Thursday, December 13, 2012

Sermon for Advent 2

Until the end of November I was living and working in Skopje, and in my spare time  leading Anglican worship. Now I have moved to Yerevan, and for a while at least will continue to prepare homilies and reflections for the congregation that continues to worship on a DIY basis, in Skopje. I will also post photos showing life in Yerevan and Armenia. From the beginning of January, the blog will move to Cambridge, where I will be studying for a term.

The Second Sunday of Advent

The inspiration for this homily comes from the Gospel reading: "the word of God came to John (son of Zechariah)". I included the last three words deliberately so that there is no confusion with respect to which John the text refers! It is most certainly John the Baptist, not the John whose cat bit him at Skopje airport last week! By the way, the hand is totally ok again now, and the cat still lives (and is loving life in Yerevan).

Very often in the Anglican tradition we have in church for the Advent season the Advent wreath with four candles-one for each of the Sundays.  The second candle (today's) is lit for the "prophets" (incidently, last Sunday was for the Patriarchs). So it is apt that today the gospel reading is about John the Baptist. I have always seen John the Baptist as the bridge between two worlds. The way he is depicted in the Bible is meant deliberately to be reminiscent of the Old Testament prophets – John is portayed as a wild man in the wilderness, a fiery preacher with a stern message to return to God's path or else! There was also a belief that had become popular amongst the Jews, that the prophet Elijah would reappear just before the Messiah appeared, and so John fitted the bill perfectly.

Indeed Jesus himself appears to be referring to John as the reincarnation of "Elijah" just after the Transfiguration (Where Moses and Elijah symbolically appeared with Jesus) in Mark 9:13 where Mark records "But I tell you, Elijah has come, and they have done to him everything they wished, just as it is written about him". What the supporters of the new Christian movement needed (at the time of writing of the Gospels) more than anything was to be validated by the line of Jewish prophets. They were desperate to present Jesus not as an aberration coming out of nowhere but as part of the natural succession that was foretold throughout the Old Testament (as we call it now). In this way, the birth of Jesus was nothing less than the fulfilment of Judaism. So, having a bona fide prophet, such as John, confirm the status of Jesus was very important to them and in the gospels he does indeed do that.

That may not be the whole truth of course. We see what we want to see. John the Baptist can appear at times to have been as much a "rival" to Jesus as a prophet attesting to Jesus. Their rival ministries co-existed until John's untimely death and even then in prison as a nod towards that rivalry the gospels have John doubting that Jesus is the Messiah and sending his own disciples to Jesus to ask "Are you the one or are we to expect another?" Jesus answers by re-counting the signs of the kingdom that had been prophesied long ago and are now present.

What is indisputable is that John the Baptist baptised Jesus, so it is probable that Jesus was originally a disciple of John the Baptist. What is also indisputable is that while He was a disciple of John, Jesus had a deep and profound spiritual experience at his baptism.  This deep
and incredible experience led Jesus to understand clearly his relationship with, and his deep knowledge of, the presence of God within him. His immediate reaction was to go into the wilderness to contemplate what this meant for him personally. After 40 days and 40 nights, he understood clearly His mission, and responded to that mission by launching His own ministry. This was based on his experience of God as internal and integral and loving instead of a distant and judgemental "something". And the rest as we say is history, but we should never forget that the initial inspiration came from John, "the word God came to John". In just the same way, inspiration can come to us at any time, sometimes when we least expect it. So, during this busy time before Christmas let's be careful never to be too busy to respond to God's call whenever it might appear!

God bless you all, lots of love from Yerevan in this Advent season.

Monday, June 8, 2009


Last week we were in Italy for meetings, very close to Venice, and on Saturday afternoon, before returning to Macedonia we made time to visit the beautiful city.

Venice was as good, even better, than any preconceptions I had in my mind. It was unbelievable to park our car then walk across a bridge into a totally different world; no cars, no roads, no traffic noise, and everywhere canals. Some small, some large, and boats parked at every door.

St Mark's Basilica was as good as all the tourist guide books predicted, and the gondoliers as stylish as they needed to be to maintain their reputations! Oh yes, and the prices in St Mark's Square are as ridiculous as ever!

However, nothing can reduce the wonder of Venice, it is as wonderful as it is unique; another incredible example of God's handiwork.
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Sunday, May 31, 2009

Service of Blessing for Logan Dimitri

On 31 May, Pentecost Sunday, as part of our Sunday worship we included a service of blessing for Logan Dimitri, son of one of our regular congregants, Scott Heaslet and his wife Daniela. Scott's parents had travelled from Texas for the baptism of their first grandson last week in Ochrid, as well as the Anglican service of blessing.

The blessing coincided with the visit of our Priest in Charge, Fr Robin Fox, from Belgrade. Father Robin presided and preached at the service.

The service was another challenge of concentration and perseverence as our Roman Catholic hosts had a major service of confirmation in the main church immediately beside the side chapel where we worship. However, we survived, and by the end of the service we numbered 16-including of course the newest member of our church family, baby Logan Dimitri!

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Saturday, May 30, 2009

Weekend in Halkidiki

Not too far from Skopje is the beautiful area of Greece popularly known as the three fingers of Halkidiki. Each finger is a peninsula, equally beautiful and with plenty of places to stay, and enjoy the sea, sun, and sand.

Last weekend we visited the second finger and stayed in a wonderful family run villa close to Nikiti. It is only a four hour drive from Skopje but the contrast was incredible. It was wonderful to wake up to the sound of the cockerel crowing (took me back to growing up on our farm in England!). Then the birds took over the dawn chorus-it was nature at its most beautiful.

Our days were simple, catching the sun and swimming in the bay that was literally 30 metres from our apartment. The water was clear and warm, and hardly a wave in sight. Lunch each day was a hghlight-our local taverna had an incredible view overlooking the bay and the fish and salads were so fresh and delicious, it was like living a dream.

On Monday it was time to return to Skopje-back to life, back to reality, but much refreshed after a weekend in peace and tranquility!

Next time the first finger..............................
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Monday, May 18, 2009

Sunday worship in Sofia

On Sunday 17th May we held the mnothly service in Sofia. Following the departure for England of our Chaplain Martin Jacques we are currently starting an interregnum, where we are determined that the pattern of worship will not be affected.

It was a wonderful privilege to be back in Sofia particularly as the congregation there now has the use of a Roman Catholic chapel for their services. This was my first visit for almost three years and as I had expected almost all of the faces were new, although it was wonderful to renew acquaintances with one or two old and dear friends.

Martin had told me that my welcome would be warm and he did not exagerate. We had a wonderful congregation, eventually reaching almost thirty people, and the service was rounded off with great fellowship both in the immediate coffee time immediately afterwards and then in the second coffee break on the terrace of a nearby cafe.

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All in a day's work.......!

In that wonderful British classic "Open All Hours" Ronnie "Arkwright" Barker used to often round off the episode with a comment along the lines of -it's been a funny old day!

That comment came to mind last Sunday (10th May)-it was a wonderful and certainly action packed day. It started early with the Skopje Marathon at 9am. The early start was very well timed because even at such an early hour the sun was really powerful. A group of colleagues from the EU Mission, led by our Ambassador Erwan Fouere took part in the 5km run along with many hundreds of other fun runners. By the end of the 5km many of us were wondering where the fun part was!

After a long hot shower and a much appreciated breakfast it was time to head for church for our 1200 service. Getting there proved an enormous challenge as most of the access roads were still closed off because of the Marathon and even then our problems were not over. Our hosts, in the Roman Catholic cathedral ,were holding a major service to celebrate the election of a new Bishop and their service went on and on and on and on. In the end we made a very quiet start in the side chapel and gradually spread our wings and lifted our singing voices when their service finally ended.

The day was rounded off in spectacular style with a barbecue in our garden, very kindly provided by the family that owns our house. The house was wonderful, the food tasted great, and after the morning run a glass of beer tasted like nectar!

All in all, a wonderful, if funny old day. And yet another day when God's gifts were powerfully displayed-wonderful weather, great fellowship shared with family and friends, the chance to worship Him, delicious food and drinks. Praise be to Him!

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Friday, May 1, 2009

May 1st in Macedonia

As with most countries in Europe, May 1st is a holiday in Macedonia. Although the weather was not so good, we joined many other citizens of Skopje in heading the beautiful Matka canyon.

Matka is a wonderful combination of the works of man combined with the gifts of God. A beautiful valley has been even further enriched by the building of a hydro electical dam that has created both beautiful scenery and a really interesting path for walking.

Unfortunately the day that started cold very soon had rain as an added bonus, proving once again that man can plan holidays and places to visit, but only God decides what will be the weather!

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