Monday, 29 December 2008

Praying the Scripture - Orphans no more

Opening Prayer

Here I am Lord,
Listening
Speak to me
within my heart and soul.
I am listening.


Galatians 4:4-7 (The Message)


But when the time arrived that was set by God the Father, God sent his Son, born among us of a woman, born under the conditions of the law so that he might redeem those of us who have been kidnapped by the law. Thus we have been set free to experience our rightful heritage. You can tell for sure that you are now fully adopted as his own children because God sent the Spirit of his Son into our lives crying out, "Papa! Father!" Doesn't that privilege of intimate conversation with God make it plain that you are not a slave, but a child? And if you are a child, you're also an heir, with complete access to the inheritance.



Reflection


To have a life that’s not your own.
To be a commodity; useful, practical,
To be valued for what you can do but not who you are
To be ruled by expectation and the tribute demanded
For your path to be dictated by circumstance and necessity.

To be abandoned by love
To be orphaned from hope
Enslaved by the whims of the world
Held captive by the rule of Man
Ignorant of the very stars above your head
Eyes downcast
A slave indeed

Then
The time comes

Light that dwelt outside time
Comes to life within human life
Emmanuel – in truth, God is with us
From the very first heartbeat of existence
To the last sigh of farewell.

For the touch of an infant’s hand melts the shackles of fear
For the sound of a baby’s cry gifts love to the loveless
For the smell of a child’s skin recalls life beyond this entrapment
For the birth of a baby boy rekindles hope for all who will witness

The Father sees you sitting bereft in the dust
And has sent his Son to gather you
To buy back your freedom
All the lost and abandoned children
And bring you back to your Father’s arms

You will raise your eyes to the stars
With the confidence of Faith
The freedom that is His Love
and the legacy that is eternal Grace



Contemplation
‘Sons and Daughters’

Our God does not meet our expectations. In fact, by god standards, he is not a very good god. Gods (with the small ‘g’) tend to be obsessed with fear and sacrifice; making sure they are worshipped and that their worshippers know their place – on their knees. They may be ‘born’ as babies but generally have a royal legacy, superhuman strength or preternatural knowledge. Our God, with the sureness of a Divine who calls himself simply ‘I Am’ says to us
‘I am the Creator – I don’t ask for my own creation returned as sacrifice; I don’t need worship; I don’t want fear. You were made to be my most beloved sons and daughters and that is what you will always be to me. But you do not believe - so here is the Son of my Spirit to show you - a brother and guide to you all; a Son who will know every step of your life, every happiness; every disappointment; every heartache. Take him to your heart; love him; share with him; learn from him. Begin at the beginning’

Imagine the crowded streets of Bethlehem; an older man from one of the trading villages, widowed, but now with a young wife about to give birth. He’s from the Royal Line of David, but that’s worth nothing. Everyone else in the town traces their lineage back to David and the scandal surrounding the pregnancy means that his kinsmen have withdrawn their hospitality. With no money for a room at the inn, he is begging at back doors for somewhere to sleep, until he catches an innkeeper off guard – maybe he has a daughter that age, maybe he knows someone from that town – but it’s only a cave; winter quarters for the animals and they must take their chances. And from the moment of the Christ’s first cry, their life does not get any better. And that is what God wanted; to be with the lonely, the vulnerable and the outcast – to be wherever we are.

We are at the beginning of God’s great step of faith towards us. Do you feel that sibling relationship with the Lord; do you feel like a beloved child of God. If so, share your thanks with God (he doesn’t hear Thank you enough)
If not, consider what is in the way of deepening this relationship and bring this to God.


Closing Prayer
May the blessing of the Sacred Three
The Father who gave us the Word
The Son who is the Word
The Spirit who opens the Word within us
Be with us today and evermore.Amen


wordinthehand2008

Thursday, 25 December 2008

Why a baby?

A lovely telling of the Christmas Story. A beautiful crib. There is comfort in the repeating of this tradition year after year and it’s not always easy to see the awesome wonder of it.
Our God, a child in the arms of a young woman.

Why a baby?

After thousands of years of a vengeful, furious, demanding, overpowering, all powerful God,
a God that burns cities, parts waters, brings down plagues and even causes the death of children.

Why now, a baby?

And this is no sudden change of plan, this is no whim.

Before this night God hadn’t spoken to his people for hundreds of years.
The Jewish people were distraught, blaming themselves for some unforgivable sin that silenced Yahweh.
A fear that made them refine their rules and their tradition until there was not a move they could make without sanction from the priests.
They were God’s obedient children, following his commandments, competing for his approval, laying the blame on the sick, the paralysed, the poor; living in fear of his wrath. Living in anticipation of a warrior Messiah.

And then, a baby? Born to an ordinary couple, in a very ordinary town.

So what is the Christmas message?
What is it that God wants from us?

Perhaps he never wanted to be a supernatural headmaster:
perhaps he didn’t intend his children to be scared of him but to be in love with him;
perhaps when he made us in his image he expected just a little bit more:
perhaps he just wanted us to grow up?

Our God is not about vengeance, punishment or fear.
Our God is Love, only Love, and in our limited human experience, what is more profound than the love between a mother and child?
So easy to imagine when we see the crib and sing about this perfect Holy Family.
A simple story catching our heartstrings.
So easily lulled by the romance of the Christmas night.

But what was God really asking of that family? Of those ordinary people?

Mary, a young woman, probably 13 or 14 years old.
A good marriage match made to Joseph. A life mapped out before her by the customs and traditions of her people.
And then a visit by an angel challenges everything she knows, everything she believes in.
The hymns paint her as meek and mild? I really doubt it.
To be able to accept the future the angel offers her would take guts, faith and determination.
To be an unmarried mother would be unacceptable to her people, an offence that could have had her stoned to death.
If not she and her child would be outcasts. What of her plans for life with Joseph?
How do you be the mother of the Son of God?

And what of Joseph, a respected craftsman of his town, a good family from the line of David?
Even after accepting the truth of the angel’s message, it is he who will have to bring up this child. He who will have to care for the mother.
How would he live with the scandal and the humiliation.
The remarks of his friends and neighbours.
There would be no-one in that town who would not know that child wasn’t his.
They’d be forced to move away. Where would his good name be then?
How was his future going to end up?

And honestly - what must have been their first reaction? Just say ‘no’
How temptingly easy.
And that had to be an option, because God was giving himself as a baby – he needed grown-ups,
The whole point of being an ‘adult’ is choice – free will, that means we can say ‘no’ or ‘yes’, accept and live with the consequences.
So, at the same time, there couldn’t have been a ‘standby’. What would the point have been in that? God saying - I’ll keep at it until someone says ‘Yes’!
This was a once only opportunity.

Of course, God could have simply said ‘ Let it be so’ and it would have been. But he didn’t.
Even before he was born, the life of the Son of God was in human hands.

The Christian faith is rooted in the fact that ordinary people do extraordinary things.
That Mary accepted her part in her relationship with God and said ‘Yes’.
That Joseph accepted his part in his relationship with God and said ‘Yes’.
That shepherds, innkeepers, kings and philosophers found some way in their hearts to say ‘Yes’ .
And that these and all the other ‘Yes’s’ from the most unlikely people, throughout Jesus’ life gave God the opportunity to be born among us, to live a life with us, to laugh and cry with us, to make his own choice to die for us and to be with us now.

Listen to a baby cry. Left in a cot or pram sobbing for attention, for reassurance.
How long can you bear it before you make the choice?
To move out of earshot hoping someone else can deal with it,
or, to go to the child, to hold it in your arms, to comfort, to give and receive love.

Maybe that’s why a baby.
Because every Christmas we are reminded that this is what our God did.
That as much as he is our Loving Father in Heaven,
he has also been a tiny, vulnerable, beloved child of earth.
And every Christmas we are asked if we are prepared to enter that relationship of love,
To take on that responsibility.To decide that when the angel puts God into our arms, will we be able to say ‘Yes’?


wordinthehand2008

Called by Name - When a Child is born

Opening Prayer

Here I am Lord,
Listening
Speak to me
within my heart and soul.
I am listening.


Romans 10:8 (The Message)



The Word that saves is right here, as near as the tongue in your mouth, as close as the heart in your chest.


Reflection

If I hear ‘How long have you got?’ one more time – someone will get hurt.

A week, actually…The longest week of my life.

Never mind the nine months that went before; the planning; the waiting and wondering; the ‘Yes!’; the thrill of telling everyone; the realisation that there is no going back.

Never mind the sickness; the spreading waistline; the doctor’s appointments; the scans; the bloodtests (I’m scared of needles); worrying about results; the realisation that I really am pregnant.

Never mind the ever-spreading ‘everything’, insomnia and nesting urges; reading horror stories; writing birth plans; imagining all kinds; making space; finding room; the realisation that somehow, soon, you will be born.

Because, really, I’d be quite happy for you to stay right where you are: to carry on being ‘the Bump’. I’ve got used to being this shape; living in a pregnancy time zone; cradling your weight in my arms; resting my cup of tea on your bottom (or head); trying to identify if it’s an elbow or a knee that’s trying to make it’s escape. We are two but we are one, we are self-contained and complete - a perfect relationship, perfect love, perfect belonging. You are, already, all I have ever wanted.

But you are growing; you need your own ‘space’; to become more; to find your own place in the world. So in a few days you will make that journey; become ‘real’; become separate. We will look into each other’s eyes and see ourselves, I will smell your skin and know you forever, I will hear you cry and feel your pain. And I will still know you inside me – an eternal umbilical cord of love between us.

And no matter what the future, the distance, the trials and triumphs of the years ahead, that will not change. When I think of you, when I want to be near you I won’t have to phone or travel, I will simply have to close my eyes, put my hand on my stomach and remember - you were here and part of you will never leave.



Contemplation
‘When a child is born…’

When you think about it – it is not a normal way for a God to meet his worshippers. We are used to the idea of fire and brimstone not a God that cries out, like any new born infant, to his mother.

God is all and everywhere, there is no place, no thing, no time where God is not; and yet we still search. We believe we do not find God or He does not find us because we are not worthy; Paul tells us we are temples, we are holy places. Who lives in a holy place, but God?

John tells us – ‘In the Beginning was the Word’, and we don’t understand, we don’t listen. Jesus was not ‘created’ to bring us salvation; he was always there, always here. But we chose not to recognise him.

Through Mary’s pregnancy and the birth of her son, God made the gesture that said ‘Look, here is where I am, inside you; as a child lives within its mother. That close, that integrated, that co-joined; that interdependent. Mother and Child, inside and out – every cell, every drop of blood - a bond that can never be broken.

A message that was so important for us to hear, to believe, to understand that God chose to leave the deep, untouchable space within, to give us the Christ Child, to take on our humanity so that he could guide us back to Himself, to the centre, to the core – as close as the heart in your chest.

Take some time to consider the love of a God who wants to lie in our arms, and at the same time wrap his arms around us. Think about what it means to be in that relationship. Do you believe this? If so, do you share this with others, if not what is stopping you from accepting this love? Is there anything you and God can do about it?

Closing Prayer
May the blessing of the Sacred Three
The Father who gave us the Word
The Son who is the Word
The Spirit who opens the Word within us
Be with us today and evermore.
Amen


wordinthehand2008

Monday, 15 December 2008

Called by Name - Freedom from...

Opening Prayer

Here I am Lord,
Listening
Speak to me
within my heart and soul.
I am listening.


Pauls letter to the Galatians 5:13-26 (The Message)

It is absolutely clear that God has called you to a free life. Just make sure that you don't use this freedom as an excuse to do whatever you want to do and destroy your freedom. Rather, use your freedom to serve one another in love; that's how freedom grows. For everything we know about God's Word is summed up in a single sentence: Love others as you love yourself. That's an act of true freedom. If you bite and ravage each other, watch out—in no time at all you will be annihilating each other, and where will your precious freedom be then? My counsel is this: Live freely, animated and motivated by God's Spirit. Then you won't feed the compulsions of selfishness. For there is a root of sinful self-interest in us that is at odds with a free spirit, just as the free spirit is incompatible with selfishness. These two ways of life are antithetical, so that you cannot live at times one way and at times another way according to how you feel on any given day. Why don't you choose to be led by the Spirit and so escape the erratic compulsions of a law-dominated existence?
Since this is the kind of life we have chosen, the life of the Spirit, let us make sure that we do not just hold it as an idea in our heads or a sentiment in our hearts, but work out its implications in every detail of our lives. That means we will not compare ourselves with each other as if one of us were better and another worse. We have far more interesting things to do with our lives. Each of us is an original.
Reflection

Freedom from… Freedom to….
Freedom from…! Freedom to…!
Freedom from…? Freedom to….?

I often read stories in the media about lions, whales, bears being kept for years in cramped and cruel conditions; cages that barely allow them to turn around; circuses that abuse them for entertainment; minds turned by loneliness and neglect; terrible stories.

Then, now and again, I hear of protesters, of a mission; to return them to the wild; to set them free. And the mission fails, because the lion, the bear, the whale has forgotten who it is; where it belongs; how to live; what is ‘free’.
The animal, we are told, dies of stress; gives in to madness; hurts people and livestock in an attempt to find a familiar scent or memory and has to be killed. Its cage, its pool, its enclosure was the only world it knew – it thought it was free. The protesters fade into the background. It was not meant to end like this. They only wanted the animal to be happy; to have its rights; to be free.

Freedom means so much to us; freedom of speech, free will, free access. Some of us will kill for this freedom – to get what we want; what we deserve without limit, without deadlines, without censorship, without consideration for the freedom of others. It is a right- but it is my right first.

More or less this is what I believed freedom to be – so it was a real shock when God called. Because the freedom of God’s love called me to let go of the bars, limitations, and structures of my life – it threw me out into a wilderness I had no understanding of. God’s love for me is utterly wonderful but it is not a possessive love; it’s a wild unfettered love that has no limitations that had no boundaries. It pushes you out beyond comfort zones, beyond perceived family bonds and friendships groups, beyond self. Other people matter, more than I do. People I don’t like; people I don’t know; people I have barely spoken to in passing conversation suddenly become important, needing to be helped, needing to be prayed for.

I’m not saying I’m very good at it, in fact I’m not very good at it, but I pray and the Spirit pushes me along, like a watchful sheepdog bringing the lamb home through the mountain pass.
And I don’t want to go back to the imaginary freedom, because I do, as Paul says, have far more interesting things to do with my life
Contemplation
‘Freedom from…Freedom to…’

There is something considered ‘nice’ about being a Christian. It seems very genteel, very middle-class, very organised. And if you agree then perhaps you need to consider how much of the Christian message you are hearing.

Our buildings are lovely, our rituals thoughtful and devout. Our prayers are polite (though not always our scripture). And wrapping ourselves up in them is a comfort and, maybe, a protection against the outside world.
We are not meant to be defended against the outside world. Like the disciples at Pentecost we are not meant to hide – the Holy Spirit fills us with God’s grace and love for one reason – to go out and give it to others. And not to worry about it running out - in fact the better your relationship with God, the better you understand the message; the faster you give it away; the smoother the channel becomes; the more you will receive. We are told this over and over again.

Take time to consider the reality of being a disciple of Jesus Christ.

Jesus preached freedom and the freedom he gave was to others, to be healed, to be forgiven, to be made clean. This is the gift he sent his disciples to share with others.

Has your life ever been like that? What have you found difficult. Did you ask for the Lord’s help? What was his answer?
What can you learn to help you in the future?

Closing Prayer
May the blessing of the Sacred Three
The Father who gave us the Word
The Son who is the Word
The Spirit who opens the Word within us
Be with us today and evermore.
Amen

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Called by Name

Praying the Scriptures - Paul Suffers

Opening Prayer

Here I am Lord,
Listening
Speak to me
within my heart and soul.
I am listening.



2 Corinthians 11:23-27 (The Message)

I've worked much harder, been jailed more often, beaten up more times than I can count, and at death's door time after time. I've been flogged five times with the Jews' thirty-nine lashes, beaten by Roman rods three times, pummelled with rocks once. I've been shipwrecked three times, and immersed in the open sea for a night and a day. In hard travelling year in and year out, I've had to ford rivers, fend off robbers, struggle with friends, struggle with foes. I've been at risk in the city, at risk in the country, endangered by desert sun and sea storm, and betrayed by those I thought were my brothers. I've known drudgery and hard labour, many a long and lonely night without sleep, many a missed meal, blasted by the cold, naked to the weather.
Acts 20:19-23 (The Message)

When they arrived, he said, "You know that from day one of my arrival in Asia I was with you totally—laying my life on the line, serving the Master no matter what, putting up with no end of scheming by Jews who wanted to do me in. I didn't skimp or trim in any way. Every truth and encouragement that could have made a difference to you, you got. I taught you out in public and I taught you in your homes, urging Jews and Greeks alike to a radical life-change before God and an equally radical trust in our Master Jesus. "But there is another urgency before me now. I feel compelled to go to Jerusalem. I'm completely in the dark about what will happen when I get there. I do know that it won't be any picnic, for the Holy Spirit has let me know repeatedly and clearly that there are hard times and imprisonment ahead.


Reflection

I was one of the travellers with Paul when the Lord took him for his own. Not only him, as you see, but me as well. There was no denying the power of God that threw him from his horse and there were so many witnesses. Though my presence here should be proof enough – I was as every bit as committed as Paul to the destruction of that little group that called itself Followers of the Way. And now here I am, following the Lord’s footsteps, mostly by following Paul’s!

He does seem such a boaster, a bragger, totally ego-centric at times and I suppose he is – but he always tells the truth. And the truth is all about Love. Although you wouldn’t believe it from how he’s been treated; and here he does not exaggerate. But no-one likes to think they are wrong. You wouldn’t believe how much people don’t want to hear the truth, would rather stay in their bitterness and anger than give in to God’s Love and change their life to God’s way.

Trouble is - when you give in to God’s love – it’s not nice, it’s not comfortable, it’s not happy ever after. It’s more like – why didn’t I know? Why can’t they see? How do I make them believe? God’s Love fills you up until you think your skin is bursting because it’s not meant just for you– it’s for them – all of them.

And that’s what makes Paul do what he does – he’s so full I wonder if he feels the pain, the struggle, the beatings, as long as he makes a connection and can pour that Love, that Grace into another heart, another soul.

And as soon as he celebrates one success he’s off after someone else. Knowing that his time is running out, yet always running straight into the darkness because he knows where the Light is, who the Light is.

I try, I really do, to be like him. Sometimes I find it hard to speak up, sometimes I do fear for my life and, though it seems ridiculous, I hate being laughed at. And then I look at Paul, and as much as my strength comes from God who loves me, it also comes from Paul who loves me too.

Contemplation
‘Whoever said it was easy?’

The English language has only one word for love. When we study scripture we often use the Greek which gives us four words. But God’s Love is beyond all the words and understandings that we can imagine. Experiencing it for ourselves is hard enough, but trying to explain it to others?

Why would anyone give up time, effort, belongings, wealth, friendship even their life, for someone they hardly know and who may not even appreciate it.

It doesn’t fit in this world view. There is no sense in what we are asked to do - love and care for others as if they were us, as if they were part of who we are; which is what belonging the Body of Christ is all about.
Jesus didn’t know most of the people he helped or healed, he didn’t ask for justification – he just did it. And that didn’t always make him popular either.

There’s nothing wrong with doing things that make us look good or feel better but if we only do things to make ourselves look good or feel better; then there will be much we don’t do that we probably should.

Take time to consider the reality of being a disciple of Jesus Christ. Think about what his life was like, the life the disciples took, the road Paul followed. Has your life ever been like that? What have you found difficult. Did you ask for the Lord’s help? What was his answer?
What can you learn to help you in the future?

Closing Prayer
May the blessing of the Sacred Three
The Father who gave us the Word
The Son who is the Word
The Spirit who opens the Word within us
Be with us today and evermore.

Amen

wordinthehand2008

Sunday, 7 December 2008

Second Sunday In Advent

Mark 1:1-8 (The Message)

The good news of Jesus Christ—the Message!—begins here, following to the letter the scroll of the prophet Isaiah.
Watch closely: I'm sending my preacher ahead of you;
He'll make the road smooth for you.
Thunder in the desert!
Prepare for God's arrival!
Make the road smooth and straight!

John the Baptizer appeared in the wild, preaching a baptism of life-change that leads to forgiveness of sins. People thronged to him from Judea and Jerusalem and, as they confessed their sins, were baptized by him in the Jordan River into a changed life. John wore a camel-hair habit, tied at the waist with a leather belt. He ate locusts and wild field honey.
As he preached he said, "The real action comes next: The star in this drama, to whom I'm a mere stagehand, will change your life. I'm baptizing you here in the river, turning your old life in for a kingdom life. His baptism—a holy baptism by the Holy Spirit—will change you from the inside out."
A friend asked me 'What was the strangest thing about this opening paragraph of Mark's Gospel? Jesus isn't there.' And as we never got to carry on that conversation I used this to follow my own train of thought.
Jesus isn't there. But would we expect him to be? This is Advent - we are preparing the way, that was John's task - to get our attention, to change our hearts. And there's lots of strange things about John, not least what he looked like. But he did make people change, brought them out of the desert to the vision of living water - the Jordan, a real symbol of life for real desert people. He brought them out of the Temple to listen to the Word of God. There were itinerant preachers about at the time - but baptism as well, and coming from a good Temple family?
Jesus isn't there. Well, he isn't here is he? We are waiting for him, surely that's the point. He hasn't come but that's not what the Gospel says - its says the Good News starts here.
Jesus isn't there and by now we must fall back onto the theatrical storytelling techniques of the Gospel writers; always setting the scene; setting us on tenterhooks. Well. yes, except for Mark. That wasn't his style. Mark races headlong through his Gospel. Like an excited child it's all - and then....and then.... and THEN. A Gospel meant to be carried lightly, spoken quickly, memorised easily.
Yet even Mark knows that this is not the time. This is the time to take time. To know what it feels like to have heard the words of Isaiah year after year after year and yet have heard nothing. No prophet, no thunder, no Messiah. And yet, through faith, having to wait and wait and wait.
We have the 'Ordinary' times in the Church's year when we read and learn about scripture until it becomes a comfortable tale of morality and justice, a part of how we think and who we are.
But like Easter, Christmas is not an ordinary time. It is a time well worth visiting as if we didn't know, had never heard, had no idea. So that we can become part of a history, of a longing, of a world crying with impatience for the Good News.
wordinthehand2008

Monday, 1 December 2008

Praying the Scripture

Opening Prayer

Here I am Lord,
Listening
Speak to me
within my heart and soul.
I am listening.

Acts 22:3-15 (New King James Version)
I am indeed a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, taught according to the strictness of our fathers’ law, and was zealous toward God as you all are today. I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and delivering into prisons both men and women, as also the high priest bears me witness, and all the council of the elders, from whom I also received letters to the brethren, and went to Damascus to bring in chains even those who were there to Jerusalem to be punished.
Now it happened, as I journeyed and came near Damascus at about noon, suddenly a great light from heaven shone around me. And I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?’ So I answered, ‘Who are You, Lord?’ And He said to me, ‘I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting.’
And those who were with me indeed saw the light and were afraid,[ but they did not hear the voice of Him who spoke to me. So I said, ‘What shall I do, Lord?’ And the Lord said to me, ‘Arise and go into Damascus, and there you will be told all things which are appointed for you to do.’ And since I could not see for the glory of that light, being led by the hand of those who were with me, I came into Damascus.



Reflection

It should have been the worst day of my life. I was wrong – the person who was so sure. And not just wrong, but standing on my head, other side of the planet, black instead of white wrong.

God loves me

Please understand - it’s not that I was one of those apathetic, don’t know, don’t care people. Once a Catholic, always a Catholic they say and it’s true. But what had God ever done for me? School was a nightmare –
rules and regulations, judgements and punishments – happiest days of your life? Don’t think you can get away with anything - God is watching you. Ha!

God loves me.

Expected to go to Church – expected to behave, to follow the rules, to do as I say not as I do. And to give praise to a God that just didn’t seem to care. Not when I lost my job, not when people I love got ill, not when all those horrible things happen in the world. Why would I pray to God? He’s never there when you need him. Oh no, I was making my own way through this life.

God loves me.

I wasn’t doing anything special; I wasn’t in church; I wasn’t praying. In fact I was walking the dog through the park, mind wandering as usual, and just noticed the way the sun made channels of light through the tree canopy and then I was standing in one of those channels. Except it wasn’t just sunlight, it was God-light. A light that went right through me, soaked into me, burned into my heart and soul. A Presence that was beyond the ordinary; that was beyond anything I had ever learnt or thought I knew about God. There was a new sense of wonder and grace – and it made sense. It was real, it was life-giving, it was mine.

God loves me.

And that love is real and it fills me to overflowing. A love that I can’t keep to myself – that’s not how it works. Because I can’t make it through life on my own – I need love – I need God’s love and I need to tell you too.

God loves you.


Contemplation
‘Turn to me’

It is hard to believe now that Paul could have destroyed all hope of the Christian family ever existing. His ruthless determination that the Followers of the Way were wrong, were to be turned back or destroyed was born of an absolute faith in what he believed was right.

The problem with absolutes is that they leave you no room for manoeuvre; after all, what happens when a question you weren’t expecting comes at you – what do you do?

‘Paul, why are you tormenting me?’

And what happens when you realise how wrong you have been; do you go forward or back?

The bravest thing Paul ever did; braver than surviving shipwrecks, braver than the risk of being beaten, braver than the risk of jail and execution, was accepting what had happened to him. The acceptance that allowed him to ask for forgiveness – knowing all he had done and knowing that by human standards he would have been beyond forgiveness – still he opened himself up to God and spent the rest of his life thanking Him for the Love and Grace that was bestowed on him.

Have you heard that call?
Did you respond to that call?
How has that call changed your life?

Closing Prayer

May the blessing of the Sacred Three
The Father who gave us the Word
The Son who is the Word
The Spirit who opens the Word within us
Be with us today and evermore.
Amen


Sunday, 30 November 2008

First Sunday of Advent


Mark 13:33-37
Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Be on your guard, stay awake, because you never know when the time will come. It is like a man travelling abroad: he has gone from home, and left his servants in charge, each with his own task; and he has told the doorkeeper to stay awake. So stay awake, because you do not know when the master of the house is coming, evening, midnight, cockcrow, dawn; if he comes unexpectedly, he must not find you asleep. And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake!’


Today we begin Advent; the Advent wreath takes pride of place in our churches, perhaps in our homes, and we light the first of five candles. We face the beginning of a journey; the need for preparation; the countdown begins. But to where and to what?

I shall warn you that this will indeed start with a rant against the monster that is Christmas commercialism.

While churches open their doors with services of reconciliation and reflection, we are caught by the guile and come hither entreaty of the shop window. Every late shopping night, Saturdays and Sundays, we are there. And not only there, these days, but on-line. The countdown is repeated in every media, tv, papers, posters; like a warning of the Apocalypse 'Buy now! Spend now! This Christmas's must-have! Show them you love them!'

'Show them you love them?'

By driving yourself, your bank balance, even your sanity into the ground?

For one day?

For one day, when, in the main - I am excluding children here (but just look at how much some of them get) - we give and receive presents that we could all well do without. We fill the bin with wrapping paper that could have saved the rain forest, we eat (and waste) food that could feed the starving millions and ther next day we are worrying about how we are going to pay it all off before we start again.

Along the way we may have got to a Carol Service, and maybe Midnight Mass, and bemoaned the fact that there wasn't much Christmas Spirit. And really who's to blame for that?

The Church gave us Advent to prepare - think back to our other time of preparation - Lent.
Lent is longer than Advent, yet I know people, non-churchgoers, even non-Christians who take up a Lenten challenge. I know people who make real efforts to do something for charity, who try to find out a bit more about their faith. And doing this they enter Holy Week prepared for a week of Church drama - if you really get into it you can follow those last few day with all the mystery and trepidation of the first disciples.

Why not Christmas? Is the birth less important than the death? There's a theological debate for you. But isn't it easier to imagine the eager awaiting of new baby into the family. We all know people who have tried years or had other problems and shared that 'one day at a time' pace of waiting. We've all sat up into the night waiting for a phone call that may or may not bring good news.

Imagine Mary and Joseph, secure in their own belief, yet having to face the gossip and stares of the local community; imagine them discussing the future - maybe already making plans to move away to somewhere they would not be known; imagine the trepidation of the journey to Bethlehem, so far along in the pregnancy. The last four weeks of a pregnancy, uncomfortable, restless, tired, wanting it to be over but worrying that everything will go alright. This is how we should spend Advent because, like Easter, this is a God time event, this is relived every year. And the more we participate; make the effort; take the time; the more it will impact on our hearts and our spirit.

And I am not saying stop shopping; I'm really not that much of a Scrooge, but just as the shops manage to find those extra hours for 'late nights' please try to find some time for prayer, reflection, contemplation on what is really going on. Join your church community at an Advent service or scripture meeting. It won't cost you anything and it may just mean everything.

wordinthehand2017

Monday, 24 November 2008

Praying the Scripture - Paul


During Advent our Diocese have been asked to reflect on the teachings of Paul. Whilst not an apostle, Paul wrote most of the New Testament. He prepared the way for the development of the early Church, particularly those who were not Jews. And it is through his teaching that we have our understanding of what being a disciple of Christ means.

Paul received his ‘Call’ when he was the greatest enemy that the early Christians faced.
His story is a story of conversion to Love through love.
For Paul, the ‘Call’ never ended – this is an opportunity to tune in, contemplate and share our own experiences.

Opening Prayer

Here I am Lord,
Listening
Speak to me
within my heart and soul.
I am listening.


Ephesians 3:14-21 (New King James Version)

For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man, that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height— to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church of Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.


Reflection

Like Father, like Son. Isn’t that what they say? And whilst we may both have our own ways of working; sometimes our own views on solving problems; it is probably more true than not; especially when we’ve got a job to do and a person to find to do it.

We like to take chances; to pick the one that never got picked for the team; to pick the one that’s always in the kitchen at parties; to pick the one nominated ‘ least likely to…’

We‘re looking for a chairman – he’ll have no people skills
We’re looking for a spokesperson – she’ll probably stutter
We’re looking for someone to promote the business – he’ll work for the opposition.

Be assured we do have some experience of success. For example, look where the Father sent me – dead-end town in the back of beyond. Even my cousin, John, got to be born into a Temple family, but me? Well, my family kept the gossipers in business for some time.

But in the end it was fine; it was more than fine. You’ve got to trust Him, because from where I started I couldn’t look down my nose at anyone, even if I had wanted to. Find even one of the apostles that was ‘made for the job’. Yet I knew what was inside me and I learnt to look for it in everyone else. I always found it. That flame of Grace that says ‘this is a child of God’. Even Paul – that passion, that conviction, that energy – all going the wrong way; racing headlong towards the annihilation of my followers. All it took was a word, and listen to him now; his prayer has such love, such power no matter how often I hear it. Who could be downhearted with Paul on your side? Although he does say the same about me!

So when I choose you – don’t say ‘I’m not worthy’: don’t say ‘I can’t’; please don’t say ‘choose someone else’, because I know what I am doing when I call you by name. Trust me - after all, I am my Father’s Son.


Contemplation
‘A Beloved Child of God’

No-one would have chosen Paul to bring the Good News to us.
No-one wanted him. Certainly the Apostles didn’t want him; the Jews didn’t want him.

But Jesus wanted him, and has a specific task for him – to take the Good News to people who hadn’t a clue, who weren’t expecting, who weren’t waiting for Good News.

Perhaps when we feel that call, we react against it - knowing or believing that everyone else we know is better read, better educated, more holy, more devout.

But when we do this we are looking the wrong way. Why do you think Paul was made blind? We are looking out of who we think we are instead of in to who we really are. The answer is within us.

Spend some time with yourself. Seeing yourself through God’s eyes as his beloved son or daughter. He did not make people to a pattern – everyone is unique. And seeing our uniqueness is not vanity it is honesty. Honestly wanting to fulfil the potential God gave us.

So try to strip away the doubts and the excuses and try to find the confidence and joy in sharing the knowledge of God’s love for you and for all of us. Maybe to just one other person. And remember Francis of Assisi’s instructions to his brothers
‘ preach the gospel always – if necessary use words.’

Closing Prayer

May the blessing of the Sacred Three
The Father who gave us the Word
The Son who is the Word
The Spirit who opens the Word within us
Be with us today and evermore.
Amen

Christ the Universal King

Sunday 23rd November


Jesus spent most of his time showing us that, in his humanity, he was one of us. And yet we still feel that we have to revere him as ruler over us. Perhaps, from a respect point of view, this is true. Nearer the end of his ministry he did admit to his Messiah-ship, but even then only to those in authority - so they would know who and what to expect when judgement came. One of his final acts, you will remember, was the washing of his disciples feet. Not really a 'kingly' act. Not an earthly king in any case. But Jesus came to turn the tables and question the way the world thinks. If he is a king then what kind of king is he?

Servant King

In the Great Hall stands the Throne
Empty and expectant.
For the Christ is not here.
He does not sit in majesty,
He does not sit in judgement
He does not sit in power.

He does not sit at all.

The Servant King is about his people.
The poor, the lonely, the weak,
The unwanted and unloved
Are the courtiers of his kingdom.

His boots are worn from the road,
His robes stained with the grime of toil.
His hands laboured raw,
Gifting healing and love.

A shepherd’s staff his sceptre
So he gathers them in
And brings them
To the Greatest of Halls
Where a seat of honour awaits

and Lazarus is poor no longer

wordinthehand2008

Monday, 17 November 2008

Pray the Scripture - Jeremiah

This is a prayer project that a group I belong to has started recently. For those who have come here via the project I apologise for repeating myself - for anyone else - this is a weekly prayer and meditation based on a piece of scripture with the intention of finding how God is trying to speak to us or guide us in our lives. So if you have fifteen minutes or so to do a bit of reading and inwardly digesting...

Opening Prayer

Here I am Lord,
Listening
Speak to me
within my heart and soul.
I am listening.


Scripture
Jeremiah 15:16-19 (New King James Version)
Your words were found, and I ate them,

And Your word was to me the joy and rejoicing of my heart;
For I am called by Your name,
O LORD God of hosts. I did not sit in the assembly of the mockers,
Nor did I rejoice;
I sat alone because of Your hand,
For You have filled me with indignation. Why is my pain perpetual
And my wound incurable,
Which refuses to be healed? Will You surely be to me like an unreliable stream,
As waters that fail?

The LORD Reassures Jeremiah

Therefore thus says the LORD:

“If you return,
Then I will bring you back;
You shall stand before Me;

If you take out the precious from the vile,
You shall be as My mouth.
Let them return to you,
But you must not return to them.

Reflection

When you called me I was intrigued; when you spoke to me I was captivated; when I felt you I became yours. You are all and everything to me. A consuming love that feeds my heart and soul, and directs my mind.

My thoughts are not my own. Your Will is mine. I shout your praises from the rooftops but no-one listens, I tell my good fortune to my friends but they turn away. Why do they not see through my eyes? Their ignorance is beyond my understanding. I am tormented by you; I am tormented by them. You send me to those I cannot bear to be with, and yet I cannot bear to be alone.

Is it envy that makes them this way? That cannot see the beauty in your words. Is it disbelief that makes me a scapegoat for their displeasure? Is love meant to be this hard, this painful, this joyless? What exactly do you want me to do? Am I bound to fail? Will failing mean losing you?

Would it be better if we had never met?


How could I have said that?

You are all I have. There is no going back to before. Your words are like honey; sweet, soothing, restoring my poor spirit, which is nothing without you.

I will live with my faults; I will live with theirs; trying to convince them of your mercy and goodness. I will find those who will listen, and bring them to you. I will be your word in the streets and houses of this place.

And I will return at the end of each day to the comfort of your heart and your arms.


Contemplation
‘Turn to me’

When you make ‘that’ connection with God - you know it.

It’s first love all over again; it is the Eureka moment of your life,
it all makes sense.
But then what do you do? Because like any Good News
you want to tell others; like anyone finding true love you want others to have what you have found;
like anyone who sees the truth you want others to see the lies.
But they don’t – not all of them. Suddenly, it is you who is the misfit; you who is upsetting the applecart;
you who is acting out of the ordinary.
And, it seems, God is not always there to back you up.
Faith is not easy; being a voice is not easy.

Take time now to think about a time when you felt your faith made you unpopular; when it would be have been easier to simply blend in; to go along with the crowd. Watch what happened from as many angles as possible. Try to see every side of the story; especially try to see God’s side. Discuss it with Him. If you gave in – don’t worry about it – think about how you may deal with a similar event in the future. If you kept to your beliefs, think about where that strength came from and give thanks for it.

This is all in the past so there is not need for regret—simply find a sign, a message that will help you today and thank God for it.


Closing Prayer

May the blessing of the Sacred Three
The Father who gave us the Word
The Son who is the Word
The Spirit who opens the Word within us
Be with us today and evermore.
Amen


wordinthehand2008

Sunday, 16 November 2008

Don't quote me


1 Thessalonians 5:1-6
You will not be expecting us to write anything to you, brothers, about ‘times and seasons’, since you know very well that the Day of the Lord is going to come like a thief in the night. It is when people are saying, ‘How quiet and peaceful it is’ that the worst suddenly happens, as suddenly as labour pains come on a pregnant woman; and there will be no way for anybody to evade it.But it is not as if you live in the dark, my brothers, for that Day to overtake you like
a thief. No, you are all sons of light and sons of the day: we do not belong to the night or to darkness, so we should not go on sleeping, as everyone else does, but stay wide awake and sober.


While I was out shopping this weekend I was handed a little compliment slip by a member of the local Gospel church. He smiled at me and said 'God loves you- I smiled back and said ' I know'. Then I looked at the card - THE WAGES OF SIN IS DEATH. Well that's it then, we are all doomed, because I know I can't go through even one day without sinning somewhere. That has to be the extreme version of tough love if we believe God loves us. But Paul has to be the most mis-quoted person in the Bible. These six words belong to the following



But now having been set free from sin, and having become slaves of God, you have your fruit to holiness, and the end, everlasting life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.



Doesn't that sound much better - you were in the wrong place and now you are in the right place.



And today's reading has a similar tag-line 'the Day of the Lord is going to come like a thief in the night'. Well that's it again then. God is going to sneak up on us when we are at our most vulnerable and there's nothing we can do about it. But no - that is not what Paul is saying. The early Church expected Jesus back any second, like the merchant who has just gone abroad. Some of them got quite idle waiting for him. But, after a while the penny dropped - we don't know; we can't know, all we can do is trust and be ready. The Day of the Lord might be like a thief in the night to those that aren't listening - but that is not us. We are not living in cloud cuckoo land. We cannot claim ignorance - we have been lifted out of that daydream 'it'll never happen' into an awareness and a readiness for the Call. It's still up to us how ready we are but we can't say we didn't know.


Scripture is so open to media hype and propaganda that there is no better advice with scripture that to read it yourself.
I know this is a strange idea for Catholics to consider, we tend to trust the church to tell us what to think. But if we only go to Mass on Sunday and we only listen to our parish priest's interpretation of the Word of God (as informed, biased, inspirational or boring as that will be - he is only human) then we will be getting a nth of what we need to know, out of cultural context, out of historical context and often out of spiritual context. You can only interpret it in the knowledge that it was meant for you - personally. God wants a relationship with us and the Bible is another communication tool - there may even be a bible lying dustily on your bookshelf, there will be a scripture group somewhere and there's plenty of commentary on the internet - just don't believe everything you hear or read - discuss it with God first - it will keep you wide awake and sober.
wordinthehand2008
*
And also:
As we approach the end of the Church’s year our readings turn to the anticipation of a Second Coming,. As such Paul, in his letter to the Thessalonians encourages them in the need for readiness. We can be living our daily lives in the most ordinary of fashions and yet it can all change. But, says Paul, we should not be taken by surprise because we do not live in the dark – we live in the light of Christ. C S Lewis wrote ‘We can make people attend to the Christian point of view for half an hour or so but the moment they have gone away from our lecture…they are plunged back into a world where the opposite position is taken for granted.’ This is probably more true now than it was when Lewis wrote it. A good word to describe our status as Christians is sojourners – we are on the way somewhere, we are in the world but not of it and we must practice that attentiveness.
Anon

Sunday, 9 November 2008

Church Building

The Dedication of the Lateran Basilica

1 Corinthians 3:9-11,16-17
We are fellow workers with God; you are God’s farm, God’s building. By the grace God gave me, I succeeded as an architect and laid the foundations, on which someone else is doing the building. Everyone doing the building must work carefully. For the foundation, nobody can lay any other than the one which has already been laid, that is Jesus Christ. Didn’t you realise that you were God’s temple and that the Spirit of God was living among you? If anybody should destroy the temple of God, God will destroy him, because the temple of God is sacred; and you are that temple.

Today we celebrate the church of St John Lateran in Rome. When we were a fledging church we met in houses and small groups but once the Roman Empire took us under it's wing, we needed a temple - a real church and St John's is it. It is the Mother church of the Church.
Not often we celebrate a building, although that's actually nonsense - very often we think more about the building than the people in it; which Paul reminds us today not to do - the Temple of God is actually each and every one of us and we should celebrate that every day.


Church

For Your Glory, stone is unhomed,
And sent, gravity defiant, towards Heaven.
Oak and elm are torn from earth’s grasp,
Then set to guard sacred space.
Earth’s treasure is drawn, twisted and bent:
Compelled to meet our will.

For Your Glory, saints are called here
Held within, named and known.

Arrogant children,
We think ourselves creators,
Innovators in texture, form and colour.
We imagine we encompass You
within our ambitions,
Within these walls.
Yet remain ignorant of Your Presence,
Of Your design in our daily lives.
How do we not see that
You have built Your church;
We are living it,
We are its stones.


wordinthehand2008

Thursday, 30 October 2008

Looking Good in God

Ephesians 6:10 - 20
Finally, grow strong in the Lord, with the strength of his power. Put God’s armour on so as to be able to resist the devil’s tactics. For it is not against human enemies that we have to struggle, but against the Sovereignties and the Powers who originate the darkness in this world, the spiritual army of evil in the heavens. That is why you must rely on God’s armour, or you will not be able to put up any resistance when the worst happens, or have enough resources to hold your ground. So stand your ground, with truth buckled round your waist, and integrity for a breastplate, wearing for shoes on your feet the eagerness to spread the gospel of peace and always carrying the shield of faith so that you can use it to put out the burning arrows of the evil one. And then you must accept salvation from God to be your helmet and receive the word of God from the Spirit to use as a sword.
Pray all the time, asking for what you need, praying in the Spirit on every possible occasion. Never get tired of staying awake to pray for all the saints; and pray for me to be given an opportunity to open my mouth and speak without fear and give out the mystery of the gospel of which I am an ambassador in chains; pray that in proclaiming it I may speak as boldly as I ought to.
I think Paul must have been a kinaesthetic learner. he certainly knows how to paint a picture of how to live with God's power around us. We may be used to reading the Gospel as words on a page but we should never forget that Jesus is the Word. He is physical; he knows how important his presence means to the disciples; he is meant to be tangible, otherwise why leave us his body and blood? -you can't get much more physical than that.
As children we want to be held, cuddled, protected by someone who loves us and who drives away our fears and hesitations. We wear football shirts and school ties to show that we belong, that we are not alone.We put on Dad's shoes and Mum's coat so that we can be big like them.
Paul is telling us to do the same with God. Get the Word off the page and wrap him around you. There will be times when you can't do it on your own; you don't have to. Wear God as a shield, use him as a sword; hide behind him if you want to - he's big enough.
This is meant to be the sign of a mystic, a person who has a personal and physical experience of God, but there's little reason why we all can't have that. Like all relationships you have to make a commitment, spend some time, want it to work and something will happen. But having made a connection don't ignore him.
Don't think because you've bought the t-shirt that makes you a supporter. You have to interact, participate, communicate or as Paul puts it - pray. All it means is talk. It doesn't have to be fancy; it doesn't have to be polite; it doesn't have to be all about him or you for that matter. Just chat, moan, discuss, inform, include, acknowledge and remember, occasionally, to allow him to answer. Then, in time, it won't be just Faith that tells you God exists - in fact that's one of his favourite subjects.
wordinthehand2008

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Excess Baggage

Luke 13:22 - 30
Through towns and villages Jesus went teaching, making his way to Jerusalem. Someone said to him, ‘Sir, will there be only a few saved?’ He said to them, ‘Try your best to enter by the narrow door, because, I tell you, many will try to enter and will not succeed. ‘Once the master of the house has got up and locked the door, you may find yourself knocking on the door, saying, “Lord, open to us” but he will answer, “I do not know where you come from.” Then you will find yourself saying, “We once ate and drank in your company; you taught in our streets” but he will reply, “I do not know where you come from. Away from me, all you wicked men !” ‘Then there will be weeping and grinding of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and yourselves turned outside. And men from east and west, from north and south, will come to take their places at the feast in the kingdom of God. ‘Yes, there are those now last who will be first, and those now first who will be last.’


The Jews really didn't really expect everyone to saved - they 'knew' that it was only for those few who kept all the laws, the few who had God's favour (i.e. wealth), the few that had the confidence to stand at the front of the synagogue - telling God how good they had been.

And it happens now - religious people claiming that you will not be saved unless you ...........
Using human law, fear and judgement to decide for God on the fate of others. But who are we to judge?

Paul tells us that God wants us all with Him. He is a God of mercy - He wants to err on the side of love. But we are human and in our humanity we are never going to be worthy.

So how do we get into a position where we can stand before him in hope of salvation? By going through the narrow door. By letting go. The doorway to the throne room is so narrow that you have to leave everything behind; your possessions, your wealth, your books, your rosary beads; you have to cast off everything until all there is is you. And if you can stand like that before God, without all that artifice of human values, then I think you have a pretty good chance of getting a seat at the feast.

If you can't - then you'll be sitting on the stairs for an awfully long time.

wordinthehand2008

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

The Last Resort

Feast Day - 28th October - Ss Simon and Jude
A short devotional to one of my patron saints - my mother has spent her life praying to St Jude (saint of the last resort) on my behalf - I almost feel we are family.
Strangely Jude was also called Thaddaeus, a perfectly good name which would make you wonder why the church would give him his other name which everyone mixes up with Judas Escariot - giving rise to one of the theories as to why 'the last resort' - trouble with names is mud sticks - and you can well imagine that people would not wish to be heard praying to the person who betrayed Jesus, so if you had to pray to Jude it would be a last resort.
Another idea comes from the missionary work that he and his friend Simon did. They were out in Mesopotamia and Persia preaching to the pagans and taming tigers. Back in Jerusalem there were early Christians wishing to speak with the original Apostles not the disciples (you know the type who only ever want the priest). As the Apostles were martyred one by one this became more and more difficult but Jude did last quite a while (into the 60's) but going all the way to Persia to see him would have been a Last Resort.
Is it true? Does it matter? We know so little about most of the Apostles we can make up our own stories but it's nice to know there is a doorway for Last Resorts.
What is important, especially to non-Catholics and others who think praying to saints is next to idolatory, that you don't get what you need from the saint, you get it from God, and the saint is only a friendly face helping you to pass the message on. It helps us remember that we and all those who have gone before are just living on both sides of a doorway, a la Stargate. We may not see them but the communication link is always there. Paul calls us all saints, we have all been saved. Which reminds me, I must ask my mother if she thinks her prayers have ever been answered.
wordinthehand 2008

Sunday, 26 October 2008

Love


Matthew 22:34 - 40
When the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees they got together and, to disconcert him, one of them put a question, ‘Master, which is the greatest commandment of the Law?’ Jesus said, ‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second resembles it: You must love your neighbour as yourself. On these two commandments hang the whole Law, and the Prophets also.’
The whole basis of Christian teaching in possibly the most famous few words of the Gospel.
It appears that Jesus has made everything simple for us - don't worry about those 600-odd rules of Judaic living; don't even worry about the Ten Commandments; just do these two things - that's all I ask.
The trouble with simple stuff is it doesn't leave you with any room for manoeuvre. We know what Jesus means when he says 'neighbour' - everyone you ever meet, everyone on the planet - we are all connected. If you don't want to love someone whether it's your awkward and actual next door neighbour, the down-and-out who comes and sits next to you on the park bench or the Third World child dying of Aids, you can't go and find the loophole; there won't be one.
Love the Lord your God? Easy enough, don't we all love him? We pray to him, we visit him in church, we wear crosses and little fish; of course we love him. He doesn't need much more love than that- he is, after all, God. Hmm.
I have recently became a grandmother. And I was proudly nursing my three week old grandchild up and down the aisle of church the other day when a friend remarked - 'Look, madonna and child.' I accepted the compliment. This morning I spent three hours walking the house nursing her through a bout of colic. It wasn't the first time, probably not the last.
In the haze of tiredness, images of the real Madonna and baby came into my head.
Always too perfect, too serene,too good to be true. If only.
This is an image of a human and God. And God is not in control, God is not telling her what to do, God is not mighty. It is human love that is mighty. It is human love that can take on the total dependence of a baby. It is human love that springs unreasoningly from nowhere. It is human love that can walk the floors, not knowing what the matter is, not knowing what else to do but being prepared to do anything, give up anything to bring peace. It isn't a law - we can't be commanded to do this - God needs us to love him and with the kind of love we can give; heart and soul and all our might: who can blame him?

wordinthehand2008



Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Knock, knock

Luke 12:36 - 38
Jesus said:‘Be like men waiting for their master to return from the wedding feast, ready to open the door as soon as he comes and knocks. Happy those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes. I tell you solemnly, he will put on an apron, sit them down at table and wait on them. It may be in the second watch he comes, or in the third, but happy those servants if he finds them ready.’

So often we have God wrong; even when we have convinced ourselves that he is really not the nasty judgemental God from our early days; even when we accept that God is about Love; we still don't know the half of it.

The scenario in this Gospel is ridiculous; the servants alert and attentive when the master comes are more likely to find themselves thrown into a frenzy of feeding, bathing and banking up fires. For when a master arrives home in the middle of the night you would not expect to find him at his most sociable.

But this is not God. God finding us at our posts, ready and waiting, is so overcome that he willingly and thankfully, serves us; puts us before himself; treats us as we were ready to treat others. And this is not about Judgement Day - this is every day of our lives. Every day we accept our responsibilities as Christians, God comes to our door and offers himself to us; to do for us what we try to do for others.

Our God is crazy - crazy with Love.

wordinthehand2008

Monday, 20 October 2008

Works of Art


Ephesians 2:1 - 10
You were dead through the crimes and the sins in which you used to live when you were following the way of this world, obeying the ruler who governs the air the spirit who is at work in the rebellious. We all were among them too in the past, living sensual lives, ruled entirely by our own physical desires and our own ideas; so that by nature we were as much under God’s anger as the rest of the world.
But God loved us with so much love that he was generous with his mercy: when we were dead through our sins, he brought us to life with Christ – it is through grace that you have been saved – and raised us up with him and gave us a place with him in heaven, in Christ Jesus. This was to show for all ages to come, through his goodness towards us in Christ Jesus, how infinitely rich he is in grace. Because it is by grace that you have been saved, through faith; not by anything of your own, but by a gift from God; not by anything that you have done, so that nobody can claim the credit. We are God’s work of art, created in Christ Jesus to live the good life as from the beginning he had meant us to live it.

I collect things, shells and polished glass from the beach; stone and wood from the woods; I pick broken jewellery and rusty metal up off the pavement, out of bins and skips. I collect phrases that people say, or that I hear on the tv or radio, or which come into my head at random moments. Once collected, they can stay in my garden corner or in a box, in my head or in a journal until one day when I look at them and see what they can become. A poem, a story, an icon, a sculpture, a book. Then I make it; and it is unique - I could make something similar but never the same. And the artist, the creative parent in me sees it as beautiful - a work of art.

Because it is a created object, it is not aware -no more aware that it is beautiful than it was when it was rubbish.

But what a surprise -when God creates us - out of stardust and a gleam from his eye, we tend to see the rubbish and not the art. We criticise ourselves, how we look, how intelligent, how gifted, how good or bad we are; and we measure ourselves against others - and often find ourselves wanting - wanting to be like them, wanting to look like them, wanting that image.

We, who are amazed at the scientific fact that no two snowflakes are alike, astounded at the fact that there are over two hundred species of cowrie, astonished that the patch design on giraffes is individual and unique cannot look at ourselves and see the wonder of God's work. And, seeing it, not want the work to continue. Because we are not finished - we are a work of art - we are also a work in progress. God's grace, God's inability to leave us alone because he loves us so much is always there, trembling to get at us, to help us live the life that he intended for us.

Paul gets this because he is aware; has seen himself transformed from rubbish to art. He knows who the artist is and how he works.

This is the Year of Paul in the church. Forget whatever you heard about him being bombastic, inconsistent, misogynistic, and listen to him - it's always the same message - God loves you, no matter what - God made you and he doesn't make rubbish.

wordinthehand2008

Sunday, 19 October 2008

Money, money,money

Matthew 22:15 - 21
Then the Pharisees went away to work out between them how to trap him in what he said. And they sent their disciples to him, together with the Herodians, to say, ‘Master, we know that you are an honest man and teach the way of God in an honest way, and that you are not afraid of anyone, because a man’s rank means nothing to you. Tell us your opinion, then. Is it permissible to pay taxes to Caesar or not?’ But Jesus was aware of their malice and replied, ‘You hypocrites! Why do you set this trap for me? Let me see the money you pay the tax with.’ They handed him a denarius, and he said, ‘Whose head is this? Whose name?’ ‘Caesar’s’ they replied. He then said to them, ‘Very well, give back to Caesar what belongs to Caesar – and to God what belongs to God.’

Well, it's good to know that Jesus knew a back-handed compliment when he heard one; and a trick question when it's posed.

There's quite a bit to be aware of when you are talking money in the Gospel. And from my own limited knowledge there are a few particular things to know here:

We know that Israel is part of the Roman Empire at this point, they are not there by invitation. Rome took Rome with her as she occupied countries and so the currency, in every country became Roman. The head of Caesar, a daily reminder for every citizen of every land.

We know that Rome funds the Empire by taxing those she has overthrown, and clever as she is, the tax collectors are recruited from local stock. Immediately branded collaborators they are outcast from society and the temple; in it for the money they charge above and beyond what they pay to Rome to pay themselves. Tax collectors lived every day knowing that they have made the choice between God and Caesar.

But is the Temple any better? In their show of desire to be 'pure', Caesar's coin is not allowed in the Temple, can't be used to buy sacrifice or given in tithe. It has to be exchanged for Temple money. And, of course, exchange comes with commission - these are the money men that Jesus rants over at the entrance to the Temple - yet another barrier between God and the poor.

So, back to the taxes; do you think it would be a good idea to not pay what you owe? Given that not paying would mean interest being heaped upon the debt until it meant giving up your business, your home and selling you and your family into service? - No.
What do you think Rome would think of a person suddenly raising himself above the teaching of the Torah to advocate what is basically rebellion? Certainly, some of the zealots, the freedom fighters, must have secretly wished Jesus would call for taxes not to be paid; what a way to start a war! But realistically it would have been the end there and then. And it wasn't the right time and it wasn't the right reason.

Jesus looks at the coin, at the worldly insecurity that makes a man, a ruler, a God-king need to have his image impressed on pieces of metal and sees it for what it is - stuff. Nothing God wants, nothing that feeds the spirit, that tends the soul.

He looks at the Pharisees and others waiting for an answer - waiting to spring the trap - God or Caesar - either answer will give them ammunition against him.

Jesus tells them - pay the taxes; if it's what this man wants, if it keeps you out of slavery - and pay it without resentment or feeling belittled; it is not what life is about.

What belongs to God is more important. You, your love, your love for each other, your happiness.

Simple really, except even now, we put stuff above God. Our need to have our own heads stamped on the trappings of success - my car, my house, my plasma screen, my place in the sun. And then we forget that money is just a tool; we have other responsiblities; we have neighbours.

No-one should be so poor that they cannot eat, or have a place to sleep or a roof over their heads. We know this, the Church knows this, society knows this and many people to try to fight the scandals that still exists.

Tell me, how rich should you be? Perhaps just rich enough to look God in the face and still be able to smile?

wordinthehand2008









Saturday, 18 October 2008

The Sending

Luke 10:1 - 9
The Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them out ahead of him, in pairs, to all the towns and places he himself was to visit. He said to them, ‘The harvest is rich but the labourers are few, so ask the Lord of the harvest to send labourers to his harvest. Start off now, but remember, I am sending you out like lambs among wolves. Carry no purse, no haversack, no sandals. Salute no one on the road. Whatever house you go into, let your first words be, “Peace to this house!” And if a man of peace lives there, your peace will go and rest on him; if not, it will come back to you. Stay in the same house, taking what food and drink they have to offer, for the labourer deserves his wages; do not move from house to house. Whenever you go into a town where they make you welcome, eat what is set before you. Cure those in it who are sick, and say, “The kingdom of God is very near to you.”
Jesus has given up trying to do it all himself. As fast as he is healing in one village he is being maligned in another. So he gathers what is the nearest he will come to an 'army' around him to launch an offensive.
Because, it wasn't like the movies, just Jesus and the Twelve promenading around the Galilee chatting to people. He was 'on a mission'. Maybe he knew he had three years, maybe he didn't, maybe it wasn't even three years, but there was a change to be made and it just wasn't happening. Still, there were those that followed and that believed, and although he feared for their lives, 'lambs among wolves', he chose the best of them; gave them all the advice he could and sent them out (remembering that 'the best of them' in Jesus' eyes could have been sinners, outcasts and women). And, not to give the game away, but they do really well!
There's a lot going on today in the Church that could benefit from listening this Gospel. At this time there is a move towards the church getting 'church-ier', the Liturgy becoming more ritualised, and reverence being held in higher esteem that hospitality. The people who want this say it is to protect the tradition - well, there are two traditions in the Church;
Faith - the Tradition of the Trinity, the Death and Resurrection and teachings of Jesus Christ and Culture - the tradition of what the buildings look like, what we wear, where we sit and what we sing. One is Eternal and the other is transitory. We should be careful not to mix them up.
It's the real Tradition that should really involve us and as Christians we should have read the small print; it wasn't just the Twelve that were chosen (not just the priests and religious today) but everyone who considers themselves a Christian is a disciple. Sent out, not to build buildings, not to mix only with other Christians, not to play it safe; but to bring peace and healing and the Kingdom of God.
That's our responsibility now. We have to prove to the 'Church', to society, to ourselves that the image may be changing, that it may be time for a 'make-over' but that the only real way for the Church to stay alive is always to go back, to return to the source, to the Word, to the Sending.
wordinthehand2008

Monday, 13 October 2008

Show's over

Luke 11:29.32
The crowds got even bigger and Jesus addressed them, ‘This is a wicked generation; it is asking for a sign The only sign it will be given is the sign of Jonah. For just as Jonah became a sign to the Ninevites, so will the Son of Man be to this generation. On Judgement day the Queen of the South will rise up with the men of this generation and condemn them, because she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and there is something greater than Solomon here. On Judgement day the men of Nineveh will stand up with this generation and condemn it, because when Jonah preached they repented; and there is something greater than Jonah here.’

Jesus cures a man (they're not impressed) they praise his mother (he's not impressed) but he's providing enough entertainment, causing enough controversy to draw a massive crowd. And now, with them in the palm of his hand, does Jesus reassure them of their place as the chosen people, does he unite them against the Romans, does he prove that he is the Messiah they have been waiting for? No, you do well not to even try to second guess the Lord.

He berates them - thank you for coming to see the 'show' but the show's over and your tickets are now void!

They have spent too much time looking for the angle, the trick, the evidence and Jesus has realised they are never going to get it. The show has become a showdown and from now on he changes tack - he will be directly challenging the Temple, the Law, the Sabbath - everything that has stopped people from 'seeing' who he is.

It's an exciting read from now on, and remember we do have the advantage of hindsight, so when we are reading we would do well to consider where we are standing now. What would the the Queen of Sheba say about us?

Are we in the light and grace of a loved and well-lived life or in the shadow of a life hidden behind laws and doubts and excuses.

wordinthehand2008