Easter Sunday.

 

We met in the park on a bitterly cold Easter morning to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus.

 

 

Our worship included contributions from most of those gathered, here are just a selection:

Stand in a close circle

Welcome friends to Third Space

Jesus is risen

All: He is risen indeed – Hallelujah

Widened the circle

Allow ourselves to feel at home here.  Be yourself here, know you are accepted and loved here.

Take one more step back

We widen the circle to include a space for Jesus to speak to us at all times.

 

We widen the circle to what God wants to say to us in this place.

Turn to the west, north, south and east.

We pray a silent blessing on this place and on this town

Take one more step back

We widen the circle to include people in history.  The saints and traditions of old. We remember, those who have nurtured us on our journey in life, those who have loved us and guided us.  Those in the past who trod the roads, and brought the love of God to this town. We thank you for their wisdom, faith and endurance.

On this Easter morning with all who have follow Jesus from the beginning, with God and with friends, we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. Amen.

 

Resurrected with wounds.

After his resurrection, Jesus appears to be resurrected and yet wounded at the same time. This is the unexpected appearance of the Risen Jesus.

His resurrected body remains scarred. Thinking about this over the last few days I’ve found it very strange, surely we’d expect his resurrected body to be perfect, to be unscarred.

Then we find from reading the gospels that Jesus’ wounds are part of his identity. Because it’s by his wounds that his followers recognised him as Jesus. It is only by seeing his wounds and scars that Thomas is able identify Jesus as his Lord and his God. The brokenness of Jesus body seems to be a very important part of his identity, his wounds are part of who Jesus is.

So presumably we’ll also be resurrected with our wounds.

We all have wounds that are caused by sickness, by accidents, by the actions of others and by the problems and disappointments of life.

All of us are wounded.  Even Jesus is wounded after his resurrection.  Resurrection hope doesn’t seem to do away with our woundedness.  By retaining the wounds of his torture and execution, is Jesus showing us that we can find hope and strength in him?

It seems to me that many Christians think faith requires denying the ways our bodies retain the scars of continued pain and injury; in our memories, in our struggles with illness and injury, in our despair over others’ apathy in the face of injustice.

The risen yet wounded Jesus wants to open our eyes to see the pain of others, the destruction of the earth due to our greed and foolishness, and  our part in wounding others near and far. Jesus offers us a peace that recognises the hard reality of injury and hurt.

So our resurrection hope does not deny the reality of wounds. Jesus although resurrected with wounds is not disabled by them. That’s what I think he wants for us.

We can freely enter into his resurrection hope just as we are, wounds and all.

Our faith is in a God who is always with us in our woundedness.

 

 

living peacefully on earth

Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation

From the Center for Action and Contemplation

Living Peacefully on Earth
To live non-violently—both toward humans and nature—requires that we recognize God’s image in each living thing. We cannot be violent toward someone or something when we see the divine in them. My friend and nonviolent activist John Dear recently published a new book, They Will Inherit the Earth, from which I’d like to share today.

Over the decades, I have witnessed the destruction we humans have done to Mother Earth and her creatures. I’ve read about catastrophic climate change and experienced the changes—the droughts, the strange weather, the extreme fires and tornadoes and rainfall. . . . I grieve for Mother Earth and the creatures who die because of our systemic greed, violence, and destructive habits. But I never made or felt the connection between my vision of nonviolence and the ongoing destruction of Mother Earth. Until now. . . .

“Blessed are the meek,” Jesus says in the Beatitudes. Thomas Merton wrote that “meekness” is the biblical word for nonviolence. “Blessed are the nonviolent,” Jesus is saying. . . . “They will inherit the earth.” . . . A life of nonviolence leads to oneness with creation and her creatures.

A life of violence, of course, leads to an abrupt discord with creation. In a time of permanent warfare, nuclear weapons, and catastrophic climate change, the message couldn’t be clearer. The God of peace, the nonviolent Jesus, and his Holy Spirit call us to practice nonviolence. In that way, we’ll renounce and stop our environmental destruction, tend our Garden of Eden together, and restore creation to its rightful peace. In the process, we will discover peace with one another and all the creatures.

This is the journey we are all called to live, to make the connection between active non-violence and oneness with creation, so that we all might dwell peacefully in this paradise. . . . I [see] not just the vision of peace and nonviolence, but the vision of a new creation, where we all live as one in peace with one another, Mother Earth and her glorious creatures. It’s that vision of peace, nonviolence, and the new creation, the vision of the promised land before us, the practice of proactive nonviolence, that offers a way out of environmental destruction, as well as permanent war, corporate greed, systemic racism, and extreme poverty.

All we have to do is open our eyes to the reality of creation before us, to be present to it, to take it in and honour it, and welcome its gift of peace—and do so within the boundaries of nonviolence. In that present moment of peace, a new creation is offered to us once again.

Gateway to Presence:
If you want to go deeper with today’s meditation, take note of what word or phrase stands out to you. Come back to that word or phrase throughout the day, being present to its impact and invitation.

 

Fairtrade & Fair Trade

Two weeks ago we were busy with events for Fairtrade Fortnight (26 Feb – 11 Mar 2018). During that time I came across this excellent article which I would like to share with you.

 

Using the Fairtrade Mark.   by Robin Roth,  Traidcraft Chief Executive.

In 2017 we have seen a number of announcements from various brands, retailers and traders that they are moving away from the Fairtrade Mark. This is a shame and we should continue to support those mainstream companies that are bringing Fairtrade labelled products to the mass market, and so starting their journey about what real fair trade means. For Traidcraft and other 100 per cent fair trade companies and pioneers however, focusing on a label misses a fundamental point in the origins of fair trade. Fair trade was all about partnerships with people: it was not about certifying products. It should not be forgotten that fair trade began well before standards, certifications, labels, monitoring and impact assessments were even thought of. Traidcraft was formed in 1979, the label introduced in 1992. As a dedicated fair trade company with these principles running through our DNA, all our products are fair trade, but many don’t carry the Fairtrade Mark. These include those that we sold before the label came along as well as the handicraft items Traidcraft has sold over the last 4 decades where we use the WFTO mark. Our Palm Oil from Serendipalm, is certified “Fair for Life” by the Swiss organic certifier I.M.O, because no “Fairtrade standards” yet exist. In truth, the Fairtrade label is limited to a relatively small number of raw commodities, or easily identifiable products, like tea, coffee and bananas, but it does not include most of the things we actually buy on a daily basis. For all its limitations the Fairtrade label is actually a brilliant idea: simple, understandable and credible. It is simple because it captures a degree of certainty in highly complex supply chains with a single, easily identifiable graphic. It is understandable because there is an implied promise behind that graphic that says something about decent wages, fair price and decent working conditions. And it is credible because there is an independent certifier who checks out the claims. This is an important principle for any organisation making ethical claims. As far back as the early 90’s, before the Fairtrade label had become established, Traidcraft was a pioneer in social accounting, reporting on its impact and having its findings independently verified. The reality behind fair trade, however, is anything but simple. Many of the companies no longer using the Mark are right to hint at this – for example citing the anomalous situation of a large multinational having a couple of fair trade product lines which gives them a consumer boost, whilst they continue to avoid tax, destroy the environment or treat workers in an appalling fashion. Few consumers have the time for this level of complexity when it comes to buying a pack of tea. And herein lies the problem. Fair trade is complex. It was never a single idea, and depending on whom you talk to, the core emphasis varies. For some producers, price is an important issue, but not more so than solidarity with trading partners, establishing land rights, access to pre-finance, long term relationships and a level playing field when competing with multinationals. In some cultures and environments, fair trade is simply incomprehensible if not aligned with organic production, and in the United States, an understanding of fair trade might just as much include working with migrant labour in the plantations of Southern California, as it does with coffee cooperatives in Guatemala. The standards that form the basis of the Fairtrade label are good, but they are not perfect, and certainly not all encompassing, which is why other standards, and other labels have emerged. At Traidcraft, as among most European fair trade organisations, we acknowledge the value of a number of fair trade standards as well as the Fairtrade Mark;

  • Fairtrade Mark – Product focused, fair trade but not Organic, based in Germany, stakeholder owned.
  • WFTO’s (the World Fair Trade Organisation) system, organisational focus, owned by its members.
  • SPP (Small Producer Symbol from the Producers of Latin America), product and organisationally focused, owned by farmers; based in Mexico.
  • Fair for Life – product focused, fair trade and organic, based in Switzerland.
  • Naturland Fair – product and organisationally focused, fair trade and organic, based in Germany and owned by farmers.
  • Eco Cert – product focused, fair trade and organic, based in France.

All of these are based on 3rd party, independent certification and all of them capture different, important nuances of what fair trade means. Of the systems, or labels, that Traidcraft recognises, some are specifically product focused, some are more interested in the “fair trade-ness” of the organisation itself. This distinction is important since ultimately, no product label can guarantee what really goes on in the heart of a company – nor are they designed to achieve that. But at Traidcraft we have always viewed fair trade as something you do as a matter of course, rather than something you do from time to time. After all, being fair to your suppliers makes no sense if you treat your employees abysmally. Fair is an absolute. Traidcraft was set up to “do” fair trade. It is what we do. It is all that we do. Sainsbury’s, just to take one example, was not. It has other imperatives and no matter how good or benign their governance structure may be, it is a company dedicated primarily to the interests of its shareholders. So, when companies decide to remove the Fairtrade Mark from their products, what does this tell us? It tells us that a commercially driven organisation has made a strategic decision to disengage with a certification system that no longer suits its business model. The main reason for the shift in focus seems to be towards long term supply security before and above producer empowerment. As a commercially driven organisation that may make sense, but it would be disingenuous to describe their new scheme as “fairly traded” since producer empowerment, one of the core concerns of all fair trade schemes, has been very substantially downgraded. In conclusion, the Fairtrade label is an excellent concept, but is neither the last, the best, nor the only word in the world of fair trade. It is a useful tool for commercially driven organisations to make a claim, or start a journey, with a fairly limited range of classic products. But the label says nothing whatsoever about a company’s real engagement with its partners, nor its intentions towards its staff or customers. The only real predicator of fair trade in its broadest context, is whether the company itself is whole-heartedly engaged and connected to its core principles, and to have this rooted in its governance structure. There are precious few real Fair Traders around, and at Traidcraft we see all labels merely as the beginning, not the end of a journey. Other companies are not likely to change their minds, but thankfully, neither will Traidcraft. Fair trade is all we ever aspire to do.

Lenten Worship.

We met in the park on a mild early spring morning. Our worship focused on Lent with help from Richard Rohr and Dale Ryan.

Call to worship

Lord God,

early in the morning when the world was young,

you made life in all its beauty

you gave birth to all we know.

 

This morning, in the multi-coloured company

of your church on earth and in heaven,

we celebrate your creation,

your life,

your love,

your interest in us.

 

We are your people, the creatures of your care,

the bearers of your image.

This day we will walk in your light,

live by your spirit and follow Jesus.

Amen.

Richard Rohr – thoughts on the temptations of Jesus.

The first temptation of Jesus was to turn stones into bread. Sounds good, but this is our need to be immediately impressive and successful, and make things happen right now. It is our natural desire to look good…. You can be a very popular and successful when you operate at this level, and you will think very well of yourself. That is why Jesus has to face this temptation first, to move us beyond what we first want, to what we really need. In refusing to be immediately successful and impressive;  in refusing to respond to people’s immediate requests, Jesus is saying, Go deeper. What do you really desire? What do you really need? It is not usually what you first think.

The second temptation of Jesus is another one that all of us must face. Jesus imagines himself up on the pinnacle of the Temple, symbolising the very top of the religious world itself, and he is tempted to play “righteousness games” with God. “Throw yourself off and he’ll catch you”. Holy words can be used for evil purposes. This second temptation is to think of yourself as saved, superior to others, the moral elite on the side of God and religion, and to quote Scriptures for your own purpose—being against God in the name of God. Actually it’s quite common.

The third human temptation is the need for control, importance, wealth, status, and power. The devil tells Jesus to bow down before the power systems of this world: “All of these I will give to you”. All you have to do is to make these things into your belief and security system. Formal atheism is rare, but this kind of practical daily atheism is almost the norm for most people. Jesus refuses to bow down before the power systems of the world….. He knows that the price of such love of power is to “fall at Satan’s feet and worship him!” Jesus says, “You must worship the Lord your God, and serve him alone”. When you can recognise and face up to these kinds of well-disguised demons, temptation doesn’t have a chance.

confession

In the blazing light of your love

our failings are illuminated

our failure to love

our failure to always be kind

our failure to be generous

our failure to serve others

our failure to truly follow Jesus.

Please forgive us and renew us.

Enfold us in your arms

that we might know

your forgiveness and healing love.

 

let’s say to one another –

The Lord is full of compassion and mercy,

slow to anger and of great kindness.

(Psalm 103:8)

 Preparing for more (in Lent).   Dale Ryan.

“Lent gets messed up when we experience it as an exercise in deprivation, like we should give up something for Lent as if in God’s family scarcity is of value. A lot of us have already lived lives of scarcity where there’s not  enough, you can’t get enough love, enough whatever, life for many is already about not enough, and here the Christian community says lets practice more of not enough, and that’s profoundly counter productive.

I learned a lot about Lent from my wife, who one year for Lent decided to give up shame. Her notion was why not give up something that’s really killing her. Something that’s really a burden that you don’t need. Give up shame for Lent. But that’s not the point. The point is to have a glimpse of what life might be like if you were a shame free person. First time through you might only get a glimpse, and maybe you only begin to see with more clarity about the amount of shame you are carrying. But that would be a gift, that would be having something you didn’t have before. And if there is a dynamic for living with less shame, that would be a lot to show. …………………………………………  Lenten practices should leave us in a spot where we’ve got more than we started with, not less. So don’t give up something that you really love, give up something that’s dragging your life down. Something that’s making your life have less resurrection – cause that’s what Lent is preparing us for – a life where there’s more, not less. ………………………………………………….”

Our fasting and feasting is a great way to start thinking about, for example, giving up shame for Lent while taking up positive things like attempting to be more generous, more kind and more patient.

Spend a few moments in prayer and ask yourself if you could fast from destructive feelings like; anger, resentment , bitterness, unforgiveness, guilt, shame, envy and regret.

 

sharing bread and wine………………….

Jesus, we offer ourselves,

To be your hands reaching out to the world,

With your compassion.

Fill us with the breath of life

To be instruments of your peace.

Where there is silence about how others are treated,

Impassion us with a desire for justice.

 

As we share bread and wine

may our eyes be opened

to recognise Jesus among us.

 

Blessing for Lent

In this season of Lent,

May we turn

May we dance….

Dance defiance on injustice

Dance inclusion on division

Dance forgiveness, generosity and kindness

Dance life in all its fullness.

May we join the dance of Jesus

And dance for a better way to live.

Amen!

 

 

God, Jesus, the Bible and violence.

On Wednesday, 17th March we met at Moca to study the important topic of violence in the Bible.

The scene was set with the following study; then followed a lively and very interesting discussion.

God, Jesus, the Bible and violence.

I’ve always found the violence in the Bible troubling – even when I was still an evangelical storm trooper! The Bible is riddled with violence from Genesis to Revelation.

You can read the Bible — from cover to cover — and draw up two contrasting pictures of God. In one, God is a God of violence who expects and commands humans to act violently. In the other, God is a God of non-violence who expects and commands humans to be non-violent and to act with compassion.

In Joel 3: we read: “Beat your ploughshares into swords, and your pruning hooks into spears;  let the weakling say, ‘I am a warrior’”(Joel 3:10).

Numbers 31: God tells Moses to take vengeance against the Midianites. When the victorious Israelites report to Moses that they have only slaughtered the men, he tells them to go back and kill all the males of whatever age and all the women who aren’t virgins, and to take for themselves the virgins – presumably to use as sex slaves!

Joshua 6: on taking Jericho Joshua tells his men to spare Rahab and “all who belong to her”, then every living thing – men and women, old and young, and all livestock must be put to the sword.

Samuel 15: God tells Saul through Samuel to punish the Amalekites – “do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys”.

It’s important to realise that the Israelites by slaughtering people after taking their towns are not behaving in a godly fashion but are acting as every tribe, civilisation and nation did until armies were paid! (And even sometimes after they were paid!!!)

In contrast Zechariah: says: “Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor.” (Zechariah 7:9-10).

And in Isaiah and Micah: we read: “They shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more” (Isaiah 2:4 & Micah 4:3). And “every man will sit under his own vine, and under his own fig-tree, and no-one will make him afraid…..” (Micah 4:4).

Is God non-violent and/or violent? Is it honest to accept only one biblical portrayal of God and, if so, which one?

Even in the New Testament we are given two very different images of Jesus presenting even more difficult questions.

In his “first coming” the non-violent Jesus rides on a donkey into Jerusalem. And as Zechariah says: “he will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the war horse from Jerusalem; and the battle bow will be broken, and he shall proclaim peace to the nations”. (Zechariah 9:9-10; with V9 quoted in Matthew 21:5).

But then in Revelation at his “second coming” the violent Jesus rides on a “white horse … makes war” and “from his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron; he will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty” (Revelation 19:11,15).

We have God revealed in a Jesus who is both non-violent  in the Gospels and very violent in Revelation.  Has Jesus changed or have Christians changed Jesus?

How can we reconcile these two different pictures? Are we to imagine a God of both violence and non-violence? Could it be that a combination of violence and non-violence belongs to God alone and humans must leave violence to God? But we are made in God’s image so does divine violence mean that  humans can’t help but be violent? Christians can’t be expected to be the non-violent people of a violent God, can we? As Christians how can we explain the Bible’s contradictory pictures of God?

Our starting point has got to be Jesus of Nazareth. No one has ever seen God. But for Christians, God is visible in the person of Jesus. Central to Christianity is the claim of the incarnation: that Jesus is God made man; that Jesus is the son of God; that Jesus is the image of God; that Jesus shows us what God is like; that Jesus is if you like God in sandals.

Therefore, Jesus is the norm and standard by which we must understand the entire Bible.

John’s Gospel tells us that God so loved the world that he sent us a Person, not a Book, but a person – Jesus (John 3:16). That is why we are followers of Jesus rather than followers of the Book. We are the People of the Person. Not the people of the book! That is why we count time “down” to Jesus birth (BC) and count time “up” from his birth to the present (AD).

But you may ask, how do I know that Jesus himself was non-violent? The best answer comes from Pontius Pilate who executed Jesus publicly but never bothered to round up his followers. Don’t you think that if Jesus had been a violent revolutionary then the Romans would have rounded up his followers and executed them as well. But because Jesus and his followers were non-violent the Romans just executed Jesus and left his followers alone (although from the Gospel accounts the disciples were very fearful of being arrested, as they hid themselves away until they thought they were safe from the threat of arrest).

For me the non-violent character of God is fully revealed in Jesus as the non-violent radical against Roman and Sadducee  injustice.  Jesus presents the Kingdom of God with its values of non-violence, justice, and  compassion as God’s alternative to “the powers that be” obsessed with violence, status, and power.

Secondly, when we read the Bible it is important to understand that we are reading a library rather than a book. It was written by many different people who had very different pictures of what God is like and had very different purposes for writing. If we read the various books of the Bible with an open enquiring mind we’ll see that they are competing against one another with opposing visions of God.

Thirdly, we also need to grasp that throughout the Bible God provides a radical vision for society – one of non-violence, justice and compassion, while all the time “the powers that be” are constantly subverting and undermining that vision with our human obsession for violence, greed, vengeance, status and power. The Bible is a struggle between God making us in God’s non-violent image and we humans making God in our violent image. 

Here are some examples of diversions around God’s radical vision:

God says in Leviticus 25: “The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is mine; and you are but aliens and tenants”.
The powers that be say: “OK, but we can still make loans with land as security. So it’s not about buying and selling but about loaning and foreclosing”. (Foreclosing means that everything is taken and not just the value of the actual debt).

God says in Deuteronomy 23 & Leviticus 25: “You cannot take interest on loans to your fellow countrymen”.
The powers that be say: “OK well perhaps no interest charges, but we can still charge penalties for default, and get another’s land that way”. (Isaiah 5:8 provides judgement against this practice – “woe to you who add house to house and join field to field till no space is left and you live alone in the land”. Also Micah 2:1,2 “…woe to those who plan iniquity…because it is in their power….who covet fields and seize them, and houses and take them….”).

God says in the Law: “In every Sabbatical Year all loans must be cancelled, all debt-slaves freed, and the land get a rest from exploitation”. (Exodus 21:2-11; 23:10-11; Leviticus 25:2-7; Deuteronomy 15:1-2,7-18).
The powers that be say: ”That may be so but we will find loopholes whereby we can transfer our claims to the courts. (The device to avoid cancelling debt was provided by the “Prosbul” – a loophole devised to get round the law of cancelling debts during the Sabbatical year by transferring a creditor’s claim to the courts).

Jesus showed humanity that God is very different and far better than religion up to then had depicted. Jesus personally had the full human experience of failure and rejection – while still forgiving his enemies – and told us;  “Follow me” and “do likewise”. Jesus message has always been too much for us and for 2000 years we’ve managed to avoid almost all of his radical teaching.

To briefly recap –

  • Jesus is the yardstick and standard by which we understand the entire Bible.
  • If we read the various books of the Bible with an open enquiring mind we’ll see that they are competing against one another with opposing visions of God.
  • The Bible is a very honest record of the constant struggle between God making us in God’s non-violent image and we humans making God in our violent image.
  • In the Bible God provides a radical vision for society – one of non-violence, justice and compassion; while all the time “the powers that be” are constantly subverting and undermining this vision.
  • Once we begin to realise what’s going on in the pages of the Bible we can begin to read it with new eyes and change our understanding of much that’s written there.

Questions for discussion:

The Sabbatical/Jubilee principles placed radical social justice at the centre of a fair and harmonious society, one where all people get a fair share of God’s good earth. Do you think these ideas are outdated and inappropriate for modern society?  What might modern applied versions of these principles involve doing today?

 

In Jesus’ time, Rome with the cooperation of the Sadducees was forcing many Jewish families into destitution, with high taxes and land seizures. People who had owned small pieces of land ended up as day labourers. Some Jews – the Zealots – advocated violent rebellion, others chose non-violent resistance.  I believe Jesus called for nonviolent resistance to Rome while advocating social justice with regard to land, wages and food. Was he crucified because the Romans saw him as a threat to stability and the Sadducees saw him as a threat to their financial activities?

Jesus came proclaiming the message that the Kingdom of God was at hand. Yet “the powers that be” continually say: “We are about power and wealth. Who are you to bring up this social justice thing? It’s nothing but a race to the bottom!” Is this how God’s radical vision for society has continually been subverted, and undermined?

Ideas for further study?

Does God really need Jesus – his only son – to be a blood sacrifice before God could love what he has created? Is God really that needy, unloving, unfree and unable to forgive? Is violence and vengeance really the way of the universe? Does a violent theory of redemption legitimise violence as a way of problem solving in human affairs? What does Franciscan Incarnational Theology have to say on these questions?

Was violence legitimised in Christianity when it became the religious arm of the Roman Empire? As a result was the life and teaching of Jesus sidelined and spiritualised so as not to offend the “powers that be”? Was Christ emphasised at the expense of Jesus? Was God portrayed as Jupiter/Zeus and Christ as the Emperor?

Haven’t all Christian groups & denominations  evaded major parts of the Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes, Jesus’ warning about idolising “mammon,” his example of non-violence, the parable of the sheep & the goats, and his instruction to love our enemies and forgive 70 X 7. Jesus has always been too difficult for us!

 

 

Lindisfarne comes to the bandstand!

Steve and I were just back from Northumbria and brought some shells from Holy Island to facilitate our worship. It was COLD, so we spent just 15 minutes outdoors and did the rest at Cool River.

We began using a meditation from the brilliant David Adam as we walked around the park trying to look with new eyes at the beauty of our surroundings (in the Celtic tradition) saying over and over:

You, Lord, are in this place.
Your presence fills it.
Your presence is peace.
You, Lord, are in this place.
Your presence fills it.
You, Lord are in this place.
You, Lord, are.
You, Lord.

Each had chosen a shell and carried it, symbolically connecting with our brothers Aidan and Cuthbert who loved the sea and stones and shells or Lindisfarne and found God in their surroundings – as we do.

Back at the bandstand we considered how opening our eyes to encountering God in the world around us can open our expectations and awareness of things we might not otherwise have noticed. On one occasion Cuthbert tended to a very weary traveller and urged him to stay to eat, saying that the bread was not long from coming out of the oven… He went to pray and brought the bread only to find the young man vanished and no footsteps in the snow. On entering the storehouse to put away the table, he found three steaming loaves of unusual whiteness awaiting him. He had thought to feed a stranger but was fed himself.

So, in memory of Cuthbert and all our brothers and sisters who are no doubt cheering us on in finding new ways to encounter God, we shared bread – three warm rolls from the oven, and then wine.

In the warmth of the café we heard stories of Cuthbert’s other encounters with angels and I shared two ideas that had come to me regarding these stories and all my reading about these Celtic saints.

1. In Rob Bell’s ‘Everything is spiritual’ he says ‘What you look for you will find’ – if we choose to live as if there is no intervention of God in our world and if we see with those eyes, that is what we will see. If we ask God to open our eyes to the wonders of this world that speak of him, we can see things we would otherwise miss. The Celtic tradition is about reading the world, looking for God in his creation, expecting to encounter him using the five-stringed harp in all activities.
2. Our recent thinking about the kingdom of God seems to tie in with this. Stories about Cuthbert about angels or of unexpected things happening could be dismissed as exaggerations (what you look for you will find) or we could say, it’s just an extension of looking for the kingdom being at work here – of the kingdom breaking through in thin places and thin moments. Isn’t that what we pray for?

So, to prayer.
We put our shells on the café table and shared people and situations  that needed our prayers – who needed that thinness of Lindisfarne and of Aidan and Cuthbert, to allow God’s work to break into their situations… Then  I commissioned the shells, so to speak, with the  following words and we took our shells away for the rest of the week:

May these shells bear witness to these prayers in this coming week. May they remind us that thin moments and events happen! And may they challenge us to be like our brothers who loved Holy Island, who loved the sea and stones and sand and shells, in reminding us to have open eyes to see God and his kingdom all around us in the coming week.

Finally we were set homework: To try out a prayer of Cuthbert once this week. Pray standing with your arms outstretched in the position of the cross and see how you want to pray as you do. Join us?

Are We Forest Church?

We split our time this morning between meeting in the bandstand and under the stark, bare winter beauty of the weeping beech.

Looking on the internet last week for some resources about outdoor church I came across the following:

“If you asked me to describe a transcendent moment, the first one that jumps to mind is always the tree of jewels that stopped me in my tracks one spring morning. If I thought about it harder I could have remembered a more iconic example from a retreat on Iona, a sunset in Cornwall or my first experience of the Alps, but the tree is always first in my mind. I saw it during a crisply cold, very still, early spring mountain bike ride through the Forest of Dean. The undulating route we were on turned a corner and began to descend. There in front of me was a young birch holding up its smoky, purple sprays, each bud, each twig holding a perfect drop of water, each water drop holding a miniature panorama and the bright morning sun. I stopped for, I don’t know how long, and I remember experiencing a completely absorbing sense of connection and appreciation for the Spirit who was both in this intimate magical moment, and timelessly behind the whole Universe.

For some years I’ve been asking other people about their most perfect, transcendent moments or for their descriptions of thin places, where the division between heaven and earth is at its thinnest. The majority of people’s descriptions of these are from nature (I’ve yet to hear many descriptions of them occurring during religious services in buildings). Usually they don’t last long and they often seem to happen when the person is involved in something out of the ordinary. “

Thanks to: Bruce Stanley frovm Forest Church: A Field Guide to Nature Connection for Groups and Individuals

I have had one or two moments here in the park. The most memorable is the day the leaves just rained down on us all. Seeing the cobwebs on the bridge clothed in raindrops and sparkling in the reflected sunlight was another.

Pause to think about any special moments you have had in the outdoors here in the park or elsewhere. Thank God for those times.

Prayer

So – We are meeting this morning, Creator God
in an outside space so we can experience
the beauty of all you have made,
experiencing this poem being written
not in words,
but in colours,
wind’s whisper,
singing birds,
snowdrop’s petal,
gentle rain,
sunlight’s warmth.
This is your space, Creator God,
a space where we meet with you, a space where we are blessed.

Amended – With thanks to Forest Church

Fiona read her favourite poem “Table” from the Turkish of Edip Cansever 

We placed the everyday things we are thankful for on the ground which represented our table.

Wendy continued the theme of thin places, thin times and the Kingdom of God with some thoughts following a clip we watched from American Beauty last Wednesday.

“Do you want to see the most beautiful thing I ever filmed? It was one of those days when it was just a moment away from snowing. And there was this electricity in the air – you can almost feel it – right? And this bag was just dancing with me, like a little kid, begging me to play with it. For 15 minutes.  

That’s the day I realised that there was this entire life behind things. And this incredibly benevolent force that wanted me to know that there was no reason to be afraid. Ever. 

Video is a poor excuse I know, but I need to remember sometimes, there’s so much beauty in the world.”

We were asked to walk and ask God to open our eyes to the beauty that speaks of the Kingdom. To our delight as we walked beside the river to the weeping beech a flock of ducks walked with us.

Divine Entanglement with Bread and Wine

Look up, all around, entangled and surrounded, mind-blowingly all enveloping – God’s breathing, God’s love sweeping down and curling around.

Acknowledged blessing and unacknowledged blessing, love noticed and unnoticed, blessings overt and covert. Incidences and coincidences and God-incidences too complex for us to sort through and untangle. We are caught – in the web. God behind us, God in us, God before us.

Surrounded and enveloped by God’s care, those blessings obvious to us now and those blessings only to be known about in the future and those blessings perhaps never to be known by us.

God at work in us and in those around us and in those we love and in those we despair of. God’s love touching us, our ground, our lives through His humanity and love incarnated in Jesus.

We are surrounded in our space and time by roots, by branches, by leaves, by this living and growing 360 degree, multi dimensional, 24/7, God who loves. We are not tree hugging, but we are God- hugged.

And so while we are still indifferent, ignorant, hostile, unblissfully unaware, God loves us and in our hands we hold the bread and wine which expresses, encapsulates and enfleshes that Jesus love.

So why us? Why are we invited to this banquet under this umbrella of God’s love? Because we deserve it, merit it, lead good lives and have good theology? No, because God loves because he loves because he loves….

And so together as one body within God’s enveloping, connected with the worldwide family, we eat bread.

And so together as one body within God’s enveloping, connected with the worldwide family, we drink wine.

And so we have communed with God in this banquet but we do not now take our leave of Him. These roots and branches encircle and will not let us go even though we depart from this holy ground. He goes before us, marks our steps and our way.

And so we pray for all:

May the Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the Love of God and the Fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us all evermore.

AMEN!

Empty?

What a change a mild morning at the bandstand, bulbs peeking out through the soil and a glimpse of the sun.

We said together the following prayer of praise:

O Divine Voice,

You sing and the universe comes into being;

O Divine Breath,

You breathe and all things spring to life;

O Divine Word,

You call and creation is sustained;

O Divine Flesh,

You are born among us, and the Creator is clothed in creation;

O Divine Spirit,

You fill all that has been formed;

O Divine Life,

You are the pulse of all that is.

And so, in amazement and awe, in wonder and celebration

we marvel at this mystery:

In you all things live and move and have being,

In all things, you live and move and express your Divine artistry;

And so we join with creation in the eternal song of worship and wonder………………….

One of the brilliant things about Third Space is the thoughts it provokes, weeks and days after the subject has been raised.

Wendy introduced us to some of the sayings of Jesus from the Gospel of Thomas a couple of weeks ago   http://third-space.org.uk/finding-the-kingdom-of-god/ 

One of which says:

97 Jesus said, The [Father’s] imperial rule is like a woman who was carrying a [jar] full of meal. While she was walking along [a] distant road, the handle of the jar broke and the meal spilled behind her [along] the road. She didn’t know it; she hadn’t noticed a problem. When she reached her house, she put the jar down and discovered that it was empty.

What Barbara shared this morning was how the last two Sunday mornings had made her realise that she was not running on empty, and suffering from “activists burnout”, but that over the last thirty eight years the work of the Kingdom of God had been following her (spilling behind) in what she did. Thus enabling others to come and take on what she had been doing in the community and how that had enthused her to continue to be involved.

Slow walking in the Park

Walk slowly across a grassy area to the place where the grass ends. While you walk pray:

  • For the areas in your life where you want to see evidence of the Kingdom of God.
  • For things that are important to you that you have tried or been trying to achieve.
  • For the people you know who need to be touched by God.
  • At the end of your walk open your bag and read what to do next.

Instructions

  1. Rip a hole in one corner of your bag (it contains bird seed) Leave a trail of the seed behind you on the grass as you walk back to the bandstand.
  2. As you walk remember the story of the woman with the broken jar who left a trail behind her and give thanks that you can leave a trail of the Kingdom of God behind you too.

We went on to share Bread and Wine together.

 

Finding the kingdom of God

We started in the cold at the bandstand listening nonetheless to birdsong in the trees, reading the following:

Psalm 19: 1-4

The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they reveal knowledge.

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.

Psalm 95:1-7

Come, let us sing for joy to the LORD;
let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation.
Let us come before him with thanksgiving
and extol him with music and song.

For the LORD is the great God,
the great King above all gods.
In his hand are the depths of the earth,
and the mountain peaks belong to him.
The sea is his, for he made it,
and his hands formed the dry land.

Come, let us bow down in worship,
let us kneel before the LORD our Maker;
for he is our God
and we are the people of his pasture,
the flock under his care.

Psalm 104 Selected verses

He makes springs pour water into the ravines;
it flows between the mountains.
They give water to all the beasts of the field;
the wild donkeys quench their thirst.

The birds of the sky nest by the waters;
they sing among the branches.
He waters the mountains from his upper chambers;
the land is satisfied by the fruit of his work.

He makes grass grow for the cattle,
and plants for people to cultivate—
bringing forth food from the earth:
wine that gladdens human hearts,
oil to make their faces shine,
and bread that sustains their hearts.

The trees of the LORD are well watered…
There the birds make their nests…
He made the moon to mark the seasons,
and the sun knows when to go down.
How many are your works, LORD!
In wisdom you made them all.

ThirdSpace

The kingdom of God is near!
It is all around us,
springing up in the park,
sparking light in Matlock,
pushing into darkness across the nation,
conquering evil throughout the earth;
An unstoppable force
out there and within us.
The kingdom is near, is here, is coming!
Repent…
Turn. Turn. DANCE…
And believe the good news!

Wendy led the session, sharing new insights for her into the kingdom of God, with input from The Gospel of Thomas – Read on! This is what everyone got to read and do:

The Gospel of Thomas
These are 114 sayings of Jesus, found on parchment in Egypt in 1945. Although it is difficult to be sure of a date of origin, most scholars now believe that it is a very early collections of Jesus’s sayings which had circulated at the time of the oral tradition. Some dismiss it as Gnostic – and therefore a heretical twisting or invention of ‘Christian’ teachings, but little in it is a clear fit with this claim. Indeed, 50% of this ‘lost’ Gospel is identical to or very close to words of Jesus found in the canonical Gospels. Included are the following teachings known to us on the kingdom of God: The parable of the sower; the mustard seed; the wheat and the tares; the rich fool; the banquet; the tenants in the vineyard; the pearl; the yeast; the treasure and the lost sheep.

The following are not in our Gospels. What, if anything might they have to offer to us?
In this translation the kingdom of God is translated as ‘The Father’s [or Heaven’s} imperial rule’ – or ‘the Father’s domain’’

3 Jesus said, “If your leaders say to you, ‘Look, the (Father’s) imperial rule is in the sky,’ then the birds of the sky will precede you. If they say to you, ‘It is in the sea,’ then the fish will precede you. Rather, the (Father’s) imperial rule is inside you and outside you. When you know yourselves, then you will be known, and you will understand that you are children of the living Father. But if you do not know yourselves, then you live in poverty, and you are the poverty.”

97 Jesus said, The [Father’s] imperial rule is like a woman who was carrying a [jar] full of meal. While she was walking along [a] distant road, the handle of the jar broke and the meal spilled behind her [along] the road. She didn’t know it; she hadn’t noticed a problem. When she reached her house, she put the jar down and discovered that it was empty.

1, What is your interpretation of these sayings?
2. What would you say the kingdom of God is like, in today’s terms? Create a ‘The kingdom of God is… / The kingdom of God is like…’ saying.

3. Write a line or two for a creed ‘We believe that the kingdom of God….’

Just for fun – what do you think of the following?
77 Jesus said, “I am the light that is over all things. I am all: from me all came forth, and to me all attained. Split a piece of wood; I am there. Lift up the stone, and you will find me there.”

4. Where do you find God? Jot down some examples.

 

We shared answers to all of these, created our creed and shared stories of finding the kingdom in Cool River café over a much needed hot drink, after praying for God’s kingdom to come in us and without in our world, using feathers blown into the park and sharing bread and wine.

We finished in the café with a blessing:

And so may we be inspired in this coming week

to be conduits of light and love and faith and forgiveness

to become thin places

to proclaim that the kingdom of God is near.

May we have the renewed passion to join Christ’s mission

to be part of what he is doing

in the inexorable coming of his kingdom!

 

I hope this inspires anyone reading this to see the kingdom in the coming week and to be part of it!

 

Christmas Eve at the bandstand

So, it was relatively mild this morning – although Paul would hotly (?) dispute that! It was good to have Kitty and Harry back with us and we had a very festive bring and share time of worship together.

Paul began with a favourite and heartfelt Psalm of thanksgiving, then Grayden shared two articles from the Guardian on the disparity of wealth in the UK this Christmas time.

We sang ‘O Little Town of Bethlehem’ – rather well I might say – for our one time of year that we sing!

Wendy shared thoughts on angels: Are we too sophisticated to believe in such beings now? What of the 1 in 4 people in Britain who believe in them? What are we to make of tales of tall, radiant beings in all religions and cultures and of stories of ordinary looking people who show up to save and then vanish? The message of the angels was the announcement of the arrival of love itself – there could be no better symbol for that than a new-born baby. Our mission is to join with those angels to be messengers of hope and love and good news to a world in need – to be messengers from God – angels – in our own way.

She shared the story of a hugely generous act of kindness by a stranger to Kitty and another student in Salisbury – a woman whose hospitality went beyond that expected. An angel of sorts…

And we saw photos from Ashbourne Methodist Church of their 803 knitted angels that were placed around the town bearing messages of love and hope and taken by passers by who sent in their thanks and photos.

It would seem that people connect with Angels  – and their part in the Christmas story still has resonance today for us all.

Grayden shared a story then of another act of amazing generosity by someone they know who sold his house in Derby and bought a new one in Hull in order to house refugees and asylum seekers – another challenge to us to be looking for how we can be God’s bringers of good news.

Then we had our annual prayer event: We have a shepherds crook and write prayers on labels which are then hung on to it for a year. Our prayers are for all those who need the closeness of Jesus, the Good Shepherd in the coming year.  We took off our prayers from last year and mused on them and burned them as a final offering.

 

The new ones are on the crook along with the names of the ten worst countries for Christian persecution, which Fiona had brought. She then led us in an encircling prayer for all those named:

Circle them Lord

Keep protection near

And danger far

Circle them Lord

Keep Light near

And darkness afar

Circle them Lord

Keep Hope within

Keep doubt without

Circle them Lord

Keep Peace within

Keep evil out.

 

We shared bread and wine together and Barbara rounded things off with some fun and a blessing…

We had all the serious stuff and some very thought provoking and challenging input but we had to end with some festive fun:

Apologies for what follows!

“It was Christmas Eve at the bandstand

when all through the park

The birds they were singing (not including the lark)

Friends were shivering together, just out of their beds

While visions of dog friends danced round Ribble’s head.

But what to our wondering eyes did appear,

But a sack full of crackers behind Barbara’s rear.

She’ll give one to all like a jolly old elf

And when you all get one your laugh to yourself. 

But I hear you exclaim as they’re pulled out the bag

Happy Christmas to all!  … Let me read out my gag!”

Why Crackers?

Image result for christmas cracker
  • A snap to wake us up to the true meaning of Christmas
  • A joke to give us joy
  • A gift to remind us of the gifts of the Magi
  • A crown to remember God’s gift of Jesus

HAPPY CHRISTMAS!