Advent is here and Christmas is just around the corner. Our shops have been displaying Christmas merchandise and promotions for what seems like ages. Carols and Christmas songs have been playing over the instore Muzak systems, children have been preparing for nativity performances, and parent and grandparents have been stocking up on the perfect Christmas gifts for months. If it weren’t for the accuracy of our calendars, we’d be forgiven for thinking that Christmas had already arrived. The church doesn’t help either – we’re advertising our Christmas services on the next page! We also make the mistake of talking about Advent and Christmas in the same breath – look again for a good example on the next page. But here’s the rub – Advent, although connected, is not actually the lead up to Christmas, Christmas is the lead up to Advent. When Advent is done well the Church invites the world to consider its pain and sorrow – with one finger pointing toward Jesus as the peacemaker and judge. As I’m sure many will know Advent is about when the world is finally put right, when Jesus will come again as Judge to fulfil what he has already begun, to bring justice, fairness, equality, peace and a new life for all.
Advent and Christmas nowadays feels rather marketed. And I’ve found myself getting more and more frustrated that the message is lost in amongst the sentimental and contrived TV ads and well-dressed garden centres. Now before you say – oh come on Jeremy get with the Christmas Spirit! I do.. I really do. Like many of us, I get caught up in the whole wonderful delight of the Christmas season. I love the music, the John Lewis and M&S adverts, I love driving passed houses lit up with a thousand Christmas lights, and seeing the lights come on in Boscawen Street. It is marvellous. But there is always a part of me that keeps in mind what Christmas, and for that matter, what Advent is really about… it is about the broken-hearted, the rejected, the forgotten, the lonely, the refugee, the poor, the homeless, the mourning, and the persecuted – all of these are represented in the person of Jesus. Unfortunately, Christmas has become something that only the privilege celebrate, but the story of Christmas and the promise of Advent is a promise for everyone not just a few.
A grandfather found his grandson, jumping up and down in his playpen, crying at the top of his voice. When Johnnie saw his grandfather, he reached up his little chubby hands and said, “Out, Gramp, out.” It was only natural for the Grandfather to reach down to lift the little fellow out of his predicament; but as he did, the mother of the child stepped up and said, “No, Johnnie, you are being punished, so you must stay in.” The grandfather was at a loss to know what to do. The child’s tears and chubby hands reached deep into his heart, but the mother’s firmness in correcting her son for misbehaviour must not be lightly taken. Here was a problem of love versus law, but love found a way. The grandfather could not take the youngster out of the playpen, so he crawled in with him.
We celebrate Christmas, and the promise of Advent so that we can look back and look forward to the moment when Jesus crawls into the play pen so the world can know the love of God. I pray that your Advent and Christmas will be filled with joy, love and peace, and that you truly know the love of God. Revd Jeremy Putnam
Before I get on to the question at hand I have to pin my colours to the mast. I think Britain should stay in the EU; and I will be voting that way on the 23rd. I’ve come to that decision not because of any financial, political or economic evidence but because I want to be part of something bigger, not smaller; something that draws people together, not apart. I want this country to be proud of its history of participation, collaboration, membership and unity, rather than seeking virtue in independence, or to defend the notion we are better off on our own. I like the fact that I can call myself English, British and European, and that the latter unites me with 508 million other people.
Our politicians haven’t really been that helpful to be fair. There’s a lot of infighting and negativity at the moment, rather than actual leadership and facts. It feels like the country is trying to keep warm by a fire made with live wood, soggy tea-towels and rotten cabbages. There’s a lot of smoke, it spits a lot and lets off a really bad smell. For every politician saying that the EU is good for us there is another saying the opposite. No matter what the issue is, whether it be immigration, trade, security or sovereignty, the rhetoric is the same. They can’t all be right. If I base my decision on what politicians say then it simply comes down to who I trust more – David Cameron or Boris Johnson, George Osbourne or Michael Gove, Sarah Newton or Derek Thomas. Who wants to be left with that choice?
Instead, I’ve gone with my gut, and I suppose, with a rather idealistic notion of unity. Do I want Britain to be a part of something bigger? – yes I do, even if it means that some of the decision making is done in Brussels instead of London (Westminster feels just as far removed from Cornwall than Brussels does anyway – and I don’t just mean geographically).
So what’s all this got to do with Jesus? Well, over recent weeks I’ve been searching for some wisdom in the words of Jesus that would help me vote in the right way. Don’t get me wrong I am not about to say that I’m voting to stay in the EU because I think Jesus said I should. My thoughts were more like: if Jesus was around today then maybe he would have something to say about the in/out debate. Or maybe he wouldn’t.
I think there are a couple of passages in the New Testament that come into play here (I’m sure there are many more). The first is Matthew 22:15-22, often subtitled as ‘Paying Taxes to Caesar.’ It turns out that in my anxious hope of finding some helpful advice from Jesus, I find I am no better than the Pharisees and Herodians, who came to Jesus with a similar in/out question. ‘Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar?’ they ask him, or in other words, are you one of us, or one of them? Do you honour the Romans, or do you honour the law of your ancestors? To the outsider, it was a no win situation. If he’d said he didn’t recognise the authority of Caesar then it would’ve meant a premature arrest and imprisonment, and probably would have led to social and political unrest too. If he said he honoured Caesar, then those he was called to speak to would’ve shunned him, dismissed his shallow pomposity and, even worse, stoned him for blasphemy. So where does he go with this? The tension I’m sure was palpable, the bigwigs had got him cornered. But Jesus, in a flash of wisdom and certainty simply says, ‘give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.’
In many ways Jesus had no time for man-made political ideologies. He didn’t care for empires, structures and bureaucracy – and although he speaks of the temporary nature of all these things (Luke 21:5-7), he doesn’t feel it’s his mission to bring them down just yet. Probably because he knew that when one institution is brought down another would simply come in its place. Instead, he chose to work within and without these structures. He spent his time IN and OUT of political and religious circles, negotiating courts, scribes, scholars, lawyers, the police, the Sadducees, the Pharisees, the Herodians, the Sanhedrin, as well as the public. So in some ways Jesus has nothing to say about the EU in/out debate. It looks like Jesus would have bigger concerns. And in fact, we ourselves might say that there are indeed more important things than the EU referendum today!
Take for instance the fact that there are currently 38 million people who have been forcibly uprooted from their home and displaced within their own country. And that there are another 20 million people who have been forcibly uprooted from their home and our now refuges in other countries (UNHCR: Facts and Figures on Refugees).
And the fact there is currently 27 million people in the world today who have been trafficked for sex and slavery, the average cost of a slave in today’s market is $90 (dosomething.org & polarisproject.org - The Facts).
What about the fact that in the UK we waste about 7 million tonnes of food each year, and the world wastes about 1.3 billion tonnes (fao.org), which is a third of what the world produces as a whole, all whilst 795 million people struggle without enough food to be healthy, that’s 1 in 9 people worldwide.
So maybe the question is not whether Jesus was an innie or outie, or whether being in the EU is better for us; maybe the question is whether or not it’ll make any difference to what really matters. And so here is the other passage that helped me – Luke 10:25-37 otherwise known as ‘The Parable of the Good Samaritan,’. The story is well known, and is powerfully punchy, the best stories are those that give you a good hard punch in the gut and get you looking at yourself, rather than just at others. In this story, we learn that the person least likely to help (politically speaking – the Samaritans and Jews didn’t get on) was actually the one who did help. It’s a shame that the UK is being seen more and more as the one country in the EU that is less likely to help with humanitarian matters (despite the figures for foreign aid). So I’d like to think that the Parable of the Good Samaritan is an opportunity waiting for us. That this island just off mainland Europe will be the Samaritan of our time. If being in the EU helps us do that then great. If you think otherwise, then that’s great too. Because what really matters is not whether a man in a grey suit makes decisions from London or from Brussels, it’s not even about whether being in the EU is better for me; it’s more about whether the man at the roadside sees us as the one who walks by on the other side and who does nothing, or the one who stops, attends and cares.
Thanks for reading - Jeremy
God of truth, give us grace to debate the issues in this referendum with honesty and openness. Give generosity to those who seek to form opinion and discernment to those who vote, that our nation may prosper and that with all the peoples of Europe we may work for peace and the common good; for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
There are times when scripture has to linger and loiter in our minds until we learn its timely relevance. Indeed, there are passages that we know well and have been faithful companions for much of our lives, until that is, we receive a divine nudge that provokes a new perspective, and a sudden change of thought. It was therefore my delight to have such a nudge last week as I prepared for our Sunday service. Psalm 1 ‘…those who delight in the Law of the Lord, are like trees planted by streams of water, yielding much fruit and whose leaf does not wither.’
This passage has always had an element of the prosperity gospel about it. If we trust in the Lord then we will be blessed, in health, wealth and faith. It was often thought that Christians who flourished in practical ways, i.e. nice job, big house, and good health, must have a strong faith in God, since scripture says that those who delight in God are like trees planted by streams of water. I have been guilty myself of thinking that faith in God equals good times.
What we forget is that God’s blessing falls on the faithful and unfaithful alike, he pours his grace upon the righteous as well as the un-righteous. And there are many examples of this in the bible.
During morning prayer this week I’ve been reading about the Exodus and the struggle of God’s people in the wilderness. Despite the lack of faith shown by early Israel God provided manna which fell with the dew on everything and everyone. It reminded me that the sun rises for all; the rain covers the rich and poor; and mercy is shown to the just and unjust alike. So what does the passage from Psalm 1 mean?
It seems that today it is blatantly obvious that we live in an unfair world. Too many still live in extreme poverty, too many still persecuted, too many still at the hands of dictators. Nearer to home, too many need foodbanks, need hand-outs and too many are on waiting lists for life saving surgery. Where’s the manna?
I turn back to Psalm 1, and I am also drawn to John 10:10, to Genesis 1 & 2 and Revelation 21, and I am reminded of the nature of God’s abundant and creative blessing. The tree described in Psalm 1 is the tree of life Jesus Christ, that is planted in us. Despite our physical condition, or what the world throws at us, or where life leads us or what our bank statement looks like, faith in Jesus Christ and accepting him as our Saviour, means we are planted – in the strongest terms for all eternity, like a tree by streams of water. Irrespective of our years, of our mistakes, of our successes, in Jesus, we find a place in the new Eden, as Paul puts it, we are a new creation (2 Cor. 5). So look for Jesus in all things and you will be eternally blessed.
Yours in Christ
How many of you have watched the Channel 4 TV show Gogglebox? For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure, Gogglebox is an observational documentary that features couples and families from around the country watching TV. Yes, incredible as it sounds in this TV show you are watching people watching TV! Well, the irony isn’t lost on me, nor is the discomfort that comes from realising, that I too, am contributing to the show’s success.
Christians for a long time have got very hung up on the idea that God is watching them. In fact, it could be said that the ‘Religious Gogglebox’ is the notion that God is watching us watching him… watching us watching the world; I could go on, thankfully I won’t! The idea of a god watching us in this way is not helpful, it makes our God sound like GCHQ waiting to catch the bad guys. Does God really watch us, or does he watch over us? Psalm 121 says “The Lord will protect you from all evil; he will keep your soul. The Lord will watch over your coming in and your going out.” Likewise, the Father in the ‘parable of the Prodigal Son’ didn’t watch his son’s every move, he simply responded, as God does, with an overflowing of grace, and rejoiced at his son’s return.
God is there when we need him, just as the son needed his father. God’s prophets in the Old Testament were often called Watchmen or Sentinels, not because they watched the people but because they watched out for danger on their behalf (Ezekiel 3:17).
God watches out for us, cares for us, loves us, pours his grace upon us, he even stands in for us. Does not the Easter story tell us that very truth? Although this is something to be joyful about it might be that Easter this year has been a difficult time for you. If that’s the case, know that you have a heavenly parent who loves you and will watch over you. In fact, watching is simply not enough for God, he is with you, he shares the sorrow and the hurt. Jesus came so that we might understand the deep personal love that God has for each one of us.
Easter is a time of joy, but it is very easy in our society to think that just watching is enough. There is no Gogglebox for Easter! So I hope that you have been drawn into the whole experience of Easter, the love, the joy, even the pain and the fear, and maybe even the odd chocolate egg too. Be blessed this Easter time and know that God is with you.
Epiphany comes at a time when we’re normally packing away Christmas and when the magic of Christmas seems to be wearing off. The decorations have come down, the cards are being put away, and it seems our Christmas food has taken its culinary journey from feast to bubble-and-squeak a long time ago. In addition there is of course the disposal of the Christmas tree and that terrible job of vacuuming up the needles. Throughout the year, no matter how many times you vacuum, you always seem to find those pine needles in the oddest of places.
I think it must depend on whether you have long pile or short pile carpets, and whether you opted for fir, spruce or pine. The choice of Christmas Tree and its environment will determine the length of time taken to remove said needles. Oh I lament the spruce / long pile combination!
I wonder how much of Christmas we really pack away. Even though they were late for the birth, thankfully for the Magi, Mary and Joseph didn’t pack Christmas away. You know if it weren’t for the Magi completing their Anneka Rice-esque treasure hunt then we Gentiles may never have heard about the Good News of Immanuel at all.
Today, the Epiphany season is the proverbial searching for the needle in the carpet. Just as the Magi searched for the babe from heaven in the rough of Judah so we must continue to look for the miracle of Christ’s incarnation around us. And although I might wail over the finding of needles in the carpet in late March, there is something quite lovely about stumbling over an unexpected memory of Christmas hidden away in the dark corner of a living room or dining room.
My appeal to you this January is ‘don’t pack Christmas away entirely’. Leave something out. In fact, before vacuuming up your needles tread them in to the carpet first, if it means we don’t forget what the Magi saw on that starry night. For in the dark corners of life – of which there are many – what gets us through are those small acts of kindness, those unexpected encounters with the light of the world, the marvel in the rough of the world.
I pray that you will experience the wonder of Christmas again and again and again, and that you remember you also carry the miracle of Christ’s kingdom come; and for someone else, you may be the sparkle in the rough.
May you have blessed 2016 and may the joy of Christ’s birth be with you always. Jeremy.
If you were playing a word association game and someone started with the word ‘Advent’ then it’s likely the next word spoken will be ‘Calendar’. Don’t you just love Advent Calendars? Every day during Advent you get that wonderful sense of journey and anticipation as you open each door, counting down the days. And what’s more, behind each door there’s often a little message about the Christmas story, oh, and of course… a little chocolate treat too. Marvellous!
Advent and Christmas is a time of waiting and a time of promise. It is also a time for gifts. Isn’t it true that the real joy of gifts - given and received - is the wait and the promise? It might be difficult to appreciate a gift when there is no expectation, hope or surprise? At Christmas the Church gets a chance to tell both stories, the one about hope, promise and expectation; as well as the story of fulfilment, joy and new life. The problem however is that the world is not very good at waiting. I suppose we’re good at queuing, but when it comes to the material things in life, we often want to take the waiting out of wanting.
The ‘buy now – pay later’ culture is the new moto of our time and if we’re not careful it can slip into to our faith and spirituality too. My hope is that this Advent will be a time of great hope and anticipation and that the waiting for you will be a time to reflect on the truth of Christmas and Emmanuel, the coming of Jesus.
Whilst there are two stories of Advent, of waiting and wanting, there are also two stories of Christmas. The church looks to tell the story that impresses, captures attention; the story of the Holy Family, the magi, the angels and shepherds. Then there is the story that is rooted in fragility, pain, fear and forgiveness, the story of Herod, the story of a desperate world in need of salvation. The story of a simple refugee family looking for shelter, and of perfect love found in the squalor of a borrowed stable. My job is to tell both stories, but it pains me to say that I think the church all too often shies away from telling the latter. Is the Christmas story really just about the wonder and awe we see displayed in our cards and gift wrapping, or is there more?
Part of the problem might be in the kind of news we are used to seeing. It’s harder to find good news stories nowadays. Reporters look for the dirty, and gritty stories of our time, and rarely give column inches to so called ‘good news’. The unconscious reaction of the church has been to readdress the imbalance by telling the good news story of Christmas but by leaving out the rough and gritty bits. The problem is, this version of Christmas is neither a good ‘news story’ nor ‘The Good News’ story.
Our lives are not neatly packaged; God doesn’t ask for our glittery and polished story, he delights in knowing our whole story and loves us for it. In the same way the world doesn’t need a neatly packed Christmas Story, it needs the messy, gritty, dirty Christmas. The one that reflects the fragility of the world, the one that honours the pain some people feel at Christmas. The one that acknowledges that some of us will be mourning, struggling, homeless and lonely. The truth is that Christmas was always for them, as well as for you and me.
Why not join us in telling the real Christmas story this year, and may God bless you and all who you love. Revd Jeremy Putnam.
October starts with our Harvest Festival, a celebration of creation, abundance and blessing. Marking the Harvest goes back to the biblical idea of giving thanks for the first fruits of the land, and acknowledging them as the gifts of God. This idea was continued throughout the centuries and was formally marked on the 1st August as Lammas Day by the English in the Middle Ages. The practice disappeared after the Reformation and all that was left was the secular ‘harvest home’; a celebratory meal at the conclusion of the ingathering of the crops and the origin of our Harvest Supper (or lunch in this parish!). In 1843 the Revd R S Hawker revived the Lammas Tradition in his Cornish parish of Morwenstow but kept it on the first Sunday in October as it was closer to the usual time for the traditional ‘harvest home’. The idea proved popular and spread to many other parishes and in 1862 the Church of England made official provision for the harvest service.
I’m sure that you will agree that we are so privileged to live where and when we do. We live in a land of plenty. Our farmers work tirelessly to produce our food, a wonderful range of goods is imported from all four corners of the earth and the shelves of our supermarkets are always full. There is so much to be thankful for. Yet once again as we count our blessings we cannot ignore the harsh reality that tonight, as every night, millions will go to sleep hungry. And this year our harvest thanksgiving takes place against the backdrop of numerous conflicts, which have forced millions to flee their homes in the face of terrifying and unrelenting violence.
Isn’t it true that any conversation about poverty inevitably leads us to talk about wealth too? And both can make us feel deeply uncomfortable as we reflect on our own place. Jesus’ words ‘blessed are the meek… the poor… and the broken-hearted’ were said for a very good reason, since humanity has always been very good at trying to fix the problems of others, whilst forgetting that all are in need of the riches of Christ’s kingdom. Maybe we should learn to see those in need through the lens of Christ’s own poverty, and then we might finally see all people as brothers and sisters in Christ, instead of treating others as simply needing our generosity.
A record number of people received aid from UK foodbanks in the last year. The Trussell Trust said three days’ food was given out 1,084,604 times in the 2014/15 financial year. That roughly works out as 1 in every 200 people needing help in this way. Of course, the problem of poverty in this country is far more substantial and complex than a single statistic about food banks; but the need is there and food banks meet part of it. Did you know that we get the word bank from the old Italian word banca and the French word banque, and that both originally meant table? Maybe the term ‘food bank’ gives us the wrong idea of what is going on. Is it really a place where transactions occur? Where we pay in and let others pay out? No, food banks are more like food tables, places where we sit with others to eat. So how do we support the work of the food banks and how do we support those who use them?
The food offerings at our Harvest service this year will be given to Truro Foodbank and the Cornwall Women’s Refuge Trust, both serve people of this parish and Truro. Your food offering will mark the start of a relationship, of a meal with friends. So please give generously.
I can’t prove it but I reckon there is always someone somewhere thinking about the next big thing. You know, ideas like the iPhone, or the electric car. Whether it be think-tanks, boardrooms, or the dreamer in the bath; someone somewhere is pondering on what the next and new big idea will be.
Grace is God’s best idea. Imagined and designed in the timeless think-tank of our Triune God, grace is the newest and the oldest idea on the block. If you’ve ever received grace then you’ll know what I mean when I say that it is the greatest gift. Grace is limitless, unlike the battery in your iPhone. Grace is unparalleled and unprecedented, it is available 24-7, more relevant than any human idea, more ‘in’ than any of the latest fashions. Grace is God’s trending tweet, the top result on the Divine search engine; and what’s more you and I have an equal amount of grace available to us, since grace is unmeasurable and unquantifiable. No matter where we find ourselves, what our needs are, what dreams we have, what mistakes we’ve made, what decisions we took, God is willing to bless us with his gift of grace.
In the midst of my final preparations for the move to Highertown I’ll have the opportunity to reflect on the grace I have received from the church in Portishead, and also the grace I have received from you. I thank God for your faithfulness to the task He has set before you, and I thank Him for your patience in this time of transition. I regret I cannot be with you today but I know the APCM will be a wonderful celebration of what you have achieved in 2014. Transitions and vacancies can so easily become a rather testing period in the church’s life, and a time when reduction and consolidation become the key phrases. For All Saints this couldn’t be further from the truth. It seems to me that due to the passion and hard work of folk at All Saints 2014 can be seen as a time of growth and progress. I’m sure taking stock has been part of it, but what has come through loud and clear is your continuing desire to serve God and to grow in faith.
I pray that tomorrow you will have a tangible sense of God’s presence as you meet, and that his abundant grace will fill your hearts as you celebrate a year well served. Most of all I will be praying that we will all know the grace of God as we continue this new journey together.
May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all evermore. Amen.
A collection of thoughts and reflections from the people of All Saints.