Attunement

“The sermon, then, is the result of God’s interaction, and it is the working out of God’s purpose for his people at this time.”

I have found myself really struggling to write the sermon this week. Sometimes that happens, when life takes over, where distractions get in the way. It is easy to lose focus, especially during lockdown, when the regular rhymes and rhythms have been discarded. In a way, this seems to me to be an important Lenten discipline – to attempt to focus on God’s will even if the sources of imagination and contemplation appear to have dried up. 

If you were concerned that you were to be denied a sermon this Sunday, worry not! Although I am struggling, I will get there, I promise. I will summon the words and draw theological themes and exercise a form of prayerful perseverance. I sometimes wonder if the struggle leads to a greater grasp of the Holy Spirit’s promptings. The words that are composed are not necessarily my words, easily manufactured and processed, but the words graced by God. The sermon, then, is the result of God’s interaction, and it is the working out of God’s purpose for his people at this time.

If we look carefully at this painting by Hofmann who delighted in re-creating the life of Christ on canvas, we can see the different levels of attunement which occurred in the Temple on that day. The priest, sitting down, clinging on to his known scripture – the Law. The cynic, gesturing the improbability and impossibility of Jesus’ vision. The old man, quietly reflecting on the words of this young prophet. Finally the listener flanking Jesus with a scroll wrapped in his hand, pausing in meditation. Who, out of these, is willing to be drawn into God’s will?

Jesus in the Temple, 1881 a painting by Heinrich Hofmann

The congregation (or audience, in this age of livestreaming), is also given a responsibility. A certain duty is placed upon those who are listening to God’s word, to listen well. The liturgy of the Word is shared out for anyone who has ears to listen. But a relationship exists in this sharing out – speaking, listening, questioning, interpreting, inspiring, consoling. The homilist cannot speak without listeners to receive the Word. The congregation cannot fully attend without God’s Holy Spirit being fully present. A unity of purpose is formed through the filtering of this Word across the community. This is why the CATechesis group is so important – that we take time, more time, to consider what God is saying to us today. I would commend this weekly meeting to you, not that you are burdened to join each week, but it is an essential tool in tuning in to God’s will and purpose. (email me for further details).


God speaks when he shares his Word. The good news is that God’s story is one of hospitality, of welcome. When we attune ourselves to God’s story, wonderful things happen. We enter into a deeper relationship with the Word. We become a community shaped by joy and purpose. But this doesn’t come easily. You may have to struggle to attend to God’s Word. You may well have to fight distractions. You will need to find the space and time to listen well. If you are prepared to give of yourself in this way, be prepared to be changed.

Pastoral Letter for Lent

It seems that people are keen to hear stories which make sense of a confused and confusing world.

Moths are attracted to light and, when stories are told on porches and verandas during the longer days and shorter nights, well, moths will come and listen! There is a storytelling phenomenon called ‘The Moth’ which I heard about during my screenwriters’ course a couple of years ago. These are stories told by everyday people who have chosen to speak in a public arena, a little like the Ted Talks from the world of commerce. The Moth stories relate to ordinary life experiences but what brings these stories to life, what brings them to the light like a moth, is that they speak to our sense of wonder in the human condition. (See https://themoth.org).

It seems that people are keen to hear stories which make sense of a confused and confusing world. The Moth is attracting huge audiences through podcasts, books and radio shows. The stories are based upon a diverse range of themes, always told with feeling and sincerity. They prey upon our innate need to be drawn into the dramatic world of another person’s experience of the world.

We have a natural source for storytelling material – the Bible – which is a compendium of Moth stories. It is filled with people’s experiences of life and and loss and hope. When we hear Jesus’ story we recognise a person who lives and speaks with a divine grace and authenticity. We are attracted to Jesus like moths to the light. 

The stories we hear in this season of Lent – in which Jesus was driven into the wilderness by the Spirit of God – have never been more relevant or engaging. The Lenten stories speak about courage, fortitude and discernment. When we feel that our faith is limited or inadequate in some way, when we feel distanced from God, when our only sense is that of the world’s recklessness and not of the Spirit’s presence – then we can be reassured that we are living Jesus’ story too, a story that leads us to God’s Easter and our freedom. 

Be drawn into the light this Lent, stay close to Christ, stay present and remember, you are his story too.

LENTEN DISCIPLINES
Instead of giving up something this Lent, why not try and put something on. The pandemic has depleted many of us, so why not do something new which improves our wellbeing and spiritual strength? I am going to say the Rosary each day but there are a host of free and easy resources at hand. Here are a few more suggestions: 

Come and see for those curious to learn more. Simply register with the Oxford Diocese and receive daily bible readings and commentaries for Lent. There are also videos to watch of different peoples’ testimonies. https://www.oxford.anglican.org/come-and-see/

Common Worship – morning and evening prayer. Go to our parish website homepage and click. You will be taken to the prayer with the readings attached. Join millions of Anglicans around the world saying these daily offices. https://www.stmichaels-summertown.org.uk

Knowing Jesus – a Lent retreat from the Jesuits in Scotland. “Christian tradition believes that the person of Jesus Christ reveals God to us. If we are to follow Christ and imitate him, we need to know him through his words and actions as shown in the Gospels.” https://www.onlineprayer.net

UPCOMING SERVICES

Stations of the Cross – the details to connect by Zoom for Stations of the Cross every Friday in Lent before Holy Week at 6pm:

https://zoom.us/j/92111679099?pwd=SWdrUUpXSHpUU0I3aWkzUStSWWU3Zz09

Meeting ID: 921 1167 9099 
Passcode: 925015

The Stations of the Cross uses Claire Sadler’s pictures that are in church and the usual liturgy, but presented in a way that works for Zoom.

Tune in for the Eucharist on the First Sunday of Lent 

The CATechesis group

Each week the CAT group focuses on the sermon and gospel passage of the previous Sunday. You can come and go as you please – we would love to see you. We meet at 7.30pm on Zoom:

StM&AA’s Summertown is inviting you to a scheduled Zoom meeting. Topic: CATechesis Group Time: Feb 23, 2021 07:30 PM London
Join Zoom Meeting https://zoom.us/j/99330983259?pwd=K3R3UitQOXhWcFZFcHlXTjMwYnc3Zz09 Meeting ID: 993 3098 3259 Passcode: 139348


Introducing the daring adventures of…. Michaelmas Mouse!

Each week our intrepid friend (or foe – “It’s vermin Fawlty!”) discovers a new and interesting part of St Michael’s Church to explore. Follow his adventures on our Facebook and Instagram feeds. Many thanks to Leah Mattinson for feeding and caring for him! But we won’t be inviting Michaelmas Mouse to the Cat group!! Leah has also provided the craft for this week.

There’s lots going on, despite the church being closed for public worship but open for private prayer. 

God bless you all this Lent. 

The turning of the tide

At Candlemas, the tide turns. We are now invited to experience a new wave towards Jesus’ passion, his death and, ultimately, his resurrection.

One of the special features of a seaside holiday is getting hold of another type of bible – the times of the tide! The point is that we need to plan around high and low tides. We don’t want to go surfing in an outward tide and we do need to know the time of high tide so that we can build our fortified castle (yes, we still do this!) to battle against the incoming seas. The time of the tide becomes part of our daily rhythm, it governs what we do and when. The tide is our barometer, our measure, our guide. 

As we approach Candlemas this Sunday, I am reminded of the turning tide. We have witnessed the season of the incarnation, the birth of God among us and shared something of this revelation, in Epiphany, recognising who this Jesus is for us and for our world. At Candlemas, the tide turns. We are now invited to experience a new wave towards Jesus’ passion, his death and, ultimately, his resurrection. Candlemas is the hinge point, the fulcrum, when Jesus is seen as the light of the nations, the one who will bring peace and hope to the world. But this is bitter-sweet. The world, we discover, wants to fight the tide. It attempts to force the waters to stop. Building higher walls and dams, it refuses to allow the tide to flow. 

As we experience Candlemas this year, are we also able to look at this feast as the turning of the tide? Traditionally, the liturgy at the end of the Eucharist takes place at the font. We come to the waters of baptism where we are purified, where we die to the world and are re-born in Christ. These waters cannot be contained, leading us into the joy and festival of Easter! 
At Easter we recognise that no-one can ultimately divert God’s rule of peace and justice from advancing. Easter is the high tide mark but there is plenty of journeying to be done before that. We share the arid dryness of the wilderness. In Lent we build our own fortifications against all that attempts to drag us under and into the deep. 

We may well have endured great sadness and loss in recent months. We have lived in fear. Pray, then, that Candlemas will mark for you an opportunity to form a closer relationship with God in Jesus, the light of the nations. Pray that you will share, with God, your travails. Pray that you will receive new hope as we begin to see the light at the end of this pandemic. Pray that your tide will turn.

OXFORD WELCOMES REFUGEES
One of St Michael’s associate priests, Alyson Peberdy, recently celebrated her 73rd birthday by walking 73 miles in 9 days which, including GiftAid, raised over £2,000 for Oxford Welcomes Refugees. OxWR is a group of local people, including five from St Michaels Church, preparing to resettle a vulnerable family from a refugee camp through a government approved programme.

The group needs to raise at least £9,000 and find a house in Oxford to rent and equip. Then, during the family’s first year in Oxford the group will support them in every way possible in learning English, finding schools for the children, registering with a GP, seeking employment and so on. Anyone interested in trying it should email me aspeberdy@aol.com. A friend approaching her 90th birthday has just told me she is setting herself a 90 square crochet blanket challenge.’

OXFORD HOSPITALS TRUST STAFF APPEAL

Helping our hospitals at this challenging time
Support during the COVID-19 crisis can help make a real difference
to the NHS staff working across our hospitals and
the patients they are caring for at this difficult time.

Donations go towards:

  • a range of items including specialist medical equipment
  • care boxes and hampers for staff who are most affected 
  • care packs for patients, virtual music concerts  
  • phone chargers to help those on wards who feel isolated or bored, especially with visiting restricted.

To donate, go to: https://www.hospitalcharity.co.uk/Appeal/staffsupport

Many people are asking deep questions of faith. “Come and See” is an invitation from our Bishops to local communities to take the first steps in exploring faith. So why not walk with us, as we walk with Jesus… and come and see.

Who is it for? Come and See is an invitation to everyone, for everyone. It’s for anyone who feels adrift in this pandemic, whether or not they know anything about the Christian faith. Click this link to register and find out more information: https://mailchi.mp/oxford.anglican.org/come-and-see

An invitation from Bishop Steven to Come and See

UPCOMING SERVICE

The church is closed to public worship but open for private prayer.

The times they are a-changin’

We are called to pray for change in the political arenas of the world; we are called to make transformative change in our lives of faith too.


Bob Dylan’s prophetic words ring truer today than ever. We are called to accept changes that we don’t want to make. We are called to pray for change in the political arenas of the world; we are called to make transformative change in our lives of faith too. We are not called to do this alone. We are given people, friendships, prayer partners. We are also, most critically, given oodles of grace in the form of God’s Holy Spirit. We are not alone, no matter how separated we feel right now.

Due to the concerning infection rate of the new Covid-19 variant, the PCC decided to close the church for public worship but insisted that it be kept open for private prayer. This was a difficult decision but one that was driven by the need for public safety and also the opportunity for the Church to be an exemplar for the local community in respecting and protecting lives. 

We are open for private prayer – Monday-Wednesday; Saturday 10am-12 noon; Sunday 11am-12 noon and I continue to commend saying morning and/or evening prayer, provided on our website homepage.

It will still be possible to connect with church if you have a computer or smartphone. We will be livestreaming the 10am Eucharist each Sunday with readers and intercessors and preachers invited to take part in the service. In order to watch the livestream simply click here: www.facebook.com/stmichaelssummertown If you would like to watch the service at a time convenient to you later on Sunday or in the week, just click here: www.youtube.com/channel/UCFx4HGfklx1GCGp9Sc2oNAg

The church is keen to maintain pastoral contact with anyone in need – through Zoom or phone. Please get in touch. Please also inform me if you are concerned for anyone else. We don’t want anyone to feel unnoticed or unloved!

A Prayer for America

Irim Sarwar, one of our churchwardens at St Michael’s, wrote a profound and heart-felt note after the violence on Capitol Hill and in anticipation of the presidential inauguration. I have summarised Irim’s work; I hope that I have done it justice. She writes in the context of the season of Epiphany and specifically last week’s readings, the calling of Samuel in the Old Testament and and Nathanael in John’s Gospel:

It will come as no surprise to those of you who have heard me speak – and I’m not one for being quiet, whether it’s making announcements, reading, or discussing anything from politics to coffee –  that I  was born and raised in the land of Hamilton. What many of you may not know is that Washington, D.C. is my home. Yet even as I rooted myself here, becoming more Anglicised, I still looked back over the ocean. I voted in every American election; felt every result. Then came 2020. 

I sent both a regular and emergency ballot, the latter by DHL. Election Day came; American friends and I figuratively held each other’s hands over the next four days as the result unfolded, until Saturday, when it was called, and relief and joy rang across the Internet. “We did it!” “MADAM. VICE. PRESIDENT!”

But that joy was soon touched by apprehension, then overwhelmed by it, as a refusal to concede and lie after lie whipped grievance into a frenzy, and finally into the violence we watched, horrified, on Epiphany last week. 

I shook as the events unfolded, unable to do anything but hold those virtual hands and pray. This was my home. I’d walked past the cherry blossoms in full bloom on so many spring days; taken relatives and friends to the Mall and the Smithsonian; cursed traffic and tourists; shopped in Georgetown; navigated by the Capitol that now had a gallows in front of it and was being overrun by those bent on insurrection. I wept. For my people, for my city, and for the nation that formed me.

But in that rage and sorrow was a glimmer of hope. Hope, because, at long last, we could no longer hide from the truth, from the ugliness that had long sat beneath a veneer of power and well-being. Finally, America has to confess that she is profoundly unwell, and in that admission, the work of facing the truth, repentance, and healing can begin, slow and hard as it will be.

 If we have learned anything from these last four years, it is that there is always harm in allowing a lie to stand and gain momentum. In our first reading, Eli knows that well, which is why he exhorts Samuel to tell him the whole truth and nothing but the truth, no matter how difficult it is. Our Lord treasures the truth in today’s gospel, despite Nathaniel’s stinging ‘Can anything good come out of Nazareth?’, responding with ‘Behold, an Israelite in whom there is no guile!’

And so, this churchwarden who calls St Michael’s and the UK home asks you to pray for her other home across the Atlantic: that the transition of power may proceed with no further violence, that Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, and the incoming administration and Congress may lead wisely and tend to a wounded nation, that the truth may take deep root and flourish, so that America may finally realise the promise of her motto, E pluribus unum – a motto, perhaps, for the Church as well: out of the many, one.

(Thank you, Irim. Yes, we will pray for America, for humility, for healing, for hope and for peace and reconciliation).

Come and See

Bishop Steven introduces the inspiration behind ‘Come and See’ in this short video:
https://vimeo.com/502216171If you are interested in taking up the invitation to ‘come and see,’ please email me for more information. 

Upcoming Service

Please note that the church building is closed.
This week we welcome Revd Mary Gurr who will be preaching. Jesus celebrates the first of many signs of the new kingdom, he turns ordinary water into extraordinary wine. So much for a dry January!

Dwelling in the Word

This is another form of reading. It doesn’t ask for a cognitive, intellectual response, it’s more difficult than that!

The CATechesis group is meeting each week. We are currently studying the text from the previous Sunday and then focusing on the sermon. When I say ‘studying’ the text I should perhaps qualify that by saying that we are attempting to dwell within the text. Dwelling in the Word is a form of lectio divina (holy reading) in which we are asked to ponder over scripture. This is another form of reading. It doesn’t ask for a cognitive, intellectual response, it’s more difficult than that! This type of reading works the spiritual muscles and the unconscious processes. The Holy Spirit becomes the instrument of knowledge and, because our conscious brain is slightly removed from the reading, we can become surprised by the experience.

Lectio divina or dwelling in the Word is a way of reading which refreshes and refines our faith life.

Christianity is a phenomenological religion in which the Spirit of God (the third person of the Trinity) has a real and direct influence upon our lives, especially when we become intentional about our faith. So, we give ourselves over to the Spirit of God as we read, not expecting or asking for anything. It is the Holy Spirit which prompts and pauses and presents new meaning to come from the text.

As we shared the Epiphany gospel in Matthew last week, we one of our number was led to the name of Herod. He was ambivalent, at first, to offer Herod’s name. However, we soon became immersed in a fascinating discussion about why this name came to his attention. Little did we know that only days later a Herod-like action would cause 5 deaths during a so-called insurrection at the heart of western democracy, the Capitol Building in Washington D.C.

Our reliance on the Holy Spirit can help us untangle the world’s confusions and enable us to discover more about our own lived experience than we realise.

(The CATecesis group meets on Tuesdays at 7.30pm. If you want to join by Zoom, let me know and I will send you an invitation).

UPCOMING SERVICES – You can watch any recent services on our Youtube channel, click here to see:

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCFx4HGfkIx1GCGp9Sc2oNAg

LOCKDOWN CHOICES – At this moment in time, St Michael’s continues to be open for individual prayer (10am – 12noon); Morning Prayer on weekdays (9am) and Sunday worship (8am, 10am, 6.30pm). We have made changes to ensure that we mitigate against risk of infection. Obviously, we are offering collective worship and cannot claim ‘safety!’ However, in celebrating the Eucharist the Church is making real the presence of Christ on earth. The Eucharist is a sign and symbol of healing and that in this prayerful gathering, we are mindful of our human need and become people of loving sacrifice, the sacrifice of Christ, bringing heaven to earth and earth to heaven.

THE QUARTERLY – As with the three previous issues it is hoped to produce the next issue of the Quarterly in electronic form. Contributions, including book reviews and responses to previous articles, will be welcomed, preferably by e-mail, to any of the editors, Ann Stedman (ann.stedman@btinternet.com), Michael Daniell
(michaeldaniell51@gmail.com) and John Harding (john.harding22@gmail.com). The deadline for submission is Sunday 7 February. If possible, your contribution should not exceed 600 words. The Editors

NEWS FROM OUR LINK PARISH IN SOUTH AFRICAFrom Tumelo and her husband Benny. Happy New Year. We are receiving nice rains since yesterday.  We had a nice Christmas service.  After that President put us back to level 3. We are experiencing a high level of infections per day. Deaths also are increasing at fast speed. People are not observing corona protocols.  Benny’s brother in law and  his sibling passed on and were buried on Friday in Rustenburg.  So many teachers has passed on.  I have seen that in UK you have already started with vaccine, we hope it will bring down infections and deaths. The whole world needs prayers. We hope that our prayers will be heard. 2021 will bring us blessings and protection from our Lord. We hope for better health in the whole world. Greetings to all. Tumie and Benny.

HOME-SCHOOLING CRAFT – The kids will love this, a spinner, as they think about God’s Son being baptised!

Stay safe and please don’t hesitate to contact me if you are in need, no matter what!

Gavin