Krista Ovist

Sermon on Matthew 25. 14-30: The Parable of the Talents and Psalm 90 by Revd Ian Tattum

A word about the word ‘hypocrite’. We all know what the word means: someone pretending to be something they are not. Jesus was pretty harsh about hypocrisy, calling out for example those who go on about the tiny faults of others when they have major ones of their own – those who like to point out the tiny speck of dust in the eye of someone else when they have an entire tree trunk in their own!

We might be able to think of people who display this tendency.

St Matthew is the gospel-writer who records Jesus using the word ‘hypocrite’ the most. And there might be a very good explanation for that which might help us remember the distinctive character of his Gospel. ‘Hypocrite’ is the Greek word for ‘actor’. All the New Testament is written in Greek, the lingua franca of the Mediterranean world of the day, and generally it is fairly tolerant of all things Greek – apart from idolatry, of course – because it is mainly about how the message of, and about, Jesus speaks into that world. Hence all the focus on St Paul’s missionary journeys. But St Matthew’s Gospel stands out. It has long been noticed that it values many of the things distinctive to Judaism, which St Paul and others sought to soften in their attempt to engage with wider culture.

One very famous example is that, in St Matthew’s Gospel, there is great store put by the laws and traditions associated with Moses, whereas in the other Gospels and St Paul, the emphasis is more on an inner spirit, more like conscience, through which God guides people into virtuous and godly behaviour. But another is St Mathew’s attack on one of Greece’s great institutions, the theatre, in which people wear masks, pretend to be someone else, and simply perform the script given to them. Hence his prolific use of the word ‘hypocrite’ as a harsh criticism.

The hero of St Matthew’s Gospel is clearly St Peter, the simple fisherman who followed Jesus from Galilee. And the one no one could ever accuse of being an actor, as he seems to have blurted out whatever he thought, even if, as we often see in the Gospels, he has the wrong end of the stick. St Matthew’s Gospel has its feet firmly planted in the Jewish tradition.

This is quite important background, I think, to engaging with any of the passages or parables we come across in Matthew’s Gospel. That includes today’s parable, familiarly known as the parable of the talents but which equally plausibly could be called the parable of the slaves or even better the parable of the ruthless boss.

In Jesus’ Jewish context, rich people were routinely seen as not necessarily admirable. Unlike the Greeks, the Jewish people would never have come up with a word, like aristos, which could conflate social status with virtue. The wealthy were the main target of the prophets because of their exploitative ways, and this parable does not hold anything back. The Master in it was known to be a ‘harsh man who reaped where he did not sow’ – which, in fact, makes it even worse that the daft slave, knowing this, acts entirely out of fear and buries the money entrusted to him in a hole in the ground. It is he who is thrown out into the outer darkness.

The message is that there is good cause for fear, but burying what is entrusted to you in the ground is not the answer. This would also have probably reflected the actual context of the church of St Matthew, which seems to have still been deeply rooted in its Jewish culture but beginning to face hostility for its eccentric views from others in the community.

As in Psalm 90, one theme here is the right use of God’s gift of time and existence. Time for us human beings, frail and mortal, is contrasted with God’s eternal existence by the psalmist.  In St Mathew’s Gospel, immediately after the parable of the dodgy landowner, comes the story of the last judgement, where what you actually do when faced by disturbance and need is made the big issue.

When we read the Bible we often take the words completely out of the actual world of the day. We universalise the teaching before we acknowledge its particularity. For Jesus and St Matthew, the naked who needed clothing, the sick who needed care, the stranger looking for a welcome, and the person thrown in prison (as likely for debt as anything) were not abstract but tangible everyday parts of society and experience – familiar people.

Jesus’ words ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of these who are members of my family, you did it to me’ were an urgent reminder that one of the best uses of your precious time is kindness, now!

An Afternoon with Johannes Brahms

Sunday, 6 December 2020

Make it a BYOB event! Please do bring your favourite beverages to have during the performance and bring your own glasses.

This is part of the Sounds of Southfields Live Autumn Series 2020. Buy tickets online here or email tickets@soundsofsouthfields.co.uk

In this intimate afternoon of chamber music, husband-and-wife team Michael Csányi-Wills and Nunziatina Del Vecchio treat us to some beautiful music for cello and piano, performed in the round.

There will be two socially distanced performances on the same day, at 3pm and 5pm.

Programme:

Cello Sonata No. 1 in E minor, Op. 38
“Sechs Lieder”: six songs arranged for cello & piano by Michael Csányi-Wills

Attendance will be limited, and advance purchase of tickets is required, allowing us to create bespoke seating plans for each concert.

Tickets cost £15. Full refunds will be offered in the event of cancellation.

Reflection for Remembrance Sunday, 8th November 2020, by Revd Joy Boyce

The news that Government has ordered local councils to discourage the public from attending Remembrance Sunday events is a blow for many as we enter a second lock-down.  It means a further curtailment of worship in this year’s Season of Remembrance during November, when Churches make a special effort to reach out to their local communities to meet the needs of those who are bereaved, whether recently or in the past.

The Season begins with All Saints’ Day, then All Souls’ Day.  It culminates with the national marking of the ultimate sacrifice made by thousands in the armed forces and also the civilian front line in world wars and in other conflicts throughout the world.  Over the years we have developed a well-loved pattern of events beginning with the Royal British Legion’s Festival of Remembrance, a celebration of sacrifice, followed on Sunday by the ceremony of National Remembrance including the service at the Cenotaph in Whitehall.  Much curtailed because of the pandemic, there will be no-march past this year, and all will be socially distanced.

Although our remembrance is limited by circumstances, other ways of remembering are increasing.  I’ve noticed in the media that more of us are spending time researching our own families and the stories of what our relations contributed to the war effort, back to the beginning of the 20th century in some cases.  My particular remembrance is, like many others, of family stories – what my father and uncles did on active service in the war, and my mother’s stories of working in a munitions factory (“one false move and you’re blown to kingdom come”).  And she told stories of ignoring her mother’s strictures to stay home and stay safe (echoes of pandemic) and going dancing at the Star and Garter in Putney, and watching from the balcony bombs falling over London and into the Thames!

One of my dearest memories of past Remembrance Sundays is of watching on television the Cenotaph service with my father, a Royal Navy veteran with many years’ service.  He loved seeing the veterans march past, and every year told me that the Royal Navy were the first in the parade “because you know they are the Senior Service, this country’s first and oldest armed force”.  I also learnt the various naval structures, the Royal Marines, the Royal Naval Air Service, the Fleet Air Arm.  He viewed it all with no love of war but with a sense of pride in his country and a pride in the sacrifice of those with whom he served who “didn’t make it”; he would never say that they died.

Few stories from my father, though, other than how he knew his life had been saved by some external power several times when torpedoed in mid-ocean and he had to swim for it.  And then the time when he experienced God with him on deck for the mid-Atlantic night watch, God holding with him in his hands the ship and the sleeping men – a still small point in the middle of the chaos of war.  He was a man who saw no glory in war but much to be thankful for.

Death in war is always wasteful death, the wasted potential of young lives, the blighted lives of those who came back but carry with them for ever the scars of war.  Those who never live to the full because they are maimed physically, mentally or spiritually by their experiences.  And those who die prematurely because of the blight of war on their bodies and minds, never enjoy their children, grandchildren or retirement.  It is for these too that we give thanks and whom we remember today.

These people were not all heroes and saints; they were ordinary folk who willingly took on their responsibilities to protect civilisation, and in so doing gave up all their rights.  In Wandsworth Museum there is a letter home from the 1st World War trenches from a young Wandsworth soldier.  It’s a cheerful letter, full of every day matters, including whether the money from his army pay has reached his mother.  A few days later he was killed.  The ultimate sacrifice.

Sacrifice is not much spoken of these days.  Recent generations, including my generation, the so-called baby boomers, are used to independence, individuality, personal fulfilment.  We talk about dream homes, dream holidays, living the dream.

Pandemics have a way of smashing dreams, and so too do wars, and rearranging our priorities.

So like earlier generations we are learning to be thankful for the small things, and the value of our own small acts of kindness; we are learning what it means to be a community.  We are finding that we have a deep interdependence with our fellow human beings, not just our fellow Brits, and with the natural world.

And we too have much to be thankful for today in our own war with a virus.  We too can be thankful for self- sacrifice, for those who do not measure their efforts and the hours they work in terms of what they are paid, often far too little.  We can be thankful for those who put their patients first and turn up for another long shift with their children and families elsewhere, separated, like evacuees long ago.  We can be thankful for those who sacrifice self to keep buses and trains running, supermarket shelves full, doctors’ surgeries open.

No, the word sacrifice is not often used today, and with our higher standard of living and cult of individualism it’s not something we think about much as a society.  But that doesn’t mean it’s not there, deep in our DNA, ready to rise up, part of our nature, ready to come to the aid of our fellow beings in times of pandemic and in times of war.

Amen.

Sermon on Exodus 12: 1-14, Romans 13: 8-10, Matthew 18: 15-20 for September 6th 2020 – 13th Sunday after Trinity, from Revd Joy Boyce,

“For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”

May I speak in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Conflict is very much part of the human condition.  From childhood sibling rivalries to disputes between nations, we all experience conflict at some time.

Conflict resolution is something that nations and international organisations spend  time and money trying to achieve, whether it’s trade talks, peace keeping initiatives or stopping invasions and acts of war.  It’s also part of the corporate culture.  Staff are trained in resolving conflict and how to “leverage” (an awful corporate word) the energy of conflict to achieve corporate goals and get conflicting individuals working as effective teams.

And here we have a first-century church’s blueprint for conflict resolution.  This group of early Churches, founded by Matthew, are told how to cope with church members who have behaved badly and will not accept correction.

Because you are all familiar with scripture, I’m sure you have spotted disconnects.  Who is really talking here?  When the gospel writer says the unrepentant who will not accept correction should be viewed as “a tax collector or a Gentile”, we experience a little intake of breath – tax collectors, gentiles, weren’t these the very people Christ deliberately sought out?  We begin to suspect we’re listening to Matthew rather than Jesus, and it’s Matthew who is now the leader of a thriving early church, writing years later, (and perhaps sounding a bit like an Archdeacon on a visitation).  Matthew is attempting to provide leadership and structure to churches and a method for imposing necessary discipline.

Then there’s the difficulty of translation, the New Revised Standard Version, like other modern bibles, leans towards the use of inclusive language.  Here Matthew talks of a “church member”, sinning against you.  The original Greek has: “if your brother sins against you…”  a world of difference.  When we talk of brothers and sisters, we are already pre-disposed to a climate of love, this is not just a question of attending the same church, this is about togetherness, like siblings, perhaps falling out, but making up, understanding one another, loving one another.

The third difficulty is what the passage leaves out.  By stopping where it does, we get an austere view of the early church and conflict resolution, or perhaps I should call it reconciliation.  What is missing is forgiveness, the reconciliation that turns the tax collector and the gentile from one who is outside the pale into the one who is seeking God, who may fail and fail again, but who understands instinctively the very core of Jesus’s mission, his proclamation of divine love.  Read on and in verses 21- 23 we come to Peter asking Jesus how often he should forgive – as many as seven times?  Christ’s answer, “not seven times but I tell you seventy-seven times”, points us back to the heart of the gospel, love.

In today’s passage from Romans we have a succinct “mission statement”, an overview of what Christianity is.  In three short verses Paul gives us the heart of the gospel.  Its simple imperative is that we love one another.  All of the laws, which mainly tell us what we must not do, they can all be summed up in one positive thing that we must do – we must love one another.

Because, if we love our brother and our sister, we will not steal from them, we will not lie to them, we will not commit adultery against them, we will not covert what they have, we could never, ever murder them or harm them in any way – we love them.

And in loving them as ourselves we eradicate arrogance, pride, any need to be superior.  We love everyone else as we love ourselves, and in doing that we are committed to justice, to equality, to breaking down barriers, to being with those we don’t necessarily understand but whom we see as a brother or sister in Christ. Reconciliation, justice, truth, all come from love.

And the Church that is inspired by the Holy Spirit and Paul’s imperative is truly alive, truly itself, no fudging, no evasion.

It means that the Church is, without trying, attractive to others, welcoming them in, being full of joy and laughter.  It means that justice and reconciliation are of paramount importance. It means being aware of the world’s hungry and that the rest of the world appears not to care.   The total wealth of the world’s four richest individuals is still more than the total wealth and income of the world’s 48 poorest nations.  Translate that into human misery juxta-positioned with a picture of human over-indulgence and arrogance.  OK, I know, Bill Gates is having a good stab at giving away much of his wealth, and many philanthropists are doing the same.  But if we truly love one another as we love ourselves, the result must be that we cannot stomach this blatant injustice, we cannot go on eating while millions starve.

Being truly alive to the Gospel and to Christ’s love means barriers must be broken down.  Being truly inclusive is about more than language, more than political correctness.  Breaking down barriers means opening ourselves to God’s love demonstrated through the incarnation – living out the redemption of humankind through Christ’s saving grace, not just our own acts and good works.

“For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”

If, by the simple act of two or three of us being together, not just physically there but together in his Name, in love and inspired to live the gospel – if by this simple act, HE is there, actually there, among us, that is an awesome prospect.  It means we have no excuse.  We simply open ourselves to that love, to that way of being, and Christ is among us, along-side us.  What possibilities, what wealth, what grace, what love are ours, openly and freely on offer to us.

Holy Spirit, inspirer, creator, lover.  Move among us and within us.  Show us who we truly are, who we can truly become.  Shake us and mould us.  Amen.

Reflection on Matthew 14: 22-33 for 9 August 2020 from Revd Joy Boyce

Is this a story about faith?  Perhaps.  Is this a story about Peter?  Most likely.  Peter is the disciple with whom Jesus most often engages when he is trying to teach the twelve about faith.

Throughout the gospels Peter continues to take risks (although not when he denies Jesus three times when fear of the authorities scares him into denial of his Lord).  But normally, he constantly rushes in to show his devotion and faith without always considering the outcome.

We on the other hand are often so prudent that faith for some is in danger of becoming a dead noun – unless you are a persecuted Christian driven from your home or bombed in your church.  There you have to be a risk taker.

To emulate Peter’s risk taking is perhaps to regain the faith that is life transforming.  A very godly priest I admired as a child once described faith as that which takes you outside of your comfort zone.  This could be said to be the perfect description of Peter’s act in this week’s lesson.

Why does Peter make this request?  Jesus has spoken to them, told them to take heart.  But that’s not enough for Peter.  He puts himself out front as a kind of dare, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water,” he says.

What is Peter really saying – make me do something extraordinary, set me apart from these other disciples, grant me exemption from the laws of nature that bind ordinary people and I will believe you are who you say you are.

It sounds as if Peter is being rather pompous, but in this story like most of the other stories when Peter is a bit embarrassing, he is speaking for us.  All of us, at one time or another, has asked God for an exemption.  Jesus probably had to think for a minute before he decided how to respond to Peter.  He could have said, Who do you think you are, Simon Peter, sit down and find your oar and get rowing.  But that wasn’t what Peter needed.  He needed a couple of steps on water to cure his doubt and then a nose full of water to cure his pomposity.

Sometimes this story is interpreted as commending Peter’s faith for getting out of the boat and walking on the water, the problem comes when he takes his eye off Jesus, his faith falters but Jesus is there to save him.  So it can be seen as encouraging us to put our faith into action.

But I think what we are meant to be looking at here is this story in parallel with the account of the Stilling of the Storm in Matthew 8, and to notice how the disciples’ relationship with Jesus has developed.

In the earlier story the disciples are in fear of their lives, they wake Jesus, he stills the waves and the wind, rebukes them for their lack of faith, the disciples are amazed and wonder what sort of person Jesus is that even the winds and sea obey him.

In contrast here, the disciples are not in fear for their lives.  There is no storm just the disciples’ fear when they see Jesus walking on the water and do not recognise him.  When Peter’s challenge goes wrong and he sinks calling out “Lord, Save me!” Jesus grabs him and it’s only Peter who is called ‘one of little faith’ and questioned for doubting.

And the wind simply ceases once Jesus gets into the boat and this time, the disciples worship him as the Son of God.  So what are we to learn from the development of this story?

Perhaps this is an enactment of the truth that we are not intended to walk on water either actually or metaphorically and when we find ourselves in deep over our heads and unable to save ourselves the right response is that of Peter – “Lord, save me!”  As I write that line, I realise that this is one of my constant prayers, throughout the day – Lord, save me, help me, be with me!

In both accounts, Jesus demonstrates that he is Lord of the wind, waves, water and sea all of which are characteristic of chaotic elements of nature.  So at the end of this account, the disciples are not just wondering what kind of person Jesus is, but they worship him as the Son of God.  Matthew next records the disciples worshipping Jesus when he appears to them after his resurrection.

In both the story of the Stilling of the Storm and that of Jesus walking on the water, Jesus ends up in the boat with the disciples.  A ship was one of the earliest symbols for Christianity and these accounts show us why – when surrounded by adversity, chaos and violence, safety and salvation are experienced in the Church with Jesus in our midst.

This story of Jesus walking on the water has inspired poets and artists.  Longfellow, in particular, in his long poem, ‘Christus, A mystery’, has a section in which Mary Magdalene remembers the story of Christ walking on the water.

“This morning, when the first gleam of the dawn made Lebanon a glory in the air,

And all below was darkness, I beheld an angel or a spirit glorified

With wind tossed garments walking on the lake.

The face I could not see, but I distinguished the attitude and gesture,

And I knew t’was He that healed me.

And the gusty wind brought to mine ears a voice which seemed to say:

“Be of good cheer! T’is I! Be not afraid!

And from the darkness, scarcely heard, the answer:

“If it be thou, bid me come unto thee upon the water!”

And the voice said, “Come!”

And then I heard a cry of fear:

“Lord, save me! I am a drowning man”

And then the voice: “Why didst thou doubt,

O thou of little faith?”

At this all vanished, and the wind was hushed,

and the great sun came up above the hills. 

And the swift-flying vapours

hid themselves in caverns among the rocks.

Oh, I must find him and follow him, and be with him for ever!

Thou box of alabaster, in whose walls the souls of flowers lie pent,

the precious balm and spikenard of Arabian farms,

the spirits of aromatic herbs, ethereal natures nursed by sun and dew,

not all unworthy to bathe his consecrated feet,

whose steps make every threshold holy that he crosses.

Let us go upon our pilgrimage, Thou and I only.

Let us search for him until we find him and

pour out our souls before his feet til all that’s left of us

shall be the broken caskets that once held us.”

Father, grant that we may continually search for you, and, finding you, pour out our souls and become one with you.

Amen.

Hall Bookings

Our halls are open for hire.

We are delighted to be welcoming back regular group activities, both for children and for adults.

As of April 23, 2022, we will have limited availability for party hire.  For the time being, we are prioritizing users who live in the parish of St Barnabas or are church members, as we want to support our local community as we come out of Covid restrictions.  Click here for details.

We run the halls as part of our commitment to the community.  Although they raise revenue for us, they are not profit making, so we ask all hirers to respect them and look after them so that they can be enjoyed by local residents for many years to come.

NB: all hall names are merely working titles, and all prices are open to revision!

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