can never tame it.  In the same way, we can relate to God as individuals praying to our Creator, but we can never successfully challenge or thwart the mighty power of God, whose ways are very often not our ways.</p> <p> </p> <p>But it is also important for us to recall today the guiding hand of God who has enabled, slowly but surely, changes and developments to be made in the role of women in the Royal Navy which have surely contributed enormously to the life of our nation as well as to the position of women in society at large.  We give thanks for all the Wrens and other women who have served in the Navy over the last hundred years.  We pray for those who are just beginning in the honourable role of serving in the Royal Navy.  And we commend to God all people, women and men, who serve in our Royal Navy today, in their responsibilities of protecting our land, guarding our national interests, and helping to maintain peace in the world.  Amen. </p> Mon, 10 Jul 2017 15:36:34 +0200 http://www.nottinghamchurches.org/articles/sermons-2/sermon-for-the-service-celebrating-100-years-of-women-in-the-royal-navy-9th-july-2017/ Sermon for Pentecost http://www.nottinghamchurches.org/articles/sermons-2/sermon-for-pentecost-2/ <p><strong><span style="text-decoration: underline;">Sermon preached by Rev Christopher Harrison on Pentecost Sunday at St Mary’s Nottingham, 4<sup>th</sup> June 2017</span></strong></p> <p>Today is Whitsunday, or Pentecost.   Pentecost is the day when the Church celebrates the coming of the Holy Spirit on the first disciples, after Jesus had left this earth and returned to his heavenly Father. The word   ‘Pentecost’ comes from the Greek word for fifty, and this day is exactly fifty days after Easter (including the Sundays at the beginning of the period and at the end).   So Pentecost Sunday, depending as it does on the date of Easter, also changes its date from year to year.   In fact, Pentecost was a Jewish feast, which the Jews celebrated long before the first Christians adopted it - it was a feast of thanksgiving for the wheat harvest.   Whitsunday became the popular name for Pentecost in this country, because it was often a day on which baptisms took place - Whit meaning ‘white’, in old English, and referring to the white robes of baptism. </p> <p>So who or what is the Holy Spirit, whose coming we celebrate today?  Let’s try to build up a picture of the Holy Spirit, as he is seen at work in the New Testament.   The Holy Spirit assists with the conception of Jesus, through Jesus’ mother Mary; he is also with John the Baptist, from the time when he was still within his mother’s womb.   The Spirit, symbolised by a dove, is said to have descended on Jesus when he was baptised by John the Baptist. At the beginning of his ministry, Jesus quotes the prophet Isaiah, saying that the ‘Spirit of the Lord is upon me, anointing me to bring good news to the afflicted’.   Jesus casts out demons in the power of the Spirit.  He also refers to the ‘Spirit of truth’, contrasting life in the Spirit to life as governed by one’s lower nature.  Jesus urges his followers to be born of spirit, not of human nature. He says that when people receive the Holy Spirit they are ‘clothed with the power from on high’.</p> <p>At the Last Supper, as we hear in today’s gospel reading, Jesus promises to send the Holy Spirit to be with the disciples after he has left them.   He calls the Holy Spirit the ‘Counsellor’ - which is one translation of the original Greek word ‘paraclete’. The Holy Spirit, as ‘Counsellor’, will give the disciples guidance, inspiration, and the wisdom of God.   The word ‘paraclete’, however, has two more meanings.   One of these is that of ‘advocate’.   An advocate is a person who stands up for you, or defends you. So the Holy Spirit would speak through the disciples when they were persecuted.   The third meaning of the word ‘paraclete’ is ‘comforter’; which means that the Holy Spirit would also give the disciples strength and comfort in times of distress.   Jesus added that the Holy Spirit was the means whereby he would remain with the disciples after he had left this earth, saying that through the Spirit he would come back to them, and not leave them as orphans. Before ascending to heaven, he tells his disciples to go out to all nations and baptise people in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. </p> <p>The first of today’s readings, from the book of the Acts of the Apostles, tells how Jesus promise to send the Holy Spirit upon the disciples was fulfilled on the day of the first Christian Pentecost. This is the famous account of the Spirit’s coming like a mighty wind, a description which is connected with the idea of the Spirit being the breath of God.  On that occasion the Holy Spirit was also experienced in the form of tongues of fire resting on each of the apostles.  The apostles were given the power to speak in languages other than their own, so that people from many different races could hear about Christ in their own language. </p> <p> All these images of the Holy Spirit are not designed to be confusing - they are simply what we find in the Bible, and reveal how difficult it is to describe one who is beyond all description.   That being said, St. Paul is quite clear about what the Holy Spirit does:</p> <p>- The Holy Spirit pours the love of God into our hearts</p> <p>- The Spirit gives us new life:   ‘the harvest from the Spirit will be eternal life’ (Gal. 6.8)</p> <p>- The Spirit helps us to pray, by praying through us when we cannot pray ourselves</p> <p>- The Spirit sets us from the law of sin and death</p> <p>- The Spirit brings saving justice, peace and joy. </p> <p>In 1 Corinthians 12 St. Paul describes the Spirit as giving gifts to believers, different gifts to different people:   the gift of wise speech; the gift of faith; the gift of healing; the working of miracles; the gift of prophecy; the gift of speaking in different tongues and of interpreting these tongues.  In his letter to the church in Galatia, he explains how the Spirit also enables those in whom he dwells to bear spiritual fruit; such as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, truthfulness, gentleness and self-control.  </p> <p>I’ve set out how the Holy Spirit is described in the New Testament.   But does the Spirit still work among us in the same way today?   The answer is yes - and there should be no great surprise about this. Jesus said to his disciples that he would be with them until the end of time - the Holy Spirit is the way in which he brings this about.   The Holy Spirit is in fact none other than God himself at work within us, both as individuals and as a society; forever trying to draw us closer to God, if we will open our hearts, our minds and our lives to God, fully, sincerely, genuinely, intent upon hearing the voice of the Spirit of God within us. This response need not be spectacular or dramatic;   it does not require the fervour and emotional intensity of a pentecostalist or charismatic service. In fact, the Spirit’s work is usually more lasting if we keep sight of the immense mystery which lies at the heart of God, and allow this to quieten our hearts and minds so that we can little by little see the Spirit active in our lives, and hear the voice of the Spirit deep in our hearts. This is the voice which takes us beyond narrow self interest, to things which will be of wider benefit to our neighbours, to our church and community and to our world.   This is the power of God which creates the water of life welling up within us when we live lives which are rooted in prayer, and centred on God. It is the power which gradually gives us the gifts which nourish the fruits of the spirit which I quoted earlier - particularly faith, hope and love - the greatest being love. </p> <p>I’d like also to say that over the years, I have come to see the Holy Spirit as being the way in which God helps, guides, encourages us to lead lives which are in accordance with his purpose for us.  One of our main tasks here on earth is to discern the purpose which God has for us – ie why we are here – and to fulfil that purpose to the best of our ability.  This applies to us from our childhood to our later years; the purpose God has planned for us may of course go through several phases over this period.  But essentially, God, through the Holy Spirit, invites us to consider what we are doing with our life; how we are doing it; and the people with whom we are endeavouring to fulfil God’s purpose for us.  What, how, and with whom.  Every so often it’s important for us to stand back, reflect, think, pray, and ask ourselves how we think we are doing in relation to God’s purpose for us.  Do we think we have found that purpose?  If not, take the first step in trying to discover it.  Are we doing the various things that our life involves in a way which is in line with the teachings of Jesus, as set out in the New Testament?  Only we – and God – can know for sure.  And have we found the right people to be alongside us on our journey towards what God desires of us?</p> <p>On this Whit Sunday, we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles.   Their lives were dramatically transformed:  they became convinced of God’s purpose for them, and devoted their whole lives to God and were given the strength with which to do this.  Is this Whit Sunday a moment for you to think afresh, with the help of the Holy Spirit, about God’s purpose for you?  What, how and with whom?  Even though we are unlikely to experience a rushing wind or tongues of fire, the Holy Spirit is always present to those who desire and seek God; and, in our journey of purpose and faith, the breath of God will always be there as our advocate, our counsellor, and our strength.  Amen.</p> Tue, 20 Jun 2017 14:43:50 +0200 http://www.nottinghamchurches.org/articles/sermons-2/sermon-for-pentecost-2/ The various forms of Prayer http://www.nottinghamchurches.org/articles/sermons-2/the-various-forms-of-prayer/ <p><strong>The various forms of Prayer: Sermon preached by Rev Christopher Harrison atAll Saints’ Church, 16th October 2016</strong></p> <p>Jesus told the disciples a parable about the need to pray continually and never lose heart. A widow kept coming to a judge asking for justice against her enemy; for a long time he refused, but finally gave in. ‘I must give this widow her just rights since she keeps pestering me, or she will come and slap me in the face’.</p> <p>The Gospel writer describes this as a parable about the value of perseverance in prayer, as well as being an encouragement to the disciples to remain steadfast even if they were unable to see any signs of God granting them justice.</p> <p>Let’s look more closely at the Christian tradition of prayer. The impulse to pray seems to be part of what it means to be human. Prayer is a key element of all the major religions, in one form or another. Even though the different faiths of the world all have different beliefs about God, all take as one of their starting points the fact that prayer is important. Prayer, then, is a response to the awareness, however dim and poorly understood, that there is something, someone, some Being or Power greater than ourselves; and that something within us wants to relate to that Being – the Being who, of course, in the Christian tradition we call God. I’m not going to make detailed comparisons between the different religions, but as we look at what prayer is, and what it involves, it is worth bearing in mind that some aspects of prayer are similar across the various faiths, and this should be a source of mutual understanding and partnership.</p> <p>In the Christian tradition, there are four main forms of prayer: Adoration, Confession of Sin, intercession, and listening to God.</p> <p>(i) Adoration – this means remembering that God is the source and origin of all that is; God is Love, God is characterised by mercy and compassion, blessing and justice. Adoration, therefore, is a response to God’s goodness which involves us in thanking, praising, worshipping God. This may be something which is exuberant and emotional; it may also be an inner attitude which is calm and serene, in which we focus on God and God alone, perhaps through contemplation of an image of Christ or the Trinity, or something similar. Part of the prayer of adoration can be thanksgiving; showing gratitude to God for all those things in our lives which it is so easy to take for granted: health, family, security, shelter. Sometimes when things are difficult in our lives it can help us a lot to remember all the ways in which God blesses us. As today’s gospel reading reminds us, our prayers to God should help us not to lose heart, even when the struggles of life seem impossibly heavy. Sometimes as we cultivate an attitude of quiet adoration of God, we are able to put our self and our selfish concerns aside; and this is a good discipline as we try to cultivate the quality of leading a life which is not self-absorbed.</p> <p>(ii) Confession of sin, and asking God for forgiveness: However far we think we have travelled along the Christian path, there will always be aspects of our lives in which we fail God and one another. Simply by being human, we will always fall short of how we might ideally be in our relationships with one another and with God. Part of our regular prayer, therefore, must involve humbly acknowledging this, and seeking God’s forgiveness and guidance as we try to make amends and avoid falling into the same traps in the future. Humility is one of the core values of the Christian faith; if we don’t keep this in mind we will tend to forget that we all need to embrace and take into our lives the tremendous gift of God made to the world by the self-giving sacrificial death of Christ on the cross, taking upon his shoulders the consequences of the world’s sin and making a new reconciliation possible between God the world.</p> <p>(iii) Thirdly – intercession. This is, essentially, praying for other people. When we pray for someone, we can never tell what God’s purpose for them might be. Our prayers are, rather, an expression to God of our concern for them, offered not as an alternative to giving whatever practical help and support we can, but as an addition to this. Does intercessory prayer ‘work’? Prayer isn’t like one of those self-service machines for sweets, chocolate and drinks you get in hospitals, where you put in your money and your chosen item drops out with a ‘clunk’ in the tray at the bottom. When we pray for someone, it’s rather like focussing our love, care and concern towards them, in the faith that just as when we are showing care to a sick person by their bedside, our prayers, even if we are far away from the person concerned, somehow connect with them and with the love that God is showing them. Many times people have said to me how much they have been encouraged and strengthened by the prayers of others, even though they may not know exactly who is praying for them. And when we pray for groups of people in need, for communities, even countries, we may not ever know just what effect these prayers may have, but they should be part of our wider efforts to help build a society in which all may have the opportunity to be the person God wants them to be.</p> <p>(iv) Adoration, confession, intercession: fourthly, listening to God. Prayer shouldn’t be just a one-way street in which we just talk to God. Listening to what God is saying to us is just as important – and, some would argue, more so. It isn’t always easy to distinguish between what God is saying to us and what our own inner voice is telling us, and we must be careful not to rush into doing something just ‘because God has told me to do it’, without proper reflection and full consideration. But if we learn how to cultivate an inner stillness, it makes it easier to distinguish between those of our impulses and instincts which are selfish, and the voice of God guiding us towards a better path. We may also find that when we ask God for guidance in resolving a particular problem or difficulty, it may take some time before we see where God is leading us, and the way suddenly becomes clearer. We shouldn’t expect our approaches to God to be like just turning on a tap and the water comes out on demand; quite often answers to prayer are not given immediately, and we have to wrestle with the problem ourselves as well. And of course we must also be ready, if we are listening properly to God, to receive answers which are not always comfortable.</p> <p>Adoration, confession, intercession, listening to God: if we are take Jesus’ instructions to pray continually (something also echoed by St Paul), we need to cultivate the habit of making all of these forms of prayer part of our everyday life. Prayer isn’t just for Sundays. Prayer should, moreover, be rooted in Scripture, as well as being connected with our thinking and rational faculties; and with what the teaching of the Church in its ancient as well as more modern traditions can tell us. As we pray, we can use set prayers, prayers written by others, as well as prayers which come from ourselves. Our prayers are also a way in which the Holy Spirit works through us, helping us to pray, guiding us in prayer, and enabling us to become closer to God and one another through our prayers. So it’s up to each one of us to persevere in prayer – in particular not giving up when prayer seems difficult. The more we turn to God regularly in prayer, we should before long begin to see things in a new light, and to realise that our prayers are helping our relationship with God to deepen and mature, in ways, sometimes, that we did not expect. Being attentive to God in prayer also helps us to learn how to be more attentive to other people, and to appreciate more fully the journey through life that we share with all others. So let us not neglect to keep faithful in prayer, in all the ways I have outlined. Do not lose heart if the way sometimes seems hard; for it is also a great Christian truth that we have to lose ourselves in order to find ourselves; and we do this in the faith and sure knowledge that after the Cross comes Resurrection. Amen.</p> <p> </p> Mon, 17 Oct 2016 12:25:13 +0200 http://www.nottinghamchurches.org/articles/sermons-2/the-various-forms-of-prayer/ St Mary's Obit Service - Sermon http://www.nottinghamchurches.org/articles/sermons-2/st-mary-s-obit-service-sermon/ <p><strong>St Mary’s Obit service 2016 - Sermon by Reverend Christopher Harrison </strong></p> <p>When we look around us at this church in which we worship, what do you notice in particular? What is the building saying to you? You will no doubt be very aware of not just its size, but also its beauty; perhaps some of the details which you have come to know; the people who are commemorated in the monuments placed around the walls; or maybe the splendour of the windows. A building like St Mary’s can be seen in a variety of different ways; as well as being a church it is a monument, a great architectural achievement; an edifice which presents challenges to maintain. But we must also see it not just in the snapshot of the present day, but as the result of the many layers of history which make up this composite and complex structure. Sometimes we forget that each generation has made its contribution, left its mark: from the Saxons whose original church on this site has been completely lost, to the Normans, a few traces of whose building remain; and then those visionaries from the medieval period who were largely responsible for the building which we see today. But of course the work to enhance and develop the church continued through the centuries, with much being done in the Victorian period in particular, the building of the Chapel of the Holy Spirit in the early 1900s, and finally the installation of the new floor just a few years ago. Sometimes we know the names of those who left their imprint on St Mary’s; but there are probably just as many, if not more, whose names are not held in any records. We give thanks by name, later in the service, for some of the more significant benefactors, through whose munificence St Mary’s is what it is today; but we must also remember the multitude of donors now forgotten or unknown, whose contribution is no less significant, even if more modest in scale.</p> <p>So what should this ancient commemoration mean to us today? It is a reminder, first, of the continuity of the history of this city and of the role of the Church within it. We are connected in a visible and tangible way with those who have gone before us here. This is not mere sentimentalism or nostalgia for its own sake, a backward looking escapism from modern life. It recalls those, known and unknown, on whose shoulders we stand, both here in the Church and in the city as a whole. These were people who played their part in constructing a system of social, economic, ecclesiastical and political institutions which took centuries to build, establishing precious freedoms and rights which are still the envy of many other countries. We neglect their memory at our peril.</p> <p>And then just ponder, as you look around you, upon the scale of their generosity. The costs of constructing this building in today’s money would be colossal. This was money which our benefactors chose not to spend on some huge country house and estate, but on a building which would enable God to be worshipped at the heart of Nottingham for years to come. Our largest benefactors were, of course, people of substantial means. But we, their spiritual descendants, should still be roused and inspired by their huge generosity – not forgetting, also, all those who gave much less, but from more humble means, and in a spirit of personal sacrifice.</p> <p>This, of course, is not just any ordinary building. Those who designed and built St Mary’s, through the goodwill of its benefactors, were building to the glory of God as well as demonstrating the fruits of Nottingham’s prosperity. They worked at the limits of architecture and of construction techniques, as well as new exploring new dimensions of beauty as expressed through the qualities of this church. What will we do, in this generation, to conserve and even enhance the beauty of St Mary’s church? Can we leave our own mark on the Church in such a way to show that we too value beauty, good art and architecture, especially when these are an expression of what is divine and not merely human?</p> <p>We should remember also, on this day, that one of the strengths of St Mary’s is that it also represents a coming together of church and city, of God and industry, the worlds of finance and of spirit. For much of this nation’s history this was a natural partnership. Today, however, we have to work harder to enable such a partnership to bear fruit, both in terms of the Church’s impact on society, and in order to gain the respect of the increasing numbers of people for whom God means little or nothing. St Mary’s has a long tradition of being at the heart of civic life in Nottingham. This means being active in public debate on matters of local and wider importance. It means building relationships with those who make decisions on such issues. In this context I am honoured to have been asked to be chaplain to the new Lord Mayor of Nottingham, Cllr Mohammed Saghir, along with an imam whom he has also chosen. Although the tradition of a Lord Mayor’s service here in church seems to be no longer what the City wants, yesterday I was in fact part of the Lord Mayor’s procession to the Castle where his inauguration took place. I was invited to give a blessing for the city, following which the imam said some prayers; and in today’s somewhat tense climate this partnership was deeply symbolic of mutual goodwill.</p> <p>Those of us who worship here regularly have chosen to be stakeholders in St Mary’s, because we believe in the importance of this church, in spite of all the responsibilities which that entails. The inheritance left to us in the form of this great building is of course double edged; our benefactors have left us, as we all know, with the responsibility of covering substantial ongoing costs, towards which there is no automatic help from public bodies. In this respect I must pay special tribute to the unstinting work done by our churchwardens Paul Sibly and Martyn Jewers, our fabric committee, our architect Peter Rogan, the Executive Committee of the Friends of St Mary’s, our vergers Michael Scott and Duncan Purves, and indeed all those who care for our building and donate towards its upkeep and enhancement. Fund raising to maintain a church of this size and stature is always going to be a challenge, but we have benefited greatly in recent years not only from the generosity of individual benefactors, but also charities, trusts, and government bodies such as the Heritage Lottery Fund, without which we would be in great difficulty.</p> <p>Few if any of us would remotely be able to give as much to the Church as the ancient founders and benefactors on whose shoulders we stand today, and whose legacy we have inherited. All the same, this day should stir us to think about our faith afresh not just in terms of what we can get from God but in terms of what we can give to God and his Church, so that those who come after us may benefit. And if it’s not money – although even the widow’s mite counts – then let it be the time, the skills, the talents that we can give; for what really matters is the fact that we give of ourselves for the benefit of others and for the glory of God, rather than just keeping everything for ourselves. We therefore thank you, Lord God, for all those who gave so fully and so generously to you here in this Church; may we be good stewards of the inheritance left to us, and equip us with the financial and spiritual resources necessary to hand it on to those who will follow in the years to come.</p> <p> </p> Mon, 04 Jul 2016 13:09:59 +0200 http://www.nottinghamchurches.org/articles/sermons-2/st-mary-s-obit-service-sermon/ Sermon - Life after death, heaven and hell http://www.nottinghamchurches.org/articles/sermons-2/sermon-life-after-death-heaven-and-hell/ <p><strong>Life after death, heaven and hell - Sermon preached by Rev Christopher Harrison at St Mary’s Church, Nottingham, on 5th June 2016</strong></p> <p>In today’s gospel reading, Jesus performs a miracle in which he brings a young man back to life. His divine powers and his great compassion have a massive impact on many people, who see him as a prophet. I am prompted by this passage to talk this morning about ultimate things – in particular matters of life, death, the soul, heaven and hell.</p> <p>I remember once watching a programme on Channel 4 about a woman who had four distinct personalities. She could switch from one to another; it was as if she was four different people in the same body. It is well known that people can have multiple personalities – this is a phenomenon which is well-documented by psychologists. It is something, however, that raises important questions about who we really are, and of what our identity consists. Who is the real ‘me’? Following this programme, there was an article in The Times which argued that the existence of multiple personalities proved that the ‘soul’ does not exist. For which one of the four personalities of that woman would the ‘soul’ correspond to? The author of this article wrote with a sense of real triumph. He seemed to take great pride in his conclusion that he has disproved the existence of the soul.</p> <p>If he is right, of course, there are profound implications for our Christian beliefs. If there is no soul, there is no life after death – at least as Christians believe in it. There is no heaven, no hell. Where does this leave us? This particular author is not the only one to have questioned traditional beliefs about who we are, and the idea of eternal life. Even some radical theologians have concluded that the idea of heaven and hell is just an ancient superstition.</p> <p>What, then, are we to believe about heaven and hell? Should the possibility of going to hell affect our lives? Should we look forward to a life in heaven if we lead a good life?</p> <p>Let’s return, first, to the idea of the soul. If there is no soul, then the idea of heaven and hell, of a personal life after death, would seem to fall. We have to admit that serious challenges to the idea of the soul have been made. Powerful arguments have also been put forward against the idea of a hidden and eternal realm to which we go when we die.</p> <p>- On the question of the soul, some scientists argue that we are no more than a bundle of biological and chemical processes. Who we think we are is simply a result of things that happen within our brains and bodies – fluctuations in chemicals, hormones, electrical patterns and so on. We are no more than sophisticated animals who can think in a more complex way than most creatures.</p> <p>- on the question of life after death, some argue that since there is no way of proving that anything in us lives on, we should not lead our lives in the mistaken belief that heaven – or hell – exists. The material world, the physical universe, is all that there is. Anything else is pure fantasy. In any case, if we do live on – to what period in our lives does our eternal soul correspond? Are we to be a child for ever, or will our elderly form be that which we take with us to heaven?</p> <p>- Moreover, it is argued, why should we want to believe in a God who punishes people for ever for what they have done on earth? If God is eternal and utter Love, why would he want to do something like this, and consign some people to hell for all eternity?</p> <p>What, then, are we to believe? Let’s start with the teachings of Jesus. Jesus clearly did believe that people after death would at some point be raised to eternal life. This was a controversial belief, even in his time - the Jewish sect known as the Saduccees, for example, did not believe in resurrection. Jesus talked on several occasions about the last judgement; about punishment for the sinful and reward for the blessed. He told the vivid parable about the rich man, Dives, who went to hell, and the poor man, Lazarus, who went to heaven. He described hell as ‘Gehenna’ – which was in fact the name of an area outside Jerusalem where the city’s rubbish was burnt. He spoke decisively about the separation of souls at the Last Judgement into those who had done good things here on earth, and those who had led sinful lives, comparing these to sheep and goats. In the light of Jesus’ clear teaching, then, we mustn’t just discard the idea of heaven and hell in the belief that we today know better.</p> <p>Moreover, there is an increasing openness among scientists to the idea that the material, physical universe is not all there is. There is an increasing assumption among scientists that different dimensions to existence are necessary to the universe – there may even be up to 13 such dimensions. There have been more and more studies in recent years of near death experiences – those who have nearly died, and come back with a powerful sense of another level of existence. Such studies have been carried out with increasing degrees of sophistication and rigour, and with full awareness of the medical complexities involved (such as when exactly one defines death to have occurred). It is often the case that those who have nearly died see or experience the presence of people known to them who have died earlier; many feel that they are passing through something like a tunnel; many are drawn towards a bright light or a being – if that’s the right word – of love. These common patterns which emerge cannot be dismissed lightly. On the question of the existence of the soul, nobody yet has proved conclusively what consciousness and personal identity actually are. The idea of the soul has certainly not been disproved – it is quite possible to argue that the soul is that which lies at the heart of our being, the inner core of our identity, not just our mind or our emotions, but something more timeless.</p> <p>And then there is the question of why we are here at all. If we are just here to live and die, with no greater meaning or purpose, how can we understand all the suffering in the world? How can we make sense of the deaths of children in countless numbers, and others whose lives are suddenly cut short? If there is any purpose in the world, surely we have to see such things in the context of a greater, eternal life which awaits us beyond the grave.</p> <p>The true nature of what awaits us is of course hidden from us. We should not waste too much time speculating about that which can’t ever fully know. But there are two things, finally, which I believe we can be sure about, and which should guide us in what we do in our lives here on earth. First - wherever or whatever hell actually is, it can be described as the state of being separated from God. If we live lives which are dominated by selfishness and other forms of sin, we cut ourselves off from God. If we choose to be wrapped up in self-centredness, we end up in hell – and we then find ourselves in hell here on earth as well as running the risk of encountering it after we die. Second – whatever heaven proves to be like, we should try to follow the Christian way for its own sake, and not for the purpose of any eternal reward. That may well come too, as a result – but if our motives are to be the purest, we should try to love God and our neighbour simply because this is what He wants of us, not for anything that we may get out of it.</p> <p>God invites us to look forward to the eternal life of heaven, and to be inspired by that hope – but never to be complacent and arrogant in our belief that our place there is secure. It is true that Jesus, by dying on the cross, has offered passports to heaven to all those who believe and trust in him, and who follow his teachings. But we also need to decide for ourselves that we want the entry visa.</p> <p> </p> Mon, 06 Jun 2016 12:45:12 +0200 http://www.nottinghamchurches.org/articles/sermons-2/sermon-life-after-death-heaven-and-hell/ Sermon for Trinity Sunday http://www.nottinghamchurches.org/articles/sermons-2/sermon-for-trinity-sunday/ <p><strong>Sermon preached at St Peter’s Church by Rev Christopher Harrison on Trinity Sunday 2016</strong></p> <p>How often we repeat the words “Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost (or Holy Spirit)” – the so-called “doxology”. But how often, I wonder, do we think about the meaning behind that familiar phrase. It should remind us that the God we worship isn’t just One: but rather One in Three, Three in One – in other words, the Holy Trinity.</p> <p>The feast of the Most Holy Trinity has long been seen as the preacher’s least favourite Sunday. How are we to go about explaining the doctrine of the Trinity, which must be one of the most complex aspects of our faith? The Creed which was written by Saint Athanasius (which is that creed headed, in the Prayer Book, ‘quicunque vult’) sets out the Church’s understanding of the Trinity, saying that “… we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; neither confounding the Persons, nor dividing the substance … the Father uncreated, the Son uncreated, and the Holy Ghost uncreated …” It goes on to say that Father, Son and Holy Ghost are also incomprehensible and eternal – and yet they are not three uncreated, incomprehensible and eternal, but One. And so it continues, becoming ever more mystifying.</p> <p>According to John Wesley, the writer Jonathan Swift said that “all those who endeavour to explain the Trinity have utterly lost their way … and have hurt the cause which they intended to promote”. Wesley went on to say, in his sermon on the Trinity, that there were many aspects of the natural world which could not be fully understood – such as the nature of light, and what causes the force of gravity. Why, then, should we worry about not understanding the Trinity? Now to modern ears that’s a dangerous argument. Today we have far more confidence in the power of science to explain the world around us than in Wesley’s time, over 200 years ago. People therefore tend to think that if we can’t explain something, it’s probably not true. So if a religious belief – doctrine - can’t easily be explained, people are far more inclined now than when Wesley was preaching to conclude that there must be something wrong with it. Scepticism starts to prevail over faith.</p> <p>But we mustn’t accept unthinkingly the idea that science is all-powerful. There are many things science still cannot explain. In fact science still doesn’t fully understand light – how, for example, photons of light can behave both as particles and as waves. And we still don’t know exactly what the force of gravity consists of. We can measure it, and predict its effects, but its essential nature remains a mystery. In the same way, then, we would be wrong to abandon the idea of God as Trinity just because we can’t fully understand it.</p> <p>However, you may say, why believe in something which isn’t mentioned in the Bible? It is true that the word ‘Trinity’ is not found anywhere in the Bible. A few theologians have argued that this is a serious problem, but they are in a minority. The idea of God as Trinity is actually the end-product of a long process of working out the implications of what the Bible says about God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. That process of clarifying who God is took around three centuries. It wasn’t straightforward. It made use of concepts drawn from Greek philosophy – such as ‘substance’ and ‘begotten’ – which are used in ways that seem alien to us today when we repeat them in the Nicene Creed. The process also involved some quite heated conflict. One part of that conflict was the famous dispute in which a priest from Alexandria named Arius argued that Christ – the Son of God – was not equal in status to God the Father, but subordinate to Him. The conclusion reached was that Christ and his heavenly Father were in fact of equal status. Not long afterwards it was concluded that the Holy Spirit must also share in that equal status. The result was the doctrine of the Trinity.</p> <p>That is more or less how the doctrine of the Trinity has been left over the last 1,600 years. Each time we say the Nicene Creed – which was a result of that period of debate in the fourth century – we remind ourselves that God is not just One, but is a Trinity – One in Three and Three in One.</p> <p>But isn’t all this too full of theological nuances for the busy modern Christian, who just wants to believe in God, follow Jesus and become a better person? It may be difficult; but belief in the Trinity, for a Christian, is not merely an optional extra. Let us see why this is so.</p> <p>(i) First – let’s say we decided to believe only in God the Father, with Jesus and the Holy Spirit somewhere in the background. We would have a creator God; a source of all that is. We might see him as transcendent – beyond time and space, but rather distant and impersonal. Or we might see him as immanent – God all around us, everywhere in nature and in other people. But it is difficult to see how such a God would communicate with people. He would depend on individuals who claimed to have particular religious insights, or who set themselves up as God’s spokesmen. Or else we would have to look for the inevitably ambiguous signs of God in the world around us. So it’s not enough to say that we have a general belief in a rather mysterious and ill-defined God.</p> <p>(ii) Let’s look at a second option: to believe in Jesus, but to leave God the Father and God the Holy Spirit on the edge. We see Jesus as a good teacher, and worker of miracles. However, he soon becomes no more than that; and we end up worshipping someone who was just a very good man. The eternal, cosmic, creator God becomes just a hazy blur. Some people, moreover, go too far with the idea of Jesus as a personal friend – resulting in a pseudo-intimacy which can be almost childish, and which prevents us from becoming spiritually mature.</p> <p>(iii) Third – we might believe primarily in the Holy Spirit, with less emphasis on God the Father and God the Son. We might join one of the many “New Age” religions, for whom the Spirit is a form of power, a force for good, which has its roots within us and in the world around us. It then becomes our task to open ourselves up to this power. Such religions, though, tend not to be good at giving guidance as to what is right and what is wrong. Morality takes second place to personal freedom and spiritual self-expression. Alternatively, we might join one of the Pentecostal churches. These do tend to be biblically based. But there can be a risk that the Holy Spirit and his gifts are seen as the most important – or even the only important – aspect of one’s Christian life.</p> <p>I hope you can see the sort of results which follow if we don’t believe in God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit in equal measure – if we believe mainly in one of the three at the expense of the other two. Our faith becomes unbalanced. The theologians of the fourth century (the Fathers of the Church) had very practical – as well as theological - reasons for defining God as a Trinity in which Father, Son and Holy Spirit had equal standing. For whether or not we ever fully understand the mystery of the Trinity, that equality, that balance, should be reflected in our faith. A faith in God the Father - Creator both of cosmos and of atom; beyond the universe but also within it. A faith in God the Son – divine but also human, mortal for a time but also conqueror of death; the Way, the Truth, the Life; Redeemer and Judge. And a faith in God the Holy Spirit – Counsellor, Comforter, Advocate, fount of love, source of prayer. A faith, then, in Father, Son and Holy Spirit united in their timelessness and changelessness, but distinct in the various ways in which the world experiences their love. And so each one of us is united with all Christians who have gone before us, when we proclaim our faith in the Trinity by declaring the Nicene Creed with confidence, saying “We believe”.</p> <p> </p> Tue, 24 May 2016 10:30:44 +0200 http://www.nottinghamchurches.org/articles/sermons-2/sermon-for-trinity-sunday/ Sermon for Pentecost http://www.nottinghamchurches.org/articles/sermons-2/sermon-for-pentecost/ <p><strong>Sermon preached at St Peter’s Church by Rev Christopher Harrison on Pentecost 2016</strong></p> <p>Today is Whitsunday, or Pentecost. Pentecost is the day when the Church celebrates the coming of the Holy Spirit on the first disciples, after Jesus had left this earth and returned to his heavenly Father. The word ‘Pentecost’ comes from the Greek word for fifty, and this day is exactly fifty days after Easter (including the Sundays at the beginning of the period and at the end). So Pentecost Sunday, depending as it does on the date of Easter, also changes its date from year to year. In fact, Pentecost was a Jewish feast, which the Jews celebrated long before the first Christians adopted it - it was a feast of thanksgiving for the wheat harvest. Whitsunday became the popular name for Pentecost in this country, because it was often a day on which baptisms took place - Whit meaning ‘white’, in old English, and referring to the white robes of baptism.</p> <p>So who or what is the Holy Spirit, whose coming we celebrate today? Let’s try to build up a picture of the Holy Spirit, as he is seen at work in the New Testament. The Holy Spirit assists with the conception of Jesus, through Jesus’ mother Mary; he is also with John the Baptist, from the time when he was still within his mother’s womb. The Spirit, symbolised by a dove, is said to have descended on Jesus when he was baptised by John the Baptist. At the beginning of his ministry, Jesus quotes the prophet Isaiah, saying that the ‘Spirit of the Lord is upon me, anointing me to bring good news to the afflicted’. Jesus casts out demons in the power of the Spirit. He also refers to the ‘Spirit of truth’, contrasting life in the Spirit to life as governed by one’s lower nature. Jesus urges his followers to be born of spirit, not of human nature. He says that when people receive the Holy Spirit they are ‘clothed with the power from on high’.</p> <p>At the Last Supper, as we hear in today’s gospel reading, Jesus promises to send the Holy Spirit to be with the disciples after he has left them. He calls the Holy Spirit the ‘Counsellor’ - which is one translation of the original Greek word ‘paraclete’. The Holy Spirit, as ‘Counsellor’, will give the disciples guidance, inspiration, and the wisdom of God. The word ‘paraclete’, however, has two more meanings. One of these is that of ‘advocate’. An advocate is a person who stands up for you, or defends you. So the Holy Spirit would speak through the disciples when they were persecuted. The third meaning of the word ‘paraclete’ is ‘comforter’; which means that the Holy Spirit would also give the disciples strength and comfort in times of distress. Jesus added that the Holy Spirit was the means whereby he would remain with the disciples after he had left this earth, saying that through the Spirit he would come back to them, and not leave them as orphans. Before ascending to heaven, he tells his disciples to go out to all nations and baptise people in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.</p> <p>The first of today’s readings, from the book of the Acts of the Apostles, tells how Jesus promise to send the Holy Spirit upon the disciples was fulfilled on the day of the first Christian Pentecost. This is the famous account of the Spirit’s coming like a mighty wind, a description which is connected with the idea of the Spirit being the breath of God. On that occasion the Holy Spirit was also experienced in the form of tongues of fire resting on each of the apostles. The apostles were given the power to speak in languages other than their own, so that people from many different races could hear about Christ in their own language.</p> <p>All these images of the Holy Spirit are not designed to be confusing - they are simply what we find in the Bible, and reveal how difficult it is to describe one who is beyond all description. That being said, St. Paul is quite clear about what the Holy Spirit does:</p> <p>- The Holy Spirit pours the love of God into our hearts</p> <p>- The Spirit gives us new life: ‘the harvest from the Spirit will be eternal life’ (Gal. 6.8)</p> <p>- The Spirit helps us to pray, by praying through us when we cannot pray ourselves</p> <p>- The Spirit sets us from the law of sin and death</p> <p>- The Spirit brings saving justice, peace and joy.</p> <p>In 1 Corinthians 12 St. Paul describes the Spirit as giving gifts to believers, different gifts to different people: the gift of wise speech; the gift of faith; the gift of healing; the working of miracles; the gift of prophecy; the gift of speaking in different tongues and of interpreting these tongues. In his letter to the church in Galatia, he explains how the Spirit also enables those in whom he dwells to bear spiritual fruit; such as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, truthfulness, gentleness and self-control.</p> <p>I’ve set out how the Holy Spirit is described in the New Testament. But does the Spirit still work among us in the same way today? The answer is yes - and there should be no great surprise about this. Jesus said to his disciples that he would be with them until the end of time - the Holy Spirit is the way in which he brings this about. The Holy Spirit is in fact none other than God himself at work within us, both as individuals and as a society; forever trying to draw us closer to God, if we will open our hearts, our minds and our lives to God, fully, sincerely, genuinely, intent upon hearing the voice of the Spirit of God within us. This response need not be spectacular or dramatic; it does not require the fervour and emotional intensity of a pentecostalist or charismatic service. In fact, the Spirit’s work is usually more lasting if we keep sight of the immense mystery which lies at the heart of God, and allow this to quieten our hearts and minds so that we can little by little see the Spirit active in our lives, and hear the voice of the Spirit deep in our hearts. This is the voice which takes us beyond narrow self interest, to things which will be of wider benefit to our neighbours, to our church and community and to our world. This is the power of God which creates the water of life welling up within us when we live lives which are rooted in prayer, and centred on God. It is the power which gradually gives us the gifts which nourish the fruits of the spirit which I quoted earlier - particularly faith, hope and love - the greatest being love.</p> <p>I’d like also to say that over the years, I have come to see the Holy Spirit as being the way in which God helps, guides, encourages us to lead lives which are in accordance with his purpose for us. One of our main tasks here on earth is to discern the purpose which God has for us – ie why we are here – and to fulfil that purpose to the best of our ability. This applies to us from our childhood to our later years; the purpose God has planned for us may of course go through several phases over this period. But essentially, God, through the Holy Spirit, invites us to consider what we are doing with our life; how we are doing it; and the people with whom we are endeavouring to fulfil God’s purpose for us. What, how, and with whom. Every so often it’s important for us to stand back, reflect, think, pray, and ask ourselves how we think we are doing in relation to God’s purpose for us. Do we think we have found that purpose? If not, take the first step in trying to discover it. Are we doing the various things that our life involves in a way which is in line with the teachings of Jesus, as set out in the New Testament? Only we – and God – can know for sure. And have we found the right people to be alongside us on our journey towards what God desires of us?</p> <p>On this Whit Sunday, we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles. Their lives were dramatically transformed: they became convinced of God’s purpose for them, and devoted their whole lives to God and were given the strength with which to do this. Is this Whit Sunday a moment for you to think afresh, with the help of the Holy Spirit, about God’s purpose for you? What, how and with whom? Even though we are unlikely to experience a rushing wind or tongues of fire, the Holy Spirit is always present to those who desire and seek God; and, in our journey of purpose and faith, the breath of God will always be there as our advocate, our counsellor, and our strength. Amen.</p> <p> </p> Mon, 16 May 2016 13:22:56 +0200 http://www.nottinghamchurches.org/articles/sermons-2/sermon-for-pentecost/ 75th Anniversary of the Nottingham Bombings http://www.nottinghamchurches.org/articles/sermons-2/75th-anniversary-of-the-nottingham-bombings/ <p><strong>Service to commemorate the 75th Anniversary of the air raid on Nottingham, 8th May 2016</strong></p> <p>The 8th May 1941 was one of the bleakest nights in the history of this city. We had been at war for some time, and the Germans had been increasing the severity of their bombing onslaught month by month. London had been suffering badly; Coventry and Liverpool similarly. Now it was the turn of Nottingham to be targeted. During that night, a total of 424 high explosive bombs (altogether 139 tonnes in weight) and 6,804 incendiary bombs fell on our city. The devastation caused was widespread and many cases extreme. The city area as a whole saw 160 people killed that night, with 123 people detained in hospital with injuries. These figures do not include those killed and injured in other areas of the county, or those whose injuries were less serious. Almost 50 people died as a result of bombs that hit one single air raid shelter, that of the Nottingham Co-operative Bakery on Meadow Lane.</p> <p>The emergency services, especially the fire and ambulance services, were stretched to their limit. Our fire service had already been under considerable pressure in previous weeks, having been called to help their colleagues in other major cities when these had been targeted by the German bombers. This day of remembrance, then, is crucially important, as we and this city as a whole should never forget those who suffered and died that night in May 1941, as well remembering with deep thanksgiving the heroic efforts of so many in our fire service who were able to contain the effects of the bombs and prevent the consequent fire damage to this city from being far worse.</p> <p>Here in St Mary’s, it is especially sobering to think that, if it had not been for the determination and bravery of a few courageous individuals, the incendiary bomb which had landed on this very church could have led to it being completely destroyed, as had been the case with Coventry cathedral. Indeed the Lace Market as a whole suffered quite badly, with a number of bombs in this area creating fires and severe damage.</p> <p>We stand in deep respect and admiration, therefore, towards all those from Nottingham, especially members of the fire service, who were such stalwart and strong custodians of our city during that night of devastation. We must be grateful for all those who are keeping their story and their memory alive. I want to commend in particular, in this context, David Needham, whose book ‘Battle of the Flames’ records in graphic detail, but also with great sensitivity, the account of how Nottingham and Nottinghamshire withstood not just this attack, but also the various other bombing raids before and after that night. As we reflect upon those events, and upon all that they involved, I will draw upon David’s history of that period in order to bring out the human angle of that fateful night. For an effective chronicle of any historical event must never neglect its impact on individuals, families and communities.</p> <p>David writes, ‘The people of Nottingham were tired out because they had been under air raid warning from ten minutes to midnight until 5 am that morning. For the seventh consecutive night they had sheltered in basements, under stairs and in cold, damp Anderson shelters in gardens. They had heard the bombers making their way to the north west knowing where the likely target was and at the same time thanking their lucky stars that it was not them’.</p> <p>... A total of 210 aircraft were despatched with three key targets in mind: Nottingham, Hull and Barrow in Furness. Nottingham had been assigned 107 aircraft with the target area being the south east of the city .. the air raids usually commenced with large numbers of incendiary bombs to start plenty of fires and then the high-explosive bombs were poured in once the civil defence personnel and the firemen were at work. Later waves of aircraft would continue with more incendiaries, which would burn without being noticed as the high explosive bombs would have driven all the civilians into their shelters. The firemen would be pounded by the bombs being aimed where the fires burned brightest, with the intention that they would give up and seek shelter from the explosions.</p> <p>The raid began just before midnight, with the night being clear and brilliantly lit by a full moon, which helped the bombers to find their targets – a bomber’s moon. Then the bombs began. The Masonic Hall on Goldsmith Street received a direct hit, whose force was felt at the fire station itself. By this time, the firemen were already in action; it would be eighteen hours before most of them got back to the fire station. The city centre was soon ablaze with a series of fires. Incendiary bombs encircled St Peter’s church; a high explosive bomb fell on Snook’s factory on Hounds Gate, causing massive damage; and the medieval timber-framed Severn’s building on the corner of Middle Pavement and Weekday Cross was also damaged by an incendiary bomb. Shire Hall, on High Pavement, was bombed; and also a bank on the corner of Fletcher Gate. The Old Moot Hall on Friar Lane was destroyed, Lloyds Bank on Beastmarket Hill was damaged, and the road was cratered on Angel Row in front of the Odeon Cinema. And so it went on. St Christopher’s church on Colwick Road was badly damaged by fire, and other bombs falling on Sneinton and Carlton caused many fires in domestic properties. Two gasometers at Eastcroft received direct hits, and provided a spectacular sight as the gas burned off like giant fireworks. Other parts of the Nottingham area all suffered; Beeston, Chilwell, Stapleford, and West Bridgford, to name but a few, with damage to domestic properties being widespread and many deaths and injuries.</p> <p>David writes, ‘The firemen who were racing to the various fires, or who were making all haste to the nearest station, had no idea if their loved ones would be safe, or whether they would come back to find their own house had been burnt to the ground while they had been saving the property of others. A fireman called Harry Roe had to leave his disabled wife behind and turn in at the fire station, but he would have felt sick to the stomach if he had known that incendiary and high explosive bombs were falling all around his home in Lyndhurst Road. It is hard for us to imagine what it must have been like fighting the fires all over Nottingham. There was of course always the danger of falling masonry, difficulties of access as roads were often damaged by the blasts, the intense heat and smoke, and even the sheer power of the hoses could be dangerous. The noise was tremendous, as the roar of the fires and the constant reverberating of the enemy bombers mingled with the engine noise from the fire pumps. One fireman, an Alf Porkett, was part of a crew trying to put out a fire in a factory on Stoney Street. He said, ‘We could see fires all around us from up there. Trivett’s factory stood out in silhouette against the glow with its roof on fire. Bombs were still falling but the fire and collapsing buildings seemed to be the most imminent danger. You couldn’t spend your time worrying whether the next bomb was going to hit you’.</p> <p>Indeed the fires in the Lace Market were on the verge of joining up and becoming one massive inferno. High Pavement, Stoney Street, Pilcher Gate, Broadway, Warser Gate and Fletcher Gate all had major fires, with St Mary’s Gate and Halifax Place all having been declared conflagrations, a term used for fires officially out of control.</p> <p>Much more could be said about the damage to Nottingham and Nottinghamshire on that fateful night in May 1941. There will of course be those who are still mourning the loss of loved ones during that air raid. Lives cut short, families torn apart. But tonight we give special thanks for all those from our fire service who ensured that the damage to our city was not far worse, at massive risk to themselves. We can only stand in awe and admiration as we reflect upon their bravery, in the face of the devastation which they were endeavouring to keep within at least some limits. It’s been wonderful seeing the old appliances on High Pavement today, and we also thank those who have been giving us a glimpse of what it was like that night, through the artefacts and the appliance in the churchyard here at St Mary’s. It has been very moving to have been part of the wreath laying ceremony just now.</p> <p>We therefore give heartfelt thanks to God for all those brave men and women who were involved in protecting Nottingham and its people that night. We pray for those who maintain the high standards of service characterised by our fire service here in Nottingham today. And we pray that the memory of that night will live on, as part of our wider efforts, as a city, and as a nation, to ensure that peace will continue to prevail on these shores.</p> <p> </p> Mon, 09 May 2016 12:14:29 +0200 http://www.nottinghamchurches.org/articles/sermons-2/75th-anniversary-of-the-nottingham-bombings/ Taking up one’s cross in everyday life http://www.nottinghamchurches.org/articles/sermons-2/taking-up-one-s-cross-in-everyday-life/ <p><strong>Taking up one’s cross in everyday life - Sermon preached by Rev Christopher Harrison at St Peter’s and St Mary’s churches, 13th September 2015</strong></p> <p>We’ve just heard, in the gospel reading, about one of the turning points in Jesus’ life. He had emerged from a relatively obscure background in Nazareth; from the age of around 30 he had created increasing controversy with his teaching, his healing, and his readiness to confront the religious authorities. But what exactly was his aim in all this? Was he just another in the line of wandering maverick preachers, who were quite a common feature of life in Israel in those days? Or was he more than this?</p> <p>Today’s account of Jesus and his disciples, gathered at Caesarea Philippi, in the mountains north of Lake Galilee, tells of the moment when the disciples realised that Jesus was different from all the others. It was there that Peter first saw that Jesus was the Christ, which means the anointed one – anointed by God to be his Messiah. But he didn’t at first appreciate the full implications of this realisation. Jesus explained that his path as God’s Messiah would mean suffering and death. Peter couldn’t believe this; surely the Messiah would rally the people of Israel in power and glory against the Romans, not face the prospect of humiliation and rejection. Jesus rebuked him, and uttered those famous words, ‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and the gospel will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?’</p> <p>Those words have unsettled Christians through the ages. They present the Christian faith as anything but a comfortable journey towards guaranteed eternal bliss. They are daunting and even frightening. There have been those people, though, for whom that stark call to self-sacrifice has been an inspiration rather than a burden. I’ll like to tell you this morning about one such person; a Polish priest and monk called Maximilian Kolbe. Maximilian Kolbe was born into a poor Polish family in 1894. At the age of 16 he became a Franciscan novice, and was ordained priest in 1918, at the age of 24. Maximilian was very involved in leading a revival of Christianity in Poland, in particular by publishing magazines and newspapers about the Christian faith. His work was so successful that in 1927 a huge new monastery had to be built to house it, along with the 700 priests, monks and seminarians who were involved with him in the revival movement. When the Germans invaded Poland in 1939, however, they stopped his work. In 1941 he was arrested and sent to Auschwitz. He was treated with appalling cruelty – being beaten and whipped, and forced to do impossibly hard labour. But he always shared his thin ration of soup or bread with his fellow prisoners, and always took the back of the food queue.</p> <p>One day three prisoners escaped. As a punishment, ten other prisoners were picked and sent to an underground starvation cell, where they were to be given no food or drink until they died. When one of them cried out that he would never see his wife and children again, Fr Maximilian stepped forward and said that he would take his place. Over the next two weeks the prisoners starved to death; Maximilian Kolbe was the last to die.</p> <p>Maximilian Kolbe is an example of one of those rare people who was able to give his whole self, including his very life, so that somebody else might live. As Jesus said at the Last Supper, ‘No-one can have greater love than to lay down his life for his friends’.</p> <p>For most of us, the martyrdom of people like Maximilian Kolbe may be a theoretical inspiration, but not something we are likely to be called to face ourselves. So how are we to deny ourselves and take up our cross, to lose our life in order to save it? Ultimately, how we respond to this command of Jesus is something between God and our conscience. But we shouldn’t use the fact that few if any of us are called to be martyrs in a literal sense as an excuse to do nothing. For ‘denying ourself’ is not just about grand gestures, but about everyday life. We come back to some of those quite demanding teachings of Jesus in which he explains how we are to being the process of moving from a self-centred mind-set to one that is centred more on others than ourselves. There are three such sayings of Jesus which represent a kind of progression, in ascending order of difficulty, for those who want to respond seriously to Jesus’ call to deny ourselves and take up our cross:</p> <p>- go the extra mile; turn the other cheek; love our enemies, not just our friends.</p> <p>We tend all too easily to forget that Jesus taught a way of life which in fact goes far beyond polite cordiality and being nice to other people. He presented the people of his time – and people of all time – with a way of life which can transform the world – both on a personal level and a national level. With his death on the cross, and resurrection three days later, he began a process whereby people might be inspired not just to give their very lives for others, like Maximilian Kolbe, but to allow God to reshape their everyday lives in such a way as to break the cycle of self-centredness, greed and violence which is still so prevalent in the world around us.</p> <p>For us, then to take the cross seriously, to be part of that transforming process begun by Jesus, we can do worse than to renew our attempt to take those teachings to heart – to go the extra mile, to turn the other cheek, to love our enemies, not just our friends. This is the way to a better world – it may be the way of the cross, but it is also the way of resurrection.</p> <p> </p> Tue, 15 Sep 2015 10:18:59 +0200 http://www.nottinghamchurches.org/articles/sermons-2/taking-up-one-s-cross-in-everyday-life/ The Church and some current international issues http://www.nottinghamchurches.org/articles/sermons-2/the-church-and-some-current-international-issues/ <p><strong>The Church and some current international issues – sermon preached at St Mary’s church by Rev. Christopher Harrison on Trinity Sunday, 2015</strong></p> <p>We are fortunate, in this parish, to have a long tradition of supporting those in need around the world, in particular through the work of our Overseas Committee. This has typically included donations to agencies such as Christian Aid and CMS (Church Mission Society), as well as contributions to charities that work in specific fields such as the African Prisons’ Project, the Mission Aviation Fellowship, and the Children at Risk Foundation which works in Brazil (see the article in this magazine). We have also responded well to emergencies such as the Haiti and Nepal earthquakes.</p> <p>Whilst aid such as this is important, the Church at large has always stressed the need to focus on the root causes of world poverty, and on all the factors which contribute to degrading and demeaning conditions of life. This was the thinking that led to the growth of the Fair Trade movement, which in turn led to an increased awareness of the need for a more just framework for world trade as a whole, which would allow poorer countries to enjoy greater opportunities for economic growth through trade. In the period immediately prior to the year 2000, the Jubilee Debt Campaign drew inspiration from Biblical principles of debt forgiveness to enable the writing off of considerable amounts of unrepayable debt for some of the poorest countries of the world. Since then, the spotlight has increasingly shifted to the effects of climate change on the poor, and the effect that tax avoidance by multinational companies can have on the developing world.</p> <p>The Church has also long realised that conditions within the poorer countries themselves sometimes need to be addressed. This has led Christian Aid and similar aid agencies to campaign against corruption, the inadequacy of rights for women, and discrimination against minorities – not that these problems are limited to developing countries, however. It has become increasingly clear that transfers of money alone are not sufficient, and that factors such as healthcare, education, human rights and the opportunity to participate in decision-making processes, both national and local, are also essential if poverty in the developing world is to be significantly reduced.</p> <p>All of the above is largely the accepted wisdom within overseas aid charities, and also the mainstream Churches. How successfully, though, are we keeping up with the rapidly changing political and economic situation in today’s world? We are, today, faced with a range of new challenges for which solutions are far from obvious. The power of the global financial institutions to exploit their market position, and the inadequacy of effective regulation over many of these, has been highlighted by the massive fines recently imposed on those who have colluded in the fixing of exchange rates and interest rates. There is wide and increasing inequality between the richest and the poorest countries of the world, as well as growing inequality within many countries, both developing and developed. Growing desertification and rising sea levels, as global temperatures creep upwards, is threatening the livelihoods of communities least able to cope with these.</p> <p>The latest, and perhaps the most demanding challenge for us, however, is how to respond to the migrant crisis which is affecting not just southern Europe but the developed world as a whole. The abhorrent methods used by the so-called Islamic state in its quest for a new Caliphate have resulted, as we all know, in incalculable sufferings for millions of people. The systematic persecution of Christians and other minorities is very much part of this. When we see those who have lost everything knocking at the door of Europe, seeking refuge, we are torn between a desire to offering sanctuary and our awareness that our societies are already highly stretched in their capacity to cope with new incomers. As far as tacking the root causes of such migration are concerned, moreover, it is incredibly difficult to conceive of any form of international intervention which would have a realistic chance of success. Military action, for example, might actually exacerbate the problems and give an excuse for even stronger anti-western sentiment.</p> <p>We have moved, in this article, from the well-trodden arguments about addressing world poverty to the huge complexity of today’s international situation. The urgent need for clear and decisive thought and action is heightened by the fact that the problems are on Europe’s own doorstep; and that if we in the Churches really care about the needs of our sisters and brothers who are in the most extreme difficulty and need, we have to respond with great generosity of heart and spirit, as well as in material terms. Are we like the rich man, in the parable told by Jesus, who simply ignored the poor man at his gate and whose hardness of heart was rewarded by an eternity in hell? And how would we feel if the tables were turned and we were the asylum seekers risking everything in a perilous boat journey, pleading for safety and a new start when we had lost everything that was precious to us?</p> <p>There are times, I believe, when we have to put self-interest aside and simply open our hearts, minds and our societies to people who have been through horrendous suffering, or who have absolutely nothing left to live for in their country of origin. For such people, the decision to leave will not have been taken lightly, but will have been an absolute last resort. It is relatively easy to raise money for people living in poor societies thousands of miles away; but can we offer the hand of friendship to those in the most acute need when it actually involves offering hospitality ourselves?</p> <p> </p> Mon, 01 Jun 2015 16:17:28 +0200 http://www.nottinghamchurches.org/articles/sermons-2/the-church-and-some-current-international-issues/ A new kind of shepherd http://www.nottinghamchurches.org/articles/sermons-2/a-new-kind-of-shepherd/ <p><strong>Sermon preached by Rev Christopher Harrison at St Peter’s, Nottingham, 26th April 2015</strong></p> <p><strong>A new kind of shepherd</strong></p> <p>There are any number of paintings of Jesus surrounded by sheep – sometimes even carrying a lamb or sheep on his shoulders or in his arms. Perhaps you can imagine one of them – often we see green meadows, perhaps a stream … and usually the sheep are clustering around Jesus and perhaps looking affectionately towards him. This is the shepherd of Psalm 23. Even though the psalm was written many centuries before the coming of Christ, the “Lord” is that psalm is taken to be him. It portrays a shepherd who cares for his flock; who leads them to green pastures where they may rest, and to peaceful waters where they may quench their thirst. The flock was originally, of course, the people of Israel. The shepherd shows them what is right – leading them in the paths of justice (righteousness) and protects them from their enemies. He ‘comforts’ them – which can be understood in its ancient sense of ‘strengthen’, not just ‘soothe’.</p> <p>A familiar picture, of course; a source of consolation for many over the years; a reminder of the reassuring presence of God in times of distress. But that is only one of the images of the Shepherd which we find in the Old Testament. We see another powerful image of the divine Shepherd in the book of the prophet Ezekiel, chapter 34. The people of Israel have returned from exile in Babylon, but Ezekiel says that its leaders have not been good shepherds. They have ‘failed to make weak sheep strong, to care for the sick ones, or to bandage the injured ones. They have failed to bring back strays or look for the lost’. Therefore God says that he himself will be the shepherd of the people of Israel, giving them rich pastures, looking for the lost, making the sick strong. God will separate his sheep from the goats, as their judge. But he will also raise up a new shepherd among them, who will be a good ruler to them, like David. “No more will they be a prey to the nations .. they will live secure, with no-one to frighten them”.</p> <p>Two images of the divine – or divinely appointed – shepherd, then, from the Old Testament. One focuses on the care of God for the individual; the other on the care of God for the nation.</p> <p>Let’s jump several centuries, to the account of Jesus’ life given in the Fourth Gospel. Jesus is talking to some Pharisees, in Jerusalem. He has already begun to cause considerable controversy – by healing on the Sabbath, by letting a woman caught in adultery go free, and – in particular – by talking of God has his ‘Father’, and saying that, unlike those around him, he is ‘not of this world’. Today’s gospel reading continues in this vein. Jesus would have been well aware that in the Hebrew scriptures God is the shepherd of Israel, and that he has promised to appoint someone who will be shepherd of the people on his behalf. So imagine how radical a step it was for him to say that he himself was this shepherd. This was one more way, then, in which Jesus showed that he was sent by his heavenly Father to lead the people of Israel – that, in other words – he was the Son of God, the Messiah.</p> <p>But Jesus went even further. He distanced himself from any idea that he would be an earthly ruler, like the shepherd of Israel promised in the book of Ezekiel. No – he said that his care for his flock was so all-embracing that he would not just protect his flock from danger, unlike the hired man, but would even go so far as to lay down his life for his sheep. So – you see – we are now entering a totally new understanding of what it would mean to be the shepherd of Israel. Not only that – he said that he would take his life up again after it had been laid down.</p> <p>I wonder if those who heard him really understood the full implications of what Jesus was saying. That he was about to break the cycle of sin and death, and open up God’s kingdom – both on earth and in heaven – to all people, from every race and nation. As he put it – “There are other sheep that are not of this fold, and I must lead these too … there will be only one flock, one shepherd.”</p> <p>See what a contrast, then, there is between the picture of the divine shepherd we have in the Old Testament – the shepherd who cares for his sheep, and protects them – and in the New Testament in Jesus: the shepherd who dies, no less, for his sheep, and rises to new life, defeating death, atoning for sin, and opening the kingdom of heaven to all believers. It is no surprise, therefore, that ‘these words caused a fresh division among the Jews. Many said “He is possessed, he is raving, why do you listen to him?’ Others, though, said, “these are not the words of a man possessed by a devil; could a devil open the eyes of the blind?”</p> <p>So here we have the beginnings of the Church; a Good shepherd whose aim won’t be to throw off the Romans, but to bring people to the Kingdom – the reign – of God. That is why Jesus also talks of himself as the ‘Gate’ to the sheepfold – just as he describes himself as the Way, the Truth and The Life, he is the One through whom we must go in order to learn more about God, to come to faith, and to grow in that faith.</p> <p>Let’s leap once more – this time to the time when the Risen Christ had met several times with the disciples, but was now having breakfast with them on the shores of Lake Galilee. Three times he tells St. Peter, “Feed my lambs; look after my sheep; feed my sheep’. This is, in effect, one of the first tasks given by Jesus to those who were going on to found the first churches. Peter was to be the shepherd in chief, representing Christ on earth; but as disciples we all have a responsibility to care for and feed Christ’s sheep. We are his hands and his feet – we are his body here on earth. In other words, the task of Christ’s disciples was not to rally behind the flag of a secular would-be king, but to build up the Church – to care for and nurture its members, Christ’s body. That is why we see the commissioning of Peter reflected in the crook or staff carried by bishops today – whose task is to oversee their churches, and ensure that their flock is cared for and led well.</p> <p>Where has all this left us, then? Let’s go back to the beginning, to Psalm 23. I hope you can now see Psalm 23 in a new light. The image of a gentle, caring God who is like a shepherd who knows each one of his sheep by name, is still valid, and indeed has echoes in the Gospel of St. John. But what we see in that gospel is that Jesus takes the traditional understanding of God’s shepherd, and not only turns it into something new, but makes it refer to him. The abiding image of the Good Shepherd, now, should therefore be the of the one who lays down his life for his sheep, and then takes his life up again. The one who takes the burden of the sin of the world on his shoulders, on behalf of all the people of the world, but who doesn’t let it defeat him.</p> <p>And so if such is the extent of what Christ has done for us and the world, the least we can do is thank him; love him; and try to see that commission given to St. Peter on the shores of Lake Galilee as extended, now, to us too. Feed my lambs. Look after my sheep. Feed my sheep. By this – far more than by any words – Christ will know that we love him. Amen.</p> <p> </p> <p> </p> Mon, 27 Apr 2015 13:15:37 +0200 http://www.nottinghamchurches.org/articles/sermons-2/a-new-kind-of-shepherd/ All Saints' 150th Anniversary http://www.nottinghamchurches.org/articles/sermons-2/all-saints-150th-anniversary/ <p><strong>All Saints' Nottingham 150th Anniversary 1864-2014<br/>Saturday 1st November 2014<br/>Sermon preached by Rt Rev Dr Nigel Peyton, Bishop of Brechin, previously Vicar of All Saints Nottingham 1985-1991</strong><br/><br/>On holiday this year I spotted a T shirt that made me smile. It said: “Old men rule – the older I get, the better I was.” If today’s digital generation have their way, those of us who are older may not rule quite as the T shirt suggests. However the advantage of years is ability to survey the past. So thank you for the invitation to contribute to the 150th anniversary of All Saints Nottingham.</p> <p>What makes an anniversary? The word literally means to ‘turn’ a year. And over the years we turn many times, for both happy and sad reasons - in our personal lives and in public life. Anniversaries relating to birth, marriage and death and to our careers carry intimate biographical meaning. National anniversaries of events, of wars and tragedies and anniversaries relating to place and our civic institutions convey community memory. Throughout our lives we celebrate history, and continuity, and our place in it.</p> <p>Today we celebrate the 150th anniversary of All Saints Nottingham, synonymous with Raleigh Street and the city’s Victorian industrial expansion. I just wish I knew where the last 25 years have gone because, as you know, we celebrated the 125th anniversary in 1989 when I was Vicar here - with concerts, a flower festival and, of course, the obligatory commemorative coffee mugs. The year-long celebrations were great fun and even raised much needed funds.</p> <p>In 1985 Anne and I, together with Emily, Jennifer and Mark made our home in the Vicarage. Local kids threw stones at the removal van the day we moved in and the agenda was set for six exhilarating years packed with so many things going on. Life was demanding and funny, infuriating and unpredictable all at the same time. We share many poignant family stories from this period, which changed my ministry for ever, and imprinted itself indelibly on our children.</p> <p>The famous Church of England report Faith in the City which laid bare urban realities and challenged the assumptions of 1980s Thatcherism was published a month after I arrived. Exciting times for sure to become an inner city vicar. All Saints parish had the lot: poverty, single parenting, and criminality. Prostitution, drugs and fifty pubs no less. The so-called ‘care in the community’ of many with mental health problems was a particularly acute challenge.</p> <p>Building community could be difficult with people who felt trapped and just wanted to get away. But socially All Saints was multi-racial and vibrant and there were significant numbers who chose to live in the parish, to commit and to contribute so much. Today we honour and treasure the faithfulness and memory of all parishioners, unpraised and unknown - as the hymn says: “rejoice in God’s saints today and always, a world without saints forgets how to praise.”</p> <p>All Saints has in particular been a shaping place where individuals have passed through, exploring their vocations to Christian service and ministries of all kinds. Many still look back on their experiences here as formative. Curates, young adults living in community in John Perkins House, parish workers, ordinands and student placements, Readers and the Sisters of the Community of the Holy Name - we cheered and challenged each other.</p> <p>All Saints Parish was, and remains, the reality of the Sermon on the Mount. A place of support for the weak and destitute, comfort for the sad and marginalised. A holy place of justice, mercy and peace. Blessed indeed are those who know their need of God, for the kingdom of heaven will be theirs.</p> <p>Perhaps this gospel inspired the original vision of the Victorian silk yarn manufacturer and philanthropist William Windley to place a church, vicarage and school here in 1864 at a cost of £2.1m in today’s money. The detailed history of All Saints is well told in the fascinating booklet edited by Paul Watts for this 150th anniversary. During the latter 20th century All Saints witnessed the transition from pleasant Edwardian suburb, through two World Wars, to subsequent urban decay, demolition and renewal through social enterprise and housing. Arriving at the Millennium and morphing into student-land, the clang of the tram threading its path through the parish.</p> <p>In the history of any parish there are game changing moments, and there are consolidating, enduring times – equally important phases for which there are different vicars with their personalities, strengths and weaknesses. The art I guess is to try and get the right vicar in the right sequence for the particular circumstances, for the vision and strategies of the day. And there are different congregations, growing or diminishing through changing times with different challenges. Or, more correctly perhaps, a single, continuous congregation blending fresh faces with corporate memory - the church walls soaked with their prayers.</p> <p>There have been two such game changing moments I might mention because they ‘bookend’ as it were my many years in this diocese.</p> <p>One was the opportunity seized by the Bishop and the Reverend Paul Watts in 1980 to re-imagine and re-energise All Saints. Resisting the growing commodification of Church life, the Raleigh Street campus became synonymous with innovation, community partnerships and resource generation, enhancing diminishing Church Commissioners money and heroic congregational stewardship. This approach undoubtedly enabled All Saints to remain fresh and active in mission and ministry, serving an inner city area during a demanding era.</p> <p>Another game-changer was the formation of the city parish embracing All Saints first with St Peter’s in 2002, and later St Mary’s joining them in 2009. Again, new arrangements for fast-changing times, enabling All Saints to recalibrate its purpose alongside two city centre churches each going through some serious re-thinking as Nottingham city centre grew in ambition and former patterns of church affiliation fragmented.</p> <p>Church is perhaps better understood as a verb rather than as a noun, because we are always becoming Church. This journey is risky: there is the hopeful, effective Church we aspire to be, and yet the Church we can so often descend into is demoralising. In a sense, what we will be has not yet been revealed. However, we are loved of God and are children of God and our hope is that we shall become more God-like. All Saints Church is a metaphor for the throne of heaven, the kingdom beginning here on earth – God’s house for God’s people, a living place of community and personal faith, where God makes a home amongst us.</p> <p>Anyone who attended the All Saints Centenary service in 1964 probably listened to a senior churchman encouraging the congregation to press ahead faithfully into the future, possible making a few suggestions or predictions. However, quite how the future would turn out was unknowable, as is what All Saints will become over the next 25 or fifty years, though we might speculate what the next game-changing moment will be. The current Rector, Christopher Harrison, has shared his hopes towards the end of the anniversary booklet.</p> <p>Clergy, church buildings and parishes may come and go, but the restless heartbeat of God in this place remains. The marks of a ‘becoming’ Church are as ever: to proclaim the faith afresh in each generation and nurture new believers; to respond to human need with loving service, to transform unjust structures, pursuing peace and the renewal of the life of the earth. These challenges should keep us busy for a bit.</p> <p>Anniversaries are times to rehearse our memories and to renew friendships, and to look forward in hope. The T shirt was not quite right – it’s not so much “the older we are, the better we were,” but “the older we are, the better we can become …”</p> <p>Amen</p> <p> </p> <p> </p> <p> </p> Tue, 18 Nov 2014 13:57:34 +0100 http://www.nottinghamchurches.org/articles/sermons-2/all-saints-150th-anniversary/ Remembrance Sunday http://www.nottinghamchurches.org/articles/sermons-2/remembrance-sunday/ <p><strong>Peace, War, and Poppies: Sermon preached at St Mary’s Church, Nottingham, on Remembrance Day 2014, by Rev Christopher Harrison</strong><br/><br/>This has been a year of sombre commemoration. If there’s one number that has stood out this year, it is the figure 888,246. This is the number of British and Colonial fatalities suffered in the First World War, as portrayed so vividly and memorably by the display of this number of ceramic poppies at the Tower of London, in the installation Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red.</p> <p>In our own city we have had our own creative and unique responses to the hundredth anniversary of the outbreak of the Great War, many of which have been embraced by the city’s ‘Trent to Trenches’ programme of exhibitions and other events. The response by the people of this city and county to BBC Radio Nottingham’s invitation to knit a poppy for each of the 11,000 men from Nottinghamshire who died during the war has been truly remarkable – the total number of poppies knitted has in fact been several multiples of this initial target.</p> <p>We have held our own exhibition commemorating the anniversary of the outbreak of the War here in St Mary’s church, a display assembled by Rachel Farrand with contributions from a number of other people. This has reminded us that each of the men and women from this parish, from this city, from this county, who died in the First World War was an individual, very probably with a family; and that of course thousands of others from Nottingham and the county were caught up in that war in so many ways. It was time of great sacrifice, a time when the world realised just how much suffering, devastation and death could be caused by political decisions which no doubt had their reasons, but whose cost in human, social and economic terms could never have been remotely anticipated.</p> <p>A couple of days ago my wife and I were looking through a box of old papers from my father’s side of the family. We came across some photographs dating from the early part of the last century; and then came across a couple of medals. I must say I almost wept when I realised that these were given to the family of my father’s uncle, Dennis Mills, who died in 1917 aged 24, on a battlefield somewhere in northern France. I know that his two sisters, who were my father’s mother and aunt, never fully recovered from losing him. He had been a budding concert pianist whose career, and the hopes and dreams of his family, were suddenly snuffed out on that fateful April day. It is said that he was shot while going back to rescue one of his comrades who had fallen.</p> <p>Personal moments of remembrance like this are no doubt being experienced by thousands and maybe even millions of people in this country today. The imagery of the poppy, now so much part of our national tradition, reminds us all the more of the uniqueness of each of those who died, and that their memory lives on. Although the focus this year has very much been on the Great War, we do of course also, as always, remember with sadness today those who lost their lives in the second massive episode of death and devastation which was to begin barely twenty years after Armistice Day in 1918.<br/><br/>Remembering those who lost their lives will of course always be important, and we must keep on doing so – and the various memorials here in St Mary’s church, and outside by the steps, will help to ensure that we continue to play our part in this National tradition. But we must also remember all those who were determined, as a result of the two World Wars, to devote themselves to laying the foundations for a society and world based on peace; in which the seeds of war, which are so easily sown, will not be allowed to grow and produce their evil harvest. My father, when he was a young boy in the 1930s, was inspired by his aunt’s commitment, following the loss of her brother, to the Peace Pledge Union. Death in war can and often does bring, on a personal level, a new determination to stand up for values of mercy, compassion, love and non-violence. The challenge, of course, is for such values to be translated into political and military doctrines. It’s easy to say that we should turn the other cheek to an aggressor, but when this actually results in our walking by on the other side, and not standing by and protecting the weak and defenceless, we have to be prepared for careful and judicious military intervention. Such is the complex scenario created by the aggression of ISIS in Iraq and Syria; can the West really stand aside when barbaric acts are being perpetrated on a large scale, with worrying implications for peace in the Middle East in general?</p> <p><br/>Earlier this year, St Mary’s held a deeply moving service to commemorate the twentieth anniversary of the genocide in Rwanda. Around 800,000 Rwandan Tutsis – around the same number as those from this country and the colonies who died in the First World War – were killed in just over three months. People are still asking whether the global military powers such as the UK could have done more to prevent the genocide. There are other parts of the world today – mainly also in Africa – where conflicts rumble on, often with considerable loss of life and large scale displacement of peoples, but quite often ignored by the world’s richer and more powerful countries.</p> <p><br/>But all these things remind us of the importance for this country of having armed forces which are equipped and able, as professionals, to act with the highest level of efficiency but also with a maturity of judgement and decision making, in the interests of helping to create enduring peace across the world as a whole. This is the challenge that will always face us, if the sacrifices made by so many, during the World Wars of the last century, are to have an lasting effect into the future. The many years of peace on these shores, which we have enjoyed for well over half a century now, were bought at a heavy price; but they have given incalculable benefits to those of us who have never had to live through war ourselves. Let us, then, as a nation, always be in the vanguard of peacemaking around the world, whether through diplomatic means, or, if absolutely necessary, by well-judged and proportionate military operations. May the consequences of war for ordinary men and women never be put to one side; and may the contribution of each of those men and women whom we commemorate today never be forgotten. Amen.</p> <p> </p> Mon, 10 Nov 2014 11:20:53 +0100 http://www.nottinghamchurches.org/articles/sermons-2/remembrance-sunday/ Love your neighbour, don’t rush to judge others http://www.nottinghamchurches.org/articles/sermons-2/love-your-neighbour-don-t-rush-to-judge-others/ <p><strong>Love your neighbour, don’t rush to judge others<br/>Sermon given at St Peter’s Church, Nottingham, by Rev Christopher Harrison<br/>7th September 2014</strong></p> <p>In today’s first reading, from the Old Testament book of the prophet Ezekiel, we read about the people of Jerusalem in exile in Babylon. As they reflect on the destruction of Jerusalem and upon their captivity, the prophet gives them hope. Also, however, God tells him to make sure that they follow his ways and don’t stray again, and warns Ezekiel that he will be personally responsible for their spiritual well being. The theme of sin, repentance and forgiveness is central to the Old Testament - many times we hear of God’s anger, as the people of Israel rebel against him; from the worship of the golden calf, to trusting in alliances with foreign powers rather than trusting in God. There is often punishment, but also compassion and mercy, and these are themes which become more and more dominant as the Old Testament progresses.</p> <p>In today’s second reading, from Romans, St Paul is writing to the Christians in Rome; these are probably Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians, and the letter was probably written in the mid-50s A.D. It shows the Church in Rome how the ancient Jewish law is brought to its fulfilment – completed – by the coming of Christ, and his death and resurrection. What this means is that the commandments – summed up in the Ten Commandments – still of course stand, but that a person cannot receive salvation just by following commandments – they need to believe and trust in Jesus Christ, and have faith in him. In today’s reading, St Paul is urging the Christians in Rome to attend to how they relate to one another, and to other people, reminding them to keep the ancient commandments, the Law – which is summarised by the command to love one’s neighbour as oneself. This, he says, following the teaching of Jesus, is the fulfilment of all the commandments of the law.</p> <p>St Paul says, as part of all this, that love does no wrong to a neighbour. That’s fair enough; if we love anyone, on whatever level, we surely don’t want to wrong them in any way. But there are situations when it’s hard to know what this means – what is the right way to treat someone, and what is the wrong way? The film ‘Black Nativity’, which has recently been released, illustrates this in various ways. The film begins with two African Americans, Naima and Langston, her teenage son, about to be evicted from their home in Baltimore. They have nowhere to go; Naima sends Langston off on a bus to her parents in Harlem, New York. There is an emotional parting; Langston just wants to be with his mother and can’t bear the thought of being separated from her – she’s all he’s got. He arrives in New York – his bag is stolen at the bus station – all he’s got with him is gone. He goes into a hotel to ask if he can use the phone; a man leaves a wallet on the counter; Langston picks it up. You can see Langston hesitate for a moment – he’s tempted just to put it in his pocket .. but he makes a move to hand it back to the man. The man sees this young black teenager, obviously out of place in an expensive hotel, with his wallet in his hands – he assumes that he’s trying to steal the wallet, and the next thing we see is Langston in a police cell. The viewer is naturally outraged at this example of blatant prejudice and stereotyping. We fear the worst, but thankfully Langston’s grandfather turns up and, with the help of an understanding police officer, is able to take him home.</p> <p>It turns out that Langston’s grandfather, Cornell, is a church minister. Before long, though, we see tensions between him and Langston developing; at one point Langston, when he’s expected to go to church with his grandparents, says simply, ‘I don’t do Church’. We then go on to see a side of Langston developing which makes us ask more and more questions about what this boy is really like. We see him going through a drawer in his grandfather’s desk and take some money, as well as a precious watch that had been given to him, many years previously, by the Civil Rights Leader and Church minister Martin Luther King – the watch is even inscribed with Martin Luther King’s initials. Astonishingly, Langston takes this watch to a local pawnbroker, and attempts to get cash for it. Thankfully, the manager of the shop knows Rev. Cornell and tells Langston to return it to him.<br/>We’re left, however, with an increasing feeling that, despite our earlier sympathy for him, Langston is simply a selfish opportunist who takes advantage of other people to get what he can for himself. We are even more disturbed when he strides out of the Nativity presentation at his grandfather’s church and goes to another pawnbroker’s shop, tricks the owner into showing him his gun, and uses the same gun to threaten him into giving him some expensive jewellery. Amazingly, however, it emerges that the owner of this shop is Langston’s long lost father ... then a police officer turns up, Langston’s father protects his son and covers up for him, as it were, and once again Langston is saved by the skin of his teeth.</p> <p>The final scene, back at the church, where the Nativity presentation is still going on, is when many questions that have been left unanswered until then are resolved. Langston’s mother Naima has managed to find the money to come to New York, and sees her parents for the first time since Langston’s birth. We finally see that Langston has actually been motivated not by selfishness, greed or opportunism, but by a desperate determination to raise enough money for his mother to pay off her debts, to afford to pay rent once again, and so that he can be with her. We also see that the reason why she had left her parents in the first place was that she had become pregnant at a young age, and her father had given a large sum of money to Langston’s father but on the condition that he never saw Naima or Langston again. Langston’s father had taken the money, and gone along with this, because he too had debts to pay. Langston had therefore grown up without a father, through no fault of his own, of course, but was desperate to know more about his own origins.</p> <p>There is then a scene of tearful reconciliation between everyone involved, including Langston’s father, who has also come to the church. There is some anger, with Naima blaming her father for everything – but it’s in fact Langston who pleads with her to forgive her father, and for the family to be able to be all back together again.</p> <p>I have described this film in some detail because it explores very well what it means to love others – in the particularly difficult circumstances of a family that is under pressure in so many ways; money, debt, religious expectations, stereotyping, a harsh street culture. Somehow, though, the power of forgiveness, the redemptive effects of giving those who are close to us another chance, the hope that wrongs were committed even many years ago can still be overcome – all these things shine through in a film in which despair and deep family sadness are transformed into new hope for the future. Rev Cornell said at one point that he prayed every day for something like this to happen, having realised that he himself had made a colossal and life changing mistake in turning his daughter against him.<br/><br/>Love your neighbour as yourself. How hard this can be in practice – which is one reason why it is a constant thread that runs through both Old and New Testaments. But when you’ve experienced, or seen for yourself, the power of love, compassion, understanding and forgiveness to transform even the most extreme circumstances and the most damaged people, it’s then that you begin really to believe in God. Amen.</p> <p> </p> Tue, 09 Sep 2014 11:18:53 +0200 http://www.nottinghamchurches.org/articles/sermons-2/love-your-neighbour-don-t-rush-to-judge-others/ 600 years of history – Commemoration of benefactors of St Mary’s Church http://www.nottinghamchurches.org/articles/sermons-2/600-years-of-history-commemoration-of-benefactors-of-st-mary-s-church/ <p><strong>Sermon preached by Rev Christopher Harrison, July 6th 2014</strong></p> <p>On the epitaph to Sir Christopher Wren which can be seen in St Paul’s cathedral is the inscription, ‘Lector, si monumentum requires, circumspice’ (Reader, if you seek his memorial, look around you). Today we commemorate the many benefactors of this church – and all the other men and women, known and unknown, who have contributed through the centuries to making this building what it is today. Later on in the service we will hear the names of the most significant of these people. In a very real way, the words on Wren’s epitaph in St Paul’s also apply to all those who have built, developed and maintained this church; if we seek a memorial to them, we are to look around us.</p> <p>This of course should not lead us to forget the particular places – memorials, tombs etc – in St Mary’s which commemorate some of our benefactors. In particular, in the south transept is the tomb of John Samon, who is generally regarded as the founder and first benefactor of this church. Samon, whose wife’s name was Agnes, was a merchant also and four times Mayor of Nottingham. He died in the first quarter of the 1400s (the tomb dates from the time of the building of the church). In the north transept there is a composite memorial to William de Amyas (merchant in corn and wool and owning four large ships, banker and money lender, Mayor four times in the 1300s); John Tannesley (bailiff and alderman, twice Mayor at the end of the 1300s and beginning of the 1400s), Thomas Thurland (owner of Thurland Hall on Thurland Street, twice Mayor in the mid 1400s), and Robert English (merchant and mayor).</p> <p>We can but speculate about what kind of people these benefactors of our church were; but it is clear that without them, St Mary’s as we know it today would not exist. They are all representatives of a Nottingham which had grown wealthy through agriculture and trade, and they wanted no doubt to give something of their riches to the city, and to God. Through the centuries which followed, many others left their mark on the church. There were those in the 1880s who were responsible for rebuilding and reinforcing the west wall of the church, to guard against any risk of collapse. There were those who contributed the choir stalls and pulpit – both designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott – in the 1870s; also the rood screen given by a certain Thomas Hill in 1885. The reredos was also completed in this year, and the chapter house shortly afterwards. The chapel was built in 1912-13. Many of the splendid windows were also installed over this period, and the various people in whose memory they were given is often inscribed upon them. The marble pavement in the chancel was given by Hannah Maude Taylor Thorpe in 1928. All these elements of St Mary’s were the result of considerable generosity on the part of people who wanted to play their part in building a church for the future as well as for the present, but in many cases also to commemorate people whose lives were now past.</p> <p>So what should this ancient commemoration mean to us today? It is, first of all, a way in which we remind ourselves of our connection with all those who have gone before us here at St Mary’s. In doing this, we think of all those, known and unknown, on whose shoulders we stand, both here in the Church and in the city as a whole. These were people who played their part in constructing a system of social, economic, ecclesiastical and political institutions which took centuries to build, involving precious freedoms and rights which are still the envy of many other countries. St Mary’s was an integral part of this development of our society, and should very much remain so today. We neglect their memory at our peril.</p> <p>But let us also, as we look around us, reflect upon the scale of their generosity. The costs of constructing this building in today’s money would be colossal. This was money which our benefactors chose not to spend perhaps on a large country house and estate, but on a building which would enable God to be worshipped at the heart of Nottingham for years to come. Our largest benefactors were, of course, people of substantial means. We, their spiritual descendants, should still be roused and inspired by their huge generosity – not forgetting, also, all those who gave much less, but from more humble means, and in a spirit of personal sacrifice.</p> <p>This of course is not just any building. Those who conceived, designed and built St Mary’s, through the goodwill of its benefactors, were building to the glory of God as well as demonstrating the fruits of Nottingham’s prosperity. They worked at the limits of architectural and building techniques, as well as new exploring new dimensions of beauty as expressed through the qualities of this church. We, in this generation, are also playing our part in conserving our church and enhancing its beauty. Our church architect recently referred to the installation of our new floor as the most significant change to the fabric of St Mary’s since the addition of the chapel just over a hundred years ago.</p> <p>Over the centuries, St Mary’s church has represented a coming together of church and city, of God and industry, of the worlds of finance and of spirit. For much of this nation’s history this was a natural partnership. Today, however, we have to work harder to enable such a partnership to bear fruit, both in terms of the Church’s impact on society, and in order to gain the respect of the increasing numbers of people for whom God means little or nothing. St Mary’s has a long tradition of being at the heart of civic life in Nottingham. We need to keep that tradition strong. This means playing our part in debates about the development of the city. It also means doing what we can, along with the other churches in the parish, to ensure that those in particular need – the poor, the mentally ill, those who are seeking refuge from oppressive regimes overseas, the homeless – are supported when care and welfare budgets are under increasing pressure.<br/><br/>We may not be able to give as much to the Church as the major founders and benefactors we are commemorating this morning. But this is also a day when each of us should be stirred to think about our faith afresh not just in terms of getting things from God, but in terms of giving, so that those who come after us may benefit. Money, time, talents, even the widow’s mite counts – what matters is the gift given for the benefit of others and for the glory of God. Another line in Sir Christopher Wren’s epitaph, less frequently quoted, says that his life was lived ‘non sibi sed bono publico’ (not for himself but for the good of the people). So we thank you, Lord God, for all those who gave so fully and so generously to you here in this Church. Help us to be good stewards of the inheritance handed down to us, and grant us the resources we need as we hand it on to those who will follow us in years to come. Amen.</p> <p> </p> Mon, 07 Jul 2014 11:16:34 +0200 http://www.nottinghamchurches.org/articles/sermons-2/600-years-of-history-commemoration-of-benefactors-of-st-mary-s-church/ St Peter – a disciple for our time? http://www.nottinghamchurches.org/articles/sermons-2/st-peter-a-disciple-for-our-time/ <p><strong>Sermon preached by Rev Christopher Harrison at the Patronal Festival of St Peter’s Church, Nottingham, 29th July 2014</strong></p> <p>Who was St Peter? What do we know about him from the gospels? Originally known as Simon, he was one of the first disciples to be called by Jesus, when he left his fishing nets and decided to throw in his lot with the one who was to become his Master and Lord. It seems that he was married – we read about Jesus healing Peter’s mother in law. We see him called out one night by Jesus to walk on the waters of Lake Galilee, and almost sinking; Jesus – rather unfairly, I always think – rebukes him for his lack of faith. He was clearly part of a kind of inner circle of disciples, with James and John; we see these three, with Jesus, on the Mount of Transfiguration when Jesus is seen shining in glory, and talking with the figures of Moses and Elijah. Peter misunderstands what’s happening; believing that Moses and Elijah are physical beings, he offers to build shelters for them.</p> <p>He is also with James and John when he accompanies Jesus into the house of Jairus, whose daughter is very seriously ill. Then we see Peter, with the other disciples at Caesarea Philippi, as the first disciple to recognise Jesus as the Christ, or Messiah. However, he also tries to prevent Jesus from going to his death at Jerusalem, which prompts Jesus to utter those memorable words, ‘Get thee behind me Satan’. All the same, Jesus still commends him; this is the moment at which he gives him the name ‘Peter’, from the Greek for ‘rock’ – he will be the rock on which the Church will be built. This is also the time when Jesus promises to give Peter the ‘keys of the kingdom’, along with the power to make judgements about the worthiness of others to enter God’s kingdom.</p> <p>We move on to the Last supper, and see Peter resisting Jesus’ offer to wash his feet. However, when Jesus says ‘If I don’t wash your feet, you won’t have any part in me’, Peter replies, ‘Then wash not only my feet but my hands and head as well’. In the Garden of Gethsemane, Peter is fiercely protective of Jesus, even cutting off the ear of the High priest’s servant. However, he is rebuked by Jesus, who is determined to go through with his path to the cross. One of the most dramatic moments in Peter’s time as a disciple follows, when he denied - or disowned - Christ three times; however, he is immediately full of remorse, and wept bitterly for what he had done.</p> <p>A few days later, his sorrow is turned to joy as he became one of the first people to see Christ risen from the dead. We read in the gospels of Luke and John that he went himself to the tomb, and saw the linen grave cloths lying there. Shortly afterwards, when the disciples are back at Lake Galilee, Christ forgave Peter three times, asking him three times if he loved him - then three times told him to look after his flock.</p> <p>We then go on to see Peter in the book of the Acts of the Apostles preaching, teaching, healing; he was imprisoned more than once, and miraculously released. In Acts there is a vivid description of a vision seen by Peter, in which a sheet is lowered from heaven containing many kinds of animals and unclean things. This is the moment at which Peter realises that God is opening the Church to the gentiles – to all the world, in other words, not just to the Jews. He says to a centurion called Cornelius ‘ God has shown me that I should not call anyone common or unclean’ This, at the time, would have been an extremely radical thing to assert, and it was indeed resisted by many who did not agree with it. The result, however, was that the Church became open to all - not just to Jewish Christians – and, in addition, it meant that Christians did not have to obey Jewish cleanliness laws.</p> <p>Peter travelled long distances preaching the gospel, including going to Antioch, Corinth, and Rome. The first letter of Peter is thought to have been written in Rome. He became known as the first Pope, and is believed to have been martyred in the reign of emperor Nero, in AD64. He was crucified upside down, saying that he was unworthy to be crucified in the same manner as Christ.</p> <p>What kind of person was Peter? What can we glean from all of these episodes? He was someone who responded instinctively and energetically to the call of Jesus to follow him. But this was only the beginning of his journey of faith. He was repeatedly rebuked by Jesus: for his weakness of faith; for his misunderstandings of Jesus – for example when Jesus was seen with Moses and Elijah, and at Caesarea Philippi . Also when he resisted Jesus’ attempts to wash his feet, and when, against Jesus’ wishes, he cut off the ear of the servant of the high priest. Then, to cap it all, he disowned Christ at his hour of greatest need. Peter, then, was someone who was very human; he was prone to making mistakes, even very serious ones; one who was zealously protective of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane but then his instinct for self-preservation got the better of him; he clearly was devastated by this, however.</p> <p>Jesus, though, knew that Peter was basically totally devoted to him, which is why he told him to care for his sheep, to lead his Church. But why did Jesus choose him to lead his church? I believe that it was precisely because of the kind of person Peter was; since he understood people, having fallen himself, so many times, and having experienced Jesus’ love, forgiveness, and guidance – he was absolutely the right person to have the Church entrusted to him. Through all these experiences he had become the strong and secure rock which Jesus foresaw that he would be. He would be zealous in his proclamation of the good news of Christ’s death and resurrection, and of Christ’s love for all people - so when judgement was entrusted to Peter, he would be compassionate and merciful, even as Christ had been compassionate to him.</p> <p>There is, however, one notable moment, which I have not mentioned so far. Peter said to Jesus, ‘How many times should I forgive my brother if he sins against me? As many as seven times?’ Jesus said in reply, ‘Not seven, but seventy times seven times’.<br/><br/>Was Peter, in these words, asking Jesus to guide him in his own behaviour towards those around him? Or was this actually Peter, acutely aware of his own shortcomings, weaknesses, and failings, saying to Jesus, ‘how many times, Lord, will you forgive me?’</p> <p> </p> Mon, 07 Jul 2014 11:15:09 +0200 http://www.nottinghamchurches.org/articles/sermons-2/st-peter-a-disciple-for-our-time/ Missionaries and the Kingdom http://www.nottinghamchurches.org/articles/sermons-2/missionaries-and-the-kingdom/ <p><strong>Missionaries, Judgment and the Kingdom of God; Sermon preached at St Mary’s Church by Reverend Christopher Harrison, 22nd June 2014</strong></p> <p>Today’s gospel (Matthew 10. 24-39) is one of the more challenging passages in the New Testament. It consists of a series of sayings or teachings given by Jesus to his disciples, some of which are quite unsettling, such as:<br/><br/>- I have not come to bring peace but a sword;</p> <p>- the one who disowns me in the presence of human beings, I will disown in the presence of my Father in heaven</p> <p>- no-one who prefers father or mother to me is worthy of me;</p> <p>- anyone who loses his life for my sake will find it.</p> <p>On the face of it, such sayings seem to portray a Jesus who supports violence to achieve his ends; who is totally unmerciful to those who deny or reject him; who tells people to ignore and even relinquish their families for his sake; and who recommends martyrdom.</p> <p>What is all this about? How can we reconcile such teachings with the loving, merciful, forgiving, compassionate Jesus we prefer to believe in, the Good Shepherd, the one who entered Jerusalem meekly and riding on a donkey?</p> <p>The first thing to look at – as is often the case when we come across a difficult passage in scripture – is the context. When we look more closely, we see that Jesus is preparing his disciples to go out as missionaries on his behalf, preaching the Kingdom of God and calling people to turn afresh to God. These words, then, are addressed to the disciples, and are intended to strengthen their resolve as they brace themselves for what is likely to be a hostile reception. This is why, in the passage immediately preceding the one we’ve just heard, he tells them to expect persecution, and why he also tells them that God will give them the words they need to say when they face threats from those who oppose them.</p> <p>But the context of these sayings of Jesus goes beyond this. If we look closely at the preceding passage, the first verses of Matthew chapter 10, we can see that Jesus seems to have been expecting the present world to be about to come to an end. This is not the only place in the gospels where he clearly believes that the current world order is about to draw to a close, and that God’s final Judgement will be made upon all people. In saying this, Jesus is doing no more than reflecting beliefs that were current at the time. There were many who saw the descriptions of the end of the world which are found in parts of the Old Testament, such as the Book of Daniel, to refer to that particular time. It may have been that Roman domination, with all the social and political stresses which came with it, led people of Jesus’ period to believe that ancient prophecies of the world coming to an end were about to be realised. Such beliefs went hand in hand with the growing expectation that a Messiah would be sent by God, to lead the people of Israel and to restore their fortunes after many centuries of subjugation and domination. We see then, in Matthew 10.23, Jesus telling the disciples that they won’t in fact have been able to finish their missionary travels around the towns of Israel before – as he puts it – the Son of Man comes. This is a clear echo of the language of the Book of Daniel, which also talks of one like a Son of Man who plays a significant part in the end times. When spoken by Jesus, however, this phrase refers to him, himself, returning to earth in judgement at the end of time.</p> <p>For Jesus and the disciples, then, the clock is ticking, and ticking very fast, as the Day of Judgement approaches. He says, in Matthew 10.16, that this day will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah than for any towns who reject his call to return to God. This expectation, that it would not be long before the world as people knew it would come to an end, that all people would be judged by Christ who would return to separate the sheep from the goats, greatly helps us to understand the difficult verses in the gospel which I quoted at the beginning of this sermon. So, for example:<br/><br/>- even family ties, he is saying, if these kept people from turning afresh to God, and if they got in the way of the eternal salvation of their souls, should be challenged.</p> <p>- the reference to bringing not peace but a sword can be seen as indicating how vitally important it was for followers of Christ to stand firm against those who would keep them from remaining firm in the faith and thus from receiving eternal salvation.</p> <p>- Those who disowned Christ, therefore, would be committing a most terrible sin, as this amounted to turning one’s back on all that Christ proclaimed – love, mercy, forgiveness, justice. This would give rise to a severe judgement and punishment, reflecting the severity of the sin of rejecting Christ himself.</p> <p>- However, Jesus says that on the other hand, those who are prepared to make sacrifices for his sake – even to the point of losing their very life – will receive an eternal reward in heaven.</p> <p>One of the great mysteries of the gospels is why Jesus seemed to be so convinced that the world would come to an end, and that the final judgement was imminent, when in fact it didn’t actually happen that way. Indeed as we read the various writings of St Paul and other early Christian writers, we see the initial belief that Christ would soon return being replaced by a realisation that perhaps this wasn’t the case, and that the first Christians would have to adjust their beliefs accordingly. St Paul, for example, tells unmarried Christians not to marry, as Jesus would soon return and being married would then become irrelevant. The references in the Acts of the Apostles to the first Christians pooling their possessions may also reflect an assumption that this would only be a temporary arrangement, as material things would become irrelevant when the world came to an end.</p> <p>So did Jesus get it wrong? Was he, then, more fallible that we would like to believe? It is, however, entirely in order to see Jesus – even though he was God’s Son – as being subject to the beliefs, expectations, and world view of his time. He does seem to have identified with those who saw the Old Testament prophecies of an imminent end of the world, and Last Judgement, as being about to be fulfilled. But of course even if these prophecies did not come about as expected, it doesn’t mean that all Jesus’ teachings, all he stood for and died for, become null and void. It does mean, however, that we have to put work into getting to the heart of these teachings, and to distil from them the eternal truths which should continue to be the foundation of the Christian Church as we know it today.</p> <p>What Jesus did in encouraging the first disciples in their missionary work has inspired countless generations of missionaries through the centuries. Without the dedication, commitment, determination, faith and self-sacrifice of the Church’s missionaries over the years, the message of God’s eternal kingdom of love, mercy, compassion and justice would never have spread to all corners of the world. But our understanding of the original context of these words of Jesus reminds us we do have to be careful how we interpret teachings and saying which were applied to a particular time and place. We are right, therefore, when we question what Jesus said about bringing a sword rather than peace – certainly not turning this into a general principle of missionary activity. We also need to avoid turning Jesus’ references to family strife and conflict as being in any way an excuse for putting faith before family. Our faith should be a source of peace, harmony and mutual love within our families rather than division.<br/><br/>But the principle of losing our lives for Christ in order to save them does express a profound and universal principle. This is that if we give of ourselves for the greater good, for values which build up humanity as a whole, rather than just advancing our own interests, then we ourselves will receive great blessings from this. And this will be the case both here on earth, as well as in the world to come. Amen.</p> <p> </p> Mon, 23 Jun 2014 10:56:05 +0200 http://www.nottinghamchurches.org/articles/sermons-2/missionaries-and-the-kingdom/ Sermon for Low Sunday http://www.nottinghamchurches.org/articles/sermons-2/sermon-for-low-sunday/ <p>“Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe”. (John 20.25)</p> <p>Thomas in many ways is thoroughly modern in his outlook. We live in an age dominated by science and technology in which the only knowledge acceptable to the majority is what is called empirical – what we can see and hear and especially what we can measure and analyse. And many reject the spiritual.</p> <p>The Prime Minister got himself into trouble by suggesting that this is a Christian country and probably to his surprise raised a storm of protest.</p> <p>The media are full of agnostics and atheists who scoff at religion – it’s become fashionable for the sophisticated to regard those who take religion seriously as delusional, though there are still a few in prominent places who are not ashamed to proclaim their faith.</p> <p>It’s the dominance of empiricism which has led to this. If I can’t see it, or touch it of measure it, it isn’t there. Yet if you listen to the great scientists they will tell you that the more they learn, the more aware they become of the wonder and mystery of the universe. The world of sub atomic particles is apparently quite unpredictable. Quarks are then, but not there. As you observe, then, they are in one place, then in another place. And we’re told that the inside of an atom is mainly empty space, so this pulpit which seems solid is really far more mysterious than it looks.</p> <p>And when we’re told about dark matter and black holes and perhaps parallel universes, we begin to realise that believing only what we see is to limit our understanding in a naive and insular way.</p> <p>And the empirical approach is limiting in so many other ways. It does not take account of the world of the imagination or of poetry or – very appropriate to this pace – the magical effects of music. You can analyse musical sounds according to the laws of physics, but that does not tell you anything about the power of music to move your soul or to lift your spirits.</p> <p>There is far more to this mysterious world than what we can see and measure, and a great deal can depend on our personal perception. One person can react to tragedy by saying ‘there is no God’, while the next person can react to the same tragedy by saying ‘God is my only hope in trouble’.</p> <p>Let me give you a very trivial – indeed amusing – example of the different ways in which an event can be perceived. I got this from the Jewish Chronicle, not an organ I regularly read, but this item was brought to my attention. When Lord Sachs retired last year as Chief Rabbi, he was succeeded by Ephraim Mirvis. Both are from north London but the learned journal pointed out that the chief theological difference between them was that Sachs supports Arsenal which Mirvis, as they put it, prays for Spurs. But the report went on with more difficult territory. Apparently Lord Sachs once shared a box at Arsenal with Lord Carey, then Archbishop of Canterbury, also an Arsenal supporter. Arsenal lost to Manchester Unites by 6-2, clearly before the David Moyes era.</p> <p>It was then suggested to Lord Sachs that is two of the country’s senior clerics could not secure vistory then maybe if proved that God doesn’t exist. ‘Oh no’ responded the Chief Rabbi ‘on the contrary, it proves that God does exist – it’s just that he supports Manchester United.’</p> <p>Well done the Chief Rabbi. It’s all a question of how you interpret your experience. And to return to David Cameron, you can say that he is both right and wrong. He’s wrong if you measure the statistics of church attendance, even on Easter Day. There has only ever been one official government religious census which was in 1851. Half the population attended church that day, and half of those attended Anglican churches. So statistically the country was 50% Christian, but only 25% Anglican.</p> <p>But there are other ways of seeing what David Cameron said. We are a Christian country in terms of our very long history of Christian faith, and most of our institutions and ideals come from a Christian base. Hospitals, schools, the care of the weak, the elderly, the stranger – all those come from Christian ideals which were first instituted by the Church and later taken over by the State. The ideal of loving your neighbour, the sense of community, our ethics, our values, even the rule of law and the recognition of justice all stem from our Christian heritage. And the Church of England still conducts 1000 weddings a week, 2700 baptisms and over 3000 funerals. And it was good to see that Muslim leaders in this country came to Cameron’s assistance as they readily agreed that England in its history, institutions and practices is indeed a Christian country. Their perception of God may differ from ours, but they share with us the sense that belief in God has to be taken very seriously indeed, and that wholeness of living must include a deeply spiritual understanding of the world.</p> <p>Which brings us back to Thomas, the man who had to see for himself, and not only see, but touch and handle. The testimony of his friends was not enough for him. You could call him a realist. Only a few days before the master whom he had followed so faithfully for so ling had died a cruel, unjust, public death. Thomas was not without courage. When Jesus had said he was going to Jerusalem, the disciples warned him against it because it was too dangerous, and it was. Thomas, who spoke up bravely: ‘Let us also go, that we may die with him’.</p> <p>But the actual death of Jesus, when it came, was more that Thomas could bear. He had invested all his hopes in this man, who seemed to promise a better world, but now it had all ended in failure and his hopes were dashed. “What business have any colleagues with raising false and foolish hopes by babbling on about having seen him alive again? We saw him die, didn’t we? It was gruesome, grim, unbearable. Don’t raise my hopes only to have them dashed again.” You can sympathise with Thomas, even if he does express his thoughts rather too graphically.</p> <p>But then, a week later, as it were today, the risen Lord appears again and Thomas with them. The Lord knows all that Thomas has been thinking, and offers him the very proof he had said he would need to convince him. But he no longer needs that proof. It’s enough for him to know that his Lord is alive, and he flings himself at his feed in adoration, declaring the most absolute words of faith in the New Testament – ‘My Lord and my God’. Not doubting Thomas but believing Thomas.</p> <p>But as the Lord declares, blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.</p> <p>The resurrection is mysterious, but as we have already said, so is this amazing universe which for all our science we still do not understand. The resurrection of Christ takes us beyond history into a different dimension of reality. The New Testament accounts usually show that the risen Lord is not immediately recognised, even by Mary Magdalene in the pardon or by the two who walk with him all the way to Emmaus. Our eyes have to be opened. Perhaps we have to see with new eyes, different eyes. It’s partly about our perception. The gardener, the visitor to Jerusalem, the stranger on the shore - they are not what they first appear to be – but it takes the eye of faith to understand who they truly are. Our vision is too literal. There is far more to this mysterious universe than what we can see and analyse and measure. Just occasionally we are enabled to see more, and then we realise how little we really know.</p> <p>But what matters is that we have hope. Jesus really died, but he lives. He is risen. It was privy to a few to see, if only they would recognise what they saw, but as for us we depend, as Thomas at first refused to depend, on the testimony of others. But no, that’s not it. We also know the presence of the risen Lord in the Eucharist, in broken bread and flowed out wine. We know his presence when two or three are gathered together. We know his presence in the music of the liturgy. We know his presence in our prayers. We know his presence when the Gospel is read. And we know his presence in our hours of greatest need.</p> <p>The Lord is risen. He is risen indeed. Alleluia. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.<br/><br/>Thanks be to God.</p> <p> </p> Thu, 08 May 2014 15:54:39 +0200 http://www.nottinghamchurches.org/articles/sermons-2/sermon-for-low-sunday/ Recognising the Risen Lord http://www.nottinghamchurches.org/articles/sermons-2/recognising-the-risen-lord/ <p><strong>Recognising the Risen Lord – Sermon preached at St Mary’s, Nottingham, by Rev Christopher Harrison, 4th May 2014</strong></p> <p>How do you recognise people? The question isn’t as straightforward as you may think. Try to list someone’s distinguishing features - for example red curly hair, grey eyes, a moustache, small ears, piercing eyes ... It may be reasonably easy to describe the features that make someone’s face distinct, but that’s not the same as being able to recognise their face. In fact it isn’t known exactly how the human brain recognises a face; some argue that there are specific areas in the brain which are involved in the recognition of faces, while others argue that recognising a face is no different from recognising other aspects of the world around us.</p> <p>One of the intriguing things about the return of Jesus from the dead is that it seems that he was more difficult to recognise than before. Mary Magdalene thought that he was the gardener. The two disciples who were walking together on the road to the village of Emmaus didn’t recognise Jesus at first, either. What is interesting, then, is that Jesus found other ways of showing those who saw him, after his resurrection, that it was really he.</p> <p>Let’s look at these:<br/>(i) In the Garden where the empty tomb was, he called Mary Magdalene by name, and it was this that made her realise who he was;(ii) When he appeared to the disciples in a room whose doors were locked, he showed them the marks of the wounds on his hands, his feet, and on his side;<br/>(iii) On the road to Emmaus, it was when Jesus broke bread with them that they realised who he was;<br/>(iv) On the shores of Lake Galilee, when the disciples were fishing, the first thing which showed them who he was occurred when he told them to put their nets down one more time, and they were then filled – just as when Jesus had called the first disciples;<br/><br/>- And during the same encounter, Jesus told St. Peter three times that he was to look after his flock, to care for his sheep (the Church). This three-fold commissioning of Peter mirrored Peter’s three-fold denial of Christ just after his arrest.</p> <p>But it wasn’t just to prove to them who he was, and that he had really risen from the dead, that Jesus presented himself to the disciples in these four ways. Each of these ways stood for a different aspect of who he was, and what he came to earth to do:</p> <p>(i) By calling Mary by name, he reminds us that God knows each of us by name . We are all precious in his sight; though he doesn’t take away our troubles, they are known to him and he is always with us, through the Holy Spirit.<br/>(ii) By showing his wounds, he reminds us that he died for us, and for the sins the world . God did not send his Son to lord it over others, but to serve, to live a life of humility, and to be sacrificed on behalf of the world.<br/>(iii) By breaking and sharing bread on the road to Emmaus, Jesus tells us that we too are to commemorate him, and to celebrate his risen presence, as we share the bread and the wine of holy communion, which are his body and blood.<br/>(iv) Jesus’ forgiveness of Peter, and his commissioning of him to lead the Church, are symbols of God’s forgiveness of each of us , if we turn to him in penitence and faith. They also remind us that we, like Peter, are to be used by God as his servants , his disciples, his missionaries in the task of bringing people to him.</p> <p>But of course we can also take this one step further:<br/>(i) Just as we are all precious in God’s sight, so each person should be precious in our sight;<br/>(ii) Just as Christ bore the consequences of the sins of others, by dying on the cross, so we are to bear the sins of those around us – by willingly sharing in the consequences of other people’s mistakes and wrongdoing – and not by seeking revenge or harbouring resentment.<br/>(iii) We are called not just to share the bread and wine of holy communion with each other, but to do what we can to ensure that the people of the world do not go hungry and thirsty in their everyday lives;<br/>(iv) And just as God forgives us, so are we to forgive those around us: “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us”.</p> <p>All this, then, has emerged from our looking at the different ways in which the risen Christ was recognised by those around him.</p> <p>But it also means that we too are recognisable as Christians in the eyes of the world by the things we do, not just by the things we believe or say. Valuing each individual; sharing in the consequences of the sins of others; helping others to be fed; forgiving those around us. These are in fact all part of what it means to love God and our neighbour – the so-called “Golden Rule”, as it was described by Jesus.</p> <p>Finally – even if we sometimes find it difficult to recognise people, especially if we’ve hardly met them, remember that Jesus also said that we were to see him in other people.<br/><br/>Whatever we do for the least of our brethren, therefore, we do not just for them – but for him. Amen.</p> <p> </p> Tue, 06 May 2014 11:04:45 +0200 http://www.nottinghamchurches.org/articles/sermons-2/recognising-the-risen-lord/