Putting Jesus back into Christmas

Frost glistening on the grass, winter sun rising over Riber if we were singers we would have sung out …
“In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,                                     
Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;”
Christina Rossetti 
The cold and frosty start seemed to fit with our theme this morning. All be it one that has been tried and tested many times before.
I love the build up to Christmas, the lights in shop windows, Christmas markets, buying presents, thinking about how I will decorate my home etc. etc.  But this week amid all the glitz I was thinking, where is Jesus in all this? Particularly after being in touch with a local food bank and receiving an appeal leaflet from St. Georges Crypt in the post.  www.stgeorgescrypt.org.uk
So what followed was a time to worship and reflect.
Interspersed in the words below I read extracts from the St. Georges Crypt Appeal leaflet – words of challenge and hope, words showing the the Kingdom of God in action.

 

God of generosity and justice come into our midst this morning.

Breath your breath, your Holy Spirit,

your enlivening, your imagination upon us.

Wake us up, open our eyes, unplug our ears;

that we might hear, that we might see, that we might grieve, that we might dream.

That we might truly follow the ways of your extraordinary kingdom. Amen.

 

The People Who Worship

Our gathering emphasises community

Our gathering is an experience of radical equality

Our gathering is characterised by joy and hope and laughter.

The God We Worship

Our gathering names God as the true and only God

Our gathering proclaims the sovereignty and presence of the risen Jesus

Our gathering affirms the values of the Kingdom of God.

Our Mission and Ministry

In our gathering our many different gifts are brought together into unity

In our gathering we acknowledge that we are sinners

In our gathering we show care and encouragement to one another.

 

Wandering slowly around the park we meditated on:

The Empty Place

People who do not hold tightly to things are happy, because all of God’s kingdom is theirs.

People who are gentle with the earth will see it blossom forever.

People who can cry for all the world’s suffering will live to see happiness                 Misplaced halo?

People who hunger and thirst for justice will finally have their fill.

People who really care will find love wherever they go.

People who don’t let the world get them down will see God.

People who give up their won comfort so that others can be helped know what heaven is all about.

Lord, let us be like these!

The Franciscans

 

Jesus calls us above all else to seek the Kingdom of God, putting our trust in God who creates, provides and redeems, and whose love is never ending.

Jesus taught us that we should uphold justice and generosity, strive to safeguard the integrity of all living things and always to be mindful of how other people are treated.

What can I do to make this a reality in my life?

 

Sharing of bread and wine

We share bread and wine, Lord Jesus, as a memorial of your life given for us,

Your body broken and your blood poured out.

But we cannot share bread and wine with our eyes closed to the needs of others.

May our thanksgiving for your unbelievable gift be so real that we too,

may become bread broken and wine poured out for others.

Empower us by your Spirit to be peacemakers, hurt healers, justice doers, life enhancers.

Amen

 

 

Closing Prayer

May the love and encouragement we find in this community

Make us peacemakers and justice-doers:

and may the Spirit who fills us again

lead us to be those who proclaim God’s Kingdom

in everything we do.

Amen.

Words used this morning with thanks to J. Frank Henderson, John van de Laar and Jonny Baker

Third Space Ancient and Modern

A mild autumn morning greeted us all in the park; birds singing, leaves turning from shades of red to brown and beginning to carpet the floor. A fine morning for thinking about outdoor worship.

We began by being Franciscan and reading together part of the Canticle of the Creatures. Saint Francis is said to have composed the canticle in late 1224 while recovering from an illness at San Damiano.  (The ancient)

The Canticle of the Creatures

Most High, all powerful, good Lord,
to you be praise, glory, honour and all blessing.

Only to you, Most High, do they belong
and no one is worthy to call upon your name.

May you be praised, my Lord, with all your creatures,
especially Sir brother sun,
through whom you lighten the day for us.

He is beautiful and radiant with great splendour.
He signifies you, O Most High.

Be praised, my Lord, for sister moon and the stars:
clear and precious and lovely, they are formed in heaven.

Be praised, my Lord, for brother wind;
and by air and clouds, clear skies and all weathers,
by which you give sustenance to your creatures.

Be praised, my Lord, for sister water,
who is very useful and humble and precious and pure.

Be praised, my Lord, for brother fire,
by whom the night is illumined for us.
He is beautiful and cheerful, full of power and strength.

Be praised, my Lord, for our sister, mother earth,
who sustains and governs us
and produces diverse fruits
and coloured flowers and grass.

On a slow walk to the beech tree we considered the verses and used them in worship and thanksgiving.

On reaching the beech tree I reminded everyone of the day we took off our shoes and made contact with the earth beneath our feet. While in touch with the ground I asked everyone to write down what was going on in their mind. I put together what we came up with and read out.  (The modern)

 

Rooted and Grounded

This morning we are here to touch the cold, wet, earth

Firm under our feet

Here we are rooted and grounded

In this Thin Space/Third Space

To stand on …

 God made Holy Ground,

This is holy ground …

Giving us roots and wings,

Here in this place teeming with creatures

like the first creation, 

Seeing the magnificence 

elemental, historical, futuristic

Where the grass sings and the earth hums

Roots and wings

Rooting us, upholding us

Help us to see God in this place

All connecting, my life, our lives, all life

to share our own joys, sorrows and laughter

and intercede for all in God’s earth.

 

“And in this he showed me something small, no bigger than a hazelnut, lying in the palm of my hand….

In this little thing I saw three properties. The first is that God made it, the second is that God loves it, the third is that God preserves it. But what did I see in it? It is that God is the creator and protector and the lover.” Julian of Norwich (b. 1342)

 

Take a hazelnut from the bowl and pray for those you love, and those people and places that need help. As you drop it pray that “All shall be well and all manner of things shall be well.” 

The Peace

May deep peace be in our thinking

May deep peace be in our hearts

May there be deep peace between us and God’s good earth

And may the deep peace of Jesus be with us.

 

The bread and Wine

The bread

It represents

The provision of God

The bountiful harvest

The work of the labourer

The hands of the baker

In remembrance

Of bread broken

And shared

Of a body broken

Of a people blessed

And a forgiveness shared

The wine

It represents

The provision of God

The bountiful harvest

The work of the labourer

The skill of the vintner

In remembrance

The ransom paid

The hands pierced

The blood shed

The redemption

The celebration of the resurrection

 

“Circle me Lord, Keep protection near, And danger afar.”

“Circle me Lord, Keep light near, And darkness afar.”

“Circle me Lord, Keep peace within, Keep evil out.”

“Circle me Lord, Keep hope within, Keep doubt without.”

 

May you be a bright flame before me
May you be a guiding star above me,
May you be a smooth path below me,
And a loving Guide behind me,
Today, tonight, and forever.

All this and then off for a coffee at Cool River winner of the best Bistro/Cafe in England award.

 

Hands and Feet

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Autumn seems to have struck …

A misty morning, temperature low – what a shame we have  been asked to wear sandals.

Moving to the place under the beech tree we love so much we began with a Litany from the Iona Community Worship Book

The God of Columba 

The litany reminded us of those saints in the past who have had a huge impact in the world,

we joined together saying to God “stay with us now”

Wendy brought a prayer activity based on God writing our names on the back of his hand

 

Meeting outside has made us more aware of seasonal changed, of people around us, of our environment taking off our shoes and feeling the earth beneath our feet made us even more aware.

The activity was introduced with the idea that Moses took off his shoes when he met with God saying it was Holy Ground.

With our shoes off we let our minds wander – here is a compilation of our musings …   IMG_20170903_100906515

 

Rooted and Grounded

This morning we are here to touch the cold, wet, earth

Firm under our feet

Here we are rooted and grounded

In this Thin Space/Third Space

To stand on …

God made Holy Ground,

This is holy ground …

Giving us roots and wings,

Here in this place teeming with creatures

like the first creation,

Seeing the magnificence

elemental, historical, futuristic

Where the grass sings and the earth hums

Roots and wings

Rooting us, upholding us

Help us to see God in this place

All connecting, my life, our lives, all life

to share our own joys, sorrows and laughter

and intercede for all in God’s earth.

 

Steve had written some brilliant words to accompany bread and wine and closed with a blessing

 

Bring and share at the bandstand

One of the things I love most about our times at the bandstand is the constant sense of surprise at what comes! This morning, instead of one of us preparing and leading the session, we had a ‘bring and share’ arrangement. It turned out to be poignant and moving beyond expectation. Fiona began with her review of the year, writing her own words of thanks and leading us into the previously published litany of thanksgiving. Her words struck a chord in reminding us of key themes and just what a tricky year it has been for us…

The End of another Year: A Personal reflection : A giving thanks.

Today I give thanks for each one of you here.

I give thanks for this place –  this wind- blown, sun dappled, rain soaked,  flippin’ freezing God filled place

I give thanks for the continuing, sometimes stumbling, tottering  journey of Third Space – even for this ‘lean year’ which has at times has made us ask,

‘What on earth are we doing…..?”

and I give thanks for the still, small voice of a reply,

“ …building the Kingdom…stone by stone, pebble by pebble, grain of grit by grain of grit ….’

I give thanks for those of you who craft new liturgies and prayers that can make a Sunday morning shimmer

I give thanks for those of you who urge us to remember the poor, the downtrodden and the exploited

I give thanks for those of you who somehow  sew together seamlessly,  ancient Spirit- filled wisdom with the noise of 21st Century living

so that

I can stop, rewind and recalibrate.

And I give thanks for those of you who love periodic tables, saints of old and yes…even dogs.

 

Today I give thanks for a new perspective on the Parables -(note to self – never think you’ve worked Jesus out)

I give thanks for honesty and candour  (no b *** s****-ers  here)

I give thanks for laughter and a refusal to take ourselves too seriously

I give thanks for the Dance and the opportunity to turn, turn and turn again,

And I give thanks for you my Third Space companions – 7 years of plenty, 7 years of lean?

never mind…

keep the Bread and Wine coming

and the Kingdom will be built

 

We went off into the park with one of today’s lectionary readings – the much loved passage of Romans 8:26-39, using the paraphrase of The Message. The words took on a new resonance following Fiona’s thanksgiving and spoke in ways we might never have imagined. Do look up that version for yourself – it is truly wonderful…

 

Back at the bandstand, Grayden led us prayer using the lord’s prayer as a template with reflections and other biblical verses around those:

The Lord’s Prayer – a pattern for prayer.

Jesus said, “This is how you should pray………….

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. 

Acknowledge God for who he is – the Creator of the universe.

Psalm 107:1. Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures for ever.

 

…..your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven. 

Pray for justice and peace which reflect the values of the kingdom.

Based on Micah:  We are called to love mercy and show mercy,

To know peace and be peacemakers,

To act justly and to bring justice.

 

Give us today our daily bread. 

Pray for the needs of others, for those in this country and around the world who go hungry.

Give thanks for all we have – may it spur us on to help others.

2Thess 2:16,17.  May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our father…. encourage our hearts and strengthen us in every good deed ….

 

Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. 

In silence repent of the things for which we need forgiveness.

Pray for those who may have wronged us.

1John 3;1.  How great is the love the Father has lavished on us…..

 

Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. 

Ask God to strengthen us and others through difficult times.

Isaiah 40: 28-31.  The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth….he gives strength to the weary and lifts up the weak….those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength…

 

For yours is the kingdom, the power and the glory, forever and ever. Amen. 

Eph 3: 18-19.  …….may we grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and know his love that surpasses all knowledge……….

We shared bread and wine and Barbara led us in closing blessings, with a simple idea that we all found both beautiful and deeply touching…

Blessing our community, our selves, Third Space, our families and friends, our world, Soul Space and those watching us with bubbles.

Yes, and even the dog!

 

Beatitudes in the park

This morning we had prayer stations around the park – one for each of the Beatitudes from Matthew 5, using the paraphrase from The Message. I hadn’t read them in this version before and found them so accessible. This is what we had at each place: the verses tied to a tree / bridge / hut etc. and a sheet with things to consider at each.

At the bridge:

You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.

Pray for those known to you and those not known who are at the end of their rope. Watch the river flowing by and pray for this time to pass and for God’s rule / kingdom / intense presence to keep them safe.

At the abandoned hut:

You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.

Name those you know who have lost something (health, work, money, meaning, faith…) or someone dear to them. Pray that they would come to know God as never before through this loss. Pray through your own losses and what this verse might have to say to you

At the beech tree:

You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.

How does discontent that leads to self-realisation and repentance, fit with self-acceptance and love of self? How are these two things balanced in your life at the moment? Give thanks for who you are and for the unique life you have been given.

At the clock:

You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat.

Has your spiritual stomach shrunk? How’s your diet been lately? Need a change? How / where / when could you facilitate that and what might be good to try / reinstate to spice up your relationship with God?

At the formal gardens:

You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full’, you find yourselves cared for.

What can you do to show care to others in this coming week? Is there someone you have neglected or missed who needs a bit more care lately?

Is there any sense in which you have become careless in recent times? Have you wearied in expressing care to someone or something? What might you be called to do?

At the bandstand:

You’re blessed when you get your inside world (your mind and heart) put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.

Consider: How healthy has your ‘inside life’ been lately? Take a few moments to reflect on how you have been handling pressure, relationships, work/life balance…¦ What might these words be saying to you today? Do you know someone struggling with self-content / self-image currently? Pray for them / for yourself

At the World War 1 commemoration:

You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.

Pray about those people / situations that are tense or where there is discord and pray for wisdom to bring co-operation / forgiveness / understanding / reconciliation…

On the railway track:

You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom. Not only that, count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable.

You can be glad when that happens – give a cheer, even – for though they don’t like it, I do! And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always got into this kind of trouble.

Give thanks for the freedom Christians enjoy in this country at this time and pray for Christians across the world who today are imprisoned, tortured or discriminated against because of their faith. Pray for those who today are afraid for their lives or for loved ones. Pray for Church leaders who are misrepresented by others

 

We met again at the bandstand to share bread and wine and a final blessing (both written by Steve):

And so we return to BREAD

We always return to BREAD

May it be the BREAD of blessing

Beatitude BREAD

Let this BREAD nourish us

 

And so we return to WINE

We always return to WINE

May it be the WINE of blessing

Beatitude WINE

Let this WINE nourish us

 

BLESSING (This involved us pointing to each other and joining with the words ‘Blessing to you and you and you’)

Blessing to you and you and you

Blessing for what has been. That Jesus has been the pioneer and perfector of our faith. That he:

Born as a baby, taught, nurtured, rescued, challenged, bled, and rose to new life.

Blessing to you and you and you

Blessing for what is right now, right here in this present moment.

May we be inspired to lead

Beatitude lives, indwelt and outpouring.

Blessing to you and you and you

Blessing for our future hope, that one day and for all days, we will live with LION and LAMB,

With an oversupply of pruning hooks and beside a river flowing with justice and mercy.

Blessing to you and you and you.

AMEN.

Being Like Jesus

Meeting outside and enjoying the sunshine and bird song I often whimsically think we may be a bit “Franciscan”. So I began to look at the life of St. Francis.   Intertwined

A few months ago at Third Space  we talked about how in today’s world only certain types of Christians seem to get respect. Poets, artists, pilgrims and activists. That set me to thinking about St. Francis who seems to be a popular saint in the eyes of the world today. May be it is just a sentimental popularity because of his affinity with animals, but when you read about his life, you can see why this remarkable man had a following in the Thirteenth century and still has today.

So downloading and preparing for Sunday morning from the Book – Francis, stories and reflections, by Andy Freeman, I could not resist a look at a modern day “Francis” that he opens his book with. He describes the scenes on the day when Pope Francis was elected and some of the things he has said and done since becoming pope.

I am not a catholic but I have to confess being impressed with this man. He seems to try very hard to be like Jesus and although it appears to be much easier to do Jesus like things when it is your job, getting changes in the Vatican must be a constant struggle. I was challenged to think about how “Jesus like” my life is. Unfortunately I fall very far short of Jesus and also Pope Francis.

When he was archbishop of Buenos Aires, Pope Francis was known to sneak out at night to break bread with the homeless. He would sit when them in the street and eat with them, just to let them know someone cares.

This Pope is intent on change. Here is a man seemingly orthodox in theology yet providing revolutionary love and acceptance to those who felt on the outskirts of the world. Since he has become pope he insists on wearing simple black shoes, and shunning pomp and circumstance, washing the feet of the poor and needy, welcoming refugees, asking members of Vatican to be even more hands on with helping the poor and sick, auctioning his bike to benefit the homeless, performing one of the most important masses of the year in the chapel of a prison and kissed the feet of the prisoners, speaking out in favour of the preservation of the Amazon Rain Forest and leaving the Vatican at night to help the homeless.

 

The Pope has condemned the financial system, inequality, consumerism and class separation.

Over recent years, the church has been the centre of attention on issues related to child abuse. This Pope was the first to act with a firm hand against these cases. He set up a committee to pursue these cases, and the Vatican changed the law to establish these acts as crimes.

He condemned the violence of war in Syria.

He stated that the Church was too obsessed with sexual morality abortion, gay marriage, and contraception and that it should be more concerned with the poor and needy.

When praying, the Pope proclaimed his respect for the end of Ramadan and encouraged Christians and Muslims to work together to achieve love.

He said the church’s stance on these issues was taking an air of obsession. He also criticised the church for forgetting the important belief of true love and prioritising moral doctrines before serving the poor and marginalised.

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Washing the feet of prisoners

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Giving up his seat for a small child

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 “For the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: ‘If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?’ And whenever the answer has been ‘No’ for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.”

 Steve Jobs addressing students at Stanford University 12 June 2005

Now look at yourself in the mirror and ask – If today were the last day of my life, would what I do today be “Jesus like”?

How can I make what I do this week more “Jesus like”?

The Parable of the Wedding Banquet

Yesterday our opening worship in the park began with a welcome:

welcome

to what you cannot see
to what you cannot control
to what you cannot ignore
to what you cannot hide from

welcome

the welcome is universal
the entrance is free
the invitation is open
the hand is extended
the time is now…..

welcome

to overflowing generosity
to gentle nourishment
to unspoken prayer
to inarticulate longing

welcome

to actions beyond words
to help without asking
to provision without measure
to hospitality without price
welcome

take hold of the unknown
accept the unconditional
let go of limitation
trust what you cannot question

god welcomes you

welcome

whether you deserve it or not
whether you think you deserve it or not
you are welcome
they welcome you to their mystery
their depth from which all creation springs

god welcomes you

 the creator of everything….

the word that no-one recognised….
the spirit bringing tenderness without words….

they welcome you……

adapted from jonny baker –  worship trick 67 in series 4

 

Bible readings:  Matthew 22: The Parable of the Wedding Banquet 

1Jesus spoke to them again in parables, saying: “The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his servants to those who had been invited to the banquet to tell them to come, but they refused to come.

“Then he sent some more servants and said, ‘tell those who have been invited that I have prepared my dinner: my oxen and fattened cattle have been butchered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding banquet.’

“But they paid no attention and went off — one to his field, another to his business. The rest seized his servants, mistreated them and killed them. The king was enraged. He sent his army and destroyed those murderers and burned their city.

“Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come. So go to the street corners and invite* to the banquet anyone you find.’ 10 So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, the bad as well as the good, and the wedding hall was filled with guests.

11 “But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes. 12 He asked, ‘How did you get in here without wedding clothes, friend?’ The man was speechless.

13 “Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

14 “For many are invited, but few are chosen.”

* The Greek translated ‘invite’ in the NIV can also be rendered as collect, call, & get.

Isaiah 53 The Suffering Servant 

 Who has believed our message
and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
He grew up before him like a tender shoot,
and like a root out of dry ground.
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by mankind,
a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces
he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.

He was oppressed and afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
and as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.
By oppression and judgment he was taken away.
Yet who of his generation protested?
For he was cut off from the land of the living;
for the transgression of my people he was punished.
He was assigned a grave with the wicked,
and with the rich in his death,
though he had done no violence,
nor was any deceit in his mouth.

The parable of the Wedding Banquet  has troubled me for some time, so I asked people to consider the following questions & thoughts:

I find this parable disturbing! (Matt 22:1-14) Do you?

It has dead servants, a destroyed city, and guests who feel compelled to attend.

It ends with a man humiliated, tied up, mistreated, thrown out and probably killed just because he wasn’t wearing the right clothes.

How is this story a picture of the kingdom of heaven???

If it is about salvation, then it’s a type of salvation that seems to include coercion rather than free-will.

If it is about grace then it appears to be a grace that burns a city because of the transgressions of a few people.

If it is about the messianic banquet, then it appears to be a banquet without a bridegroom, a bride, and any hint of celebration.

It is a strange banquet where violence is so at the fore with food never mentioned.

If the king in the parable is meant to be God, then it seems to be a god who does not behave according to the values of the kingdom of heaven.

This parable ought to disturb us – there is something seriously wrong if it doesn’t.

Is the parable about final judgement or heaven or hell?

Or could it be about the world – about kings, emperors, despots, tyrants, dictators, presidents, politics, violence, coercion and injustice?

Are we open to being provoked, challenged and disturbed by Jesus’ parables?

Are we open to new interpretations and new understandings?

Does Jesus’ way of teaching challenge us: to think about what really matters in life, and to think about how we can live the life that God wants us to live?

While searching the internet for alternative interpretations of the parable I found a very interesting paper by Marty Aiken. The following is just a  brief resumé.

Marty Aiken: “Discerning the Suffering Servant in the Parable of the Wedding Banquet”.

Aiken proposes a new reading of the parable of the Wedding Banquet in Matthew (22:1-14).  His proposal is that Jesus uses this parable to declare to the world, that his authority will be the authority of the suffering servant.  Jesus does this by structuring the parable so that he can introduce the figure of the ‘suffering servant’ from Isaiah 52 & 53.

Instead of seeing the king as making Jesus’ audience think of God, Aiken argues that this king would have sparked in Jesus’ audience thoughts of kings much closer to home, the Herods, especially Herod the Great. Drawing from Josephus, Marty Aiken shows how the Herods actually behaved in ways very similar to the king in this parable. With a king so brutally dictatorial, does Jesus really mean for us to think of God rather than the many petty kings and dictators, such as the Herods, who have littered human history with their victims?

Aiken points out that when Herod first approached Jerusalem he had a fiancé waiting in the wings.  He had taken as his fiancé the granddaughter of Hyrcanus, the High Priest of the Temple, and a descendant of the Hasmonean line, the most prestigious in all of Judea.  I proposed that we could envision their wedding as the culmination and symbol of the political reconciliation that could have occurred if Herod’s offer had been accepted.  Herod’s offer was rejected, and he then came to Jerusalem a second time.  This time he makes no effort to negotiate with the people.  Instead he immediately proceeds to begin military preparations, bringing his army “…near that part of the wall where it could be most easily assaulted, he pitched that camp before the Temple….” And now, clearly intent on battle, what does Herod do:  “…even while the army lay before the city, he himself went to Samaria, to complete his marriage, and to take to wife the granddaughter of Hyrcanus, for he had betrothed her already….”

Aiken thinks it very likely that Herod would come to mind, and I also think it very likely that his marriage on the eve of the battle by which he conquered Jerusalem would be a part of the popular imagination.  In fact, given the parable’s immediate reference to a king and a wedding banquet, the thought of Herod’s pre-battle marriage would be more likely to have been the first association anyone made with the parable’s wedding banquet setting. This makes the parable’s focus on the guests as the crucial actors. Jesus presumably has in his audience not just those who fear his challenge to the established order; he also likely has a second audience which has been awaiting a challenge to that order.  Both are looking for vindications of their position, and Jesus allows neither to find it at the expense of the other.

Why would Herod leave an army on the eve of battle to finalise a marriage?  Herod the Great was a man of considerable sophistication, even if he was impetuous, tyrannical and brutal.  He was sophisticated enough to realise the wisdom of having legitimacy precede his conquering. Marriage into the Hasmonean royal family would help to legitimise his kingship.

So who is the positive figure in this parable that makes us think of the kingdom of heaven? Could it be the person without a wedding garment who seems to intentionally take on the king’s brutality? (The business of not ‘wearing a wedding garment’ cannot be read as a reference to someone’s moral behaviour. It is also important to note that the custom of the age and place was to provide tunics to place over a guests street clothes so as to participate in the wedding party, and which would have been at the disposal of all the guests on their way in.)

Marty Aiken points to a verse in Matthew’s Gospel – 11:12: “From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence and the violent take it by force”. The kingdom of heaven as suffering violence is represented in this parable not through the figure of the king who dishes it out, but in the person who is subjected to violence. The fate of this guest is the same fate that Jesus himself suffers which had already been the fate of Antigonus.

Aiken identifies this person with the Suffering Servant in Isaiah 52 & 53:

“He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.” (Isaiah 53:7)

Matthew’s Gospel emphasises Jesus’ silence before his accusers more than the others:

Matthew 26:62-63: “The high priest stood up and said, ‘Have you no answer? What is it that they testify against you?’ But Jesus was silent.”

Matthew 27:11-14: “Now Jesus stood before the governor; and the governor asked him, ‘Are you the King of the Jews?’ Jesus said, ‘You say so.’ But when he was accused by the chief priests and elders, he did not answer. Then Pilate said to him, ‘Do you not hear how many accusations they make against you?’ But he gave him no answer, not even to a single charge, so that the governor was greatly amazed.”

If the man without a wedding garment is in fact a reference to the suffering servant, then the suffering servant has put us in a position to understand the answer Jesus gave to the chief priests and elders.  They asked Jesus: “By what authority are you doing these things?”  The answer, probably different from any answer they had conceived of, was the authority of the suffering servant.  The priests, and a great many others, expected Jesus to lead a revolution.  Jesus now tells them that instead of a revolution he will take onto himself the violence that already rules their lives.

Interestingly a literal translation into English from the Greek in Matt: 22 verse 2 would be “a man, a king” and not “a king” as is the usual translation.  Is Matthew trying to tell us something? Very often an allegorical interpretation is applied to Jesus’ parables in which the main character is frequently interpreted as God. But what if Matthew is using the double designation of “a man, a king” to make sure we don’t do that? Shouldn’t this king simply be seen as a man and not as God? This reading is surely crucial because the king is downright brutal, violent and vicious. He cannot possibly be God, can he?

What if Jesus tells parables that avoid the common convention of assuming kings and lords to be a stand-in for God? What if Jesus is inviting his listeners to compare the kingdom of heaven with human kingdoms? The history of interpretation means that it’s difficult not to make the connection between “God” and the “king”. But Aiken’s opinion is that Matthew gives us at least two clues of why we should not allegorise the parable:   in verse 2 he writes: “a man, a king”; and he uses “kingdom of heaven” to try to get us to compare God’s kingdom, the “kingdom of heaven,” with human kingdoms. Jesus then shows us God as King but not in the fashion of human kings. The kingdom of heaven suffers violence (Matthew 11:12), but never inflicts it. The Kingdom of Heaven, then, is not the banquet, but suffers violence in the person of Jesus. There could hardly be a more startling difference and Jesus highlights the difference through this story of a brutally violent tyrant. After all that had happened so far during Holy Week Jesus hearers would have been in no doubt that his message was a challenge to the established order – the Romans, the Herods, the Sadducees, the Pharisees. It is also a rejection of the violence of the Zealots. Could Jesus have been saying in the parable that once we forsake the values of the kingdom of heaven then violence will make us indistinguishable from others?

The parables are highly creative little stories sprung from Jesus’ imagination and have as their aim helping people understand what God is like. Although it is possible to interpret the parable in terms of a violent God, that interpretation only serves to reinforce what Jesus audience already thought, and therefore they are unable to truly understand Jesus teaching about God and his kingdom. It is also perfectly possible to read the parable as a challenge to this violent picture of God, and even to suggest that the kingdom of heaven never inflicts violence.

Luke’s version of the parable presents a positive view of a ‘certain man’ who invites in “the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame” (Luke 14:21). Matthew’s king carries out no such act of benevolence. He is simply insistent on having people obey his authority. When the first batch of invitees don’t come, he kills them all, and presumably many others in a lavish display of violence such that the next group of invitees – “both good and bad,” and not Luke’s “the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame” – cannot think of turning him down. The picture of the king which Jesus describes for us in Matthew’s Gospel is the worst sort of tyrant who rules by violence and terror. How can we so easily accept an interpretation that presents this king as God?

Aiken suggests that the real image of the Messianic Banquet in the Gospels is the feeding of the five thousand. Here is a generous feeding to all comers with no reprisals for anybody who decides to stay away. No coercion or violence is exerted in the invitation. Nobody gets thrown out for being badly dressed. The poor are not afterthoughts, invited only to replace the ungrateful rich and powerful. The poor as well as the rich are all invited right from the start. The banquet offered by Jesus shows up the king’s banquet in the parable for what it is. Instead of an offer we cannot refuse, we are made an offer that we do not want to refuse. This really is a cause for rejoicing and celebration.

Donald Trump’s decision to take the USA out of the Paris Climate Agreement and the refusal of the rich and powerful to tackle inequality inspired an alternative way of sharing bread and wine.

Our liturgy will talk of both bread and wine but we will only share bread and leave the wine as a symbol that the fruits of creation are not fully shared with everyone, where so much is taken by the rich and powerful everywhere that there isn’t enough left for the poor, both in the developing world and in the rich north. Due to the greed, denial and short-sightedness of the rich and powerful we seem incapable of tackling inequality and climate change, and appear to be determined to leave a desert for our children’s children’s children.

Should I deny people the wine this morning? One of the great things about ThirdSpace is that the bread and wine is offered to all unconditionally. Not sharing wine this morning is meant to be both a prophecy and a picture of what happens to much of the abundance of God’s creation.

Jesus took bread
grown from the earth
and broke it and said:
This is my body
when you eat of it
share it with all.

And Jesus took a cup of wine
pressed from the fruit of the land
and said:
This is a sign of my promise
when you drink
drink it with all.

We will share only bread
for still the world does not fully share what creation offers.
Some take so much others have little or nothing,
and through denial and greed a desert is being created for future generations.

The wine will remain here as a symbol
that the full promise of God is not yet shared by all.

Let us share bread together and the longing for justice and mercy and compassion.

Let us share this gift of the earth that is filled with Jesus.

 

We continued our fellowship by enjoying Fairtrade teas, coffees and hot chocolates at Cool River.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pigeons and Pentecost

 

 

This morning (28/5/17) we met in the park under a wonderful weeping beech tree just by the river. It was particularly lovely to welcome old friends and so our opening litany of thanksgiving (see previous post) was especially meaningful in giving thanks for reunions. The birdsong that accompanied our worship was just amazing! Because we are apart next Sunday we celebrated Pentecost a week early!

In preparation for Pentecost check out http://proost.us/safespacePentecost.mov

After viewing the above we were each given a copy of Chris Goan’s brilliant meditation: Holy Spirit Mojo to inspire a time of personal prayer in the park.

There are rumours-

Like smoke signals blurred in the wind

They say

He is here

Not in metaphor

Not whipped up in the collective madness of charismatics

Not just politely suggested by the high drama of religious ritual-

Here, now

Should I hide?

I could never meet his eye

Knowing that the hidden parts of me will be

Wide open

How do I prepare?

I have no fine things-

No fine words

My shield of sophistication

Is broken

I am soft flesh laid bare

I am a fanfare to repeated failure

I am herald only to this

Hopeless

Hope

But the Creator wears no stately form

Wants no majesty-

walks gently

And has a humble heart

And is-

Here

Now

Stop making things so complicated

Start from where you are

Not where you would like to be

Not where others say you should be

But right now

I just want to warm your heart

It is not for you to cut a way into the undergrowth

Or make a road into the rocky places

Rather let us just walk

And see where this will lead us

All around you is beauty

See it

Smell it

Feel it

Look for softness in your heart-

There I am

Look for tenderness

And it will be my Spirit

Calling you to community

You are wrapped up in me

And I am bound up in you

We are held together by soft bindings

Like tender shoot and stake

Like earth and gentle rain

Like flowers and sun

Like universe and stars

Like ocean and rolling wave

Like fields and each blade of grass

Like trees and rustling leaves

There is only now

Rest in the moment and be thankful.

 

In each of the four gospels, the Spirit of God shows up at Jesus’ baptism in the form of a dove. But those glossy images of the Holy Spirit descending from the heavens as a pristine white bird may not be quite how it was. And maybe as Christian symbols go, it all seems a bit bland anyway.

The bird at Jesus’ baptism was more likely a rock dove, a species much more prevalent in Palestine. These birds are grey with an iridescent green and violet neck. Yes – you’ve guessed it… a pigeon. A pigeon? Though most of us have separate categories for pigeons (dirty) and doves (pure), ornithologists will tell you the names are interchangeable.

That means the symbol for the Holy Spirit is just a hair’s breadth away from a symbol of urban trashiness.  Pigeons are ubiquitous; they’re everywhere, forever leaving droppings on our pavements and windowsills, toddling around doing -not -very-much and even as I write this, I can hear one coo-ing on the roof. (Someone somewhere will have researched the average distance we always are from a pigeon.)

What if the spirit of God descends not like an angelic, pure-as- the driven snow dove, but like a pigeon; somehow always underfoot, routinely ignored, often disdained but in the very thick of life? What does that tell us about the nature of the Spirit and how do we respond?

 

Your Spirit;
present from the beginning
of beginnings,
present in the message
of the prophets,
present in provision
for your people,
present in the life
and words of Jesus,
present in the Cross
and crucifixion,
present in the church
that you empower.
Your Spirit;
within us, around us, behind and ahead of us
today and always

Amen

 

Steve wrote us a Pentecost liturgy for Bread and Wine

PENTECOST

There are advantages to being 1,984 years old. I have always had some advantages even when they weren’t apparent. “The Bride of Christ” is what they called me. Really! And I was barely out of nappies then.
I have carried that with me though – in the difficult times. I have had to. Remember those dear Copts will you?
People ask what the secret is to a long life. I think they’re expecting me to keel over tomorrow. I always reply, “Taking a little wine” and they laugh! Not realising, I suppose, that the blood is that which gives everlasting life. Wine and a little bread.
I suppose that age lends a certain perspective. Highs and lows – leaven leavens unevenly. Some ground is stony. But we march still. Eyes fixed on the Bridegroom – he who laid down his life for us.
So take now the bread – for you it might be us, the body or his body. Let it nurture.
So take now the wine – for you it might be Happy Birthday wine, the wine of renewal and resurrection.
And so in our 1,985th year, let’s now go out with hope as our guide and with faith our firm foundation. May you and yours be entwined in the Trinitarian God. Amen.

 

 

 

New liturgies at the bandstand

So, this morning at the bandstand in bright sunshine under blue skies we feasted our eyes and happily joined together in saying our newly created                         Litany of thanksgiving:

For this time, this place, this day, these people
For calling us to this church, this freedom, this worship
We give thanks to the Lord for he is good
His love endures for ever.

For the changing seasons, light and weather,
For trees and birdsong and river and skies
For needless beauty and endless diversity…
That all creation joins with our praise today
That the sun sings and the earth hums…
If we were silent the very stones would sing his praise
Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty,
the whole earth is full of his glory

For those we love, for those who love us
For those we struggle with and those who struggle with us
For old friends and new ones, for friendships yet to be made and for reunions
For all human goodness that speaks of your presence
For our frailty that drives us to acknowledge our dependence on you
We affirm that you Lord are God
It is you who made us and we are yours
For you know how we were formed
You remember that we are dust

For the freedom we enjoy
For choice and wealth and healthcare and education and opportunities and democracy
For holidays and leisure and comfort
For the privilege to be called to give to those who do not have these things
In this sacred place we remember that these are your gifts and affirm our calling
Your kingdom come, your will be done
On earth as in heaven

For the shalom you promise
For the call to press on together as companions on the journey
For your foundational underpinning, support, comfort, direction and strength
For your constant presence – your very name spoken with each breath we take
For Jesus – for all he has done, all he does, all he will yet do for us
For loving us
Salvation and glory and power belong to you our God

We then wandered the park with a reading from Acts 7 from the Message and considered the following questions.

Acts 7
51-53 “And you continue, so bull-headed! Calluses on your hearts, flaps on your ears! Deliberately ignoring the Holy Spirit, you’re just like your ancestors. Was there ever a prophet who didn’t get the same treatment? Your ancestors killed anyone who dared talk about the coming of the Just One. And you’ve kept up the family tradition—traitors and murderers, all of you. You had God’s Law handed to you by angels—gift-wrapped!—and you squandered it!”
54-56 At that point they went wild, a rioting mob of catcalls and whistles and invective. But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, hardly noticed—he only had eyes for God, whom he saw in all his glory with Jesus standing at his side. He said, “Oh! I see heaven wide open and the Son of Man standing at God’s side!”
57-58 Yelling and hissing, the mob drowned him out. Now in full stampede, they dragged him out of town and pelted him with rocks. The ringleaders took off their coats and asked a young man named Saul to watch them.
59-60 As the rocks rained down, Stephen prayed, “Master Jesus, take my life.” Then he knelt down, praying loud enough for everyone to hear, “Master, don’t blame them for this sin”—his last words. Then he died.

How does this passage speak to you?
Turn your prayers to those who are being persecuted for their faith today.
Pray for those in any kind of need who need that glimpse of heaven now.
Give thanks for Stephen and for all who have been trailblazers of faith, paving the way for you to come to faith yourself.
Pray that you would be able to play your part in promoting God’s kingdom in the way you are called to, faithfully following the example of Stephen and others that have gone before you.
Ask for God to soften your heart and un-flap your ears so that you don’t miss the Holy Spirit’s call for whatever God might call you to next…

Back at the bandstand we discussed at length various people and situations requiring our prayers and then took our own version of the Lord’s Prayer, line by line as our prayer for them and for us:

God, who cares for us, The wonder of your presence fills us with awe.
Your name, your very nature, is holy.
All creation resonates with it!
Let all people come to proclaim it!
May we move into your presence and unimpeded love.
Let not our will, but your will and purposes be fulfilled in our lives here on Earth.
Give us the material things you know we need to survive.
Release us – as indeed we release others – from the debt of wrong-doing.
Strengthen us for difficult times. Liberate us from all that is evil.
For you reign in majesty, in love,
Power and glory from the beginning of time and forever more.
Amen.

After this, Steve spoke about his time in Costa Rica. It is a country clearly pursuing the liberal progressive ideal in a part of the world riven by instability and at a time when the US to the north seems to be going in the reverse direction. We visited the grand National Theatre built in the 1890s. This was a statement of their desire to replicate and aspire to the values of the modern European (colonising) countries. Ornate and splendidly over the top in its baroque style, it was a commitment to the highest sophistication in the arts and sciences, in health and education. They are immensely proud of it. In 1948 CR abolished its army – and it has survived. It is on the most rigorous eco-path to sustainability and maintaining its bio-diversity. This hopeful left-leaning progressive politics contrasts with the right wing revival seen in the US and parts of Europe. Theologically it reminds me of John Stott’s writing on the paradox of human beings – that we are simultaneously thoroughly fallen and made in God’s image. Perhaps we can characterise the left as believing that human beings are essentially good and that we must all plan with that hope. The right views humans as essentially fallen and tries to find a way to use their self-interest to build a way forward. The trouble is we are both fallen and in God’s image. This is beautifully and poignantly expressed in the poem, “Vultures”.

Vultures – Chinua Achebe
In the greyness
and drizzle of one despondent
dawn unstirred by harbingers
of sunbreak a vulture
perching high on broken
bone of a dead tree
nestled close to his
mate his smooth
bashed-in head, a pebble
on a stem rooted in
a dump of gross
feathers, inclined affectionately
to hers. Yesterday they picked
the eyes of a swollen
corpse in a water-logged
trench and ate the things in its bowel. Full
gorged they chose their roost
keeping the hollowed remnant
in easy range of cold
telescopic eyes …
Strange
indeed how love in other
ways so particular
will pick a corner
in that charnel-house
tidy it and coil up there, perhaps
even fall asleep – her face
turned to the wall!
…Thus the Commandant at Belsen
Camp going home for
the day with fumes of
human roast clinging
rebelliously to his hairy
nostrils will stop
at the wayside sweet-shop
and pick up a chocolate
for his tender offspring
waiting at home for Daddy’s return …
Praise bounteous
providence if you will
that grants even an ogre
a tiny glow-worm
tenderness encapsulated
in icy caverns of a cruel
heart or else despair
for in every germ
of that kindred love is
lodged the perpetuity
of evil.

We finished with bread and wine and words written by him for today:

Of Dignity and Dust

We are, Lord, a paradox of dignity and dust.
We yearn for glory. We commit to hope. We aspire to love.
And yet we fall, exchanging our robes as children of God for
gaudy rags.
Our story is one of redemption and not of our own doing. Just as
the dough and the must is transformed by yeast, so we are
restored to relationship in Jesus and through Jesus.
New life and redirected perspectives as we meet with bread
and wine.
Holy, holy, holy, Lord of all creation whose Spirit
indwells: we are your creatures, dependent and needy.
Holy, holy, holy, Lord of all salvation whose Spirit
inspires: we are your creatures, dependent and needy.
Holy, holy, holy, Lord of all futures whose Spirit enfolds:
we are your creatures, dependent and needy.
And so we come to the bread that Jesus took and broke and
shared. We thank you.
And so we come to the wine that Jesus took and spilt and
shared. We thank you.
Take our dust and dignity, our hopes and fears, our loves and
losses and renew us in this meal. Go with us until we meet
again at this table. Amen.

EASTER

Holy Fool

I am a fool
I look beyond reason
I stray beyond logic
I dance when I should cry
I am full of joy for the things I don’t know
I love someone I’ve never seen
I long for the future and I love each step toward it
I walk the earth but I dream of the heavens
I know I am special because of my ordinariness
I find chaos confusing and confusion creative
I am of no influence yet I strive to make a difference
I have no voice yet I shout from the rooftops
I am a poet whose lost for words
I love the world that turns its back on all that matters to me
I serve one who washed feet
I live for a deity who died for me
I am an innocent because I know what I’ve done wrong
I am free because my heart is not my own
I am strong because I am broken
I found God in a “Godless” place
I am a faithful rascal
I am an ordinary radical
I am a holy fool!

Mark Berry

The American Dictionary has for one of its definitions of the word “Fool” the following…….

‘One who subverts convention or orthodoxy or varies from social conformity in order to reveal spiritual or moral truth: a holy fool.’

(with thanks to Shane Claiborne for the phrase “ordinary radical” and to the Guardian who called me “The Missionary to Godless Telford”)