Blessings


Transcript of my sermon delivered on Sunday 29th January 2017

This sermon uses two passages from the Bible, and questions what are blessings, and how do we recognise blessings in our lives. The passages are Micah 6: 1 – 8  and Matthew 5: 1 – 12and I began my talk by showing this piece of video from “The Life of Brian” – the Sermon on the Mount

It might seem a bit surprising that a clip from an anarchic film such as The Life of Brian could be used in a sermon in church, but I like this clip because it shows us so much about human nature, and the very real way that we can not only fall out over insignificant things, but also how if we’re not careful the Word of God can be misheard and mis-translated. It also ties in with our gospel reading today, where Matthew writes about Jesus’ sermon on the mount. If you know the film, or if you are familiar with parts of it, you will also know that later on, there’s a scene where the elders are all sat round and the conversation goes something like “pah, what have the Romans ever done for us?”. (Aqueduct, sanitation, roads, irrigation, medicine, education, wine, public order, health, peace etc)

The scene that Micah writes about in our first reading is not dissimilar: he speaks of the Israelites who are complaining about “what has the Lord ever done for us”, and Micah points out that God led them out of slavery, he sent great leaders in the shape of Moses, Aaron and Miriam, and he saved them from Balak’s plans to have them cursed by the magician Balaam in Moab. Not only that but when they were stuck in the sinful city of Shittim, God led them to safety by crossing them over the river Jordan to the safety of Gilgal. You can almost hear the answer “yeah, well, apart from all that, what has God ever done for us?!”.

How many of us can say, hand on hearts, that we have never said something similar? How many of us have felt that we are hard done-to, or downtrodden, or that we deserve all the misery that is in our lives at the minute? I think it’s fair to say that at some time or another – some probably more than most – we have all failed to see what God has done for us, and we have simply not acknowledged his presence in our lives. Through Micah we are reminded that the Lord has done, and continues to do great things for us.

It’s the same message that we hear from Matthew too. The Beatitudes – a collection of blessings that Jesus is reported as saying in his oft referred to “sermon on the mount”. Scholars now argue that what Matthew wrote here is more of a series of headlines or soundbites rather than a word for word account of a single address given by Jesus on a hillside. I don’t know either way – I’m not a Biblical scholar and I have still got a lot to learn about the teachings of Jesus – but if these are really just headlines, then I feel it’s up to us to put the meat on the story, so to speak.

So what is a blessing then? What does it mean to be blessed? 

It’s perhaps easier to think about what a blessing isn’t. It isn’t the same as being happy, for example. If that were the case, then most of the beatitudes are nonsense. Can you imagine saying “happy are those who mourn?”. Nope, that doesn’t work for me.

Tom Wright says we can understand “blessed” to mean “good news”. That works a little bit better for me – “good news for the poor in spirit…” does feel a little closer, but it’s still not quite right.

We drop the words “blessing” and “bless” into our everyday language and conversations with each other. If I were to sneeze now, how many of you would respond by saying “bless you”? How many times have you heard or said “aw, bless him”, or “that’s a blessing in disguise”? In the words of the Johnson Oatman hymn “Count Your Blessings”, we are encouraged to think about our blessings in terms of what the Lord has done for us and to acknowledge his touch on our lives. For me, this is getting a bit closer to the real meaning of blessing, that when we are blessed, we have received the touch of God.

For those who mourn – the touch of God will comfort them; for the meek, the touch of God means that they will inherit the earth.

You see where I’m going with this?

It doesn’t quite go all the way, and it starts to go awry for me when we hear about those who are merciful, or those who are peacemakers and the righteous because the point is that we can only ever be these things by God’s touch in the first place. Peace-making, showing mercy, righteousness – without the touch of God we cannot be any of those things. We need God’s touch, his presence, throughout all aspect of our lives so we can be those things in his name. It doesn’t come naturally to us to be merciful or righteous – those are gifts from God and we must acknowledge that. We must be honest with ourselves when we claim to be righteous, or humble or any of the things we are called to be, because no matter how hard we try to convince ourselves otherwise, we are only ever at the beginning of a long pathway, and even then, it is only with God’s grace and touch that we can even begin to see the first bend in that pathway that leads to him.

I feel that even though it has a flaw, my interpretation of what it means to be blessed is close enough for us to understand what a blessing is, and in such a way that enables us to be able to share with others the gospel message.

Because after all, what are we doing as Christians if we don’t share the good news with other people? How do we let the meek, the persecuted, the bereaved, those who are poor in spirit know that there is good news for them? How else do we let them know that Jesus Christ lived and died and lives again so that we can be part of God’s kingdom, that we can enjoy fruitful and meaningful lives here and now even though life feels hard and bleak sometimes. That with the touch of God and the blessings of God, even the most dismal and heart-breaking of situations are transformed, if only we take the time and trouble to acknowledge them.

Too often we find comfort in being down, and miserable. Sounds daft, but we do. We would rather put up with a poor situation, or a hurtful relationship, or stick with the old, destructive patterns of thinking because we take comfort from their familiarity. We know where we’re up to with that friend who always puts us down, and we know that if we always have the same reaction to situations in the news – immigration, poverty, injustice for persecuted groups – we don’t have to think too hard or put too much effort in to speaking out against them and those who inflict them.

I’m not just talking about straightforward pessimism and optimism here; people are far more complicated to be labelled either a pessimist or an optimist.

[Hold up glass half filled with water]

Is the glass half full, or half empty?

Your answer shows if you have a pessimistic view of life, or an optimistic one depending on whether you see the glass as being filled or emptied; but as a Christian, you should have a third answer up your sleeve; that with God’s touch on your life, with his grace, his love and with his blessings, this glass is infinitely refillable.

Are you in mourning? Do you grieve for someone, or something you have lost? You are blessed by God! [Fill up the glass to the brim/overflowing]

Do you show mercy to others? Do you let compassion and love for others flow out of you? [Emptying glass part way]

You are blessed by God – Jesus told us so! – and you will receive more mercy than you will ever need [fill glass to overflowing].

Do you feel pure in heart? [hold up full glass]. With God’s touch you will see him in everything you do! And if you see him in everything you do, then others will see it in everything you do too.

And for this grace, these blessings, this full glass, these touches of God which transform our lives, what does God ask of us in return? How on earth can we ever say thank you enough to him for his blessings? How can we ever repay him?

As Micah says, it won’t take the sacrifice of your first-born, nor ten thousand rivers of oil, nor the masses of calves and rams as burnt offerings, nothing like that. All God asks of us in return is that we act justly, that we love mercy, and that we walk humbly with him.

So as we go from here today, let’s think about what it means to be blessed by God, to have his touch on our lives in the darkest and bleakest places as well as in the joyful and bright ones. Think about how your lives are blessed by him every step of the way, and how those headlines on that mountainside are as alive and meaningful to us today as they were to those who heard them two thousand years ago. But more to the point, think about what God asks in return from us; not a lot really – simply that we act justly, that we love mercy, and that we walk humbly with him.

Amen

Prayers for a New Year


I led the prayers in our Sunday worship this morning, and for a change I used a couple of props. I chose to pray around four items that are traditionally used on New Year’s Eve in Scottish households – coal, “black bun” (or fruit cake), salt and whisky.

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Here’s what we prayed:

Coal – small, dirty, seemingly useless. Coal has taken millions of years to form.

Heavenly Father we pray that this piece of coal represents to us your staying power and long term commitment to us; that even in situations where it seems things are longtime dead, with your redeeming love and grace, there is the power to transform.

Remind us that even though things may appear hopeless, lost or worthless, with the application of time and even a little pressure, good things will come.

This piece of coal reminds us we are never alone, no matter how far buried we feel, and you are with us for all the age.

Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

“Black bun”/Fruit Cake – filled with lots of different ingredients; some sweet, some not to sweet; some dry and in need of other ingredients to help them do their job; some nuts and some things we don’t expect to find.

Father, as we think about this piece of cake, help us be reminded of your church. Made up of different, exotic or downright odd ingredients, when we as individuals come together in your name something deep, rich and nourishing happens.

We pray for all your church around the world, and we ask that you strengthen it, guide it and we ask for your continued blessing.

Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer

Salt – can be used in lots of ways; as currency, to cleanse, to add flavour, to preserve, to tenderise.

May this salt remind us of your love, your grace in our lives. How, without you at the centre of our lives Father, we lack so much.

We pray that through this coming year, we continue to put you central to everything we think or do.

We pray too for those whose lives lack flavour or interest through sickness, despair, poverty, homelessness, grief. We ask that you put us in those places where we can help.

Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer

Whisky – made from the same ingredients as bread – grain, yeast, water.

Heavenly Father remind us that Jesus is the bread of life. He is the source of all our hope and we pray that we continually feed on him in our hearts.

This whisky is a reminder too of the Holy Spirit – the one who breathes fire into our hearts, who unites people, who stirs up passions and without whom we are weak, and useless at being your hands and voices in our world.

Father we pray that this tiny bottle reminds us that your power in this world cannot ever be contained.

Merciful Father, accept these prayers for the sake of your son, our saviour Jesus Christ, Amen.

 

 

A Time To Be Still


Everybody needs time to be still. Stillness implies stopping something – moving, talking, eating, worrying, crying, laughing, agitating – whatever it is, we all need to stop and be still.

But how difficult is it to stop yourself and just be in the moment, in the presence of something bigger than yourself and not to fret about what you are not doing?

I suppose the answer lies in the difference between being and doing, and sometimes, when we are so wrapped up in doing we forget what it’s like to simply be.

When are the best times to be still? Anyone can be still when they are relaxed or comforted, restful and happy, but what about the times when you are stressed and angry, or agitated and sad?

Are you like me, who when I get stressed and bogged down with things to do, I turn into a ball of spiky energy and get so wrapped up in myself that I can’t function? If you are, then you’ll recognise the added angst I feel when someone tells me to ‘calm down’. The worst two words in the English language!

But what happens if you can calm down, and you can stop yourself getting tighter and tighter wound up into a ball? I had a wonderful opportunity this evening to be still, and to be calm, and to not be distracted by the jobs and tasks mounting on my my ‘to do’ list and it was wonderful. For the space of an hour and a half I was in fellowship with some of my church family, which in itself is a calming atmosphere, but in that time we spent just 3 minutes or so listening to some music with the lights low which was like a shot in the arm for me. I didn’t really focus on the music and I didn’t even focus on the things I’d left at home but I did manage to just enjoy the moment and to feel a connection to the world that gets lost in the stress and anxiety of living.

I feel better for it too. The things that were making me so angry have simmered down and don’t seem so prominent now, and I have been able to get a grip on my sliding anxiety. I still have a lot to do but it somehow doesn’t feel so frightening now.

What ways do you find to be still? Do you find it difficult to justify the time to yourself if you do take some time out? How do you recognise the need to be still?

Or is it something you hadn’t thought about before?

If that’s you, then take some time to be still and let yourself simply be, not do. Let me know how you get on.

be still

Mary Anoints Jesus


At study group tonight we looked at the passage of the Bible in John’s gospel where Mary anoints Jesus just before his triumphal entry into Jerusalem (John 12: 1- 8). We looked at it in terms of where we see God in the picture, and our discussion meandered its way through the relationships of the people there. In case you are not familiar with the passage, here it is:

Jesus anointed at Bethany

12 Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honour. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him. Then Mary took about half a litre of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.

But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, ‘Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.’ He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.

‘Leave her alone,’ Jesus replied. ‘It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.’

 

Vallotton Annie  Vallotton drawings _Good news bible  Collins Fontana 1976 British and foreign bible societies 146 Queen Victoria Street London

I think that in the past we have concentrated much on the roles of Martha and Mary in this story but as we discovered tonight there is far more to it than just those two.

For example, Judas Iscariot. According to this account he has already been named as a thief – it raises the question to me over whether his betrayal of Jesus was in punishment for this crime, or if the two are not linked. I can’t see them not being linked, which leads me to think about Judas’ motives for wanting to preserve the expensive perfume. We can look at his motives in terms of our own stewardship of our churches, and to some extent to our rites and practices in our worship. Do we hang on to things that are better off being used, or are we guilty of trying to preserve our assets based on their value…just in case? On the face of it, Judas was acting in the interests of the poor – ‘why wasn’t that sold and the proceeds given to the poor?’ he asks. But his own selfish motives were lurking underneath and I wonder sometimes if we are serving our own interests rather than those we are here to serve and hiding behind the words ‘it’s for the poor’?

Another aspect is the inclusion of Lazarus at this dinner. Lazarus was raised from the dead not so long ago by Jesus, and here Jesus is dining with him as large as life. This is doubly striking because not only do we know that Lazarus lived on (and lived well), but that he was dicing with death simply by hosting Jesus and his disciples in his house. Anyone who knew where Jesus was at that time was risking being arrested and put to death themselves, but here, Lazarus simply doesn’t care about that. He is reclining and enjoying peaceful and unhurried dining with Jesus at home with his family.

Wow. That makes me think.

Having brushed with death once before you’d perhaps think that Lazarus would want to steer clear of trouble and would not have Jesus over his threshold. But he didn’t, and it raises with me the point that he must have had absolute faith and trust in Jesus that all would be well. He welcomed him in, he threw a dinner in his honour, and he was relaxed and enjoying his company rather than worrying about soldiers knocking on his door.

What a great picture that paints for us if we do the same; if we welcome Jesus into our hearts and honour him with the everyday things that we do, being relaxed and enjoying his presence then how much easier would life be because we are not worrying about anything knocking on our door.

So, my question to you today is this: Where do you see yourself in the scenario of when Mary anointed Jesus before the Passover? Do you see yourself as Lazarus, relaxed and happy, or do you see yourself as Martha, serving the others in Jesus’ presence? Do you recognise the Judas Iscariot in you where you are perhaps saying one thing that looks good to the others but with entirely different motives underneath? Or how about one of the unnamed disciples there too? Are you watching and listening, or are you engaged and taking part in the conversation? What would you be saying? Maybe you are too worried about the soldiers outside the door to be fully enjoying the experience of having Jesus by your side.

Let me know your thoughts in the comments.

 

 

Epiphany


Today is Epiphany, or Twelfth Night if you are of European extraction. But what is that exactly?

Well, Epiphany was when the wise men (or the Magi if you like) visited the nativity of Jesus Christ. They were a little bit after the big event with the shepherds and the angels and all that hoo-hah, and they had arrived after doing a little detour to Herod’s palace on the way. I thought they were supposed to be “wise” men, but surely, tipping off the King that there was a new king born in his land probably wasn’t the best thing to do. After all, it meant Joseph and Mary had to do a run for Egypt soon after Jesus was born or else he would have been slaughtered in the widespread massacre Herod ordered after their news.

Now I don’t now for sure that the wise men arrived twelve days after Jesus’ birth, or if that is something that is a convenient number for us to remember, (if you do know, please leave me a comment below) but it’s where we get the “12 Days of Christmas” idea from. Not the 12 days before Christmas, but the 12 days afterwards. We all know the song don’t we? “On the first day of Christmas my true love sent to me…” and so on. There are twelve verses to the song and each one denotes a different gift given on each consecutive day. There are parallels between the gifts in the song and Biblical references, such as the partridge in the pear tree is supposed to represent Christ himself, the four calling birds are the four gospels, the 12 lords a-leaping are the disciples and so on. You get the idea.

So what is it about Christmas and gifts? Obviously, the gift of light and life we receive in Jesus Christ, but how do we arrive at the gift-giving to each other? The song is one example, and throughout the world different cultures have different customs in gift-giving at Christmas time. In the UK we give gifts on Christmas Day (25th December), but in many parts of Europe gifts are exchanged on the 24th December which is Christmas Eve. The Russian Orthodox people celebrate Christmas on 7th January and have several gift-giving exchanges throughout winter.

The first gifts to be exchanged at Christmas surely had to be by the wise men. Between them they brought gold, frankincense and myrrh. Each of these gifts was highly symbolic and foreshadowed Christ’s life and death: gold is a precious metal, suitable gift for a king; myrrh is an anointing oil and frankincense is a perfume, again suitable for a king. They were pretty standard gifts for ordinary kings, but Jesus, as we know, wasn’t an ordinary anything let alone an ordinary king.

So, epiphany. It has come to mean an insight, or a sudden illumination into a problematic situation or issue and as far as I can see, the first epiphany was just that too. Jesus was sent as the light in the darkness and the wise me followed a bright star to find him. They might have been a little late to the party, but we shouldn’t be too hard on them because that party is still going on more than 2000 years later.

Just a moment of levity for you. I saw this cartoon on my Facebook feed this morning and had to share it with you. Hope it makes you smile as much as I did.

frankincense

Let The Light In


ernest hemingway

Contrary to popular (ie, non-Christian) belief, we are still celebrating Christmas. Most people think that Christmas is something that is done and finished with by 25th December, but that’s not true. For western Christians, Christmas carries on until Epiphany, which is when we remember the arrival of the magi at the nativity.

Christmas is a time of light. Here in the northern hemisphere are in the depths of midwinter, and Christmas falls just after the solstice, where we see the longest hours of darkness. It’s no coincidence that we celebrate the birth of the Christ who is the Light of the world at this time – the days are getting longer and lighter, we look towards to coming new birth of spring, and Christ was born to bring light to the darkness. Have you ever wondered about the phrase “having an epiphany”? It’s usually where we experience sudden clarity or insight into something we have perhaps been struggling with. Another way to look at it is that light is thrown onto a difficult issue or situation. The magi, or wise men, found the same when they arrived in Bethlehem after Jesus’ birth.

Just after Christmas comes January where the pressure is on to make resolutions, usually ones about self-improvement in terms of health, fitness, attitude or behaviour. But what about us people who are content with our failures and our shortcomings? How about us who know full well we are broken, with bits missing and bits of us glued together with gaps showing?

I draw comfort from knowing that God makes use of people like me who are cracked and broken. If we were whole and have no gaps, how can we let our light shine out and God’s love pour in? Just as the same way that a watering can is no use if it doesn’t have holes in, my life isn’t very useful if it is the paragon of wholeness. I quite like having the gaps where God can shine through.

Cracked pot? Certainly. Crackpot? I’ll leave that to you to decide.

 

Did you know: The name January comes from the Roman god Janus, who is usually portrayed as having two faces – one facing forwards and one facing backwards representing the change from the old year to the new. 

The Law and Soup


 

This is an adapted transcript of the sermon I delivered this morning at St Peter’s Church in Blackley. I used a basket full of vegetables, a stock pot and a jug of water as props to help tell it, and I’d love to hear your thoughts if you would like to leave a comment. Thank you.

soupWe all know that in order to live and be nourished, we have to eat food. It’s obvious really! The biological law of our humanness is dictates that without food, we will die a bodily death. And the spiritual law of our humanness dictates that without sustenance from God, we will die a spiritual death.

Take soup as an example. To make a pan of soup you need some ingredients – an onion, a couple of carrots maybe, possible a stick or two of celery for the base and then maybe some chicken or whatever.

mosesWhen the law was given to Moses, he had a list of 10 laws, 10 instructions, or if we keep with the picture of soup, he was given a list of 10 ingredients. The laws (or ingredients) were there to help the Israelites live a full and meaningful life, being connected to God and to each other with rules about how they should manage their behaviour and so on. In Deuteronomy (Deuteronomy 6: 1 – 9), Moses reiterates those laws. He was drawing close the end of his life at that time, and he was literally laying down the law again because it had gone a bit awry in the hands of the Israelites. By his assertion “Hear O Israel,” we can almost hear his desperation at their inability to keep it simple and stick to the basic law, the 10 commandments given to him many years earlier.

If we keep thinking of the soup analogy, they had taken the simple ingredients for a hearty and healthy soup, and in the manner of a Michelin-starred chef, began adding things that didn’t really make it a better soup, or a healthier or tastier soup, but added and added to the list of ingredients until there were more than 600 individual laws by which the people had to live.

Six hundred? Hang on a minute! From these couple of things (onion, celery, carrot, chicken) there came a whole host of extras – herbs, tomatoes, barley, lentils, garlic, seasoning, peas….

I don’t know about you but if you’re like me you have some worries about what you’re feeding your family and I do like to check what other people are cooking. Maybe online or in a celebrity recipe book  to see what the latest way is to do things. My Gran has her own recipe for pea and ham soup, but I can’t imagine me ever cooking it her way, I would probably substitute the ham shank for a gammon joint, or the peas that need to be in soaking on a Friday for cooking on a Saturday would be replaced with something else. I might add different herbs – or extra herbs and on it goes. My soup wouldn’t be the same as hers and I would probably end up adding too many things that don’t need to be there.

Personally, I don’t actually like pea and ham soup so I’d definitely make something different, probably vegetable or chicken or something, and you will have your own ways of cooking it too. But the point is that it would still be soup. Still food to feed my family with to nourish them and in the case of my children, to see them grow up healthily. I could ask you all who read this about your own choices for including in soup and we could go on and on discussing about what should be in and what shouldn’t be in – garlic for tomato soup, yes or no?

Whatever decisions we come to, it is still soup.

But can you imagine what would happen if we ask Nigella, Ainsley Harriott and James Martin what they would put in their soup and tried to copy them. Can you imagine the confusion and the clash of flavours if we try to put in everything they said we should? All the things that we are told that are good for us in one pot? You’re only trying to follow the law, but how confusing!

Let’s just pause a moment here to think about what the law was for, and why they were handed down in the first place. God’s law was there so that people could be close to him, and to live their lives in fullness with him.

Spare a thought for the Israelites then, who only wanted to be obedient to God and be drawn closer to him. They ended up with so many laws that they lost what it was all about, they lost focus and they lost track of the very thing they were supposed to be doing, simply by overdoing it so much. It sounds odd to us, but can you imagine their confusion? “Do this, but do it then, not then. Do that, but not in that way, do it like this but only on a day when…” and so on. We see remnants today of those ancient additional laws. So, from the original commandment that we should observe the Sabbath, we have some people who are so keen not to do anything that resembles work from sundown on a Friday to a Saturday, even though it may cause them more hassle than by not doing it. From driving a car to tearing off a piece of kitchen roll, how are we brought closer to God by not doing these things? Yes, it is important to rest and to pray etc, but not to the point where you make life more difficult for yourself.

Mark tells us that Jesus came and took away all that confusion, that clash of laws, that stopped people living their lives as God wanted them to. (Mark 12: 28 – 34)

He made it perfectly clear to that scribe who questioned him about which is the most important law. Jesus didn’t choose a carrot, or an onion. He didn’t even choose the protein-rich chicken. He chose this – water.

water-pouring-jug-10918438

Water is the thing that keeps all those ingredients together and defines a pile of diced veg as a soup – water. Simple, humble, everyday, water. Living, loving water from God our Father.

My soup analogy and the water is my way of drawing a parallel to the way Jesus explained the law. He explained that overriding all of the laws was the one about love. Love for God and love for each other. He couldn’t make it any more straightforward really.

All the rest of the laws, commandments, rest on those two things – Love God, love each other. If any other law were invoked, then we should look first of all at whether it stopped us doing either of those two.

Take jealousy for example. If we put love before jealousy it would put a different light on a situation say where the next door neighbour has a new car, and you were envious of him for it. By putting love first, we would be happy for him that he was in a position to enjoy a new car. But that’s not easy is it? We have all felt those pangs haven’t we? Sometimes mild, sometimes downright painful!

What about honouring our parents? Not so easy in some families, where family honour is the single most important thing in their lives. How does it work when putting parental honour first puts a barrier up between us and God? The teenager who has heard God’s call and wants to go to church, but the family honour, and the parental instruction is that we don’t go to church in this family. They’re all nutters who go there.

Jesus has the answer, and that is by putting love for God before everything else the solution is easier to find.

But we live in a world where it just isn’t quite that straightforward. There are very real dangers out there for young people who don’t or can’t live up to parental expectations. But we have to trust God. He is with us in all things, and he is faithful to us through every single moment of our being, and he will see us safe through to the other side.

If we love him, we trust him.

LOVE is the law that we need to live by most of all. It is LOVE that keeps us all nourished. LOVE is the commandment, the law that Jesus tells us is the one that holds it all together. Without love, we are nothing. Our love FOR God, our love IN God for each other.

To go back to the analogy I painted earlier, like a soup without water, if we don’t have love for God and for each other, we are nothing but a collection of dry ingredients. With our protective skins and outer shells intact, we are not actually joining in with this thing called life. We must be cut up and diced – maybe with a bit of seasoning – and totally immersed in the living waters, the love of God, for us to fully embrace his nourishing and life giving force.

It’s hard though isn’t it? We all know people and situations where it is difficult to see love, or show love. But we have to. It’s the one thing that God says we have to do. If we are not loving him and we are not loving others then we are not doing very much of anything at all. We stay in our little plastic bags at the bottom of the fridge and we don’t get transformed into something glorious as he wants us to be.

It’s difficult to burn soup – it can get a bit thick and claggy at the bottom of the pan sometimes, especially if we don’t keep it stirred, but if there’s too much going on, too many lentils, too much salt perhaps, how best to rescue it? We would add more water wouldn’t we? It’s the same with us and our lives. When we feel like we’re getting a bit claggy and overwhelmed with lots of unpalatable things going on, what do we need to do? More water, more love. More God, more love.

It doesn’t end with us simply being immersed in God’s love and being nourished by him. We have to show others what a joy it is to be a part of him, a part of his glorious creation and how our lives are blessed by him every day.

And how do we do that?

By love of course.

Amen

 

 

 

What To Pray For??


How do you know what to pray for?

When things are going well for us, it’s easy isn’t it? We pray for our friends who are a bit sad, or for our family who might be going through a bit of a “bad patch”.

When things are terrible and you feel weighed down by the world, that’s easy too isn’t it? We ask God to guide us through our troubles, we ask for strength to endure them and we ask for him to release us from our pain.

But what about when there is no easy thing to ask for? Two things are very much on my mind today and I’m struggling to know how to ask God for help. What do I ask him to do? Where do I ask him to be? How do I ask him to fix something that can’t be fixed?

Let me explain.

I heard tonight about a friend who has received the results from the doctor who has confirmed that her cancer has returned. She almost died about two years ago, first of all from the cancer and second of all from the treatment and surgery she received to take it away. Our church rallied round her and our prayers were for her to recover and to be returned to us. God answered our prayers and made her well again, but the devastating news that the cancer was back has been delivered today and it is difficult to know what to ask God to do. She feels that she is not strong enough to withstand the treatment again, so our prayers obviously are to ask God to help her with that. But what if by giving her strength to endure the treatment we are asking God to cause her to suffer longer? I know that God will do what he knows is best rather than what we think is best, but nevertheless, it is difficult for us to condemn her to pain and sickness and fear and worry by asking him to take her through it.

Something else that I’m struggling with is my daughter who is still waiting for the results of her medical to join the armed forces. She doesn’t have a plan B – all she wants to do is to serve her country in the way she wants to. She has passed her Law degree (graduating in a fortnight) but doesn’t want a career in Law at all. She has no other passion other than the one for the armed forces, but what do I ask God to do? Do I ask him to give her her heart’s desire and enlist, knowing full well that she will face dangers in her life that I can’t comprehend but that still will give me nightmares? Or do I ask him to keep her on land, with me, in civvy street. Safe and sound, but with no passion for life, no job, no career, no purpose?

I think both these situations, as disparate as they are, can both be handled the same way. My prayer for both of them is for God to keep them in his hands; for me to allow him to do what he knows is best; for me to accept that whatever happens to both of them, neither of them will ever be abandoned by the God who knows them and loves them and who wants the best for them.

It can be summed up in the words from Romans 8: 38-39:

38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

So to answer my question above, my prayer tonight for both Gwen and Emma to know that they are held tightly in God’s hands, that they feel his love and his guidance in their coming days and weeks ahead, that they know that whatever trials and tribulations they are facing God is with them and holding them close. Amen.

 

 

C is for Crucifixion


Today is Good Friday, a very important day in the Christian calendar. It is the day we remember the sacrifice Jesus Christ made for us by allowing himself to be crucified on a cross at the hands of the Romans.

That is a very simplistic way of telling this part of the Easter story, and as I have grown in my faith and understanding in recent years, I have come see the layers and subtleties in it.

For example, as a child I thought it was Pontius Pilate who had put Jesus to death but I now understand that whilst yes, Jesus was brought before him for trial, Pilate tried to persuade the Jewish authorities to let him go as he couldn’t see that any crime had been committed.

Another example is the final statements Jesus made whilst he was dying on the cross. One of them was “Woman here is your son” which I thought to be a statement directed towards himself but now I understand that it was an act of compassion on Jesus’ part. He was handing over the care of Mary to his “beloved disciple”, thus making sure she was looked after financially and domestically in her old age. We don’t know who he was referring to and scholars have long since thought it was John, especially as he is one of the gospel writers.

But why crucifixion? Why that particular form of execution? 

The Romans were known for their powerful presence and they reserved crucifixion as a form of execution reserved for those who challenged their authority. It was a cruel, tortuous death that took hours and hours to complete. In Jesus’ case, he had been flogged beforehand and would have been in excruciating pain from his wounds even before he was nailed to the cross. The Roman soldiers were known to take pity on certain prisoners by breaking their legs when they had been up there for so long. It might sound odd to say that it was a merciful thing to do, but by breaking their legs, the prisoner would not have been able to support themselves and would therefore have suffocated quicker. They did not do that for Jesus – possibly because they thought he was half-dead before they even nailed him up.

That was the how, but what about the why?

The Jewish authorities said their law stated that anyone claiming to be the Son of God must be put to death, and as Jesus had been hailed as just that, he had to be executed. It was customary for the Romans to allow a prisoner to be set free at the time of the Jewish Passover as a sign of goodwill. Pilate offered them a choice of Barabbas or Jesus, and they chose to let Barabbas go free whilst calling for Jesus to be crucified.

From a scriptural point of view, we know from Isaiah and Zechariah that God would send a lamb to be slaughtered for our sins. A spotless, sinless lamb who would be the ultimate sacrifice before God, whose death would mean all sin would be forgiven and we would all be washed clean by his blood. They both make reference to the sacrificial lamb being “pierced for our transgressions”, which we now know to be the wounds Jesus suffered on the cross. The crucifixion of Jesus Christ was the fulfillment of those prophecies.

We had a service at church this morning that told the story of Good Friday in a series of readings and hymns. We told of Jesus’ arrest, trial and execution and as the readings were given, we laid certain items on a laid-down cross on the chancel steps.

Good Friday cross

 

You can see the feathers that symbolised Peter’s denial, the purple robe the soldiers dressed Jesus in, the rope they used to haul him up, the crown of thorns placed mockingly on his head, a sign that the soldiers placed over his head, a jug and bowl that symbolise Pilate’s “washing his hands of the whole matter” and the dice that the soldiers cast to claim Jesus’ clothing after he had died.

In the photograph you can see the table of candles lit for Good Friday at the foot of the Paschal candle. Further back you can see the closed tomb at the altar which we used in our Experience Easter events with the local school children. It will be opened for Sunday morning showing the evidence of the risen Lord.

 

The Celtic Rune of Hospitality


celtic rune of hospitality for wp

I saw a stranger yesterday.
I put food in the eating place,
Drink in the drinking place,
Music in the listening place;
And in the sacred name of the Triune God
He blessed myself and my house,
My cattle and my dear ones.
And the lark says often in her song,
Often, often, often
Goes Christ in the stranger’s guise.