Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Prayer is an act of daring

“Prayer is an act of daring”

I am beginning with the premise that my hearers have already spent years of their life practicing and progressing in prayer, having realised that it is the breath of the curious existence we call the spiritual life.

I propose, therefore, to omit speaking about the foundation and basic assumptions of this activity; the subject is already vast, so vast that at the end of many years of study and practice one can only say that one has stood on the shore of a great ocean and has waded a little way into its waves. At this stage we should be able to agree with Meister Eckhart ‘that we ought to be too much at one with God in will to worry very much about ways and works.’

Instead I would like to offer a few thoughts and comments which I hope may encourage you to take another look at your prayer life and consider whether it may be improved, whether you could try a new method, go down a new avenue or a side path, see it from an new angle, or even learn something from another religious tradition. This might lead to a feeling of freshness, of renewal. It is so easy, little by little, as the years pass, to lose the spontaneity, the variety which delights us when talking to our friends and which we should find also in the various meetings which we call prayer.

Why delight? Why interest? Because, as has been said

‘One who is intimate with God has received four gifts: an honour which need be known to none, a knowledge without study, a richness without money, a joyful company without companion.’
(Yafi’i, Rawdh,53)

These are highly valued by most people who would conceive them in a material way, but the person who would never be introduced, let alone become intimate with, say, a member of the Royal family, here rises to the acquaintance with the King of Kings; a person privileged becomes as learned (in a way) as any lecturer in a university, wealthy without the responsibilities and anxieties which accompany great wealth, and has joyful company without the uncertainties and changes in affection which may occur.

The question may be asked

‘How can I believe all this? And that I may become intimate with God?’

One way has been pointed out. When you come to speak to Him, you meet someone who is more humble than yourself. In church at the various services we spend a lot of time in praise, exaltation, wondering at the greatness and the glory and so on. There is as much to be wondered at here. And it puts you in your place. Yes, He is humbler than we are.

It is one of the interruptions which occur now and then in our journey. For even after many years of struggle and striving to live the spiritual life things may not go well and doubts and questions can arise in the mind. Sometimes you may feel that you have made no progress at all and that you are back at the beginning:

A patient in a big mental hospital was asked how he came to believe he was Jesus Christ. He answered that every time he prayed to Jesus, he found he was talking to himself!

You may not get into his state of mind, but the thought that one may be talking to oneself occurs to many people at some time, and it can be very distressing. There is no reply, no feedback. IS there really anyone there?

A Jewish boy asked his father if he believed in God. He answered “How do we know there’s a God? Because he keeps disappearing.”

This again may be a source of anxiety to the one who prays. Perhaps God has drawn away because of some fault or sin in the one who seeks him. This may be so.

There is a Muslim account of a man who brought up the subject with a saint of that faith:

“I have committed many sins” he said “If I turn in penitence towards God, with He turn in mercy towards me?” “Nay” she replied “But if He shall turn towards thee, thou wilt turn towards Him.”

This is one of the great truths of the spiritual life, whatever the religion. We were reminded of it only a week or two ago when the Collect for the day began “Almighty and everlasting God, who art always more ready to hear than we to pray…”

God initiates; we respond, or don’t.

A useful suggestion if one is unready to pray while God waits, is to begin praying as if one had never done so before. To imagine that it is a completely new experience and one has no idea of what is going to happen during the prayer, or afterwards. And it is also a good idea to wait afterwards for a while in silence, remembering the truism “The quieter you are, the more you can hear.”

‘Prayer is an act of daring (I have read) otherwise it is impossible to stand in prayer before God. When man imagines the greatness of the Creator how else could he stand before Him? Prayer is a mystery, directed in its essence towards changing the order of the world… man wants to change the order of nature, he asks for miracles. Hence, at the moment of prayer man must lay aside his capacity for shame. If men had shame, they would, God forbid, lose the faith that prayer is answered.’

R Nahman

Make sure of prayer

Art thou still young, and dost thou glance along
Life’s opening pathway with a timid dread?
Make sure of prayer, thence be thy courage fed,
And in the midst of strife thou shalt be strong.
Or do the cares of middle lifetime throng
In all-absorbing force round heart and head?
Make sure of prayer! Our Master erstwhile said:
“One thing sufficeth’ over-care is wrong.
”Or hast thou reached old age’s twilight drear?
Make sure of prayer. The die is not yet cast,
In sight of port sank many a vessel fair.
If thou dost hope – and hope supposeth fear
 –If thou dost hope for God and heaven at last,
In life, in death, make sure, make sure of prayer!

Sister Mary Stanislaus MacCarthy (1849–1897)

Fr Leonard Parry Jones October 2017

Sermon preached as part of the Confirming Faith series at St Chad’s, Shrewsbury

Thursday, 19 October 2017

The one who sows ...

"The one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully"
I grew up in a country where water is treated with great respect.  Australians  know what it is like to live in a country that suffers from drought. They know the value of water.  They know what it’s like to have restrictions on water. So, when the rain comes, people give thanks for they can see the power rain has.  Rain will transform the landscape in ways that are breathtaking.

There is place called the wheat belt, it’s found about 70 miles east of Perth.  You can drive for hundreds of miles through land that has been transformed into fields of gold wheat.  The challenge for farmers in Australia is they must decide when the rain will come?

Or whether the rain will come at all.

They must make a very big decision on whether to sow sparingly, for fear of rain not coming.  Or to sow bountifully, hoping the rain will come and the harvest will be bountiful.  The farmer faces a difficult decision that could affect him quite badly economically if he gets it wrong.

For those who work on the land, harvest is a time of looking back and maybe asking questions:

Did I plant at the right time?

Did the rains come when I expected?

Was there enough sunlight?

All those questions are answered for them at harvest. 

We should pray for those all famers across the globe who work the land and take such a great risks. Give thanks for those who have received a bountiful harvest;

and pray for those who found the harvest has not been as rewarding as they would have hoped.

(We should also support those that bring aid to those countries where the harvest has failed)

For us, we can so easily take all of this for granted. 

The challenges faced by many to bring wheat in the form of bread to our tables can be forgotten by countless.

What about our harvest?

What have we harvested this year?

In our lives and in our actions to others?

In the opening reading we are reminded by Paul that

“the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully”

Like the farmer, we too had to take risks this year.

Was the effort that we made this year sufficient for us to say is been a good year?  That we have had a good harvest?

I believe that this reference:

“the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully”

is not only for the farmers, but for us here and now.

Did we give to those communities where we live, work and serve as much as we could?

Did we support them as best we could?


Did we hedge our bets?

And only give sparingly?

There are many the reason for acting sparingly, one is out of fear.  It is fear that holds us back.  We become fearful of failure and so we don’t act.  Without knowing it we set the bar to high.

In some cases, we may need to simply replace the word should with could.*

When we use the word should we put extra pressure on ourselves.  “I should have won the race” puts pressure on us.  If we fail.

Whereas the word ‘could,’ gives us space.

“I could have won the race” gives us room to look at the situation, to reflect and try better next time with more preparation.

So as we reflect on our year, on our harvest, let remember what we could have done for the rugby club, tennis club the Ark or the Church. What was our mission during the year and our aims for outreach.

Whatever it was we all need a moment to reflect on what we could have given or done.

More importantly; harvest is a time to give thanks for what we have received from the bounty of the land, and from others.

Whether you’re a farmer or a city dweller.  Harvest is a good time to simply pray and reflect:

Did I sow sparingly Lord this year? or did I sow bountifully?

Fr Mark Chadwick

Sermon preached at Harvest 2017

*The idea of the difference between should and could is more fully explored in The Chimp Paradox: The Mind Management Programme to Help You Achieve Success, Confidence and Happiness by Prof Steve Peters

This sermon is one of a series given as part of our Faith Confirmed programme.  A series of talks, classes, sermons and groups for Harvest, Advent and Christmas 2017-18

Friday, 13 October 2017

"The first time I heard the phrase 'Hail Mary' was on the rugby pitch."

The first time I heard the phrase ‘Hail Mary’ was on the rugby pitch. A Hail Mary is a rugby pass that is so high that the person receiving the ball could not watch out for oncoming players, they therefore would have time to pray that they did not get clobbered in the oncoming tackle.

By the time I was a teenager I had learned that Hail Mary was an important prayer.

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you.

Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners,
Now and at the hour of our death. Amen

What I’ve always found so touching about this prayer is that I’m asking Mary to pray for me. But who was this woman who I am asking to pray for me? Within the great tradition of the Orthodox Church, Mary is known as the Theotokos, mother of God, but to understand what that means we must reflect on the biblical texts.

Within the biblical traditions we are told that Mary grew up in Nazareth, a small village in Galilee. It was there in that out of the way part of the Roman Empire that the Angel of the Lord, Gabriel, appeared to this astonishing young woman. In that moment; that amazingly brave young woman said:

Here I am, the servant of the Lord: let it be with me according to your word.

In this moment alone we see two of Mary’s great qualities: humility and courage. This is the kind of person that I have asked to pray for me.

Rowan Williams writes

“What we call holy in the world - a person, a place, a set of words or pictures – is so because the completely foreign is brought together with the familiar and the everyday.”

No one embodies this more than Mary, who literally makes a home for the Creator of all things in her own body and in her own house - the strangest reality we can conceive.

In her own body and in her own house.

Mary is the one that bore Jesus and the one that nurtured him through those early years of his life. The church believes that Jesus is both fully divine and human; therefore He must have taken after Mary, in her looks, her actions. Both would have spoken Aramaic with the same local accent. Jesus, we know had many gifts, but maybe the gifts of love, integrity and courage were influenced by his mother Mary?

And then there are two stories where we see how close mother and son were. In John’s Gospel, at the wedding feast of Cana there is the story of water being turned into wine; it is Mary, who tells the servants to listen to Jesus and it is Mary who gently pushes her son into beginning his ministry.

Then at the darkest moment of Jesus ministry, in the shadow of the cross, Mary is to be found. At the foot of the cross when others have run away Mary is still holding on and believing.

On this important day in the church’s calendar and in this most beautiful church dedicated to Mary, let us not forget her important role in the Christian story. And as we make our pilgrimage through life, let us be humble enough to ask others to pray for us and I would say do not be afraid to ask our Lord’s mother Mary to pray for you too.

Sermon preached on the Festival of the Blessed Virgin Mary at St Mary’s Church, Shrewsbury.

Fr Mark Chadwick

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

How do we know God?

If you are following this blog then there is a  chance that you already believe in God. Our belief in God can grow in many ways. Maybe you have been bought up in a family of faith that attends Church; or perhaps in school assemblies God is talked about in ways that you can respect and be inspired by. Sometimes we meet people or have friends whose Christian lives are witness to a God that we can no longer just ignore. 

When we talk about believing in something, we talk about that 'something' being true and real. It exists and we know it exists. Believing in God is like that; but it is also so much more. When we believe in God, we know he exists but we also put our trust in him. We trust him and have faith that he will enter into a loving relationship with each of us, care for us and guide us.

God can reveal himself to us in a number of ways:

The Bible. The bible is a collection of books written over a long period of time by many authors. They all had been inspired by God to record the history of God's relationship with mankind; how he has revealed himself to the world over many generations. The Bible also tells us about the life and teaching of Jesus and how he came into the world to save us. The Bible is a living text, as we read it we grow into relationship with God, the creator of all things.

Creation. God is often powerfully present in the world he has created. When we stand in awe and wonder looking at a beautiful sunset, or the stunning view from an aeroplane or mountain top. When we notice the amazing dexterity of animals and birds; the beauty of flowers and insects. When the storms are raging or the history of time is revealed in the rocks; when we gaze at the night sky of stars and planets. All of these moments can have a lasting impression on us and can make the presence of God more real.

Life Experiences. Our relationship with God can grow through our experiences and our conscience. As we gain experiences in life our conscience will respond. We will know what is right and wrong, which course of action to take or which things we should avoid. Through reading the Bible and engaging with the teachings of the Church we can come to know where god might be leading us; where God is present in our lives. Our conscience may sometimes try to explain some of life's events and timings as coincidences; but it may be that God is guiding and speaking to us through them. Over time God changes us and we become more aware of his presence around us.

Prayer is spending time with God, speaking and listening. Christians put their trust in a God of relationship, a God that loves them and cares for them. Prayer helps us draw closer to God, we want to love God; the source of our greatest happiness. When we pray we can use words or just sit quietly. Making ourselves available to God is time that cannot be wasted, it is God's time and therefore eternal.

Christians believe in a God of relationship, a God that we can come to know and who wants to know us and care for us. Our desire for God is part of being human, it is natural. So look around, see God in the world around you and in the experiences of your life. Pick up a Bible and read Mark's Gospel (the shortest one!) and spend some time each day with God in prayer.

Heavenly Father,
I offer you this day.
The work I do, the people I meet,
the pleasures and the problems.
That in everything, I may know
the love of our Lord Jesus Christ
and be truly thankful.


Click here for information on our season of 'Faith Confirmed'.

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

Are you envious because I am generous?

Are you envious because I am generous?
So the last will be first and the first will be last.”

Matthew 20:16

It is always a sad moment when we fail to see a gift being offered. It’s almost as if we believe it’s too good to be true as in that old expression, “There’s no such thing as a free lunch.”

One of the greatest gifts of all is the gift of gentleness known sometimes as kindness, tenderness or softness of action. Sadly this gift can be seen by some as weakness, they fail to see the value in this beautiful gift.

C. JoyBell C. writes

“Predators prey on gentleness, peace, calmness, sweetness and any positivity that they sniff out as weakness.”

In a world where power and authority are highly prized I suppose it is not surprising that a gift like gentleness can be overlooked. And therefore it can be very difficult to understand God as gentle as loving. Somehow, the God of wrath, the God of anger, the kind of God that acts like a regimental sergeant major of a bygone era, person who shouts, screams and puts us down, is the image of God that people cling to.

But in the gospel today Matthew challenges our understanding of God. He reminds us of our inability to see a gift of love so freely given. Matthew does not hold back:

“Are you envious because I am generous? So the last will be first and the first will be last.”

He reminds us that God’s generosity, gentleness, and love is so great that we find it hard to conceive.

The rules that we live under in this world are not the same as God’s kingdom. Here in today’s reading I am reminded that maybe I am not the first? Maybe I have not worked the hardest? Maybe I am not the most important? Yet God sees through all of that, and is able to show love, gentleness and kindness; ways that my world fails to understand.

Charles Gore, Bishop of Oxford and founding father of the Community of the Resurrection, said:

“The gospel is a radical text. The problem is we have heard it so often we have watered it down.”

Bearing this in mind, one of the aims for the seasons of Harvest, Kingdom and Advent is to look at ways to confirm our faith.

To re-examine, to open our eyes to see, to investigate what it is we believe:

What is your faith based on? The Ten Commandments, scripture, the creeds?

What do you value about your faith?

Why do you go to church?

We need time to reflect on our faith to ask ourselves what is the cornerstone of our belief.

Why is my faith so important to me? How does this faith help me on my journey of life? How does it aid me in this complex world.

To help reflect on these questions we are running a course confirming faith. It is there to help those who wish to be confirmed, although is also a course that all of us here can engage with. It has been designed so that people of all ages and time schedules can take part: online, or day/ evening meetings.

Even if you simply order the book and read it at your own leisure I believe it will be worth it.

Please do reflect and pray about this journey. I ask you to pray for people to come forward to be confirmed.

And I pray that you will all take up this challenge and in doing so, come to a new understanding of what your faith means to you. Thus we can really embrace the seasons of Harvest, Kingdom and Advent, that we may shine out God’s love for us and rediscover the joy of all these seasons and, eventually, Christmas.

Fr Mark Chadwick
September 2017

This sermon is one of a series given as part of our Faith Confirmed programme. A series of talks, classes, sermons and groups for Harvest, Advent and Christmas 2017-18

For details on the Faith Confirmed book written by Peter Jackson and Chris Wright, click the link.