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This blog aims to offer an insight into the inner working of St John’s Wood Church, whether letting you know what the vicar gets up to when he isn’t taking services, or what it is those people in the office actually do all day….Updates will happen as and when, but notifications of new posts will be included in the e-newsletter; to join the mailing list, email the Parish Office.

 
 

The text of the sermon preached by Fr Jeremy Tayler, curate
Mothering Sunday  
11 March 2018, Choral Eucharist,
                                     Exodus 2.1-10
                                     Colossians 3.12-17
                                     Luke 2.33-35

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

In today’s gospel, the old man Simeon takes the infant Jesus in his arms and speaks words of prophecy about him. And he adds these words to Jesus’ mother, Mary: “And a sword shall pierce your own soul too”. These words of prophecy find their ultimate fulfilment in the depths of Mary’s sorrow at the Cross. But there are also several moments in the gospels which must have felt like
moments of rejection for Mary, moments when Jesus appears to turn away from her in his single-minded commitment to his ministry. There are several such moments, and each one of them
must have hurt Mary deeply at the time.

And yet we know because Luke’s gospel tells us that Mary treasured things connected with Jesus, and pondered them in her heart, and it may be that after this pondering she began to see
these painful moments in a different light.

Today I would like to focus on one such moment; it’s from the third chapter of Mark’s gospel. Jesus’ mother and brothers come looking for Jesus, fearing for his welfare. Jesus is addressing a
crowd of disciples when he is told that his mother and brothers are outside looking for him. Jesus’ response appears cold and dismissive: “he replied, ‘Who are my mother and my brothers?’
And looking at those who sat around him, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.’”

On one level this is an episode that any mother of a teenager might easily relate to. And so we can see in this episode one of those important signs of the reality of Jesus’ humanity. This is the characteristic rebelliousness of a headstrong young man. As I have said for the last two Sundays, I say again today, Jesus was good, but he was not always what we would call nice. This
episode is a sort of guarantee of the reality of Jesus’ humanity, and here we see Mary’s heart pierced by the same sword that pierces the heart of almost every mother at one time or another, the sword of the often harsh desire of youth for independence. And yet there is more to this story than that.

There is more to this story because Jesus’ words are so specific. There are any number of ways he could have communicated to his family that he needed to be left alone to his ministry, but the
words he chooses are precise and distinctive: “here are my mother and my brothers”. That Jesus’ followers might be thought of as his brothers and sisters we might readily understand. But how can they be Jesus’ mother? How can we be Jesus’ mother? On the face of it this is nonsensical.

To be Jesus’ follower is not just about attending to his words. It is also welcoming him into our hearts, it is inviting him to dwell within us. Mary was the first to do this. She heard the words of the angel, and with her response she allowed the Holy Spirit to bring about within her the growth and development of the unborn Jesus. Where Mary led, we follow. We hear and respond to the message of the gospel. We pray for the pouring out of the Holy Spirit in our lives. And little by little, the Holy Spirit is at work in us, bringing Jesus to birth within us, forming us more and more in his likeness. It is at least the work of a lifetime, and mostly rather more than that, but do not doubt that it is happening. You are his mothers. In the power of the Holy Spirit he is growing within you.

And there is more. Because not only was Jesus formed within Mary’s womb, she was also his first evangelist, carrying Jesus within her to her cousin Elizabeth, who was filled with the Holy
Spirit and spoke in joyful words. And we too are evangelists, we too can carry Jesus to others in word and deed. And in this way too we can become mothers of Jesus, bringing him to birth in the hearts of those around us.

And there is still more. Because not only was Jesus formed within Mary’s womb, not only was she his first evangelist, but also she was an important presence in the early church, as we hear in the Acts of the Apostles, participating in the fellowship of the first Christians. And we too are called to fellowship. St Paul spells it out for us in today’s New Testament reading. Our life together is to be a life of compassion and kindness and patience and forgiveness. And through our life together, through our fellowship, through our encouragement of one another, through
our prayer for one another, we too can become mothers of Jesus, bringing him to birth in the hearts of those who are members with us of his church.

So today, as we gather together to give thanks for our mothers, we give thanks too for those who have been mothers of Jesus in us. In some cases that may very well be our earthly mothers, but often there will be a whole cast of mothers of Jesus in our lives, those who have through the years taught and nurtured us in the faith of Christ and schooled us in his ways of love, those who have encouraged and prayed for us.

And as we give thanks to God for the mystery and for the blessing of earthly and spiritual motherhood, we pray too that the Holy Spirit would enable us to be mothers of Jesus, so that Jesus will grow within us, and so that as evangelists and encouragers and as people of prayer we will bring Jesus to birth in the hearts of others.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Amen

 

The text of the sermon preached by Fr Jeremy Tayler, curate
Third Sunday of Lent  
4 March 2018, Sung Eucharist and Choral Eucharist,
                                     Exodus 20.1-17
                                     1 Corinthians 1.18-25
                                     John 2.13-22

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

Today’s gospel reading takes me back to my childhood. The church my family went to had a large open area at the back where the pews had been removed to create a sort of welcoming area,
which was principally used by children charging about at the end of the service. Then someone had the idea of putting a long table along one side of this area, stocked with devotional literature which could be purchased after services. My family were scandalized by this development. Today’s gospel was the reason. Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!

Looking back it’s easy to laugh at this as a sort of naive biblicism. And nowadays, when every cathedral and larger church comes complete with a gift shop selling trinkets and gewgaws, objecting to the sale of devotional literature in church seems rather quaint. And we might well say that churches should be offering devotional literature to their worshippers, and that it is ridiculous to object to their sale in church on the basis of John 2.16. And yet, this is exactly the sort of argument the sellers of animals and the money-changers might have made to Jesus. Their activities after all were necessary to the Temple worship with its round of sacrifices, and its need for monetary donations.

Last Sunday we began with a reminder that Jesus was good, but he was not always nice, and today’s gospel is more of the same. The story of the cleansing of the Temple appears in all four of the gospels. In the other three gospels, it takes place in the sequence of events that lead up to Jesus’ death, trial and crucifixion. But in John’s gospel, it comes right at the start of his public ministry, following the miracle of the Wedding at Cana. In John’s gospel, Jesus bursts on the scene as a difficult and disruptive force from the beginning. The disciples are reminded of the verse from the Psalms: “Zeal for your house will consume me”; the price that Jesus will pay comes into view even at this early stage.

And Jesus remains a difficult and disruptive force. If he were to be let loose in today’s church, just imagine what he might drive out. If he were to be let loose in our lives, just imagine what treasured clutter he might overturn. Jesus raged and still rages against hypocrisy and the abuse of power; Jesus raged and he still rages against poverty and injustice; Jesus raged and he still rages against our half-heartedness, against our luke-warmness; Jesus raged and he still rages against our indifference to the holiness of God.

We respond in various ways. Sometimes we try to domesticate Jesus. I wonder if there is something of that in the story of the Wedding at Cana. Jesus reacts with irritation to his mother’s
prompting that the wine has run out; Jesus perhaps would rather be throwing tables around in the Temple than providing wine for an under-catered wedding. We form for ourselves the comfortable
image of Jesus the benevolent fun-loving miracle-worker who offers an easy forgiveness and asks for nothing, editing out of our mental picture the near-impossible demands of his moral teaching
and his anger at injustice and hypocrisy.

And when our attempts to domesticate Jesus fail, we attempt instead to compartmentalise our lives to protect ourselves from him. Jesus, you can have Sunday morning. Jesus, you can have
the few quid I spend on the Big Issue and the money I give to the church. Jesus, you can have the time I spend visiting that uncle I don’t really like. But the rest I will keep for myself. Please don’t look too hard at how I make my money, how I spend my money, how I use my time, how I behave in my relationships with others. You’ve got Sunday morning, isn’t that enough?

Lent is a time to open the temple of our hearts to Jesus’ difficult and disruptive presence. He does not enter without our consent. Lent is a time to allow Jesus to shine a light into the dark corners of our hearts. It is a time to allow Jesus to challenge our compartmentalisation, to allow Jesus to challenge our moral and religious complacency. Our Lenten disciplines of prayer and self examination and study and fasting and giving mean little if they do not stem from an intention to allow Jesus into our hearts.

“Zeal for your house will consume me”. Jesus is prepared to take great risks for the holiness of his Father’s house. We see already here at the start of his public ministry an intimation of the price he would pay for being difficult and disruptive, for being a provocative and unsettling force. We see already here at the start of his public ministry an intimation of the price he would pay for us. For the anger and the disruptiveness and the challenge that Jesus brings can only be understood in the context of his love for us. They can only be understood in the context of his desire for us, of his longing for a fuller relationship with us, of his passion for our reconciliation with the Father.

Jesus has paid the price for us; his zeal for us consumed and continues to consume him. That is how much we are loved, how much we are desired, how much we are longed for, each of us as
individuals, all of us collectively as his Church. We need not be afraid to let him in.

 

The text of the sermon preached by Fr Jeremy Tayler, curate
Second Sunday of Lent  
25 February 2018, Sung Eucharist and Choral Eucharist,
                                     Genesis 17.1-7,15-15
                                     Romans 4.13-end
                                     Mark 8.31-end

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

Why does Jesus react so fiercely to Peter in today’s gospel? It’s hard not to feel sorry for Peter. Peter takes Jesus aside and rebukes him privately for suggesting that he will have to suffer
and die; Jesus subjects Peter to a stinging public rebuke, which must have been painful and humiliating for him, and he uses this rebuke as a teaching opportunity, addressing both his disciples and the crowd: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me”.

Why does Jesus react so fiercely? This is one of those passages in which Jesus strikingly fails to conform to our expectations of good manners and reasonable behaviour. Jesus was good, but he
was not always what we would call “nice”. And I think this failure of Jesus to conform to our expectations points us towards the reason for Jesus’ anger.

In the most general terms, a very large part of all religion consists in the making of gods in our own image, of creating gods who are either like us or who are as we would like them to be. It consists of imagining a god who is always on our side, a god onto whom we can project our dreams and fantasies and our resentments and our prejudices.

And in more specific terms, it seems clear that one of the great obstacles that faced Jesus, perhaps even the biggest obstacle that he faced in his earthly ministry, was the tendency of his followers to project their own hopes and dreams onto him. They misunderstand his teaching because they are not so much following Jesus as following their idea of what Jesus ought to be.
Jesus found himself the focus of messianic expectation which grew both out of a particular understanding of the prophecy of the Hebrew scriptures, and also out of resentment of the Roman rule
over Israel. And he found it extremely difficult, almost impossible, to break through the preconceived ideas even of those who were closest to him.

This is a problem that hasn’t gone away.

I once stumbled upon something called the Conservative Bible Project. This is an attempt by a group of American conservatives to translate the Bible to bring it into line with the ideology of 21st century American conservatism. The programme includes “Accepting the logic of hell”, “Expressing free-market parables”, and “Excluding later-inserted inauthentic passages”. The
problems with this approach are obvious: it is a deeply anachronistic attempt to recast an ancient religious text to make it acceptable to contemporary political ideology. Doctrines such as
hell are not to be read back into the bible, but derived from the bible; reading an approach to economics that is little more than two hundred years old back into a nineteen hundred-year old text is patently absurd; “excluding later-inserted inauthentic passages” is simply code for finding pretexts for removing ideologically inconvenient passages, such as the story of Jesus and the woman caught in adultery.

But perhaps it’s too easy to ridicule the fringes of American conservatism; the Conservative Bible Project is surely an example of what all of us do in mostly more subtle ways. For just as there is a conservative Jesus, there is also a liberal Jesus, a revolutionary Jesus, a hipster Jesus. We try to bring the Jesus in the gospels into line with the biases of our culture. We imagine a Jesus who offers forgiveness without us having to acknowledge our sin; a Jesus who condemns social and institutional injustice but not personal wrongdoing; a Jesus who declines to heal the wounds and the demons which we cling to as badges of our identity.

Jesus’ fierce and public rebuke to Peter surely stems from his distress at Peter’s focus on the human project of political power rather than the divine project of the restoration of the whole
creation. Jesus’ anger surely stems from his distress that the forgiveness and healing and salvation and renewal which he longs to bring to the world will be constantly hampered by the tendency of his followers to try to form Jesus in the image of their own hopes and dreams and fantasies and prejudices.

Rather than trying to form Jesus into an image of ourselves, the point of the Christian faith is that we open ourselves more and more to being formed into the image of Jesus.

Turning to our Old Testament reading, we find God’s promise to Abraham. This is not the first time God has made promises to Abraham. In Genesis twelve, Abraham, or Abram as he is then
known, is called by God to leave his kindred and his father’s house, and journey to the land God has given him. The promise is unconditional, and is not a reward for anything Abram has done,
nor is there any threat of its withdrawal should Abram not behave as God wishes. Nevertheless, in accepting the promise, Abram must open himself to change. Abram leaves his kindred and his
father’s house. He trusts in God and leaves behind all that is familiar. And in today’s reading God goes so far as to change his name, which suggests a profound change in Abraham’s very
identity as a result of the promises of God.

Jesus’ teaching in response to Peter’s rebuke is uncompromising in its demand that following him means openness to change, openness to profound change that penetrates one’s very identity.
Take up your cross, deny yourself. Following Jesus means change, and it means change that will be painful. It means dethroning ourselves from the centre of our personal universes,
and accepting the pain that goes with that process. It means a life lived not for ourselves, but for God and for one another, and accepting the consequent sacrifices. In our life as individual
Christians, and in our shared life as the church, we are to be transformed and conformed to the image of Christ crucified.

Peter wants to reshape Jesus in his own image, he wants to steer Jesus into performing the role Peter has assigned him. But Jesus will have none of it. And he will have none of our attempts to
reshape him in our own image, whatever ideological or theological or psychological perspective we are coming from.

In our prayer and our reading of scripture, in our life together, in our fasting and self-discipline, we open ourselves up to the transforming power of Jesus. And supremely in the Eucharist, as we follow his example and obey his command, we remember Jesus’ offering of himself for our sake, we are fed by his presence in the holy sacrament, and we are united with his self-offering,
that we may be a reasonable, holy and lively sacrifice to the Father.

Let’s not try to reshape Jesus in our image; instead we must allow ourselves to be shaped in his image. Let’s not pretend that we can accept the promise without being open to profound change. But let’s also be sure not to lose sight of the promise. The call to journey in faith into the unknown, the call to deny ourselves and follow, the call to take up the cross, the call to be ready even to lose our lives for Jesus’ sake, this is a call to enter into the love and the delight and the beauty and the fullness of life itself, that life which Jesus lives with the Father, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God now and for ever.
Amen

 

The text of the sermon preached by Fr Jeremy Tayler, curate
Ash Wednesday  
14 February 2018, at the 6.30 Choral Eucharist,
                                     Joel 2.1-2, 12-17
                                     Psalm 51.1-18
                                     2 Corinthians 5.20b-6.10
                                     Matthew 6.1-6
 

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
Well, what a way to spend Valentine’s Day! But of course today is not St Valentine’s Day at all. According to the rubrics of the calendar of the Church, Ash Wednesday is a principle holy day
and so trumps the feast of St Valentine. St Valentine is not in the calendar at all this year. It seems that the sellers of cards and flowers and chocolate boxes didn’t get that memo! But the
coincidence of Ash Wednesday and St Valentine’s Day holds some theological interest. The bringing together of the Church’s great day of repentance and fasting with the secular world’s celebration of romantic love offers some interesting possibilities for reflection.

Today we say with the Psalmist “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love”. The Christian concept of repentance is rooted in the love of God. It is more than a matter
of self-examination in an attempt at self-improvement. It is about turning away from things that are wrong, and turning to God. It is rooted in the love of God because that turning to God presupposes that God loves us. We turn to God in the knowledge of that love, trusting that God will not turn away from us.

Those of us with experiences of relationships of romantic love will know the importance of repentance in that context. Any relationship that lasts over time will bring occasions when one
partner in the relationship hurts the other. Any relationship that lasts over time will need to find a way of navigating the often difficult and complex business of offering and accepting both
apology and forgiveness. 

This can be a matter of words. Sometimes admitting fault and saying sorry is enough.

It can also be a matter of action – the traditional bunch of flowers, or perhaps some other act of kindness or generosity, can carry meaning more effectively than words.

And it can also be a matter of self-denial and discipline; saying sorry isn’t enough unless there is a genuine intention to cease the hurtful action that threatens the relationship. An obvious example
would be to end a hurtful affair with a third party. A less dramatic example might be to resolve to spend less time watching football and more time with one’s beloved. Few relationships can survive being starved of time and attention.

“Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love”.  There is a long Christian tradition which goes right back to the Bible of thinking about the relationship between a Christian and
God, or between the Church and God, using romantic love as an analogy. And so we can perhaps think of Ash Wednesday and the season of Lent as an opportunity to try to get a relationship that is in danger of going awry back on track. The methods are familiar.

We examine our consciences, we try to see clearly where we have been at fault, and we admit our responsibility for our actions and apologise in our prayers of penitence.

We try to express our contrition through our actions – not the hastily-purchased bunch of flowers from the petrol station, but a genuine endeavour towards charitable giving.

And we will need to make use too of self-discipline and selfdenial. This will include turning away from specific sins which threaten to come between us and God. But will also include
turning away from things which are not in themselves sins, but which can nonetheless become distractions. Just as a lover might resolve to spend less time watching football in an attempt to be
more considerate towards their beloved, so we must examine our lives to see where we are lavishing time and attention that rightly belongs to God. “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also”.

Ash Wednesday is the perfect day for a preacher to tie themselves up in knots in arguments about the relationship between faith and works. Some Christians reject the whole idea of Lent as an
exercise in trying to earn ourselves a place in God’s affections through good works. Others succumb to the temptation of seeing the Christian faith as a sort of bargaining exercise with God – if I
do x for God, then God will do y for me. Both paths are clearly wrong. The Bible is clear that we cannot put God in our debt, that we cannot work our way to salvation. But the Bible is also
equally clear that we are expected to do good.

The analogy of a romantic relationship is also helpful here. Some of us may have been unfortunate enough to have been in a relationship with someone who purports to love us, but whose
actions suggest quite otherwise. Others may have been in a different kind of unfortunate relationship, with someone whose actions are generous and kind, but who somehow doesn’t appear
to have the inner disposition of romantic love, someone who perhaps cannot simply utter the words “I love you”; there is a suspicion that their kindness and generosity come not from love
but from duty. Both relationships are ultimately unsatisfactory. The inner disposition of faith and the outward manifestation of action must go together, and any attempt to drive a wedge
between them should be resisted.

“Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love”. Repentance in our relationship with God is of course in one way profoundly different to repentance in a romantic human
relationship. There may come a point where the long-suffering beloved becomes tired of the apologies of the cheating or distracted lover. The petrol-station flowers may be thrown back in
their face, the promise of spending less time watching the football may be too little, too late. The affections of the long-suffering beloved may already have gone elsewhere. The relationship may
be broken beyond repair. But God’s love is not like our love. God doesn’t run out of patience, God doesn’t redirect his affections to another, God doesn’t throw our often poor and hasty gestures of
love and generosity back in our faces. God’s love is steadfast. Navigating the difficult and complex business of offering and accepting both apology and forgiveness is a big feature of our
human relationships, but with God we have none of that. The complexity is on our side only. When we turn wholeheartedly to God, God will be there.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit
Amen

 

The text of the sermon preached by Fr Jeremy Tayler, curate
Eve of the Naming and circumcision of Christ (New Year’s Eve)  
31 December 2017, at the 6.30 Evensong,
                                     Jeremiah 23.1-6
                                     Colossians 2.8-15
 

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

I think this is the first time since I’ve been here that anyone has preached a sermon at Evensong. I was in two minds about whether to preach this evening, but when I saw the readings I couldn’t resist.

In the Old Testament Lesson the prophet Jeremiah denounces the political and religious leaders of his day: “Ye have scattered my flock, and driven them away, and have not visited them: behold, I will visit upon you the evil of your doings”. In 2017, just as in the past few years, the western democracies have seemed to be afflicted with a profound distrust of the political classes, of those who have been entrusted with the responsibility of government.  It feels as if a sort of malaise is afflicting our political culture. The distrust for the old elites is not without reasonable foundation, for there are any number of examples of corruption and self-interest and incompetence. But there is great danger that this malaise is being exploited by those who are themselves seeking power for their own ends.

And in the New Testament lesson, St Paul warns us: “Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit”, and 2017 has certainly had its share of vain deceit, of fake news and
alternative facts.

And reflecting further on the readings led me into thinking about the place of the universal and the particular in our faith and in our politics, and to the realisation that the clash of the universal and the particular has quite a lot to do with the forces at work in the world as 2017 draws to a close.

On the face of it, Jeremiah appears to stand for the particular. His focus is on the people of Judah and Israel, he speaks in the name of the God of Israel. This is not a universal message, this is not a message for all people, for all the world, for all time. It is a particular message to a particular people in a particular time in a particular place.

St Paul, on the other hand, appears to stand on the face of it for the universal, writing of a universal message of salvation that depends not on the particularities of human traditions.

And in the world we see the onward march of the universal, of the increasingly globalised economy, of the internet which makes possible communication, friendship and commerce across local and national boundaries, of an increasingly globalised popular culture in music and television and social media.

Of course there are different visions of the universal.

There is a free market vision, with its emphasis on individual liberty and economic growth, and its suspicion of local custom, convention and law which stands in the way of the development of free markets.

And there is a socialist vision too, with its emphasis on equality and social justice, and its suspicion of local tradition and custom which it sees as the antiquated relics of unjust and unequal societies, and barriers to progress.

You could even argue that the vision of Isis is a sort of universal vision, a vision of a pure Islam purged of all local and cultural elements, and attracting followers from around the world.

And yet as 2017 has been a year of the rapid advance of the universal, of that which transcends local and national boundaries, it has also been a year of the fightback of the particular. It has been a year in which local movements have attempted to fight back against centralising and globalising forces, whether in Trump’s American, in Brexit Britain or in the independence movement of Catalonia. There is a profound dissatisfaction with the tendency of the big universalising forces of business and the internet, often allied with national governments, which tend to weaken the ties of culture, tradition and even family which bind people together at a local level.

Christians can be found on both sides of this argument. On the one hand, Christians can often be found on the side of the particular, seeking to defend a local Christian culture against the
encroachments of the secular forces of globalisation. On the other hand, Christians can often be found on the side of the universal, placing the ethical imperative to show love to the poor and the downtrodden over the defence of local cultures, and seeing in the teachings of Jesus a message of salvation which transcends the particular.

Turning back to our readings, it is easy to see Jeremiah and St Paul as being representative of the Old and New Testaments in their relationship to the universal and the particular. We might
think of the Old Testament as being about the particular, as being the story of God and God’s chosen people, the people of Israel.  And we might think of the New Testament as being about the
universal, about the universal message of salvation through Jesus Christ, in whom there is no “Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female”.

And yet closer reflection will reveal this to be a serious oversimplification. Because there is much in the Hebrew scriptures which deals with the universal. The creation story with its account of a common ancestry for the human race is surely a story which points to the universal in common origins and a common destiny. The story of God’s covenant with Noah is likewise a story of the universal, of God’s dealings with the entire human race. And in the prophets too we find intimations of God’s plan to use his chosen people Israel to bless the whole of humanity.

And although the New Testament very clearly deals with the universal, proclaiming a universal message of salvation for all people, yet it is also a story of the particular. Because God chooses to open to us the possibility of universal salvation through a very particular story. Universal salvation is found in a particular baby born in a particular time in a particular place in a particular culture, circumcised on the eighth day in accordance with a particular religious law. In Jesus, the universal and the particular are brought into harmony. In Jesus, the particular becomes the means through which universal grace is given.

Julian Lennon once said of his father that he “could talk about peace and love out loud to the world but he could never show it to the people who supposedly meant the most to him”. This seems to me to encapsulate the problem of espousing the universal at the expense of the particular. The universal without the particular is doomed either to vacuousness or to totalitarianism; but the particular without the universal is simply the worst kind of chauvinism.

So my hope for 2018 is not in the politics of a Trump or a Corbyn or a Macron; my hope remains in the God who chose to redeem us in a way that respected the particularity of human existence,
embodying the universal message of love in a particular baby in a particular time in a particular place. And my prayer is that in 2018 we may see the stirrings of a different sort of politics. I might even call it the politics of Christmas: a politics which recognises that universal values must find expression in and through the particular.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit
Amen 

Fr Jeremy and and his wife Maura recently visited Seymour Place, one of our chosen Christmas Charities for 2017. Here Fr Jeremy provides an insight into the charity’s work.

When we walked into the reception area at Seymour Place (formerly known as the West London Day Centre), the first thing that struck me was the variety of the faces. Young, old, male, female, different complexions, different cultures. The second thing that struck me was how calm and orderly it felt. And the third thing was how many people were smiling at us.

Maura and I were met by Mark Palframan, the fundraising manager at Seymour Place, who took us on a tour of the facilities. We were impressed by what was on offer, from the most basic practical needs – hot meals, storage space for bags, showers – to more complex services such as podiatry, and training in the skills needed to find work. Although Seymour Place do not provide overnight accommodation, they do help to connect people with organisations who can help them to find housing.

We had a very interesting conversation with Mark, talking about the changing nature of homelessness in London. He was very clear that the numbers are rising, and that there is increasing diversity in the sorts of people who are homeless. In the past there has been a significant proportion of homeless people suffering from substance abuse problems. Whilst those problems have not entirely gone away, there are now many people on the streets who are recently-arrived migrants who have struggled to find work and housing, and also people who have been made homeless through changes in the benefits system. It is also increasingly common to find people sleeping rough who are holding down jobs. Although any rise in homelessness is clearly unwelcome, the silver lining is that these new kinds of homeless people are relatively easy to help compared with people struggling with problems with drugs and alcohol, and with the right support their stories can and do end well.

Seymour Place is a part of the West London Mission, which has been serving people affected by homelessness and poverty since 1887. They are part of the Methodist Church and run a wide range of services which empower people to live more fulfilling lives.  

Fundraising is a constant effort for Seymour Place, and there is more demand for their services than ever before. So this year St John’s Wood will be supporting Seymour Place as one of our three Christmas charities.

A Collection of Private Devotions

Written by Fr Jeremy Tayler (March 2017)

I am currently reading John Cosin’s A Collection of Private Devotions. First published in 1627, it was intended, its title suggests, for private prayer, in addition to the public services of the Book of Common Prayer.

Cosin was born in Norwich in 1595. He studied at Cambridge, and attracted the attention of both Lancelot Andrews and John Overall, at the time bishops respectively of Ely and Lichfield, becoming Overall’s secretary. He was then appointed as a domestic chaplain to Bishop Richard Neile of Durham, in 1624, where he remained until 1634. He went on to be Master of Peterhouse, Cambridge, until the he was ejected by parliament in 1640. His whereabouts during the turbulent years that followed are not entirely clear, but he was certainly in Paris in 1645 and remained in exile in France until the Restoration, when he returned to Peterhouse. Shortly thereafter he was consecrated as Bishop of Durham, where he served as an energetic bishop until his death in 1672. He was also a significant influence on the revision of the Book of Common Prayer that produced the 1662 book we know and love today. He wrote the collects for Advent III, Epiphany VI and Easter Even, and more generally attempted to bring prayers and rubrics closer to the ancient liturgies of the church.

Cosin’s Devotions is a deeply practical book; it seeks to redeem the time by providing simple offices to be prayed at regular intervals throughout the day, as well as short prayers and passages of scripture to be committed to memory and used at appropriate occasions. Among these are prayers to be used at the beginning of the day, which struck me as something that I could use – mornings in our household are all too often a time of stress and hurry, with two adults struggling to get themselves and two not-entirely-co-operative children out of the door on time – and I felt I could benefit from the injection of a little spiritual discipline in that context! I have (slightly) simplified and modernised Cosin’s prayers “for our first Holy Exercise in the beginning of the Day” in the hope that they may be useful.

When we first awake:

Open my eyes, O Lord, that I may see the wonders of your law (from Psalm 119)

and/or

Awake, you who sleep, and arise from death, and Christ shall give you light (from Ephesians 5)

When we get up:

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen
Blessed be the holy and undivided Trinity now and for ever.

and/or

I laid me down and slept, and rose up again, because the Lord has sustained me (from Psalm 3)

When we wash our hands (or shower – standards of personal hygiene have doubtless moved on from Cosin’s time!):

Wash me clean, O Lord, from my wickedness, and purge me from my sins (from Psalm 51)

When we dress:

Clothe me, O Lord, with the ornaments of your heavenly grace, and cover me with the robes of righteousness (from the instructions of St Basil)

and/or

Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires (from Romans 13)

And then, commending ourselves to God’s protection:

Into the hands of your blessed protection and unspeakable mercy, O Lord, I commend my soul and my body this day, with all my capabilities, powers and actions of them both, asking you to always be with me, to direct, govern and sanctify me in the ways of your laws and in the works of your commandments, that through your protection I may be preserved in body and soul now and for ever, to serve you through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

At our going out:

Show me your ways, O Lord, and teach me your paths (from Psalm 25)

and/or

Lead me, O God, in the way of your truth, and guide me for your mercy’s sake (from Psalm 5)
 


Reflecting on the Bible Challenge

Written by Fr Jeremy Tayler (February 2016)

Reflecting on the Bible Challenge

At our last Bible Challenge tea, it felt as if we had all covered so much ground in our reading of the bible, that there was no way we could do justice to the range and depth of issues that might arise in one afternoon session. I also realised that there are some people who have been and will continue to be unable to get to the Bible Challenge teas. So I decided to try to write short reflections on some of the books we have been reading as we go along, to share online in a way that makes it possible for people to respond and share comments, and I hope to continue to do this at regular intervals in the coming months.

Reading the bible, or reading almost anything for that matter, is in some ways a personal business. For although, when we read the bible, we read with the church through the centuries and around the world, nevertheless what we find in the text depends a great deal on our personalities, our personal histories, or the things that happen to be on our minds at the time when we are reading. We can read a text, and find that a particular sentence or phrase speaks to us in a particular way; reading the same text six months later, something quite different about it might strike us as being significant.

Reflecting on God in Leviticus

I have found reading Leviticus interesting and thought-provoking. I realise this may not be everyone’s experience! My situation in life is perhaps quite unusual – since worship has become my “business” in a changed way in the last six months, and since I am preparing for ordination to the (Christian) priesthood, Leviticus has not seemed to me to be an arcane set of rather strange rules, but something relevant. It has stimulated interesting questions for me about the way we think about God, the significance of sacrifice, and the relationship between Levitical worship and priesthood, and the worship and priesthood of the Christian church.

The portrayal of God in Leviticus may seem strange and uncomfortable to modern Christians. God appears to have a remarkable concern for detail; the prohibitions of foods can seem ridiculous to a modern reader, and the punishment of Aaron’s sons in Leviticus 10.1-3 – for offering the wrong kind of incense (“strange fire” in the words of the KJV) – seems monstrous. The emphasis seems to be on God’s holiness, God’s otherness, and on God’s requirement of obedience, even in matters of small detail; on the face of it, God seems to have little tolerance for human weakness. All this seems to sit awkwardly with the Christian understanding of God revealed in Jesus Christ.

But there are more continuities than may at first appear obvious. For behind all the meticulous detail, the underlying point about Leviticus is that God is graciously present to the people of Israel in the Tabernacle, just as God is graciously present to us in Jesus. And the sacrificial system is in part designed to deal with the problem of human weakness; through sacrifice, through obedience to law and rubric, through the Aaronic priesthood, the people of Israel can dare to approach their dangerously holy God, and can live with God’s presence among them in the Tabernacle.

The idea of a God who consumes liturgically inept clergy with fire is not attractive to a new curate! And yet, I also wonder if we are not in danger of domesticating God, of creating a modest, undemanding God who we find easier to live with than the holy, fierce and sometimes incomprehensible God we encounter in Leviticus? Are we losing that sense of working out our salvation with fear and trembling that St Paul urges in his epistle to the Philippians?
 


A reflection

A month in, our new curate Fr Jeremy Tayler looks back at his and his family’s transition to life in St John’s Wood (written early August 2015)

Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: And yet I say unto you, that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.
On our first Sunday in St John’s Wood, the dining room at 3 Cochrane Street strongly resembled a florist’s. It was a wonderful welcome to the parish; that weekend, and the ten days or so that preceded it, was something of a roller-coaster ride. We had the joy of friends’ ordinations to attend amidst organising our own move, and Maura and the girls camped in a near-empty Cambridge flat whilst I unpacked and got the house ready here. Then there was the ordination retreat, the ordination itself, and finally my first Sunday in the parish. I am very grateful for the welcome we received – the flowers, the bottles, the cards and perhaps most of all the kindness and warmth with which we were treated.

…wine that maketh glad the heart of man: and oil to make him a cheerful countenance, and bread to strengthen man’s heart.
Fr Jeremy talking with parishioners at his welcome lunchThe excellent lunch which we all enjoyed on our first Sunday in the parish set the tone for the coming weeks, as I visited a number of parishioners, and was regularly plied with coffee, tea, cakes, biscuits, sandwiches, soups, pastries and wine. During my two years in Cambridge I managed to avoid the notorious “Westcott stone” – the weight traditionally gained by Westcott ordinands as a result of the college’s carbohydrate-heavy cuisine; whether I can avoid gaining a “St John’s Wood stone” remains to be seen! I have enjoyed some very interesting conversations with some remarkable people in the course of my visits, and I look forward to many more in the coming weeks.

Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep.
It may be that one of the very special things about the life of a minister in the Church is the way in which we are invited to share in the highs and lows of people’s lives; whilst there has been much rejoicing in the gifts of welcome, hospitality and conversation, there has also been sadness. Sadness in some of the prayers people leave in the Church; sadness in the stories I have heard and situations I have encountered; and sadness too at home, as we all struggle to adjust to the loss of the community which sustained us at Westcott, and acclimatise to our new environment and changed roles. At times it has been hard, especially for Maura and the girls, but little by little we are adapting to the change, and discovering a different community as supportive in its way as the one we left behind. And there have been joys for us too in reconnecting with old London friends we seldom saw during our time in Cambridge.

But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.
A white clerical collarOn Monday, my day off, I had a slightly strange moment as I put on my casual clothes – the clothes I used to wear every day, but now put on quite rarely; it was almost like an unvoiced question in my head asking “who am I, now?”. As the ordination approached, I told myself again and again that ordained ministry is not all about me, that it is about God and what God does, partly perhaps to try to stop it going to my head, and partly to reassure myself about my capacity for facing the coming challenges. I had to learn and will have to keep learning to put my trust in God, and not in myself. And yet, we believe in the Incarnation, the Word made flesh, in a God made manifest in a particular person in a particular time and place, in a God who calls and works through particular people for particular purposes. So it is and it is not about me! Amidst the flowers, the coffee, the cake and the wine, amidst the rejoicing and weeping, amidst the remarkable conversations with the remarkable parishioners of St John’s Wood, amidst the daily prayer and the Eucharist, I am also quietly working through a strange sort of identity crisis, trying to work out who I am now and how it relates to who I was before and where God might be at work in all of it.
 


And introducing…

Written by Jeremy Tayler for our May 2015 newsletter

Our incoming curate Jeremy Tayler will be ordained deacon by the Bishop of London in St Paul’s Cathedral on 4 July, and welcomed into the parish on Sunday 5 July. He and his family will move in to Cochrane Street in late June / early July.

I am currently coming to the end of two years of study and formation at Westcott House, Cambridge. Before my time at Westcott, I mainly worked as a research administrator in the charity and university sectors, but I have also been a stay-at-home parent, the manager of an internet café, and both a religious studies teacher and a nursery nurse in Helsinki.

Jeremy, Maura, Blanche and Ginevra at a cricket match in CambridgeAlthough I was born in Lincolnshire and grew up in Bristol, I have lived most of my life in London, and moving back to London after two years away will feel like coming home. My interests include history and politics, and I enjoy gardening and country walks.

My wife, Maura, is from Finland; she will be returning to her job at the University of Westminster, and loves classical music. We both enjoy cooking and entertaining at home. We have two children, Blanche (6) and Ginevra (nearly 5). We are all very much looking forward to coming to St John’s Wood and getting to know you all, and would be grateful for your prayers.
 


Minority Reporting

Written by Fr Anders Bergquist (Vicar) after Good Friday, 3 April 2015

The noise started about half-way through the Three Hours’ Devotion on Good Friday: some sort of shouting and disturbance within earshot of the church, and any number of police sirens, and the unmistakable sound of a helicopter swooping backwards and forwards over the area. I always find that helicopter sound particularly disturbing. A couple of members of the congregation slipped out to make sure that we didn’t need to evacuate the building, and preacher and people alike did their best to work through the distraction. At 3pm the noise still continued, and as I came out of church I could see a cluster of St George’s flags waving on the opposite side of Park Road from the entrance to the Mosque. “The English Defence League, ” I thought to myself. “Time to show some solidarity with our friends at the Mosque.” So I walked down, still in my cassock, and quickly realised that there were in fact two demonstrations. On the west side of Park Road were the EDL and their friends, not very numerous, but noisy. On the opposite side of the street was an even smaller Muslim counter-demonstration – not people to do with the Mosque at all, but a group among which I recognised at least one face familiar from Newsnight, where he talks across the other guests as he expounds his pretty extreme views. He was, unsurprisingly, talking to a TV camera. Two small knots of unrepresentative people, I thought, tying up enormous police resources, and each as bad as the other.

Five people of various faiths sit at a table together for a discussion of scripture

Fr Anders (centre) at a meeting of the Pathways Interfaith Forum at London Central Mosque, January 2015

In the courtyard of the Mosque, I immediately ran into kind and reasonable people, as I knew I would. I came across Jayde, who is the Mosque’s new interfaith co-ordinator, and is doing a great job. And, to my delight, I also ran into Sheikh Khalifa, the longest-serving of the Mosque’s imams. We talked, and when we had finished talking, and when I had extricated myself from generous offers of hospitality, Khalifa and I walked together back to the main gate. A number of mobiles pointed in our direction to capture the image of friendship and mutual respect. The TV camera remained obstinately pointed at the demonstration. Which is the truer image? Alas, the one that will be less seen.