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A thought from Revd Paul

Dear Friends,

A hypothetical question. If Our Lord were to return in a physical form, what might the new composition of the Twelve Apostles be like? I'm not going to produce my suggestion (I wouldn't dare!), but you may like to attempt it yourself. The one thing that I can guarantee is that there would be no resemblance to the Twelve who walked with Christ two thousand years ago. The more I think of what those Twelve were like, the more amazing a collection of misfits they seem to have been.

Who really were they? Peter and Andrew, with James and John, ordinary fishermen in the most ordinary part of a very ordinary area. James and John were also the local hard men, known as the Sons of Thunder – men with fists and with tempers. Thomas the searcher, full of doubts but as brave as a lion. Nathaniel, possibly gifted but fiercely parochial, probably born and bred in the area. Then the real contradictions. Matthew the quisling, who made his living by collaborating with the hated Roman occupying forces. As total opposites the terrorists, Simon the Zealot and Judas from the Sicarii, the People of the Dagger. Why, oh why, did Jesus chose such a group of non-Establishment men as His disciples? Surely He should have chosen more conservative, more politically and religiously acceptable men with whom to share His earthly ministry? If I am fascinated by Jesus' human nature (parallel with His divine nature) then part of it lies in why He chose them when He must have known what they were like. I simply don't know the answer.

Perhaps apart from being young and very idealistic they represent a cross section of the man in the Galilean street in those days. They were all very different people except in these two respects, but from what we can deduce they were ordinary. Their humanness is for me what makes them so attracting; they could be like you or anyone you live and associate with. They are real people, with failings rather than being perfect.

It is in the light of this that we may get closer to the great festival this month that is Whitsunday, or if you prefer it, Pentecost. We need to see it in a symbolic way because it simply could not have happened physically in that way without structural damage and the deaths of many people. Two aspects stand out above everything. One is that the disciples were empowered with tremendous zeal and energy to continue Christ's work. The other is that the message they proclaimed was to people who represented the entire world. It was a reaching out to absolutely everyone; that is the real meaning of that list of nations that so many readers fear to read in public at this time of the year. The new faith was to all people, regardless of their race, creed, and colour. And it was too important for the disciples to keep to themselves. 

That is why Christianity has been the greatest civilizing force that the world has ever known. It is why in its very ordinary roots it has crossed all barriers and become a fundamental part of humanity as a whole. Pentecost reaches out to all people at all time and offers to anyone who will listen and accept its message. God is for all; His call is universal. Through His Spirit, God reaches out in love to everyone; that is what we proclaim, that lies near the heart of what we believe.

With my love and best wishes,

Paul

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A thought from Revd Paul!

Some years ago I was visiting a North African town sixty miles from Alexandria called El Alamein. Judy's father had fought in the battle in 1943 and we were able to visit the place. We went round the museum then paid our respects to those who lie in the huge cemetery nearby. When it was over, I stood beside the road and looked out across the desert beyond it. It was burning hot and utterly desolate, stretching hundreds of miles beyond the horizon. It occurred to me that it might have been like that when we read of Our Lord going into the wilderness to be tempted for forty days and forty nights by the devil. I have never visited the Holy Land and I do not want to because I prefer to hold the Bible story in my mind rather than seeing what it is really like now. But looking towards that desert brought this incident very close to mind.

This season of Lent which we associate with Christ in the wilderness begins with Ash Wednesday on February 14; it continues for the rest of the month and throughout March. I wonder what really happened in the wilderness. Jesus knew He had to perform His ministry; there was this inner compulsion that He could not resist. The question was HOW? I wonder if we could think of the temptation in the context of going into a quiet place to think things out rather than meeting a physical tempter. He had to prepare Himself spiritually for the task that lay ahead. But He was practical; He had to plan ahead. So, l envisage Him going into this lonely place to meditate.

The temptations took the form of what the psychiatrists call 'intrusive thoughts'. He is hungry and round stones look like bread rolls; He could change stones into bread and feed the hungry, getting a popular following who He could then teach. He sees a distant village with its huge synagogue; if He jumps from the top, He can float to the ground protected by the angels, thus getting a crowd because people love the sensational – again He can teach them. Finally, there is the ultimate temptation, that of compromise. Lower His sights a bit, connive with the Establishment, have lower standards, play safe. The temptations in the wilderness are therefore rooted in doing the wrong thing for the right reason. They need not involve actually appearances with a devil, but they are just as real.

Perhaps this may be a different way of looking at a much loved Gospel story in a different way, but if so, that is me (once again!) thinking outside the box and challenging the orthodox. If so, it may help us to take a different attitude to Lent. For just as Our Lord needed to go into the wilderness so we need our own periods of quiet to ponder; and just as Christ often withdrew for meditation so we need similar times just to think. Not necessarily formally but pausing for short times. Thinking about such things as spiritual priorities – or how we might deepen our awareness of God – or whether our spiritual discipline can be deepened – or in any number of other things. Silence can be the most life affirming thing, the most intense experience. 'What is life if full of care we have no time to stand and stare?' wrote the poet W.H. Davies. What indeed? 

So, my mind goes back to another very different wilderness, high above Buttermere in the Lake District fifty years ago, on the Sunday after Easter. Brilliant sunshine, total silence, and one of the most glorious views in England. God had never been closer than He was that day. We need our wildernesses; we need our wilderness experiences. We need to let God into our busy lives – and be still with Him.

With my love,

Paul   

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A thought from Revd Paul Lanham

Dear Friends,

'Peace on earth, good will to all men' – the message of the angels to the shepherds as they watched their flocks by night. Writing this in mid-November my eyes were drawn to a newspaper that said that there will be no Christmas tree or decorative lights in Manger Square in Bethlehem, the place which traditionally marks the place where Christ was born. The reason, according to the municipality is that this is 'in honour of the martyrs and in solidarity with our people in Gaza'.

 It's one of the saddest articles I have read. We may have different thoughts on the terrible tragedy that is Gaza. But the thought of the birth of Christ being associated with hatred and division is scarcely bearable. As 2023 ends and 2024 dawns the message of the angels has never been more pressing than it is at this time. God as man came to this earth as a figure of peace and unity. He came to draw everyone to Himself, and the symbolic place associated with His birth mocks that peace in the hatred felt by people there. And yet it sums up the world as a whole. For there is so much hatred and division in the world. It is particularly poignant that in this place of all places there should be such bitterness and division. But the icy tentacles of division reach out beyond Bethlehem. Gaza has driven the problems in the Ukraine more into the background for example but it is a running sore, and as with Gaza there seems no end in sight and peace (as I write) seems far far away, with all its violence and suffering.

Beyond it there is more hatred and mistrust. The re-emergence of anti-Semitism has been a by-product of the crisis in Gaza, and this is a stain on our country. So is racialism. Elsewhere there are areas of the world where there is little peace, even if it is seen as mistrust between nations and factions. If Christmas and the New Year is to be more than the chance for a bit of sentimentality and a bout of attempted gastronomic suicide, then it must represent a conscious working towards that peace and unity which the Babe of Bethlehem came to bring. And if you say that individuals cannot achieve anything, then large amounts of water can only come from many individual drops coming together to become a flood. 

Christ came to be the Prince of Peace. He also came as the personification of love and healing. Christmas is a symbol of that most basic form of love, a mother for her child. Mary represents love in its fullest form; without it Christmas just becomes a sentimental extravaganza. The Christ who is the symbol of love being received becomes the Christ who is the personification of love reaching out. Love for the world, but also love of each individual on earth. In love Christ comes down to earth. He is love incarnate. 

So love and peace together lie at the heart of Christmas in all its many aspects. The Prince of Peace is the Giver of Love. May these be God's gift to you at this Christmas time. May it also be a task for the coming year, to channel peace and love to others, a resolution for the New Year.

Sadly I cannot be with you again in the parish this season as I have promised to minister elsewhere. We as a family are then getting together for 24 hours as a family, with the seven sadly now only six. So, Jo and Liz my daughters, Paul my son in law, and Katy and Emily my grand daughters and I wish you personally every blessing for Christmas and very best wishes for 2024.

Paul

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Remembrance - a thought from Revd Paul Lanham

REMEMBRANCE

The Thiepval Memorial stands weeping amid the rolling country around the Somme. It has a strange starkness, almost unromantic in its austerity. On the gentle slope below it lie a large number of war graves, the grass immaculately kept as all the war graves are. The Memorial bears the names of over 72,000 Allied soldiers who died in the second half of 1916 but who have no known graves. The birds don't sing at Thiepval; they do not sing anywhere on the Western Front, so it is said. One summer afternoon eleven years ago I sat near that memorial meditating beneath a tree in the silence. I could have spent hours just sitting there, unable to grasp what it must have been like for those tens of thousands who fought amid the noise and the fear and the destruction. Alas,time was far too short; I could only remain there for twenty minutes before going on to mourn at other blood soaked places on that unforgettable four day tour.

A different war, a different war cemetery, a different continent, but the same sense of desolation. Just off a major road along the Egyptian coast road is the Allied cemetery at El Alamein, sixty miles from Alexandria. The terrain is different, with brown sandy soil instead of grass; instead of green rolling countryside there is desert stretching as far as the eye can see, still riddled with the detritus of war. Like other war cemeteries the graves are immaculately cared for in rows as though they were still on parade. 11,886 lie under the burning sun, to be grieved from afar for it is not easily reached except by special trips. Very different surroundings but the same sense of loss, the same sense of mourning.

A third very different cemetery, Hill 107 on the north Cretan coast above Maleme. The stones are flat and square and amid the profusion of low flowers the dead are buried in pairs. 4465 soldiers of the German forces lie there, the slope reaching out mutely towards the deep blue sea before them. The same silence, the same sense of loss, the same sense of mourning. Grief after all is grief because war is war and the young died before they reached their full potential. After all, I have yet to find one person from cemeteries where I have wept that was older than my two daughters; many were a third of my age or less. The inscription at the cemetery reads 'They gave their lives for their country. Their deaths should always be our obligation to keep the peace between nations'. A noble aspiration at a noble place, an unforgettable place to weep but also hope and reconcile. 

Three snapshorts of war. Each November we honour those who suffered and died all over the world (Judy's uncle for example was killed in Papua New Guinea in 1943). Remembrance is not about victory. It is not about celebrating. It is about remembering with sadness and with honour. Some may say that when the last veterans have died we should move on and no longer have acts of remembrance. But this is not the point. Remembering is also about the suffering of the world, not just those from our own nation and commonwealth. When I visited the German War Cemetery at Maleme all those years ago (while on holiday nearby) I felt the same sense of loss, the same need to honour those who lay there as I did at Thiepval or El Alamein and others that I have visited over the years. As we mark Remembrance Sunday this year we may remember those from other countries who fought and died, those civilians from other countries who suffered and died, those who were the victims of genocide. Mourn. In mourning use Remembrance to commit ourselves with others (who once were enemies but are now friends) to the cause of peace, healing – and reconciliation.

With love,

Paul

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