Matthew 25:14-30

The parables we have been hearing for the last couple of Sundays have been ones about being ready. This morning’s is less about being ready per se, although it does urge us to think about what might happen when the master returns, but more about who we are and how we respond, what we have been doing in the meantime.

Today we know ‘talent’ to be ‘gift’, while in Matthew’s time a talent was a weight of silver or gold coin, and we could discuss the subtleties of its message for us today if we prefer to think of it still as money. But the parable’s main relevance to us today is about our use of and engagement with that which God has given us, rather than what exactly it is he has given us.

Let’s assume talent as gift. The man gave talents to his slaves according to their abilities. God gives us skills and gifts with which to work which are appropriate to us. We should not worry about who gets what, because that does not, as we shall see, make a difference in the end. That is not the point of the story. God gives us different gifts – not necessarily more or less than the next person, or more or less valuable or more or less visible, just different.

The first servant used what his master had given him, as did the second. If the distribution of talents was uneven to start with, it was even more so by the master’s return. Five had become ten, two had become four. But is the response of the master different – dependent on the total talents gained?

No, both servants are invited to enter into the joy of the master. Each put in – and made – 100%. Each receives the blessing of the master – they, in our scheme of parables, were not found wanting or waiting – they were wearing their wedding robes, their wicks were trimmed and their supplies of oil sufficient.

But the man who only received the single talent? It was enough – the man gave to his slaves according to their abilities. This is not to say you are worth more than you, you are less capable than you, but each received sufficient for them, each was given a gift relevant to them as individuals. It is not about who gets what.

Have you seen the cartoon about the difference between equality and justice? There’s a football match going on over the fence. Three people, of differing heights, are trying to watch. There are three orange boxes. Equality is where they all have a box each, but this means the tallest, who could see anyway, gets an even better view, the middle one can now see but the littlest one can’t see even with one box to stand on.

Justice, however, is when the one who can see anyway doesn’t have a box, but the little one has two. Then all the heads are at the same level, all watching the game… Each given according to his capacity – and need.

But perhaps the man with the one talent struggled to accept his gift. Perhaps he thought it was so small that he could not achieve anything great with it, so he did not bother to try. Perhaps he feared losing it and having nothing to give back to the master when he returned. So he did nothing with his gift. He just kept it, didn’t use it. Didn’t risk not making anything of it.

And so he doesn’t have 100% return to offer to the master when he comes back. No wedding clothes, no oil. The offer of entering into the joy of the master is not made to the third servant. Rather, as in Matthew’s recent parables, there is to be the wailing and gnashing of teeth.

The servant puts up a defence of the master being harsh, of judging unfairly. Of gathering that which he did not sow. He may as well not have given the gift then, retorts the master, ordering the talent to be given to one of the others. It is not about the profit made, but the effort put in to it. The first two servants used their talents, the third did not. Their success was measured by their effort, not by their result. The reward given was the same, regardless.

It doesn’t matter what your gift from God is, but it matters that you do something with it. Burying it – not using it – is not an option. It is not so much about wasting the money – or the talent/quality/gift – but about the opportunity. It may be that you have the brains and the tenacity to be a medical researcher and discover cures; it may be that you give the best hugs and have an uncanny knack of knowing just when they are required.

Do you believe, good and faithful servant, that God has given you a gift which is precious and to be used to his glory if ‘all’ you can do is remember anniversaries or you have a habit of smiling at everyone in the street even if you do not realise that the lonely person feels themself instantly more worthy by your birthday card or note, and the homeless person to be human and not invisible?

Do you believe, good and faithful servant, that this is a gift given to you to be used, to which you should apply yourself? If you have been given the means to honour God, ‘even in the small things’. Do you dare to risk? Those who lose their lives for Christ will save them.

We have a choice whether we use our gifts at all, or at 100% effort, but we will be held accountable ‘when the master returns’. We are called to live and to love abundantly. It is the abundance with which we live that will see us enter into the joy of the master, not the figures on the bottom of the balance sheet. We have free will throughout our lives. It is for each of us to decide how to use what we have been given before answering to our God at the end of our earthly lives.

I always find these parables tricky because at heart I am a bit of (well, a lot of) a universalist, and these texts we have been hearing for the last few weeks seem to make it very clear that there is no guarantee of universal salvation. There is outer darkness, which it is seemingly all too easy to fall in to.

There is ‘without God’, which engenders weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth. There is an element of time pressure, of making the most of now, because you never know when the wedding banquet will begin, when the bridegroom will arrive home, when the master will return. We have no idea how long our lives will be, and there is no time to start living them, to use the gifts God has given us for the blessing of our brothers and sisters and to his praise and glory, like the present.

God has given us everything each of us needs to do what he calls us to do. The one who calls us is faithful. Are we, in return, good and faithful servants?

Will you pray with me?

Lord Jesus Christ, do I venture enough for you? You who gave his all including his life for me, have I risked my life for your sake? Teach us Lord to know ourselves worthy, know ourselves gifted and equipped, gifted and equipped to build your kingdom on earth. Teach us how best to use those gifts which are particularly ours, peculiarly ours, to your honour and glory, and to the blessing of others. Teach us how to recognise your gifts in each other, how to be the ones who draw out the gifts of those who are fearful, how to encourage one another and build one another up in your name. Teach us to live abundantly, love abundantly, that we may come to the end of our lives in the knowledge that we have given it 100%, given God 100%, that we are his good and faithful servants. Amen.

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Matthew 22:34-46
First I half thought it would be easy to write a sermon for today. Today is the day which many places observe as ‘Bible Sunday’, and if we wanted to summarise the Bible today, if there was one message we should never tire of hearing and of teaching it is Love, the greatest, first and second commandment.

Then I thought it would be difficult to write a sermon for today. Some of you know that one of the young men who helped us on the homeless outreach team, himself an incredibly caring gentle soul trying to put his own life together again, we learnt last Saturday evening had died. It was a very late and long night for me with the volunteers who – along with many of the others of our street friends – were all devastated.

The tagline or signoff for winter warmer is ‘one love’ and as we gathered for Davey’s simple funeral on Wednesday, I thought of today’s reading again. Davey had a faith and knew that God loved him, and for that I am grateful. He knew also that a difficult family experience did not prevent him from loving others, and helping others where he could. In many ways he epitomised ‘One Love’, loving God and neighbour, knowing himself a redeemed sinner and loving his neighbour in his gratitude.

When Jesus came, the scriptures were full of rules. Do this, don’t do this, Say this, wear that. Go here, worship here. Eat this, but not with them… Rule after rule. There was love in it, but people were so caught up with trying to abide by the rules, or falling foul of the rules, it was hard for love to get a look in. When they asked him which was the greatest commandment, even the commandments must have regularly been pushed out of priority by the holiness codes.

When Jesus came, he overturned all the rules into a simpler message. Love was what he gave priority to. He came to show us how much God loves us, how much God longs for us to love in return. He came to show us that those who loved rules more than love could not oust Love itself, even by putting him to death.

Perhaps because one of the things that Jesus taught about rules was that they could be broken and you could still be loved. That, perhaps, is the greatest message of the Bible that we should never tire of hearing and of teaching. When Jesus came, it was to remind us that everyone can make mistakes and disobey rules, but that all sinners can be redeemed. This is the pointy finger on a pavement corner kind of Bible, but it worked for Davey. He believed it and took comfort in it.

On the train to Devon last month, I sat next to a young Jewish man, and one of the things he said to me somewhere outside Birmingham was “I quite often wish I had your God. Our God is mean and vengeful, and your God is loving”. I’d have happily gone around that loop for a lot of the rest of the journey, but unfortunately he was only going as far as Birmingham… One God; one love.

It might be easy to talk about loving our neighbour as ourselves. It might be harder for us to think about loving God. Here’s an ‘easy’ sermon, written primarily for children:

Jesus said, “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: love your neighbor as yourself. All the law and the prophets hang on these two commandments.” – matthew 22:37-40 niv
Jesus turned all of those rules into just two simple ones. Love God. And love others.
When you keep the sabbath as a day for Jesus, that’s a way of loving him. And when you obey your parents, that’s a way of loving them. Every single rule can fit into one of those two. It was so simple.
Now what do you think it means to love God with all your heart, soul, and mind? It really just means that you love him completely. So you can’t just say you love God, or just put money in the offering, or just listen to the sermon; you need to love God all the time and in every way.
And thankfully, Jesus loves us so much that he forgives us when we forget to love him and our neighbors like we should. Which is great news, because everyone could use a little more love.

It’s true. Undoubtedly everyone could use a little more love. Homeless or not. The challenge we might like today’s gospel to set us is to ponder loving God, with all our hearts, souls and minds. It’s possible for a church to do a lot of loving neighbour – even on behalf of or prompted by God – and not a lot of loving God. What makes us a church, not a social club, or even a church, not a social work organisation?

To consider what loving God completely means might – and should – exercise us if we let it. As we gradually turn our faces toward winter, toward Advent, toward the coming of the Christ child as a baby, it is easy to think about complete love, gazing at a newborn.
But to think about it more deeply, to think about the days when ‘we just say we love God, when we just put money in the offering or listen to the sermon’; to think about loving God ‘all the time and in every way’ is our challenge today to take into the winter months.
It’s Bible Sunday, so perhaps we might think about beginning to read our bibles more often, perhaps together, as bible study.

Perhaps we might reassess our ‘Sabbath’, when we not only rest, but rest in God. That might not be all day Sunday for work or family reasons, but maybe there are other times we could find to concentrate on doing nothing but loving God, sitting quietly and basking in his love (or, as I know some of you might prefer, hiking around his beautiful creation, basking in it).

Perhaps we might think about spending some or more time with God in prayer. In that companionable silence that you can with people you love. Again, we might want to consider doing that with others – joining the monthly prayer group. Starting another one in the evenings. Coming along to an advent group.

Perhaps we might not think about trying to be or do anything other than be open to God, conscious of our commitment to him, heart, mind and soul. Conscious of trying to love him completely and to learn, to feel what that feels like. If (or when) we doubt, or if (or when) we think we fail, we might remember that children’s rhyme:
Jesus loves me, this I know,
For the Bible tells me so.
Little ones to him belong;
They are weak but he is strong.

…or simply that “Jesus loves us so much that he forgives us when we forget to love him and our neighbours like we should”.

Or we might take heart and take hope in God. Not our God, ‘the loving one’ rather than ‘the vengeful one’ but the God. The God who took all the rules and showed us that they are all bound up in love. The God who longs for love in return. The God who redeems sinners and saves the lost. And the God who, through today’s gospel and all the bible, offers us hope, indeed, the greatest hope of all.

Blessed Lord,
who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning:
help us so to hear them,
to read, mark, learn and inwardly digest them
that, through patience, and the comfort of your holy word,
we may embrace and forever hold fast
the hope of everlasting life,
which you have given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, one love, now and forever.

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Last Advent, I was called into school to do Christmas. At quite short notice. And I don’t have a small nativity set. I’ve knitted lots many, but I didn’t do one for myself (*note to self, have missed it again…) so I had to work fast.

Luckily, I had these to hand: nativity set before
which were turn-into-able-in-an-evening these:

nativity set after

with a matchbox and a bit of tissue paper for baby Jesus. All of it fitted into the smallest of my Orla Kierly cake tins to carry with me. I worried they might be a little too small, but it just meant that the children were super quiet and super attentive to see each piece passed round before we put it in its place. Yes, the sheep are just blobs of fluffy wool.

I’m quite a fan, I realise, of the faceless thing. I know this is common to Godly Play figures, but it was most keenly brought home to me in that I gave myself a lenten project to knit a last supper set to join the Jesus I did last year for my resurrection eggs. This was not so much a time issue (I have a little bag of 13 beards and hair am now not too sure what to do with) but that when I started putting them together I thought it might be better leaving them egg-headed to allow for imagination.

It turned out that this was spot on. I had deliberately chosen to keep the garment combinations as neutral as possible, but I included (red would have been a bit obvious) a couple of dark red/purple options. When I had the smallest children round me in church on Good Friday and I said one of these people left Jesus and told on him, which one do you think it was, they unanimously went for the one in reddy-purple. They could imagine sad and angry and scared faces on all of them, which was fine. And it marks a very obvious difference to Jesus himself, the only figure (figures, there’s an all white resurrection one too) with hair and facial features. The women have cloaks instead, doesn’t seem to confuse the kids too much at all.

Here’s the last supper set. Well worth it as they can be pulled out and re-used for all sorts of stories. One is make-able in an evening if you have done a hundred or so before, or you can knit fairly compentently. I use the Alan Dart pattern for these (this one for the colours, but you need this one for the camel).

last supper set

There are also last supper and resurrection sets available in the tiny wooden versions, see all these. but when you’ve seen a few, you can probably make your own. As ever, Hobbycraft is your friend for the pieces. I’m loving the little donkey. It’s on my to-do list.

you’re welcome :-)

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Isaiah 35:3-6
Luke 10:1-9

We’re celebrating Luke the Evangelist today. I’ve been thinking a little about that. That’s what we call him. Not Matthew the Evangelist, or Mark the Evangelist, but often Luke the Evangelist. It made me think about who Luke is to us and what his gospel tells us. So here’s today’s pause for thought.

We have four gospels, very different though three of them – synoptic – the same view – are not so hugely different in content. They each have something to tell us, to make us think. If we leave John aside for now, the three other gospels were written by people with a bit of an agenda. Scholars today tell us that Mark was the earliest to be written, he was in a hurry to get the news out, everything is ‘and suddenly’ ‘immediately’, there are less embellishments than the other two. Matthew was a Jew, writing for the Jews, hence his emphasis on showing believers how Jesus fulfils their scriptures, and should be followed.

Luke was a gentile (and supposedly a medic), and his gospel offers us the stories of Jesus interacting with women, with the marginalised, with the outcast, ensuring that the gospel shows to belong to everyone. He is also supposed to be the author of the Acts of the Apostles, where the gospel begins to spread. So although the great commission to go out and make disciples of all nations is heard in Matthew, it is Luke who sends us out after Pentecost with the impetus to get on with it, Luke who gives us those details of the first evangelising attempts, Luke who sets the scene for the letters of Paul giving all the feedback on his travels. Perhaps he is the one worthy of being ‘the evangelist’.

And in the passage we hear today for the feast of Luke the Evangelist, it is not, as often with saints or apostles, the story of how they came to be part of Jesus’ retinue, it is not a passage about his life; it is a passage – from Luke – about being sent out to do the work of the Lord.

I wonder, as I think about how we cycle the three gospels in ordinary time whether as churches it should give us a mission or ministry focus for each year – that in Mark’s year (which we will soon begin again this coming Advent) we might ought to focus on ourselves and our relationship with Christ, the urgency with which Mark tells us his story and its key turning point of realising just who Jesus is and the cost associated with being his follower, that Galilee is all very well, but we have to not avoid the Jerusalem times too.

In Matthew’s year, perhaps we should be focussing on believers – thinking about how we are as church, what we do to develop our discipleship and deepen our fellowship with eachother. We should perhaps spend some time thinking about how the gospel really is relevant to our existing story as church, and how it challenges us to step forward.

And Luke? Luke the Evangelist? After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. He said to them, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest. Go on your way.

I guess Luke’s year is the year we make a determined effort to take that renewed faith and zeal and focus out, become the Evangelists we have just spent two years deepening and building our faith to be. Obviously we shouldn’t only do that, just we shouldn’t only think about our own faith in a Mark year or our collective faith in a Matthew year, but perhaps it’s a good cycle to think about priorities for the church.

We cannot avoid the need and the desire to go out and share the gospel if we are truly Christians. We may rail at fundamentalists who upset people by excising the few verses of scripture they don’t like, or choose to work from only a few verses, and withhold the richness in the rest of it, but if we do not accept the invitation – the instruction of the great commission, to go and make disciples of all nations, if we choose to hide inside and pull the doors to, then we are negating so very much of what Jesus was about. And then how do we call ourselves Christian.

 

If we value our faith, if we love our Lord, then in a year of Matthew where we are reminded over and over in Matthew’s parables to the Pharisees about looking at ourselves, then today is a glimpse to remind us that beyond the Jews there are the gentiles, the women, the outcast, the marginalised, the sick, the foreigner, a whole world waiting to hear the good news. Jesus knew it would scare us: ‘See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves.’ But so did Isaiah:

Strengthen the weak hands,
and make firm the feeble knees.
Say to those who are of a fearful heart,
‘Be strong, do not fear!

Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
and the ears of the deaf unstopped;

So as we honour Luke, the physician of souls as well as bodies, let us mind his gospel invitation to go out. For it is Christ’s invitation, ‘sending us on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intends to go.’ It is the King’s invitation to his slaves, to go out and invite everyone to the feast.

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Given 15 2 and a half year olds and 10-15 minutes on harvest, surely the best thing is to sing, no? Here again is one of my guerilla knitting opportunities, as some of you may recall the first thing I had the knitters doing was a pile of fruit & veg ready for our Treasure Tots launch.

Well now I’m going into the local nursery – they’ve never had anything like visiting assembly type things and they fancy a try. On harvest – the children have been sent home a request list for something for the foodbank. So my woolly fruit & veg will be coming along and being shared out ‘interestingly’.

And I think we’ll sing. If you ever need some words to help teach 3 year olds about sharing and foodbanks, feel free…

If you’ve got food inside your basket, nod your head
If you’ve got food inside your basket, nod your head
If you’ve got food inside your basket,
there’ll be tea inside your tummy,
If you’ve got food inside your basket nod your head

If you’ve got nothing in your basket, shake your head
If you’ve got nothing in your basket, shake your head
If you’ve got nothing in your basket,
then your tummy will go hungry,
If you’ve got nothing in your basket shake your head

If you’ve got some spare to share, clap your hands
If you’ve got some spare to share, clap your hands
If you’ve got some spare to share,
share your food to show you care,
If you’ve got some spare to share, clap your hands

harvest

Father God,
thank you for the harvest,
for the men and women who grow our food
and work in our shops.

Look after those who are hungry,
make us happy to share what we have
with those who have none. Amen.

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as a follow up to the children’s tables, I came to set out yesterday morning for today, and remembered we had the final wedding of the year. The children’s resources were everywhere. I have had it in the back of my mind to produce a service sheet for weddings a little like Ally’s excellent baptism ones, but it hasn’t happened. And we don’t have the internet in church so I couldn’t whip up (or down) anything from the net/pinterest. Thankfully, however, I had just copied the things for the children for today, so I fetched a black felt pen, and channelled my inner Ally for ten minutes.

The result was amateur, but I reckon good enough.

2014-10-11 10.22.31

Not terribly religious, but it would give them something to do, I thought, as I slightly guiltily lifted my prayer and sacrament tables and carried them over by the font, hoping to minimise the chaos. Instead, I unwrapped one of my ebay purchases, and the requisite people, and laid these out instead. Obviously I’ll need wedding stickers as well….

2014-10-11 10.32.50

Having scanned my rather quick and dirty sheets, I’ve added a couple more things to them and pdf’d them here: wedding activity book. So now there are 8 pages, so you can do a little booklet if you like, complete with cover, or just print off ones you fancy. There are, if you google, lots of waaaaaay more professional versions, quite a few on not-on-the-high-street or etsy that as a wedding couple you could have personalised, but also a very lovely free version somewhat slicker than my 3 sheets. Theirs is here: weddingbook, and there’s also one from Something Turquoise here.

Maybe I’ll get round to a deeper version for older kids before the wedding season starts again… Anyway, in the meantime, feel free :-) Happy to turn over the ppt file for editing either.

PS, at time of typing, Wilkos has a special offer on a not-barbie wedding set (trust me, you can’t buy the dolls and the suits that cheaply), and they also have some wedding bunnies too if you’re building up a box. My church is the Happiland one (complete with bells that the children may or may not have found….) – eBay is your friend – or ELC at Mothercare. Beware addiction…

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Matthew 22: 1-14

‘Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables.’

Today’s parable of the King’s banquet gives us plenty of food for thought. We know parables can sometimes be confusing to us today, without the context of contemporary stories or culture or jokes or habits of the time.

Jesus told this parable to the Pharisees, and they saw and heard themselves in it. But just because it had a very definite audience at the telling, and a topic that they would have understood (wedding banquets didn’t have a specified start time – the wise people got dressed in advance so that they were ready when notice came that the preparations were finished and the party could start), this doesn’t mean it can’t still be relevant to us now.

The lectionary writers might have stopped at verse 10… The King throws a lavish banquet and invited many people. Wedding banquets are times of joy and delight.

And yet the people he invited declined. I know that today there are people who turn down royal invitations or even honours, for political or personal reasons, but through most of history, an invitation from the King was different. It was not something you declined.

(Actually, we got an email on Tuesday, in which it said Bishop Paul invites clergy to a day on vision and strategy for the Diocese. Then at the end a very brief sentence It is expected that all clergy will join in the day – so perhaps some things haven’t changed much!)

And so the King sends out his staff to invite others instead. Rather than the initial boundaried invite list, “go therefore out into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.

Our parable is on the surface of it an easy one. Israel, the promised nation, rejected God over and over, so salvation is offered to the gentiles instead. The Jews are unfaithful, so the Greeks receive their invitation. The Pharisees – who are the ones cringing as they listen – prove to be ‘invited [but] not worthy’, instead Jesus eats – banquets – with prostitutes, tax-collectors and sinners.

But let’s look a little further into the parable, at those who are invited and how they respond. The second half of the reading shows it’s not quite so simple – some of those who then come, dragged in off the street, offered an invitation they could – in the nicest way – not refuse, are then damned for it. Seems a little harsh. But ‘many are called, but few are chosen’. Some of them responded to the call, and some did not. The consequence of the former is the banquet, of the latter the wailing and gnashing of teeth in the outer darkness.

You know I’m not a fan of the ‘you are going to outer darkness’ kind of evangelism over the ‘you are invited, please come, taste and see’ form. But still, today’s gospel, the inviting half and the scarier half, call us to ask us how we respond to God’s invitation into his presence. It calls us to ask ourselves this morning who we are in the story.

Firstly, are we the slaves? The King is our God, we recognise that. The invitation is made to all. There is no longer a single promised people and a single promised land. The invitation is there. Or at least, it would be if we made it. For remember the King sends his slaves out to invite everybody. As servants of our King, is it our responsibility to ensure the invitation is heard out in the main streets of today? Heard out among those who are seen as worthy and among those who might not be. Heard among those who come hesitantly, knowing or thinking they are not the ones first thought of, those who are today’s outcasts and on the margins?

Are we the chosen ones? The first chosen ones? The ones who failed? Those who had the invitation to the banquet, the promise of joy and delight, but did not prioritise it. For them, life and work got in the way of LIFE. And we know how easy that is. All too easy to worry about jobs, houses, children, money… about making sure that we – and others, for we are generous to our friends and with strangers – are comfortable in this life. But then suddenly, perhaps, we have got to the end of life, and we wonder whether we really did live it abundantly, in a way which honoured the God who gave his Son for us, the Son who died for us that we might live, the Spirit that nudges us always but sometimes isn’t heard over the clamour of the world.

Have we managed to be too busy to attend to the amazing offer made to us, to respond to the invitation, to prioritise the feast, to revel in the King’s presence? Are we worthy of the invitation that was made to us? Has it been pinned on the fridge door for so long that it has faded in the sunshine and we forgot about it or only remembered half an hour before it starts and decide it probably isn’t worth trying to get ready in time? Are we these people, and if so, are we worthy?

No, we say, we’re not those. They were Israel, the Pharisees, we aren’t them, the ones who didn’t respond. The chosen nation and people, over-confident, under-respectful. We’re the others who were invited. The Greek and the gentile, the ones Jesus came to invite, the ones the King sends the servants out to find. We are here. We have responded to the invitation. We are worthy.

Wait, really? Because today’s gospel is all about how we respond to God and whether we do so in ways that honour the invitation, making us truly worthy. What are we wearing when we attend?

Yes, we have responded. But how have we responded? ‘Why are you not wearing a wedding robe?’ Well, they basically pulled me in off the street – there was no time to shop for shoes or a hat… ‘Many are called, but few are chosen.’ It is possible still to fail the invitation, even if you turn up.

Dave Walker, a great cartoonist, published last week an image of ‘The Intercessions’. On the left hand side, at the lectern, the intercessor with a little box over their head. It has our world in it. On the right, many people (with some artistic licence, certainly more than your average church attendance) with heads bowed, but their little boxes have a sandwich, a bed, a rubix cube, music, a pint, a cat, shoes, a book, a garden, a bike, the television, a clock, mountains, a coffee cup, a car, a wine glass, a computer, a golf course, a beach… only one has the same world being prayed for in it…

That’s the thing about parables. They are a rich creative space for us to hear Jesus speak to us today, and to wonder where and who we are in the telling and in the hearing. Either way lies challenge. Perhaps we hear ourselves to be among the slaves sent out to invite – where we should be encouraged toward preparation, thinking of ways to and people with whom to share the gospel; perhaps among those first invited – Pharisees, jews, churchgoers – where we should be encouraged toward more preparation, in order to be ready and willing to attend when the King of kings calls us home; or perhaps to be among those invited latterly – the gentiles, the rest of the world, the sinners – where we should also be encouraged toward preparation, to be grateful for the calling and to ready ourselves to join the feast in thankfulness for the invitation.

Whichever we feel to be, today we are invited, not only to the banquet, but to spend some time considering our response, in order that we do not miss out on the delight and the joy of feasting at the table of the King.

Today’s parable, though it may make you check your sartorial choices this morning, has nothing to do with clothes – the clothes in which we go to church; and everything to do with the way our response to God’s call is clothed, with ‘the spirit in which we go to God’s house….. As William Barclay reminds us:

…there are garments of the mind and of the heart and of the soul – garments of expectation, of humble penitence, of faith, of reverence – and these are the garments without which we ought not to approach God. Too often we go to God’s house with no preparation at all; if every man and woman in our congregations came to church prepared to worship, after a little prayer, a little thought and a little self-examination, then worship would be worship indeed – the worship in which and through which things happen in men’s (sic) souls and in the life of the Church and in the affairs of the world. (Daily Study Bible)

So let us pray

King of Kings, Lord of Lords, we thank you for the invitation to your banquet. Make us ready when you call, clothed in love and in longing to join you; make us wait upon you in our lives and in our worship, worthy to glory in being the chosen ones of God. Amen.

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Since my last post mentioned the children’s tables, I thought I better briefly show you what they look like. They are still evolving and I feel like I should write a book…I’ve realised I’m modelling movement that Richard Giles would be proud of – or I would if I had the space for them to move more than they can. Anyway, here’s the current layout:

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To achieve halfway decent space, there was a bit of aggro but finally we’ve lost a pew, so that the shorter one fits and faces backwards (we also bump the 2nd back up to the 3rd back at baptisms, so there’s a buggy park). I did have kneelers with feet until we found these nice new IKEA tables (£12, table +2 stools). It’s not hugely tidy, but I kind of like it like that, so that people can see that it’s lived in. I don’t clear away until I set next week’s up on Saturday.

So, we started with the cross on the table, and a story and stuff. Didn’t really work, so now they are separate. I’m still working on a ‘gathering rite’ – I think Messy Church’s song isn’t quite going to work in church. Ideally that would go on a table nearer the door, but already the kids are pretty trampled on as it is.

You can also see in this pic my ‘quiet’ bags – these now all have a bible story book and a relevant toy and something to do (ie a toy lamb, Big Bible Friends Good Shepherd and ‘That’s not my lamb’, plus a little Lord’s Prayer book.  The touchy feely Noah carry-book has 2 identical tiger toys in it. More stuff gradually appearing as I change out the non-religious for the mostly-religious) and also the clipboards with the paper activities – puzzles/colour-ins etc on the story.

On the pew then there is a selection of bible storybooks/children’s bibles, there’s a stack of toys and games (prayer cards, matching pairs bible characters, orange tree/house shopping (this raised eyebrows but I pointed out it’s next to the foodbank collection, so easy to talk stewardship/charity)) boxes (come back to those in a sec) and the basket for baptism. There’s not a basket yet but there’s a wedding set of barbie/ken (or equiv) – and currently Wilkos are selling wedding sets at only a tenner. Under the pew is a box with characters for story telling in – knew there was a good reason I knitted all those disciples… along with an increasing collection of bits and pieces usually from hobbycraft like mini baskets, buckets, barrels.

In the one cupboard I could sneak some space in, I’ve got a box of different fabrics and things like scissors, tape, sticky dots etc. We have a pencil sharpener which is a big dice, for playing games, some games counter/pieces and a folder of resources.

Story/activity table and a couple of examples:

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The notice is new. No I didn’t go through all my disciples to find the one nearest dressed to the picture in the Bible (may not be true).

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How the table got left after Pentecost (the flame crowns the children – and grownups – wore to gather the collection)

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Ready for good shepherding…. and the result. Sheeps from http://www.thetoyanimalcompany.com/

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The Prayer Table

Here’s where I just got sidetracked by Happiland people, after being somewhat disappointed by not being able to find diverse toys. I wanted the children to be able to pray with us for the church (crosses), the world (squashy globes) and people. I bought a wooden ambulance and fire engine, and we got a stethoscope. Having found many many cute little people (I recommend ebay, but with caution!) that can sit in the stethoscope box I’m delighted that you can just pull out a handful of people and they prompt prayers – a nurse, an old person, a farmer, or a child, a grandma, a fireman etc.

There are candles that the children can light at the beginning of the service when grownups light theirs, or in prayer time.

I have plans for a prayer prompt key ring…. #toomanyideasnotenoughtime

I actually hijacked this table for prayer group this month, they all had a little cross and held a squishy earth each while we prayed for areas of our world. Who says all this is just for kids….?

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Often the photocopied page from Searchlights has a prayer on, so the connection can be made from the story/activity table to the prayers.

The Sacrament table

When we ran out of space on the one table, I moved the cross and the figure here. I made the alb and some basic felt vestments, and the children wait to see what we’re wearing when the procession gathers. As the candles are lit for procession, the candles can be lit on the sacrament table.

Personally I really like this version of the Susan Sayers children’s communion book, because there’s so much richness in the illustrations, but for a variety of ages the communion cube and Ally Barrett’s Eucharist colouring book are also very good.

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You may spot my small rebellion against the ssh brigade, with the box of tambourines etc for the final hymn :-)

Again, all still evolving. Watch this space…

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I probably need to do a handful of posts on children in church, but I’m contemplating setting up a separate blog to host them, while i find time to pull them together. However, in the meantime, since I’ve been asked, here’s our go-to package for baptism* days.

* do not engage discussion about main service/not main service

It’s pretty basic, but it’s now serving us quite well.

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It contains (other suppliers are usually available):

  • a baby doll, dressed in a christening gown knitted by one of our parishioners
  • some baptism cubes  (you can see inside ‘pages’ here)
  • a blue plastic bowl (we have a modern blue glass font which is placed inside the stone surround)
  • a stainless steel milk jug
  • Ally Barrett’s excellent baptism colouring book (link to the page not the pdf, incase you need the printing instructions)
  • a fill in sheet which is proving pretty popular from Kinder Craze. Full doc available (free) from TPT, I just use this page
  • Scratch art crosses. These are popular with kids and parents alike. Can get through quite a lot!
  • Name badges. I don’t know a child who doesn’t like stickers, so we’re now doing guerilla outreach by sending them out of church wearing a sticker saying they’ve been…. I work with a 21-to-a-page sticker sheet, with this Baptism guest names doc.

So far so good. There may be a colouring sheet something to do with baptism, or I have some ‘you are loved’ sheets or something else as well, and the last two I’ve kept the baptism basket on the side and still produced some materials for the story of the day first. Whether you can do both/end up with chaos/only do the crosses kind of depends how many children turn up. But it’s a good basket.

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For info, there are electric candles and crosses on the children’s prayer table, so if you want to talk about the other symbols of faith, they are on hand, just not in the basket. You might want to add pound shop battery tea lights and some small holding crosses to your basket.

Also, these are all at our ‘activity’ table at the back (note to self, must blog these), but I also have some clipboards with copies of the colouring/fill-in sheets on and little bag of crayons attached to be taken withor without a children’s bag into the pews.

Also also, I keep allsorts of random other stuff pinned on pinterest

Today has not been a good day so far. Quite, frankly, a depressing day. After absolutely torrential rain in the early hours, the sun has reclaimed the world, sending scudding the grey clouds away to the horizon. But the clouds remain where they’ve descended on me, and I sit swinging my legs over a muddy mental pool. I’m getting a weekend off this weekend, after a long three weeks of being on my own in the parish, to spend at a very special service which I hope will restore my sanity and delight.

I find myself wondering if clergy types are more prone to depression than other, or if that is no longer true now so many people urge us to be open and honest about struggling with depression, and that as openness grows, more accurate the picture would be.

I hate feeling miserable. It is miserable to be miserable when you have a partner and family to try not to inflict it upon, it is no easier if whilst you do not have that, neither have you anyone to quietly hold you close when things feel grim.

I hate feeling worse that there are things you know you could do to feel better, the gym, eating properly/regularly/better, sleeping more, worrying less about work things you can’t change, getting out with friends. And more importantly, the fact that actually when you feel rubbish it doesn’t matter how much you know they would help, you don’t actually do them, for they seem waaaay too much effort and require energy that just isn’t there through the gloom.

Though a very dear friend has been often eloquent about his wrangling with depression, two beautiful blog posts written recently have reminded me how fragile ok-ness can be, and how easy it is for something small – or even something nothing at all – to make an ok day a miserable day and see the gloom roll in. Hanging on to great words from Kate and Claire as I try to keep my own little boat chugging on through the storm/murky be-calm-ment.

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