Wassailing and suchlike

Jeremy and Sue led us this week combining thoughts on Wassail, Groundhoog day, Candlemas and St Brigid’sday.

We started with words of The Welcome
Be still
Be attentive to the divine presence
God of beginnings and endings
as the seasons turn towards Spring
We come to you
as new shoots of life emerge
We welcome your life-giving Spirit
as mortals made in your image
We welcome each other
Welcoming the God of the circle of the seasons
(face each direction)
God of the North and the cold winds
We call to you to be the fire in our hearts
God of the west and sun setting
We call to you as we greet the returning light
God of the South and the warm breeze
We call to you to be the embrace between us
God of the East and sun rising
We call to you to bring us life renewed
Christ Jesus Be the life within us
Be the love between us
Be the light that guides us
This day And for eternity

We listened to a rendering of the folksong ‘No whte green balde rises’ as wethought about the first signs of spring:

Now the green blade rises from the buried grain,
Wheat that in the dark earth many days has lain;
Love lives again, that with the dead has been:
Love is come again, like wheat that springs up green

In the grave they laid him, love by people slain,
Thinking that he’d never wake to life again,
Laid in the earth like grain that sleeps unseen:
Love is come again, like wheat that springs up green.

Forth he came at Easter, like the risen grain,
He that for three dark days in the grave had lain;
quick from the dead my risen Lord is seen:
Love is come again, like wheat that springs up green.

When our hearts are wintry, grieving or in pain,
By your touch you call us back to life again;
Fields of our hearts that dead and bare have been:
Love is come again, like wheat that springs up green.

 

We had historical background given on the tradition of the wassail and used some of the following:

Wassail

Old apple tree, we wassail thee,
And hoping thou wilt bear
For the Lord doth know where we shall be
Till apples come another year.
For to bear well, and to bear well
So merry let us be.
Let every man take off his hat,
And shout to the old apple tree!
Old apple tree, we wassail thee,
And hoping thou wilt bear
Hatfuls, capfuls, three bushel bagfuls
And a little heap under the stairs
Hip! Hip! Hooray!

Groundhog day

God of all creatures,

today we praise you for groundhogs,

unassuming rodents who carry

the tradition and responsibility 

of forecasting spring.

From their burrows they rise,

half dead: groggy from hibernation, 

hungry, alone, stressed;

awakened by an inner clock

synchronized with the 

rhythms of the seasons

telling them it is time

to explore and prepare

for the next generation.

We pray for all creatures who

count the days until the weather 

changes, until winter 

loosens its grip, until

they can reconnect with others.

We pray for all who are tired,

who are hungry or dissatisfied,

who are lonely or isolated.

In this time between solstice

and equinox reassure us that

sooner or later spring will come.

Grant us patience to see the gifts 

of this particular time, and to

savour the stillness.

In our exhaustion release us from stress

so that we might find rest. 

In moments of hunger or dissatisfaction

remind us that there is

enough.

In our isolation 

be our comforting presence.

We pray that whether the sun shines

or the sky is grey, we will count

each day as a gift with 

moments of wonder.

Let hope rise up in us, as we

align our bodies and spirits

to your greater purposes 

beyond what we see this day.

Amen.

 

Prayer of St Brigid

 I should like a great lake of ale for the King of Kings.

I should like a table of the choicest food for the family of heaven.

Let the ale be made from the fruits of faith, and the food be forgiving love

I should welcome the poor to my feast, for they are God’s children

I should welcome the sick to my feast, for they are God’s joy

Let the poor sit with Jesus at the highest place, and the sick dance with the angels

God bless the poor God bless the sick and bless our human race

 God bless our food God bless our drink all homes our God embrace

 

We’d all made some wassail – alcoholic or non-alcoholic cider / spiced apple juice and tipped some into our gardens where we might hope for produce after winte and remembering those who deeply rely on the harvest for survival. We used the words below:

God of the seasons, of seed sowing and harvest reaping
Of blossom and bud and fruit and leaf fall,
We thank for the gifts of creation and ask you to bless them this year.
We especially ask for you to bless the harvest for…

We shared bread and wine and finished witht this blessing:

Departing and travelling further
God of the South and the light of Summer
Bless us now with your warmth
God of the West as the sunsets upon us
Bless us now through the dark hours until the dawn breaks
God of the North and the season of passing winter
Bless us now with the presence of Christ with us
God of the East and the suns rising
Bless us now with the fruitfulness of spring-life

 

Sunday 24th January led by Paul

Today we met via Zoom, using a prayer video by Kelly Ann Hall called The Great Reversal which is featured on The Work of the People website and was inspired by Isaiah 60. Here are some excerpts:

 

Look up, Love, take your eyes off the ground, show your face!

A new day is here. The light is rising over you, shining brightly, moving shadows, touching your face—you are brilliant with it!

Darkness may come and go, but the glory of our Creator is a constant companion, a steady light.

So, take the gift of this day you are given. Let the light enlighten you, emanate from within you, become you, be you.

Everything wrong side up is being upended. The table is extending, rounding. You have a place that is only yours. And everyone, everyone, everyone at this table will have more than enough.

So, stand up. Open up. Take it all in, and shine.

 

We discussed our feelings/thoughts on the many images in the video and then treated ourselves to 5 minutes doing something enlightening (reading a poem/listening to a song etc) which we hoped would then allow  light to emanate from us.

 

Then a time of prayer for others;

 

Creator God

Source of light

We, and all of humanity, are precious to you

May your sunlight make us brilliant and emanate from within us

So that these we have prayed for are able to shine

Amen

 

And finally the bread and wine

 

This bread is born of sunlight streaming down onto golden fields, enlivening, enriching and bringing forth plenty.

In eating it we absorb the power of the sunlight and pray it will enliven, enrich and bring forth plenty in us and those to whom we radiate

 

This wine is born of sunlight streaming down onto terraced purple vines, enlivening, enriching and bringing forth plenty.

In drinking it we absorb the power of the sunlight and pray it will enliven, enrich and bring forth plenty in us and those to whom we radiate

Defiant hope (vs optimism)

We began this morning with a some quiet and these words (a mix of verses from Psalms from The Message and words of David  Adam)

Know this: God is God, and God, God.
He made us; we didn’t make him.
We’re his people, his well-tended sheep.

Be still and know…

God…
I’m an open book to you;
even from a distance, you know what I’m thinking…

I’m never out of your sight.

I look behind me and you’re there,
then up ahead and you’re there, too—
your reassuring presence, coming and going.
You Lord are in this place

Your presence surrounds me

Your presence is peace

You Lord

You

Following last Wednesday as Epiphany, we read from Matthew 2 abou the visit of the wise men, the slaughter of the innocents and the holy family as refugees. This was followed by a clip from The Work of the People, in which Nadia Bolz Weber is interviewed about her belief in defiant hope as the central message for Christians. The following is a summary of her main points:

What is the light and why can’t darkness put it out?

This is one of our basic confessions. This is a confession we have to make all the time – especially when we are surrounded by such despair… It’s a confession that has to ring through.

This is not the same as optimism – hope has a defiance to it.

Optimism is shallow and is going against the evidence in front of you. Hope is saying ‘Oh no – there’s something deeper, there’s something more powerful… and it will overcome the darkness. This is the basic confession of Christians. It has to be. We believe in death and resurrection, right? A crucified God that was resurrected

How do you get that hope? Do you just say it?

‘You have to. You have to remind each other. You have to point to it. You have to point it out where you see it. Everything else might be conspiring to convince us otherwise…. The powers of evil and darkness are raging because they know they have lost already…

We want the ball in our court. We are always going to default to something that’s going to mean that we’re in charge. There’s something terrifying about saying that God’s grace is more powerful than [our attempts to control life]

Steve then shared some ideas about defiant hope

He spoke of a history of Lockdown believers:

  • Joseph, Mary, Jesus
  • Catacombed Christians
  • Lockdowned monasteries as the empire destroyed
  • Reformation exclusivism…priest holes
  • 20th/21st Century tyrants – in China, USSR, Eastern Europe and today in so many Islamic countries etc.

Optimism v. Defiant Hope (Nadia)

Optimism – Mr Macawber – “Something will turn up.” Superficial positivity. My positive mind-set can change reality (D.Trump as influenced by  Pastor Norman Vincent Peale “The Power of Positive Thinking) – a secular version of Prosperity Theology. The Black Knight in Monty Python’s Holy Grail “Tis but a scratch” or “Just a flesh wound”. Almost as ludicrous as Trump’s inability to acknowledge failure in the election.

Defiant Hope

Is not based on events. But ultimately based on a commitment to God’s unchanging love. Altered perspective.

Existentialism – often in its 20th century form it is associated with atheism.

ABSURDITY and AUTHENTIC CHOICE

But Kierkegaard – Danish minister – founding father of theistic existentialism. We hope/have faith in defiance of what may be facing us. Leap of hope in the dark – an experiential relational hope in Jesus.

Light in the darkness is defiance. A life AFTER death is defiance. Forgiveness is defiance of the law of retribution. A future hope defiant in the face of present circumstances. It answers to a different law. All things (good, bad and bloody awful) work together…

How do we practice defiant hope? How do we encourage defiant hope in one another? What stories of defiant hope do we tell?

 

 

Our prayers practised defiant hope in troubled times. I adapted words from Churchoftheascension.ca where they had advent prayers on this theme.

Our world is filled with trouble

It is wrestling with a pandemic that sees health workers overstretched and people struggling for breath, frightened and dying

But we remember that God is with us.

And we remember that Jesus is coming.

And we remember that the kingdom is near.

So we pray  for hope, lost and found.  For each person in need of your presence now.

Jesus, be close.

Lord Jesus, be close.

 

Our world is filled with trouble

It is fractured by division, corruption, misinformation and loss of truth

And so we pray for America and for those elsewhere in instability and tyranny

But we remember that God is good

And we remember that, with God, nothing is impossible

And we remember Immanuel – God with us!

So we pray in defiant hope that God’s presence offers strength to those who seek truth and justice

Jesus rescue.

Lord Jesus, rescue.

 

Our world is filled with trouble

It is reeling under climate change, wilful destruction of habitats, sea levels rising, droughts lengthening, deserts advancing and refugees fleeing their homelands

But we remember that God will not abandon us

And we remember that God loves the world

And we remember that God will make all things new

So we pray in yearning hope

Jesus save.

Lord Jesus save us.

 

There are people we know who are filled with trouble

We name them and we cry out to you for them… Jenny and Jean; Fi and Sue; Jane and Pete; Brian, Steve and Teresa; James and family and faith and family and emily and family and Suzi…

But we remember that God is on their side

And we remember that they are not left to deal with these things alone

And we remember that the darkness cannot put out the light

And we remember that love is stronger than death

So we pray in living hope

Jesus Christ our hope

Christ our hope.

 

We then shared bread and wine using words Steve had written:

 Our story is born in Lockdown with Defiant Hope coursing through its blood.

The location was secret and the doors were locked for fear of the religious and political

authorities. They met to mark the festival of God’s liberation. You can imagine one saying, “Nowt is going to stop me celebrating Passover.” Perhaps Peter…or one of the sons of thunder. “We were slaves and God delivered us.” Defiant Hope. And Jesus gave them the blessed bread and wine speaking radical, reinterpreting words.

And ever since that night, for going on 2000 years, Jesus’ followers have re-enacted that meal, in every conceivable circumstance, with bread and wine.

Because the bread we eat and the wine we sup speaks not only of the past and God’s saving liberation through Jesus and but also of the future hope of that Great Feast to which we are invited.

The bread of Defiant Hope. (REPEAT)

The wine of Defiant Hope. (REPEAT)

Amen.

We finished  with the wonderful Youtube song Behold our God (World edition) – sung in languages from arounf the world

and these final words:

So may we live in the hope to which we are called

And may we share that hope with those around us

Bringing light into the darkness

Because God is God and we are God’s

Amen

Bring & share in Tier 4 Zoom

In this our first meeting of 2021, Barbara began with a meditation from ‘We Who Still Wait’ by Chris Goan, Ian Adam’s, Steve Broadway and Su Smith. This followedashort time of us taking time to look up to teh  sky and reflect….

Step outside and look up.
Let the light guide you. 
Starlight
To you whose hope
Seems stolen 
Know this tender thing
The bruised old sky above you
(Which seems to yawn indifference)
Is in fact leaking light. 
Particles tumble down
Like this promise;
IAM HERE
WHERE YOU ARE
For I know what you know 
I see what you see
The fences you built are no protection 
From starlight
My stars leave no shadow 
And in this gentle light
Shy things 
Become possible. 

Fiona shared this cartoon and spoke of how we might approach this coming year, with words from Philippians 4:


Philippians 4

 Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the centre of your life.

Julie shared John Henry Newman’s words as a meditation:

“God has created me to do Him some definite service. He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another. I have my mission. I may never know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next. I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons.

He has not created me for naught. I shall do good; I shall do His work. I shall be an angel of peace, a preacher of truth in my own place, while not intending it if I do but keep His commandments.

Therefore, I will trust Him, whatever I am, I can never be thrown away. If I am in sickness, my sickness may serve Him, in perplexity, my perplexity may serve Him. If I am in sorrow, my sorrow may serve Him. He does nothing in vain. He knows what He is about. He may take away my friends. He may throw me among strangers. He may make me feel desolate, make my spirits sink, hide my future from me. Still, He knows what He is about.”

Colin shared some thoughts too:

Psalm 27:4 One thing I have asked of the Lord, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life; to behold the beauty of the Lord and to seek Him in His temple.

What if we reverse the flow of this verse – rather than requesting the one thing from God, how about asking what one thing God would ask of us? For me it might look like this:

One thing I ask of you, yes this is what I seek – that we may spend a day together, just one … walking, talking, exploring, enjoying each other’s company in this wonderful creation …. and then maybe sometime we could do it again?  That you may behold my beauty, my presence in the ordinary, the small, the unlikely people & places. And that finally you would seek me in that part of my temple which is in you, your body, your very life. One thing I ask of you.

MEDITATION My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following Your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please You does in fact please You. And I hope that I have that desire in all that I am doing. And I know that if I do this, You will lead me by the right road although I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust You always, though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death, I will not fear, for You are ever with me, and will never leave me to face my perils alone. Thomas Merton.

Wendy reminded us of prayers we had attached to the shepherd’s crook last year and we burned those in the fire, mindful of God’s fatithfulness in all those concerns. This year, folk are sending thier prayers for the tags this year and they will remain attached to the crook in the care of the Good Shepherd for this coming year.

Steve had written a Creed  to introduce our sharing of bread and wine. Insteaad of it beginning ‘We believe’ it reflected on what God believes:

God-Creed         ThirdSpace 2021

God believes in stuff, in matter, in atoms – 

And so much so that she created all that is created out of this dynamic and palpitating element

And God works with the stuff to shape and to bring to order

And God so loves the world that she becomes en-atomed in Jesus, the baby and the man

And God commits all of herself to the mission of matter as Mother and Bearer and Nourisher of all.

 

God believes in us – and in all of the us’s in her creation

She breathes us forth from the red clay and appoints us stewards of her stuff, fellow workers with her

So much does God believe in us that she appoints us prophets and artists and justice servants – co-builders of the Kingdom Jesus himself inaugurated when he was one of us.

God believes in the rescue and redemption of us and of the world and this belief comes at great cost.

 

God believes in time – an aspect of her created order

God believes in the what-has-been, the now and the what-will-be

God has and is and will

All that is created will work out her purposes in the fullness of time and we are invited to that end of term feast

And this we anticipate in the meantime, as companions together; we meet around these dynamic elements – the bread and wine – redolent with the story we believe.

 

Bread

Wine

Amen

 

We finished with an adapted blessing ofArchbishop Desmond Tutu:

Disturb us, O Lord
when we are too well-pleased with ourselves
when our dreams have come true because we dreamed too little,
because we sailed too close to the shore.
Disturb us, O Lord
when with the abundance of things we possess,
we have lost our thirst for the water of life
when, having fallen in love with time,
we have ceased to dream of eternity
and in our efforts to build a new earth,
we have allowed our vision of Heaven to grow dim.
Stir us, O Lord
to dare more boldly, to venture into wider seas
where storms show Thy mastery,
where losing sight of land, we shall find the stars.
In the name of Him who pushed back the horizons of our hopes
and invited the brave to follow.
Amen.

 

Advent thoughts of obedience in the Park

Julie led us this Sunday – having had to save what was prepared for last week, when heavy rain necessitated a short time together (We cannot meet under the bandstand while we are socially distancing at present!)

She shared her wrestlings with the concept of obedience and played a song ‘The burden is light’ from Jacob Cuevas’s album ‘Fear not’

We took 15 minutes with lit candle to wander and reflect, then, on our own responses to the word obedience, reading about Mary’s response to Gabriel’s annunciation and Jesus’s incarnation and later in the Garden of Gethsemane… Focusing on the following:

What is our own relationship with obedience? We often think of Advent as waiting and preparing for the coming of Jesus -but Jesus has already come. Is Advent more about Jesus waiting for us to come for our awakening? What are our blockages? What keeps us from receiving God? What gets in the way of our obedience? Do we misunderstand what obedience means? Do we mistake it for obligation, duty or a joyless trying to prove our worthiness, rather than an ‘awakening’ and ‘abandonment’? What stops us just jumping in?

On our return we shared bread and wine, as always, with the following words:

Lord Jesus,

Prepare us for your coming.

Save us from the complacency

And familiarity that can grow in us with this great festival.

Save us from going through the motions,

The cherished traditions,

The joyful celebrations,

Without seeing or understanding

The implications of your birth among us.

 

Here in this Bread and Wine,

Help us to know the full extent of what if meant for you to take our flesh,

To live our life,

To suffer our fate.

Awaken us and our sleepy world.

We are not ready to receive you.

Our house is not in order,

The naked are not all clothed,

Neither are the hungry all fed.

Many are still imprisoned

And the poor do not hear good news.

Stir us Lord,

So that we may greet you

As servants who cannot wait for the time to come

When you reign with justice,

Heal our conflicts,

Forgive our failures

And show us the way that leads to peace.

Amen.

(From New Eden Ministry)

Finally, a blessing from words by Meister Eckhart (surely a message to be taken into the coming year)

 

‘We are all meant to be mothers of God. What good is it to me if this eternal birth of the divine Son takes place unceasingly, but does not take place within myself? And what good is it to me if Mary is full of grace, if I am not also full of grace? What good is it to me for the Creator to give birth to his Son, if I do not also give birth to him in my time and culture? This, then, is the fullness of time: When the Son of Man is begotten in us’

 

Much to ponder and wonderful words – thanks so much Julie.

All Saints Day in the park

Paul writes:

Today we met in the park (appropriately socially-distanced!) for the last time before lockdown.  Fiona had found it was All Saints Day and the lectionary reading was the Beatitudes so we read round them in The Message (which, being less familiar, makes one think more about the meaning and perhaps emphasises their immediacy) and then in the NIV (which to me has always seemed to suggest recompense in heaven when you die!). That familiar rendering was then echoed in Pope Francis’ thought-provoking description of a saint;

 

Saints are the simple, the humble who make room for God, who know how to weep for others and for their own errors, those who stay meek, who fight for justice, who are merciful toward all, who guard purity of heart, who always work for peace and remain in joy, not in hate, and, even when suffering, respond to evil with good. (Pope Francis)

 

Fiona then conducted a light-hearted quiz identifying pictures of the Saints with each of our names, and what they patronised

 

We followed that with an excellent prayer she had found;

 

All Saints’ Day Prayer: Set in the Company of Saints

You are our God and we are Your people,
and we are grateful that You have claimed us as your own.
You have set us in the company of saints past and present,
among those who have made bold witness
to Your goodness and Your truth.
Your Word opens up new futures
where we see no way forward.

You know the places in our hearts
where we are afraid
— afraid of a future we cannot control;
— afraid of losing health and independence
— afraid for the well-being of our children
— afraid that past mistakes will ruin our future

Write the stories of your people deep into our hearts
so that we may learn to trust you beyond our fears.
Give us hearts and minds and spirits
ready to trust and follow wherever your Spirit leads

 

The second element today was about memories and remembering (I have been clearing out the loft; so many memories and funny how we keep some worthless things because of the memories they invoke). Fiona had made some memory cards and beads to help us pray for each other over the next few weeks when we will not be meeting face-to-face.

 

Finally we ended with Steve Kenyon’s towering, majestic Beech Tree bread and wine words/liturgy which I urge you read in the resources section, as it is probably too long to reproduce here

What’s in a Name?

Sitting under the weeping beech beside the river on this fine autumn morning we split into small groups in order to keep to the rule of six.

The people leading this week tried an experiment in leading the groups. While one group listened to bible readings the other group meditated on some of the names of God. These activities were repeated with each group.

Three names of God chosen from the many used in the bible:

Elohim – God of Creation, the strong one written as G O D

“In the beginning Elohim, Elohim created the heaven and the earth.”

Spend a few moments in appreciation for what GOD has made …

 

 Adonai  –  The one who is in charge, the supervisor and manager,  written as L o r d

 

Yahweh – God who is in relationship relationship with his creation, the covenant keeping God

Written as L O R D

Yahweh is the most intensely sacred name to Jewish scribes and many will not even pronounce the name. When possible they sometimes use Adonai. Yahweh is God’s personal name it is a privilege to be able to speak it. (It’s rather like the queen asking you to call her Liz instead of  “Your Majesty” or      “Ma-am”)

Using the name Yahweh as we breathe  (in) Yah (out) weh – calm ourselves and become aware of the relational God’s presence here this morning.

Matthew 26, 6-13: (NIV)

While Jesus was in Bethany in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, which she poured on his head as he was reclining at the table.

When the disciples saw this, they were indignant. “Why this waste?” they asked.

“This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor.”

Aware of this, Jesus said to them, “Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me. When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial. Truly, I tell you, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”

Deuteronomy 15:  (NIV)

4 However, there need be no poor people among you, for in the land the Lord your God is giving you to possess as your inheritance, he will richly bless you, 5 if only you fully obey the Lord your God and are careful to follow all these commands I am giving you today. 6 For the Lord your God will bless you as he has promised…….

10 Give generously to the poor and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to. 11 There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be open handed toward your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy.

Jesus anointed at Bethany

All four Gospels tell the story of the woman pouring expensive ointment over Jesus, but only Mark and Matthew describe the host as Simon the leper.

Simon the leper in this story has always bothered me, particularly over recent years.

Simon the leper could not have lived in a town and could not have hosted a dinner party. It seems to me that there’s something very wrong here.

In the mid-20th Century both Feigin and Torrey made strong cases for Mark and Matthew having been originally written in Hebrew or, more likely, in Aramaic.

Edmond Macaraeg has an interesting theory. Both Hebrew and Aramaic were written without vowels. The translator reading the original Aramaic manuscript, failed to properly interpret the text. The Aramaic word that was translated into the Greek as “leper” requires the addition of one vowel, but with the addition of two vowels the word becomes “potter”.

 

As proof, the Hebrew Roots Bible consistently translates “Simon the leper” as “Simon the potter.”

Matthew 26: (Hebrew Roots Bible)

6 And Yahshua being in Bethany, in Simon the potter’s house*

7 a woman came to Him having an alabaster vial of ointment,

very precious. And she poured it on His head as He reclined.

 

* The Aramaic word for potter is mistranslated

as leper in the Greek, but a leper could not own property,

live in a city or town, or have guests at his house.

 

 

Although all four Gospels report the story of the woman pouring expensive perfume on Jesus, there is considerable variation in the accounts. All writers (except Luke) report that the onlookers condemned this waste of a year’s wages. They wondered aloud why the perfume wasn’t sold and the money given to the poor. Jesus said, “The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me” (Matthew 26:11).

But Jesus doesn’t praise the disciples for their idea for helping the poor. He praises the woman for her extravagance with the ointment. And then to make matters worse, Jesus then says this well-known line: “The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me.” On the surface for someone who’s concerned about helping the poor, this sounds pretty bad. This sounds like Jesus is taking a laissez-faire attitude to poverty and being rather callous, or at best being fatalistic.

But Jesus’ response to the disciples and praise of the woman with: “the poor you will always have with you” is actually a quote from Deuteronomy 15 – one of the most radical and liberating passages in the bible. Deuteronomy 15 is about the Sabbatical year and the year of Jubilee. The chapter explains that if the people follow God’s commandments there will be no poverty. In fact, this passage lays out the Sabbath and Jubilee laws so that the people of God know what to do to ensure that there is no poverty – how God’s bounty can be shared and enjoyed by all. But if the people do not follow what God has commanded, then “there will never cease to be some in need on the earth” (in other words: “the poor you always have with you”), and because of that, it is the Hebrews duty to God to “open your hand to your poor and needy neighbour.”

Liz Theoharis says: “This passage is about God’s plan to ensure that no one is poor is referenced by Jesus in his line “the poor you will always have with you.” Although we don’t have Deuteronomy 15 readily available in our minds, I believe that Jesus’ disciples would have. So when Jesus said this line to his followers, they would have understood his reference to Deuteronomy 15 and would have known that God had given laws for addressing poverty. Rather than selling something valuable and donating the money to the poor, the people of God were supposed to be organising their society to enact Jubilee. Jesus is demonstrating that poverty need not exist, and therefore that the poor will not need charity, if only society will follow God’s laws. The woman anointed Jesus as king of an empire that had the Jubilee and Sabbatical years at its centre. What God demands of God’s followers is justice rather than charity.”

In his book “The Upside Down Kingdom” Donald Kraybill writes: “In the light of Jesus’ continual plea on behalf of the poor, it’s hardly conceivable that Jesus now contradicts himself by telling us to neglect the poor who, after all, will always be around and there’s not much we can do about it. He’s rather saying that as long as greed and ambition govern the lives of people and their social systems, there will always be poor people. His observation of this fact does not justify its perpetuation. Rather than excusing us from social obligation, Jesus is reminding us that the alleviation of poverty is a never-ending struggle.”

Not long before his murder, while in New York, Martin Luther King said this in a sermon: “A true revolution of values will cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. On the one hand we are called to play the Good Samaritan on life’s roadside, but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho Road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life’s highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.”

And again quoting Liz Theoharis: “We need to understand Matthew 26 through the lens of the Jubilee. We are then able to implode an interpretation of this passage that suggests that poverty is inevitable and instead insist that poverty should be ended: indeed, it is God’s will.  The rules and norms of God’s kingdom are set by the Jubilee. There is no poverty in God’s empire; there is no exclusion in God’s empire. All of God’s children are valued and all life is affirmed.”

It seems to me that Jesus of Nazareth, the one whom I try to follow, came to reform structures and systems that produce beggars and billionaires. May we be inspired to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with God as we strive against injustice and in so doing do God’s will.

PRAYERS: So what is in a name?

We label people in all sorts of different ways. We pray for people like refugees, asylum seekers, homeless, disabled, underprivileged, poor, lonely and sick, forgetting that each one is an individual human being. People of the world in huge numbers are suffering and we are so privileged, how can we pray?

Sometimes when watching the news I am ashamed to say I have to remind myself that the people in the report are like me – how would I cope in that situation?

Each person has the same needs, thoughts and feelings that we have.

We can’t contemplate sometimes what it must be like for people who are suffering especially if we have not been through something similar ourselves.

But God is a relational God who cares for all his creation. Jesus came and lived a life as a refugee, he was homeless, poor, rejected, betrayed and bereaved, he suffered injustice, pain and death all for our sakes. He understands.

So in his name we pray for those who:

Have no secure homes, who are looking for peace, security and comfort

For those who are sick, that they might find treatment, care and healing

For those who are poor that they may be shown love and compassion and their needs might be met

For those who seek a safe place that they may be given refuge and acceptance

For those who are lonely that they might know your presence and see love in action

For those who need God’s comfort and strength now

For ourselves that we might bring compassionate relationship to those we meet.

 

Sharing bread & wine.

On the night before Jesus died, he gathered with his friends to share a meal. Over food and drink they shared stories of lament and longing.

They told stories of Lament for a world of injustice and powerlessness that before they met Jesus they hadn’t even noticed.

Lament over the people who were silenced, oppressed, exploited, defrauded.

Lament over the people who were blind to the possibility that the world could be anything other than what it was.

 

They told stories of Longing that the new world they’d glimpsed through Jesus might become reality;

Longing that the voiceless would be heard.

Longing that the rich & powerful would be freed from their greed.

Longing for the imagination to see that this world does not have to be as it is.

 

Then Jesus called for bread and wine.

The bread held in his hands … the words of blessing …the breaking of the bread, and then the shocking words, “this is my body… broken… for you…”

May this bread be food for our journey as we “seek justice”.  Amen.

 

The cup of wine, an ancient memorial re-imagined… the blessing … and then the heart-breaking words, “this is my blood… poured out… for you and for many…”

May this wine be a sign that we are no longer in thrall to the old order whose power Christ has broken. Amen.

 

May this place be where hopes and dreams are forged.

May this community be a reminder that we are not alone.

May we be inspired to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with God all our days.

Amen.

(Jonny Baker)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Machinations about our calling

Kintsugi – The Japanese method of creating art from broken  ceramic objects.

So today we met in the park, under the weeping beech, setting up two groups of chairs to meet the ‘Rule of six’ restrictions (even though we could potentially be a whole group, socially distanced, as a church. We had about 30 minutes to reflect on the sheet outlined below before joining our two groups to share bread and wine.

Psalm 105 begins with these words: (I have alternated between male and female pronouns)

  1-6 Hallelujah!

Thank God! Pray to him by name!
Tell everyone you meet what he has done!
Sing him songs, belt out hymns,
translate his wonders into music!
Honour his holy name with Hallelujahs,
you who seek God. Live a happy life!

Keep your eyes open for God, watch for her works;
be alert for signs of her presence.
Remember the world of wonders she has made,
her miracles, and the verdicts she’s rendered—
O seed of Abraham, his servant,
O child of Jacob, his chosen.

7-15 She’s God, our God,
in charge of the whole earth.
And she remembers, remembers her Covenant—
for a thousand generations she’s been as good as her word.

The Psalm then goes on to recount story after story of how God kept faithful to his people at different points in history’. Insert your stories here of how God has kept faithful to you in the past – the good and the bad.

When… God was there for me…

When… God did not let me go… etc.
42 All because he remembered his Covenant,
his promise to Abraham, his servant.

43-45 Remember this! He led his people out singing for joy;
his chosen people marched, singing their hearts out!

He made them a gift of the country they entered,
helped them seize the wealth of the nations
So they could do everything he told them—
could follow his instructions to the letter.

Hallelujah!

What do you want to say to me God?

 Return to the Psalm – read it again, let it nudge you into conversation…

 

So they could do everything he told them – could follow his instructions to the letter…

 Over the past couple of Wednesdays and last Sunday, we have been exploring, again, what it might mean for us to be working for the kingdom of God. Just lately, I have been thinking about what a significant time this is for us all for multiple reasons. Some are newly retired, about to retire, drifting into retirement, well into retirement, longing for retirement (!) … Some need work, some are working with new challenges. Some are yearning for reunions and lamenting a loss of past levels of relationship… What does God’s calling look like right now? What can we do in this new life, at the very least characterised by less freedom and direct relationships, to build God’s kingdom in on-going Covid times?

It would be easy to default to seeing our mission as being pared back / less than that which we could do before. Funnily enough, the Gospel reading in the Lectionary today is the story of the workers in the vineyard (Matthew 20) – the one where the folk hired late in the day get the same wages as those hired early on. I found myself seeing yet another message there about God valuing our service in the later stages of our lives – not just when we were young, bounding with energy and zeal and full of idealism (or is that just how I remember my younger self?!)

Into all these thoughts, I came across the following words after revisiting Sacredspace.ie (heartily recommended for daily reflection / prayer)

‘Your path to God is the one you are on right now and there is no other. You cannot start or move on from anywhere but here. Now is the time to ask God to help you get closer to him.’ Sacredspace.ie

John Henry Newman wrote:

‘God has created me to do him some definite service. He has committed some work to me which he has not committed to another’

That definite service was not merely what we were doing in the past, the service is for today – for now – how could it be anything else? We only have now!

What can I do that only I can do? Who has been given into my care?

Take some time to ask God to help you commit to building the kingdom of God wherever your specific calling leads you. Keep your eyes open for God, watch for her works; be alert for signs of her presence. Remember the world of wonders God has made…

Prayer for others: One of the things we have thought about recently is remembering to look outwards. One way of building the kingdom is to offer our prayers to God and to trust that they can make a tangible impact on others however far away… Take some time to pray for those known to you who need Jesus now and for people in poverty, exile and fear who need God’s love, provision, encouragement and closeness right now…

Meeting together, yet apart, we used words written by Steve as we reflected on beauty in brokenness:

WABI-SABI BREAD AND WINE

In traditional Japanese aestheticswabi-sabi () is a world view centered on the acceptance of transience and imperfection. The aesthetic is sometimes described as one of beauty that is “imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete”.

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”   2 Cor 12 v 9

And when we were far off – in our impermanence, our alienations, our incompleteness – you met us and brought us home. In our brokenness, your love and forgiveness are made complete. Your mercy is there for the messy and the conflicted and the sinful. We are broken in two but you draw all things together in yourself.

And how are we to celebrate this redemption? With gold and diamonds? Crowns and coronets?

No!

With bread, made with grain and yeast by human hands, to signify your body broken.

(EAT BREAD)

With wine, made with grape and yeast by human hands, to signify your blood shed.

(DRINK WINE)

So it is with rejoicing that we anticipate the Great Feast.

Blessings on those who are broken and bruised. May all know Christ’s love. Amen.

 

Takeaway coffees from Cool River kept us warm and allowed us to share our stories and prayer requests. It is still SO good to be able to meet in person. We are blessed.

Hidden Beauty and God’s Bounty

We gathered under the twisted beach tree beside the river on this glorious sunny morning

Psalms 8, 19 & 50 selection

The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.

 They have no speech, they use no words;
no sound is heard from them.
Yet their voice goes out into all the earth,
their words to the ends of the world.

Lord, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!

You have set your glory
in the heavens. 

When I consider your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place,
what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
human beings that you care for them?

The Mighty One, God, the Lord,
speaks and summons the earth
from the rising of the sun to where it sets.
From Zion, perfect in beauty,
God shines forth.

 Lord, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!

Hidden Beauty – I came up with the idea of using this subject for a Sunday morning a few weeks ago when we were sent off to do an activity in the park. As there were more people than sheets and we were leading I went off sheetless. I found a beautiful hibiscus hidden among the shrubs near the café. I spent a few glorious minutes in rapture at the hidden beauty I had found. The start of the autumn season always makes me feel a little flat, as a gardener I get great joy from what I consider beautiful. The beauty that rings my bells is colourful, attractive in form and is often planned and cultivated by man.

Then last week on a walk in Derby with Betsy in the pushchair I was on the lookout for hidden beauty and I became aware of the not so hidden “bounty of the season”. In our interconnected world we need to open our eyes to what our fellow creatures will find beautiful. Yesterday I took the same walk and found the acorn laden trees amazing, the dragonflies inspiring, the birdsong uplifting, the profusion of rose hips and the blackberries awesome. How great is the God who gives not just us our harvest at this time of year, but a bounty for our fellow creatures in this interconnected planet.

Activity

Spend some time walking in the park and as you go:

  1. Smile, make eye contact and say good morning to everyone you pass.
  2. Look for something beautiful or bountiful – write a sentence about how hidden beauty inspires you on the back of the sheet in the liturgy for sharing bread and wine.

 

Prayer

Last week we were contemplating about our world and the peoples in it who were suffering not just from the Covid19, but who had a daily struggle throughout their lives. We all commented about how difficult it was to pray. In our prayers we are going to pray for those who are beautiful because they are selfless and try to bring light into dark places we also need to pray for God’s bounty to be shared fairly.

So we pray for the same places and peoples we thought about last week and pray for those trying to bring relief to them.

We pray for those who bring food, medicine, comfort, care and release to the hungry, sick, desperate and oppressed.

Medical workers, Carers, Peacemakers, Those bringing Reconciliation and healing, Justice Seekers, Scientists who endeavour to improve our world and

People of all faiths or none who alleviate suffering.

We thank you for them and pray that you will guide their actions, words and keep them safe from sickness or danger

Steve read a beautiful piece he had written and shared with us before

If only for today…

If only for today, this singular day, I want to live gratefully, without resentments and what ifs; to play without regret.
If this were the only day, this single moment, I want to commit generously, love lavishly; to invest as if for eternity.
If this day were the last day, I want to live without fear and without anxiety because I’d send Jesus out to bat because he can sort the googlies from the flippers and the bouncers from the yorkers.
If this were the final innings and all was to play for, one final session after tea, I would gather my companions around me and I’d break the bread as we’ve been taught. And we’d look from person to person and we’d know, we’d just know.
And Jesus would be there, quiet in the heart of us.

And there’d be wine – not too much – ready poured – to fortify, to en-courage for the final battle. And we’d remember those who had gone before and we’d toast them.
And Jesus would be there, quiet in the heart of us.

If only for today, this singular time, we choose to bless not curse, to hope not fear, to dance and not be paralysed because the team Captain leads us out and his Spirit indwells. And we were born for this day and we give thanks.
AMEN

Sharing bread and wine

Open our senses to your presence

Open our ears to hear you speak

Open our eyes to see your beauty in all we see

Write your sentence here …

 

 

Touch the bread and give thanks

Taste the bread and remember Jesus

 

Smell the wine treasure what is beautiful

Drink and celebrate love

Amen,  Amen

 

Friends are beautiful – they bring care and concern and encouragement in times of trouble.

A Blessing for Friends

May you know the peace that comes with inner beauty,

and may the Lord inspire beauty in your life and works.

May you be inspired every day with the beauty that you see,

and not be blinded to the artistry of God that surrounds you.

May God’s beauty illuminate your soul and influence the way you think, the way you act and the way you are.

Coffee in the park perhaps for the last time for a while as the rule of 6 begins tomorrow

 

 

Narrowing the fitness gap

I came across an article in the paper well before lockdown which got me thinking, and for obvious reasons, the person who is the focus of the article has appeared in several other articles much more recently.

He’s Sir Muir Gray : one of the UK’s leading medical figures (no I’d never heard of him either)  – he’s a physician, an Oxford University professor, a public health expert and innovator and he’s 75 years old.  He’s researched and written much about old age, fitness and what we could and should be doing in our latter stages of life.  His view is although the aging process is something we’re all powerless to escape (Signs of aging start at around the age of 30!). His research suggests that an individual person’s rate of decline is hugely affected or aggravated by inactivity and a loss of fitness. He calls this the fitness gap and maintains that there are things that older people can and should do to make a significant difference to the narrowing of that gap.

Gray suggests that to narrow the fitness gap there are 4 s’s we should consider:

Stamina, strength, skill (balance) and suppleness.

It has stuck with me and it gave me food for thought. Not only about my level of physical fitness (definitely a work in progress)  but could I apply some of this guidance to my spiritual health? To my faith community?

 

There are tensions and traps in pursuing this thinking –the trap of dualism – of seeing only some things as spiritual (prayer, bible reading etc etc) as opposed to seeing absolutely everything as permeated by God.

Then there’s the trap of ‘effort over ease’… I am wary of defaulting back to effort – to trying to earn God’s love, God’s favour through what I do. (e.g. ‘I’m a ‘good’ Christian today because I’ve done x, y and z….)  It’s taken me a long long time to unlearn that toxic theology.

But I’m equally wary of becoming flabby….so laid back in my faith I’m horizontal….that the blurring of lines result  in a blurring of vision.

So the following is some food for thought – a hanging on to Sir Gray’s advice as a way of reflection and prayer. The words in bold are from quotations from Sir Gray – if nothing else – you might want to consider his advice.

Stamina :  Stamina is best assessed when someone is under a bit of pressure and has to keep going. You need to get a little bit breathless

“So we’re not giving up. How could we! Even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart on us, on the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by without his unfolding grace” 2Corinthians 4:8

When have you known God’s unfolding grace when under pressure?

 Getting a little bit breathless: Pay attention. Take time. Demonstrate reverence.

“I think it pisses God off if you walk by the colour purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it.” (Alice Walker: The Colour Purple)

 

SkillThe most important skill to maintain and improve is the ability to keep upright.

Jumping out of the boat, Peter walked on the water to Jesus. But when he looked down at the waves churning beneath his feet, he lost his nerve and started to sink. He cried, Master, save me! Jesus didnt hesitate. He reached down and grabbed his hand.” Matthew 14

What things, situations and people cause me to ‘lose my balance’ or perspective?

“We take our lead from Christ, who is the source of everything we do. He keeps us in step with each other. His very breath and blood flow through us, nourishing us so that we will grow up healthy in God, robust in love.” Ephesians 4

Give thanks for people who support you to keep balance, perspective and stability.

Suppleness:  “Suppleness is probably the most under-valued part of fitness and the aspect that is most important as we age. As people lose suppleness they become stiffer and the usual reason for this is that what are called the connecting tissues become less elastic.”

“Recently I was in the town of Joppa praying. I fell into a trance and saw a vision: Something like a huge blanket, lowered by ropes at its four corners, came down out of heaven and settled on the ground in front of me. Milling around on the blanket were farm animals, wild animals, reptiles, birds—you name it, it was there. Fascinated, I took it all in. “Then I heard a voice: ‘Go to it, Peter—kill and eat.’ I said, ‘Oh, no, Master. I’ve never so much as tasted food that wasn’t kosher.’ The voice spoke again: ‘If God says it’s okay, it’s okay.’ This happened three times, and then the blanket was pulled back up into the sky.

If I had the same experience as Peter – what would my response be?

How might I be flexible, be open, be willing to stretch myself?

And how do we strengthen the connecting tissues between us in our faith communities that keep us flexible?

 And if you’re wondering where the 4th s went – strength, we used that as a reminder of ‘weight bearing’ – so we prayed for those we know and love who are going through hard times and who need us to bear them up in prayer.

Finally, Galatians 5 seems to provide the perfect summary of all of this pondering:

But what happens when we live God’s way?

He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard—

things like :

affection for others,

exuberance about life,

serenity.

We develop a willingness to stick with things,

a sense of compassion in the heart,

and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people.

We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments,

not needing to force our way in life,

able to marshal and direct our energies wisely