Vicar's Thoughts

Psalm 121 - Leave-taking

10 March 2019 (Revd. Martin's final sermon at St Mary's)

Psalm 121 in the Bible is a Psalm of leave-taking.

It is probably written for use by a person, or persons, or a group of people leaving their community, and for the community who perhaps stand at the edge of the town or village bidding them farewell. Each pray God’s protection on the other. In the days this was written and used the image is particularly of pilgrimage. Of the pilgrim or pilgrims going to Jerusalem for a great Festival, or the Passover, or simply on a pilgrimage to the Holy City, the Holy Mount Zion. The Psalm is called ‘A song of Ascents’ : Going up. Going ‘up’ to Jerusalem (compare going ‘up’ to London). Also - ascending the Holy Hill to the great Temple in Jerusalem.

Ascending to the Dwelling place of God. To God.

We can think of it as the person or person’s departure: The leave-taker or leave-takers say, perhaps with some concern as to what the future holds : I lift up my eyes to the hills — from where will my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.

The Sending community replies: The Lord will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber. He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade at your right hand. The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night. The Lord will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life. The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time on and for evermore.

It is also thought to be a Psalm for all those who remain to carry on the good work that has been begun, perhaps with some concern as to what the future might hold. They, too, are pilgrims. Sojourners on the earth. Just for a season. On their own pilgrimage but also aware that perhaps they, too, might one day take the journey that the leave-taker or takers have taken.

They who remain behind, who are on the same journey as all pilgrims, say: We lift up our eyes to the hills— from where will our help come? Our help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.

And they are comforted and encouraged by this response: The Lord will not let your feet be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber. He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.

They receive God’s assurance: The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade at your right hand. The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night. The Lord will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life. The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time on and for evermore.

It is also thought to be a Psalm of the Pilgrim’s arrival. He or she is met at the gates of Jerusalem, at the gates of the great Temple. At the entrance to the dwelling-place of God. We can think of it as the next person who you are going to welcome to ministry here at St Mary’s.

So the person arriving says: I lift up my eyes to the hills— from where will my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. The Receiving community replies: The Lord will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber. He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade at your right hand. The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night. The Lord will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life. The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time on and for evermore.

I thank you all for the love, the kindness, and the support shown to Maggie and me during our ministry among you. I ask for your understanding and forgiveness for mistakes I have made and for expectations I have not met. I am grateful for the ways my ministry has been accepted.  As I leave, I carry with me all that I have learned here.

So we pray:

God, whose everlasting love for us all is trustworthy, help each of us to trust the future which rests in your care.  The time we were together here in your name saw our laughter and tears, our hopes and our fears.  Guide us as we hold close these cherished memories, but now as we move in new directions, until that time when we are completely one with you and with each other in the Kingdom which is yet to come.

In the name of Jesus Christ our Saviour. Amen.

And now, may the Lord bless us, defend us from all evil, and bring us to everlasting life.

Amen

Christmas 2018

December 2018

This time of year we often hear the expression: "the magic of Christmas". And Christmas is indeed magical; especially for the young and the young-at-heart.

But when we think of the Christian roots of Christmas – Jesus Christ being the reason we have Christmas at all – then as well as the magic of Christmas we should perhaps also think of its mystery and wonder.

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Someone wrote to me the other day having found The Book of Revelation challenging and confusing (as so many - if not all - of us do). The Book has many facets. Importantly, it cannot always be taken literally. There are, certainly, many parts of it that might or might not have substantial, identifiable meaning. However, the frequent use of things being 'like' in the original Greek script makes it clear that this is primarily poetry; metaphor. It's like looking at a modernistic, impressionistic work of art, or a piece of music that we don't necessarily understand. Often the artist or composer will tell you: I can't explain what I mean by this myself, I can only put down on canvas or a music stave how I feel, or what I have experienced, or what I want to say - but don't have the words to say it.

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Pentecost 2018

20 May 2018

I am constantly fascinated by the use of language in scripture: meaning and the interpretation of meaning. I confess, therefore, I find it really hard to understand why people seem to think you can take scripture absolutely literally. Just take the words off the page as it has been written – and, more importantly in the case of English – translated.

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15 April 2018

The resurrection - unbelievable? True? Let’s look at a few books, briefly.

First: The New Testament Documents: Are they Reliable? By FF Bruce. In this book we learn that there are literally thousands of virtually contemporary manuscripts of the Gospels and the other New Testament documents extant; many of them dating way back to almost the moment that the original was composed. The Gospel according to Mark going back to about 30 years after the Passion, while St Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians dating back to just 18 years after it. Bruce compares this fact with other great works of classical antiquity written around the same time – and taken as authentic and reliable by scholars. For example Caesar’s Gallic Wars, of which only around ten are considered to be ‘good’ and the oldest example dates back only to around 900 years after it was originally composed. Then there’s Livy’s Roman History; 35 examples - only one of which goes back as far as the fourth century.

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Easter 2018

25 March 2018

Jesus on the cross asks his Father to forgive us. Forgive what? Our inability, as humankind, to understand that the things we choose to do might hurt others. And hurt ourselves. Our inability to understand that, when others are hurt, we are damaged ourselves. Archbishop Desmond Tutu calls it Ubuntu. What diminishes you diminishes me. Humankind is unable to understand that to a greater or lesser extent... we are all victims. Victims of the world we inhabit; the society and communities and peer groups to which we belong.

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The Wedding at Cana

21 January 2018

Most people will have heard of the Wedding at Cana, even if they aren't religious. It's the event recorded in the Gospels of when Jesus turns water into wine.

As it happens, the Wedding at Cana has traditionally been read aloud in churches at this time of year, in the Epiphany season, since the early days of the Christian Church. It was the Medieval Church that changed the emphasis to focus almost exclusively on the Magi/Wise Men/Kings. They being important to the history of the world as the first non-Hebrew people to be shown (i.e. the rest of humankind), and to understand, the truth of God's coming to dwell among us.

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Christmas Message 2017

December 2017

One thing perhaps we miss in the busyness of Christmas is something that happened in Bethlehem all those years ago: two people in need; weary, anxious, alone among strangers found a safe place. It wasn't much. Just a stable. But it was a roof, a shelter from the elements, and a place of welcome and rest.

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Comedy and Christianity

8 October 2017

(Written by Revd Martin Booth, this article first appeared in the Rochester Link Newspaper, October 2017, and is their copyright.)

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Prayer 2017

1 June 2017

We are currently in the Novena, those nine days of prayer to which the Archbishops have called us to from Ascension to Pentecost. And, we are engaged at St Mary’s on a number of initiatives related to this.

Prayer is very much a time where we talk to God and say sorry... seek to change... Ask for things... worry about things... tell God we’re frightened... lonely…

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