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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


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.

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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….

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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:


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:


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).


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


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.


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

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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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Feast of St Matthew with baptism
2 Corinthians 4.1-6
Matthew 9.9-13

Today the church celebrates Matthew, apostle and saint. Actually, today is as much about celebrating baptizing Angelica as it is about celebrating Matthew. Or in fact Angelica now and Tommy a little later this morning. We hope they will grow up into apostles and saints. Which isn’t quite as scary as it might sound…

Matthew was a tax collector. An occupation despised by his fellow Jews as a betrayal to the occupying Roman force, but Jesus showed that judging by outward appearance was not what he was about. He ate with Matthew and with his friends, scandalizing those around him, the church leaders of his day. But Matthew followed when Jesus called him and this was enough. He was forgiven, therefore he was acceptable, therefore he was received.

As we put Gemma and Jeffrey and Angelica’s godparents on the spot in a moment, it is about asking them to respond to the same question as Jesus posed to Matthew. Follow me? I like to hear it as a question, an invitation, not an instruction. Their response is as Matthew’s was (or at least, I hope it will be):

9 As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And he got up and followed him.

Just like that. But that is really what baptism is about. It’s about saying yes. Thankyou. Please. It’s not about creating hurdles, it’s not about making it hard, it’s not about requiring an entrance exam, it’s not about knowing what will happen tomorrow or next month or next year. It’s not about outward appearance, do you look like you’ll belong? It’s not about how good a follower you will turn out to be, although obviously we hope that one day Angelica appreciates having being baptised!

It’s not about whether ‘we’ as a church think that anyone new has a right to be here, to join us, because in baptism we are all one. We are all one in the counter-cultural world of believing in the life and ethics Jesus taught. We are all one in responding to his call, whether it’s prompted by a deep inner love and instinctive understanding of God, or a desire to ‘do things right’, or because Grandma says we should or because a baby is such a precious gift; the birth of a baby makes us realise – makes us see in sharp contrast and hi-viz that the world is a dark, broken and selfish place as well as a place marked by beauty and joy and wonder, and makes us want to reach out to the light which differentiates the two.

We all, in every baptism service, remember our own response to the call of Christ. The call to follow him. The call to love one another, to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, to heal the sick and walk alongside the lonely. We all know that we are made to live in community and relationship, and we all know that a self-serving, self-seeking approach to life ultimately isn’t satisfying.

When we respond to the glory of creation and the agony of our destroying of it; the infinite diversity of our fellows and the shameful diminishing of so many of our brothers and sisters for unhelpful and often un-biblical reasons; when we look for a response to why are we here and understand that it is to live, to love and to flourish with each other; when we wrestle with theology – ‘Jesus died to pay for our sin’, or why there is hurt and sorrow in the world – why God ‘lets’ bad things happen to children or people we love, then we have got up and begun to walk with Matthew.

And when we get up with Matthew and respond to Jesus’ call to follow him, we begin to reject the consumerist, speed-driven, post-modern world – today’s occupying force, and we show that we do not judge carelsesly either, but that we care what happens to ourselves and to others. When we eat, walk, talk with those less fortunate than ourselves, we may scandalize, but we are eating, walking, talking with God, and in doing so are received, accepted and forgiven.

Of course, there’s more to following Jesus than getting up from your desk and leaving everything behind for a new adventure. But in today’s gospel Matthew takes the first step and makes a start. Jesus says ‘follow’ and he does. All journeys start with that first step. Matthew will be sent (the meaning of apostle) to heal, to feed, to clothe, to teach that there is light in the darkness and it is the light that will overcome.

Today is the first step on Angelica’s journey too, and we hope and pray that she also will learn to heal, to feed, to clothe and to breathe the love of God into her life as she lives it. There will surely be setbacks and doubts, hesitations and denials, just as there were for the apostles. But in baptism Angelica joins the saints, those for whom life is holy.

Baptism is a free gift of God, offered to anyone who would like to reach out and grasp it (at any age). In it we are all, like Angelica, received, accepted and forgiven. In baptism – literally (well, figuratively) – Angelica is ‘washed clean’ and marked with the cross – to ‘claim her’ – to include her in those for whom Jesus gave up his life, those whom God loves so much that he sent his only son to serve us … unto death.

And as we rejoice in a positive response to the open invitation from God in today’s gospel to follow Christ, we shall hear some of our first reading again too, because at the end of the service when we light her a candle, it uses the very same words from St Paul’s letter to the Corinthians:

6For it is the God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness’, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

Let us pray

God our Father, for we all may be so bold –
with each precious gift of a baby, each baptism grows the number of your saints.
Help us always to recognise your light in the world
and to follow it in truth.
Help us always to know ourselves, as Matthew, as Angelica,
received, accepted, forgiven,
and to see the face of Jesus Christ in one another.
May we all live as the light which shines in the darkness,
to the glory of your name. Amen.

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Jeremiah 4. 23-28                             Luke 15.1-10

Somewhere the other day – to be honest I’ve no idea where or when, given that I don’t seem to have stopped recently, but somewhere I saw a comment about a stained glass window (not this one, but like it). It was not unlike our east window – Christ crucified, with dignified mother Mary standing to the one side and the quietly passionate disciple whom he loved to the other.

But also, in this depiction, was Mary Magdalene. No perfect pose for her, she was depicted thrown at the foot of the cross, her arms around it, in a state of total distress. And the comment was about how which one would we rather be, which one was the ‘real’ one, which one was most likely the truest representation.

And it was to say that it was Mary Magdalene, in an agony of her own at the cross. Showing her utter devastation at the crucifixion and her love for Christ in the only way she knew. Extravagantly, physically. Her Lord, her saviour.

Our readings today give us a little more Jeremiah – this time a grim image of the desolation of the world when our sin destroys it – we are surely no nearer having learnt our lesson today than they had in Jeremiah’s time, when we think about our lack of stewardship of natural resources and our inhumanity to our fellows.

One commentary on this passage says:

“The anguish of the prophet appears to mirror the anguish of God which cannot believe the people are bent on self-destruction. I can’t help feeling this must the case today as we watch our world bent on self-destruction because of our greed and the consequences of our actions.”

It is all too easy to look around and be despondent. See bits of the earth waste and void; see loss of life and livelihoods in areas of earthquake, volcano, flood, natural disaster; see before and after photographs (though you only really need see the ‘now’) of Palestine and Gaza and Syria and their streets and cities in ruins; see the forlorn faces and empty bellies of a generation of children facing famine in once fruitful land where rains and so crops have failed. So many times when we turn on the news, it is to see or hear that the earth mourns.

It is all too easy. All too easy to remember how many lives have been lost or irreparably changed in global conflicts as well as local ones – as another year goes past since 9/11, another aid worker is murdered by ISIS – the war on terror has claimed many victims but how many victories in that time?

So should we despair totally? No. Don’t get me wrong, Jeremiah wasn’t pulling punches and neither should we. We are all somehow involved. We cannot turn the other cheek, close our eyes to atrocities. Sin abounds, and we are all sinners, if not terrorists and murderers. But Jeremiah still offers us that glimpse of hope.

I will not make a full end, says the Lord. Even if there is judgement – and judgement there will be – there is still hope. Because destruction of the world and people he lovingly created for relationship is not what God wants. Earlier in this chapter, immediately preceding this passage, we would have heard ‘My anguish, my anguish, I writhe in pain!…For my people are foolish, they do not know me, they are stupid children, they have no understanding…’

And as we turn to Luke, we have confirmation of that. ‘there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 righteous persons who need no repentance.’ ‘Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents’.

Some of you heard the vicar preach a couple (a few?) weeks ago about how irrational it is of the shepherd to leave 99 sheep to their own devices and go off looking for the one. Leaving 99 in danger to save one on their own. Well yes, perhaps, but that’s the essence of God’s love for us. Not that it’s irrational, but that it will never give up on us.

However ‘skilled we are in doing evil’ and however much we [as a race] ‘do not know how to do good’, God will not put us totally beyond redemption. And when we return, how joyful that reunion. When we have been lost, how beautiful the knowledge of safety. When we have been and seen terror, how warm a loving embrace.

The shepherd and the woman looking for her coin illustrate that God will not make a full end. However many mistakes we make, he will still be there when we stretch out a hand to reach back into the fold. He will shed a tear of joy and do a happy dance that one who was lost is found. Almost more so when we have been lost. The story which follows directly in Luke is that of the prodigal son, who of course only recognises the true value of what he had when he had gone away and thrown it away, the son to whom the father runs, arms open, when he is still a distance away.

Our own recognition of our salvation and the love of God for each and every one of us is perhaps deeper, sweeter and more – or perhaps even only – understandable if we are prepared to recognise our sin.

When we do so, when we leave pretending and brave faces aside, and open our brokenness to God, the forgiveness which flows to meet our repentance is likely to knock us off our feet. The lost sheep and the lost coin rejoiced over for having been lost and found, they are the glimmer of light shining in the darkness, in the desolation and waste of sin, the chink of light which the darkness cannot overcome. They are the hope offered to all of us, and immortalised so often in art by Mary Magdalene as she throws herself around Jesus ankles, nailed to the cross, and weeps.

What Mary did not know, could not know then, was that this was not the end. Hope remained, as it does for us. Mary’s joy in the resurrection as she exclaims ‘Rabbouni’ in the garden transforms the distress at the cross. After a bleak and empty void of a life seemingly laid waste, the transforming life of the resurrection colours and shimmers and delights.

Whenever we lose sight of God alongside us in darkness; or regret our own actions, or words, or lives; or despair of the plight of refugees, of innocent children, of warriors fighting for they no longer know exactly what, let us remember to throw ourselves at the foot of the cross and lament. And hope. Because while we have hope all is not lost, and when lost is found there will be great rejoicing in heaven.

‘This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them’. So we are accepted whoever we are, as long as we are prepared to put ourselves at his feet. So let us do that. Let us always acknowledge our brokenness and the brokenness of our world, and love him, openly and extravagantly; and be ready to bathe in transforming light and love in return.

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