Whose World Is It?

Published on: Monday September 28, 7:57 am

Below is the text of Revd. Talisker’s Harvest address on Sunday 27th September at St Mary’s Buckland.

Whose world is this anyway? Reading endless news stories about the various arguments and wars and political clashes, the fights over this or that right or resource, I sometimes just find myself pondering this very simple question.

Whose world is this?

Who owns it?

And that’s a very different question to “who has been entrusted with the care of it?”

Today we celebrate harvest and give thanks for all the gifts of the earth – especially the food we eat. I think it would be fair to say that most of you listening to my words today are far removed from the reality of growing enough food to survive the winter – but we are still dependant on the earth for its abundance so that we can eat and thrive and enjoy our lives.

And that brings me back again to my opening question. Whose world is this?

I am quite sure there are many answers out there, but for people of faith – any faith – there is only one: God. However you may understand or express the concept of the Divine, this world was created by, is sustained by, and ultimately belongs to, God.

And within faith communities, generally humans are described as having stewardship, or responsibility, to look after the planet and its inhabitants, and to co-exist peacefully with them.

And whilst the Traditional King James Bible (and sadly many others) have translated this as dominion (with all the connotations of “absolute power” that word conveys), Stewardship is a better translation and description.

For stewardship is about caring for something, seeking the highest good of what it is you have care for, having free use of the resources during the period of stewardship, but ultimately always remembering that as steward you will eventually pass this on to the next person appointed. In the case of humanity, passing the habitation of the Earth to the next generation.

Now this may sound like a very modern issue – and in a sense it is. But you know, what’s just so amazing here is that it was clearly a hot topic back in 30AD when Jesus was an itinerant rabbi in Galilee and Judea. And it was a hot topic back about 600 years before that, in the 7th Century BC when the book of Deuteronomy was written, likely in the reign of King Josiah.

Deuteronomy – like Jesus in Luke’s account – speaks of the abundance of the earth and its harvest and resources. But – and the BUT is HUGE:

“When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you. Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God … Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, and … your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, then your heart will become proud, and you will forget the Lord your God who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.”

There’s a really important point here – don’t ever forget your roots. No matter how high you climb, how successful you become, don’t forget where you came from. Or how you got from there to here – and how God helped you along the way. Don’t forget your ultimate fragility.

Because when we forget our roots, when we forget our humble origins (or those of our ancestors) and where we came from, then we become proud, and risk becoming the oppressor, forgetting that once we were the oppressed. And if we follow the big overarching narrative of the Old Testament, this is what Israel does, repeatedly, time and time again.

But somehow, despite the prophets and the scriptures, despite the experience of being a nation in slavery in Egypt, the point just didn’t sink home. Maybe that’s collective human nature – I don’t know.

But Jesus felt the need to remind his hearers of this with another of his stories.

A rich man’s land yielded an incredible harvest. Too much – he had nowhere to put it all! So he decided to increase his storage facilities and hoard it all up, so that he would have abundance beyond his wildest dreams to support him in luxury for the rest of his life.

At no point does this rich man utter a word of praise and thanks to God for this abundance. He does not acknowledge at all where this gift – and it is a gift – has come from. In the face of this incredible wealth, he has become arrogant and expectant, and the concept of sharing or a sense of stewardship does not even appear in this story.

And God demonstrates the futility of this attitude – the man died that night. Not in retribution (that is important), but because it was his time, his fate. And what then? Where are all his riches now?

For the earth is the Lord’s and all that dwells therein.

We are but stewards; this world has been entrusted to us – collectively. Some are rich, many are poor. A very few have wealth – and power – beyond the wildest imagining. But all of us will one day leave it all behind and will be stripped of everything we have accumulated. Nothing goes with us through the gateway of Death into the next stage of our life – not even our bodies!

And in the end, whilst we have enjoyed the abundance of the earth whilst we live upon it, in time we will hand it on to those who come after. For we don’t own the earth, or its resources, or the creatures or people who live upon it. And in the end, we can’t actually control Nature either.

Harvest is more a symbolic festival now for many of us here than it was for previous generations in these rural villages. I doubt many of you listening to me today are directly dependant on the food you grow to get you through the winter. But Harvest shows just how interconnected and interdependent we all are – and that is vital for us to realise.

Without the rains and the sun, the crops cannot grow. Without the labour of the farmers, the seed is not sown or harvested. The animals are not cared for and reared.

 And this year we have all learned in a very visceral way just how interconnected and interdependent we are on one another for the most basic of our daily needs.

So perhaps this year, even more than most, we should pause and give thanks to God. To acknowledge that we are the stewards and not owners of this world. To admit our inherent frailty and need for one another, and for the incredible abundance of Nature on which we completely and totally rely for our very existence.

And when we give thanks to God for all this, let us also take time to give thanks to one another for all the benefits we enjoy. To those who continue going out to work despite the health risks, enabling others to stay at home. To those who put themselves at risk for the sake of others. To those who bring love, help and comfort as well as practical assistance – because our spiritual and emotional wellbeing is every bit as important as our physical health.

I feel that this year, we have been taken back to our roots in a new way. We have been forced to realise how powerless we truly are in the face of Nature. We have learnt who the key workers in our society really are; what really is important for all the things we used to take for granted in our daily lives here in the UK. And that is perhaps writ on an even grander scale in those places where they are battling other issues such as wildfires or floods in addition to Covid.

Like all our ancestors who survived challenging times, we will survive, though perhaps not as we have been used to do. So much has already changed, and it has now been publicly admitted there is a very long road still to travel.

But in the end, whose world is this? Not ours. We are but stewards, entrusted to look after – and enjoy – it and each other whilst we are here. This Harvest season, let us remember to be thankful in all things – both to God and also to one another – as we enjoy the gifts that this world offers to us.

harvest, miracles, & sharing abundance

Published on: Thursday September 24, 6:30 pm

“It’ll take a miracle for us to get through this!”

 “it’ll take a miracle”, usually said in such dismissive tones, often with a clear expectation that no such thing will occur. We dismiss possibilities out of hand. Before the possibility can ever take root!

But I wonder?

I’ve recently been reading The Hidden Life of Trees, by Peter Wohlleben. It’s one I recommend, if you are looking for some Autumn reading.

As I sit writing this looking at the majestic beeches outside my study window, with leaves slowly turning from green to lemon, I realise what an incredible miracle of nature each one of them is. 

How they co-exist and mutually support one another through their root systems. How they produce millions of nuts over their lifetimes, but that only one nut will grow to maturity. The vast ecosystems that each one of them supports and contains, of bugs, beetles, birds and other creatures, above and below ground.

The whole thing is miraculous. I sit here in wonder and ponder. What if we looked at it the idea of miracles the other way around?

Maybe, just maybe, considering that miracles can actually happen? I have never thought of myself as an optimist until recently. I’d probably have said I was ‘cynical and generally trying to avoid outright pessimism.

Yet now, in the midst of all the struggle and pain and chaos and uncertainty, I find myself every day choosing to see something to be grateful for and even to be joyful about.  And, this seemingly simple choice has changed everything.

So yes, it will take a miracle for us to get through the present crisis. It will take lots of miracles. Every day. But I have absolute faith that those miracles will occur – how, I have no idea. I am choosing to believe.

What they will be, will unfold in due course. We simply have to notice them and decide to be thankful.  And that’s the challenge for us all – to see, embrace and share our gratitude with each other.

As the mystery of life continues, and the earth produces its yearly abundance of crops in response to the farmer’s labour, I firmly believe we each will experience the miracles needed for each of us to cope in this season of uncertainty.

We celebrate Harvest Festival in our churches over the coming week.  This time of year, when the light shimmers through the copper leaves of the beech trees, is one I am coming to love.  The beauty of harvest reminds us to give thanks to God for the richness that the earth provides.

For harvest is not just the literal gathering-in of the crops and fruits in the fields. It is also a time to take stock of our lives, what we have achieved, and what we can take forward into the coming season. And, the falling coloured leaves reminding us how beautiful it can be to let go of the heavy things we carry to the love of God who cares deeply for each of us.

with peace and blessings,
Revd. Talisker

fairness?

Published on: Sunday September 20, 3:34 pm

This Sunday, once more in Matthew’s gospel, we find ourselves in one of Jesus’ parables – or stories – this time, the parable of the Workers in the Vineyard (Mt. 20.1-6).

Jesus used stories for a lot of reasons, but perhaps most of all because they allow for imagination. We can imagine ourselves in the story – and it’s always interesting to stop and think about who in the story we really identify with.

Just for a moment, picture yourself as one of the workers from the vineyard in today’s story. Who would you have truthfully identified with? You don’t have to tell me – or anyone else. As long as you are honest with yourself!

Today’s parable is a lesson in fairness.

Or, if you prefer, unfairness.

Because in this story, the landowner is in fact very unfair indeed – if you judge him by the standard of getting what a person deserves or earns. He pays the workers who have laboured for a whole day the exact same wage as the ones who have worked only an hour.

So what’s with that??

Well, lots of things.

The workers who were engaged at the start of the day had a contract which they felt was fair, and that’s what they got. Their contract was honoured, and they received their due.

The ones engaged last also received a full daily wage. So they were treated with extreme generosity -did they truly earn what they received?

And it emphasises the position of power of the landowner. He can do exactly as he pleases. After all, he owns the vineyard and he’s paying the wages.

The landowner is clearly a compassionate man, who gives people a chance to contribute in whatever way they can. Otherwise why would he keep going out into the marketplace to hire more workers? He could just as easily have stuck with the workers he hired at the start of the day and done the same again the following day. But he doesn’t. He keeps on going out to find people, to offer them a chance to be part of the labour.

At the end, he chooses to pay the people who began work last, first of all.

He knows they have families to feed. That they needed the work. And it seems out of compassion and that knowledge – I think we can safely assume that they had other mouths to feed – he pays them a full day’s wages.

There is perhaps an argument here about paying a living wage, rather than simply the minimum that we can get away with. Acknowledging that the person doing the work has needs and obligations of their own, and without enough to live on, it is not just that worker who will suffer. It will be their family as well.

It is acknowledging that the worker is not merely a “worker” but a full person, who is far more than a pair of hands doing the labour they have been contracted to do.

It’s not just about getting what we deserve or earn, but rather about compassionately acknowledging genuine needs – and meeting those needs.

And then, gradually, the landowner gets to those who have worked in the vineyard all day. And he pays them the same full daily wage.

And they are angry!

So that begs the question: Why?

What is it about human nature that might have made them angry at this? They knew their contract. They knew what a day’s wages was. Why would they be angry at getting their contracted wages?

Think it runs a bit like this:

My contract says I get £X for a full day’s work.

Those people did only an hour’s work. But they got £X.

So logically if they get that, then the landowner is very generous, and therefore he will give me much more than £X, because I worked harder.

They expect more than they need, because they see the generosity and compassion towards those who are newcomers, who in fact have the same needs as the ones who worked all day.

Interestingly, would they have been angry and felt slighted if they had been paid first and thus not necessarily known that the other workers got the same as them?

And on one level, does any of this matter?

I would say yes, because it tells us about ourselves. About human nature – the good and the bad. In the end, that’s why Jesus told this story.

Because when you’re trying to get people to see themselves as they truly are, it’s no good simply lecturing them. If you want to really make people listen and think (instead of switching off and ignoring), you have to tell the truth but tell it slant – as Emily Dickinson famously said.

Where am I in this story? Where are you?

And what does it tell us about the nature of God?

Where we find ourselves in this story is our own business, and for us to acknowledge and work on.

But with regards to God, I’d like to suggest that it indicates that God is compassionate, is generous beyond any deserving or earning; and that God is NOT “fair” in a legalistic sense. Because he does NOT give us what we have earned or deserve. Rather he treats us with a loving compassion, and does so equally for us all.

And I’d like to finish with one final thought.

This whole story is about workers and their reward.

It’s easy to focus on the reward bit.

But let’s not forget – they all worked. They were all expected to join in, to take their part. To get involved.

Just as God gets involved.

It’s not about sitting on the sidelines, just watching and waiting for something to happen.

We have to get involved in this world, and in the work of our own lives – becoming the best person each one of us can be.

Knowing that, whether we are first or last, great or small, we all are valued and loved equally by God.

With blessings and peace,
Revd. Talisker

rooted and grounded: the place of church

Published on: Thursday September 17, 12:45 pm

Yes. I remember Adlestrop—

This famous poem written by Edward Thomas were about a tiny station stop in the Cotswolds, but those words could equally have been written by a walker visiting a country church.

And willows, willow-herb, and grass,
And meadowsweet, and haycocks dry,
No whit less still and lonely fair
Than the high cloudlets in the sky.

And for that minute a blackbird sang
Close by, and round him, mistier,
Farther and farther, all the birds
Of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire.

For those who love to sit and muse in a churchyard, these words conjure a familiar setting of rural peace. A brief tranquillity in the hectic bustle of modern life, whether whilst walking the dog, or just when taking a break from work. I seem to spend much time at my desk, often on video or phone calls, and taking a short walk at lunchtime refreshes me; it keeps me feeling rooted and grounded and energised.

The experience of lockdown has taught us just how important nature and the natural world around us are for our mental wellbeing, as well as our physical health. To feel the wind on our faces, the earth beneath our feet, to see the trees, to hear the sounds of life all around us. To breathe deep, and feel re-connected to it all.

Churches and churchyards have long been places of such peace and pilgrimage, places many of us instinctively go to when the world seems shifting under our feet and we wish to be grounded once more. These places which have stood for centuries can offer a sense of solidity and stability that is found in few other public places.

The local parish church can be part of this sense of being rooted and grounded, in a specific place that has seen generations of our ancestors through baptisms, weddings, funerals, plague, famine, celebration and joy. And of course the seasons and cycle of the year helps us to be rooted in the natural world, and this has been celebrated by the Church for centuries – Lammas and the harvest, All Souls, Christmas, Lent, Easter, Whitsun to name but a few.

Sometimes when visiting and stopping a while in a church, wherever it may be, I wonder about this sense of place and connectedness, both with the here and now but also stretching back through time. And this connectedness is not just with the place, but also its people. How many others have stood here before me?

Being rooted and grounded gives us foundations – emotional, mental, spiritual, as well as the more obvious physical sense of stability. And these places of peace, of solace, of tranquillity, are places where we can re-connect on so many levels. With the earth, with nature, with God, with our inner self.

And I feel that the physical place where we can find this re-connection is also a pointer to the fact that we are rooted and grounded in the love of God. It is this love that sustains us every moment – and not just us, but all that is and exists. Like plants in the earth, our roots must go down and be nourished and drink deep – mentally, emotionally, spiritually – or else we can feel lost and shaky and uncertain, especially when the “certainties” in our lives that we had relied on for stability become less predictable and sure.

Summer now draws to a close, and harvest is upon us. But those words of Edward Thomas still conjure an incredibly vivid experience. It makes me want to go out in the sunshine, now streaming on to my desk as I type, and breathe that warm air; a longing for the sounds and smells and utter peace of the church and churchyard. To stand quietly among those who lie at peace around me. To wonder, how many have done the same? And to be rooted and grounded in the love and peace of God that this place symbolises and shares simply by its very presence among us.

With peace and blessings,
Revd. Talisker

reckoning and forgiveness

Published on: Tuesday September 15, 9:07 pm

Sermon given by the Revd. Jim Mynors for Sunday 13th September on Genesis 50:15-21. Psalm 103 Matthew 18:21-35

As we continue this year’s consecutive readings in Matthew we come to a parable that may seem as puzzling as it is powerful. It starts with a forgiving ruler and ends with his condemnation. There’s a good Anglican principle that can specially help us with such passages: The church (says Article 20) ‘may not so expound one place of Scripture that it be repugnant to another’. But it’s also helpful to think of parables like cartoons or pantomime. They often make their point by exaggerating the reality we normally experience.

So let’s first think about the big picture. Genesis sets the scene for all that follows and the Joseph story fills its last quarter and the climax to 50 chapters of man’s inhumanity to man. Joseph’s brothers had tried to murder him and then sold him into slavery in Egypt – which resulted by extraordinary twists in Joseph becoming Prime Minister and saving the world from starvation – including his brothers – who turn up in Egypt aghast to discover what had happened to Joseph. Their request for forgiveness is more than met and we’re told Joseph ‘comforted his brothers and spoke kindly to them’. Does that not prepare us for what we find in the New Testament – as does Psalm 103 which speaks directly of ‘The Lord full of compassion and mercy slow to anger and of great kindness’

So then we come to Jesus and his parables. And here too we find essentially the same picture of a forgiving God. Yet today’s reading – like other parables- also has its challenge- the same implied in the Lord’s prayer ‘forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us’.  Bear in mind the explanation why Jesus tells this story: the Rabbis reckoned forgiving someone three times was pretty good: Peter suggests 7 times – Jesus goes off the scale: 77 or 490: translators differ. But there’s more to come. Just imagine a ruler who is owed 10,000 talents – that’s billions in our money, which is why I asked for a picture of it in the vaults of the Bank of England. As far as I know only one man has ever manged to get this much into debt – a recent  rogue trader with a French bank. Now the ruler’s response reminds me of Joseph. The translation ‘pity’ hardly does justice to the original (splanknistheis=compassion) a word describing Jesus’ response to leprosy – that’s how the ruler viewed the debtor.

But unfortunately the story doesn’t end here. The debtor is amazingly forgiven but then goes out to accost a fellow-servant who owes him a tiny amount by comparison with what he’s been let off  – measured in denarii (a single denarius being a day’s wages).  And that results in the fellow servants becoming as concerned about the treatment of that second ‘fellow-servant’ as about what happened to the first.

Which leads to a final scene where there is a day of reckoning such as we’ve encountered with some other parables. Cut out this ending and we’re in danger of saying God doesn’t mind whether we forgive others – whereas the Lord’s prayer makes it very clear God does mind whether we forgive others as well as asking for forgiveness. Feel the force of Jesus parable as it stands and it underlines that point– and brings home just how much we’ve been forgiven. When I think about all that gold I’m quite comfortable to speak of God’s forgiving love as limitless – but prefer ‘inclusive’ to  ‘unconditional’ to describe the response of the ruler in the final scene of this particular parable. According to Jesus his heavenly father forgives far more generously than we can imagine – but for that very reason will not tolerate an unforgiving attitude to others.

Village life tests relationships in a particular way. People talk enthusiastically about ‘community’ and so they should. But where we lose patience with those we see all too often and frequently have to forgive –then we need to remember this parable of Jesus. Sociologists have made the obvious observation that in small communities like villages conflicts can be especially sharp  but have more opportunity to be resolved . So if we can put into practice the guidance of today’s readings we can indeed find  harmony in places like ours.

Revd. Jim

the power of words: fear and love

Published on: Thursday September 10, 7:57 am

What’s in a name? A rose by any other name would smell as sweet!

Thus wrote Shakespeare many centuries ago. And in once sense he is right. What name we give it makes no difference to the beauty of the flower – or indeed anything else in its true inner nature.

But words have incredible power, especially when divorced from a physical object, or when they precede the direct experience of the object. What I mean by this is that words – language – and our common understanding of those words, taken only at face value and in isolation from a wider context, can completely change our expectation and perception of a thing, person, or situation. If I describe someone whom you have never met as “eccentric” or “awkward”, you will immediately have some kind of picture in your mind. And yet those two words are often deeply ambiguous. Thus, your picture will depend on how you understand those words, and how you have encountered those words in the past.

The past couple of weeks I have been focusing on stories, and how the stories we tell ourselves shape us and how we see and experience the world around us. And language – words – are the bedrock from which our stories are built. Just saying certain words can change our posture, how we feel about ourselves or a situation, our entire sense of being.

Words are powerful. And they must be used wisely. For a word misunderstood or used carelessly can cause untold hurt and damage.

What has prompted this, you may ask. Well, it is Psalm 103, which we will be hearing in the service this Sunday. There is at least one psalm set to be read in every formal service of the Church of England each day, whether morning or evening prayer, or the eucharist. Psalm 103 is sometimes entitled “The Love of God”, or “Thanksgiving for God’s goodness.” And it is a song of praise and thanksgiving for the goodness of God, acknowledging all that God gives us, and trying to explore a little of the nature of God.

But there comes a couple of points where, to the uninitiated, to the unwary, to the person not used to the old-fashioned phrasing and language of the Church (and certain Bible translations), you would be forgiven for reacting in shock, or perhaps more.

As high as the sky is above the earth, so great is his steadfast love for those who fear him.

As a father is kind towards his children, so is the Lord kind to those who fear him.

Fear? God is only kind and loving and compassionate to those who fear him??

Where did that come from?

Well, there are a lot of answers to that, and I would suggest that nearly all of them are cultural, and more to the point belong to a culture and form of language which is very different to our own; certainly for those under a certain age. For the majority of us, fear and love do not mix. Indeed the bible itself says (in the new testament, in the first letter of John) that “there is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4.18). So how on earth do we reconcile these seeming contradictions between the old and new testament?

In my previous life I studied and then taught Classics, and translating from English to Latin or Greek was something I especially enjoyed. It helped me to understand the complexity of language which simply rendering from Latin or Greek into English did not convey. Words have so many different meanings or uses according to their context, and according to the time or century in which they are used.

The author of the Psalms writes in a culture and context where both God and the father of the household were figures of authority to be feared as much as respected because of the authority they wielded. But love, as we understand it and use the word, was (I would argue) not really something that was widely understood. Compassion, yes. Kindness, yes. But the psychological construct and concept of unconditional love – maybe not so much.

And the writers of the new testament, in seeking to express this very facet of the nature of God which they had come so clearly to understand and experience, had to struggle to find words for it in a culture that simply did not recognise the primacy of love, which is arguably why Christianity was so very counter-cultural. Power and authority and fear were the primary forces of society and religion; but certainly not love.

And so, when I encounter this kind of translation, I must see it in context, instead of just accepting it at face value. Before I allow these words to shape me or even hurt me with their rawness and sharp edges, I must pause and see that perhaps this is not my language, this is not my native way of expression.

And so whenever I come across fear in this context, I stop. Is this the story I want to live in? Is this the nature of the God I believe in, the God who has supported and upheld me all these years, even (and perhaps especially) when I turned away from Him.

No. It is not.

The God I believe in is Love. He is seen in the actions and teachings of Jesus. I honour God, I respect God, I am totally in awe of how great He is, and I love him. But I do not fear him.

The inner nature of a thing may not be changed by the words we use to describe it. But when it comes to our stories and how those things and our understanding in turn shape us, words matter.

As high as the sky is above the earth, so great is his steadfast love for those who honour and love him.

As a parent is kind towards their children, so is the Lord kind to those who honour and love him.

with love, light and blessings,
Revd. Talisker

stories, the news, & Tolkien

Published on: Thursday September 3, 9:41 am

Do you ever watch or read the news and just feel utterly overwhelmed? “News” nowadays by definition is stories of one disaster or mistake after another, whether it be death, injury, political error or manipulation. So rarely is there anything joyful. So pervasive is this that we even very often feel the need to preface the word “news” with “good” if it is something positive!

How did we come to this? It’s something a lot of people have noticed and commented on. The comedian Russell Howard has even made a show based on this, called “Good News”.

And then of course there is that word at the heart of Christianity – “gospel” – which means “good news”. Perhaps the fact that such a word exists in ancient Greek indicates that the phenomenon of “news” being a litany of disaster and warning is actually nothing new at all.

But I wonder if this rather depressing and negative focus really does us any good. I am in no way advocating an ostrich approach, refusing to see or acknowledge that this beautiful world is so very broken and in so much pain. Nor do I advocate pretending things are other than they are. But I do feel that the negativity of the “news” can be hyped and exaggerated – after all, the old saying is “bad news sells.” And if there is one thing that both the media and the gossips like, it is being popular and in demand.

Stories are the building blocks of our culture and our identity – collective and individual. As I said last Sunday, Padraig O’Tuama rightly notes that “our stories write us.” We may create them initially, but the narrative we believe about ourselves, our lives, and our world is, in the end, what shapes our entire being and experience.  We dismiss the power of stories at our peril!

Yesterday was the anniversary of the death of JRR Tolkien, in 1973. He is one of my favourite authors, and I find it strange that I have encountered him twice within the past two days, from very different (Christian) sources. So I am paying attention!

Tolkien’s impact on the world has been huge. Not only through his own work – but also in the fact that it was through him that his friend C.S. Lewis became a Christian! Tolkien did not shy away from the harsh truths of life, and yet his stories have hope and joy and possibility, whilst also embracing evil, including the evil within ourselves. He had fought in the trenches in the first world war, he knew exactly what conflict looked like in its bloodiest and most brutal forms. And yet he had hope: faith in God and in humanity, whilst knowing just what we are capable of.

His Christian worldview continues to shape the cultural landscape affecting countless lives today. “The chief purpose of life for any one of us,” he wrote, “is to increase, according to our capacity, our knowledge of God by all the means we have; and to be moved by it to praise and thanks.”

He believed that within every person and within the stories of every culture there are the fingerprints of God waiting to be revealed. And he saw those fingerprints as often being revealed by the stories and myths that we create, where we imagine what could be.

The ultimate example of power of storytelling is in fact Jesus. It is what he did. If we needed any confirmation of how powerful and important story is, then we need only look to him. The stories he tells help us to see God and ourselves reflected truthfully.

But stories can also twist truth out of shape, can misrepresent and misconstrue. They can cause destruction as surely as they shape and create – we need only think of the cultural stories of imperialism and racial or national supremacy that have existed throughout history in various places.

So often it is the stories of tragedy and heroism in the face of seeming or inevitable disaster that inspire us. And maybe this is because we know that, although the world is beautiful, it is also broken. To live in a world of sugar and candyfloss is not real, it is not satisfying to our inmost soul, because we know there is more. Before any greatness can be achieved, first of all cowardice and fear must be acknowledged and overcome. Before a solution can be found, the pain and reality of the problem must be experienced and truly known.

But the role of story is surely to show us the path out of the valley of the shadow of death, the way through fear, through pain, to the joy and resolution that is on the other side. And it is to encourage us, that we are not alone, that this path has been trodden many times before us by all those who have gone ahead of us.

“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo. “So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who see such times. But that is not for us to decide. All we have to do is to decide what to do with the time that is given us.”

Peace and blessings,
Revd. Talisker

surviving the storm – take up thy cross

Published on: Thursday August 27, 11:25 am

This morning, I saw some incredibly beautiful photos taken by the photographer Sarah Sutherland-Rowe who is a friend of mine. The image of the waves crashing on the rocks is so powerful, so mesmerising… The storm can smash us to pieces; or we can withstand it, but it shapes us into something new, with smoothed edges and perhaps a new perspective.

This week’s gospel is from St Matthew, and Jesus tells his followers to take up their cross, deny themselves, and follow him.

Those words make it very clear that the spiritual path is not for the faint-hearted. It will be a tough road. There will be burdens to shoulder – each of us must carry our own. We may help one another at times, we may give encouragement and support, but we cannot actually carry the burdens of others.

And then those words – “those who want to save their life will lose it; and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” One thing that seems clear to me, this is not about literal death, and Jesus is not encouraging us to martyrdom! But death can be understood in many ways – a letting go, a transformation, a path to resurrection and new life. What is ‘saving’ our lives? If we take away the literal reading and literal death, then maybe this could be about the ego. For surely there is no greater stumbling block to deep faith and union with the Divine than our egos! If it’s all about me, then we don’t see beyond that to a deep and compassionate love for all that is.

And yet – we need our ego! It’s the starting point.

Richard Rohr makes the very interesting point that all religion has to start with what he calls elitism. It’s all about me. God loves me. I am special, I am blessed, I am forgiven and accepted and special. It is a transformative moment, becuase it is so deeply personal. And then the realisation comes: all those reasons why God loves me and I am special – those reasons apply to you too. And to everyone else as well. And so religion moves from the elitist to the universal, from being all about me, to being all about us. All of us.

And that brings me back to the storm, and carrying our crosses.

Crosses are heavy, a metaphor for the burden that each of us carries through life. It is unique and different for each one of us; and yet it is also totally universal. As are trials, temptations, struggles and storms. Those things will happen. They will be tough. They will shake us to our very foundations. And then we will find out on what our foundations stand. Are we founded on rock, like the image above? Or is our life a sandcastle? The rock may not be so beautiful at first sight, and yet its rugged beauty has eternal appeal. And its sharp edges are weathered and smoothed by the storm, just as the edges of our personality are generally softened by experience.

Jesus finishes with the words, “what will it profit [a person] if they gain the whole world and yet forfeit their life? Material abundance is of no value in and of itself. It has to have purpose, meaning; it must have its place, and that place is hand in hand with spirituality. We need the balance. Having untold millions but feeling empty in the soul must be a very special kind of hell. Jesus calls us to transcend the ego, the first stage, the “all about me”, to see the bigger picture instead of focussing just on our own small wants. And then, when we have “lost” our small lives, our little ego, we will indeed gain the world, because we will be able to see it, and to appreciate it. And we will have the strength to carry our cross, and withstand the storms of life.

With love, light and blessings,

Revd. Talisker

care for creation – St Bartholomew

Published on: Tuesday August 25, 10:29 am

Sermon given by Revd. Tim Hewes on St Bartholomew’s Day, 23rd August 2020, at St Mary’s Buckland

Bartholomew was a mysterious figure but like the other apostles he was steeped in the culture and legacy of the Torah: 

the allegory of the forming of life and the garden of Eden, the early history, the psalms full of songs about the restorative integrity and beauty of the natural world, with heart felt prayers for justice and mercy, the prophets who were constantly ignored and a new order that was to be founded on the Messiah. 

This is what he and the other apostles brought to their faith in Jesus, to their worship, their pastoral work and their ministry. But they not only had a profound understanding of their Jewish heritage, they understood their spiritual ancestral responsibility.

They worked for and looked to the future, for a time, as we recall in the communion prayer, when justice and mercy will be seen in all the world.

This morning’s reading from St Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians was written to a people who lived among beautiful stone buildings that, 2000 years on, remain with us as a legacy of architectural delight.  The sacrificial ministry of worship and expressions of love of Bartholomew and all those early Christians, are our particular heritage from those middle Eastern Christian people, here and now.

With this intergenerational aspect of the Christian faith in mind, I’ve just read a new book called ‘The Good Ancestor: How to think long term in a short term world’, by Roman Krznaric.  

Krznaric is an eminent academic who, I believe, lives in Oxford. Comments on the book, include, “This is the book our children’s children will thank us for reading.” And the Astronomer Royal, Professor Martin Rees said of it, “The book deserves to be read by policy makers, and indeed all citizens who care about the prospects for their children and grandchildren.”

The author explains how we are inheritors of gifts from the past, such as the immense legacy  left by our ancestors; those who sowed the first seeds in Mesopotamia 10,000 years ago, who cultivated land, who founded cities, who made scientific discoveries, and in particular he mentions Jonas Salk.

In 1955 Salk developed the first vaccine for polio; an extraordinary breakthrough as at that time polio paralysed or killed over half a million people worldwide each year. But he was not interested in fame and fortune – he never sought to have the vaccine patented. His ambition was “to be some help to humankind and to leave a legacy for future generations.” Clearly – he succeeded. 

Salk expressed his philosophy of life in a single question: “Are we being good ancestors?” 

He believed that, just as we have inherited so much, we must also pass on a rich inheritance to our descendants. 

He was convinced that to do this and to control the global crises, such as humanity’s destruction of the natural world, we needed a radical shift in our perspective to one far more focused on long term thinking, on the consequences of our actions beyond our own lifetimes; rather than thinking in the scale of seconds, days, months. 

I must emphasis this is a very positive book and as one critic said, ‘it fizzes with ideas’.

The author says: the biblical aspiration to be a good Samaritan is no longer enough. It’s time for a 21st Century update: “how to be a Good Ancestor.”

This is a formidable task at a pivotal point in human history. 

We live in an age of pathological short-termism. 

Short-termism is like texting while driving – short sighted, myopic focus – then BANG!!

Politicians can barely see beyond the next election, the latest opinion poll or tweet.

I quote:- “Businesses are slaves to the constant demand to ratchet up shareholder value. Markets spike and then crash in speculative bubbles driven by microsecond algorithms. 

“Nations bicker around international conference tables, focused on the near-term interests, while the planet burns and species disappear. Our culture of instant gratification makes us overdose on fast food, rapid fire texting and the buy now button.”

He goes on to say that,  “the moment has come, especially for those living in wealthy nations, to recognise the disturbing truth, that we have colonised the future

We treat the future like a distant colonial outpost devoid of people, where we can freely dump ecological degradation and which we can plunder as we please.” 

Please bear with me a moment longer on this tack.

Krznaric considers a few powerful ways to become Good Ancestors, including: 

imagining the future; having a legacy mindset; a sense of intergenerational justice; and planning for the future beyond our own lifetimes,  

He proposes that 100 years is the minimum term for long term thinking.

But just a minute! Long term thinking is impossible for people who live hand to mouth, for someone with a mortgage, a precarious job and children, for someone with dependants, for the poorest in our world.

In fact we could all make an argument for not thinking long term. And that of course leads us back to our colonising the future while leaving the rainforests to be protected by the innocent  and unarmed indigenous peoples.

Let us assume that we all want to pass on a world of beauty and wonder that the psalmist sang of, and that the apostles walked in with Jesus; a world that revived them, that spoke to them.

The Word of God, embodied by Jesus, and witnessed to by the apostles is Love. Love is the heritage and legacy of the followers of Christ. 

In nature, Love is expressed by divine beauty.

Christian responsibility to the restorative integrity and the beauty of the natural world is as important as our words of love. It is our heritage, our present responsibility, and the legacy we may, or may not leave. 

The beauty of nature is a one-off gift, to  all peoples, the world over, in every age, from God  – not for us to own, to possess, or despoil but for us to protect, to sustain and to nurture for the future inhabitants of this planet. We are stewards, not masters.

So may the Lord of All Life, bless us all with the wisdom and courage to work for that day when justice and mercy will be seen by all humanity – and equally by all the life of this beautiful and fragile natural world. Amen.

“do as I do…”

Published on: Thursday August 20, 1:05 pm

Jesus is very good at turning situations upside down. In fact, throughout the gospels, we see this time and again. The one near death is healed. The hated tax collector becomes the one chosen to host Jesus and his disciples for dinner. The poor are given a place of honour at the table instead of being relegated to the place of servants or observers. Women are given a voice and a role. The teachers of the law are shown to have missed the point of what the law really teaches. The list goes on.

And this Sunday’s gospel does that again. But this time, it is Jesus himself who puts himself in the unexpected place. And by extension, he does the same to all his followers.

In any organisation, it is easy for there to be a dispute about who (or which role) is more important. Who or what takes precedence? And sometimes that discussion is right and proper and is to the benefit of all, especially when it comes to safety. But sometimes it becomes about ego.

Jesus lived in a world and a time where the great and the good were marked out as such by the deference paid to them by others, and by the often thoughtless and even callous way that they treated those who were socially or economically inferior to themselves. Arguably, in some places, little has changed! But Jesus doesn’t just call for change in this; he embodies it.

So when his disciples indulge in jostling and elbowing and ego contest to decide which of them is the greatest, Jesus pulls the rug out from under them very effectively indeed. “I am among you as one who serves,” he says. He enacts this physically at the Last Supper, when he washes their feet – the task that was usually allotted to the humblest servant in the house, because it generally wasn’t exactly a pleasant one.

And so, their argument suddenly is nothing. More, it is embarrassing to them. You can’t stand there having an argument about who is more important when your leader stoops down and washes your feet. Especially when over the past months and years you have all gradually come to recognise to a greater or lesser extent that this leader is truly a man of God. And, after the Resurrection, that he IS God!

So where does that leave us? Well, I wonder if another of Jesus’ sayings might shed some light – the Parable of the Yeast (Matthew 13.33). The Kingdom of Heaven is not a place; it is a way of life. Arguably it is also the people who live according to that way of life. And so those who live according to Jesus’ principles of service and crucifying the selfish ego, by their very example and action, may in turn inspire others. On this criteria, it’s not about what we say; it’s not about what we believe; it’s about we do.

“Do as I do,” says Jesus. “I am among you as one who serves.”