The Pastoral Letter from the Rector January 2014
My dear friends,
About five thousand years ago, before the pyramids in Egypt or Stonehenge in England, Neolithic people in Newgrange, Ireland, constructed an underground chamber, which is illuminated by a shaft of sunlight for about seventeen minutes at sunrise on the winter solstice, 21 December, each year. For thousands of years our ancestors observed the movement of the sun, the moon and the stars with great accuracy, trying to understand our place in the universe. Without the aid of modern technology they charted the relative positions of sun, moon and stars, and came to know their influence on our daily life, with the changing seasons, the weather and the way we find our way around our world. Wise men and women are still searching the heavens for greater understanding of the mysteries of life. How did it all happen? Where did it all begin? Where are we all going?
On 6th January we celebrate The Epiphany, the story of wise men from the east who observe the light of a new star and try to discover meaning in this extraordinary event. Our modern preoccupation with scientific explanations would situate the birth of a new star in the expansion of the universe after the “Big Bang”, but the wise men of the Gospel associated it with an even deeper mystery: the entry into human history of a God who would be a king and who would suffer and die.
The wise men from the east were not alone in their search. For centuries the wise men of Israel had been looking out for signs of hope and the prophets had given promises of salvation from God. The prophet Isaiah, tells of God’s coming light at the end of his people’s dark tunnel of exile. A day was coming when Jerusalem would be a beacon of light to welcome the exiles home; but not only that, it would be a focus of unity for all the nations of the earth to gather and share their wealth, to come and worship the Lord.
Matthew’s Gospel sees the birth of Jesus as the fulfilment of this extraordinary vision. The wise men are the representatives of the pagan nations who come to offer their gifts and do homage, revealing Jesus as the newborn godly king, not just of the Jews but of all the peoples of the earth. What Isaiah had foreseen for the city of Jerusalem is fulfilled in Jesus, but it is St Paul who is given the mission to announce the good news of salvation to the pagans. The promise of eternal life with God, first announced to the Jews, is meant for everyone.
Outside churches up and down the land you may have seen a poster which declares: “Wise men still seek him”, a reminder to us that it is easy in our modern world to treat the message of Christmas as something for children, as cosy stories to brighten up the dark nights of winter. But like the wise men and women of old, our task is to keep on searching for meaning in our own world and in our own lives. While scientists stretch the boundaries of human knowledge and experience, people seek answers for the big questions. In the darkness of our world, with all its wars and violence, poverty and oppression, is there a light that can give us hope that we can be saved? Or are we doomed to carry on blindly exploiting our world and one another until we finally extinguish life on earth?
Even in Neolithic times there were wise people who recognised order and stability in a world where the sun rose predictably each day. Life was not a haphazard gamble. It could be organised, and so civilisations developed and grew. The wise figures of history recognised a power beyond our human limitations that had to be responsible for creation. For us, Jesus is the light in this world of darkness. He shows us the way into a new world, the kingdom of God, where we are invited to a life of which this life is merely a foretaste. The prayerful attention of the wise ones of Jewish and Christian history has helped us to discover the unfolding mystery of God’s purpose for each one of us. It is a mystery of love that has created us in love, for love, to love: to love God, to love our fellow human beings and to love the world in which we live. If we are wise, we will sit up and take notice.
As we begin this New Year I urge each and every one us to think again: Why are we here? What are the priorities of our lives? I hope you may come to the same conclusion as the wise men of the Epiphany – to wonder at what God has and is doing, but more than that to become an active part of that. To take the courage necessary, like they did, to search fro, to discover and to worship the God who has given us everything.
If you have lapsed form worship in church, or maybe you are frightened because it all seems a little foreign to you, or you just have questions that you want some help with then don’t give up at the first hurdle, but pick up the phone and give me a ring. I don’t have all the answers but I am very happy to come and share my faith with you that together we may be able to move ever closer to God in his Son, Jesus, our Lord and Saviour.
Your friend and priest
On behalf of Gill and myself I would like to take this opportunity to wish each of you a very happy and holy New Year. It is a great joy for us to be here in the plurality of Uckfield, we loving being a part of each of our communities, Isfield, Little Horsted and Uckfield. In the middle of January last year Bishop Martin phoned me and asked me to consider applying for the post here, we are looking forward to many moiré happy New Years with you.
17th Century Nun's Prayer
Maybe this prayer could be part of your New Year resolutions?
Lord, Thou knowest better than I know myself, that I am growing older and will someday be old. Keep me from the fatal habit of thinking I must say something on every subject and on every occasion. Release me from craving to straighten out everybody's affairs. Make me thoughtful but not moody; helpful but not bossy. With my vast store of wisdom, it seems a pity not to use it all, but Thou knowest Lord that I want a few friends at the end.
Keep my mind free from the recital of endless details; give me wings to get to the point. Seal my lips on my aches and pains. They are increasing, and love of rehearsing them is becoming sweeter as the years go by. I dare not ask for grace enough to enjoy the tales of others' pains, but help me to endure them with patience.
I dare not ask for improved memory, but for a growing humility and a lessing cocksureness when my memory seems to clash with the memories of others. Teach me the glorious lesson that occasionally I may be mistaken.
Keep me reasonably sweet; I do not want to be a Saint - some of them are so hard to live with - but a sour old person is one of the crowning works of the devil. Give me the ability to see good things in unexpected places, and talents in unexpected people. And, give me, O Lord, the grace to tell them so.
FAMILY WORSHIP for HOLY CROSS 11.00 a.m. 2nd Sunday of the month
Starting on 12th January 2014 and then every 2nd Sunday of the month we will be having a less formal act of worship which will include a children’s address. Reflections, our music group will be playing for this. The act of worship will be approximately 40 minutes long.
WE already have family worship in our other two churches, St. Michael’s little Horsted, 1st Sunday with Holy Communion and 3rd Sunday both at 11.00 and St. Margaret’s Isfield 10.00 a.m. 1st Sunday of the month. Everyone, of any age, with a family of without, is welcome at any of our services.
NOAH’s ARK is coming to Holy Cross Uckfield (from Thursday 9th January)
I am hoping that it will not rain for forty days and forty nights, but from January, Little Learners on a Thursday at 1.45 p.m. is changing to Noah’s Ark.
This short act of worship is aimed at pre-school children and gives them, with their parents, grandparents or carers an opportunity to come into church in a very relaxed and informal way. We gather on the dais at the front of church and sing together action songs, use our musical instruments, have a short story from the bible and a few simple prayers, before moving into the Belmont Centre for drinks and biscuits and something to make or colour.
Our children love to come and sing and dance within the beautiful building and begin to soak up something of our Christian faith. As a church we believe that all of us, from the cradle to the grave are of equal importance to God and that our responsibility to each other begins with the very youngest and extends to the very oldest. Why not come and see?
A FAITH FOR EVER NEW. Dean Nicholas Fray;ling writes before reitirement:
One of the joys of a very varied ministry has been to share, and to try to help to form, the faith of ‘ordinary Christians’ (if there can be such a thing): those who keep the faith of the Church alive, who try to live by the tenets of the Gospel, often in the unpromising soil of the inner city, or in rural parishes with few worshippers, surrounded by affluent indifference.
Chichester Cathedral has seen many changes in its nine centuries of life, and not a few in the past decade, as we have tried to make it a warm home for all sorts of people (which does not only mean, but of course includes, all sorts of Anglicans); to maintain free admission; and to offer an inclusive and appreciative ambience.
The Diocese is undergoing a process of change, too, as it seeks to proclaim, in Bishop George Bell’s words, ‘a faith for ever new’, and that is all to the good.
The French have a proverb which often finds its way into my prayers. I pass it on, with my warm wishes for Christmas and for the years ahead:
‘Ou Dieu vous a sȇmé, il faut savoir fleurir.’
‘Where God has sown you, you must learn to flower.’