Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Benedictus


I have been puzzling over a metrical Benedictus written by Timothy Dudley Smith Our God has turned to his people, which I found almost un-singable. I started tinkering with it, and ended up rewriting it to a different metre. This offered for comment, correction, suggestion, improvement etc. It is now in the metre 88 88 D, and has been written to be sung to the hymn tune Schm├╝cke dich



God has turned to us, his people,
freeing us from sin and evil;
raising up a mighty saviour,
Victor, with his flock for ever.
Monarch in the house of David
as foretold by holy sages.
God has plentif’lly redeemed us
He has poured his blessings o’er us.

God has bowed down to restore us,
faithful to his ancient promise,
rescues us from all who harm us,
from the hands of those who hate us.
This, the oath to Fathers given
freed from foes, at peace with heaven,
we would give to him our praises
evermore through all the ages.

Child of God, great prophet, making,
straight the path for the world’s true king,
showing us God’s loving kindness,
proclaiming God’s great forgiveness.
So shall dawn out of our darkness
heavens morning,  glorious brightness,
guiding us out of the shadows
peaceful paths our feet to follow.

Glory be to God the Father;
Glory to his Son our Saviour,
Dying, risen, ascended for us,
who has heav’nly realms won for us;
Glory be to God the Spirit;
may we all your life inherit;
glory both in earth and heaven,
be for endless ages given. Amen.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Looking for love in Lent


Third Sunday of Lent 2017
John 4

Most of the women from the village would go and gather water in the cool of the morning, when the exhausting work of lugging heavy waterpots didn’t exhaust you all that much. But there was always one woman who waited until the middle of the scorching Samarian day to make the journey to the well. That way, she could be sure that she wouldn’t be disturbed, she could be sure that tongues wouldn’t wag.

But this day, she was disturbed. Not by the gossipy women of the village, but by an exhausted Jewish traveller, who asks her for a drink. Now here is the first strange thing. Jews do not speak to Samaritans. Samaritans had a long history of corrupting the Jewish faith. Most Jews wouldn’t even speak to a Samaritan, let alone risk contaminating themselves by drinking from one of their cups. But this Jewish man knows that he has been sent to gather all people to himself, to give them living water, and to make them true worshippers of the Father. And so he asks this woman for a drink. He comes to her, not immediately offering to transform her life, but humbly asking her to transform his, just a little, by quenching his thirst. Jesus, the one who offers abundant life, first meets this woman on the simple level of their shared humanity, ‘Please, give me a drink’.

As Jesus and the woman speak, he tells her of the gift he comes to bring, living water, an inexhaustible supply of spiritual life. The woman scarcely knows what to think of this. Is he offering a better water supply that their ancestor, Jacob? How can he give her water, when he doesn’t have a bucket? Still Jesus says, ‘if you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, “Give me a drink”, you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.’ And here is Jesus breathtaking offer. He doesn’t offer living water in exchange for selling everything she has and following him, or for joining a monastery, or by reading the bible and praying every day. He simply says, ‘if you ask, I’ll give you a spring of water, gushing up to eternal life.’

We don’t receive the blessings of God’s life in us because we have worked ever so hard. We don’t receive God’s life because we have the faith of a saint. We receive God’s life simply for asking, for having the tiniest amount of faith it is possible to imagine. Perhaps you don’t think you have strong enough faith to call yourself a Christian, or to come to receive the gift of God’s life shared with us in Holy Communion. Perhaps you’ve come to church for many years, but feel a bit of a fraud because your faith isn’t strong, or you don’t understand very much. Faith as thin as a thread of spiders web is enough to bind us in love to God, not because of the strength of our belief, but because of the strength of the one believed in. 

This woman, like us, certainly has a mixed up faith. There are lots of questions she has, and it is important to ask questions. There is much she needs to learn, and it is important to learn. There are aspects of her life which need to change, and God knows, we all stand in need of change. But she doesn’t have to pass an exam before the gift is given to her. She simply asks, in a muddled sort of way, ‘Sir, give me this water, so that I don’t have to keep coming back here.’ And Jesus gives her a gift beyond price.

And just as she doesn’t need to change for the gift to be given. So too when the gift has been given, she cannot but change. He asks her to bring her husband to the well, knowing that she isn’t married to the man she currently lives with and had been married five times before. I don’t think we are meant to think of this woman as terribly immoral. In the patriarchal first century, women couldn’t divorce their husbands, but men could fairly straightforwardly get rid of their wives. It is more than likely that this woman had been abandoned by five consecutive husbands, and no longer able to trust that any man truly loved her, is currently in a non specific relationship with a man not committed enough to her to make her is wife. Here is a woman with a broken self-image, who perhaps feels that no-one could truly love her, truly accept her, truly nurture and care for her. Perhaps this is why she risks the scorching midday heat.

Except that, on this particular day, in the scorching Samarian heat, she doesn't meet mockers, she meets Jesus at Jacob’s well. In the Old Testament wells are important: Abraham sent his servant to look for a wife for his son, Isaac, at a well. The first woman to offer him and his camels a drink was the lucky gal. And then there was Isaac’s son, Jacob, who built the very well they were standing at. It was there that he found his wife, Rebecca. This well was the first century equivalent of e-harmony for holy men, and here is Jesus... talking with a samaritan woman... no wonder the disciples were shocked , they all knew what happened at wells! Here is Jesus, talking to a woman who’s dreams had been shattered, and he asks her about her husband. Not to blame her, or judge her, or shame her, but to expose the deepest, most painful need in her life, to be loved dependably, and to says ‘I will be that person for you’. Not a husband, but much more, a saviour, a friend, a brother.

As we often remind ourselves, we live in such beautiful villages, and we are pretty good at covering up our deepest hurts, disappointments and wounds. We cover them up with as smile, with displays of our prosperity, with enthusiastic leisure pursuits, with being the life and soul of the party. But we all know that the brokenness is still there, however convincing a job we do at hiding it. Like this Samaritan woman, Jesus says, ‘simply ask’. As we open our lives to him, as we let him see our deepest vulnerabilities and needs, he fills those deepest needs with the fulness of inexhaustible life and love, the life and love of the God who made us. A great teacher of the Church once said:

“O God, you have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you.”

The Samaritan woman’s restless heart found peace when she asked Jesus for the water of life. May our restless hearts likewise find this this peace, this love, and this life.


Thursday, February 23, 2017

Why I am not too worried about church recession



The Church of England is obsessively concerned with 'Church Growth' these days, by which is meant numerical growth. It is why we are all supposed to embrace some kind of Process Evangelism course, force our Parent and Toddler groups to sing praise choruses, and otherwise preach at anything which moves.

While I want to see more people embracing faith in Jesus Christ, I can't quite bring myself to be too disheartened by the news that the CofE as an institution is in terminal decline. These words from a youthful Fr. Ratzinger, delivered in 1969 and published here, do more to explain why I am not too perturbed by church recession than anything I could say:

“From the crisis of today the Church of tomorrow will emerge — a Church that has lost much. She will become small and will have to start afresh more or less from the beginning. She will no longer be able to inhabit many of the edifices she built in prosperity. As the number of her adherents diminishes, so it will lose many of her social privileges. In contrast to an earlier age, it will be seen much more as a voluntary society, entered only by free decision. As a small society, it will make much bigger demands on the initiative of her individual members. Undoubtedly it will discover new forms of ministry and will ordain to the priesthood approved Christians who pursue some profession. In many smaller congregations or in self-contained social groups, pastoral care will normally be provided in this fashion. Along-side this, the full-time ministry of the priesthood will be indispensable as formerly. But in all of the changes at which one might guess, the Church will find her essence afresh and with full conviction in that which was always at her center: faith in the triune God, in Jesus Christ, the Son of God made man, in the presence of the Spirit until the end of the world. In faith and prayer she will again recognize the sacraments as the worship of God and not as a subject for liturgical scholarship.

The Church will be a more spiritual Church, not presuming upon a political mandate, flirting as little with the Left as with the Right. It will be hard going for the Church, for the process of crystallization and clarification will cost her much valuable energy. It will make her poor and cause her to become the Church of the meek. The process will be all the more arduous, for sectarian narrow-mindedness as well as pompous self-will will have to be shed. One may predict that all of this will take time. The process will be long and wearisome as was the road from the false progressivism on the eve of the French Revolution — when a bishop might be thought smart if he made fun of dogmas and even insinuated that the existence of God was by no means certain — to the renewal of the nineteenth century.

But when the trial of this sifting is past, a great power will flow from a more spiritualized and simplified Church. Men in a totally planned world will find themselves unspeakably lonely. If they have completely lost sight of God, they will feel the whole horror of their poverty. Then they will discover the little flock of believers as something wholly new. They will discover it as a hope that is meant for them, an answer for which they have always been searching in secret.

And so it seems certain to me that the Church is facing very hard times. The real crisis has scarcely begun. We will have to count on terrific upheavals. But I am equally certain about what will remain at the end: not the Church of the political cult, which is dead already, but the Church of faith. It may well no longer be the dominant social power to the extent that she was until recently; but it will enjoy a fresh blossoming and be seen as man’s home, where he will find life and hope beyond death.”