A Republican prayer

Re: the Liturgical Commission’s Prayers for use when Elizabeth Windsor becomes the longest reigning monarch in British history (9 September 2015)

All-Loving G*d,
whose Son Jesus Christ was executed for sedition against imperial power,
we thank you that you created all the great diversity of humankind in your image,
and are every day building up your commonwealth on earth through the work of human hands:
move in the hearts of all your children to establish your order of equality for all,
that we may transform the unjust structures of society in service of the common good,
until not one beloved sibling languishes in poverty and distress. Amen.


Swithun intercessions

Loving God,
In this your world, you have provided daily bread for all your children; move in the hearts of all those who work to preserve the ways of greed, oppression and inequality. Today we especially thank you for our trade unions, and ask you to continue to bless them in their tireless pursuit of fairness for all.
In your mercy…

Jesus our brother,
Child of three parents; though you had sisters and brothers, you chose to call your friends sister and brother. We thank you for the diversity of human families — original, chosen and acquired — and for the love you show through them. Bless especially today new parents across the two-thirds world whose hearts break because they can provide nothing for their children but love and hope.
In your mercy…

Holy Spirit,
As you sent Swithun to the people of Wessex so we remember today all the people of the Diocese of Winchester, and especially Tim Dakin, Jonathan Frost and David Williams. In your love, work through them to renew mission and become agents for real social transformation.
In your mercy…


Visitation intercessions

Mary, full of grace,
God is with you
Blest are you among all our sisters
and blest is Jesus your son.
Amen.

Loving God,
We pray for all this House, and especially for Will Lamb and Antonio Garcia-Fuerte.
We pray for the people of Limpsfield & Tatsfield and for Matt Drummond, serving among them;
for the people of Grimshoe and for Berkeley Zych, serving among them.
We pray for the people of the Diocese of Oxford; for Colin Fletcher, Alan Wilson and Andrew Proud;
for the people of the Dioceses of Northwestern Pennsylvania and of Pennsylvania and for Sean Rowe and Clifton Daniel their respective Bishops.
Amen.

Mary, full of grace…

Loving God,
as our sister Mary once rejoiced, work through our hands that we too may see the mighty brought down and the humble lifted up
as our sister Mary once rejoiced, love through our hearts that we too may see the hungry filled and the rich sent away empty
as our brother Jesus once leapt for joy, rest in our minds that we too may recognise the good which has gone before us, thinking this week especially of those who are Leaving this House
Amen.

Mary, full of grace…


Love is patient

Fury flares, and anger clings onto each heart by her fingertips,
And
Her sudden, feeble grip loosens under every shining mote of
Love.

So much hate.
While hate is in a hurry,
Love is patient;
So love will endure.

Good disagreement? Reconciliation?
What are these but the scaffolding ’round the
Crumbling structures of oppression?

It’s happened this way before:
So we know love will endure:

For the love of all our siblings,
We fight for nothing more than compromise.
(We’d have no person forced to marry,
We’d have no priest forced to marry.)
So much energy into mere compromise —
Into begging for the scraps from the table —
And yet there is no progress.

While
Hate will fade,
Love will endure &
Hope will bloom.

We’re not asking for the world,
We only ask for bread,
You’ve not even given us a stone.

 


What is the Holy Spirit?

(John 15:26–7 & 16:4b–16; Acts 2:1–21)

May the words of my lips and the meditations of all our hearts be from the Loving God who is Three-in-One; Parent, Child and Holy Spirit. Amen.

So, here we are at Pentecost, commemorating that day, fifty days after Passover two thousand years ago, when the Holy Spirit made her presence known. There are so many things to explore in these passages, but I’ll hope you’ll forgive me, being a new preacher, for choosing the most basic question: what in the blazes is the Holy Spirit?

I love languages; I love how they can open up whole new worlds of understanding. Just now, I’m getting into Hebrew a bit! This week at college, I started my Hebrew first lessons — Heather’s been teaching us the alphabet, so I can write something for you: ruakh.

[I wrote רוּחַ on a sheet of A3 paper]

In the beginning, the ruakh of G*d swept over the face of the waters, says the first creation story in Genesis; then G*d formed a human from the dust and breathed into her nostrils the ruakh of life, says the second. This is where the origin of the concept of the Holy Spirit in our faith today comes from; the Hebrew origins — the word ruakh. You might have heard the word before. Does anyone — apart from any Hebrew scholars — know what ruakh means?

[Audience interaction]

Did you know, ruakh is a feminine word? What does it say about us that we’ve made her ‘he’? And that we persist in exclusive use of male G*d images?

Here’s another interesting thing; the Greeks translated ruakh as pneuma and in Latin it became spiritus, hence ‘spirit’, but the sense of that word has drifted rather for us. Same goes for ‘ghost’, which is just from the equivalent Saxon word gast. Hence ‘Holy Spirit’ and ‘Holy Ghost’, though the same, have different connotations. They all started off meaning ‘breath’.

So, let’s think about breath. Perhaps you can remember your last cold — that awful persistent feeling of not being able to breathe properly. Or perhaps you can remember simply being out of breath?

I’ve always been asthmatic. Almost all the time, I’m fine: because I’ve always had it, I know my asthma. But there have been a few times when my breathing has been so bad I’ve had to go to hospital; the last time was when I was 18, at my best mate’s house for a party. He had cats, I had a slightly immoderate amount of cider, so, my judgment compromised, I didn’t realise it was getting difficult to breathe as soon as I could’ve. Mum was called and drove me (rightly telling me how ‘bloody stupid’ I was) to hospital, where I was quickly sorted out with a nebuliser.

Breath is so important. Yet like everything that is so important, we take it for granted until something goes wrong. Then when it’s better, we forget about it again. Breath has always been used as a metaphor for our very alive-ness — that’s what we mean by spirit. It’s not just one of those things about which we say ‘uhh, I can’t live without it!’; it’s almost the only thing you literally, physically cannot live without; once you’re not breathing at all, you’re basically dead.

I hope you’re seeing how this relates to the Holy Spirit — whom we call ‘giver of life.’ We so often take her for granted — G*d the Parent gets all the glory as creator, we’re forever talking about Christ, but the Spirit so often just feels like ‘oh, yeah, and the Spirit… I suppose.’

But nevertheless, the Spirit is life. We all have life. We all share the Holy Spirit; we cannot help it. And by we, I mean everything that is alive. We are bonded together in one community of life by and with G*d.

Earlier in John’s gospel (we heard it this morning), Christ promised to send the Paraclete — ‘the Advocate’ in this translation (meaning a comforter, consoler, advocate, encourager, helper, but not parrot) once he had gone back to the Parent; the Spirit (i.e. breath or life) of truth who will ‘testify’ on Christ’s behalf, who will show up all the world’s ideas of “sin” and “justice” and “judgment” for the madness that they are. Christ fulfilled his promise when he appeared to the disciples after he died and breathed the Spirit upon them with what I can only call an awesome warning: ‘If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.’

Often the Holy Spirit is represented by a dove, which is also closely connected with peace. Peace is good. But the image on the front of our order of service grabs me a bit harder. The Iona community depict the spirit as a wild goose, following the tradition of the first Celtic Christians. For them it was more fitting to understand the spirit as wild and free, un-tame-able, irrepressible, uncontainable, disobedient even! Personally I’ve never met a wild goose; I come from farming country in north Essex, so I’ve met farm geese, and crikey are they fierce! G*d’s Holy Spirit in us is fierce; she is a gale, she’s passion and fire — like the mighty wind, Peter’s passion and the tongues of fire in our Acts reading; she is (as I heard another preacher say this week) the fire in your belly; she makes you care about the people around you and about our world.

You have heard it said (well, some of us might have heard it said) that the Spirit is like the bond of love which holds the Holy Trinity together (more on that next week — Trinity Sunday), but I say to you that she holds all life together in community. She is for us representative of the fact that everything we do affects one-another and all our world. She is a reminder of our awful responsibility to everything which G*d has created. She is representative of the gift of life which G*d has given us all and she encourages us in all things good. We need only listen.

Thanks be to G*d.

Dan Barnes-Davies, 21 & 24 May 2015
Given at the Church of the Good Shepherd, Arbury, Pentecost 24 May 2015


Intercessions — on children

(During the General Election 2015 purdah; shortly after the 2015 Nepal earthquake; the day after the birth of the second Middleton-Windsor child.)

Holy God, Loving Parent,
We remember our siblings suffering in Nepal, every one your beloved child,
Grow in each of us compassion and courage to do all we can for all our siblings.

Holy God, Born of Mary,
We thank you for every child born into this world, each one equal in your love,
Comfort all parents and children who have nothing.

Holy God, Spirit of Peace,
We pray for these nations, for politicians and people,
Send on every one of us your concern for your children in need.


St Patrick’s day intercessions

Loving God, Spirit of Joy,
We pray for peaceful celebrations of St Patrick’s day,
and for all people who have issues around drugs — especially alcohol.
In your mercy…

Loving God, Son of David,
We pray for the Israeli parliamentary elections
and for all people in and around Israel-Palestine.
In your mercy…

Loving God, Heavenly Parent,
We pray for all who have suffered child sex abuse
and for an end to all enabling of abuse: here and abroad; in churches and in society.
In your mercy…


Who is the King?

(Jer 6:9–21 & John 6:1–15)

I love a good coincidence. This week I got an email from my union about a national day of action against benefit sanctions. Earlier this week the media reported Frank Fields MP’s attack on the DWP and Iain Duncan Smith for the ‘sanctions’ culture in the state welfare system. Not only, from September 2012 ‘til September 2014, were more than 668,000 ‘sanctions’ handed down which led to people having no income for four weeks, more than 370,000 for three months and 2,000 for three years, but the DWP did not even have data about what happened to these people. These people who are some of the most vulnerable in our society.

In Jeremiah, the prophet’s image of God is as a very particular kind of king. The Lord is the disappointed law-giver; the angry overlord who punishes the rebellious people for their unfaithfulness, their wrongdoing, their contravention of their Lord’s law. This Lord is set far and above all the people, absolutely and unquestionably knows what is best for them and has laid down strict instructions for them to follow. Would you want to live as this Lord’s subject? Would any of us put up with him? This is the sort of Lord against which Western society has decisively turned in this age of democracy. If we do not believe in earthly Lords, why do we hold to this image of God?

Thank God we have accounts of Jesus’ ministry! Could there be two more different responses to people who are poor than the DWP’s sanctions and the feeding of the 5,000?! Whereas the Lord, Iain Duncan Smith, and the DWP further punish people who are poor for merely living in a system which disadvantages them, Jesus was incarnate among people who were the lowliest in their society. Almost like a bit of a jape, Jesus sets Philip up with an obviously stupid question – how will we few fisherfolk buy food for 5,000 people? It would cost more than six months’ takings! Takings, salaries, money are the things of this deeply broken world, and such things can do nothing to help. Rather, Jesus takes that meagre portion which God has already given – a few fish and a little barley bread – and transforms the humble food of humble workers into an extravagant overabundance, then shares the available resources among the people! Hallelujah!

‘Ah!’, you think, ‘I want a king like that!’. Bad news. There are no kings like that. That is not a king. And even if there was… … I happen to know my stuff when it comes to the British monarchy – I worked at Buckingham Palace once. Occasionally people say – and said to me there – ‘Oh, isn’t that William lovely. I think he should be king next.’ My reply is always this: that’s not how it works; you don’t get to choose!

Now, we surely all love Elizabeth our Queen, but she is not the king. (Bear with me!)

Today we still have a king; we still have a bourgeois who shamelessly exploit the people, who play the angry king, a grotesque parody of the First-Testament God, punishing the disobedient proletariat. So why do we still adhere so fanatically to the images of God as King and Lord? Perhaps it is because those are the images which suit the status quo. We all love the status quo, don’t we?

‘When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself.’ The All-Loving Creator who became incarnate among her own creation is not interested in our earthly constructions like ‘king’; no, Jesus came to be kin. The illusion which we are being sold daily is that each of us is our own king – that is the lie of this individualist consumerist capitalist culture; rather the ideal situation is that there IS. NO. KING! For, if Jesus could move beyond the idea of kingship to embrace kin-ship 2,000 years ago, can we not please move on too?

Dan Barnes-Davies, 25 February 2015
Given in preaching group, 26 February 2015

Ash Wednesday 2015

(Isa 58:1–12 & John 8:1–11) [Years A, B & C]

What are you giving up for Lent? Every Ash Wednesday sermon asks this every year – but for good reason! Fasting – which strictly speaking is limiting what you eat and drink – is one of the key traditions for Lent, which is this period, starting today, every year, when we prepare for Easter. Traditionally we fast or ‘give something’ up each Lent to remember Christ’s time in the wilderness before he began his ministry, and to focus our minds towards anticipation of Easter, which is, of course, the ‘big deal’ – our festival of hope, but let’s not skip ahead.

Today, I want us to think about scapegoats. The idea of the scapegoat originates in ancient times – most prominently in Israel. As part of the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) rituals in the Temple, one goat – The Lord’s Goat – was given as a blood sacrifice for the sins of all Israel. Then the high priest would confess before God all Israel’s sins, and figuratively send those sins out from Jerusalem embodied in the scape-goat. Today, the word scapegoat means anyone whom we unfairly blame for things going wrong. The masters of scapegoating were the Nazi party in 1930s Germany, who waged a concerted campaign against Jews, gay men, socialists, travellers, people with learning disabilities and many other groups and races. By their campaign of propaganda and misinformation, the Nazis created an atmosphere in Germany where all the blame for everything which was going wrong was heaped on these ‘sub-human’ groups. ‘It wasn’t us; it was them!’ By the way, the front page of the Times says today: “Cameron incensed as bishops stir welfare row”. (Although, to be honest with you, a few weeks ago when I first gave this sermon to my preaching class, the Mail headline was much more helpful: “At last! A crackdown on foreign patients abusing the NHS!”) By identifying groups of people as ‘other’ to you and scapegoating them, you can convince yourself that you are justified in your inaction; that you can’t do anything to make things better because it’s not your fault.

Thankfully, the first reading, from the writings of the Jewish prophet Isaiah, has a very interesting take on the idea of fasting: ‘Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?’ Here the author is having a real go at hypocrites: people who fast (in the strict not-eating sense), yet continue to go about their usual wrong-doing or blissful ignorance without striving to turn from sin or pay attention to people who are less fortunate. Rather, says the prophet, it is more pleasing to God that you offer food to people who are hungry, that you give even such basic things as clothes to people who lack them… …or that you bring people who are poor and homeless into your house – can you imagine that!? It’s quite difficult to imagine. At my previous church, I led the team which ran the winter homeless shelter. We were very good at welcoming people who were homeless into our church-building. But I lived next door to the church; the corners of the buildings were connected – it really was very close indeed; but did I ever consider, even for a second, inviting any of them into my home? We have all internalised this ‘othering’ of fellow human beings – it is that bit of you that would rather ignore the Big Issue seller who tries to greet you cheerfully. Wherever that may come from inside you, it is your responsibility to change.

At the beginning of this month, the broadcaster and ‘national treasure’ Stephen Fry gave an interview on the Irish television programme ‘The Meaning of Life.’ In the interview, he dismissed the Creator-God as “utterly evil” for creating a world in which suffering happens. Giles Fraser, priest-in-charge of St Mary Newington, London, wrote in reply that that picture of that Creator-God simply does not match that of God in Christ: Stephen’s monstrous God is an image of God more to do with power than with the God we know through Christ. However, it is comedian, ‘personality’ and activist Russell Brand’s response that I found more interesting. In his interview, Stephen mocks the teaching ‘let one who is without sin cast the first stone’ (from our second reading) as impractical for a basis of a justice system. Russell replies that the proper application for this teaching is to acknowledge in every person that we all share our human natures. He uses the example of when we pass judgment on murderers or paedophiles – it’s not about seeing a person’s particular sins in ourselves but rather about seeing the capacity for evil within ourselves – he says (and I won’t try to do an impression!) “acknowledge that the thing in them that has manifest this negativity is also within us and that our first duty is to negotiate with the negativity within ourselves.”

And what Russell says relates back to scapegoating: for when you see the same human nature in the other as in yourself, you can’t make them ‘other’ or ‘them’ so easily; rather, you regard ‘them’ as ‘us’. The Irish theologian James Alison explains that on the cross Christ not only perfectly enacted the Temple atonement ritual as both sacrifice and scapegoat, but also in doing so exposed the whole sham of the scapegoating system in which we all still take part, because, on the cross, he is the perfectly innocent and blameless victim.

So, this Lent, what fast do you choose? Will you use some of your resources – whether you have a lot or a little – such as time, money, energy or influence, to help your fellow humans? Will you be more alert – especially during the General Election campaign – for examples of scapegoating? Will you stand up and challenge ‘othering’, when someone says ‘it’s the immigrants’ fault…’ or ‘they don’t deserve our help’? Or, as David Cameron declared in the recent documentary Inside the Commons, ‘we’re on the side of hard-working people’? What is the fast that you choose?

Dan Barnes-Davies, 4 & 17 February 2015
Given at the Church of the Good Shepherd, Arbury, Ash Wednesday 18 February 2015

Intercessions

Loving God, we pray

  • for all who are sick in body, mind and spirit — especially those who are known only to you;
  • for all who suffer this day through famine of disaster — especially those affected by the Himalayan avalanches;
  • for all victims of abuse and violence, intolerance and prejudice — and for all who collude with oppressive structures;
  • for all who are bereaved — and for those who support them;
  • for all who work in the medical and healing professions — especially for those treating victims of the Ebola outbreak

In your mercy…

In this House’s cycle of prayer, we pray for…
In your mercy…

and finally in a moment of silence we bring before you our own concerns…
In your mercy…