This is the homily I gave at St James Church Little Paxton at the 9.15am Sung Eucharist.
It was based on the gospel of the day: Luke 8 v 26-39.
A collect for the day:
God our saviour, look on this wounded world in pity and in power; hold us fast to your promises of peace won for us by your Son, our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen Common Worship Shorter Collect
The Gospel story from Luke Chapter 8 tells of a man who was in a desperate state. He lived in appalling conditions, could not control his speech, was kept chained and under guard.
In Mark’s account we read that he self-harmed by cutting himself with stones.
People around him were frightened by his behaviour and appearance and whilst struggling to contain the man, assumed that he was possessed by evil spirits. It is understandable that this would be their assumption as at that time there was a belief that evil spirits and demons were all around and it was they who were responsible for evil and disease that took over people’s lives
Thank goodness today we have a very different world view, informed by science, which has helped us to understand the physical causes of ailments. No longer do we believe that disease is caused by demonic activity. It is treated with medicine and other therapies and not exorcism. We can believe that the ever improving skills of medical staff and research is an important way in which God brings us healing.
I give a slight word of caution to that statement as there are still some types of ultra conservative Christian theology which approach the bible very literally and view sickness and mental illness as due to some sort of possession.
I remember talking with a priest involved in Deliverance Ministry . He is called on when people have disturbing experiences in their homes which they think are of a supernatural nature. He said that very ,very rarely has he ever found evidence that something might be going on other than people struggling with sort of mental health problem or personality disorder. Such folk need to be treated with the utmost care and by professional medical experts who know what they are doing.
In the life and ministry of Jesus we see him healing physically sick people, we also see him healing the minds of those who were deeply troubled.
We learn too in the story that the man was carrying out self harm. Again, that is a condition that is being increasingly understood and compassionately treated the light of insights into how people who damage their bodies in some way are often in a state of deep distress.
It can be a way of communicating and expressing what cannot be put into words or even thoughts. The self-harmer may be subject to feelings which overwhelm them, perhaps of anger, sadness, self-hatred, fear, loneliness or guilt. Self harm can be a way of dealing with these issues, getting the pain out, even if the person feels deeply embarrassed and conceals what they are doing.
2,000 years after this gospel story took place, we cannot be sure exactly what had happened to the man to reduce him to the state he was in. However what is clear is that throughout his ministry Jesus encountered people who were trapped by forces which oppressed them and ruined their lives.
Jesus was just as concerned about mental suffering as he is about those who had no food, were sick or who were physically exploited.
The people around this poor man who suffered so much put chains on him and locked him up. He must have frightened them a great deal and with the belief he was demon possessed, probably felt the best thing was to chain him.
Into this desperately sad scenario comes Jesus. He shows his deep care and compassion for this man who was suffering mental torment.
Jesus reaches out and literally touches those who were suffering in mind and spirit and rather than becoming caught up in their pain and distress he brings healing and wholeness to those he encountered.
Jesus demonstrates the kingdom of God on earth, and he does this by opposing the forces of evil which would rob the children of God of all that God hopes and intends for them. Jesus has power over things that frighten us and ruin our lives.
We probably all have things which possess us and from which we need freeing.
All of which may feel very apt at the moment as our country has torn itself apart over the In/Out referendum dilemma and Jo Cox, the MP for Batley and Spen in Yorkshire, was murdered on Thursday in her constituency.
The tributes to her from politicians across the spectrum of politics have been heartfelt and sincere. She took a stand against prejudice of any kind, and as she considered the different ethnic groups around her where she lived and worked, she famously said that there is more than we have in common than the things that divide us. She worked tirelessly for the people who others often have no time for, or worse feel are a great threat : – not least refugees fleeing the “Hellhouse” of Syria as she phrased it and back in her own town of Birstall, those who are lonely and marginalised.
How ironic that the man who killed her gave his name as “ Death to traitors: Freedom to Britain” when he appeared in court yesterday charged with her murder. Reported to be a loner with mental health issues, he is the sort of person Jo would have reached out to.
It’s hard to hate him when he was so obviously misguided and mentally unstable. The people I have to work hard to forgive are those who over the last years have stirred up hatred towards people who are different to us, not least immigrants fleeing terror and certain death.
The death of Jo Cox silenced arguments from both sides referendum debate for three days – what a relief that was. One wonders to what extent the fragile mind of a man like Mr Mair has been influenced by the venom of the far right and the cries of those who want to say NO to anyone other than those made in their own image.
Let’s hope that whatever the outcome of the Referendum, the death of one of the kindest and bravest people who wanted peace and understanding between people of all backgrounds makes us think long and hard about the sort of world we really want. And how as Christians we think about our neighbour on this planet earth who is fleeing terror and persecution.
Jesus mixed with everyone who had need of his healing touch. He often had crowds following him, if not fleeing persecution, but seeking desperately healing and a new way of living and freedom from oppression. He never turned them away, even when he was tired and weary.
In his ministry Jesus used his power and authority to help, to show kindness and not to hurt . He shows by his actions that he heals people, he frees and binds up the broken – broken hearts, broken bodies and broken minds.
We are a part of a church which needs to constantly seek to find ways to bring God’s healing to a world where there is so much division.
Vote wisely on Thursday.
Amidst all the claims and counter claims it is hard to hear the voice of God. I wonder how you would answer this question – what would Jesus do?
It is Sunday November 22nd 2015 and a long time since I blogged!
Its good to see that people are still reading the many posts from past years and I’m glad they are helpful to people.
I tend to spend my online time on Facebook and the St James Little Paxton Page which daily covers news of the four churches in our Benefice. With the advent of mobile phones it is very easy to use and update.
Here is the link: http://www.facebook.com/St JamesChurchLittle Paxton
Next Sunday November 28th there will be the annual Children’s Advent Workshop at St James Little Paxton from 10.30am to 12noon.
Just register by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
A recent picture of St James in sunlight.
It seems a while since I posted on here,but I am glad lots of people still check in and look at some of the many past posts not least on various saints.
The St James little Paxton web-site now has a new look and it also contains a live feed from the St James facebook page.
http://www.littlepaxtonchurch.org.uk will take you to the web-site.
I am just about to come to a big “0” birthday and have open house at the Vicarage on July 27th from 1pm onwards for a bring and share party. it would be lovely to see lots of friends and enjoy some good food together.
I hope you are all enjoying the summer and have time for rest and relaxation in August.
These prayers may be helpful for anyone preparing intercessions for tomorrow.
I have removed local names and situations, but hope they may still be of use.
May God bless all those leading worship tomorrow.
Prayers for the Baptism of Christ.
Creator God, we praise and worship you for your infinite power and love. We thank you that you have washed us clean and that you continue to inspire and refresh us with your presence. Remind us daily of our baptism in Christ and the ever present possibility of a fresh start and new beginning in Him day by day.
Lord, in Your mercy
Hear Our Prayer.
At the beginning of this New year we pray that you will fill your church throughout the world with your holy spirit.
Mindful that Christians worship and gather in many different settings and circumstances, we pray for a church which reaches out not just to those who find faith easy but those who struggle with faith.
For a church that practices compassion and inclusion.
For pray for our diocese and bishops… For the clergy, lay ministers and lay people of our Deanery as they plan and pray their way into 2014.
For the parishes of our Deanery…..
Lord God, be, we pray, in all our planning and praying as prepare our worship and social events for 2014. May the doors of this church always be wide enough to offer peace and kindness to all who enter in.
Lord in Your Mercy
Hear Our Prayer.
Loving God, we pray come with power in your world to make your loving kindness and peace known and honoured in every land.
We pray for peace across the nations of the world, especially those traumatised by violence and civil war.
Mindful of the current conflict in South Sudan and the thousands of people who face severe food shortages, we pray for aid to reach these traumatised peoples and an end to the conflict that is causing so much suffering. As the bishops of that country pray, may their people of every race, language, tribe and community be united in solidarity
We pray for peace in Syria, Egypt, Iraq, the troubles areas of the middle east, Afghanistan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Lord God, you hold heaven and earth in a single peace.
Shine your love on the waste of our conflict and sorrow and give peace among the nations and peace in our hearts.
Lord in Your Mercy
Hear Our Prayer
We turn our thoughts nearer home and mindful of the storms which have battered our country these last days, pray for those suffering the effects of flooding.
Whilst water can be cleansing and is essential for our well being, it can cause much destruction.
We think of families whose homes and businesses have been damaged
For those who live in fear of further floods
Those who feel anxious for the future.
Be with them, we pray, that they may know the calm of your presence
Through him who stilled the raging of the storm, Jesus Christ Our Lord.
Lord in Your Mercy
Hear Our Prayer
As we move into a new school term, we give thanks for the presence in our communities of our local schools, for the children and staff and parents who made them such important centres of growth and learning.
We give thanks for the gift of children in our lives, pray for children who live in difficult circumstances. We ask for your blessing on infants newly born in our community and families awaiting the birth of a child.
We pray this morning for any we know, younger or older, who are struggling with life at this time whether through illness, uncertainly, stress or worries of some kind.
By name we carry into your presence, Lord……
We offer to God our own concerns for those we know and love and for ourselves for things which it may be hard to share with others.
Lord, be a tower of strength amidst shifting sands
And fix our hearts on you where peace may be found amidst turmoil and pain.
Lord in Your Mercy
Hear Our Prayer
Lord of life and death
We bring to remembrance those we love but see no longer
Grant us a real and spiritual sense of continuing unity
Being bound together in love in Christ.
Rejoice this morning in the life…….
May light perpetual shine upon all those we hand over into your tender care.
Rejoicing in the fellowship of all your saints we commend ourselves and all people to your unfailing love.
Here is a little offering on the theme of the wild man John The Baptist. On the third sunday of Advent, our thoughts turn to John and the reading this homily is based on is Matthew 3 v 1-12
John The Baptist by Caravaggio ( disputed) c 1598
He was a rare man. He was an unusual man. His life was dedicated to God out there in the desert sands and all alone. What else was there to do in the desert? There were no games to play, no people to talk to, no scrolls to read. What else was there to do in the desert, night after night, day after day, except to talk to God, to be immersed in the reality of God.
Then strangely, they started to come, first hundreds and then thousands – people coming to hear him preach. Walking miles out of their cities, out into the wilderness, to listen to the desert prophet. They didn’t come to meet up with old friends they hadn’t seen for a week or because the music was good and the choir sang well. They didn’t come because of an old childhood habit of synagogue worship on Friday nights. No, they left their cities and walked into the desert because they wanted to see a rare phenomenon. They wanted to see and hear a man whose life they had heard was totally immersed in God, whose soul had not been corrupted by the pollution and greed of city life.
They came because they to hear the authentic word from the Lord God for their lives in their time. They sensed that in this man was the pure presence of God. These people from the city wanted to find what he had discovered in the desert – and what they couldn’t find in their own lives. So, they came looking for an authentic godly life.
What was the message they heard? The message of John The Baptist as he taught in the desert was essentially two things – prepare and repent.
Prepare for the coming of Gods Messiah, Christ himself. Prepare for the coming of your King. Be washed, be cleansed, become pure in heart, in your imagination, in your mind. May these be washed clean, so Christ can come into you and live. Repent, turn around, change your life. This was the message they found – get ready!
As a dramatic sign of the inner change that John was pleading for, he offered the outward sign of baptism, plunging a person desirous of a new life into the deep waters of the River Jordan.
There is a Rock opera called Godspell in which John The Baptist features strongly. There is a scene which goes something like this:
At the back of the stage are 8 or 9 players and each actor comes to the front of the stage and starts to sing. For a fraction of time he or she sings about their particular ideology – whether it be the philosophy of Plato, Socrates, communism or capitalism. Each actor, for a moment, sings from centre stage their theme song of life. And then they are all singing together in a chorus of confusion.
The audience realize they are watching a profound parable. The singers are singing out their ideologies, their beliefs in a cacophony of confusion and nobody can make sense of any of it. No-one knew which philosophy of life to listen to.
Then the sound of a ram’s horn breaks in – followed by silence. John the Baptist enters, singing and calling his world to be washed clean so the Messiah could enter. He walks down the aisle with a pail of water, splashing the people around him, and breaks out into song:
“Prepare Ye The Way of The Lord”
Today, Advent 2, we focus on John The Baptist. In doing so an invitation is given to you and me to prepare once again for the coming of Christ. To go into the desert to be cleansed – our hearts, minds and thoughts.
But where is this desert that we are asked to journey into? What can we make of the imagery of the desert on this second Sunday in Advent with just three weeks to go until Christmas?
If we think of the earliest history of Israel we remember how the Jewish people had been slaves in Egypt. In some ways the Israelites had come to love the sophisticated city life, the food, the technology of Egypt, the relative comfort they enjoyed even though they were slaves. They resisted going out into the wilderness.
But God led the Israelites into the desert as God often leads people into a desert of some kind in order to grow. To renew souls, to purify spirits, to cleanse attitudes and outlooks. God often leads people out into a desert to prepare them for a new land of experience of mission, for a new life.
Today, the Word of The lord is clear. God says to you and me:
Go into the wilderness and become clean – your mind, your imagination, your heart, your actions, your habits. Jesus went into the desert where he was baptised and then spent forty days and nights preparing for his mission, for a new life, for a new ministry in the city of mankind.
So, we ask, “ Where is this desert we are thinking about? It doesn’t sound very enticing at all.
But, the wilderness is where God is. The wilderness is any place where a person becomes absorbed in the powerful presence of God. The wilderness is where anyone is alone, really alone with the ultimate issues of life, death and eternity. The wilderness might be found in sitting with the bible, it might be found in a thin wafer and sip of wine. The wilderness is in prayer and a still small voice. It might be in a hospital in the heart of the night. It might be out in nature when the snow hushes a busy world and there is nothing to do but look and still the mind. The wilderness is where God is, and where God can cleanse our frazzled minds and hearts and habits and anything else that jars with the rhythm of Gods love.
The wilderness is silence and quiet. It is often the elimination of every day sounds and voices. The stopping of the racing tape of my own mind. It is quiet and stillness. It is being alone with God – for a minute, absolutely still. God speaks in the wilderness of the silence. The city is an image for our noisy, distracted, crowed lives. The wilderness is silence and God speaks to us in that silence.
In the wilderness, we might just hear God’s voice “ Be washed. Be cleansed of past hurts and anger. Be cleansed of whatever is hurting your life and the lives of others. Whatever is holding you back from trusting and being free from fear”
May each of us in these advent days find time to enter, if only for a few moments each day, into our own personal wilderness, to be cleansed and healed and to prepare ourselves to meet anew the light of the world, Jesus our Lord, this Christmas.
Walk softly as you go through Christmas
That each step may bring you nearer to the manger bed.
Talk quietly as you speak of Christmas that you shall not drown out the song of the angels.
Knell reverently as you pause for Christmas. That you may feel again the spirit of the Nativity, rekindled in your soul.
Rise eagerly, after you have trod the Christmas path, that you may serve more fully, the one whose birth we hail. Amen
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Welcome to Paxtonvic’s Christmas Blog.
We had a lovely start to Advent at St James Church in Little Paxton when children and their carers had a craftty morning in church on November 30th.
Amongst other things, the children made a banner which now hangs in front of the pulpit with the words
” Put Christ at the Beginning of Christmas”
Since then, we have had a lovely display of local artwork, a very busy School Carol Service and welcomed the Girls’ uniformed groups for their annual inventive carol evening.
On Sunday December 15th we have our usual Sung Eucharist at 9.15am and then at 5pm the splendid Tapestry Singers will be performing a concert of carols we can all join in with and Christmas songs to enjoy.
Tickets are just £5.00 on the door and include refreshments.
The remaining services are as follows:
Wednesday December 18th:
Boys’ uniformed groups Christingle at 6.30pm
Sunday December 22nd
: 9.15am Sung Eucharist
4pm Christinge and Carols.
2.30pm Christinge and Carols
10.00pm – The First Communion of Christmas
10.30am – Family Eucharist
Do come along and celebrate Christmas in the setting of an ancient parish church with a warm and welcomming atmosphere.
For any enquiries, please do ring Rev Annette Reed on 01480 211048.
A very happy and peaceful Christmas to you all!
” If in your heart you make
A manger for his birth,
Then God will once again
Become a child on earth”
Little Paxton Church remembers its patron St James on a Sunday near to July 25th every year.
Here is the sermon I preached on July 28th at St James, mindful of the train crash in Santiago a few days before.
For James, son of Zebedee and brother to John, there was no indication that this was the day that his life would change.
The dawn for him was the end of a long and fruitless night of fishing. As he sat mending his nets with his father and brother, he must have watched in wonder as his fisherman friend Simon brought in nets loaded with fish, caught at the command of this new Jewish teacher who was on the scene.
What did he think when he saw Simon and his brother Andrew walk away from this huge catch and follow Jesus in an instant. What were his thoughts when Jesus then approached him and John and asked them to follow him too, leaving behind their boat, their father and all that was familiar to them?
We know that James and John, like Simon, soon to become Peter, followed Jesus with no hesitation. Just maybe they had heard about this man before; maybe they were at a point in their lives when they were ready for a new direction and a life lived more closely with God.
What we do know is that from that lakeside moment onwards Jesus was the focus of James’ life,and it is also evident that James had a special place in Jesus’ life
He was chosen of course to be one of the twelve apostles, given authority to heal and drive out demons as were the other eleven. But he was often present with Jesus at key times in his life when some of the others were not.
When Jesus raised Jairus’ daughter, Jesus only allowed Peter, James and John to come with him. At the time of the transfiguration, Jesus only wanted those three present alongside him.
At the very least Jesus greatly respected and trusted his friend John.
It is then, perhaps no great wonder that along with John, he goes to Jesus and asks him if he will give them whatever they ask. They have given their commitment to Jesus, surely he will oblige them with any request they might have.
They asked him for the privilege of sitting, one on his right hand and one on his left, when he came into his glory.
Let’s note that in Matthew’s gospel, which we heard this morning, it is their mother who does the asking for her sons. Lest we think she is being very pushy, we must remember that she too had followed Jesus and provided for his needs, and was one of the women who was to stick with him at the cross when the apostles, including her son James, fled.
Whether it was James and John who asked, whether it was their mother, the other apostles were furious at the request.
But rather than rebuke the, Jesus uses it as an opportunity to teach them a deep them a deep spiritual truth – that in order to be truly great, one must be a servant of others. He also took the opportunity to fore warn them that one day they would indeed drink of the cup of suffering that he was to drink.
Despite this rather tense exchange, which hadn’t endeared James and John nor their mother to the other disciples, it was still James, John and Peter that Jesus chose to be with him in the garden of Gethsemane before his arrest, even they were to let him down by falling asleep.
James was indeed to drink of the cup that Jesus drank, all too shortly after the resurrection. Acts 12 v 1 tells us that James was one of the first martyrs of the church. King Herod Agrippa 1 ( grandson of Herod the Great who tried to kill the infant Jesus) killed him with a sword in an early church persecution c AD42.
James is only apostle whose death is recorded in the N.T
James is often called James Major of Greater to distinguish him from other New Testament persons called James.
Tradition has it that he made a missionary journey to Spain, and that after his death his body was taken to Spain and buried there at Compostela (a town the name of which is commonly thought to be derived from the word “apostle”, although it may derive from “field of stars”, which in Latin would be campus stellarum).
His supposed burial place there was a major site of pilgrimage in the Middle Ages.Indeed from the 9th century, his shrine in Santiago became a great international attraction. Europe wanted to believe that the remains of the apostle were buried there and kings and queens, bishops and noblemen, peasants and knights – thousand of people made the pilgrimage to Santiago every year.
By the 12th century the pilgrimages to the place were more popular that Jerusalem or Rome. The popes of Roman gave their official sanction to the pilgrimage and of course the peoples of Santiago made a fortune from the tourist trade – souvenirs were numerous – not unlike those of our tourist trade today.
Pilgrims on their way to St James’ burial place were a common sight on the roads of medieval western Europe. They travelled mainly by land through a road network that crossed France and Northern Spain called “ Camino Frances” or The French Way”. The knock on effect of this pilgrimage trade was far reaching for European civilization.
Pilgrims from all over Europe shared their cultures and fashions and took back to their own homelands a piece of Spain. St James and Spain.
Many churches were built and dedicated to St James. We are sitting in one right now. I wonder who decided to make St James patron here? Maybe someone who had made that pilgrimage and it made a deep impression on them? The scallop Shell of St James became the international symbol of the pilgrim to St James’ shrine.
With the Protestant Reformation came the downfall of the pilgrimage from the 16th century onwards but since the late 1970’s Spanish governments have revived with great success the St James’ way and the city of Santiago was inscribed as a word heritage site in 1993.
Normally on July 25th, the feast day of St James, there is a public holiday in the city with much festivity and a state mass in St James Cathedral.
And so, how sad and how ironic that the day before the City of Santiago Compostela was to roll out its annual festivities to honour St James news spread across the world of the devastating train crash just outside the city.
I don’t know if any of the people on board were travelling to the city for the festival, but of course the obvious reaction to this tragedy was to halt the festivities this year and indeed the city has had three days of public mourning.
This weeks news carried by the media reminds us of one great truth. Life is such a complex mixture of joy, happiness and contentment on the one hand and sadness and loss on the other, with a lot of grey and monochrome areas in between.
We had the news of the arrival of the new royal baby and the “ nation rejoices” to quote the tabloids.
Three days later several hundred miles across Europe, a nation is in mourning as images of the train crash come into our sitting rooms.
I began these words by saying “For James, son of Zebedee and brother to John, there was no indication that this was the day that his life would change”
For those who boarded the train to Santiago, there was no indication that this day would change their life in such a dramatic way.
For James, our patron saint, he had no idea when he said he would follow Jesus that he would end up beheaded at the hands of a ruthless tyrant and lose his life in the service of his dearest friend.
Jesus never said to his friends and followers follow me and you will always find yourself walking in a rose garden. He was quite clear that one day they would have to suffer for the sake of the gospel. He certainly knew where his path lay.
When people say to me, how could God let a dear one die in such a way, or let a tragic accident happen, I have no clever answers.
But simply suggest that when Jesus was dying on the cross, and endured the worst that humanity could throw at him, he had complete trust in his Father God
to redeem him and transform the darkness of pain and death into resurrection light and new life. “ Endless in the victory thou o’er death has one” as runs the hymn thine be the glory.
That victory is what we celebrate Sunday by Sunday, indeed every day of our lives. That’s where our hope lies, that’s where our faith finds its source. That’s is how our patron saint found the strength to endure all that he had to face at the end of his life, and where Christians for generations have found the courage to continue when all around them seems bleak and hopeless.
Jesus’ overcoming of death also gives us every reason to celebrate whenever we can. I am so sorry for the people of Santiago and hope that their faith in an intensely Catholic country, brings them hope out of this trauma. Maybe they will feel they can celebrate their patron saint next year with a memorial to those who lost their lives.
May we, mindful and realistic about the hard things we have to deal with, find the inner joy and peace of God, which nothing can destroy.
May we celebrate the honour of our church community being named after such a loyal and brave servant of Jesus Christ. James The Greater.
I am very fortunate to be staying for 48 hours at Ferrar House, the small retreat house at Little Gidding. On perfect summers day I travelled just a few miles to Leighton Bromswold and tracked down a key to get into the church.Priest poet George Herbert was Prebend there in the C17th and was a friend of Nicholas Ferrar who founded the community at Little Gidding.
It is thought George Herbert never actually visited Leighton Bromswold himself though raised a substantial sum of money to repair the building. Now the PCC have ambitious plans to introduce new facilities and for that I do wish them well.
Outside the church is a large stone with a plaque beside saying it was a ” judgement” stone from where criminals were tried. Here is me sitting on it.
Great Paxton Church are holding their flower festival this weekend ftom 11.00am to 4pm each day.
There are some charming paper flowers made by local school children and lots of pretty arramgements including a teddy bears picnic. PE19 …..come along and enjoy!
The best result from our flower festival was the many positive conversations taking place over the two days and pleasure the flowers gave to people. Somehow we also raised £1,100 ……where did that come from?
So many thanks to everyone who created the event.
Ladies from St Neots museum creating their display.