Friday, January 24, 2014

A blog post! A blog post!???

Yes, I did type that title while saying to myself "A handbag?!" ("Importance of being Earnest" of course!).
But it could be said that it's nearly as surprising to find a post on here as it was for Lady Bracknell to discover that Jack was 'found' in a handbag!
Anyway, enough of that... I decided this evening that, having made attempts over the years to write various poems, I would go on a little journey of rediscovering and gathering them up.  Having found a number buried away in various files on my computer I then started looking through my other (neglected) blog Chelley's View to see what was there... and found a few.  I have to say that the couple I had posted on 'one of those social media type places' though were the ones that I had been most pleased with.  So, having ventured over there, I then came back here - and wow there's a lot of blog to go through!  The last I-don't-know-how-long on here may have just contained sermons (sorry about that!) but there was a lot of stuff before.  And I have to say that I've quite enjoyed starting on the trek of revisiting what was going on in my life, and my head (!) back then.  I haven't got very far yet, and I'm not convinced I actually posted any poems on here, but I'll enjoy the recap!
Oh and just in case you wonder... Molly cat is still as daft and delightful as ever... and getting on a bit now.  But aren't we all!
Ah, it's nice to be back.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me"


Jesus in the Synagogue.  Something a little different from my usual sermons! 

1 Corinthians 12: 12-31 & Luke 4: 14-21(22-30)

It’s the Sabbath day in Nazareth!  That’s Saturday – the Sabbath beginning at sundown on Friday and continuing to sundown on Saturday. 
You’re one of the faithful of Nazareth so you head for the meeting place – the synagogue.  (You still head for the Temple in Jerusalem for the big festivals) but week by week you gather with the others for worship and instruction in your local synagogue).  Actually synagogue is simply the word for ‘assembly’.  So off you go to the assembly of God’s faithful.  You wonder who has been asked to speak today by the leader of the synagogue.

You pay careful attention when the scroll is brought out – it’s handed to Jesus!  That’s Joseph the carpenter’s son!  Not quite who you were expecting to bring the instruction on God’s word today!  But then you have been hearing a lot of stories going around about him… apparently Jesus has been travelling around the district preaching in other synagogues, and from what you’ve heard, everyone’s full of praise of him.  But… the carpenter’s son?!

The scroll of the prophet Isaiah is handed to him – and you watch as he carefully unrolls the scroll and finds a particular place.  What’s he going to read you wonder?  He finds what he’s looking for and begins to read…
“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, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”

Ah yes, you’re familiar with those words – you close your eyes as they pour from Jesus’ mouth – these are the things God will do, the words spoken long ago through the prophet, these are the words of hope of the people of Israel.

Jesus stops reading and rolls up the scroll again; he gives it back to the attendant and sits down.  (In our tradition the rabbi, the teacher, sits down to preach). 

So Jesus sits down and every eye is on him, waiting for him to speak.
What is he going to say you wonder? 

Jesus begins to speak then… “Today, this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

It takes you a moment to register his words.  “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing..”  
Is Jesus saying those old words are actually about him?  Well it definitely seems to be the case.
Is he saying, “I am the One – the Messiah – the anointed one”? 
That definitely seems to be so, and you think about those words again – how amazing it would be if Jesus were to do those things – good news for the poor, release to the captives, sight to the blind, freeing the oppressed, proclaiming the year of the Lord’s favour…
You sit and ponder them for what seems like an age – that’s what we need!  And you start to feel a stirring of excitement somewhere deep within you. 

Everyone else is listening intently too – you can feel the air of amazement at the words of grace – God’s grace – coming out of Jesus’ mouth.  There are mutterings all around you, “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?”

We’ve been waiting for the Messiah so long – the one God would send – the one who would overthrow our enemies and restore Israel to her former state of blessing.  You think to yourself, “funny how Jesus didn’t read about overcoming enemies and all that too” – that’s usually what the people want to hear, that’s what they’re expecting!

As you sit lost in your thoughts, you suddenly realise that the tone around you is changing.
Jesus is still speaking.  He’s heard those whispered questions about him and now he’s asking a question to the men in the synagogue – you turn your attention back to what’s going on around you.

“Are you going to quote the Proverbs to me – “doctor cure yourself?”  That’s what Jesus asks us.  And he carries on, “And are you going to say to me, ‘do the things here in your home town that we’ve heard you did in Capernaum’”  But he wasn’t really waiting for our answer, he answered the question himself… “no prophet is accepted in his home town”.

I think again about what Jesus might mean.  I catch his eye for a moment.  “Will you REALLY listen to me?” 
I feel that stirring again, if he’s the prophet, if he’s the Messiah, the one sent, then will we listen to him; or will we just expect him to do what we’ve always expected the Messiah to do?  Will we expect him to get in line with our will and our expectations, or will we get in line with his?

Jesus is talking about the great prophets now, about Elijah and Elisha.  Great prophets sent by God to speak his word to the people of Israel – oh everyone here knows all about them, admires them!  Aren’t they part of OUR story, ours and God’s story?

But Jesus is getting everyone in a right stir now… I don’t think the people here want to be reminded of when the prophets brought God’s blessing to people outside of Israel!  I don’t think they want to hear that God’s grace is going to stretch much further than just for us, much further than overthrowing the Romans!
But it’s true, what Jesus is saying: even though there were many widows in Israel at the time when there was famine due to that lack of rain, Elijah was sent to the widow in Sidon.  And even though there were many lepers in Israel in Elisha’s time, God sent him to heal Naaman the Syrian.  We’d forgotten that hadn’t we – our great prophets also were without honour at times in their home nation of Israel – and God blessed others!

Oh, it’s really kicking off now!  Well the tide has certainly turned – it seems like the admiration for what Jesus was saying has turned into rage!  They’re going mad… It’s like they’ve put their hands over their ears and they’re shoving Jesus out of our synagogue.  “We don’t want to hear this!” 

You get up and follow the crowd – driving Jesus not only from the synagogue, but out to the edge of town too.  They’re going to throw him from the cliff out there… silence him for good!!
But then you watch as Jesus walks straight through the throng and goes on his way. 

You sit down, somewhere near the edge of town, and you turn it all over in your mind again.  You think of that look Jesus gave you, that seemed to say, “Will you really listen to me?”
If he is the Messiah, the anointed one, on whom the Spirit of the Lord is resting; then we do need to listen.

You think again of the words he read from the scroll,
“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, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”

You feel that excitement welling up in your spirit again.  And so you decide.  You follow him on to Capernaum – that’s where he heads next.  And on the following Sabbath you’re in the synagogue there.  Jesus is teaching again, but this time they listen astounded because he speaks with an authority that’s not been heard before.  And then he does it, he shows his authority not just in words, but in power.

There’s a man in the synagogue bound up with evil, oppressed and captive to so much that has bound him, kept him from being able to live free – what a racket he’s been making! – and then Jesus did it, commanded the evil to leave – and God’s grace was all over him – what good news, what release, what favour from God!  And with all the others you delight in amazement.  This is what he came for… and you decide then that you want to be a part of it, see more of it.

You sit and pray, Lord God, I praise you for showing me your Messiah, I praise you for your wonders.  Lord, I will really listen to you.  Lord, we had expectations of you but they were too small; Lord we know you came to bless but that blessing’s not just for me, not just for Israel, but for everyone!  Help me be a part of it.

And you follow him, listening, praising, praying… and what things are to come!
  

I remember those days – those days when God’s revelation was just beginning to unfold in Jesus!  And the revelation would get bigger, and greater!  We’d see he wasn’t just another prophet, speaking the words of God; not even the Messiah of our vision – oh yes, he was the one sent by God - but we’d start to see, start to believe that he was God himself among us, as human as me, as divine as the Father.  He told us “I am”, just as almighty God had told as at the beginning of our people’s story, my name is “I am”! 

And he showed us too – his power over evil – just as we saw back in the synagogue in Capernaum; and his power over nature; and his power over the darkness inside us to make it right; and his power even over death… Oh yes WHAT things were to come!


As the church, we have been brought into God’s blessing; but as the church we’re not to keep it to ourselves either, but to spread it, share it, proclaim it.  And we have what was still to come then – the Holy Spirit – giving us gifts for the ‘common good’ filling and inspiring us to take Jesus wherever we are.  May we not keep a hold of his blessing and grace either, but share it in love.
Amen.


Saturday, December 29, 2012

An alternative to worry?


LUKE 2: 41-end CHRISTMAS 1

The wise one ponders great and good
And dwells on things divine
The anxious dwell on anxious thoughts
And they grow inside the mind!

We all know I think, how easy it is to dwell on anxious thoughts.  We don’t need to be reminded to ponder the things that worry us – they’re just there!  But have you noticed too, that the more we ponder them, the bigger they get and the more they take over our thoughts?  Have you ever laid in bed (a very good place to dwell on anxious thoughts!) and worried about the bill you can’t pay, or about your children, or about your job, or about any number of other things that can clamour for and strip your peace of mind?  And the thing is that dwelling on those anxious thoughts actually makes no difference at all to the thing we’re worrying about!  Well, except that it often makes us feel even more anxious.  “The anxious dwell on anxious thoughts, and they grow inside the mind!”  Now I’m not saying that we shouldn’t ‘care’ about these things, of course we should as responsible people but God also seems to put to us that he doesn’t want us to be people consumed by worry.

Now if that’s the case, that God doesn’t want us to be consumed by worry, then that must mean that he has another way. 
“Ah, don’t worry about it!” How many times have you had someone say that to you when you are anxious about something?  And does it help… not generally!  We can’t just switch it off when someone tells us to.  That’s not what God does – just tell us to stop.  But he always points us towards a way through worry – and it’s a way that is about shifting our perspective.

I once saw a cartoon in a book I was reading (I can’t to this day remember the book, but I can remember the cartoon – of a little man peering up at a huge mountain).  And under the cartoon it said “Don’t fix your eyes on the mountain, fix your eyes on the mountain maker.”  That’s the kind of perspective shift that God points us, his children, to.  If the thing you’re worried about seems to be like a giant mountain towering over you that you can’t see past… well don’t stare at the mountain – it ain’t gonna move! Stare at the one who MADE the mountains – the one who can move mountains!


“The wise one ponders great and good and dwells on things divine.”

Have you ever noticed that when something significant happened to Mary, she made a habit of pondering or treasuring it? 
When an angel appeared to her to announce that she (this unmarried young Jewish woman) was going to bear a son conceived by the Holy Spirit, what did Mary do?  (Luke 1: 29).  “Mary was perplexed, but she pondered what kind of greeting this might be”.  She pondered the words of the Lord brought by this angel messenger.
And after she’d given birth to Jesus, and shepherds had rolled up unannounced having apparently got the news from an angel (and then hosts of praising angels), what did she do? (Luke 2: 19) “Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.”
And twelve years later when they’d all been up to Jerusalem for the Passover festival and were making their way back home to Nazareth, Jesus had vanished.  Any parent’s nightmare!  They had to head back and eventually found Jesus sitting in the Temple, amazing the teachers with his understanding and answers.  And like any mother, Mary asked him, “Why have you treated us like this? WE WERE WORRIED!”
When Jesus stunned Mary and Joseph with his answer, “Did you not know I’d be in my Father’s house?” and after they got home, what did Mary do? “She treasured all these things in her heart.”

Now it seems to me that we have a pretty good example in Mary.  She could have been a woman consumed by worry, “What on earth is the town going to say when they see the bump?” “What is Joseph going to do when he finds out I’m pregnant?”  “What are people going to think of me when I tell them Jesus is God’s Son?” “WHERE IS JESUS?”  I suspect that Mary did think all of those things at some point but what she dwelt on, what she pondered, was what God was doing.  She didn’t stare at the mountains of potential worry, she stared at the mountain maker, the mountain mover – and she trusted him.
Mary dwelt on the things that God said, Mary dwelt on the things that God was doing, and that I believe is what God wants us to do when anxiety lays itself at our door.

Paul says to the Philippians, “Do not be anxious about anything.” But he doesn’t stop there – just as God doesn’t just say to us, “Ah don’t worry!” Paul went on to say, “BUT in everything, by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.
And the PEACE OF GOD, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” 
Worry strips away peace – but Paul teaches us that when we are worried we should bring it all to God – specifically, with our requests and with thanksgiving.  In effect what we’re doing is laying that mountain at the feet of the God who is magnificent and wonderful, and sovereign over all, and we are sharing that anxiety with him.  What we’re doing is laying the situation in the safest hands there are in the universe!  Not just with one who listens, but one who can act too.  But the promise that is given is that when you do this peace will return.

Now I can tell you that I’ve had worries plenty of times in my life, but when I’ve actually done this and stopped trying to deal with them all myself, I have felt the peace that God gives – felt the sense of him carrying it.  And somehow had the peace and strength too for whatever the outcome was.
But Paul adds something else too – something that takes us back to Mary’s pondering and treasuring in her heart.  He says “think about ‘these’ things…” What are ‘these things’ that he tells us to think about/to fill our minds with/to ponder? “Whatever is just, whatever is commendable, whatever is excellent and praiseworthy… and keep on doing the things of faith… and the God of peace will be with you.”  Peace again.  Our minds need the just and commendable and excellent and praiseworthy to think on – you can’t find a better place for those than in God’s word; but it also means making sure you give yourself a good measure of the good and beautiful in the world and not just a diet of the bad news that can sometimes be all we ponder.

I don’t need to be reminded to worry, but I do sometimes need to be reminded to ponder and treasure all that God is doing, and to fix my eyes on the maker and mover of mountains.  I often do that by sitting down to write to God all the things that are swimming around my mind, and with them to write of all that I’m thankful for.  We’ll each find our own way of pondering in our hearts, as Mary did, but may we not forget and let worry overwhelm us.

The wise one ponders great and good
And dwells on things divine
The anxious dwell on anxious thoughts
And they grow inside the mind!

Sunday, September 09, 2012

Now to live the life!


JAMES 2: 1-17 (Message for an all-age service)

Hello!  I’m a veeery nice Christian lady you know!
Yes, I’m sure you can tell that just by looking at me!
This is a very nice church, oh yes.
I usually sit next to Mary, “Alright, Mary, how are you my love?”
Mary works in that nice little shop in the town.
She’s got two boys – done alright for themselves they have.
One of them works in an office… It’s got marble steps y’know!
Looks very smart in his suit and tie.
Oh and Ade (he sits just in front of me… yes, that’s him)
Well Ade’s just had a promotion – worked hard for it he did.
Yes, nice people here they are.
D’you know what happened a couple of weeks ago though?
Well, we were singing the second hymn –
Nice one it was –
And this bloke came into the church.
I don’t mean to be rude, but he was a bit whiffy!
Smelt like he hadn’t had a good wash for a while.
I mean, he looked a bit rough, tucked my handbag right under my chair, I did.
I did see Ade go over and speak to him though,
Sat next to him for the service –
They came up for communion together I seem to remember.
Yes, that’s right – I gave the cup an extra wipe when it got to me…
…well, you just don’t know do you?
Ade and Flora sat down and had a cuppa with him after the service
Well, I would’ve done, but I really needed to catch up with Mary.
It was then it happened, while they were drinking tea!
Jesus it was!  He was in the church – I hadn’t noticed him!
And do you know what he did?
Went straight up to that whiffy bloke and gave him a hug!
A right bear of a hug it was too as if he was a long-lost son or something!
(Mrs. Pugh had a bit of a tut about that – well, I mean, as we both said –
We’ve been coming here a lot longer).
I did notice something though; it was his smile –
I saw it when he turned and smiled at Ade and Flora –
it was like pure warm honey when he smiled, I won’t forget that.
Then they were talking
I couldn’t hear what they were saying,
But Ade got up and went out to the back room.
When he came back he had a bag of clothes in his hand…
We collect them at our church… I brought in some of my Sid’s old trousers a while back.
Not sure he’d be very happy about that bloke having them – his best one’s were in there; I thought they might go to someone… well… a bit more deserving!
Jesus looked pleased though.
And he took off his jacket and gave it to the bloke too (well you didn’t think he’d be wearing centuries old desert stuff here did you?)
It was then that he looked at me… I thought he looked a bit sad really.
I looked at my watch
Time was getting on a bit and I had to get the roast in the oven
So I left then… Well, what would you do?

What would you do?

Have you heard, really heard, what James has to say about following Jesus?
James’s letter could perhaps be summed up in the words ‘Now live the life’.  Don’t just be full of words or songs, but be full of loving kindness too – live the Jesus life, don’t just talk the Jesus life!  Don’t show favouritism to the people you think deserve it – let your mercy triumph over judgement; and love all those God brings across your path; don’t see someone in need and just wish them well, but be practical and meet their needs.  Then you’re loving like Jesus loves.  Was that woman who was speaking ‘loving her neighbour as herself’?

I’m going to play for you part of a song, and I think this song in a way summarises the heart of the letter of James… (Matt Redman 'Now to live the life')

Many are the words we speak
Many are the songs we sing
Many kinds of offerings
But now to live the life
Help us live the life
BUT NOW TO LIVE THE LIFE!

Saturday, April 07, 2012

It's Friday - but Sunday's a-comin!

EASTER SUNDAY 2012

A SERMON FOR EASTER DAY (Mark 16: 1-8)

Today is a day for rejoicing!

Today is a day when we hold up the resurrection of Jesus in faith!

And today isn’t a day that’s just appeared from nowhere, out of the blue! But it’s a day that ends a journey and begins a new one.

When Mary Magdalene and the other women got to the tomb early that eternally significant morning, they had been on a journey.

They’d been alongside Jesus, had heard his teaching about the kingdom of God, had seen his miraculous deeds of power and healing, they’d supported and served him in his ministry, had witnessed the horrors of seeing him arrested, abused, condemned and finally crucified. They’d seen his dead body placed in a tomb and a huge stone rolled across the entrance. And on that morning they went once more to anoint the body of their Lord. What sorrow and anguish they must have been feeling that day.

But what they found when they arrived was far from what they expected.

They were thinking of practicalities – who was going to move that great stone for them? But when they got there they found that it had already been moved, and as they entered the tomb instead of finding the body of Jesus, they found a young man dressed in white sitting there.

Matthew, in his gospel account, tells us even more – he tells us that “suddenly there had been a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning and his clothing white as snow.”

Heaven that had seemed so eerily silent and distant when Jesus hung on the cross, was now in action!

But these women had no idea that they were going to be faced with heavenly beings, much less that they were about to encounter a risen and living Jesus! They were alarmed, what questions must have been running through their minds? But the angel reassured them, “Do not be alarmed, you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here.” And he sent them to tell the others.

When all these things happened they didn’t know – none of them knew – that this was God’s plan all along. They hadn’t understood the direct and indirect things Jesus had told them would happen before he died. They didn’t understand and so the events of that morning were the most alarming, and amazing, surprise to them. Jesus was alive – it hadn’t all come to a crushing end when the Son of God was nailed to that cross – what had come to an end when he was nailed to that cross was the power of darkness and death, as they died, went down to the eternal pit with him. They didn’t know that it was Friday – but Sunday was coming!

And what was raised with the Son of God was a new life and a new way and a new light! Because the God who had clothed himself with humanity had given humanity a new beginning, and one that would stretch right through physical death and on into eternal life with him. A life that would be full of all the best of what God had created and a life that would be without the pain of the old – “no more mourning, or crying, or death, or pain.” But more than just the future hope was a breaking into our now, because the kingdom of God was breaking through – a foretaste of heaven, on earth! As Jesus had been teaching, and demonstrating, all along – the kingdom of heaven is now within our grasp, close at hand, and accessed through prayer, through him, just by faith!

That was their journey! Ours has been a little different.

We too have spent the last week remembering and reflecting on that journey – from Jesus’s triumphant entrance into Jerusalem surrounded by praising people shouting out “Hosanna” (Save us now), to the last supper when he instituted the holy meal of bread and wine that they and we would share to remember him until he comes again. To his betrayal and arrest and crucifixion. We’ve reflected on his suffering on that cross so that we might have the darkness within us defeated, on that place that won us forgiveness as he took all our sin, our godlessness, our wrongs, on himself.

BUT even as we’ve done that, we’ve known that Sunday was coming!

We’ve known what those first disciples didn’t know – “It’s Friday, but Sunday’s a-comin’”

On Thursday we shared a special team service recalling that ‘last supper’ and recalled how Jesus’ washed their feet as a demonstration of his loving service. I had the privilege of washing those who came forward as a sign of that service Jesus had first shown and it was humbling and moving – but even then there was that little well of excitement in my gut because I knew Sunday was coming! You know that feeling you had as a child on Christmas Eve – that growing excitement – it felt a bit like that!

On Friday we remembered the horrors of the crucifixion – we walked from the church to the chapel behind the cross, remembering all that Jesus had suffered for us – and that was a journey of sadness. We all walked silently, wrapped up in our own reflections. I was remembering what someone had said to me a few days earlier about how they found it really difficult to make so public an example of faith in those Good Friday walks of witness – how it made them cringe. But as I walked I thought about that – how that feels in our present age – and if there was any embarrassment in that demonstration of being with Jesus, or any feeling of shame, then it just lead me to think about the shame Jesus endured for me – falsely accused, whipped, spat on, beaten, mocked, and executed. And I thought of Peter who did run away when it all kicked off – unable to admit that he was one of them – one of those Jesus followers. But later the risen Jesus would gently restore him and re-commission him for service. But even as I took part in that service of reflection on Jesus’ suffering, I had that little well of excitement in my gut – it was Friday, but Sunday’s a-comin!

And today is Sunday! And I will rejoice because Jesus is alive! Because the kingdom of heaven has broken into our today, because I have access to that kingdom both in the future, and now. Because I have access to the God of love through prayer, and that was won for me by Christ. Because there is a wonderful life to come and because he transforms this one every time the kingdom breaks through when he heals and saves and forgives, and when he inspires faith and mercy and peace and love and service and hope and purpose and community.

We still know all too well that the last shadows cast by the darkness Jesus came to defeat, still overshadow us at times. I will rejoice today that Jesus is alive and his kingdom is close at hand, even though when I leave here today I will go and share communion with J in hospital. And when I leave the hospital I’ll go to my mum and dad’s and feel the pain of watching my dad endure what cancer, and its treatment, does. But I will still rejoice that Jesus has bought us, through his broken and risen body, a new life, and I’ll pray for the signs of that new life to be evident here and now – in my life, in J’s, in my dad’s and in yours.

It’s Friday – but Sunday’s coming! We live in the light of that Sunday every day, because he is alive!

And I pray that whatever remnants of Friday overshadow you, whatever storms are evident in your life, whatever you battle with or whatever gives you pain, that you will also be able to rejoice today, because Jesus is alive, his kingdom is close at hand, hope is real. We may sometimes rejoice through tears, it may sometimes still feel like Good Friday – but Sunday’s a-comin! Hallelujah!

Amen.

Saturday, March 03, 2012

A sermon of opposites?

TRIUMPH AND TRIAL, CELEBRATION AND SUFFERING! (Mark 8: 31-38) 4.3.12

I’m going to say a word to you and ask you to give me its opposite!
So… Heavy (light)
Dangerous (safe)
Clean (dirty)
Big (small)

When we think of opposites we usually think of something being one or the other – it’s either clean or dirty, big or small etc – we don’t think of it being both at the same time!
But when we look at the gospel of Jesus we seem to see opposites that do occur at the same time.
Which words would you use to describe the message and work of Jesus, or to describe the Christian life that flows out of the message and work of Jesus?
Would you use ‘triumph’ and ‘victory’ and ‘celebration’?
Would you use ‘trial’ and ‘suffering’ and ‘challenge’?

Those two sets of words seem to be opposites to one another. On the one hand, triumph and victory and celebration; on the other hand trial and suffering and challenge. But rather than the gospel and the Christian life being one or the other, being an ‘either/or’ it’s like God shows us that his love meshes them both together, because for now we live with the experience of them all. (Hands mesh together).

And that’s not a new thing! Look at the disciple Peter. In Mark’s gospel, immediately before the passage we heard today, Peter has answered Jesus’ question “Who do you say that I am?” with the words, “You are the Christ.” Well done Peter, who has begun to recognise the truth that Jesus is indeed the one who has come from God – the Messiah (or Christ – the anointed one) – the one who so long before, God spoke about through the prophets. It’s a triumph – a victory for Peter in his realisation and a sign of the victory of God’s plan through the coming of the Messiah.
But then look at what happens next… Jesus begins to teach the specifics and we’re told that he spoke plainly – that he would suffer many things, be rejected by the Jewish leaders and elders, that he would be killed (and after three days rise again).
Peter’s response to that was to take Jesus aside and rebuke him! I wonder what was going through Peter’s mind? “You’re the Messiah, the Christ! What are you talking about – suffering, rejected, killed”?!
This was not what played out in Peter’s understanding when he dwelt on what the Messiah was going to do! And for his rebuke he got from Jesus, “Get behind me satan!” Peter was throwing back at Jesus his entirely human response but Jesus couldn’t be deterred or discouraged from the plan of God and so he had to silence the voice that could sow doubt or deny what was coming.

Imagine a large company – business is going down the drain, workers are discouraged and worried about their jobs, morale is at an all time low. The management have been talking for a long time about drafting in a great business consultant who will come in and turn everything around, boost business, retrain and reenergise the workers, give a renewed sense of job security. And then they arrive – the workers recognise that this is the one, the consultant, and there’s great expectation.
But then instead of doing what’s expected this consultant says he’s going to break up the business, hand over the company to the administrators, lay off the workers and even say that his own job would go down the pan too in trying to deal with the mess!

It’s just an illustration but the difference between expectation and reality are a reflection of how far removed Peter’s expectation of Jesus the Messiah was from the reality of what Jesus said was going to happen!

Now of course, it’s different again for us. We have the benefit of knowing what Jesus meant when he said “and after three days he would rise again”. After the crucifixion would come the resurrection; after the suffering would come the victory.

We live in the time after the resurrection – Jesus is alive again – back where he came from. We live in the time when sin and death have been defeated on the cross. We live in the time of sure hope that God is making everything new and that we’ll experience his kingdom in all its wonderful glory one day. But we also live in the time when death still painfully interrupts life, when we can know complete forgiveness and the slate wiped clean but still struggle with some of the old nature. We live in the time when we see amazing answers to prayer as well as the time when God can seem far away as we call out to him! We live in that time of so-called opposites when we’re called to follow Jesus’ way of suffering while knowing that Jesus has won the victory over evil and sin and death!

I think a problem only arises when Christians take one half of those opposites I mentioned earlier and proclaim them as though the other half wasn’t enmeshed.
If you speak only triumph and victory and celebration (in a sense just resurrection) to someone who is in the midst of grief or struggle or pain (because there’s still a whiplash of these things in our lives) then it can cause them to lose any sense of finding God in their grief and struggle and pain. And God is there to be found! But what we do want is to be able to speak of a sure hope that out of pain God can and does bring healing and hope and life (sometimes right now and sometimes in a while) – that after the crucifixion comes the resurrection, that after Good Friday comes Easter Sunday! It’s something I’m aware of week by week when I meet bereaved families and conduct funeral services – how to balance the hope of resurrection and new life with the immediate reality of the pain of loss and separation where God longs to bring his comfort and presence.
Psalm 23 – “though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me, your rod and your staff they comfort me.” That has a reflection of what Jesus says to Peter, the other disciples, and the crowd in today’s verses – “take up your cross and follow me” – while we still live in the here and now we may need to make sacrifices for Jesus and we may even follow him to death as many around the world still face today; that in standing with Christ in faith, they lose their lives (but they also gain through him an amazing and eternal life). Jesus warned that it may be so, and said be willing to take up your cross and follow me.

On the other hand we need to not get lost in, or speak only of, trial and suffering and challenge. These are indeed a factor in the Christian life, just as they were in Jesus’ life and yet Jesus gave many signs of the reality and presence of God’s kingdom in the here and now. We can eagerly desire healing and freedom and hope and victory because Jesus won them for us on the cross.
Death and sin died with him and life and freedom and righteousness were raised with him – and all for us to follow in his wake. We should have expectation of the kingdom of heaven, of God, being seen and apparent – close at hand!

And I think all that means that we need to be GENTLE with one another, and gentle with the world. And by ‘gentle’ I mean sensitive to how the Spirit of God would have us respond to people.
Paul said to the Philippians: “Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.”
And Peter said in his first letter, “always be prepared to give the reason for the hope that you have; but do this with gentleness and respect…”

Let the Spirit of God be your guide (so ask him to guide you) as you live in the light of the crucifixion and the resurrection of Jesus; as you live with both trial, challenge and suffering AND triumph, victory and celebration; and as you speak the gospel news of both to the people you abide with and who cross your path. Be gentle with others – “mourn with those who mourn and rejoice with those who rejoice” while always holding on to the hope that in the darkness God is present and in the light we see the final act being played out – even now.

When I was a youth leader back in the 90’s, one day a member of the group asked me about how I coped with being a mum? “There’s so much pain in the world” she said, “when you love someone so much wouldn’t you rather not have the fear of pain and the worry for them?” And I answered her that the love was so amazing and such a delight that I would risk the pain to experience the love. I wouldn’t sacrifice the love in order to get rid of the pain.
For now they are enmeshed in our experience of life but God is bringing humanity to a time and place where the pain is finally vanquished for good and the love and delight is what’s left – “there will be no more death or mourning, crying or pain, for the old order of things will have passed away!”
And there is our hope and the good news we have to share with the world! We live in the light of BOTH Good Friday AND Easter Sunday.
Amen.

Monday, February 13, 2012

A new era...

I hadn't realised how long it was since I last posted on this (rather beloved to me!) Teapot blog until I came to post again. And this new posting era comes with the purpose of sharing thoughts by mobile. Seeing as I find it so hard to stop and reflect in the way I once found so useful I am trying a new way. Maybe, just maybe, the odd thought posted maybe helpful for someone else, and if not then perhaps the expressing will be helpful for me. Too many thoughts bottled up can be somewhat crippling, and if you're anything like me then analysis of others has a lot more grace applied than analysis of self! So this evening I assign myself the tasks of finding 'As Though' - a past post that gives me a good framework of perspective (and is archived here); and secondly to have a read of 'Amazing Grace' once again and just remember that God is better at grace than me!

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Saturday, October 22, 2011

We're going on a prayer hunt...!

I remember reading to my son when he was little "We're going on a bear hunt" and I'm sure I enjoyed it as much if not more than him! So, having remembered that enjoyment I decided to rewrite it for our Children's message on Sunday... with a bit of journeying of course and finding some 'gifts' along the way.
With all due thanks and credit to author Michael Rosen.

We’re going on a prayer hunt
We’re going to say a big one
God is listening
What a beautiful gift!

Oh Wow! Love! (find heart)
Perfect love for me.
I can’t ignore it
By skipping over it
Ok
God, help me feel it.
(Thankyou thankyou)
(Thankyou thankyou)

We’re going on a prayer hunt
We’re going to say a big one
God is listening
What a beautiful gift!

Oh Wow! Words! (find Bible)
A Bible full for me.
I can’t ignore it.
By skipping over it.
Ok.
God help me read it.
(Listen listen)
(Listen listen)

We’re going on a prayer hunt
We’re going to say a big one
God is listening
What a beautiful gift!

Oh Wow! Church (find candle - ring of people)
A family for me!
I can’t ignore it
By skipping over it
Ok
God help me be part of it
(Brothers sisters)
(Brothers sisters)

We’re going on a prayer hunt
We’re going to say a big one
God is listening
What a beautiful gift!

Oh Wow! Jesus (find a cross)
Forgiveness for me!
I can’t ignore it
By skipping over it
Ok
God help me receive it
(Sorry sorry)
(new me new me)

We went on a prayer hunt
We prayed some big ones
God was listening
What beautiful gifts!
AMEN!

Friday, August 26, 2011

RevGals Friday Five

I haven't played the Friday Five for ages but with the rain hammering down outside I thought now would be a good time!
Because it's one all about rain...

What do you do on a rainy summers day?
1. At home?
2. In your local area?
3. If you are away on holiday?
4. Name a rainy day read.
5. Is there a piece of music/ a poem/ story that cheers you up?
Bonus: post a rainy day photo!

1. Given my lack of 'domestic-goddessry' I am usually to be found looking out of the window at the washing hanging on the line and getting increasingly soaked; and at the same time thinking "should've got that in yesterday!" As it happens, today as I listen to the rain, I'm feeling rather smug that I have piles of DRY washing indoors because I didn't do my usual trick this time!
2. Well, it does rain a fair bit here in England so I usually just get on with what I have to get on with. Driving around in a car helps quite a bit, though if I am walking then I'm a 'put up your hood' kind of person rather than a 'carry an umbrella' type.
3. If I'm away on holiday then I'm likely to be out in it! Wellies on, waterproofs on, and jumping in puddles like a big kid! I don't let the rain stop my exploring tendencies. It helps to not be a very glamorous type who doesn't care about getting her hair wet and who very rarely wears make-up so no run-off issues!
4. As I'm a reader anyway, the weather doesn't really affect the choice of read - there's usually a pile of books on the go all the time.
5. Well given the subject matter, and also given that I like this song - it has to be "Why does it always rain on me" by Travis! And I've managed to find a very suitable live version... where it's pouring with rain:

Bonus: I don't have a rainy day photo available but perhaps that video counts!

Monday, August 15, 2011

"Third Place"

I had one of those 'minor revelation' moments today! Having flicked around on the internet for a while I found myself reading some pages for Pastors and came to this article. Now, however behind the times it makes me, I have to say that I'd never come across the 'third place' expression or concept. This says that Home = our first place, Work = our second place, ? = our third place. For many Christians 'church' would be the third place but for ministers home, work and church can become a big mix of one with significant overlapping. And without knowing anything about this 'third place' stuff I think it says something about what makes me struggle at times. I do notice how energised finding 'other spaces' makes me and how peace is much more apparent when I'm not completely taken up with the mix of work and work at home. Unfortunately I don't find myself those spaces anywhere near often enough (or make enough purely home space either to give some definition between 'home' and 'work') and while I love home and work and church I find it hard to switch off from the big task out there.

So this bit of pondering is leading me to a) consider how I redefine my 'home' (and family) space and give myself permission to enjoy and put more effort into it! b) to ask what others (you) do to find a 'third place', if indeed you do. A question not just for ministers but for all. And I'm sure there are others for whom this is a particular challenge, such as mums at home focused on bringing up children? c) to look for that (or those) third places that give life a bit more roundedness and sense of wholeness.
Perhaps for some of us that place needs to be partially a mental division as much as a physical place?
"I have come that they may have life, and have it in all its fullness" (Jesus)

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Refreshment and daring to get out of the boat!

Romans 10: 5-15 & Matthew 14: 22-33 (7.8.11)

‘The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let him who hears say, “Come!” Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life.’

These are the words of invitation in Revelation 22 v17 (repeat), and they’re by no means the only words in the Bible calling us to come to our God to receive all that he has prepared for us!

We reflected last Sunday on that same invitation spoken through the prophet Isaiah: “Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters.”

(Is 55:1).

Matthew as he writes his gospel account quotes Jesus saying: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Mt 11: 28)

Our faith is a matter of invitation and response – the invitation of God to anyone and everyone to come and walk with him, the invitation of God to be reunited with him, the invitation of God to be refreshed by him, the invitation of God to be forgiven by him, the invitation of God to have life (eternally) with him, the invitation of God to know his love beyond all measure.

“Come!” says God and receive all these things that are freely given, that are there waiting, but that aren’t forced upon us against our will but need to be received with thanksgiving and praise!

David, the great king of Israel, and writer of so many of the Psalms, knew what it was to hear God’s word of invitation and to respond. In perhaps the best loved of the Psalms (Ps 23) he expresses the blessing of response, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want; he makes me lie down in green pastures and leads me beside still waters, he restores my soul.” He had come to know what it meant to hear that call of “Come” and to follow (and he could declare these beautiful words even though he was often being pursued by enemies and with his life under threat!).

But how often, even having first taken the step of faith and response to God’s invitation, at some places along the way; do we forget or do we stop listening?

“Come!”

“Whoever is thirsty, let him come.”

“Come to the waters.”

“Come you who are weary and burdened.”

Hear God’s invitation to you afresh today because it’s spoken out of God’s great love for humanity, and for you.

It’s brought right into our human situation by God taking up the human situation, the human ‘being’ of those he created (in the person of Christ) and showing them, and enabling them, to come back to the Father and know life in all its fullness.

You may look back to long ago when you first heard God’s invitation to come to him, and you gave him your response, or you may be hearing it for the first time today and you need to respond. Generally when we receive an invitation we expect to give a response… If you’re invited to a wedding you generally send a reply saying “thank you, I’ll be there” or “sorry I’m not able to come and celebrate with you”. And God’s invitation requires a response too. There’s that first life (and eternity) changing response that brings us into his kingdom, where we turn from darkness to light, where we receive his salvation – that invitation required a response. But there are also those further invitations to those who are saved, who are in the light: to come and be refreshed, to come and be restored, to come and be re-energised, to come and be encouraged, to come and stand under the living waters of the Holy Spirit and be re-filled!

Do you ever find yourself struggling on with the pressures of life, of work, of family, of finance, of your particular circumstances? Do they have the loudest voice? Do they cloud out God’s repeated invitation to you to come to him? Do you take your eyes off the Lord and fix them instead on the storms?

It can be a natural response – it was Peter’s response in the boat on that occasion that Matthew describes for us in the gospel.

Peter that day was being his usual, impetuous, self – but he was also the one who in faith was ready to leap out of the boat!

Jesus had miraculously fed the 5,000 plus people who had been with him, he’d sent the disciples off in the boat to cross the sea of Galilee, and he’d gone up the mountain to pray. So then Jesus is coming to join them, but by this time the disciples are far from land, being battered about by the waves. So Jesus walks to them on the water! Though they’d witnessed and accepted the miraculous provision of food that had happened just before, when they see Jesus walking to them on the lake they’re terrified and think he’s a ghost! But let’s consider closely what happened next…

Jesus spoke to them and reassured them that it was him.

And then Peter speaks out above the rest: “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” This is faith – realising that not only can Jesus himself overcome the natural order of things – but that he can transform them for us as well, that he can enable us as well.

And then we again meet invitation and response: Jesus simply says, “Come” and THEN Peter gets out of the boat. It’s really important that we don’t skip past this brief conversation.

Peter does not just receive the assurance that it’s Jesus on the lake and then leaps out of the boat! That would have been presumption and not faith! The reason Peter can have assurance of his ability to do the impossible and unlikely is because he asked, and Jesus has said “Come”. This account doesn’t tell us that if we were ever to be in a boat and leap out of it that we would automatically be able to walk on water because it happened here! If that was the case I’m sure St. Paul would have done so all the times he was shipwrecked and his life was in danger. What it tells us is that faith is about having the belief that Jesus can call us out of the boat and keep us from sinking… whatever that “boat” may be.

This depth of faith was echoed by Paul when he wrote these words to the Christians at Ephesus: “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” (Eph 3: 20,21).

The point is that, like Peter, we trust in the one who CAN do immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine. But on that day Peter did imagine and ask in faith!

When Peter started to sink, it wasn’t because Jesus wasn’t able to do what Peter asked, it was because Peter took his eyes off of Jesus and instead looked at the circumstances (the waves) surrounding him. And how easy that is to do!

I’ve never asked God to literally help me get out of a boat and walk on water but I have had to trust him for the seemingly impossible. It also occurred to me that some of those big “trust him” times have been because he’s calling me out of the boat – that is out of the safe, comfortable place to the daring and scary place – but the amazing place of faith! Like the first time I had to stand up and give a short address in a church – for me that was like getting out of the boat when Jesus said “Come.”

Is God calling you to do something that seems impossible or at least beyond what seems possible for you at the moment? Is God calling you to serve him in some particular way, or calling you into a particular ministry or role in his church that seems as challenging as getting out of the boat and walking on water? The thing is that he doesn’t drag us out of the boat against our will, he says “Come!” And when he says “Come” we can do so with faith and assurance that it will be ok. Our task is to hear the invitation and to make the response.

Now you may be thinking, “but Peter started to sink!” Yes he did! And even when we keep responding to Jesus’ invitation to come to him we might have times when we feel we’re sinking.

I know that as I faced the challenges of doing things for God that were well beyond my natural comfort zone there were times when I felt I was sinking, and there still are at times.

Peter only started to sink when he took his eyes off Jesus and focused on the waves – on the challenges, on the situation – and not on God. And that’s usually the reason that we start to sink, to become discouraged, to feel ill-equipped – because we take our eyes off Jesus and look at the challenges instead of the Lord.

But what did Peter do, even then? He called out “Lord, save me” and Jesus reached out his hand and caught him.

God again and again extends his invitation to his people…

“Come!”

“Whoever is thirsty, let him come.”

“Come to the waters.”

“Come you who are weary and burdened.”

“Come, get out of the boat!”

These are the words of God’s invitation to you today, how will you respond?

I’d like to end with some words from a song of worship that echo God’s invitation to you:

All who are thirsty

All who are weak

Come to the fountain

Dip your heart in the stream of life

Let the pain and the sorrow

Be washed away

In the waves of his mercy

As deep cries out to deep

We sing…

Come Lord Jesus, Come!

Come Lord Jesus, Come!


Brenton Brown
copyright Vineyard Songs 1998


AFTERTHOUGHT.... JUST THOUGHT I'D MENTION THAT THE COLOURS AND FORMAT WENT ALL PECULIAR AS I HAD TO E-MAIL THIS TO MYSELF AND THEN COPY HERE. HOWEVER MANY EFFORTS AT RE-FORMATTING I TRIED THEY ALL IGNORED ME SO THIS IS WHAT WE END UP WITH!