Worshipping Together as a Team: Saying What you Mean and Meaning what you Say.

Jesus speaks of ‘the tradition of the elders’. Earlier he had declared all foods as being ‘clean’ and now he speaks against the rituals of purity which the Jewish elders hold so dear. The traditions of the elders are their own teachings – additions to the Mosaic law which simply confuse the purity of the original teaching, a mass of legal detail which the Pharisees had added to the Torah. These would have been taught by word of mouth from Rabbi to disciple, moving ever further away from God’s truth and purpose. No wonder Jesus was trying to break through them to the heart of God’s intentions.

There are a mass of rules in the opening books of the Bible, rules intended to keep the Israelites clean and safe from harm in a very unsanitised world. But these rules had become divisive separating those who are ‘in’ from those who are ‘out’. Jesus seeks to put an end to this – earlier he declares all foods are ‘clean’ and now he declares that the ritual  hand washing and pot washing are superfluous to a true relationship with God. What God desires, is a heart that is clean, a motive that is pure. Let’s face it, the dirtiest hands often belong to those who work the hardest. I wonder how calloused Mother Theresa’s hands were, how much dirt was ingrained in her finger prints through acts of love.

That is the purity that Jesus is seeking, that is the purity which pleases God.

James, believed to be the brother of Jesus, who despite growing up with him, only fully understood his true identity after his resurrection, speaks quite harshly about those who speak profoundly but are unable to fulfil their own teachings with actions. We could call it hypocrisy.

James speaks about being generous in our giving, about being eager to listen to the other’s perspective and slow to anger. James speaks about being thoughtful in our ‘religion’ and above all to care for the orphans and widows in distress – very apt for our times.

It seems to me as if James was speaking into what it means to become a team of churches rather than individual parishes. If we are to be honest, our team of 7 parishes , 3 separate groupings, has struggled to let go of our own needs and identity and to fully embrace what it means to be one team with a single Team Rector: we have not always been generous to each other and each other’s needs, we have often fought our own corner, instead of the common good. We have struggled to work out who is ‘in’ and who is ‘out’.

We are currently putting together the paperwork to recruit a third member of clergy to the Team, and I have to tell you that it looks very good on paper – so good I am tempted to apply for it. We have to be careful that we ‘mean what we say and say what we mean’ to quote Alice in Wonderland. Over the past 6 years of the Team’s Conception we have grown closer together, let us continue to do so. Let us continue to be generous and loving towards each other, open in our communication and acting as one, not to fight for our own little corner of England, but for God’s word and truth, the love of Jesus for each and everyone, to be known far and wide.

Read Jesus’ words here and James’ words here


Remembering: Saints Alive!

I wonder how you would describe a saint? You might think of someone famous, and dead, who was particularly kind, like Mother Theresa or St Francis. Your imagination might be drawn towards a ‘holiday’ saint such as St Patrick, patron saint of Guinness, or St Valentine patron saint of schmaltzy cards and heart shaped gifts, or even Saint Nicholas, patron saint of expensive gifts. If you picture a saint does he or she wear a halo and have a holy glow about them?

Some saints are set up as examples for us all – those who have been true to their faith in God, those who have never renounced their faith in Jesus as the Son of God even when it has put their lives at risk. Some saints have given the whole of their lives to ‘do good’, or have had mystical revelations of God. They all have one thing in common, they are all bearers of the faith.

If being a saint is all about holding true to our faith even when life gets tough, then maybe you don’t need to wear a halo to be a saint, maybe there are saints in disguise all around us?

The passage in Matthew, known as ‘The Beattitudes’ show us the attitudes and behaviour Jesus wants from his followers. The Beattitudes are rather difficult for us to understand – all the things which we would normally think of as blessings are turned on their head by Jesus, as Andrew Knowles writes:

Most people assume happiness is:

  • achieving our goals of wealth and success; leaving others behind.
  • always being fun to have around – the life and soul of every party.
  • being strong, or beautiful or clever; being independent, secure and in control.
  • getting our terms agreed, our rights established and ensuring that justice is done.

To our shame, we also find happiness in:

  • taking revenge on our enemies.
  • indulging our greed and lust.
  • picking fights and winning arguments.
  • and (better still) avoiding all trouble or misfortune!

Although we may recognise ourselves in the above, I don’t think that many of us would consider any of it to be saintly behaviour. So maybe we aren’t saints after all. The translation of the Bible I use begins each of the beatitudes with the statement ‘blessed are…’ some translations use the phrase ‘happy are…’ and one scholar suggests that the way the Greek word is used in other contemporary writings it would be more accurately translated here as ‘congratulations to…’

So the saintly are those who are poor in spirit. Now that really doesn’t sound right, but we are looking at attitudes, not social standing. Someone who is poor in spirit then, could be someone who is really rather affluent, but regards themselves as if they were poor, remaining humble in their acknowledgement of their dependence upon God, and the need for his grace. Jesus continues to teach that those who mourn are blessed, and yet anyone who is in the depths of grief will tell you that is far from how they feel, however, there is a recognition that deep grief only comes when there has been deep love and that truly is a blessing. Maybe the saintly are those who have learned to love. But another way of looking at this statement, is that mourning doesn’t necessarily have to be about the loss of a loved one. It is possible to mourn and grieve over our own sinful behaviour and the injustice of the world we live in.  This ties in with the blessed meek who will inherit the earth and those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. A saint is one whose heart beats for others as well as themselves.

Blessed are the peace makers is an interesting one, because Jesus was preaching and teaching during the time of Pax Romana. Roman rule had, by force, put an end to conflict (there were some perks to paying taxes to Rome), but Shalom, the harmonious cooperation arrived at the welfare of all, cannot be enforced. Hares writes,

The effort of peacemakers often seem utterly futile, but their work is never unsuccessful. Their living testimony to God’s intended Shalom keeps the vision alive.

So who are the peacemakers around us? Who are the ones who mourn on behalf of others? Where amongst us are the meek, those whose humility  before God enables them to be gentle in their dealings with others? Because these are the saints amongst us. These are the pure in heart, these are the ones whose devotion to God is not marred by their own selfishness and personal desires.

As we consider what makes for a saint, there may be attitudes and behaviour that we need to lay down. Being a saint isn’t about being perfect, it’s about striving to serve God as best we can, to love God and to love our neighbour, to seek, always, the best. And that isn’t always easy. It isn’t easy when we are going through the ‘dark night of the soul’ as Mother Theresa did for many years, when God seems to be hiding from us, and prayer is almost impossible.  As we celebrate all Saints today, we can recommit ourselves as trainee saints to live lives in accordance with God’s desire for all his people, and we can stand alongside those who are currently being persecuted for their faith, if only in prayer.



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