Midnight Mass 2021

Sermon preached by Revd Lizzie Kesteven

I was walking down the Fishponds Road last week and wondering about the 5 senses that God has blessed humans with – sight, hearing, touch, taste or smell. Just metres from here on that road there is so much for all of them. The noise of the traffic and the chatter of people, the lights from the shop windows and the smile in people’s eyes. The taste and smell of coffee coming from the cafes. And the weight of heavy bags felt on my hands. Such gifts of senses. I have sometimes wondered rather morbidly that if I were to only have 4 of these senses, which would I choose? Or alternatively which one given the choice would I lose? Have you ever thought that? I think it might be different for everyone here. In my wondering I think then it would be the sense of sight that I would be the most reluctant to lose. I have so a deep and profound respect for anyone who manages life without physical sight.

The Old Testament reading from Isaiah today speaks a lot about sight. Isaiah says “for in plain sight they see the return of the Lord to Zion” and “before the eyes of all the nations” and again” all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God”.

Lots to see! Lots to look at in just a few verses.

Yet from the Old Testament this prophesy is rather remarkable. The Jewish heritage and traditions which form the foundation and bedrock of the Christian faith tells the story of the nation Israel’s relationship with God. It is a relationship which has its many ups and downs, covenants and renewals of faith. It has people such as Moses, Sarah, Jacob, and Rachel. It speaks of an intense relationship between God and Abraham. There are falling outs and making up. But in all of this the idea that a human could see God face to face was not possible. Moses makes it clear early on in Exodus that no one can see God and live. The people of the Old Testament hear God, can be in the presence of God, experience God and see Gods actions, wrestle with God, they can even have their own faces lit up by God. But to meet God literally face to face and live was not deemed possible. There is still a divide between the Creator of the world and the created beings that live in it.

Yet here tonight – as on every Christmas Eve – the night when Christians celebrate the incarnation, the dwelling of God in an actual physical flesh of a person. God in a baby. A baby who is God. Here on this night. We celebrate the change in the relationship between God and Us. The sheer magnitude of the claim of Christians in this statement is eye watering. Perhaps after 2000 years of saying it I can become more blaze about being able to physically see God, know God, and be invited to have a connection, a relationship with God. But the essence of what occurred 2000 years OK was more than just a key change in the music score of faith. It was an earth shattering revelation of how God intends to reset the whole thing. 

And God chooses to reset by crossing over that original divide that had Creator of the world on one side and humanity on the other. In the manger in that stable in Bethlehem the reset of the world is born. No longer will God be some elusive voice or spirit. The wind which we cannot see, the force which we cannot touch or smell, is seen clearly. In a child. Sharing the most fragile and vulnerable aspects of our very selves. A child who sees as you see, a child who requires the human touch that you and I need, the child who will taste and smell and hear and cry. God who once made themselves known in burning buses and wrestling angels is now known in flesh as a human being. One that we can all see. One we are invited to look at.

God takes on flesh. God is a person – just like you. Just like me.

So what difference does this night, the remembering of this night, make?

I suggest it is two fold

It means that every person that we encounter – however much we might know them, or not know them, however much we might like them or not like them. However much we might feel connected to them or not. They bear the face of God. Because God now has a face. And in that way how I respond to them needs to be from this point of reference. They bear the mark of God. Just as I do. The harder part might be not the seeing Gods face in others, but accepting that people see God’s face in us. That is a joyous thing. It also marks out the responsibilities that we have towards each other. One of the benefits of mass media and mass social media in this age is also that we can see that the face of God is not confined to how we might see it just on the Fishponds Road – but how that face of God looks in Johannesburg, in Laos, in Kabul, and in Rio. So the connections between us become deeper, more diverse and in that we too can become more empathetic. It raises our horizons and lifts our heads to the many different faces of God.

Tonight’s celebration of the incarnation of God, the way in which God took on flesh and dwelt among us also means that God is with us. Not outside or removed, or far away or distant. But here. That God understands what it is to bear the joys and sorrows of a human life. The scars and celebrations. The laughterand joy and the tears and frustrations. Jesus life, death and ministry testify to that. It is the story that Christians hear and speak of and seek to understand for the other 51 weeks of the year. And that is a re set. That is eye opening. That is the way in which we can grasp with full sight face to face the revolution that God brought upon the world in a manger, a long way from here many years ago. 

May we take that home this night so that we can live by it tomorrow.

Carols by Candlelight 2021

Sermon preached by Revd Lizzie Kesteven

Light a match. –

There is something fascinating about lighting a match. Something that has since the beginning of time has captivated humans about that ability to make fire. That first spark. The effort it takes to make sure that the rough surfaces connect in such a way as to create that initial spark. Sometimes several attempts are needed. And then seeing the flame eat away at the slim wooden splint. Watching it light the small space of darkness around it. Feeling its heat – and then knowing the right moment to blow it out before it burns your fingers.

The spark gives both light and warmth – and for that to continue then other items are lit from it – like our candles tonight – so that the light and warmth can be shared with others.

It is both fragile – the fear that the match will give out before we have used it. As well as being dangerous – 2don’t play with matches” always a slogan ringing from adult lips to children’s ears.

Fragile and Dangerous. Light and Warmth.

Stories – Shepherd/Kings/Holy Family – both fragile and dangerous. Seeing the light in the dark

The Christmas story, the baby in the manger, the kings, the shepherds, the angels and Mary and Joseph that we hear tonight and sing of in our carols also speak about both fragility and danger. Light and warmth.

The Kings Journey to the manger was fraught with difficulty. They could so easily have given up and turned back. The danger lies in their encounter with Herod a brutal tyrant who tries to use the kings for his own benefit. But the Kings preserve and in doing so bring to the manger the gift of colour and brightness. Their gifts indicate not only who Jesus is and will be – but they also bring light and warmth – just as any gift freely given with a generous heart.

The Shepherds whole lives are fragile and dangerous. They sleep rough at night always alert to predators who may wish their flock harm. And yet here they are at the manger. They too show us light and warmth – their very presence a reminder that God calls all people to his stable. That the outsiders, the ones least thought of, the forgotten, the lost and the poor are part of Gods story and welcomed into Gods home. That is a message of light and warmth.

The fragility of Mary and Joseph is perhaps obvious. Travelling that distance whilst heavily pregnant would have been hugely dangerous. And yet the fragility of their relationship is also present in the Christmas story – the disgrace that would have followed Mary around, the humiliation that Joseph might have felt – what conversations might they have had on that road to Bethlehem. Yet Mary and Joseph bring a message of light and warmth. They stick it out, they stay together. Joseph trusts Mary and Mary in turn trusts Joseph. Their trust brings with it light and warmth to the stable.

And as we look back on this year we have known as part of our human story a most fragile world. Everything has seemed breakable and at breaking points. People, plans, work, schools, hospitals, hospitality. We have known a fragility, that was also perhaps unexpected as we had hoped that this year would look so different to the one before it.

And yet in that fragile place God meets us. That is what the eternal truth of Christianity proclaims this night. That is the story that we celebrate at Christmas and that reaches beyond to Easter. It is a God who meets us and is with us. Emmanual. Not far away and distant. But near. Close. With. And in that bringing that light and warmth not just to the stable but to the world. It is not a message for the faint hearted, the good news of Jesus Christ , of God with us, is a dangerous one and one that many did not want to know or hear, and yet others died in order to tell it. And because of their hope and trust, because of their belief and courage we can stand today and sing that same story. Proclaim loudly that same truth of light and warmth. God is with us.

Prince of Peace. Emmanuel. King of Kings.

May we too know that light and warmth of Jesus Christ this Christmas. May we stand at the stable, and see the fragility of the baby in the manger and know the love of God that came to be with the world.

Amen

Holy Week and Easter 2021

Once again, we approach the joy of Easter though the journey of Holy Week. This year, things are a little closer to ‘normal’ than 2020, but COVID-19 is still very much with us.

Palm Sunday – 28th March

8am – All Saints – Palm Sunday Holy Communion with Blessing of Palms

10am – St Marys – Palm Sunday Eucharist with Passion Play and Blessing of Palms

Monday 29th March

7.30pm – Compline – All Saints

Tuesday 30th March

7.30pm – Compline – St Marys

Wednesday 31st

7.30pm – Lent Group

Maundy Thursday – 1st April

10.00 – Chrism Mass – Online  

6.30 – Agape – Online

8.30 – Holy Communion St Marys – followed by The Watch

Good Friday – 2nd April

10am – Easter Garden Making and Story Telling and Mini Egg Hunt – All Saints

1.30pm – Good Friday Liturgy with Passion Reading – St Marys

Easter Eve – 3rd April

7.30pm – St Marys – First Fire and Eucharist of Easter

Easter Sunday – 4th April

10 am – St Marys – All Age Eucharist and Egg Hunt

10.30am – All Saints – All Age Holy Communion and Egg Hunt

5pm – Generations – Easter Bonanza! And Eggs

Great Christmas Raffle

This year, instead of the usual Christmas fair at St Mary’s, we are holding a Christmas Raffle. The prize is a giant Christmas hamper, packed full of Christmas goodies. Tickets are £1 each and are available in person from Mary Ewing or by using PayPal via the button below.

Buy Now Button with Credit Cards

The draw takes place on the 21st December. Please note this raffle is only availablke to those living withing 5 miles of St Mary’s.

Advent 2 – 6th December 2020

Sermon preached by Rev’d Lizzie Kesteven.

Mark 1:1-8

Today we begin to look at a new gospel. Every year they rotate, and this year we get Mark. Mark’s gospel is the shortest, possibly the punchiest, some suggest the sternest, and it is almost definitely the first one to be written down.

In a time when there is lots of talk in our own world about risk, and how to manage and mitigate and balance that, then Marks gospel is perhaps a blueprint for risk. Writing it down was a risk and it would have taken courage and conviction.

 It was probably written between 60 and 70 AD. It was at a time when Christian communities were starting to pop up in all sorts of places across the Roman Empire. Saint Pauls work as a missionary, from his letters to many different places, Corinth, Galatia, Ephesus suggest that Christian communities had started to grow. Mark was writing in the centre of this world. If he is the same Mark that we hear in Acts and also later mentioned in Colossians and the letter to Timothy, then this Mark knew Paul. He also by other accounts knew Peter. Mark was writing in Rome. A place where in very recent years Saint Paul and Saint Peter had just been executed. Christianity was now seen as a threat, perhaps only mild and irritating, but nevertheless a threat to the Roman Emperor. Enough for the first wave of Christians persecutions to begin. Nero had a particularly nasty habit of using Christians as burning torches to light up his parties.

Mark was writing in a risky time.

And in order to just make it really clear to people that he was a man of courage and conviction, he begins by making a very dangerous statement. He begins by saying

“The beginning of the good news about Jesus Christ, the Son of God”.

It could be a fairly neutral start to a gospel yet at the time the only other person who was linked to that phrase was Augustus Caesar – who when he decided to re jig the whole calendar system based on his own birthday , -sent out a decree because it was believed that

 “The birthday of the god Augustus was the beginning of the gospel for the world…”

The similar phrase and wording was chosen deliberately by Mark. It wouldn’t have gone unnoticed, by Christians and Emperors alike. It is as if we are meant to hear and read that first line and take a sharp intake of breath.

Mark has just literally signed his own death warrant in the first 13 words of his gospel.

He was a man of courage and conviction.

He doesn’t stop their either. His first opening phrases for us all are ways in which he affirms his faith and belief. They are like a mini creed. He speaks of Jesus as good news, he speaks of Jesus as the Messiah, he talks about Jesus as the Christ. He then brings in the prophets and their words about preparing the way for the Lord and making the paths straight.”

We are in no doubt that Mark was letting us know, and telling the people of the day that this was not just any other story, or any other person. But that Jesus was the Christ who the Jewish people had been waiting for thousands of years.

It’s pretty pokey.

Strangely the rest of Marks gospel often has Jesus telling the disciples not to tell anyone who he is whenever they get ever so close to suspecting that he might be the Son of God. Mostly in the rest of the gospel Mark talks about Jesus being the Son of David – it’s a very human story. A very human Jesus. It’s a very humbling story. Yet here at the beginning. We get Marks ungarnished truth.

So why? Why write it down in the first place? Why did he need to?

Maybe as time passed it felt more urgent to have a written form of the words and stories people were learning. Perhaps he feared that it would be lost if it wasn’t written down. Perhaps the Christian community was growing enough that it became a time when they needed a clear and clarified version of Jesus Christ’s story, so as not to get muddled.

Whatever his eventual motivation. What we have in Marks gospel is a person who wanted to be clear about who Jesus was. And at that time it involved risk.

We don’t live in a country that makes it dangerous to share those words. Some Christians still do. Yet there is a way in which I feel encouraged by Marks example of courage and conviction. He was prepared to risk everything, so that other people might hear about Jesus, and not just hear but respond, through faith to become part of this small underground and persecuted community.

And although in this time and in this place here in Fishponds it is not a life threatening thing to be a Christian. It is still counter cultural. Christians are a minority and increasingly so. Therefore some of the things that we might rub up against – incredulity or ridicule, dismissiveness or even bafflement are ways which mean we have to dig deep and ask ourselves – what is this all about? What does this mean for me?

As we creep in anticipation towards the cradle, towards that stable, to peer inside and see that manger with that whole picture of shepherds and magi, Mary and Joseph and the Baby Jesus (a story that Mark doesn’t actually have in his gospel!) but as we do that – where will my courage and conviction be to say like Mark – that this event – this moment – changed the world. Not just to coo at a crib – but to worship and adore as so many carols put it. To look at the child and know that he grows to be the man who then teaches, heals and speaks of a world that is being invited to turn to God and understand and know that love, connection and relationship that is possible with the Creator of the world.

This week I wondered if we might encourage each other to pray for one other person. Just one. Keep them in mind, store them in your heart, think of them when out on a walk or when doing the washing up. Intentionally and unintentionally keep them close this week. They might be someone you know really well, they might be someone who is a Christian, they might not be. They might be someone you have only a passing acquaintance with.  And then wait. Wait for the Holy Spirit to tell you what to do next. You will all have very different experiences of that. But something will happen. You will know what to do with that – and I suspect that you will need both courage and conviction.

That is the extraordinary gospel that Mark starts us on today – I pray that we and others around the world delight, give thanks and rejoice in the words that he had the courage and conviction to write down.

Advent Sunday – 29th November 2020

Sermon preached by Rev’d Lizzie Kesteven.

Mark 13 – 24-end – Watch. Wait. Be Awake. Be on your guard. – Signs of the time.

1 Cor 3-9 – Thanksgiving – God is Faithful

I had an unexpected phone call on Thursday evening. I looked at the number on my mobile and didn’t recognise it. Normally when this happens it is someone asking me about an accident that I haven’t had. And depending on my mood at the time I either play along, or just get grumpy with them. As the call on Thursday was unusually late I braced for this sort of encounter as my finger swiped left to answer.

Yet to my surprise the woman on the end of the phone didn’t ask if I had crashed my car recently, or fallen off my bike or slipped at work. She introduced herself from a charity – Transforming Lives for Good – and offered to pray with me. Now maybe I shouldn’t be surprised, being a vicar, at this – but I was. Not many conversations start like this. Sometimes they might end in prayer but its rare for prayer to be the core purpose of the call. And yet there it was on a dark Thursday evening as we chatted about the charity and I excitedly explained how we had just received some funding to partner with them, that all they wanted to do was not check in about how the bid was going, or hassle me about progress, or give me another impossible deadline. But just to pray with me. It was a refreshing and rather beautiful moment. It was as if God was reaching down and bending close for a moment.

Today is Advent Sunday. It is the beginning of the Church’s New Year. We start a fresh new season at the beginning of advent. A season of prayer, fasting and penitence, similar to Lent, as we watch and wait for the coming of Jesus at Christmas. Advent literally means “coming”. Or as is sometimes whispered and sung in the Aramaic “Maranatha – Come Lord Jesus.”

So if it’s is the beginning of a season, the start of a new year. The time when we begin a different gospel – its Mark for this year – then why do we seemingly illogically start in the middle? Chapter 13 – And not with the beginning? Why do we hear Jesus speak about the “end times” with predictions of darkened days, when the moon will not give light and stars will fall from the sky”. It doesn’t seem like the best beginning for a New Year and Season. When I am looking for order and chronology, I am met with cosmic chaos that seems far removed from the baby in the stable that I am trying to think about.

Yet perhaps on reflection we need to start at the end, in order to make our way to the beginning. And the readers and listeners of Mark would have picked up the clear voice of Isaiah. The predictions and prophesies of the end times were a way of also signalling that there is to be a new beginning. New beginnings are often found in the seeds and the remants of a shift, or shattering of the status quo and the ordinary patterns. The Hebrew people throughout the old testament tell of a story of suffering, followed by salvation. Of an Egypt followed by the Promised Land. Of captivity in Babylon followed by a return to Israel. The prophets of the old testament, be it Isaiah, or Eekiel or Amos would tell of these times, and use similar cosmic images and symbols of stars and sun and moon to signal a shift, a change  – something new.

Jesus points to the fig tree and also the owner of the house to tell his people to be alert at this time of uncertainty and shift. And that is the overarching message of Advent – be awake – watch and listen for God. It is likely to come at the most unexpected time.

Paul in his letter to the church in Corinth brings us words which sound a different tone. They are right at the beginning of his letter – words which are full of thanksgiving and encouragement. They speak of enrichment and have a firm confidence in a God who is faithful. It is a heartening start to what turns out to be a challenging letter. Yet combined with the Gospel this morning the two passages collide in a way that should give confidence to all today.

God is faithful. The story of God tells us of that faithfulness. It does not shy away from the difficulties and challenges and suffering that life might bring, and this world is currently experiencing a great deal of that. It might feel that we are in a shifting world right now, with the sun and the moon and the stars being mis-aligned. The chaos of the world feels close.

Yet God is faithful. God was faithful to the cry of the Hebrews in the time of the Pharoah and to the Israelites as they wept at the rivers of Babylon. God was faithful in the sending of Jesus Christ to walk with us, to live with us, to be one of us. And God remains faithful today. Yet in the turbulence and the often overwhelming nature of today, I sometimes miss that faithful God. God tapping at the window in the corner saying   over here – and yet my head is stuck down looking at the ground.

I was tempted to ignore that phone call on Thursday night. I was in the wrong sort of mood. I was sceptical about who it might be and what they might want from me. Yet God spoke in the darkness, and lit a candle with the simple connection between one human being offering to pray with another. Seperated by distance, but connected through prayer – God stooped low and bent towards me and spoke words of calm in the chaos that seemed to surround.

As the nights draw in, and the days become shorter and the nights longer, as the darkness descends. Then I was reminded that it is only in the dark that the true majesty and healing of a lit candle can do its work.  That in the chaos – God is faithful and calls us to look at the light. May we watch and wait for the light of Christ this Advent.

Great Christmas Mince Pie ZOOM Quiz

Saturday 5th December 7.30pm

To register e mail andrewc633@gmail.com

£5+ Entry per team*. Anything given is split between St Marys and their charity of 2020 – Mencap.

Great family fun to start your festive season. Bring a glass of your favourite tipple and a mince pie to your screen to join the fun.

Grand box of Mince Pies for the Winning Team

*People are welcome to contribute more if they wish. Please pay via PayPal or bring your donation to church

Christ the King – 22nd November 2020

Sermon by Rev’d Lizzie Kesteven

Ezekiel – 34 – The Good Shepherd

Matthew 25 – Sheep and Goats

I suspect that I may not be alone when I tell you I have spent some time this week watching Series 4 of The Crown on Netflix. The Crown begins back in the 50’s and follows each new generation of royals and different parts of their stories. Series 4 which has been much anticipated is now in the 80’s and finally for me the series has caught up with a time in life that I actually remember. There is something rather fascinating about following the life of the Monarch and her family, even if it is as we are reminded its a fictional account, rather than a documentary.

Perhaps it is apt that this popular series about the Royal Family, a story which looks at power and kingship, at authority and rule, is back on the TV at the same time as this final festival in the churches year that we celebrate today.

The festival of Christ the King, is always the last Sunday before Advent. Advent, next week marks a new time in our seasons, a new year, a new beginning as we turn towards the crib and prepare ourselves, body and soul for Christmas. Yet today, this last festival of our year, the festival of Christ the King is a relative newcomer to the table. It was established as late as 1925 by the then Pope. A time in history when political powers were jostling over people and land, post the carnage that the First World War. It was then, and remains as today a reminder to us of , a rather brassy political statement by a Pope. A salutary poke to all those in leadership around the world, that there is only one ultimate authority and judgement that the church recognises and that is the Kingship of Jesus Christ.

It is also apt perhaps that the readings that we are asked to respond to today are ones that take a hard look at how we treat other people.

The prophet Ezekiel is always a good place to start any evisceration of those in power….and he does not let us down today. Ezekiel was also talking in a highly charged political environment and the prophet is not shy at going to town on his critique of the leaders of the day. They are held up as people who have not cared for their flock of sheep well. It speaks of those who have been greedy and taken what they needed and wasted what was left. It speaks of a sense of individual regard above that of what would be right for everyone. What does he say

“You pushed the sick ones aside and butted them away from the flock”

That is pretty damning.

So Ezekiels prophesy says that a new shepherd will come and lead the sheep. His words are ones which are definite and unshakeable. The Sovereign Lord himself will lead the flock to new pastures. He uses the words “I will” repeatedly – and it gives a sense of reassurance to those who are struggling, and that reassurance leads to a place of hope.

“I will bring them back…. I will take them out of foreign countries….I will lead them back to the mountains….I myself will be the shepherd of the sheep”

When the people cannot do it. God will.

It would have been these words and images that sprang to mind as people listened to Matthew’s gospel and account that we have today. The pictures of sheep and goats are straight out of Ezekiel. Matthew’s community, of Jewish converts would have known Ezekiel well. They are being given no doubt that the Jesus of Nazareth who has led a motley crew around Galilee for three years is presenting himself as leader of the sheep – as the new shepherd –  and in that way the ultimate authority on heaven and earth. They were dangerous political words to write in 70 AD and they were dangerous images to draw to peoples attention in 1925 when Christ the King Festival was begun. They still carry that edge and threat.

And yet acting on them – is precisely Jesus point. This is how to live. This is what I have shown you. Just as in the breaking of bread at the last supper Jesus Says “do this in remembrance of me” – here we have the words – “Do this and you do it for me” – and they are just as powerful. They form the backbone of the social gospel. They are still as revolutionary and all inclusive. DO this for anyone and you do it for me. Not do it for someone who looks like me, or thinks like me, or likes the same cat meme on facebook like me, or just the person that makes me laugh, or whose company I might enjoy. Its easy doing nice things for people we know and love. But Jesus says –

“Do this for anyone of the least important of these members of my family, you did it for me.”

The forgotton, the naked, the vulnerable, the hungry, the convicted, the sick, the despised. Those. And of course during his lifetime Jesus has been everyone of these. None of those experiences are things unknown to the Soveriegn Lord, whether that is in a stable, as a refuge, as a prisoner in front of Pontius Pilate or on a cross naked.

I have often been fascinated by the different images that come to be associated with different gospels – Luke is an Ox, John is an Eagle, Mark is Lion. I think that the images make is so much easier to identify the different gospel writers in stained glass windows, or pictures.

Matthew is the human face. And in that case here at the end of this church year, on a festival where we celebrate and affirm as Christians that Christ is the King  – then how right perhaps that we have these very human faces in our gospel reading.

They put us right up close to others and what being human can mean. We cannot remove ourselves from the human faces that we see everyday. Perhaps that is why the pandemic is so challenging to our human way of life – because we are called to step into rather than away….We are called to be with others rather than apart.

It is the being with others, as God chose to be with us, that Jesus’s life, death and resurrection calls us to. There is a bigger picture or large strategies and overarching policies that can be implemented and that will help many  – be that the critical reform and funding of our health, prison, and education systems. The need to continue to be generous in the sharing of our resources with others from around the world through generous management of our foreign aid budget. 

Yet also on a much more immediate level we are asked to look at the human face, of the people around us and consider their immediate need. Are they hungry? Are they thirsty? Are they sick? – What can I do this day with one of these people? And when we do – then we meet the human face of Jesus Christ. It really is that simple. That revolutionary. That political. That Godly. Amen