Sunday 28 August 2022

Sorting out the Seating Plan at the Wedding of the Lamb

"When you are invited to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honour, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this person your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place."

Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind. (Luke 14:8-9;12-13)

Occasionally there's something in the Bible that is so out of our experience that we can't relate to it. Like this story of the sharp-elbowed wedding guests.

We all know that the British have solved this problem. The most important person at a wedding feast is, after all, the one who does the seating arrangements. Then a nice tasteful name card at each place - and maybe a seating map pinned up, if it's a big do - job's a good 'un. No need for anyone to be humiliated by being moved down the pecking order because a Love Island contestant just turned up.

But, of course, we still know this experience of people demanding their rights - and occasionally not getting them. The most famous recently being Carlton Funderburke, the Kansas City pastor who accused his congregation of being "cheap" because they didn't buy him a nice watch.

I think there's an end-times edge to this little narrative of Jesus's. It's about humility, sure. But that wedding feast is the kingdom of heaven. Maybe we're all taking our places now. Who is the one who's elevated themselves above their true seat when we find out about the heavenly table arrangements at the Wedding Feast of the Lamb? And who does Jesus want sitting next to him?

There's an old joke about a good, honest person who goes to heaven - I forget the original details, and I suspect it's not a true story, so let's say they're a shop assistant. And she gets to heaven, and St Peter checks her off the list, and quietly ushers her in.

And she's wandering around gazing round the place in awe, and over at the pearly gates a limo drives through and there's fireworks and bands and cheering and she goes back to St Peter and says, "Who's that?"

And he says, "it's a bishop." 

"Typical," she says, "even up here there's the same old hierarchy. The bishops get all the fuss, and the ordinary people are worth less."

And St Peter replies, "You don't understand. Thing is, this place is full of people like shop assistants. But we very rarely get a bishop."

Which brings us on to the second passage.

At first glance, my problem with this reading…. 

Is Jesus basically saying we should look after those less fortunate than ourselves because in the long term we get rewarded? So instead of your instant payback on earth, you get a much better one in heaven?

Is the Kingdom of Heaven just an eschatological Stamford Marshmallow Experiment, where delaying gratification leads to better rewards in the afterlife? 

If so, I don't want to go. If I’m going to look after someone, or help someone else, I want to do it for their sake, not for a payback in this world or the next.

But Jesus is telling us - I think - to raise the level of how we interact with people above what is purely transactional. If we give to someone who can't give back, if we aren't looking for thanks or repayment - we're setting ourselves free from the normal rules of our world. We're also acting in the same way as God, who made a whole universe out of nothing and, when that wasn't even, gave it God's Son as well.

And there's another saying of Jesus's where he tells us that whatever we do for those in need - we also do for him. When we feed the hungry, visit the lonely, then we are growing in our love of, our relationship with Jesus - we're recognising Jesus in those around us.

Entering the Kingdom of Heaven isn't a transactional relationship. It's a personal one. If we give without worrying about the reward, then our reward will be great - because we are drawing closer to God, who gives us all things - including his Son.

Friday 26 August 2022

Things Found in Church Vestries

 Odd things, church vestries.

In theory, the place where the clergy change into their liturgical garb. Say a quiet prayer (or 187, if of the Anglo-Catholic variety).

In practice. The place where all the rubbish that the church can't quite bring itself to get rid of, ends up. Such as:

  1. A "duplicate book" with countersigned records of all the collections between 2001 and 2004.
  2. A crucifix with the arms broken off.
  3. 234 copies of the Alternative Service Book, in case it is ever re-legalised.
  4.  Photographs of all the former incumbents with their wives. And one former incumbent with his mother.
  5. A photo of a former Bishop of Ebbsfleet, hidden in a cupboard. 
  6. Key safes containing the keys to other key safes. Which contain the keys to other key safes.
  7. The laws on the protection of bats. In case the incident with the machine gun is ever considered again.
  8. Clerical robes that will never be worn again, that have been half-eaten by moths, but nobody has the heart.... 
  9. Advent candles from the last two decades, all burnt to various degrees.
  10.  A list of former rectors that ends in 1983 for no apparent reason.
  11. Laminated notes on how to sanitise your whole body after private prayer, from March 2021.
  12. Mouse traps, with no clues as to whether there are still any mice.
  13. Instructions on communion during Covid from February 2020.
  14. Instructions of the prayers to say as one vests for High Mass.
  15. A list of the PCC members in 1994. Consisting of the same people as the PCC in 2022.
  16. A Dave Walker cartoon about all the funny things you find in church vestries.
  17. A box of masks.
  18. Pegs and pigeon holes labelled with the names of the members of the former quire. Many of whom are now dead. Just in case they reform.
  19. A glasses case, from an opticians that closed sometime in the last century.
  20. Some buttons.
  21. Numerous half-used bottles of hand sanitiser.

Thursday 25 August 2022

Lament for the Church Printer Going Wrong

Woe is me for the Church Printer is going wrong
On the night when I have to produce the service sheet
And though the duplexer functions not,
yet I figured I could manually duplex 50 copies
Except I put them back in the wrong side up
and printed pages 2 and 3 over pages 1 and 4
And when I started again
I put them back in the wrong way round 
so now you have to turn the service sheets upside down
to read them when you should just turn the page.
And now onto the third set of prints
The pages are covered with grey streaks

The liturgy cannot be read
and the blackness of the ink 
means that it looks more like unto a funeral
than a pet service.

My heart fails within me
for it could need a new black toner cartridge

But the printer app says it's at 40 per cent and if it's something else I've lost a cartridge
Or, at least, 40 per cent of one.

And now the printer's not talking to the PC
or the PC's not talking to the printer

So I reboot the PC
but it's not worked.

So I reboot the printer
but that's not worked.

And now I reboot both
and that's not worked.

So I reboot them in the other sequence 
and they're talking to each other.

So I print the document
But after twenty minutes when nothing happens
I realise I've sent it to the other printer
In the Moot House.

Which is why Burton Dassett is now screaming that the Moot House is haunted
so at least some good came out of it.

I print it again.
No - that's gone to PDF.

Reboot the printer.
Reboot the PC.

Reboot in the opposite order.
Reboot both.

Behold for I have a perfect pamphlet 
printed the right way round 

On the special paper we bought for the service
On which I printed  all those wasted service sheets

So now I only have four sheets left
and forty-nine to print.

And the data projector's bulb has gone
And last year's pet service orders have the wrong date on them

So I shall go down to the Moot House
and paint the order of service on the walls.

It may not be the best solution
but it's all I can face.

Give me a minute
while I drop the printer out of the window.
Oops it landed on Burton
So that's two good things.

Saturday 20 August 2022

Clergy to Authorise Heating Subsidies for Parishioners

As Brexit Britain struggles with how to cope with the cost of energy, the Government is proposing a radical new approach to keeping the needy just about alive. 

I can reveal that Nadim Zahawi, or whoever is Chancellor this week, has been in discussions with the Archbishops' Council with a view to enabling Church of England clergy to authorise heating subsidies for parishioners.

"The theory is elegant in the extreme", said a Tory source. "It is well-known that Chuch of England clergy live in houses so cold that in midwinter they can make an additional income source from selling liquid nitrogen. Who better to judge whether someone else has a genuine need for help with heating their house, or is just a bit nesh?"

According to the new scheme, the clergy will visit the potential claimant's house, sit down for a cup of tea - or a glass of ice if the electric has been cut off - and determine whether the claimant's house is colder than their vicarage. If it is, the clergy will sign the form authorising the claimant to get a 10% discount on their gas bill. If the clergy feels that in fact the claimant's house is warmer than their own house, they will instead offer advice on sitting under lots of fleeces, eating warming chillis, or organising lots of meetings in other people's houses.

The Daily Express has this week been advocating the use of wood-burning stoves as an alternative to gas or electric heating. If you don't have a wood burning stove, why not try being middle class?

A wood burning stove, with a fire lit, and a scuttle and companion set. Like middle class people have in the country.
If you work hard, you could have one of these

Sunday 14 August 2022

Change of Outrage

With the change to weather expected tomorrow, please note the following changes:

What no longer to get self-righteous about
The heat
People walking their dogs in the heat
People using hosepipes
Disposable barbecues
Back-garden swimming pools
People chucking fag ends out of car windows
Lack of reservoirs
People wearing masks in public
Chinese lanterns
People saying "isn't it hot"
Car alarms
People clogging up the NHS with sunburn
People using showers while not standing in a bucket.

What to start getting self-righteous about
The rain
People walking their dogs in the rain
People who live next to rivers getting upset about flooding
People wearing masks in public
Blocked drains
People who dance in the garden in torn sheets in the rain
People clogging up the NHS being struck by lightning
In-house swimming pools
People saying "isn't it wet"
People using prepositions to end sentences with.

Monday 8 August 2022

The Woodlanders Stop Working from Home

As the clock struck 1 in the morning, Marty South dropped another bundle of thatch spars by the door, and returned to her chair. The fire, flaring bright when she had put on the waste wood, had already resumed its sulky, sullen glow. Somewhere out in the woods, a badger unwrapped a hedgehog.

She picked up the next spar gad, examining it for the perfect place to split it. Her father's snores drifted down the stairs. Marty was surprised to hear a tap at the door.

"Oh," she cried, "is that Barber Percombe, a-come to buy my beautiful long hair to make a wig for Mrs Charmond,  the rich lady at the hall?"

"No," came the answer.

"Then it must be Doctor Fitzpiers, come to ask my father if he can buy his brain when he dies."

"Indeed not."

"Then - oh - could it be - is it Giles Winterborne, come to ask me to be his wife?"

"Don't be ridiculous."

"Then who are you, stranger?"

The door opened, and in loped a man of the proportions of a willow wand. He wore the year's latest most fashionable clothes, and a top hat.

"I have always worked from home, Sir."

"And do you work flexi-time?"

"I am sorry, Sir. I do not understand your up-country speech."

"Do you work when you like?"

"I do, Sir. Although, thanks to my father's sickness, "when I like" is actually all the time. During the night I make thatch spars. And in the day I plant..."

"Never mind, never mind. This is just the kind of woke attitude that caused Master Starbux's coffee house to go out of business. I expect to see you in the smoke factory in Shottsford-Forum at 5 sharp of this morning. If you should start walking now you will have time to beg for a crust from a passing mail coach."

He stopped, and looked at Marty's ungloved right hand, red and sore from her night's work.

"Excellent. Excellent."

And he was gone into the night.

Sunday 7 August 2022

Cathedral Reception Desk Standard Questions

Hello - are you visiting the exhibition?

So are you visiting to see the architecture?

Are you a benchmark bagger? We have special rates.

While you're here "to pray" - do you think you might be looking at some of the architecture? Just on the sly?

You're not going to nip off and look at the exhibiton while you claim to be praying, are you?

Why would you need to pray in a cathedral anyway? Don't you know God's everywhere? And without an entrance fee.

Do you normally go to your own church? Or is this more a tourism kind of thing? 

Can't you afford the "suggested donation"?

Are you sure you don't have a camera?

You will be keeping your phone in your pocket at all times, won't you?

You know it's not Evensong until 4.30. Are you sure you'll just be praying?

Will you please follow Archnold, who will escort you to the Prayer Square? Please don't leave the Square.

How can you prove you're a member of the clergy?

How do I know that's not a fake dog collar?

Are you sure you haven't stolen that clerical shirt? 

Where can I find you in Crockfords?

How was I supposed to know you're the Archdeacon of Barchester?

Sins Like Scarlet

I  know people complain about modern chemicals. But they could make some right odd things in the old days. The Romans used the slime from sea snails to make Imperial Purple, for instance. And getting the slime out of sea-snails is such a performance, that only very rich people could afford purple clothes.

And scarlet - you got scarlet by grinding up bugs called kermes. And again it's a fast dye, it doesn't run when you wash it. And because it's so intensive to make, it became the colour of royalty and cardinals and other powerful people. And of sin.

The Revelation of John was long after Isaiah's time, no matter how late scholars have dated their latest invented Isaiah. But when St John came to write about the Whore of Bablyon, there's no doubt about the colour of her clothes. Scarlet. The colour of exploitation. The colour of murdering millions of tiny bugs just to have a splash of brightness. The colour you can only afford in bulk if you have made a stash and want to flaunt it : "Whore of Babylon flaunts her side-boob in scarlet bikini" - Daily Mail.

Thing about scarlet is, it's a fast dye. Once it's in your clothes, it sticks. And it's very bright. A lovely orangey-red. It strikes your eye. It's said that Liverpool FC started wearing all-red strips because Bill Shankly thought it would psychologically scare opponents. Well, yesterday's game against Fulham would suggest that ain't true all the time. But certainly we won the league the year he changed the strip.

So as a colour associated with wealth, danger, being unmissable, and yet unremovable - It's the perfect symbol for sin.

And God says, “Though your sins are like scarlet, they will be as white as snow; though they are as red as crimson, they will become like wool." 

Isaiah's book is just starting. And it's gonna be a long old series of woes on the way to a return to the Promised Land, a lot of sin before the Suffering Servant. But Isaiah puts it up front. All the things you do wrong - all the things you've done wrong - all those you will do wrong - cling to you like a fast dye, and rage at you like the brightest red sunburn.

And, says God, I will take them away.

All the stuff you've got wrong, all the hurts you've caused, all the hurts you cling onto, all the selfishness you hold close to your heart - forget them. If you choose me, and reject those sins, and follow what is right - then I already have.

And it's later in the prophecy, when the Servant sings his song, and later again, when a virgin gives birth and that child is Immanuel, that the way God's forgiving works is revealed. By his stripes we are healed, says Isaiah 53. The sins that bring us back to the past, that colour our relationships with God and each other, that we cannot wash away with good intentions or good deeds - are washed away in the stream of scarlet that pours from Messiah's veins.

Though our sins are like scarlet, yet in God they are white as snow. Don't look for them- they are gone.

Saturday 6 August 2022

Covid Secure Service

 OK. We have a problem.

Aware that people who are still Covid-concerned didn't want to come to the main Moot House celebration on Sunday morning, we introduced the "Not Very Popular Service" at 4pm. 

But so many people were Covid-concerned, we now have more people coming to the "Not Very Popular Service" than the main one. 

We've tried everything to whittle it down to just the genuinely concerned. Enforcing aqualungs. Refusing to share a chalice. Singing only Sydney Carter Hymns*.

But the "Not Very Popular Service" goes from strength to strength. We've even had to  lay on a video feed to the undercroft, where people are packed in to enjoy the space and freedom from concern.

So we're now introducing the "Really Not Very Popular Service" at 5 pm. It's like the 4pm service. But we've banned antiperspirant.

I think it might really take off.

* Not "Lord of the Dance". We're not barbarians.

Monday 1 August 2022

A Reet Ritual for Yorkshire Day

Archdruid: Ow do?

All: Gradely. Gradely.

Archdruid: Where hast been sin I saw thee?

All: On Ilkley Moor Baht at.

Archdruid: Yer'll have had yer Yorksher tea?

All: Aye.

Archdruid: And 'ows t'Yorkshire internet?

All: What's in t'net?

Archdruid: No. Internet.

All: Nay. We're all right. We've got Yorkshire internet. 

Archdruid: And 'ows Our Eric?

All: Gradely.

Archdruid: And Our Kid?

All: Gradely.

Archdruid: And Their Kid?


And Geoffrey Boycott?

All: Still batting.

Boycott: 73 runs off 356,444 balls and not a chance outside the off stump.

Archdruid: Is it time t' push t'owdest barmpot down t'dale in t'bathtub?

All: Aye.

Owdest Barmpot: Oh no. Not again.

T'Owdest Barmpot is pushed down t'dale in t'bathtub.

Compo from Last of the Summer Wine going downhill in a bathtub


Closing Hymn: "Yorkshire, Yorkshire, Yorkshire, Yorkshire" (trad)

There will be a closing collection. Though we don't know why we'd bother.