Paxtonvic’s Blog

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Sunset and sunflower in the vicarage garden

The glory of an English sunset. If you left click on the picture it will come up much larger on your screen and the marvellous sky colours are amazing.

July 16, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Wheat and tares, heaven and hell – the Gospel for July 17th

The gospel reading for tomorrow Matthew 13 v 24-30, 36-43 contains what might be for some the difficult parable of the Wheat and Tares.

I will post my sermon on here but hope that if any folk reading it are from a fundamentalist position biblically and take exception to my questioning of hell they  dont leave abrasive comments as Ive had before!

There is a very interesting review in Church Times this week ( July 15th) of four books written by Evangelical scholars who are taking a fresh look at the teachings about heaven and hell…. I allude to the article and if you have access to Church Times its well worth reading. The review is written by the Bishop of Chester.

Forgive any poor grammar and long windedness… Ive found the sermon hard to write and its quite late now so I need to have  a bit of free time now.

Matthew 13 v 24-30, 36-43.

The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Three years ago this week Jeff died. He was 58 years old and lived in a hostel for people with mental health problems in Oxfordshire. I took his funeral in the chapel at Oxford Cemetery  as I had known his family since school days.

Since teenage years  Jeff had suffered from severe schizophrenia. He had never been able to work, his marriage lasted a few brief months and side by side his mental health problems, his physical health had suffered and led to an early, but unexpected death.

Through changing family circumstances Jeff had got much closer to his sister before he died and they had enjoyed many conversations which had healed some deep rifts. But Jeff had met with some Christians of the more fundamentalist persuasion, and whatever they had said to him, he had developed a preoccupation with hell. He was frightened of going there and constantly asked his sister if that’s where he was destined to go. She had rung me more than once, frightened herself for Jeff and asking me if there was such a place.

Months after Jeff’s funeral his sister would ring asking me about hell – has Jeff gone there? Please would I pray for his soul and ask God to keep him safe.

If we  want to play the game of picking out bible texts  to prove your own agenda, then it is clear that Jesus referred to a place which was the opposite of heaven.  In the Jewish faith of his time there was a popular belief in hell – a place literally below the ground as opposed to heaven which was above the skies. That thinking was based of course on the idea of a flat earth with heaven above and hell below.

There was a type of Jewish scripture called apocalyptic literature like the book of Daniel  echoed in the NT book of  Revelation where the end times were spoken of often and the place of the ungodly at the end of time was an uncompromising hell.

Matthew in his gospel goes out of his way to include verses which have more than a hint of the apocalyptic drama and here Jesus is speaking of end times and the wretched fete of evil doers. Some commentators would say that Matthew put these words into Jesus’ mouth and that Matthew gives an apocalyptic slant to this parable of the wheat and the tares.

But even many years later, Medieval faith was, forgive the unintended pun, hot on promoting hell as a place of endless torture and suffering. The Church Times this week on page 28 has  reviews about recent books on the very theology of hell and I quote from the author who is the Bishop of Chester “  In medieval theology is was commonplace for the blessedness of heaven to be enhanced by the contemplation of the eternal sufferings in hell”

Vibrant evidence for that statement can be seen from medieval wall paintings – such as a huge painting at Lutterworth  church in Leicestershire above the chancel arch. There we see hell depicted in vivid colours at the time of the Resurrection of the Dead – and amongst the inhabitants of the place of wailing and knashing of teeth are a hoard of bishops – all male ones of course!

The threat of hell was a common tool which the leaders of faith used in medieval times to persuade their flock that evil doing would lead to everlasting damnation.

The 1662  Prayer Book contains a “Commination”  against sin:

“ Let us remember the dreadful judgement hanging over our heads and always ready to fall upon us. Let us return to our God with all contrition and meekness of heart and lamenting our sinful life. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. He shall pour down rain upon the sinners, snares, fire and brimstone, storm and tempest – this shall be their portion to drink”

Since the 1552 Prayer Book appeared ( revised 1662) it was the practice on Ash Wednesday for the priest to deliver from the pulpit texts from scripture, mostly from Deuteronomy on the theme of Gods cursing against sinners.

The fear of hell and eternal damnation weas the driving force behind wealthy people in past times paying money for chantry chapels to be attached to parish churches and a priest paid to daily inter4cede for their souls. The poor people, and most were poor didn’t have a chance to be included in this elite provision.

I wonder what your thoughts are on heaven and hell? I sense that we at St James aren’t of the

“ turn or burn” brigade and I wouldn’t feel comfortable being in a Christian group who emphasised that approach. The article in church times suggests that even evangelical theologians now are challenging the traditional idea of hell and damnation.

Here are my thoughts.

 I think it is an abuse of power for any Christian Group to use the threat of some kind of hell to frighten people into faith. It still happens and if I met the people who had frightened Jeff when he was so vulnerable I would have something very clear to say to them. This is especially the case with people with mental health problems or who are very vulnerable for some reason. Even Jeff’s sister Mary normally a calm and rational person caught something of her brothers fear and I gave a strong message at his funeral that God is a God of forgiveness and love not of punishment and judgement. Yes, Jeff had done some bad things due to his illness but I cannot believe that God would create a human soul for some kind of eternal damnation. If there is continued existence of some kind beyond this life – and I have always believed there is- then Jeff’s spirit must surely be now in a place of healing and light.

But what of people who seem to lead greedy and selfish lives and cause harm to others? What of those who carry out the most awful crimes against others and make their lives hell?   I once read that God would never send a person to hell but we may well choose to go there by the way we lead our lives.

Revd Martin Israel was a much loved priest who I  once heard speak in Birmingham. He suggested that those who caused great pain to others deliberately will experience the pain they caused when they first passed from this life to the next – a  purging and restorative process before healing can take place. This has always made a lot of sense to me. Truly evil people choose a kind of hell for themselves in an after-life. Is that for eternity? I cannot believe that God creates us with limits on our redemptive possibilities.


We don’t need to believe in an after-life to know that many people through no fault of their own  already live in the most harrowing conditions – mentally and physically on this earth.

Sometimes when people have been through painful times they say they have been to hell and back. Right now there are people who are living in appalling conditions as their extreme poverty means their lives hang on a thread. There are plenty of places on earth which are already hell if we mean extreme suffering. I believe it should be a number one priorty of all Christian people to do all they can to eradicate the circumstances which can lead to extreme suffering.

On a very topical issue, yesterday the Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell  announced  from the Dadaab refugee camp  in Kenya that the UK Government would be giving 52M towards the crisis  in the Horn of Africa. He said :

People across Britain have responded with great generosity to appeals by British NGOs working in the Horn of Africa “But the situation is getting worse – and is particularly devastating in Somalia, where families already have to cope with living in one of the most insecure countries in the world.”

£16m will be spent in the Dadaab refugee camp, and in a camp in Ethiopia, both of which are struggling to cope with the influx of people from the worst-affected drought areas. Kenya will receive more than £11m to fight malnutrition among women and children. Great that our PCC voted last Tuesday to give £500 from our Christian Giving pot from this year to the Emergency Disasters Appeal.

Some commentators have been saying that with forethought and the political will much of the drastic results of famine could be avoided – lets hope and pray that does happen in the future so these man made hells do not keep occurring.

Lastly, let’s take a look at what Jesus is saying in todays gospel passage.

Jesus told the parable of the wheat and tares. Tares were one of the curses a farmer had to battle against. They were a weed called darnel and in their early stages resembled wheat so that it was impossible to tell one from another. When they had grown the difference was obvious but by that time the roots had become intertwined so that one could not be pulled up without the other. Eventually they would have to be as the tares were poisonous to humans and endangered the good crop of wheat. The owners told his servants not to pull out the weeds but leave them until the harvest when the weeds could be separated and burnt.

Jesus explained the parable thus: The field represented the world; the wheat followers of Jesus and weeds those who rejected him.  My reading of the text is that Jesus was more concerned with the growth of good seed than rooting out the bad. Nurture of good seed – of good fruits- was his principle concern. Whilst he says there will be a time when good and evil people will be separated he also allows for the fact that people can and do change over time.

God has not finished with any of us yet and certainly never gives up whatever we may think. And, laying my cards on the table I would repeat that I believe no soul is ever condemned to eternity and there is always potential for restoration. God in Christ has faith in us and we need to have faith in others. We need to see people  for what they may become not just how they seem to be.

May we be open to that transforming process in Christ whereby we are changed into his likeness. St Paul writes that it is a process which takes time and can start from tiny beginnings like the mustard seed growing. Patience is needed, patience as we change and patience as we look for wholesome change in one another. I remember Jeff’s sister saying that something was changing in Jeff  during the months before he died. I hoped and prayed that the timing of his departure from this life was all part of Gods healing plan for him.

Someone once said it is ‘Better to light a candle than curse the dark’ Rather than bemoaning the bad things we see and hear about these coming days, let us focus on bringing light into the world around us. Amen

 A joke to finish this post with….

A man dies and goes to Heaven’s Gates. Saint Peter tells the man “For your righteousness you will be given transport to go on the streets of gold” Saint Peter led him past many vehicles, stopping at a moped. The man gets on the moped and drives around miserable  for weeks. Finally Saint Peter sees him smiling down the road. He asks “Why are you happy? You have been so miserable for weeks! ” The man replies “I just saw my old vicar  on roller skates!”

July 16, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Thoughts on the Parable of the Sower

The Parable of the Sower

Matthew 13.

 There was a man who had an allotment. He loved growing fruit and vegetables but always wished his plot was more fertile and produced more fruit and tastier vegetables.

One morning during early spring he arrived  do some digging and found that there was a good two inches extra of  lovely soil on his plot. Goodness me, he thought, where has that come from? The next morning he arrived and what did he see? Yet more soil – two more inches of the best quality  possible. He was puzzled – but very pleased all the same. And the next day and the next the same thing happened – what a mystery!

He sat down and thought to himself…….um…. the plot thickens!

Before us this morning is the famous parable of the sower  and the plot thickens as Jesus speaks words which he says only a few will hear and truly understand.

I wonder if when we read this  parable and the  explanation given by Jesus and we say to ourselves, “I’m so glad my heart is the good soil that Jesus holds up as an example of strong faith. I feel so sorry for all those people whose hearts are like rocky, weedy or hard soil”.

It is clear that the good soil represents people who hear and understand the Word of God and the other soils are like people who have trouble receiving  his Word. When we read a passage like this, maybe our reaction is to see ourselves in the best light possible.

We go to church, we know about Jesus; we do lots of good works and bear good fruit and we believe. Surely we take heart in our belief and feel good about our spiritual life?

Maybe it wouldn’t hurt us, should we think in this way, to take a look at the challenges of the parable of the sower and see what it might be saying to us afresh.

After all, Jesus’ closest friends, the 12 disciples had to have the parable explained to them by a patient Jesus in  minute detail. They didn’t immediately get it.

I wonder what kind of soil we feel we are this morning? How can our hearts become more like  the good soil that Jesus seeks for us to be?

Firstly, lets consider  the farmer. I like to think that as Jesus sat down in the boat beside the lake and spoke to the crowds, he was looking across at a field and a farmer broadcasting his seed by hand as was the custom of the day. No mechanical aids, just handfuls of seed drawn out of a bag and cast here and there – on stoney ground and on good soil.

At first glance it appears that the farmer is careless, that he wastes his valuable seed in unproductive areas, but this was not so. In first century Palestine the seed was scattered first, then the soil was plowed to work the seed into the soil.
We can liken the sower to God. He scatters his word on the hearts of people. The condition of the hearts of people are represented by four types of soil: hard soil, rocky soil, weedy soil and good soil.
The hard ground, or path, is a trail through the field made by people or animals. The farmers casts seed there as he will plow through it later – but  before he can get to plowing in the parable the birds take the seed.

Jesus says that the birds represent the activity of  “ the evil one”  against the kingdom of God.  Remember, Jesus has come to bring in the kingdom of God, which is growing and pushing out the kingdom of Satan. What we can see about a heart that is hard like a pathway is that it resists cultivation. It is not that it cannot be cultivated, it can be, but it is very difficult to do so and as a result the chances of the seed being taken away are very high. But the farmer will be back the next year to sow again.

A message of hope lies even in the hard soil ….. even the hardest of hearts may one day turn to hearing God’s word and be changed and flourish and bear good fruits.

The rocky ground. This is not ground covered in rocks but is ground that has rocks a few inches under the surface. It is thin soil, but looks like any other soil before plowing. The trouble begins later after the seed takes root. The roots cannot go very deep, because though the soil looks like any other soil, it is in fact hard like the soil on the path and the result is that the plants become parched and unproductive.

The rocky ground can be read as a reference to superficial adherence to the Word of God. We hear the word but do not apply it well to our every day lives. It doesn’t really make a change in how we live and the attitudes we have.  Perhaps the rocky soil speaks of people who have great difficulty following up what they have heard and translating it into real life style changes

Gal. 5:22 “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  gentleness and self-control.” These are fruits of the Holy Spirit seen in the life of all Christians. If these are qualities that are growing, even slowly, within us, then the word of God is taking root in a real way, not in a superficial way.

What about the weedy soil?  Does this ring any bells?   Verse 19 describes the lives of  those who are like soil full of weeds  “but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful.”

Of course, there are things in life have to be dealt with, and goodness me – how many there seem to be on occasion! Household stuff, family concerns , money issues  relationship troubles and  even church pressures. I know how easy it is for the spiritual side of things to take a back seat.

I know that when I feel I have too much to deal with, one of the first things to suffer is my attitude toward God….sounds familiar?

Finally, the good soil.  It produces thirty, sixty or even a hundred times what was sown. The average yield for Palestine was between 10-100 fold. 100 fold is not miraculous, but it is the high end of the scale. 100 fold isn’t this unattainable yield that only super Christians can produce, 100 fold is the normal yield from the blessings of God on our life, blessing received through hearing and applying the Word of God.

We read in Gen. 26:12 Isaac planted crops in that land and the same year reaped a hundredfold, because the LORD blessed him. Isaac wasn’t a super human, he just received a normal blessing from God. A person with a heart of good soil is interested in God’s Word; open to the benefits of God’s Word; convinced  of the truth of  God’s word  and lives by it. Good fruit follow naturally just as a fruit bush will bear fine fruit which grows on healthy well watered soil.

I began with the joke about the allotment and the mysterious way that the soil depth built up much to the delight of the owner. The clue maybe is to let God do in our spiritual lives what the mysterious benefactor did to the allotment in the joke.  To spend time in prayer and quietness, to reread the parables and words of Jesus and let them feed our hearts and minds. To support each other in worship and working together for all the good fruit we hope to bear here as a church community which ultimately adds to the amount of goodness and care in the world. To add depth to our spiritual lives so that the presence of God may be embedded  even more deeply within us, take root and thrive.

Ephesians 3:

And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

July 10, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Out and about

Great day at Little Paxton PaxFest today on the village playing fields. Lots of village groups had stalls and the arena showcased the talents of young dancers, the folk dance group ” Heartsease” , Little Paxton school choir and a great local  band who entertained us a lot… sorry I dont know their names.

I chanced my luck with a bric a brac stall which raised a mighty £23.00 – but not a as mighty as the ongoing church book stall which netted £92.00. I hope all the groups are pleased with their efforts – I know the efforts for the CHUFT project

( Church for Tomorrow ) were over £1,000.

Mick, Peter, Ken and Doreen – stylish hats on the tombola

The endless mighty book stall

this time looked after by  Martin, Denise and Alf.

As the fete had a bit of a Royal theme, I tried to look like The Duchess of Cambridge but soon realised that some things just arent possible.

Once home, I got really engrossed in the Womens football match England v France in the quarter finals of the world cup. It went to a penalty shoot out and never having watched womens football before was quite upset that England lost.

Too much excitement for one day….. time to have some rest before another busy sunday

July 9, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Intrepid Andrew does his sky dive

At last, Andrew Hickson was able to do his sky dive on Tuesday  in aid of St John’s Hospice at Moggerhanger in Bedfordshire and the Little Paxton Church for Tomorrow Project.

I reckon he has been very brave and judging by the photos it was an exhilerating jump. Andrew said it could have been worse as he was the first out so didnt have too long to think about it!

Well done Andrew and thanks for supporting our church project and the wonderful work of St John’s hospice.

Andrew as he jumped out

Andrew flying high ( with some help!)

With a beautiful view

Andrew on the left with his diving partner who kept him safe!

Andrew would be only too happy to hear from any more sponsors. His web-site is:

I shall be staying  firmly on the ground for tomorrow’s Little Paxton PAX FEST which starts at 12 noon….. high quality bric-a-brac is my business!

July 8, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Pax Fest cometh soon….

Certainly no lull in summer fun at Little Paxton near St Neots.

The annual village Fete is soon upon us with the happy name of PAXFEST.

It takes place this Saturday from 12noon onwards on the  playing fields and the village hall  and it is always a great afternoon out with loads of stalls, games, displays and the annual garden show with lots of  categories for keen gardeners to show off their produce.

Here is how one web-site describes it:

Annual village fete with stalls,side shows, games,refreshments,BBQ, street dancing,Heartsees Folk Dance Group, live music, Connections Youth Bus and lots more. The Garden Show has many classes of flower exhibits, fruit, vegetables, home baking & crafts.  This years event will have a royal theme with a  childrens fancy dress competition and for the first time -a treasure hunt round all the stalls. A prize for every entry . There will also be childrens races.–summer-garden-show/50963.aspx

Ah, I had  forgotten about the Royal Theme – I’ll have to start thinking about how I can dress up as The Duchess of Cambridge….


July 4, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Web-site for spiders

The passenger seat of my car.

July 4, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment


Fields in Sheepy Magna taken by Adele in 2005

O God, for your love for us, warm and brooding,

which has brought us to birth and opened our eyes to the wonder

and beauty of creation

We give you thanks.

For your love for us, compassionate and patient,

which has carried us thorugh our pain,

wept beside us in our sin,

and waited with us in our confusion.

We give you thanks

For your love for us, wild and freeing, which has awakened us to the energy

of creation: to the sap that flows, the blood which pulses, the heart that sings

We give you thanks.

For your love for us, strong and challenging,

which has called us to risk for you,

asked the best in us and shown us how to serve.

We give you thanks.

July 3, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Walking round the village

Having spent too much of today watching fit young people hit a little white ball over a net, I thought Id have a stroll round some of the village roads. Im getting fit too ( in my own way) for my “More Tea Vicar”  challenge in August. Game plan is to try and knock on the door of every home in Little Paxton ( 1554) and invite a donation for our Church For Tomorrow Project in return for a raffle ticket. Actually, what appeals to me is getting to know the village more on foot and meeting some more people. No doubt lots will  be away or out.. but I will give it my best shot.

This evening I enjoyed some blackbird song, the scent of some pretty roses along the way, the sunlight streaming into the chancel windows in church when I popped in and two black and white cats who miowed greetings. I have only met a smallish  percentage of people in the village in the last 5 years so maybe this challenge will put that right. Having said that maybe I have met more people than I think… I wonder how many would say they have spoken to me?

I shant be having tea when I call…. Id never get very far!

July 2, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | 4 Comments