Message from our Rector, The Revd Mark Lowther
First off, an apology. Last Sunday morning I set up the video recording equipment in Aldeburgh Church before the service, checked that everything was OK – and then forgot to press the ‘go’ button at the crucial moment. So, I’m so sorry that there wasn’t an online service last week. I’ll try my very best to do better this week!
And this week we welcome our Archdeacon, The Ven. Jeanette Gosney, to preside and preach at our benefice Holy Communion service as we celebrate with Jo and James significant moments in their ministry, albeit rather late. Moving on from her curacy Jo will be licensed as Assistant Priest in the benefice and we will be remembering James’s ordination to the priesthood a year ago. It will be good to be together, and to have Jeanette with us, to mark these special occasions for Jo and James and, hopefully, to raise a glass afterwards. Many thanks to all who have worked so hard to prepare for the celebrations.
A word about sermons. All clergy prepare their sermons in different ways. Some (like me) write out more or less every word in advance. Some write ‘headline notes’ and improvise around them on the day and some, very lucky, people can preach without anything written down at all. I remember once, back in London, finding myself sitting very close to Dr Rowan Williams as he preached. The sermon was extraordinary, beautifully constructed, delivered without a single ‘um’ or ‘er’ – and all he had in front of him was a tiny piece of paper about the size of a £5 note with a few words scribbled on it. Amazing – but he was the Archbishop of Canterbury! Why am I telling you this? Partly because Archdeacon Jeanette is a ‘notes’ and not ‘script’ preacher, so I can’t put her sermon into this pew-sheet. And partly because I have included my sermon from last week. With the recent death of my brother, I couldn’t help being personal to some extent and several people commented favourably afterwards, a couple asking for a copy. So please forgive the indulgence but I thought I would share it with you all. It is, of course, inspired not by this week’s Gospel reading but by last week’s – the story of Jesus stilling the storm on the Sea of Galilee.
Next week we begin to move into ‘summer mode’ and the first sign is that the 11.00am services in Aldringham will, as long as the weather is kind, move outdoors. Aldringham churchyard is a beautiful and peaceful place and last year we discovered just how suitable it was for worship. The services will be short, informal and, being outdoors, we can sing! Bring something to sit on and pray for a fine day.
With my love and prayers, as ever
Many Congratulations Revd Johanna Mabey and Revd James Marston
Almighty God, whose blessed apostles Peter and Paul
glorified you in their death as in their life:
grant that your Church, inspired by their teaching and example,
and made one by your Spirit, may ever stand firm upon the one foundation, Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.
Zechariah 4.1-6a, 10b-end
The angel who talked with me came again, and wakened me, as one is wakened from sleep. He said to me, ‘What do you see?’ And I said, ‘I see a lampstand all of gold, with a bowl on the top of it; there are seven lamps on it, with seven lips on each of the lamps that are on the top of it. And by it there are two olive trees, one on the right of the bowl and the other on its left.’ I said to the angel who talked with me, ‘What are these, my lord?’ Then the angel who talked with me answered me, ‘Do you not know what these are?’ I said, ‘No, my lord.’ He said to me, ‘This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, says the Lord of hosts. For whoever has despised the day of small things shall rejoice, and shall see the plummet in the hand of Zerubbabel. ‘These seven are the eyes of the Lord, which range through the whole earth.’ Then I said to him, ‘What are these two olive trees on the right and the left of the lampstand?’ And a second time I said to him, ‘What are these two branches of the olive trees, which pour out the oil through the two golden pipes?’ He said to me, ‘Do you not know what these are?’ I said, ‘No, my lord.’ Then he said, ‘These are the two anointed ones who stand by the Lord of the whole earth.’
About that time King Herod laid violent hands upon some who belonged to the church. He had James, the brother of John, killed with the sword. After he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also. (This was during the festival of Unleavened Bread.) When he had seized him, he put him in prison and handed him over to four squads of soldiers to guard him, intending to bring him out to the people after the Passover. While Peter was kept in prison, the church prayed fervently to God for him. The very night before Herod was going to bring him out, Peter, bound with two chains, was sleeping between two soldiers, while guards in front of the door were keeping watch over the prison. Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared and a light shone in the cell. He tapped Peter on the side and woke him, saying, ‘Get up quickly.’ And the chains fell off his wrists. The angel said to him, ‘Fasten your belt and put on your sandals.’ He did so. Then he said to him, ‘Wrap your cloak around you and follow me.’ Peter went out and followed him; he did not realize that what was happening with the angel’s help was real; he thought he was seeing a vision. After they had passed the first and the second guard, they came before the iron gate leading into the city. It opened for them of its own accord, and they went outside and walked along a lane, when suddenly the angel left him. Then Peter came to himself and said, ‘Now I am sure that the Lord has sent his angel and rescued me from the hands of Herod and from all that the Jewish people were expecting.’
Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is?’ And they said, ‘Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’ He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’ And Jesus answered him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.’
Sermon for 27th June – Fourth Sunday after Trinity,
by our Rector, The Revd Mark Lowther
‘An earthly story with a heavenly meaning’. That’s one definition of a parable – ‘an earthly story with a heavenly meaning.’ The culture of 1st-century Palestine was, primarily, an oral one. The ability to read and write wasn’t common among the ordinary people, the people with whom Jesus spent so much of his time. But storytelling was vital. That’s how you passed on the wisdom of life. Here’s the former Chief Rabbi, Dr Jonathan Sacks:
… Storytelling has been central to the Jewish tradition. Every culture has its stories. (The late Elie Wiesel once said, “God created man because God loves stories.”) Almost certainly, the tradition goes back to the days when our ancestors were hunter-gatherers telling stories around the campfire at night. We are the storytelling animal.
Jesus, the Jewish teacher, rabbi, knew this supremely well. He told stories that contained great truths. And the words in Mark’s gospel that immediately precede the story about Jesus stilling the storm, ending a parable-filled chapter, are these:
With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; he did not speak to them except in parables …..
I wonder if the writer of Mark’s gospel is doing something similar. Might this, in fact, itself be a parable? The story about Jesus, asleep in the back of the boat, being woken up by the disciples with a cry of ‘We’re perishing, do something!’, calming the sea and then saying to the disciples ‘Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?’ Because that, of course is the whole point of the story. The disciples are put in some kind of peril so that Jesus can say ‘why are you afraid? Don’t you believe?’ That’s the heavenly meaning of the earthly story – and it’s as relevant for any of us as it was for its first audience 2 000 years ago.
Storms come in all sorts of shapes and sizes in our lives – and I reckon there isn’t anyone here who hasn’t had some kind of experience into which Jesus might speak those words. ‘Why are you afraid? Don’t you believe?’
To be personal for a moment, I’ve just spent a week sitting each day with my brother as his body gradually failed and he died. And it feels as if those words could have been just for him – and for me. ‘Why am I afraid? Don’t I believe?’ If I truly believe that God raised Jesus from the dead, that death has no dominion, that ‘the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God and there can no torment touch them’ (as it says in the Wisdom of Solomon) then what is there to be afraid of? Phil’s body may have packed up, but his soul has returned to the loving God who created him.
I try and say something like that whenever I take a funeral service and I truly believe it.
There’s an important truth that needs recognising and spelling out in all of this though. Storms do happen. Hard things do happen – the life of faith doesn’t stop them. It just gives us a different way of looking at them. The Scottish philosopher John Macmurray pointed out the difference between what he called ‘real’ religion and ‘illusory’ religion’ like this:
The maxim of illusory religion is: “Fear not; trust in God, and He will see that none of the things you fear will happen to you.” Real religion has a different maxim: “Fear not; the things that you are afraid of are quite likely to happen to you, but they are nothing to be afraid of.”
There’s a reading often quoted at funerals that actually comes from a sermon given by Canon Henry Scott Holland at the lying-in-state of King Edward VII. It’s the one that begins ‘Death is nothing at all. I have only slipped away to the next room.’ The problem with taking words out of context is that the original point that the speaker or writer intended is so often missed – and this is a classic example. What Scott Holland was actually preaching about was the way we hover between two ways of regarding death which, as he put it, seem to be in hopeless contradiction with each other – and he explained them by using extreme examples.
One was that death was regarded as an insurmountable barrier – a ‘supreme and irrevocable disaster’ which ‘makes all we do here meaningless and empty’. The other is the friendly ‘death is nothing at all – I have only slipped away into the next room’ point of view – the oft-quoted passage. His point was that our task is to reconcile those two views. If we concentrate too much on the first we paint an ultimately nihilistic view – too much on the second and, apart from anything else, we deny the reality of what we feel when we grieve – then we don’t feel that death is nothing at all – we’ve probably lost someone we love – it hurts. It really hurts.
Scott Holland’s point in his sermon is that there is a way of holding together the tension between those two views of death. This is his key passage (and the sermon was preached at Pentecost …):
‘Why are we afraid? Have we not the gift of the Spirit? Has it not swept in upon us with a mighty wind? Is it not in our heart as a fire? ….. And the Spirit which we now possess is itself the Life of all Life, the Life of the Life beyond death. It is the Eternal Life of God. …… What will follow we know not. Why should we? We must wait until we experience it in order to know. But whatever it is, it will be the outcome of what we are. It will be the work of the same Spirit who works in us today.’
And, we might add, that spirit, the spirit of the living God – has given us a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. There really is nothing to fear. Which is just what Jesus was saying in the back of that little storm-tossed boat. And so the telling and the hearing of that earthly story really does have a heavenly meaning, doesn’t it?
Lord God, the source of truth and love,
keep us faithful to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship,
united in prayer and the breaking of bread,
and one in joy and simplicity of heart,
in Jesus Christ our Lord.
Tuesday Coffee Morning with Mark & Friends
Our regular Zoom coffee morning will be from 10.30am – 11.30am every Tuesday. All are very welcome. Grab your favourite morning beverage and let’s have a good ole chat – just like we used to.
Please contact email@example.com for more information
Weekly Benefice Newsletter
If you would like something added to the weekly newsletter that is relevant to the Benefice, please do let Claire know and we will do our best to include it the following week.
Food Banks at the East of England Co-op
Foodbanks provide a valuable service to those in need in our communities. The Aldeburgh Co-op and Solar in Leiston are doing a grand job in collecting food donations, which are collected regularly and distributed. So please look out for the various collection baskets.
The Trussel Trust Organisation
Food banks in our network have seen an increase in the number of food parcels given out over the last year due to Coronavirus, so any donations are much appreciated. You can find out which items your local food bank is most in need of by entering your postcode here – https://www.trusselltrust.org/give-food/ By clicking on the food bank’s name, you can also find out where to drop off your donations.
Please check the food banks website or social media pages for any changes to opening hours or operations as a result of the Coronavirus before dropping off donations –
If you would prefer to make a financial donation, then please visit the food bank’s website (under ‘Give help’) or you can donate to the Trussell Trust centrally by contacting our Supporter Care team on 01722 580 178 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
✞ Pilgrims Together on Wednesdays ✞
The Pilgrims worship together every Wednesday.
Please contact email@example.com for more information
Sunday 4th July
Fifth Sunday after Trinity