The King of Love – sermon for Christ the King 2018

INRI

Readings:

Rev 1.4-8

John 18:33-37

Sermon:

“Are you the king of the Jews?” asks Pilate.

In fact, this was to be Jesus’s death sentence.

That’s what it said on the titulus – the notice that was written above Jesus’s head on the cross – “Jesus of Nazareth, king of the Jews”

In three languages – in Hebrew, in Greek and in Latin where the words Iesus Nazarenus Rex Iudaeorum are better known by their abbreviationINRI

You can see them in the depiction of the crucifixion in many stained glass windows.

At the other end of the story, this is how it all began:

“Where is he that was born king of the Jews” (Mt 2:2)

That’s what the Magi were looking for.  “The King of the Jews”

So what is a king – what does it mean for Christ to be our King?

What is a King, or indeed a Queen?

Someone unusual, marked out from the crowd, they wear things which distinguish them

A crown, special robes (coloured red for royalty) you will see that Jesus wears red in icons and stained glass windows.

A King makes laws, gives orders, exercises judgement

A king has dominion over a territory (a kingdom)

The position is often hereditary – a king is a son of a king (the son of David)

At the coronation, our king is anointed by the Archbishop of Canterbury on behalf of God as a mark of this new beginning, this new relationship, the anointed one in Greek is the Christ, in Hebrew the Messiah

We are defined by our relationship with our King

By birth – we are UK citizens, citizens of the United KINGDOM of Great Britain and Northern Ireland

By deeds – like being knighted or swearing allegiance as all priests do)

Festival of Christ the King forces us to think what it means to us for Jesus to be King

Jesus says ‘”my kingdom is not of this world”

Cosmos – may mean universe

But the Greek word really means Order (the opposite of Chaos)

So Jesus’s Kingdom is not of this “order”

Then of what order is it?

If a kingdom is defined by its ruler and the ruler is Jesus then what that kingdom is will depend on who Jesus is.

As we approach the season of Advent, it is a question which we should all be thinking about.

For me God is love – the profound relationality of all things in the universe

And Jesus – is the incarnation of God’s love for the world – the making flesh of that love

“For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world to bear witness to the truth”

Pilate asks him: “what is truth?”

Jesus is the embodiment of the truth that God is love and God loves us

Jesus Christ,

who is and who was and who is to come, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.

To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever.  (Rev 1:5-6)

 

I spoke previously in this place how in the letter to the Ephesians Christ is the cornerstone – the reference point by which we as Christians measure ourselves

As Christians, we chose to be defined by our relationship with Jesus, by our relationship with this truth that God is love

We put love at the centre of our universe, at the head of our kingdom

Next week we move into a new year in the Christian calendar – Advent

The coming of the new born Christ

It is a good time to think again about what Christ means to us

I will not be here again until January but we will be reading the Gospel of Luke

We will focus on the wonder of new life– its mystery and its miracle – which is the theme of the opening chapters of Luke – new life which represents new hope for new beginnings, for forgiveness, for healing,

It is a time to be stirred up with the idea that your relationships should be at the centre of your universe –of your cosmos.

What does that mean to you?

What can you do differently?

What is your part in building up the kingdom which is not of this world?

 

Christmas is a notoriously difficult time for relationships – it is also a really important one

It is full of opportunities for new beginnings

I pray that we will each play our part in joining with Christian people all over the world when we pray for Christ’s kingdom in the prayer that Jesus himself taught us

Thy kingdom come.

We pray that indeed that kingdom may come and that we may play our part in the words of Revelation, and that we may be “made to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father”

Amen

Sermon given by Christopher Hancock at St Andrew’s Box Hill on festival of Christ the King, 25th November, 2018

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What and why should we remember?

Box Hill Memorial 2018.JPGReadings for Remembrance 2018

Micah 4:1-5

Philippians 4:6-9

Sermon

Why do we remember?

We have heard a lot in the last week about different ways in which people have remembered the First World War.

  • They built monuments
  • They recorded names
  • They sold poppies
  • They wrote poems (indeed they still are, like the one we just heard from our own Carole Harradence)

Why did they do that?

They did it consciously:  Lest we forget

Human beings have the ability to cope with the most extraordinary unpleasant things – think of concentration camp survivors, the victims of natural disasters – they go on to live remarkably normal lives

Human beings are aware of their own mortality – we know that we will die – and yet we go on, we function.

For we have developed coping mechanisms which enable us to blot out the most appalling things – to forget

You might want to forget these things

The conflict which claimed the lives of 16m people and left another 37 million injured.

You might want to forget that and use the ability which we have to heal ourselves of trauma

Consciously or unconsciously the survivors of the First World War knew this.  They knew this and so they were concerned that people would forget and just go on with life and they didn’t want that

We remember lest we forget

And so they did the sort of things that you would do if you wanted to remember something

They made a record of the names of those who had died

They put them in plain sight – in places where people would see them daily – and think about them

In town squares – in the entrances to buildings – outside Churches like ours

They created an anniversary – this day the 11th of the 11th

They wrote poems

They didn’t want to forget the lives which had been lost, the sacrifice

They didn’t want to forget that this should never happen again

They prayed like the prophet Micah:

For out of Zion shall go forth instruction,
    and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
He shall judge between many peoples,
    and shall arbitrate between strong nations far away;
they shall beat their swords into ploughshares,
    and their spears into pruning-hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
    neither shall they learn war any more;

But it did not last

And wars go on happening

Because of the power lust of individuals, the paranoia of governments, the folly of miscommunication.

So you might think that Remembrance would lose its importance – it has apparently failed in its immediate objective within 21 years of its inception

And yet it is growing

As a country we are doing Remembrance in style this year – a hundred years on and it shows no sign of abating

In fact, Remembrance has grown greatly in its observation in my lifetime and especially its creativity – look at all the different types of poppies – the installations at Tower of London in recent years and many other places up and down the land

All of which is somewhat surprising as militarism, nationalism and even patriotism are looked at with disapproval in our increasingly cosmopolitan country

What is going on here?

Is it a clandestine way of being nationalistic?   Perhaps

Is it a public act of immersive theatre – a modern take on Greek tragedy? Probably

But I believe that above all it is a covert religious act and a profoundly Christian one

It is a way of secretly entering together into the mysteries which we celebrate here each week

Remembrance teaches the importance of duty and service and self-sacrifice which is as vital to a functioning society as it is to Christian ethics

Like another covertly Christian festival, Halloween, it caters for our need to embrace our own mortality and enter from a position of confidence into a dialogue with the prospect of death

At a profound level, there is a parallel in the vacuity of the death of so many men for inches of foreign soil with a sense of our own profound uselessness.

This resignation to the facts of the human condition is best articulated not in words or songs or actions – but in an echoing silence.

A silence in which there are no words, no language, no difference

And that is what gives me hope

The connection between us all which we have in the humility of that silence

A connection with those who died for us

A connection with those they fought against

A connection with those who stand beside us, shoulder to shoulder today

That silence gives birth to a new hope which is built not on forgetting but on remembering

In that silence, we are taken apart and rebuilt – we are ourselves:

  • Re-membered
  • Re-created
  • Restored
  • Re-born
  • Resurrected

That I believe is why this celebration is growing

Because this repeated act of corporate renewal,  this action which stands at the heart of the Christian Gospel, this reaching out afresh from our common humanity for “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding”, is profoundly important to us as human beings, indeed, it is essential for our flourishing.

And so I pray with Micah that

In days to come
    the mountain of the Lord’s house
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
    and shall be raised up above the hills.

Peoples shall stream to it,
    and many nations shall come and say:
‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
    to the house of the God of Jacob;
that he may teach us his ways
    and that we may walk in his paths.’

That they may walk in his paths which are the paths of peace.

Amen

Sermon delivered by Chris Hancock at St. Andrew’s Box Hill, 11th November, 2018

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Follow me, if you dare! Sermon on Proper 24B 2018

Readings

Isaiah 53:4-12

Hebrews 5:1-10

Mark 10:35-45

 

Sermon

Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him…

“Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.”

Oh dear! The disciples are at it again

This reading follows two others where Jesus first predicts his crucifixion and the disciples reveal that they don’t understand what is going on

We are going up to Jerusalem,’ he said, ‘and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles, who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him. Three days later he will rise.’

Is this what you want, Jesus asks, when you say you want to follow me?

‘You don’t know what you are asking,’ Jesus said. ‘Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptised with the baptism I am baptised with?’

‘We can,’ they answered.

And Jesus says that they will

‘You will drink the cup I drink and be baptised with the baptism I am baptised with,

According to tradition, all of the apostles were martyred – they died a violent death and one of the two in our passage, James, died soon after Christ, executed by Herod as a crowd pleaser (Acts 12:2)

Jesus continues:

but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared.’

What does this remind us of?  To sit at Jesus’s right and left hand?  A little later in the story:

They crucified two rebels with him, one on his right and one on his left.  (Mk 15:27).

Jesus then repeats the lesson about service – to follow him is to follow the way of the cross

Jesus called them together and said, ‘You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.’

This is an interesting model – to be a follower of Christ is to follow him in being a servant

The model of the suffering servant we heard foretold in Isaiah

Surely he took up our pain
     and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
    stricken by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
    and by his wounds we are healed.

We have been seeing a rash of people committing to follow Christ in the last few weeks – this is a great sign for our church

Eleven people were confirmed at St Peter’s last Sunday

Each of them must find for themselves what it means to follow Christ, to be a servant of all.

A little further back in their Christian journey, as is the custom in this Parish, after a due period of training and preparation – we allow children to receive communion

We have been preparing three young persons alongside Mark who was confirmed last week

Our regulars in the choir – Dylan and Eloise have already begun to receive communion and now we are going to admit Hugo

Jesus asked: ‘Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptised with the baptism I am baptised with?’

I have evidence here that Hugo has already been baptised – so he has already been baptised with the baptism of Christ

[Baptism Certificate]

We are now going to offer him to drink from the cup from which Jesus drank – but first a final ordeal

Hugo – will you come and join me please …

[Liturgy of admission]

Each of us has to find our own way to follow in the path of the suffering servant.  Jesus has shown us that the way to be like God is not through the exercise of power but of humility – of loving service

What form does your service take?

Are you a sidesperson, a flower arranger, a coffee maker?

More importantly, what is your calling outside this place?  How are you serving, how are you loving your neighbour?

Some of you may even be called to the priesthood.

We learn from Hebrews:

Every high priest is selected from among the people and is appointed to represent the people in matters related to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins…

Perhaps one day Hugo will follow Peter, James and John and be “designated by God to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek.”

I say Amen to that!

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Taking up the Holy Cross (Sermon on Proper 19B, 16th September, 2018)

Orthodox cross

TEXTS:

Isaiah 50:4-9a

James 3:1-12

Mark 8:27-38

 

Who do you say that I am?

Who do you say that Jesus is?

Who is Jesus to you?

 

While you are thinking about that, what do the disciples say?

John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.’ He asked them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Peter answered him, ‘You are the Messiah.’

John the Baptist returned from the dead?  John has been beheaded by Herod and buried in a tomb (Mk 6:27-29)

John was a contemporary mystic and spiritual leader – of which there were many at the time of Christ – think life of Brian

But Jesus is no folk hero, no ephemeral guru

Is he Elijah?  Why Elijah?  Because Elijah announces the coming of the Messiah

Messiah = the anointed – like David – the king of Israel

Prophesied in Isaiah

Here is my servant, whom I uphold,

my chosen one in whom I delight;

I will put my Spirit on him,

and he will bring justice to the nations. (Is:42:1)

Whom Jews await every year when they leave a cup of wine for Elijah at the Passover meal

But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.

What did it mean to Jesus to be the Messiah – would he be a conquering hero to liberate Israel from the Roman yoke?

Indeed not.  The concept of the Messiah would be changed in the light of Jesus’s inglorious crucifixion and lead to a re-examination of other verses of Isaiah like those in our OT bible reading:

The Sovereign Lord has opened my ears;

I have not been rebellious,

I have not turned away.

I offered my back to those who beat me,

my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard;

I did not hide my face

from mocking and spitting.

The Messiah is now a suffering servant taking on the sins of mankind

Mark tells us:

Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.

The salvation which Jesus promises is not military victory but rather by aligning oneself and absorbing oneself into the self-sacrifice of the suffering servant and thereby discovering a whole new kind of life

He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?

This might well be a prophesy of the deaths of many Christians in the persecution which were to follow

But how might we read it?

That there is no physical wealth which can make up for spiritual poverty

That spiritual wealth comes from self-denying acts of sacrifice

Through death to self is found eternal life

Through the cross

As you may know, I have been travelling

One of the features of the Orthodox branch of Christianity is its focus on the Cross

The Orthodox make the sign of the cross continually

  • When they approach and leave their churches
  • When they venerate Icons
  • Liturgical points in the service – when God is mentioned
  • And just when they are moved – when Christians in other traditions might raise their hands or shout “alleluia”

The Orthodox make sign in a different way also

The Western cross is trinitarian

We indicate the:

  • Father (God in heaven = up)
  • Son (who came down to earth and was incarnate = down), and the
  • The holy ghost (which unites everything in the love of God = side to side)

Orthodox Cross is made differently

First the hand is significant:

  • The thumb and first two fingers are held together to make the Trinity
  • The other two fingers are kept flat representing the two natures of Christ who was man and God

The hand then moves from

  1. The Head – for the reason – the OT prophesy
  2. The Navel – for the centre of the emotions in the ancient world
  3. The right shoulder – the centre of strength , the should which carried the cross
  4. The heart – which is where the life force is – the blood

We remember the Lord’s injunction to

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength (Lk 10:27)

So that is what it means to make the sign of the cross – what does it mean for us to carry it?

The Orthodox way to look at this is the way the Orthodox cross works

It is the normal Christian cross with two additional elements added

A cross beam at the top – the Titulus – the crime of the crucified criminal

What did it say?

INRI

Iesus Nazarenus, Rex Iudaeorum

Jesus of Nazareth King of the Jews

Jesus of Nazareth – not bar Joseph – he is a man with no father – any man – a son of man

who was King of the Jews – the Messiah – but no ordinary messiah – the suffering servant

But then there is also a second additional cross beam, this time slanted up to the right from the point of view of the crucified

This is the foot rest on which Jesus leaned

The ground on which he walked as a human

It points up to heaven and down to hell

Traditionally it points up to the repentant thief who will be with Jesus in paradise and down to the other who will languish in hell

If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.’

Taken as a whole, the cross of Jesus Christ speaks to us first through the Roman Cross, of the love of God incarnate with us here on earth as his son through the power of the holy spirit

That our way is to follow his road

That road is the way of the Orthodox Cross

With heart and soul and mind and strength

To die to self in order to achieve eternal life

Amen

 

Sermon preached by Christopher Hancock at St. Mary’s Headley, 16th September, 2018

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LIVING IN THE COMMUNITY OF BREAD

IMG_1297

Readings for Proper 13B

You remember the famous I am sayings of Jesus in John’s Gospel?  I am:

  • The light of the world
  • I am the way the truth and the life
  • The true vine
  • The good shepherd
  • The sheep gate
  • The resurrection and the life
  • The bread of life

Through the summer of Lectionary Year B we have 5 weeks on John chapter 6 with its focus on just one of these – “I am the bread of life”

Last week we had the Feeding of the 5,000 – there is lots of bread there!

Over the next 4 weeks we have readings which are so tightly drawn from Chapter 6 they overlap each other

The word “bread” occurs 18 times in this chapter

We will have the expression “I am the bread of life” or “ I am the bread which comes down from heaven” 7 times

So you will be in no doubt that Jesus is “the bread of life”

But will you have any better idea about what that means?

Let’s see what we can do.

 

What is bread?

Bread is the basic food stuff of the western world. It is essential for life – we call it the staff of life

A loaf is also too much for one person to eat at a sitting – so bread is shared – in the extreme in the feeding of 5,000 people

Bread needs to be broken, and when it is broken it is a little like a killing, a sacrifice and it is often blessed – especially in Judaism.

Furthermore, bread takes effort to make:

  • Growing the grain
  • Collecting the grain
  • Sifting the wheat from the chaff
  • Milling the wheat into flour
  • Mixing it with water, butter and yeast
  • Making dough
  • Kneading it
  • Baking it

It is a day’s work – and so daily bread is work for everyday

  • it is again sacrificial – that’s what sacrifice means – giving something up for the future

A Recent Church times article tells of the discovery that bread goes back 14,000 years

  • that it pre-dates agriculture – in fact agriculture seems to have developed in order to supply grain to make bread

Originally people made it from wild grain which meant that it took more energy to collect and make it than it yielded

  • it was sacrificial
  • it was communal
  • it was religious before it was food

Remember that religious has at its root ligo (to tie), like a ligament, that which ties us together

So when Jesus says he is the bread of life he is saying all of these things – he is:

  • Essential
  • Shared
  • Sacrificial
  • Bonding
  • Religious

and more …

He mentions the manna which came down from heaven –

That’s why we have that story about the grumbling Israelites with their grumbling stomachs from Exodus

In this sixth chapter Jesus is journeying around even across sea of Galiilea and the people are chasing after him: they are like the Israelites in the desert following Moses, searching for the promised land

Here they are looking for a sign

The feeding of the 5,000 is not enough for them

It is again just like the complaining Isarelites in Exodus

The Israelites were given Manna – ‘what is it’? they said

The Jews were given Christ and they said – ‘who are you?’

Jesus is more than the manna – because the manna was just about food

Jesus sustains in a different, a more comprehensive way than food – we have been given gifts greater than food

For an understanding of this we can look to our Ephesians reading

 But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. This is why it says:

“When he ascended on high,
    he took many captives
    and gave gifts to his people.”

My commentary says this is the most difficult verse in the whole letter – that gets my attention!

We have already heard about the Manna which came down from heaven and which was a gift from God

That which is of the earth is temporary – it lasts just a day – like bread

But Jesus is the manna which came down from heaven and has returned to heaven – things which are in heaven are eternal

He is not food which lasts but a day, instead He who has descended has then ascended.  As such He is heavenly manna, food which lasts for ever – the bread of eternal life

This gift – Ephesians calls it the gift of grace – this gift which we have been given – is the gift of love

It is not enough to eat

It is not enough to sustain yourself with food

What we need is the grace to live with one another and for one another

To live together

To live sacrificially

To live in the community of bread

 

Ephesians – which is a kind of handbook on Christian living – is full of advice on this

  • Be nice to your wife
  • Be nice to your husband
  • Don’t get drunk

So far so good – so far so obvious. But then it adds this:

  • Know yourself and where you fit
  • Work out what you are good at and how you can help others by playing your part in the body of Christ

Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace… 

speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.  From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

So we pray we may live, with one another and for one another, in the community of the bread of life.

Making bread, breaking bread, sharing bread,
every day,
for eternity

Amen 

Sermon delivered by Chris Hancock at St. Mary’s Headley, 5th August 2018

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Building the house of the lord

Readings for Proper 11B

Ephesians 2:11-22

Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

The lectionary this summer takes us on a tour of the book of Ephesians over 7 weeks

Six chapters which means you can read 1 chapter for each of the next weeks and finish the book together

This is one of the great benefits of the common lectionary

  • You have these sequential passages
  • We are all reading them together – the same day

In each of our three churches this passage will have been read and reflected upon this morning

That fits with the theme of Ephesians because it is all about the Church as the means of uniting different people as the body of Christ

You may feel that is somewhat ironic given the tendency of the Church to fragment

  • Catholics and protestants
  • Greek and Russian orthodox
  • Methodists, Baptists
  • Copts, Armenians
  • Quakers, Shakers
  • Pentecostal, Baptist, Anabaptist
  • Presbyterian, Lutheran, free church

the list goes on …

Indeed, the unity of the church may already have been an issue when Ephesians was written – as most scholars believe towards the end of the first century as a kind of reworking of Colossians but with the church rather than Christ himself as the means of unity

Turning to scripture

The first chapter of Ephesians was almost all one single long, poetic sentence

We are special people – the blessed – the children of God – God has a plan and that the revelation of the love of God in Jesus Christ is the culmination of that plan

As a result, we have been marked out – sealed – with the holy spirit (baptism)

Our passage today is the second half of the second chapter

In  what is missed out, the writer has prayed for us – that we would have the spirit of wisdom as we come to know God more and more

And introduces the image of the church as the body of Christ

Chapter 2 begins with an exploration of how far we were from God before the gracious love of Christ

We were divided from God and divided from one another

This is the theme of our passage for today

We were divided from the Jews by the law and both Jews and gentiles were divided from God by sin

Jesus has broken through that barrier – just as the veil of the temple was torn in two at his death (Mk 15:38)

To mark this change – this move from a position of peril to safety, the writer uses the image of a house, a household into which we are all drawn, all safe

So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone.

This is an image which is full of significance in the bible

  • The house of David
  • Bethel – the house of the Lord
  • Bethlehem – The house of bread – think of that

A house is built of many parts – and all are important in the construction – the bricks, the timbers, the slates, the doors and windows:  many materials, many shapes are required, each playing their part

But the most important part is the plan, the drawing, the vision on which it is all based

In the ancient world a structure was built by reference to the first block which was laid – the cornerstone – selected for its size and shape.  The first laid block was of such importance that a sacrifice was often made and placed under it.

Not surprising then that Christ should be seen as the Cornerstone – both the reference point but also the sacrifice

the stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone

Does that sound familiar?  It should – it is a repeated theme in the bible (Ps 118:22, Mat 21:42 , Acts 4:11)

the stone that the builder’s rejected has become the cornerstone and it is marvellous in our eyes

 

Divisions are normal because we are all different – it is in the nature of humanity to divide into groups – sub-speciation – and it is good in a way because it is how we develop most quickly, through competition

But it can be dangerous and can blind us to the fact that we are much more similar than we might imagine

In my other life I was with a geneticist last week discussing this and it seems that even the most divergent of humans are 99.9% identical with one another

Moreover, we are 98% the same as chimpanzees – some more so than others

Thinking about our pets’ service this pm, we are

84% same as dogs

80% same as cows

75% same as a mouse

60% same as a Fruit fly

50% same as a Banana

So if you don’t have a pet you can bring a banana to the service

 

The brilliance of this image of the cornerstone is that the plan for the building is the thing which unites all its constituent parts and materials into a single whole – the cornerstone physically and intellectually unites everything – it is our common DNA

How does this work in the real world rather than the metaphorical?

We have divisions – how do we overcome them?

Take as an example the familiar scenario of lanes merging on the M25

  • The traffic slows to a standstill as drivers refuse to let others in
  • Only when someone gives in and let’s another in ahead of the can the traffic

Reconciliation begins with Sacrifice – someone has to be the bigger person and let another go ahead

  • Apologising and forgiving are both forms of sacrifice
  • When we apologise we lose face – we humble ourselves and beg for forgiveness
  • When we forgive – we give

 

In all of this Christ is our model – the plan, the cornerstone for our lives

Relationships are forged by sacrifice – like the sacrifice which underlay the cornerstone, like the sacrifice which saw an innocent man hanging from a cross

When we come together, divisions are healed  – we are made whole

This is possible through the love of God as exemplified in Christ Jesus

In the Mark reading we see how the healing power of God works through Jesus to heal all those who come to him

We celebrate that union with one another and through Christ when we come together on a Sunday

For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us.

In words from our reading which fit in our Sunday liturgy

  1. when we share the peace

We are the body of Christ in the one spirit we were all baptised into one body

2. When we share in his body and his blood in the eucharist

The ultimate act of unity, of sacrifice and of forgiveness

At the end of the communion, in the prayer of thanksgiving  we give thanks in words taken from this letter

So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off

Father of all,
we give you thanks and praise
that when we were still far off
you met us in your Son and brought us home.
Dying and living, he declared your love,
gave us grace, and opened the gate of glory.
May we who share Christ’s body live his risen life;
we who drink his cup bring life to others;
we whom the Spirit lights give light to the world.

As we line up at the altar rail and take the body of Christ, the cornerstone, into our bodies and into our lives so may we become a dwelling place for God – through living together, recognising difference, making acts of sacrificial love

In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling-place for God.

Amen.

 

Sermon delivered by Chris Hancock at St. Peter’s, Walton-on-the- Hill, 22nd July, 2018

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It’s not just a game – it’s life and death

John, whom I beheaded, has been raised

This is probably how Theresa May feels about Boris Johnson – he has come back from the dead in the form of Donald Trump

Prophets are annoying – it’s their job.  This story comes just after the story of Jesus being rejected by his own people in Nazareth – his home: ‘A prophet is not without honour except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home’ (Mk 6:4)

That doesn’t bode very well for an Ordained Local Minister like me who is licensed to preach only in his own home and to his own kin

Notwithstanding this, I dare to continue and to address the issue of the raising of Christ – the raising of Christ which seems an important issue as Christ does seem to be going out of the lives of so many in our country today – the raising of Christ which for me at least simply will not go away

This was much on our minds and in our prayers as Harry and I attended the Guildford Diocesan Triennial Clergy Conference in Swanwick, Derbyshire, a week or so ago

It was a great unifying event – to have all the clergy of the diocese in one place for three days

The climax came with everyone packed together, all focused on one thing, for two hours passion ran high, there was a feeling of great togetherness, at the end there was shouting and cheering – even dancing around

Was this the keynote speech by Bishop of Burnley, Philip North – in which he derided the new heresy of ‘declinism’ in our church despite the fact there are more Christians in the world today than ever before and promised us that the church in this country would arise anew from the poor.   No – though that did get a standing ovation!

Was it the sermon by Bishop Andrew when he called on each of us to trace the grace in our own lives – to mark it out and to call it out to others as the sign that God is very much alive?  NO – though that is the lasting memory of the conference for me

Was it perhaps at the elevation of the Host in the Eucharist – the moment that was so revered in the Medieval church, so special that it was marked by the sounding of a bell at which everyone in church – even those behind the rood screen who could not see because they were too poor and unimportant – would drop to their knees at the idea of Christ’s special presence with us?  Again, NO, though for me that is the highlight of passion and engagement in our service together each Sunday morning – so please sidespersons remember the bell!

No, the event which unified everyone with common emotion and purpose giving rise to those cheers and dances came when Eric Dier scored the winning penalty for England against Columbia in the world cup round of 16.  Shame!

It is commonly said that football is a religion – as one of the high priests from one of its most famous temples once said: ‘it’s not life or death, it’s more important than that’

Football indeed has lots in common with religion

  • There is the pilgrimage to the ground
  • The iconography of the players
  • There is affiliation from a shared uniform – the vestments are the team’s football shirt – or indeed no shirt when the team is Newcastle
  • There is a sense of belonging, of differentiation – of gaining identity from difference
  • There is the great unifying singing from the stands (but men predominate in the choir rather than women)
  • The action is vicarious – it is conducted by well-trained and highly skilled professionals, while the laity look on – this is an act of powerlessness, of humility on the part of the spectators – they give themselves up to a higher power

There are however some elements of football which are very different from Christian religion – pagan elements which perhaps account for its greater popularity but are dangerous

  • Large amounts of alcohol are consumed, before and after as well as during the service
  • The object of scoring a goal which has its origins perhaps in hunting (hitting a target) is connected also to fertility rites –the goal is penetrated and there is something undeniably sensual in the quiver of the net when the ball strikes it – these certainly engage primally and viscerally with our strongest and most basic passions – but strong is not the moral equivalent of good

There are other elements of football which we do well to leave behind – the identification of enemies – the self-definition through difference from the opposition

These things are very un-Christian – this is perhaps why I feel somewhat repelled by the quantity of vitriol poured out towards Donald Trump – bizarre and at times odious though he is

Such divisions may define us – one against another – but they also undermine and deny the common divine element in our humanity as well as our essential equality

For we are more alike than we are different:

99.4% the same in fact in terms of the DNA we each share with each of our fellow human beings

Indeed, we are even more like other animals than we would imagine:

98% the same as chimpanzees

70% the same as cats

50% the same as bananas!  (Perhaps someone will bring a banana on a lead to the pets service on 22nd July!)

The role of a prophet is to point out the underlying truths which may be obvious but ignored – like the fact that King Herod is having an affair with his brother’s wife – which got John the Baptist killed (Notice how it is the primal passions which provoke first Herod’s adultery and then the murder of John the Baptist)

The prophet takes a plumb line to life and points out what is straight and true (Amos)

In our collect we prayed for God to ‘graft in our hearts the love of your name, increase in us true religion

I can honestly say that Arsene Wenger has let me down every year for the 15 years since Arsenal last won the title – in that time Jesus Christ has never let me down

That helps me to love his name and increases in me true religion

Over the next six weeks we will be studying the letter to the Ephesians – it is short so why not read one of its 6 chapters each week

It is probably not by Paul but instead the writer used his name in an early attempt to draw together a church which has already started to split into different camps and to see a divergence of belief and behaviour

It uses the famous images of the body of Christ and the armour of god

It is a prophetic call to live a Christian life which holds in tension the fact that we are all different and have different roles to play in creation but that we are all fundamentally the same – all connected

As we heard in this morning’s Epistle,   in the longest sentence in the bible: We are all God’s children and inheritors of God’s kingdom

We are all special

We should all be excited about life

About sharing life together

About sharing the good news

About sharing the presence of God with us this day

And we meet with Him who is all life and power in the body and blood of his son

We are called to be a part of the body of Christ

John, whom I beheaded, has been raised

So in our worship and in our lives, let us raise the body of Christ anew – bury our divisions and live as one – like a football crowd

I do not expect cheering and dancing in the communion

But I do ask that you put your hearts and minds, your bodies and your souls into that moment and lay them before your God for His salvation – just as much as if it were a penalty shootout for the national team

Religion is not just a game – it is more important than that – it is life and death and, indeed, life after death

Amen

Sermon delivered by Chris Hancock at St. Mary’s Headley, 15th July, 2018

Proper 10B – Collect and Readings

Lord of all power and might,
the author and giver of all good things:
graft in our hearts the love of your name, increase in us true religion, nourish us with all goodness, and of your great mercy keep us in the same; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen

Amos 7:7-15

Ephesians 1:3-14

Mark 6:14-29

 

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The Human Touch – Sermon on Mark 5:21-43

Readings

The Gospels have not been written randomly, the ordering of the stories is deliberate and careful

It is normal to look either side of a reading to see how it fits with what surrounds it – the surrounding stories and events inform what lies within – they help us understand them

Here we have two stories which not only interrelate they are interwoven,

So we should look for connections

What do we see?

  1. We hear that “many were in the crowd pressing in on him”

Despite the crowds these are private encounters one-on-one

First Jesus identifies the woman who has touched him despite the crowd.  Despite the multitude he knows her

Then Jesus gets rid of the crowd so that he is left with only Simon Peter, James and John. Finally, he clears Jairus’s house of the crowd of mourners to leave himself alone with the father and the mother and more importantly the girl

Despite the crowd, Jesus is meeting with people individually – offering a personal encounter

2. These are encounters with women

But two very different women – the interwoven stories invite us to compare

  • The young girl who is the daughter of rich man who has died at the age of 12 – when she was just about to enter society as a woman of marriageable age
  • A woman who has hemorrhaged for twelve years and so been kept from society – in particular, it kept her from worship – she has impoverished herself by trying to buy a cure

In some societies women still face social exclusion if they do not keep the rules

I have just come back from the middle east and it is extraordinary to see women veiled – and apparently through choice – though I wonder how much choice there is really

To see how differently people can be treated on grounds of gender

The woman with the haemorrhage faced a particular issue

No one wanted to risk being touched by her

Issue of pollution from childbirth continued till very recently

Churching of women is in the prayer book -though its words speak of the ‘thanksgiving of women after child-birth’ it is difficult not to see links back to the laws of Leviticus 12 in which a woman was kept from society for 40 days after the birth of a child

There was some sense in this of course in that a woman should be given time to recover from the exertions of childbirth and to focus her attention on the wellbeing of the newborn

The idea of pollution around menstrual blood served less purpose but was very strict:

If a woman has a discharge of blood for many days, not at the time of her impurity, or if she has a discharge beyond the time of her impurity, for all the days of the discharge she shall continue in uncleanness; as in the days of her impurity, she shall be unclean. 26 Every bed on which she lies during all the days of her discharge shall be treated as the bed of her impurity; and everything on which she sits shall be unclean, as in the uncleanness of her impurity. 27 Whoever touches these things shall be unclean, and shall wash his clothes, and bathe in water, and be unclean until the evening. (Lev 15:25-27)

This is the context for the women in our story – she is not allowed to worship in the temple – she is not allowed to touch anyone or anything – especially not a man

I know women who have suffered from this condition – endometriosis – and it is hard enough to bear physiologically and psychologically without the stigma of ritual pollution

This is the context for the woman who reaches out and touches Jesus

In Old testament terms, by reaching out and deliberately touching Jesus she is polluting him

In New testament terms,  by reaching out and touching Jesus she is making contact with the living God.

And God incarnate in Jesus Christ calls her ‘daughter’

What of our other story?

Here we are with another ‘daughter’ but at the other end of the social spectrum – while the haemorrhaging woman has spent all her money on doctors – the leader of the synagogue is a rich and powerful man – but disease and death are levellers of social class

The one who had much did not have too much,
and the one who had little did not have too little. (2 Corinthians)

– not only that but Jesus makes him wait!

There is an Old Testament parallel in this story with the Elijah’s meeting with the widow of Zarephath (1 Kings 17) – a widow whose son is ill and without her son she was in great peril – economic hardship and exposed to predation – often such women would be forced into prostitution

By contrast a woman – especially a daughter was of little value – indeed she would cost money in the form of a dowry

And yet when Jesus heals her, the parents celebrate

In Greek it is given great emphasis – ezestesan euthus ekstaei megale – “they were immediately ecstatic with great with ecstasy” They are beside themselves – taken out of themselves – transformed

It is revealed that she is a young woman – a kore, an adolescent – just of an age to be married – as Mary was, Jesus’s mother

Indeed she is 12 years old – born at the same time as the other woman had started bleeding

The effort of bringing up a child – those years of investment of love and patience might have been wasted just at the point where she is on the point of marrying and starting her own family

After her encounter with Jesus – after he takes her by the hand – these years are now not wasted – he speaks to her in her own language – Talitha cum is Aramaic – and she is healed – And given something to eat – we will come back to that

 

What do we take from this stories serve to establish Jesus as someone quite extraordinary  – in Mark’s Gospel he is often portrayed as a kind of epic hero

With super-natural knowledge – he knows a woman has touched him (in Greek he looks for ‘the woman who did this’ the feminine gender showing he knows)

He is a super-natural healer – healing people that no doctor can heal – bringing people back from the dead

What are we to make of that in our contemporary scientific, secular, sceptical cynical society?

As often these stories make most sense today as exemplars of our own journeys to God through the message and ministry of Jesus Christ

Of our own coming to spiritual health and wholeness

Many were in the crowd pressing in on him – but those who had need, received and received through an intimate, physical encounter

There is a need for patience – even a little suffering in the journey of faith

12 years for the afflicted woman

12 years for Jairus to look after and nurture his daughter

The Lord is good to those who wait for him,
to the soul that seeks him.
It is good that one should wait quietly
for the salvation of the Lord. (Lamentations)

Ultimately God waits for us to make our response to him

With honesty – in confession – Jesus knows it is a woman – but it is important that she responds, humbly, on her knees,

As the afflicted woman we are encouraged to boldly reach out to Jesus

As the child who has looked into the face of death – we put out our hand and allow ourselves to be led by Christ and to follow him in the way of life

Jesus brings the old and the young back to God – back to spiritual life

The love of God in Jesus Christ particularly reaches out to those who find themselves outcast – outside of society

In the incarnate Christ, God reaches out to us in our humanity – in human touch

And asks us to respond

In our lives, in our faith and in our worship

And when we reach out – with faith – then we will find healing

and we will find joy – we too will be transformed

we too will be ecstatic with great ecstasy –

It is for this reason that the physical encounter with God in bread and wine is called the eucharist

The giving of great thanks

—-

Like the afflicted woman, like Jairus’s daughter, you will shortly reach out your hands to receive communion

So you too will touch God.

May you find the healing you are looking for

May you be ecstatic with great ecstasy

Amen

Sermon delivered by Christopher Hancock at St Mary’s Headley, 1st July, 2018

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Our Fathers’ Day

benefits-of-mustard-seeds1

3rd Sunday after Trinity, Proper 6 Year B

Readings

1 Samuel 15:34-16:13

2 Corinthians 5:6-10,[11-13],14-17

Mark 4:26-34

Sermon

To all the Fathers, Happy Fathers’ day!

We will be looking at what it means to be a father and to call God, Father

Since I have been ordained, people that I don’t know have started calling me Father – which is a bit disconcerting, especially when they are an 80 year widow!

What is a father?  Well at one level it is a biological matter – please bear in mind that I did Greek not biology …

The ancients believed that the father provided the seed the spark of life– in Greek that’s sperma – which literally means seed – those who did biology will know what I mean

When we call God father we express the fact that the spark of life – that remarkable gift – comes from something before us – long before us

We heard in our Gospel reading:

The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how

This line of scripture sums up the extraordinary ability of the created world to grow- to multiply, develop and become more sophisticated ‘we know not how’

Growth is embodied in God’s creation

From the tiniest of mustard seeds

With what can we compare the kingdom of God?  It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”

Here we have some mustard seeds [click here] – see how small they are (1 mm diameter) – bear in mind that you came from something which is 0.05mm – a twentieth the size of that

This story of miraculous growth is my experience of being a father

One minute you’re being told you’re going to have a baby and then before you know it this is what you’ve got

[two sons come forward]

In our old Testament lesson

Samuel said to Jesse, “Are all your sons here?”

Yes they are!

Fathers plant the seeds from which the plant grows

Can you see something of the father in these two?

I hope so

What does that tell us about God the father?

That within us – as children of God – there is something of the Father – the seed from which we grow – the divine spark lies within each of us

Then when the children grow you have to decide how to discipline them

My father was brought up by a Victorian father – there was a lot of discipline and corporal punishment

He tried to make his son in his own image

My own father started in the same way – with a cane

Like this one – but with a split in it

But he gave it up – it wasn’t him and it certainly wasn’t doing us any good

He learned – as we all have to learn – that whilst it is the role of a father to make rules and set boundaries – the ultimate act of love is to let go

St Paul writes about how God gave up his power in order to get closer to humanity – to become human

Christ Jesus,

who, though he was in the form of God,

    did not regard equality with God

    as something to be exploited,

but emptied himself,

    taking the form of a slave,

    being born in human likeness.

And being found in human form,

    he humbled himself

    and became obedient to the point of death—

    even death on a cross.

God humbled himself to become human

Becoming human means getting involved in the love business and that love has a cost – love entails sacrifice

In the ancient world there was no greater sacrifice than losing a son, especially the first born son – that is the story of Abraham and Isaac – that is the story of God the Father and Jesus the son

God so loved the world that he gave his only son so that those who believe in him should not perish but have everlasting life…

It turns out that being a Father is not about Old testament discipline but about that New Testament sacrificial love

  • picking them up from parties at 2 o’clock in the morning,
  • taking an interest in dinosaurs even in late middle age
  • even listening to musical theatre in the car (she isn’t here)

Forgiving everything

Loving un-conditionally

Jesus taught us to think of God in terms of that intimacy

You will see we are surrounded by our prayer stations of the Lord’s Prayer

The first words of the Lord’s prayer express something profoundly important

“Our Father”

Father because we have that same intimacy

‘Our’ because our relationship with God is universal

Whoever our earthly father may be, “Our Father which art in heaven” binds us all with a common familial bond

Because we all have one father we are all brothers and sisters

Made new in our commonality in God

From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!

The message of Jesus is that we think about ourselves and God in a new way

That we think about God as our father in three ways

  • as the life giver whom we thank for our creation – “hallowed be his name”
  • the disciplinarian who let’s go and leaves free to make our own mistakes and “forgives us our trespasses” if and when we fail
  • the common denominator in everything we do, the origin of all, the eternal and everlasting

For thine is the Kingdom the Power and the Glory, for ever and ever.  Amen

Sermon delivered by Chris Hancock at St. Mary’s Headley, on Father’s Day, 17th June, 2018

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Exploring the Holy Trinity – by way of the cross

Image result for welby blessing with the sign of the cross

Readings:

Isaiah 6:1-8

Romans 8:12-17

John 3:1-17

 

Sermon

It is not uncommon on Trinity Sunday to duck this most difficult area of Christian doctrine – but I will do my best to explore this mystery – of how three things, three persons,  can be one – without in any way trying to remove its mysteriousness.

By way of preamble, I was taught in pre-ordination training, that all talk about God (i.e. all theology) is necessarily provisional, because it is in the nature of God that God can never be fully known or comprehended by the human imagination

But what can we say?

Well in terms of the bible especially in John’s Gospel and the writings of St Paul we have a linear depiction of the Trinity

God sends Jesus who sends the Holy Spirit

“As the father has sent me so I am sending you.  When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’” (Jn 20:21)

At the meeting with Nicodemos described in our Gospel reading, Jesus tells how we too can become involved in this story of special relationship  with God – Jesus says:

Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. 

‘Water and spirit’ – Ie through Baptism – through following in the footsteps of Christ

Notice how at Baptism we have all three persons of the Trinity present – Jesus, the Holy Spirit like a dove and the voice of God

And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” (Mt 3:16-17)

How is this possible?  Three in one – simultaneously

There are several models which can help to explain this

First, the three states of matter – water is still water when it is Water, when it is Ice and when it is water vapour (steam).

Surely this is a good model of how the Trinity works?

In fact this is a heresy (Modalism).  It misses out the important point that God is not the same as Man nor yet the same as the Spirit

Moreover, it is important that Jesus has not just the appearance of a man – that God actually was Man.

So, if it is important that there is difference between God and Man and Spirit how about three different things united in one thing.

Like in a Mars Bar – the exterior chocolate and the interior nougat and caramel

Alas, this is also heretical as it suggests that the three are in some way separate – it separates God from Christ and from the spirit – this is the heresy of Tritheism

But it is important that it was not just the human part of God that suffered with us – lifted up like the snake in the desert

That God did die on the cross and man did rise from the dead

All models of the trinity end up being heretical because they don’t quite express the truth as described in Christian Doctrine which places the Trinity in a paradox.  And that is a good sign as we find that God operates at the level of paradox and so ‘passeth all understanding’.

There is another model in this vein which I think takes us in interesting direction.

That actually we take God and Jesus and the Holy spirit into ourselves and they are mixed in us at the Eucharist

The Eucharistic elements mirror the Trinity

Bread – wine – water

Father – son – holy spirit

These three come together when mixed in us in holy communion.

So we can say that the Trinity is brought together and made especially present in both of the key sacraments – in Baptism and in Holy Communion.

What about the other major sacraments – absolution, anointing, marriage ?

There is another model which helps with these as they are marked by making the sign of the cross

The cross itself is a model of the Trinity.

It begins with a vertical line from Heaven to Earth

Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.’

There is a great irony here of a man being lifted up to die who himself came down from heaven.

At the last, on the cross, the elements of the Trinity – body, blood and spirit are combined:

 After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said (in order to fulfil the scripture), ‘I am thirsty.’ A jar full of sour wine was standing there. So they put a sponge full of the wine on a branch of hyssop and held it to his mouth.  When Jesus had received the wine, he said, ‘It is finished.’ Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. (John 19:28-30)

There is even the addition of sour wine to complete the Eucharistic parallel

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. (Jn 3:16-17)

The father the Son and the Holy Spirit are joined together on the cross – in suffering

And that is the message that all three writers give us in our readings

The coal of Isaiah burns us – the way of the Spirit is not a way of bliss but of suffering service

Paul teaches us that the inheritance that we have with Christ through following on the way is the way of the cross is to be children of God

And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’ The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. (Rm 8:15-16)

So we meet God on the cross

In our suffering

And in particular in our self-sacrificial, redemptive suffering for the sake of others

Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I; send me!”

And so when we make the sign of the cross –  in blessing –in sanctifying, in simply living sacrificially – we unite all these things in our lives

And there is great power in this – when God and Man and Spirit unite

God the Father – the creator of all – the power of the rushing wind of creation (up)

Who came down to earth and became human in God the son, our Lord Jesus Christ (down) and

Who is with us always, uniting us in the power of his holy spirit which brings life and love to all (across and side to side)

Amen

Sermon given by Christopher Hancock at St Andrew’s, Box Hill on Trinity Sunday, 2018

 

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