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Lauraines Sermon Notes

Lauraine has shared the notes she had prepared for sermons at St. Paul's
 

22 March 2 Corinthians 1:1-11 pdf Word
29 March John 11:17-44 pdf Word
5 April Palm Sunday Matthew 21:1-11 pdf Word
12 April Easter Message Lauraine pdf Word
12 April Easter Sunday Acts 10:34-43 pdf Word
19 April Acts 2:14a, 22-32 pdf Word
26 April Luke 24:13-35 pdf Word
3rd May CREATED FOR COMMUNITY Acts 2:42-47 pdf Word
10th May John 14 – I am the way,
the truth and the life
pdf Word
17th May John 14:15-14:31 The Promise of the Spirit - New relationships pdf Word
24th May

John 17:1-11

pdf Word
31st May Acts 2:1-21 - PENTECOST pdf Word


 

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Choral Evensong from Rochester Cathedral

The Cathedral will share a regular series of pre-recorded
choral evensongs each Sunday.
All the music was recorded before the lock-down
and the use of places of worship was prohibited.
Watch the service here

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Try praying the Lord's Prayer in British Sign Language (BSL).

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Prayerful Articles

The Other Side A. Soule

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Now here’s an interesting question, what would life be for you if you weren’t a Christian? I don’t mean the not going to the church kind, but having no religious belief whatsoever.

No big deal, a lot of people would say and probably add that they know many people who aren’t religious, including some of their good friends and many of their family members. We all know people who believe in making a success of this life, and think of prayer as a bit of mumbo jumbo. They are usually self reliant and make their way in life rather heroically.

How different would life be if  you were with the other side – those with no belief in God. It would be, I imagine, difficult to see a noticeable change overnight. One would still get up, go to work if one works, and in general try to enjoy life as much as one can. You would in time try to develop your own philosophy of life or follow others who are similarly not religious. There is though the fact that you are in a large measure what you think, and as your view of your own existence changes so would the way you react to circumstances.

There would be ups and downs, and as it is for all of us, and at times nothing would make sense. In your quieter moments you would sometimes wonder what it's really all about. Life may feel very much as described by Shakespeare in Macbeth:

"'a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."

You wouldn’t try to dwell on complex issues like good and evil as that might lead you to abstract notions. You would be looking for answers but soon realise how narrow  our own vision is which cannot see beyond the immediate, how quickly your circumstances can change and how powerless the human body is against disease and death. You would realise there is really very little that you control.

Whilst you may think you have got away from moral dilemmas and judgments which people always think as belonging in the realm of faith, one is still beset by rights and wrongs in the normal course of life. You would still be judged by yourself and the society around you.  The load gets heavier - it is hard going.

There was an interesting article in the 'Independent' I read last year talking about  someone (of no belief whatsoever) describing what it was to live with a Christian - an interesting observation made by him was: “when my partner panics or finds herself in a dilemma, sometimes the best thing I can say to her is, ‘Let your faith guide you’. It speaks to her, calms her, and brings clarity while communicating that I trust in her decision-making faculties — whereas, if she said that to me, I’d plunge further into uncertainty.”

There it is - the sense of uncertainty at the bottom of one's being in the quagmire of unbelief.

There is then the other way; of placing trust in the goodness of God. God understands the heavy burden of journeying alone; and offers a clear invitation in Christ’s words; "Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest". Added to that is also the gift of divine peace in our lives, "My peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid." It all though  hinges on the choice which people make; to either accept God with them in their journey of life or to go it alone.

It all sounds simple, but life seldom pans out like a well preached sermon. People may well choose to continue on the path they have chosen, and accuse the other side of living an illusion. As a Christian, one would no doubt accept that God loves the unbeliever too, and hope they find the peace that you have found in faith. You would support them and love them as you know God has loved you too.

In the end what people really believe in their hearts, for all the different things they say, always remains a mystery. There are people who aggressively avoid the mention of church and worship, but in times of trouble say a silent prayer. There is also the oft quoted saying that not many die as atheists. Who knows what changes in thinking may come about in the fullness of time, and who's to judge a person's relationship with their maker.

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What Matters Most by A. Soule

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There is this rather a deeply haunting story by Tolstoy which I happened to re-read recently. This is not to say that I had forgotten the tale completely as I doubt anyone who reads it once could wipe it away clean from their minds. The details can get blurred with time, but in the main this is one of those stories which sticks with you.  When I first read it, some years ago, I thought it morbid but on reading it now again, I think it shines a  light on what really matters in life or what we ought to live by. The story itself is titled ‘What men live by’.

The story goes that a poor shoemaker despairing of his debt goes out on a cold evening, gets drunk and on his way back home sees a naked man lying by the lonely road shivering in cold. He asks him who he was; the pitiable naked man could only say his name was Michael and that God had punished him. The shoemaker takes pity on him, covers him with his warm coat and takes him home. As expected, his wife shouts at him for coming home drunk and for bringing home another mouth to feed. But later that evening, looking at the stranger closely she feels pity for him and offers him some food. Michael (the stranger) smiles for the first time then.

Time goes by, the shoemaker puts a condition of his stay that he work with him in shoe making. Once an angry rich man comes in with an expensive roll of leather ordering the shoemaker to make expensive shoes for him with that. The shoemaker assures him that the shoes would be ready, but all the while the shoemaker was talking to the man, Michael seemed to fix his gaze beyond the door way where the rich man stood, as if in recognition of someone, and smiles for the second time. Instead of making the kind of shoes demanded by the rich man, Michael quietly went about using the expensive leather to make a pair of soft slippers instead.

The shoemaker got very angry with Michael, worrying that he had wasted the  expensive leather but shortly after there was a knock on the door. The rich man’s servant came to inform them that his master had died due to an accident, and that   they would now only need soft slippers for the body (as was customary in Russia then). Michael had already made those slippers. The shoemaker was puzzled by all this, but kept it to himself.

Some years go by and then one day a middle aged woman comes in accompanied by two young girls one of whom had a severe disability in one leg - asking for shoes to be made for them. Michael takes shoe measurements of the girls and at that point the shoemaker’s wife asks the woman if the girls were her own daughters, to which she replies that they weren’t, but she had brought the two girls up as her own after their mother had died suddenly crushing one of the girl’s leg at her deathbed. Michael smiled again - and this was the third time he had smiled. But the shoemaker saw something else apart from the smile on Michael’s face, he didn't know what to make of it; he saw a kind of a halo forming around Michael.

Michael explained that he was actually an angel who was tasked to take away a woman's life so she could pass on to the next life. However, he had allowed the woman to live because she begged that she must take care of her children for no one other than their mother could care for them. However, he was punished for his disobedience and commanded that he must find the answers to three questions in order to be an angel again: What dwells in man?What is not given to man?, and What do men live by? 

He learned the answer to the first question when the shoemaker’s wife felt pity for him, thus smiling and realizing that what dwells in man is 'love'. The answer to the second question came to him when he realized that the angel of death was looming over a nobleman who was making preparations for a year though he would not live  Michael smiled, realizing that what is not given to man is 'to know his own needs'.

The answer to the third question came when he saw the woman with the two girls, and smiled the third time when he realised that men live not by care for themselves but by love, and concluded, that "he who has love, is in God, and God is in him, for God is love." When Michael finished wings appeared on his back and he rose to return to heaven.

Now this is purely a work of fiction from one of the greatest writers of all time, who incidentally also spent a lot of time pondering on what Jesus actually taught. But not many can dispute that there is truth in the fact that love, whether we understand the workings of it or not, is central to our lives. There is a lot already written about love and how it makes the world go around, but this story is different - it is about how we are essentially wired, taking into account how very fragile our existence is. It speaks volumes in times of uncertainly - such as what we are going through now.

Understanding what makes us tick is really quite complicated, especially if you consider recent advances in psychology - the writings of Freud, Jung and many others; the solution is often summed up as ‘finding yourself’, ‘being true to yourself’. Whilst there is a lot of value in trying to know oneself, I don't think knowing oneself, as fully as one can, is the answer to what life is all about. Psychiatry and counselling can help you know yourself and come to terms with what happens in your life, but that only seems like half the answer. Surely our journey as Christians doesn’t stop at just getting an understanding of ourselves.

Coming back to Tolstoy’s story, despite a lot debate about the writer’s intention, the message that comes across for most people, loud and clear, is that love for others is at the root of human happiness, and that is how we are made. But all this can sound quite glib - much easily written about than actually understood in the complexity of every day life. All of us through the various stages of our lives undertake a journey; to find ourselves first, and then ourselves in relation to others. In all probability it takes a life time to understand what really matters to us. It is not surprising then that most death-bed accounts talk about the person dying making sure near and dear know how much he or she loves them.

There are still though many hard questions about death and suffering in the world, especially in the face of  thousands already being killed by this pandemic in just two months. We are all seeking some rationale to why such horrifying things happen, so often across history. What resonated with me in this context was an article I read   fairly recently in the New York Times (by Ross Douthat), which pointed out  that whilst it was easy to presume the messages God was sending the world through suffering, natural disasters and pandemics; most ordinary Christians the writer knew stay away from attempting to answer the “why?” question - they point to Job whose friends were rebuked by God for trying to do precisely that. 

Now this is not to say there aren't any theological answers to the conundrum of suffering; in fact there are a range of answers given by eminent theologians across the centuries, but none of them deny the reality of suffering. Suffering comes to all, Christians or not, but as Christians we believe God not only entered a world filled with suffering but also that through the incarnation in Jesus sided with those who suffer and suffered himself. The reality of lives being lost is written large across our TV screens on a daily basis these days - with pictures of family members grieving and lamenting their loss. Like everything in life, there is a time for joy and a time for lamentation. There were times when Jesus also grew weary and grieved.

Lamenting in itself is a very natural response; and there is no explaining it away - it hits people hard. It is but important to understand that lamenting or grieving at its core is an acknowledgment of love for the other - an acknowledgment that the thread of love is at the root of our existence, which ends not just with us, but also links us to God who in Jesus lived in solidarity with our pain.

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The Armour of God by Bob Lindridge

pdf | Word | Full Text

A few months ago, I went to my Granddaughter Esme's school to talk to her class about life as a Roman soldier. They were studying the Romans in their history lessons. They really enjoyed meeting a real live Roman legionary and had lots of questions to ask. Esme's school is very close to where they live but has no parking facilities. This meant that I had to change in Esme's house and walk to her school. People who I passed on my way were very amused.

I was reminded of the visit to Esme's school when Ephesians 6 verses 10-20 was given to us in our Daily Bread bible readings recently. The subject of the passage is "The Armour of God". After reading the passage I went into our office to look at the photo of me dressed in my legionaries’ outfit. This well-known passage uses the various components of a suit of armour of the time - presumably Roman, as a visual aid to various aspects relating to the Christian Life: -

The breastplate   righteousness

Footwear              readiness to spread the good news of the Gospel

Shield                    faith

Helmet                  salvation

Sword                    of the spirit - the word of God

Belt                        Truth

We need to put on the Armour of God to deal with this virus that is affecting our lives.
In this passage, Paul tells the Ephesians to pray in the Spirit on all occasions using all kinds of prayers and requests.
Now is the time to "bombard" God with our pleas to end the spread of the Coronavirus.

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Looking for Rainbows by Judy Smith

pdf | Word | Full Text

Reading Lauraine's answer to the question Colin and I posed about how Noah fed the animals on the ark, I was suddenly struck by the similarity between his situation and what we are experiencing. His whole world had been turned upside down, just as ours is now. He'd stockpiled dried food (pasta!) and he probably worried that he wouldn't have enough to feed everybody, because like us, he didn't know exactly how long he would be in isolation for. He had no need to panic about stockpiling toilet rolls, sanitary arrangement being somewhat different in his situation! Although Noah may have had momentary doubts and worries, he knew that God would never let him down. He trusted God and knew He would be with him throughout this difficult time. His faith was strong. When the flood eventually subsided and the land was dry again God chose as His symbol of hope and promise a beautiful rainbow.

Today, in the midst of our crisis pictures of rainbows are appearing in windows everywhere, as signs of hope and gratitude to the people who are risking everything to help us in so many ways. This was originally meant to be a fun game for children prevented from going to school, but has come to mean so much more. We all know the 7 colours of the rainbow, but rainbows actually contain many more colours, not visible to the human eye. If the visible colours represent our human visible help, then wouldn't it be lovely to think that the colours we cannot see, but know are there, represent our loving and ever-present God? He is in the crisis with us, we cannot see Him but we can feel His presence.

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What it all amounts to by A. Soule

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Most of us are taught the right things by our parents; be good, don’t fight, play fair, don’t show off unnecessarily, and so on. But some things fall off along the way as we grow older. And how different it is when we try to find our way around the world. The unspoken message which one hears echoed around us is  that you need to look after Number One - that is you yourself.

A long time friend of mine, let’s call him John, once talking about his difficult childhood (being abandoned by his father when he was growing up) summed up his philosophy of life neatly: ‘I knew the score, John will look after John’. He is now a very successful businessman. He has gone up and down in business, but nothing seems to unsettle him, for long. He always comes out on top - John looks after John, and does it quite well it seems.

On the face of it, looking after Number One does seem the sensible thing to do. The argument goes - if everyone looked after themselves, we would all do well and fulfil our dreams. And there is some  truth in this; after all even to help others one has first to be in a position to do so.

As arguments go, one can see  its appeal to the mind for it is ‘a very rational argument’- it is well thought out and  even fair. In fact, this approach would be an ideal fit for a ‘fair and a rational world’.  But here’s the problem, the world we live in and what life throws at us can be far from rational or fair. In life two plus two may not add up to four- it could come out  less or more  than four. All of us have at some point in our lives have asked the question - why did this happen or how did that happen?

A crisis can come out of the blue. If at all you have the time to prepare, you can plan for that logistically; but how we face it largely depends on what our approach to life is then. And every once in a while we come across instances which can make us think that there is more to human nature than anyone could have predicted.

Sometime ago I read about such an individual action of a sailor in a book (by AG Gardiner) which has stuck with me ever since. This  happened around the First World War. On a cold January night in 1915, an English Naval ship named ‘Formidable' had been torpedoed in the seas, and it became inevitable that the ship would go down. Ballots were cast for who should board the rescue boats there, and this young sailor had won. The ship would sink with all left on board but he would be saved.

The author in  describing the incident tried to imagine what would have been going on in the sailor’s mind at that point. As the boat awaits for him to take him to security and comfort from a certain and a horrifying death, he also sees his fellow sailors, looking at him, perhaps not with envy but with resignation of men who see death hovering over them - and I like to imagine, wishing him well in the end. He also looks across at  the cold, dark sea which would surely be their watery grave. The sailor hesitates a bit, not certain how he should bid them good bye. He looks at one of the older sailors smiling at him trying to make it easier for him to leave.

He cannot do it. In one of those supreme moments, when one has to choose between life and death, he makes his choice. He looks at one of his fellow sailors saying, "You've got parents," then swiftly adds. "I haven't." He makes that sailor take his place in the boat and chooses to die with all the rest.

There were no long drawn melodramatic speeches or rationalisations but only a straightforward simple decision was made. He understood that he wouldn’t be able to live with himself knowing he could have saved someone but hadn’t. For all what the world teaches about looking after Number One, he didn’t.

I am pretty sure anyone reading about this incident will not fail to conclude that there is something more to human nature than simply a two plus two equals four approach. What happens to others affects us all. And as none other than the greatest of those who laid his life for others said, ‘Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends’.

There is no doubt a deep theological significance of Christ’s death and resurrection. But on a straightforward, simple level it was an act love for all humanity.

Like it or not we are all connected to each other, and we are more ourselves when we understand that what happens to others affects us all.

Acts of sacrifice and compassion, somewhat similar to that made by the sailor are also happening here and now. Which of us hasn’t felt the tumult of feelings at seeing the NHS staff now battling a very deadly enemy at close quarters. Whilst we rightly stay at home, they are at the front, witnessing death at close quarters, holding hands of people in their last moments. How many of us have clapped for them with in awe of the sheer magnitude of their service.

This is humanity at its best, with acts of heroism happening every day in hospital wards and communities across the country. This is who we can be when called upon. We are definitely more than those just looking after Number One.

This was the HMS Formidable commissioned in 1898; there have been about three other ships since also named HMS Formidable.

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Unusual Times by A. Soule

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These are unusual times. There is no denying the feeling of despair at seeing the rising  figures of those infected and those dying because of the virus. It is a global battle, we are up against the invisible enemy: the enemy which stalks bars, cafes, restaurants and mass gatherings.

This is not the first time the world has faced pandemics. There was the plague of 1665 and the Spanish flu of 1918, both which killed off thousands. Obviously people survived through these crises, but public memories of these are mixed.

One thing is for sure is that  crises do not as always bring out the best in us. Fear can make us do things which we would ordinarily be ashamed to own up to.

A couple of days ago, rather late in the evening I went to a local superstore, looking to buy a few essentials. As you would expect with so much of this being in the news, there was hardly anything on the shelves. It took a while getting used to seeing the large store with so many empty shelves; which does  make one wonder whether we are  facing a famine or the virus.

It was late evening that day and behind me in the store came in a young family, the parents appeared to have come  straight after finishing work. It was hard not see the look of utter dismay on their faces at the empty shelves - with nothing left for them to buy that day. The mother was in tears.

The shop assistant told us that shoppers come in early to take in ‘all sorts - bread, vegetables, soaps, toilet rolls ‘in bulk. She mentioned ‘they want to get in first’. The irony is that there is no shortage of these things as such, and there is no indication that shelves wouldn’t be restocked the next day. And yet, the ransacking of shelves continue.

But this is the nature of the beast (crises). I was reading Daniel Defoe’s journal of the 1665 Plague, which mentions that despite some incidents of bravery shown in the face of death all around them; people became immensely selfish. It was wife against the husband, husband against the wife, neighbour against neighbour. It was every man for himself – for the fear of catching death.

An Article  I read in the New York Times mentioned that despite the Spanish flu killing over a million people in America in 1918, there were surprisingly very few books or historical accounts written on that. There is though the record that at its peak, there was a desperate call for volunteers to care for sick children, which went callously unheeded. The authorities had pleaded with the local community making it clear that there was no one to give the children food as the death rate was very high, but people, ‘much respected’ as they were held back. David Brooks, the author of the article I mentioned explains that the possible reason for there not being many records of the flu was ‘because people didn’t like who they had become. It was a shameful memory and therefore suppressed.’

Self sacrifice and caring about your neighbour are essential aspects of being a Christian. But it is so easy to forget all that in times of crisis; even Peter denied Christ three times, fearing death. But that story didn’t end there, it was with him later on that the Church began, and he wasn’t in the end afraid to face death when it came to him.

It is true that the common decency expected by society can never be taken for granted and human behaviour can never be completely predicted, but it is also true ordinary people can be transformed into heroes of the day, doing everything they can at the time needed. Peter after all turned out to be better than he thought who he was. We are all weak, but it is our relationship with God, with God at its focus, which can transform lives.

Understanding who we are as Christians is important especially in these times. I am often reminded of a quote from a long standing Church member (from a previous Church I used to go to) : ‘being a Christian makes me better than I am’.

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  Together

Spring 2020 Edition of the Diocesean Magazine from Rochester

 

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