St Bartholomew’s Day

Bartholomew? Isn’t he something to do with hospitals? Look him up and you’ll find he’s mentioned in the New Testament, usually alongside Philip, and in John’s gospel he’s identified as Nathaniel. Legend has it that after the Ascension Bartholomew preached the gospel in India before moving to Greater Armenia (The area between the Caspian and Black Seas). He is said to have been martyred in Albanopolis in Armenia, now known as Kruje some 20 km north of Tirana. In some accounts he was beheaded, but the popular version is that he was flayed alive before being crucified, head downward.

His remains are said to have been given to one of the first churches in the city of Dura-Europos in Syria but later, miraculously, were washed ashore on Lipari a small island to the north of Sicily before being moved to Benevento, 50 km north-east of Naples. Some of the relics were given to Frankfurt, and Canterbury and some to Rome where they were preserved in the basilica of his name. The basilica at some stage inherited an old pagan medical centre, which, over time, made the link between Bartholomew, medicine and hospitals.

But there are other associations. His martyrdom is commemorated on 24th August. On the same day: in 79 AD, Mount Vesuvius erupted killing 15,000; in 410 AD, Rome was overrun by the Visigoths, and in: 1349 AD, the Jews in Mainz were blamed for the Plague and 6,000 were killed.

In 1572, 223 years later, in France came the St Bartholomew’s Day massacre. It started with the murders of the leaders of the Huguenots (French Calvinistic Protestants) ordered by the King Charles IX, but quickly developed into a mob-led bloodbath which left 3,000 dead in Paris and a total of 70,000 killed in all France.

Although the universal Church was later very thankful for the 16th century Reformation, it brought about a horrifying fanaticism and cruelty, all perpetrated in the name of God. The Bartholomew Day Massacre shows some of the tensions that come at times of religious ‘excitement’ and though I can’t imagine any of us killing for our version of the faith, we need to learn from this event because it might affect our own attitudes to some of our more annoying fellow Christians.

We need to be very careful about generalising about people even if we know they are part of what might be a persecuting movement. One of the enemies of the Huguenots, the Duke of Guise, who personally organised the murder of members of their leadership opened his house to the families of local Protestants and gave orders that they were to be treated kindly when under his roof. Some other Catholic leaders enabled other families to escape the butchery, being horrified that what started as a plot to kill only the leaders had turned into wholesale massacre.

To those who planned the event, such lenience shown by leading Catholics was shocking. The Papal Nuncio is said to have reported to the Pope that, “the only one who had acted in the spirit of a Christian and refrained from mercy, was the King; while the other princes, who pretended to be good Catholics and to deserve the favour of the Pope, had striven, one and all, to save as many Huguenots as they could.”

As Vicar Steve told us, we are all involved in mission, and we should be aware that we are handling what is potentially a very dangerous weapon. Although political, social and ethnic elements also feature in the conflicts that trouble our world, we can’t ignore the fact that religious differences are also used as levers to keep the pot of discontent on the boil. This can cause some people to adopt a very uncompromising stance because they feel that what God wants of them must be adhered to at all costs. For this very reason many people are turned away from religious conviction of any kind because they feel that it only fosters division and lack of toleration.

We, who believe that God’s demands are supreme, must also see that convictions about the details of what those demands are, differ greatly among good people in all generations, and so there just has to be moderation in all things. Only so, surely, can the distinction between faith and fanaticism, conviction and bigotry be drawn. Don’t let anyone deride the “liberal values” of toleration, respect for other peoples’ views or the belief in the common humanity that binds us all together. These things can’t be portrayed as ‘wishy-washy’ and motivated only by the desire to have no conflict, and to compromise at all costs; No, that is misrepresentation, because to stand for these values often requires as much courage, and sometimes causes as much conflict, as a stand for any value, when confronted by selfishness or zealotry.

Remember how the commonly accepted association of leadership with domination was reversed in Luke (22: 25-27) by linking it with service?

Can we use the anniversary of one of the awful events of religious cruelty to strengthen our prayers that such events, which keep recurring in our world, do not turn us or others into partisans wanting vengeance or retribution on whole groups of people, or even into generalisers who tar every one of our enemies with the same brush?

Give us all, Father God, a sense of proportion and zeal of moderation!

Max Young

Some Thoughts on Mission

The poem “Crossing the Bar” was read and sung at a funeral here in May and it got me thinking of many things, and particularly brought my mind back to when we lived in Branscombe, Devon. There, we used to enjoy sitting out in the garden on a warm summer night when the wind was from the South East because we could hear the sound of the sea on the shingle beach some half a mile away. It was a soothing sound – a kind of audio-massage – de-stressing at times when life was busy.

That sound was mentioned, too, in another poem, Matthew Arnold’s “Dover Beach” where it says, “Listen! you hear the grating roar /Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,/At their return, up the high strand, /Begin, and cease, and then again begin, /With tremulous cadence slow, and bring /The eternal note of sadness in.”But I had forgotten that it goes on to say, “The Sea of Faith /Was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore /Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled. /But now I only hear /Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar, /Retreating, to the breath /Of the night-wind,/ down the vast edges drear /And naked shingles of the world.

Today we live as Christians in a world from which the tide of faith has withdrawn. So what can we do? Arnold’s lament at the passing of the full tide of religious faith was reflected by my grandson. He enjoys surfing, and for him the outgoing tide meant no more fun. He sat on the beach chuntering away. I told him to be patient and wait for the tide to turn. But for his sister, low tide opened up a fascinating new world in the rock pools – crabs, sea anemones, star fish, razor shells and many other wriggling delights. She was happy in this new world revealed to her and was absorbed for hours.

Thinking back, my grandchildren’s reactions to low tide were like a parable of how the church looks at today’s world.

Are we sitting in Faringdon waiting for the tide to turn, chuntering because the church and faith no longer have the status they once had? Are we hoping for a revival of the past, when it seemed from our full churches that everybody believed? Or, can we realise and recognise that the new world revealed by the retreating tide is just as full of God’s glory and presence as was the old world in which faith played a more overtly prominent part? People in today’s world aren’t the naturally religious animals they apparently once were. So should we stop trying to impose our faith upon people and agree that the Christian faith is a private world-view equally valid with all other world views?

Attractive as this idea may be, it is impossible to hold it and be true to the Gospel. God is present everywhere, already – if he was absent from anything it’d cease to exist. And it would be arrogance to think that it was the work of Christian mission that introduced God into a situation. But the witness of the New Testament is that we must grasp two things: the fact that God is king over all his creation and over his people, and; that we can enter into a loving relationship with him. So I see mission has a double task.

First we have to help people realise that they are loved and cared for by the God and Father of Jesus, and that the acknowledgement of the God who is present everywhere sets people free. The light which has dawned on the people who lived in darkness, is the new situation which has come about through the presence of Jesus. The kingdom of heaven is close at hand, Jesus proclaims that God rules over all. This doesn’t, of course, mean that Jesus thought that God had not always been king, but that, with his coming a new age was dawning in which the true nature of God’s Lordship could be understood and acknowledged.

Secondly, our mission task is to encourage people to enter into a saving relationship with God. Jesus challenged his disciples, and through them, challenges us to be ‘fishers of men’. One of our primary tasks as Christians is to share in the missionary work of the church. And that means not only supporting the work of those who are full-time missionaries, but also recognising that each of us is commissioned by Christ to proclaim the God who is present wherever we live.

But we can’t go on using past methods in today’s world. It is inescapable fact that the sea of faith has ebbed to a new low water mark that is probably unique in history. Just as in the past our overseas missionaries’ first priority was to learn the languages of the people to whom they went, so we must give time and effort to the job of learning. We must learn what makes western secular society tick. We must engage with the underlying philosophies by which our lives are unconsciously shaped, and measure them against the Gospel of Jesus.

As Paul struggled to interpret the Christian message for the Greek speaking world, so we must struggle to interpret the message for our culture.

Max Young

Never Volunteer

You would have thought that in my seven years in a Royal Naval school and over twenty years in the Army I’d have become inured to withstand requests to volunteer for anything. They say the Army teaches soldiers two things: “If in doubt, put down smoke and go left”; and “Never volunteer for anything”.

“Never volunteer” – when asked for volunteers, soldiers become poker-faced, apparently deaf, and learn to reply, without havering or putting up questionable excuses that they regretted their inability to volunteer for this very worthy task but, unfortunately they already had a commitment. (probably confidential – need to know and all that.)

I’m afraid, I failed not to volunteer on a number of occasions – sorry for the double negative! One of them was back in about June last year when Margaret Starr cornered me and said something to the effect that she needed my expertise (flattery) – she had heard me telling of my time as an Army caterer. Within a very short time I found I had accepted the responsibility of assisting to produce a supper meal for sixty in the Barber Rooms at the end of November. And what a production team it was! Margaret was boss with Jeni Summerfield running the kitchen and a goodly team of cooks and helpers. Then Margaret suggested that it made good sense that the diners were given something to take home after the feast and that I should conceive and organise this ‘gift’. But what gift could I give? A number of possibilities crossed my mind – a bottle of water from South West Uganda? a small pack of Cheese straws? a block of chocolate moulded into the WATSAN Logo?, . . . .  or what? It was, I suppose the word ’gift’ that made me think of our God-given gifts or Talents and a very short hop from there to the parable to be found in both Mark and Luke.

But who would put down the ‘seed money’ for this venture? There were a number of possibilities, and happily, the first person I approached said they thought that their contribution would be rather like handing out starters for sourdough loaves, part of it would be combined with more flour and water and made into a loaf – and so the YEAST PROJECT  was born. YE Are So Talented!

Unlike the recipients of the Talents in Mark and Luke’s version of the parable, the Yeast Project recipients were self- selected and as in Luke’s version given the same amount each. The other difference is that to reduce any pressure on recipients, no names or records were kept – the counting was done in the same way as the counting of the collection of envelopes is carried out each Sunday with complete confidentiality. We know there were some big bags of talents from a number of volunteers, including one of £500! We also know that we/they enjoyed the challenge and met it in a number of different ways – using the money to buy blank CD’s and selling recordings of their work – making marmalade, cakes and  biscuits – using the talent to buy sausages and selling ‘bangers and mash’ lunches – giving talks – making sacrifices by gathering funds from what would have been normal expenditure and putting it in the ‘yeast pot’ instead – Running a stall on a Saturday morning – perhaps the envelope fillers could let me know what they did to achieve what was, in the end, a magnificent result.

Yeast Project envelopes counted thus far raised £2,131 – so WATSAN and the fund for Parish Mission in Faringdon will each receive £1,065.

Many, many thanks to all involved in any way with the Yeast Project, your efforts have been magnificently successful. Here’s what we prayed when the Talents were received and blessed on Easter Sunday:

Heavenly Father, we offer these gifts, raised through the talents you have given us, to help with the work of WATSAN in South West Uganda and here in our Mission in this parish. Half these gifts will go where we cannot go and help those we cannot see or reach ourselves in Uganda and; half will be used here with those we can both see and reach. Through these gifts may the ignorant be taught, the thirsty for water and the knowledge of Jesus be satisfied, and your Kingdom increased. We ask your blessing on these gifts, on all those who accepted the challenge to grow their talents and those who supported them – and on the work of WATSAN and our Mission here.  We ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Max Young

Christianity—a Practical Religion

When we look around at the people we meet in Church, I’m sure we see a good number of practical people. And I’m sure that most of us would like to be thought of as practical people. We don’t hold dreamers or idealists in very high esteem, in fact we probably get rather impatient with some of their notions. OK, we may not see many visions, but we do like to get something done. Castles in the air are too wishy-washy for us. We want something solid that’s wind and weatherproof. Great ideas are all very well, but we have to deal with things as they are. There’s so little that gets done, and there’s so much to be done that we really haven’t got time for dreams.

The world needs workers and the best that we can do with what there is of our lives is to pack them as full as we can with practical usefulness. If you come across a lame dog by a stile, you know it wants something more than a stimulating talk on the art of jumping. Our duty is not to waste time in thinking how splendid it would be if there were no lame dogs and no difficult stiles in the world, but just to help the dog get over the stile.

I remember my Granny saying, “A pennyworth of practical help is worth a pound’s worth of sympathy any day of the week.” She wasn’t underrating the value of sympathy, but simply saying that if a pound’s worth of sympathy can’t be converted into at least a pennyworth of real human service, then that sympathy is a pretty poor thing. To feel pity and to do nothing makes an emotional luxury of something meant to stir us into giving practical help. Life is very short for all of us. If we want to leave our corner of the world a little cleaner, healthier, and brighter than when we found it, we need to cut down the talking and arguing about it and get on with the work required.

Christianity is a very practical religion with the aims of preaching the Gospel, healing the sick and blind, comforting the broken-hearted, freeing the oppressed. Practical programmes. There’s enough work to keep us busy for as long as we live.

Jesus was always at work. He was always doing good to somebody, sometimes preaching or teaching, healing, comforting, rebuking – always at work. And I don’t think we can really understand the Christian faith, unless we too are doing something for others. I may get into trouble for saying this, but some of the intellectual difficulties we have with our faith will never be solved by thinking. The only way in which we can see our way through them is by doing. It is by putting the precepts and principles of Christianity into practice, as much as we can, that we begin to understand them. Christ comes to meet us where  we are. If we are trying honestly to do our Christian duty, we shall find Jesus one day standing alongside us.

It’s amazing how many of life’s puzzles are solved when we set to and help others. We’ll never understand everything in this world. It isn’t as though we were sent into this world to make a sketch map of the universe. We shan’t be judged by what we understand but by what we do and were. God gives us all enough light to work by. It will be time enough to understand when we have finished the work that he has given us to do.

The life of the Christian is all coming and going – coming to Jesus for the strength that he alone can give us, going back into life to use that strength in doing good to those that need us, as and when and while we may. Do not dream your time away in wishing that the kingdom of God would come. Help it to come by doing your bit in your own corner of the world. Try to translate the dream into business. It’s a hard task, I know. I find it hard. So, I expect, do you. We can only do our best. We can only try our hardest. But if we keep on trying our hardest and patiently aiming at our best, God may work in us, and through us, in ways we just can’t imagine.

My apologies for the blunt bits in this article, reading it through I realise that I’m actually addressing myself as much as anybody. Happy Easter! May you, like Mary, find the Master standing beside you.

Max Young

Do You Feel ‘Up Against It’?

I was feeling pretty low at one point in January due to a variety of things – perhaps I had a slight case of Seasonally Affective Disorder, affected by the fog as it and life seemed to close around me. Anyway, I met a number of people who were also finding life a bit of a struggle for reasons that were far worse than mine, and knowing that seemed to jog me out of a rather introverted spell.

Thinking and praying for these people brought to mind one of those phrases to describe them as being people who were ‘up against it’. Like the foggy weather at the time the phrase lacks clarity. What is the ‘it’ that some people are up against? I don’t think that it’s life, because we have to deal with that every day. It can’t be God, or anything to do with the will of God, because if that was the case what could possibly save us from a final and irretrievable despair?

‘It’ must be a circumstance or a combination of circumstances that are on our minds that seems to haunt us, like an unseen enemy that’s trying to hurt us, physically, mentally or spiritually. We’re probably all aware, to some degree, of what that feels like but it’s not always easy to put into words.

Of course, we’re all individually very different and so we react to the challenge of being ‘up against it’ in very different ways. Some people seem to almost thrive on being ‘up against it’. They think about their situation as a challenge, a test of the stuff they’re made of. They refuse to be beaten, or if they are beaten they’ll jolly well go down fighting. This is the stuff that heroes and heroines are made of, those who throughout history faced pain, peril and hardship and stubbornly refused to give in, and in Harry Lauder’s words kept ‘right on to the end of the road.’

Some of us are not nearly as brave as the ‘bulldog breed’ and when we feel ‘up against it’, we get demoralised almost at once. We become out of sorts with everybody and are bitter and resentful that life isn’t as easy as we want it, so we tend, if we can, to find some way of escaping the challenge. If we know people like this, including ourselves, then we mustn’t be hard on them.

There are people like this who have tried hard and held their own for years. Then there came a breaking point, when, totally worn down, they felt they couldn’t go on. To meet people who are at this point, to see their unhappiness and hopelessness is one of the most tragic things I know.  What they need is not our contempt but our sympathy, not our indifference but our urgent help.

So, how can we help each other in an emergency of this kind? I think that if it’s ourselves we’ve categorized as ‘up against it’, we ought to be really certain that things are as we think they are – I mean, that they’re not something we’re imagining. When life looks dark, the explanation might be that we’ve put on dark glasses. It is quite possible to feel ‘up against it’ when all the time we’re only up against ourselves as I was in January.

But what about our faith? Where and how does that come in? It may well be that life seems too much for us, if we’ve only got our own resources to count on, but we’re devaluing our faith if we forget about our God and his power and his grace. God’s power isn’t a final resource,  that we only call up when everything else has fallen by the wayside. God’s grace represents the normal, everyday need of every one of us. Maybe it’s this that people forget – perhaps because God has been excluded from their daily lives and only when they are ‘in extremis’ do they remember that he is there beside them in the person of Jesus.

Quite possibly it may be the forgetfulness of this fact – with the neglect, for example, of daily prayer – that has brought us to where we are – ‘up against it’. If any of us have kept God out of our lives, can we wonder at our confusion and despair? Prayer is the threshold over which God steps to be in our spiritual home, to stand beside us and share and support all aspects of our lives – to change our attitude from “I’m up against it” to “We’re in this together”. Put out the welcome mat and open the door!

Max Young

A ‘Possible’ Invitation

On 15th January this year Steve preached about Jesus’ invitation to the first disciples and suggested that we might issue an unconditional invitation to people we meet in our everyday lives to come to All Saints or St Mary’s and see what we do. If they do come we have to convince them that the Christian message is still a relevant one.

Two thousand years ago Christianity started when people were attracted to the personality of Jesus. The crowds gathered not to be given a creed but to meet and listen to him. Our movement was started when Jesus invited people to be his disciples with the simple words, “Follow me”. He asked them for their unreserved loyalty, to give up everything, at once, without a word of excuse or protest, and go after him. “Follow me” was the sum of all that he had to say to them.

That invitation still stands. But how can people follow Jesus today? Many people recognise Christian teaching and generally approve of it and say that they’d like to be able to conform to it and to see others, nations as well as individuals, do the same. But there are difficulties.

One of them is in relating Jesus to the concrete situations in which they find themselves today. How does the twenty-first century Briton emulate a first century life? We live in a highly complex, mechanised, industrialised and competitive society, whereas Jesus lived in one that was largely rural and pastoral. And the character of life was different. He wasn’t married, didn’t have to set up a home. He left the carpenter’s shop to become an itinerant preacher. The simplicity of his life and the excellence of his character make an unfailing appeal. But today, with family claims, business interests, and property concerns, people want to know whether it’s possible to transfer any pattern of behaviour from his life to their own.

Is the teaching of Jesus relevant nowadays? Can people get the direction they need to grapple with the moral dilemmas of our complex modern world? There are people who appear disappointed by what seem to them the limitations and inadequacies of Jesus’s teaching in this respect. So many of their problems, they say, aren’t mentioned in the Gospels, especially the problems of public life – the possession of property, the nature of government, and the policies of nations in their dealings with one another.

But they don’t understand what Jesus came to do. They look at Jesus’ teaching and expecting to find a set of rules, a code, an ethical guide-book covering every contingency in life and providing rule-of-thumb directions for all ethical dilemmas, personal and social. There is no such code in the Gospels.

Jesus wasn’t a lawmaker. He didn’t try to provide a complete compendium of moral duties. He described a way of life and by his words and actions showed that it was do-able. The value of his teaching is not in telling us how we ought to behave in every circumstance and in every relationship, but in describing a way of life to be worked out in personal character and social relationships.

So long as this is remembered no one is likely to label Jesus’ teaching as antiquated or irrelevant. Too much can be made of the difference between his world and ours. In many ways it was a world strikingly like our own. Then as now there were people organising their grievances in self-righteous pressure groups – insisting on their rights, aggressive, grasping. Then as now the Haves were ranged against the Have-Nots and there was suspicion, animosity and friction. Then as now there wars and rumours of wars, and a background of exploitation, oppression, and unrest. Christ lived in a world which in the basic essentials was extraordinarily like our own.

The truths he taught and the issues he dealt with are timeless. The human heart has not changed with the years – its loves and hates, its hopes and fears, its joys and sorrows, its temptations, passions and failures. He spoke about sin, and how deliverance from it can be found; about the cares and anxieties of daily existence and pointed a way to a simple, un-harassed life. He spoke of the human soul, of its worth, its rights, its possibilities, its responsibilities. He spoke confidently and convincingly of God as the Father of men, answering and satisfying the deepest craving of their spirits.

What is there in this that is irrelevant today, that would justify us chaining Jesus to the first century and denying his validity now? You cannot date Jesus. “Heaven and earth,” he said, “shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.” His words are as alive with spiritual appeal today as when they were first spoken. Has there been any age when the Beatitudes, or the parable of the good Samaritan, or the Golden Rule weren’t deeply relevant?

There is, however, another and greater difficulty. Some people, although they know Jesus offers a solution to the problems of our lives, doubt the practicability of the solution. The way of life is beautiful and noble but isn’t it too idealistic, high and hard for ordinary people? They persuade themselves that there must be an easier way, something less demanding or perfectionist, and that the honest thing is to own up to not being a Christian. They may say that there would soon be an end to all our troubles if only people would act in accordance with the teaching of Jesus. It is a big “if”. It would be a wonderful world if everybody lived by the principles of the Sermon on the Mount, but with those principles so demanding, with the world and human nature what it is, what prospect is there for such a world?

Yes, Jesus does set us high standards. Let me name some of them. We are: to put God and not self first; not to be anxious about food or clothes or money; to be absolutely honest; to love our enemies; to forgive always ‘those who sin against us’; to be perfect as God is perfect. What claims Jesus makes on human nature! What an optimist he is! Men didn’t always show him their best side but he believed in them and their ability to meet his challenge. He never gives up on humanity. He is always calling on people to be bigger, braver, wiser and more God-like in the living of their lives. He never speaks as though evil is permanently rooted in the order of things. It is because he sees us as children of God that he makes such exacting demands and pitches things so high.

We need a faith like that today. There are too many among us who view the mean and debasing elements in humanity as impossible to correct, who view any talk about the Golden Rule and a warless world as being a waste of breath.

Of all the obstacles standing in the way of a better world this is the most powerful, this cynicism about the possibility of changing human nature. There was no such cynicism in Jesus. He wasn’t blind to the evil in people, but there was something else he never lost sight of – the wonderful latent goodness in ordinary men and women.

He saw hidden possibilities in everybody he met and believed they could be called into life. His standards are high, but he doesn’t expect us to attain them without help. We aren’t left by ourselves. God is always at hand enabling the person who turns to him to do things which are impossible to mere human nature. Jesus repeatedly emphasised that – that if we’d get in touch with God we’d receive the power to rise to finer and better things.

If that way of life is to become a reality for us, we have to learn to live by the help and grace of God. That was Jesus’ secret. He lived by the help and grace of God, and taught that all of us, day by day, hour by hour, may do the same.

To follow Jesus isn’t easy. But if we want to follow him, and will turn to God for strength, a power will take possession of us that will enable us to dare and do the impossible. This is not romancing. It has happened in previous generations and is happening to men and women today.

I know there are some of us who are drawn to the Christian life but are afraid of failing to reach Christ’s standards. We must remember that we are not alone. God is with us and we can draw on his Spiritual resources. Remember what Jesus said when his disciples thought his demands were so hard and high that nobody could rise to them, “With men it is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

Get those invitations out!

Faringdon’s Got Talent

Those of you who went to the WATSAN event on 25th November will know that I have been thinking about talent, and you would have been on the receiving end of culinary, sung and spoken examples from Faringdon’s talent pool.

We also saw other aspects of this pool at the Royal British Legion’s Festival of Remembrance that was organised (no pun intended) by Joy Blake with Faringdon Brass, the Ferndale Community Choir, Army Cadets, Yvonne Belcher, our town Mayor Councillor Dr Mike Wise and some stunning audio-visual compositions by Gordon Belcher.

But, of course, talk of talent makes me immediately think of Jesus’ parable of the Talents written in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. In them Jesus told of the master commending his servants who had made good use of their gifts, saying that , because they’d been faithful, “in a few things” they’d be rewarded by being “put in charge of many things”.

Matthew and Luke’s stories, though basically parallel, do differ in some details but have essentially the same meaning. The phrase ‘faithful in a few things’ reminded me of the one used in Jesus’ parable about the wily steward that was our Gospel in mid September, when Jesus said , Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much. (Lk 16:10).

The British Biblical scholar Dr James Moffatt translated this as: “He who is faithful with a trifle is also faithful with a large trust”,

But as I see it, I think he missed the point. Jesus is not saying, “because he is faithful with a little, therefore, in the future, he will be faithful with much”. What Jesus says is that this is a statement of present fact, that to be faithful with a little is to be truly, greatly, wholly faithful; it is to be faithful in much.

If we are faithful in little matters, that is what counts with God – it is the faithfulness that’s important, not the size of the task. Faithfulness is faithfulness, nothing more, nothing less.

“Well, Max”, I can hear someone saying, “this is just semantics, what difference does it make?” To my mind, it makes a very real difference that is relevant to many people today.

The parable of the Talents is used to teach that honest efforts, and hard work, will have their reward. That’s all very right and proper, and I’ve nothing to say against it. But this neat little bit of moral philosophy doesn’t always apply, and I’m sure it wasn’t what Jesus meant.

For example, I don’t think it applies to a large section of the community; what of the wives and mothers amongst us? What reward after years of faithful service? Surely we’re not suggesting they should have two homes to manage instead of one; or five, instead of two children to care for, saying, “You, who have been faithful in a few things shall now be rewarded by being put in charge of many things”, are we? There’s something to be said for a wife and a mother being made Prime Minister, if she’s got the appropriate skills, but what about the millions who will still be faithfully carrying out their daily tasks to the end of their days? Surely their reward is in their faithfulness, and it is of such as these that Jesus said, “Who is faithful in little things is faithful in much”.

It is faithfulness in small things that is so desperately needed today, not in order to get greater opportunities that may come as a reward, but for the love of true and honest work, and for the joy of serving others.

Most people think there’s not much they can do to shape and influence the great world issues of today. But don’t the great issues depend on individuals, and don’t individuals come from homes, schools, Churches, communities, where faithfulness in small things shows character even as it creates it?

Jesus didn’t say, “He who is faithful in matters that are the smallest will be faithful in greater ones” – anyone could have said that – he put the emphasis where it is so often forgotten, that to be faithful with a little is to be truly, greatly, wholly faithful; it is to be faithful in much. I hope this explanation of Jesus’ message will help and encourage those who are filling small places, and doing little things, with great faithfulness, and always will be. So, go to it, faithful talented Faringdonians! Have an expectant Advent, a joyous and happy Christmas and New Year, and an eye-opening Epiphany!

Max Young

They shall grow not old

On Remembrance Day and Remembrance Sunday we will hear again the well known central verse from the poem For the Fallen that is regularly used as an exhortation and statement that tells those listening of our determination neither to forget, nor to overlook, the efforts and sacrifices of those who served our country and Commonwealth in the First and Second World Wars, and subsequent wars and conflicts.

Strangely though, this poem wasn’t written by a soldier who had seen action, but by Laurence Binyon, a 45 year old keeper of oriental prints and drawings at the British Museum. He wrote it sitting on a cliff-top at Polzeath in Cornwall in early September 1914, just a few weeks after the Great War began.

The poem has a smooth and rhythmic flow and uses formal, elegant language that, today, encapsulates the deep sense of respect, admiration and grief which marks our modern act of collective remembrance. The verse They Shall Grow Not Old… was actually written first, and its words, with their sombre repetitive rhythm, give it an enduring power when we hear them read aloud in public.

As the Great War progressed, and the casualties grew, its words resonated greatly with those who had lost husbands, sons, brothers and friends and neighbours. The whole poem has a spiritual depth and meaning, and its final verse, with its imagery of stars sparkling in the infinity of the heavens, gave those left behind both consolation and hope.

But at its heart its middle verse in particular means that, even now some 102 years later, we are determined We will remember them. The verse was set to music by several composers including Sir Edward Elgar in 1917. Their various compositions are for soloists and choirs, accompanied by orchestras and/or pipe organs.

And it was echoes of that same verse that came into my mind in the middle of the night. They seemed to amalgamate, quite naturally, with two events that happened earlier in the year. The first occurred when a Wednesday group, that meet and sing for fun, learned a short West African Song invoking the ancestors – it was a song that really moved me with its simplicity in line and harmony. It was called Pora samine and we sang it as part of an Oxfordshire choir in the Sheldonian Theatre in mid-March.

The second event was the service on the centenary of the Battle of the Somme on 1st July. In preparing for the service I came across a photograph of a grave in Amiens of a soldier who had fought for the French forces in the battle. He was in Les Tirailleurs Senegalais and would have been recruited from the French Colonies in West Africa.

Those two events and the verse from For the Fallen seemed to gel together, and I could imagine relatives of that soldier standing in the cemetery singing Pora samine just as I can imagine the tune adapted for They shall grow not old . . . being sung within the memorials at Menin Gate, Thiepval and Tyne Cot.

If you are able to attend the Royal British Legion Festival of Remembrance in All Saints’ on the evening of 11th November, you will hear the poem read in full, with our Community choir, conducted by Louise Woodgate, singing, unaccompanied, the middle verse They shall grow not old.

Reunions make you think, don’t they

I’m writing this article having just returned from a reunion weekend in Romsey with three couples with whom I served in the Army. I’ve known them for 54 years in the case of the men and about 48 years for the ladies. We are all married with golden wedding anniversaries spread over the next five years and apart from a bit of hearing difficulty, we are all blessed with reasonable health. The thing that struck me was that although our career paths diverged, after the Army, we are all content with how our lives have panned out and respect the variety amongst us. We had much to talk about and our hosts had arranged an interesting itinerary – altogether it was a most enjoyable reunion – it’s my turn to host next year.

Our time together reminded me of a story of a reunion of past pupils of a school run by a religious order. One of the priests, who’d been abroad for years, returned for the reunion and found himself surrounded by a host of ex-pupils whom he hadn’t met since they left school. To an observer it would have been obvious that he was much loved and respected.

He had a natural graciousness that seemed to trigger an outpouring of the details of their post-school lives. There was an architect who’d built a number of public buildings, including two churches; a university professor who was the author of a number of learned books; the CEO of an international company; a highly successful farmer who used the most modern technology in improving his harvests; a Cardinal in the Roman Catholic Church; and the Principal of a famous public school.

What a pleasure it was for the old priest listening to all their impressive successes and achievements. It appeared that there wasn’t a failure among those who had returned for the reunion.

He didn’t say much as he listened to them, just nodded and smiled. When they’d done, he congratulated them on their achievements. Then, opening his arms to them he asked them, “And now, tell me what you have made of yourselves?”

There was a long silence. They didn’t really want to talk about themselves. It was clear that they’d been so absorbed in their careers, with their energies focused on efficiency and success, that they hadn’t the time to grow emotionally, and so, in terms of relationships, many of them were impoverished.

There are people who may have done great things in their public lives but failed in their private lives. Most people who are successful at their careers leave their personal lives a long way behind. Indeed, their successes are often achieved at the expense of their personal lives.

Do you remember how in the parable of the Talents the first two men were commended by Jesus because they used their talents, but he berated the third because he had buried his talent?

When Christ talked about talents, he wasn’t meaning say, a musical talent, or a footballing talent. Those talents are important, and full marks to those who have, develop, and use them. But nowadays they are, in my opinion, outrageously over-valued and over-rewarded. Christ’s parable goes a lot deeper. Ultimately the only thing that matters is what we make of ourselves.

But we’re wrong if we think it is about making something of ourselves in a materialistic sense, though this is not ruled out. The ‘wife of noble character’ mentioned in the final chapter of Proverbs could hardly be described as being either successful or famous. Yet she is held up as a model. Why? Because of the person she is – industrious, caring, wise and virtuous. She’s got something more valuable than wealth or beauty. She has a loving heart. She has put her talents at the service of her family, her neighbours, and the poor. And so she is respected by the whole community.

Life is God’s gift to us. What we do with life is our gift to God.

Max Young

Our Priesthood

I was talking with someone in the Barber Rooms after Steve’s installation last month and we were trying to find a word that summarised our feelings – the service had been so uplifting and, to my mind, had illustrated very clearly that we ARE a priesthood of all believers (remember the last two articles I wrote in the magazine?).

From outside All Saints’ we were called by the bells, then inside we were greeted joyfully as we entered our church where it was so apparent that we were a very happy multi-talented crowd whose priesthood or ministry had worked so well during the inter-regnum and who were looking forward to continuing that priest-work with Steve and Wendy.

Well, the word that came to me to describe my feelings was ‘Hope’ – I felt that there was a feeling of confidence in the future of our work together under Steve’s leadership.

The Bishop and Steve were very clear that such work can only be effective by our efforts moving outwards from our church buildings to operate among the people of the two parishes. And one of the outstanding differences between the Christian priesthood and others is that in other religions the priesthood’s work is usually limited by the boundaries of the temple, shrine, sanctuary or holy place. It is concerned only with services, sacrifices and worship. No Israeli priest was expected to go amongst his fellow Jews to minister to them, to bring comfort, help or healing. No Buddhist or Hindu priest would dream of doing such a thing.

But we have a new kind of priesthood, one given to us by Jesus Christ. It is his own priesthood, as he said, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free’.

He sent his disciples out to preach and heal, and told his church ‘to feed his sheep’. And in telling the parable of the Good Samaritan, he showed the difference between the old priesthood and the new.

From its formation the Christian Church began to do what no other religious body had ever done before, and set up a ministry of teaching, helping, healing and shepherding amongst their neighbours.

I feel sure that the church’s success in winning over the hearts and minds of people was in a large part due to its pastoral ministry. This priesthood of the Christian Church – both clergy and laity – was a new phenomenon, and the success or failure of the church’s mission was, and is, a reflection of the degree to which its pastoral work is emphasised or neglected.

Today we have plenty of opportunities to exercise our individual priesthoods and it is heartening in Faringdon to see this work in action in so many aspects of our church life. Let us thank God for this and for all those amongst us whose personal examples in word and action are affecting for good the lives of those with whom they come in contact. This is truly priestly work and the scope for it is unlimited. By using our lives and abilities in almost any way in the service of Christ will fulfil our priesthood and help us to be worthy of the vocation to which we are all called.

Max Young