Blessed are those who come (in)to church – Proper 2C 2019

Bishop Jo blessing

Texts

Luke 6:17-26

Jeremiah 17:5-10

1 Corinthians 15:12-20

It upsets me that people are frightened of going to church – but it seems to be the case.

At a recent funeral the attendees were literally waiting at the gate of the Churchyard apparently frightened to cross the threshold

I notice too that when I am wearing A dog collar – People in street don’t meet my eye

Women of a certain age may smile, but those with babies sometimes cross the road – men routinely avert their eyes

Why is this?

A sense of guilt?  Of unworthiness?  Do they feel they will be held to a high standard of behaviour to gain entry?  Thank goodness we are not.

Nor should they feel that they will be judged when they enter – though some of our congregants may be guilty of doing this.

Personally, I think it is a fear that by entering into a church, into an engagement with God they are beginning a rigorous examination of their own lives and decisions for which they do not want to think about let alone give account.

Whatever, the reason, it saddens me greatly

 

Because to me Church is a Haven

It is a place that I have sought when in the depths of despair

When made redundant

When I feared I was losing my marriage

When I realised the full implications of George Osbourne’s tax regime for my retirement planning!

When I have messed up

And I have found comfort because God does turn things around

In fact, God turns things upside down – perhaps more often than we would like

 

This is what Jesus is saying this in Luke’s Gospel

In so doing Luke is putting his own spin on Matthew’s Beatitudes

There is almost a deliberate differentiation from the story in Matthew which comes as part of the Story of the Sermon on the Mount

Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them.  He said:

‘Blessed are the poor in spirit,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
    for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
    for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
    for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
    for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
    for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
    for they will be called children of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11 ‘Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.[1]

 

But this is Luke and it is different

For a start, Jesus is not on a mountain – the traditional place for encounters with God – he is on a plain (and so Luke’s account is known as “The Sermon on the Plain”) In Genesis, the cities of the plain were the dens of iniquity which included Sodom and Gomorrah[2].  More generally in the ancient world, the plain was the traditional place for warfare, for battles

Here there is a battle between two ways of looking at the world

Luke puts Matthew’s beatitudes into a binary structure – there is an opposition between the four blessings and four woes

Looking at his disciples, he said:
‘Blessed are you who are poor,
    for yours is the kingdom of God.
Blessed are you who hunger now,
    for you will be satisfied.
Blessed are you who weep now,
    for you will laugh.
Blessed are you when people hate you,
    when they exclude you and insult you
    and reject your name as evil,
        because of the Son of Man.
‘Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their ancestors treated the prophets.

‘But woe to you who are rich,
    for you have already received your comfort.
Woe to you who are well fed now,
    for you will go hungry.
Woe to you who laugh now,
    for you will mourn and weep.
Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you,
    for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets.

 

God can be seen to be leveling things out

Our Christian faith is that things will get better – that there is reversal from misfortune, there is new life

Ultimately. there is resurrection which is fundamental to the way that we as Christians look at the world – as Paul reminds us:

If there is no resurrection, then Christ has not been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain.

But what about people who are already wealthy, well-fed, laughing and spoken well-of.  Are they doomed?

That depends on what is making them happy.

For this reason it is important to understand what is meant by blessed

It is a word we use a lot both inside and outside church

The Greek here makarios means happy – in a state of bliss (in Latin beatus)

It is clearly striking and oxymoronic – the wretched are in a state of bliss

But we know that our happiness lies substantially within us – the wealthiest, healthiest. luckiest person can be the most miserable.

It is about how you see yourself that matters

 

Importantly, there is another sense of blessing which means speaking well of and this is the sense in which we are blessed by God (in Latin: Benedictus)

This is blessing that God gave to Abraham

‘I will make you into a great nation,
    and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
    and you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you,
    and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
    will be blessed through you.[3]

The same blessing that Isaac in turn gave to Jacob[4],

When Isaac caught the smell of his clothes, he blessed him and said,
‘Ah, the smell of my son
    is like the smell of a field
    that the Lord has blessed.
May God give you heaven’s dew
    and earth’s richness –
    an abundance of grain and new wine.
May nations serve you
    and peoples bow down to you.
Be lord over your brothers,
    and may the sons of your mother bow down to you.
May those who curse you be cursed
    and those who bless you be blessed.’

 

that was the blessing given to Jesus at his baptism,

And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

the blessing which we were in turn received at our baptisms, confirmations, ordination and marriages

The blessing which we will remember in our Eucharistic prayer when Jesus blessed bread and wine in words of thanksgiving before blessing us by his presence in them

Finally, the blessing that we will receive at the end of this service

The blessing that is God saying to us:  you are loved, you are unique, I have special work for you to do

I came into this church at my lowest ebbs because church is the place that reminds me that I am loved, that I am special, that I am blessed.

It is a place where we come to give thanks – to count our blessings

To pray for and to bless others

And so become a blessing to them

 

It is a place into which we should routinely invite others – so that they can know that however poor, hungry, miserable, discredited they may feel, or indeed they may be, they are also loved, special, blessed and can be a blessing to others.

It is not being wealthy which makes us happy, it is knowing and believing that we are blessed

In the words by Jeremiah – probably the most miserable of all the prophets

blessed are they who trust in the Lord,
    whose confidence is in him.
 They will be like trees planted by the water
    that send out their roots into the stream.

May we be trees such as these

Amen

Sermon given by Christopher Hancock at St Mary’s Headley, 17th February, 2019. 

 

[1] Matthew 5

[2] “Abram lived in the land of Canaan, while Lot lived among the cities of the plain and pitched his tents near Sodom.”  Gen 13:12

[3] Genesis 12

[4] Gen 27

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Cana revisited: Transforming Church – Transforming Lives

70_litre-black dustbin

Readings:

Isaiah 62:1-51 Corinthians 12:1-11, John 2:1-11

 

Sermon:

I don’t know how often you get to Guildford Cathedral

I was there last Sunday evening for the “Epiphany Procession”

It is a special service which focuses through readings, music and sacred objects on the Gospels for the first three Sundays of Epiphany

  1. Epiphany itself – the wise men following the star – they bring the gospel to the Gentiles – they offer him gold and frankincense and myrrh – we use frankincense in incense which represents prayer

 

  1. Baptism of Jesus – recalls our own baptism and the reception of the holy spirit –  represented in the renewing of vows and the sprinking of water on the people of God – happy new year!

 

  1. The Wedding at Cana – the transformation of water for ceremonial washing into the wine of celebration at a wedding

 

Today we focus on the last of these.

In John’s Gospel, Jesus has just received the holy spirit at his baptism (which was celebrated last week)

John gave this testimony: ‘I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. And I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptise with water told me, “The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is the one who will baptise with the Holy Spirit.” I have seen and I testify that this is God’s Chosen One.’  (Jn 1:32-34)

We know from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians that the gifts of the spirit include the working of miracles: “the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (1 Cor 12:7)

In this story we see something revealed about the nature of God’s miraculous working through his spirit

First there is its abundance:

“Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from two to three measures.”

A measure was c.40 litres

2 to 3 measures = 80-120 litres

Six of these = 480 to 720 litres

To visualise this – imagine that a typical dustbin is 80 litres – so at least 6 dustbins full of wine  or up to 1,000 bottles

 

Secondly, there is its quality

“Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now”

The transformation which comes from the reception of the word of God is of greater abundance and quality than the best luxuries which man can conceive

 

Thirdly there are the hidden and revealed layers of meaning in God’s working

In all of this there is more hidden than there is which is obvious

John teaches us to look for signs:  “This was the first of his signs which he did in Cana of Galilee”

A. The wedding is not just a wedding

A wedding is the union of two people through the exchange of promises (covenants) to make something new – something which can in turn create new life

  • Christ makes all things new (today’s Collect)
  • This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is poured out for you. (Lk 22:20)

Marriage as a sign of God’s union with his people – it is a familiar metaphor for the relationship between God and his people

As we heard in Isaiah:

you will be called by a new name [just as when married]
that the mouth of the Lord will bestow.
You will be a crown of splendour in the Lord’s hand,
a royal diadem in the hand of your God.
No longer will they call you Deserted,
or name your land Desolate…
for the Lord will take delight in you,
and your land will be married.
As a young man marries a young woman,
so will your Builder marry you;
as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride,
so will your God rejoice over you.

Marriage is transformative and born of love

A wedding is the most exciting day of one’s life!

B. The wine is not just wine

Water for washing – the ritual purification demanded by the law of Moses – is replaced by the best wine

Purification through obedience to the law is replaced by a joyous loving communion – a wedding feast

The wine is the wine of the Eucharist – the blood of Christ which was spilled in such abundance that it could overcome all the sins of the world – you have only to receive it

“Jesus’ mother was there”:  just as she will be there at the foot of the cross

The wine comes from stone jars – jars like a tomb

The wine is gloriously transformed – as Christ was gloriously transformed through his resurrection so that we can known him today – in word and sacrament

“On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee.”

All of this happens, ON THE THIRD DAY

 

Jesus transformed the Church in order that he might transform our lives

So in this story we are invited to receive the good news of Jesus Christ – that we are close to a God who loves us – who is intimately involved in our lives – and shares with us our joys and to rejoice in that as on the happiest days of our lives.

In Epiphany we are invited:

  • To hear the Gospel
  • To Receive the Gospel
  • To Celebrate the transformational power of that Gospel

 

Collect for the 2nd Sunday of Epiphany

Almighty God,
in Christ you make all things new:
transform the poverty of our nature by the riches of your grace,
and in the renewal of our lives
make known your heavenly glory;
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

Sermon given by Rev Christopher Hancock at St Mary’s Headley, 20th January, 2019

If you liked this see also: Unveiling the Wedding at Cana

 

 

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On the trail of the ‘Unsearchable Riches of Christ’ (Epiphany Year C)

Ephesians 3:1-12

Matthew 2:1-12

 

light in the cave

Today is the feast of Epiphany and Epiphany is all about light!

The Greek root – epiphaino – literally means to bring to light

We are used to the many metaphorical uses of light

To ‘shed light on something’ is to make it clear

When something ‘comes to light’ – it becomes known, evident, manifestly obvious

Hence the Latinate name for the season – the manifestation to the Gentiles

The richness of the metaphor may in part be because of the fundamental importance of light to modern humankind.

We can not see in the dark and so it is frightening to us, the night is a time when we cannot do anything productive but rather it is to be feared.

Thus kindling a flame is the primary skill from which all our sense of safety and comfort flows – providing heat and light it is the fundamental building block from which all our technology flows

It was after all the Promethean gift which made us the rivals of the Gods in Greek mythology

Fire is the basis of cooking and manufacturing but light is the basis of our leisure – it enables us to use the night hours to read and write, to tell stories and to paint – from the earliest cave dwelling artists deep in the darkness of their  caves

Moreover, light tells us the future – the morning star tells of the coming of day

And so it is emotional –the light that drives out darkness

The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined. (Is 9:10)

 

In this extended metaphor of Epiphany with its prophesies and its star, what is that light which lights the world?

John tells us in his remarkable first chapter that it is the Word which was source of all life and all light

In him was life; and the life was the light of men.  And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not. (Jn 1:4-5)

Jesus is the light of the world – The word made flesh – God with us – Emmanuel

There is a paradox in that the star – the light which leads to the light – threatens to betray Jesus right at the start

Like a bad soldier lighting a match in the trenches – the star betrays the position of the Christ-child

But this light cannot be extinguished

Not even by death which overhangs all of Jesus life.

The message of the gift of myrrh which prefigures the crucifixion is that God is with us – in our darkest places, in our darkest hours – even in the darkness of death

 In him was life; and the life was the light of men.   And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.

The light returns as the symbol of resurrection in the Pascal candle lit on Easter morning.

Revealed at Christmas an Easter in the light of Christ – the Easter Candle

This story of the importance of light at the beginning of our lives and at their end is the basis of John Keble’s poem on the Sunday of Epiphany from his poetry collection – The Christian Year.  It traces the morning star which becomes the evening star through the course of our lives.

Star of the East, how sweet art Thou,
   Seen in life’s early morning sky,
Ere yet a cloud has dimmed the brow,
   While yet we gaze with childish eye;

When father, mother, nursing friend,
   Most dearly loved, and loving best,
First bid us from their arms ascend,
   Pointing to Thee, in Thy sure rest.

Too soon the glare of earthly day
   Buries, to us, Thy brightness keen,
And we are left to find our way
   By faith and hope in Thee unseen.

What matter? if the waymarks sure
   On every side are round us set,
Soon overleaped, but not obscure?
   ’Tis ours to mark them or forget.

What matter? if in calm old age
   Our childhood’s star again arise,
Crowning our lonely pilgrimage
   With all that cheers a wanderer’s eyes?

Ne’er may we lose it from our sight,
   Till all our hopes and thoughts are led
To where it stays its lucid flight
   Over our Saviour’s lowly bed.

The Latinate word for Epiphany, manifestation, suggests like Keble that this light cannot long be hidden – like the light which can not be hidden under a bushel

And he said unto them, Is a candle brought to be put under a bushel, or under a bed? and not to be set on a candlestick?  For there is nothing hid, which shall not be manifested; neither was any thing kept secret, but that it should come abroad. (Mk 4:21-22)

The Gospels are full of these images of light

Acts and the Pauline letters like our reading from Ephesians are full of encouragement to share the Gospel – to announce to the nations

τὸ ἀνεξιχνίαστον πλοῦτος τοῦ Χριστοῦ (Eph 3:8)

The NRSV translates this as: “announce to the nations the good news of the boundless riches of Christ”

The KJV renders it more poetically as: ‘the unsearchable riches of Christ’;

But actually the Greek means untraceable / that which cannot be tracked or followed

And so it is a particular irony for those who set out to follow the star that the riches of Christ are no more to be found in an earthly treasury than gold is found at the foot of a rainbow.

This is a warning to us that if we think we have no more to learn from Christmas and Epiphany – if we think we have comprehended the light – then we too are mistaken and no better than Herod.

Instead we must look to the light and continue to follow the star in faith and in company with the wisemen and so join as Paul encourages us

the fellowship of the mystery which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ:  (Eph 3:9)

Our job is to help expound that mystery and bring others to share in its light – and so to make it manifest to the next generation of Gentiles.  Amen

 

Sermon delivered by Chris Hancock at St. Mary’s Headley, Feast of The Epiphany
(6th January, 2019)

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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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