At the turn of the decades at the bandstand

We began with these words after a moment of listening to birdsong and taking time to appreciate the stillness of the morning:

We are here at the invitation of God
The God who lured us into his kingdom
Speaking forgiveness and acceptance and love
And brought us here together to be welcomed at this place.

Whatever our day, our week ahead,
Whatever our state of mind or heart…

Today

With one another,
With all the saints around the globe,
With the saints of old
And with the saints resurrected,
We come with gratitude and praise.

Therefore… let us be at peace.
May we know the love of Christ that surrounds us.

Breathe it in and let it wash over you
God is here, we are here
God is love, we are loved.

Welcome to the bandstand.

 

Everyone then got an envelope and piece of paper and had time to write on one side of the sheet a list of things we wanted to give thanks for from 2019, before coming together for our Litany of Thanksgiving.

I shared quotes from Adrian Plass’s excellent book I’d just read ‘Jesus, safe, tender, extreme and spoke a little about each. Here they are:

(p114) Here he speaks of ‘the need to set one’s mind to the place where there is always an expectation that God will be involved and creative and active… Take the experience of being stranded in a railway station, for instance. Instead of finding it annoying and boring, I might become intensely curious about what God will do with this unexpected and, in human terms, unwelcome extra half hour, or however long it is… The problem with this, and it is a perennial one for me, is that I slip out of the habit of making the right mental adjustment and forget that God is not just in the picture but in charge of the picture. It is worth working on, though, because daily life in the context of an omnipotent God with really good ideas can be quite exciting.’

Help me to practise the expectation that God will be involved and creative and active in every event of my life…

(p184) ‘Unless and until we begin to genuinely seek out the centrality of Jesus in our lives and pray for the courage to set aside personal agendas that never were initiated by the Holy Spirit, we cannot step out and perform the big and little and mild and dramatic and banal and bizarre acts of service that will be required of us. I pray that as you join me on my journey, you will feel personally inspired to reach the place from which all things are possible and to feel affirmed in your own attempts to be ‘extreme’ for Jesus.’

Help me to find what it means for Jesus to be in the centre of everything so that my life takes on new meaning…

(p189) In his 30s, Adrian Plass had a mental breakdown and in a moment of anguish hit his hand against a telephone kiosk pane of glass, smashed it and cut his wrist badly. He suffered the humiliation of being arrested. For a long time afterwards he looked at the wound on his hand and thought about the wounds on Jesus’ hands, thinking about the love and heroic obedience of Jesus.
“Much more than this” the voice of imagination, or delusion, or Jesus, would whisper in my ear at these times, “I would do and have done much more than this for you and for the rest of the sheep who have no shepherd. I am still bleeding for you – for the world. They will not let the bleeding stop. Will you make the shedding of my blood worthwhile? Will you make the shedding of your own blood worthwhile? Give me your wound. Give me all your wounds. Do you dare to do that and let me transfigure them and use them as currency in any way I choose?”’

Take my wounds and transfigure them so that they can be used for good…

Following this everyone was invited to write a prayer on the other side of their paper detailing hopes and fears for 2020 and incorporating anything from the Adrian Plass extracts that resonated. I suggested that then – or later in the day we might each say that prayer and listen for a response – whether of our imagination, delusion or maybe just Jesus.

We performed our annual burning of prayers atttached to the shepherd’s crook last year and attached new ones for the year ahead.

We finished with the sharing of bread and wine using the simple words

Jesus for me, with me, in me

 

Christmas at the bandstand

So in the lead up to Christmas we made some angel decorations to place around the park for people to take away with them. Fiona had found instructions on

DIY Christmas Ornaments: Twine Angels

and we spent a hilarious evening making the angels – some finding the creative task more challenging than others! We attached labels wishing the recipient joy or peace or love over Christmas and inviting them to take the angel home. We distributed around 40 or so and even before we left the park, some had been taken. The next day only two were left. We hope that everyone enjoyed that unexpected small gift.

Christmas day was simple and lovely. I shared something of my recent discovery of the amazing Jonathan Bryan, featured on Songs of Praise 8 / 12 / 19 and CBBC’s My Life documentary:

Jonathan Bryan has severe Cerebral Palsy and  is ‘locked in’ – he has no voice, cannot eat, has no voluntary movement of his limbs but after being taught to read by his mother, through looking at a letter board, he can now communicate his thoughts and his faith. He has written poetry, short stories and a book ‘Eye can write’ and has been an advocate for severely disabled children, particularly for those who have no voice, meeting with the minister for education of the disabled to promote their chances of receiving an education and learning to read.

On Christmas he says: ‘Sometimes heaven and earth come so close that they almost touch each other and I believe that in the baby that was born that first Christmas they became one. To me this is the magic of Christmas.’
Jonathan describes himself as a voice for the voiceless and of being locked in a life behind a curtain but also speaks of beyond the curtain. His mission is to break others out…
When he met Michael Morpurgo, the latter wrote in his preface to Jonathan’s book: ‘Jonathan has opened a door for us into his world. He is not locked in any more, and neither are we – we join him.’

The parallels with Jesus are numerous – and for another day, but, briefly, watching these documentaries has given me fresh insights into the significance of the Creator reducing Godhood to the locked in disability of being human – open to being labelled and rejected and seen as nothing – in order to tear down the curtain that we might enter that other world of total liberation…

For some time I wanted for myself to rewrite Mary’s song – the Magnificat in my own words to make it more accessible to me. This is it:

Mary’s song
I can’t tell you how I am bursting with awe and wonder! I want to sing at the top of my voice! I can barely believe it! Me! Can YOU believe it? I’m just an ordinary girl and he picked me! Picked me for something that will mean that this simple, poor, unexceptional girl will be spoken of forever – for centuries – in lands I have never heard of and times I will never be able to imagine.
GOD has come – the Creator of all that is – the one whose very name is holy…GOD – with me, in me. This is a God whose forgiveness knows no end, who keeps on working in our world, for our world, challenging oppression and oppressors, championing the powerless, the voiceless, the hungry, those who know they need MORE. The ones who think they have it all miss the God who’s there for us. You need to know: God is faithful. This God who worked for our ancestors in the past is at work for all of us now, working to bring all things to fulfilment. And somehow, in some way I know it all begins here – with me.

A prayer:
For Jesus – limited to a frail body – who had to learn to speak and in that limited form break open the way for us to enter a new reality and for Jonathan who reminds us of God’s values of the weakest being the strongest, of hope and of joy and of there being MORE Thank you!

We finished with bread and wine as always – lovely to see everyone – not least our new doggie visitor held by Paul (of al people!) – the image of him running with dog clutched close will stay with some of us for a very long time!!!!

3 stones at the bandstand

This morning we met in a very wet bandstand, back for the first time since the floods. We had a stone of choice to hold throughout our time together and used the words of John Bell’s ‘Three Stone Meditations’ from his book ‘He was in the world’ (Wildgoose publications).
For copyright reasons I won’t reproduce it but the first meditation began our worship focussing upon God’s creation of the stone we held.
After that I shared a reading from the brilliant Bryan Stevenson’s ‘Just Mercy’ where he speaks of stone-catching rather than stone-throwing (a notion arising from the story of Jesus and the woman caught in adultery). Rather than joining in with throwing stones, we are called to catch them – defending the attacked and letting them find a place to lean – to find solace and comfort and acceptance…
This was followed by a confession I had written for last week (Remembrance Sunday):

As we remember the horror of war and capacity of humanity to hate and to kill, we turn to our Creator to acknowledge our own failings…

God our Creator,
We confess how far we have fallen from your call to be characterised by love.
Forgive us for the times when we have participated in that which fuels factionalism;
When we have labelled and dismissed others as if they were less than us;
When we have leapt to conclusions about others and been too quick to judge.
Forgive us for when we have intentionally and unintentionally used words as weapons
And when we have harboured unforgiveness for wounds inflicted on us.
We have failed to see others as more than the things we dislike about them
We have been blind to seeing everyone as bearing your image and loved by you.
We see the seeds of violence and war in ourselves
Lord have mercy.
Raise us up to be more self-aware,
To be peacemakers and peace-brokers
To learn generosity of heart and to follow the example of Jesus
And this we ask that your kingdom might come – in us and through us
Amen. Amen.

The second part of John Bell’s meditation focuses on the stone the builders rejected and rather than intersperse sections with sung responses we had silent prayer for related issues suggested by each. The final meditation focuses on us receiving the invitation by God to come as living stones. This fitted easily with the sharing of bread and wine.
We finished by laying down our stones at the foot of the cross and perhaps laying down stones we might otherwise have thrown in the coming week, allowing our empty hands to be open to catch a few instead! Two books used to day that I cannot recommend more highly – do read them!

Francis and the Wolf

Inspired by last weeks Franciscan Benediction that Paul shared with us from Work of the People * and Richard Rohr Centre for Action and Contemplation* talking about St Francis of Assisi in the context of non violence and peacemaking, I was inspired to be a bit Franciscan this morning.

We read the words from our liturgy

Rooted and Grounded

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

Firm under our feet

Here we are rooted and grounded

In this Thin Space/Third Space

To stand on …

God made Holy Ground,

This is holy ground …

Giving us roots and wings,

Here in this place teeming with creatures

like the first creation, 

Seeing the magnificence  

elemental, historical, futuristic

Where the grass sings and the earth hums

Roots and wings

Rooting us, upholding us                                                                                                                                           

Help us to see God in this place   

All connecting, my life, our lives, all life                                                     

to share our own joys, sorrows and laughter

and intercede for all in God’s earth.

 

Followed by the Franciscan Canticle of the Creatures 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sharing the story in which Francis meets with the wolf that has been terrorising the villagers of Gubbio and eating their livestock. The villagers were convinced that the wolf would attack Francis, but on meeting the wolf Francis discovers the wolf is too old to hunt wild animals and was finding the villager’s animals easy prey. He persuades the villagers to feed the wolf and in turn the wolf leaves the livestock alone. The bravery of Francis lead to peace between the villagers and the wolf.

We were challenged about how we can be courageous in bringing peace in the situations and the world in which we live.

Prayer

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Like that of Christ, our mission on earth is to bring to others God’s peace.

God’s state of “perfect well-being” and completeness. Shalom is the Hebrew word for this rich concept of “peace.” Often used as a greeting of peace, Shalom is a wish that those so greeted will find healing and fullness of life.

Pray that you can bring Shalom to those you meet this coming week.

Where there is hatred, let me sow love,
Saint Francis tells his followers, “Our Lord says in the Gospel, Love your enemies (Matthew 5: 44). If we feel offence, injury, anger, hurt or rejection how do we handle that is the light of loving our enemies.

Pray for those we know who need to know love.

Where there is injury, pardon,
During the violence-ridden Crusades, Francis discovered a path of peace, pardon and non-violence. The “little poor man” went to Egypt to engage in a peaceful dialogue with the sultan, a meeting in which a spirit of forgiveness, respect and understanding prevailed. Francis would have the same message for those in our times who are so quick to see violence as the only cure for terrorism.

Pray for the miracle of God’s peace to be in the hearts of those who lead in our world.

Where there is doubt, faith,

Pray for those who have lost faith or who have their faith sorely challenged ask God to show you ways that can restore faith to those people.

Where there is despair, hope/Where there is darkness, light,
Think of Saint Francis following Jesus example and embracing lepers and lovingly washing their sores. Surely, many of those suffering souls felt an inner surge of hope and human dignity when they experienced care.

Pray for the strength to show care and love in difficult situations

And where there is sadness, joy.
Francis used to say that he wanted his followers to go about the world like strolling minstrels, “to inspire the hearts of people and stir them to spiritual joy.” They give us an example to follow in our own day!

Pray that we will be like those strolling minstrels and inspire the hearts of people we meet who feel sadness

For ourselves we pray

Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand and to be loved as to love

Pray for awareness that

It is in giving that we receive, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned ,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

 

The Peace

May deep peace be in our thinking

May deep peace be in our hearts

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

And may the deep peace of Jesus be with us.

 

We broke bread and poured out wine to the words 

The bread                                                                                                                       

It represents

The provision of God

The bountiful harvest

The work of the labourer

The hands of the baker

In remembrance

Of bread broken

And shared

Of a body broken

Of a people blessed

And a forgiveness shared

 

The wine

It represents

The provision of God

The bountiful harvest

The work of the labourer

The skill of the vintner

In remembrance

The ransom paid

The hands pierced

The blood shed

The redemption

The celebration of the resurrection

 

Paul read the Franciscan Benediction

May God bless you with discomfort at easy answers

Half-truths and superficial relationships

So that you may live deep within your heart

May God bless you with anger at injustice,

Oppression and exploitation of people

So that you may work for justice, freedom and peace

May God bless you with tears to shed

For those who suffer pain, rejection, hunger and war

So that you may reach out your hand

To comfort them and turn their pain to joy

So that you can do

What others claim cannot be done

To bring justice and kindness to all our children

And the poor

AMEN

https://www.theworkofthepeople.com

10th Anniversary and God comes to the Bandstand!

So… We had the most marvellous time this Sunday celebrating ten years of meeting at the bandstand. We could hardly believe it but the evidence is there on the website! Words created over the years were used again – the Litany of Thanksgiving, Paul’s words about the changing meaning of bread and wine, new words written by Steve affirming God’s love that does not have to be worked for but is FIXED and words from a 16th century hymn personifying the cross, whose arms sheltered the world which informed our prayers and anointed blessings…

The central part of time together was recalling important and lasting lessons and experiences and much loved companions. Barbara shared in particular how helpful and poignant something had been for them in their last difficult year.

A handful of years ago, Fiona had spoken of the baptism of Jesus and the Spirit as a dove. We imagine a white dove, but apparently, in that region the word dove was given to the ubiquitous rock pigeon. The point was made that we tend not to notice pigeons – they are everywhere – and perhaps there is something of the Holy Spirit reflected in that. We need to open our eyes to see Him everywhere!

Well, over the last year or so, as Barbara and Grayden have had to deal with so many health problems and scares, wherever they have been they have seen pigeons! Each time Barbara has said ‘Look. God is with us!’
As she shared that, something remarkable and unique happened. A pigeon flew through the entrance to the bandstand and landed! It proceeded to walk steadily around the circle of us – all the way round and then back again before flying off! It was extraordinary!

There was nothing overtly supernatural – was it a fluke or was it God telling us just how much she loves ThirdSpace? I know which I choose to believe! It was special and I don’t think I will be the only one on Wednesday reading Mark 1 and seeing the baptism of Jesus in a new light!

For ThirdSpace’s ten years we are supremely thankful. We send our love to all who have been part of us, inspired and encouraged us. Amen for ten!

A time to…..

Last Sunday Fiona led us at the bandstand and there was SO much food for thought. We walked with the following words and reconvened to share our responses, pray and share bread and wine. Do enjoy a read!

I love the changing seasons but I am not a fan of the seasons changing. The creeping, lengthening darkness and shortened days are not things I look relish. Recently, we’ve had some sparkling summer-end days but they have been quickly followed by damp, dull, greyness and in the air there is a sense of nature beginning to hunker down. But. Without this, what opportunity is there to renew, to re-energise, to grow. This word renewal isn’t one I naturally summon up at this time of year..so these words we used in Third Space last week caught my eye. (apologies to whoever wrote these –take the credit if they’re yours!) Following on, you’ll see some words from commentators, theologians and the Bible based on the themes woven through these words. Happy Autumn. Happy Renewal.

Here today, through bread and wine,
we renew our journey with Jesus
Here today, through bread and wine,
we renew our unity with one another,
and with all those who have gone before us
Here today, through bread and wine,
we renew our communion with the earth
and our interwovenness with the broken ones of the world.

We renew our journey with Jesus

“Just read the gospels more. Many Christians treat the gospels as the optional ‘chips and dips’ at the beginning of the meal – take it or leave it. The dynamism of the gospels and the person who walks out of the pages to meet us central and irreplaceable and he’s always a surprise. If you want to know who God is ; look at Jesus, if you want to know what love is ; look at Jesus, if you want to know what being human is; look at Jesus, if you want to know what grief is ; look at Jesus and go on looking at Jesus until you are not just a spectator but part of the drama, which has him as the central character.” NT Wright.

That same day two of them were walking to the village Emmaus, about seven miles out of Jerusalem. They were deep in conversation, going over all these things that had happened. In the middle of their talk and questions, Jesus came up and walked along with them. But they were not able to recognize who he was.
He sat down at the table with them. Taking the bread, he blessed and broke and gave it to them. At that moment, open-eyed, wide-eyed, they recognized him. And then he disappeared. (Luke 24)

 

We renew our communion with the earth and our interwovenness with the broken ones of this world.

“Imagine a moment before the Big Bang banged. Imagine a creativity, brilliance, fertility, delight, energy, power, wonder and goodness that was sufficient to express itself in what we call the universe. …and then dare to imagine that this great big beautiful, mysterious goodness wholeness and aliveness surrounds and upholds us even now. Finally try to imagine that this is also the great big beautiful, mysterious, goodness, wholeness and aliveness into which all of us and all creation will be taken up – in a marriage, in a homecoming, in a reunion, a celebration.” (Brian Mclaren)

I saw Holy Jerusalem, new-created, descending resplendent out of Heaven, as ready for God as a bride for her husband. I heard a voice thunder from the Throne: “Look! Look! God has moved into the neighbourhood, making his home with men and women! They’re his people, he’s their God. He’ll wipe every tear from their eyes. Death is gone for good—tears gone, crying gone, pain gone—all the first order of things gone.” The Enthroned continued, “Look! I’m making everything new. Write it all down—each word dependable and accurate. ”Then he said, “It’s happened. I’m A to Z. I’m the Beginning, I’m the Conclusion. (Revelation 20: The Message )

 

We renew our unity with one another and with all who have gone before us.

“The eucharist – I’m a big fan. Having an open table is not about radical hospitality, a virtue we have of including everyone. It has to do with this God we have, who includes everyone. And I don’t like it! I wish I could make the guest list! I don’t enjoy the fact that all the people are welcome at this table because it means its people I don’t like or they don’t like me or they piss me off or who I’m just uncomfortable with. It’s not that we’re trying to be open and virtuous – this is about God. It is this foretaste of the feast to come. Church isn’t perfect, it’s practice. We’re practising this Kingdom thing.’ Nadia Bolz Weber.

If you’ve got anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care— then do me a favour: Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends. Don’t push your way to the front; don’t sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand. Philippians 2.

Hymns, Psalms and Poetry

I was at a friends funeral recently and we sang the song “How Great Thou Art”. Whilst singing the second verse I was reminded of how brilliant it is to worship out of doors.

“When through the woods, and forest glades I wander,

And hear the birds sing sweetly in the trees.

When I look down, from lofty mountain grandeur

And see the brook, and feel the gentle breeze.”

 

The story of the song from it’s first appearance as a poem written in Swedish by Carl Boberg, tells how it was inspired by Psalm 8 alongside a walk home through a thunderstorm and the following calm.

Psalm 8

1 Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory in the heavens.

2 Through the praise of children and infants you have established a stronghold against your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger.

3 When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, 4 what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?

5 You have made them[d] a little lower than the angels and crowned them[f] with glory and honour. 6 You made them rulers over the works of your hands;  you put everything under their[g] feet: 7 all flocks and herds, and the animals of the wild, 8 the birds in the sky, and the fish in the sea, all that swim the paths of the seas.

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

The author, Carl Boberg himself gave the following information about the inspiration behind his poem which he wrote in 1885:

“It was that time of year when everything seemed to be in its richest colouring; the birds were singing in trees and everywhere. It was very warm; a thunderstorm appeared on the horizon and soon there was thunder and lightning. We had to hurry to shelter. But the storm was soon over and the clear sky appeared.

When I came home I opened my window toward the sea. There evidently had been a funeral and the bells were playing the tune of “When eternity’s clock calls my saved soul to its Sabbath rest”. That evening, I wrote the song, “O Store Gud”. (O Great God) 

The poem was translated into German, then Russian and from the Russian into English by a Methodist Missionary called Stuart K. Hine

He wrote, adapted and paraphrased, adding to the original poem to produce the hymn which is such a big favourite today.

In true Hine tradition we were tasked in:

  • Writing a poem about how great God is
  • Adapting a verse to make it fit with our experience of worship out of doors
  • Writing a new psalm

I was amazed at what people could write given no notice in the short time of the ten minutes allowed.

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A little Wordsworthian rendering 

“Thoughts composed in Hall Leys Park on 21st July 2019 on the first anniversary of being diagnosed with a high grade prostate cancer. 

Here. Now. In this moment

Bird song blesses and delights my heart. 

The silent river weaves it’s endless journey to the sea

And I am canopied neath ancient trees,

life’s form is echoed in each branch and leaf and hyphae hid. 

Then I who know life’s precious gift 

With joy and gratitude am filled. 

Then only silence fills the void 

As I contemplate the One, whom time and space cannot contain.”

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

A new verse                                                                                 

O Lord my God, when I in awesome wonder,

consider all the works your hand has made.

Eyes raised to the hills, trees that proclaim their maker,

Your love throughout this space, this time displayed

 

/////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////

A little plagiarism noted in this one 

                  O Lord my God                  

I give you all my thanks and praise

for moments of blessing I recall

The autumn leaves falling on us as if they were raindrops

                               The singing sun rising above Riber

For the life that encompasses us in the park, above, below, behind, in front on our left and on our right. 

For the birds that sing and the trees that speak. 

Their tangled branches over our heads and their roots spreading beneath us, hugged by fungus. 

O Lord, Our Lord how majestic is your name.

When I look at my friends, how blessed can I be. 

Sharing the love of Jesus, receiving the love of Jesus and having companions to walk the way of Jesus. 

How Great Thou Art, How Great Thou Art. 

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Enigma

 

 

 

 

 

 

For the wordsmiths among us 

“Oh Splendofigorously emineatiae 

Our words are not enough 

Oh our rootengroundedness imminence 

Our wonder, full 

To say nothing is to say something

To say something is to pretend we know 

And yet we yearn and that

Yearning is your child-like gift 

Take delight in our nonsense 

You are our end and our beginning 

Our breath in and our breath out 

Yahweh!”

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Hine had to leave the Ukraine after the genocides of Stalin and then return to the UK from Eastern Europe due to the outbreak of the Second World War.

One man told Hine this story: he had been separated from his wife at the very end of the war, and had not seen her since. At the time they were separated, his wife was a Christian, but he was not, but he had since been converted. His deep desire was to find his wife so they could at last share their faith together. But he told the Hines that he did not think he would ever see his wife on earth again. Instead he was longing for the day when they would meet in heaven, and could share in the Life Eternal there. These words again inspired Hine, and they became the basis for his fourth and final verse to ‘How Great Thou Art’: “When Christ shall come with shout of acclamation to take me home, what joy shall fill my heart. Then we shall bow in humble adoration and there proclaim, My God How Great Thou Art!”

We prayed for all those who were separated by death, war, illness, accident, relationship breakdown and disaster.

Again in Hine tradition we used words adapted from the hymn for sharing bread and wine

And when I think, that God, His Son not sparing;

Allowed  Him to die, I scarce can take it in;

That on a Cross, my burdens gladly bearing,

He bled and died so that love would win.

Thanks offerings at the bandstand

This morning in glorious sunshine we began our worship with St Francis’ words in the Canticle of the Creatures (or Sun) as we included brother sun, the clouds and wind, all were magnificently present in praising God!!

We next took away to benches or wanderings around the park Romans 12 in the Message version. I won’t write it out here – but do look it up – we were all impressed at the slant we got on those old familiar words and I for one will be re-reading it many a time over the next few weeks as it has so much to remind me of.

Last Wednesday night, Pete had shown us the Rob Bell Nooma DVD ‘Dust’ and we had had a long and very interesting discussion as to what it really meant to follow Jesus, our Rabbi, so closely that we were covered in his dust… Debate ranged from old traditions which had made us feel we weren’t trying hard enough or being good enough Christians, to Richard Rohr-type spirituality and what then of activism… Perhaps Romans 12 gives us some of the answers, reminding us not to over-complicate things as we all tend to do.

This week was an especially good week for us in ThirdSpace. Barbara got good news from a biopsy, Pete got a job, his daughter Jo got the all clear for a full term pregnancy after months of uncertainty and panics… Grayden’s recovery from cancer has been wonderful and we all have so much to celebrate. With that in mind we had a thanksgiving offering as part of our Eucharist. Here’s what was said and done:

 

Zevach Sh’lamim: Peace Offering / Thanksgiving offering
Leviticus 17
11-15 “These are the instructions for the Peace-Offering which is presented to GOD. If you bring it to offer thanksgiving, then along with the Thanksgiving-Offering present unraised loaves of bread mixed with oil, unraised wafers spread with oil, and cakes of fine flour, well-kneaded and mixed with oil. Along with the Peace-Offering of thanksgiving, present loaves of yeast bread as an offering. Bring one of each kind as an offering, a Contribution-Offering to GOD…

The Hebrew term for this type of offering is zebach sh’lamim (or just sh’lamim), which is related to the word shalom, meaning “peace” or “whole.” A peace offering was a voluntary sacrifice given to God in three specific instances. First, a peace offering could be given as a freewill offering, meaning that the worshiper was giving the peace offering as a way to say thank you for God’s unsought generosity. This category of offerings includes thanksgiving-offerings – in Hebrew, Todah, which was obligatory for survivors of life-threatening crises, free will-offerings, and offerings made after fulfillment of a vow.
The peace offering was seen as a meal that was shared with God, the priests, and the people bringing the offering. The fat and entrails of an animal were burned and the remainder was eaten by the priests, who got the choice parts of the meat and by the worshipper and his family who go the rest. The Peace offerings included unleavened cakes of bread which were also shared out after some was thrown onto the altar for God as an act of thanksgiving.

Today we will have our own Todah / sh’lamim, giving thanks  for…
We will remember Christ as our peace offering – as the one who leads us to God where we can be made whole – in whom we find shalom, sh’lamim.

I had baked flatbreads on a griddle beforehand and kept them warm. These were then handed out.

Throw a piece of your bread into the fire and eat the rest, giving thanks.

The Cup of thanksgiving
Jesus took the third cup of wine at the Passover meal, known as the cup of thanksgiving (from which we derive the term eucharist – from the Greek) and declared it to be his blood inaugurating a new covenant (referring back to Jeremiah 31 where God would write his Law not on tablets of stone but on our hearts)

33-34 “This is the brand-new covenant that I will make with Israel when the time comes. I will put my law within them—write it on their hearts!—and be their God. And they will be my people. They will no longer go around setting up schools to teach each other about GOD. They’ll know me first-hand, the dull and the bright, the smart and the slow. I’ll wipe the slate clean for each of them. I’ll forget they ever sinned!” GOD’s Decree.

We drink the wine of thanksgiving – giving thanks ourselves that through Jesus we can have a first-hand relationship with God.

We ended with words Steve had written for the occasion, picking up on some of our themes. He calls it the ‘Crackerjack’ Blessing because every time he said ‘Shalom’ we had to repeat it (That will be lost on the younger generation!!)

Crackerjack Blessing

In our everyday, ordinary life, we say Shalom – Shalom!

In our sleeping, eating, going to work and walking around life, we say Shalom – Shalom!

To our brothers and sisters in Creation and to the creatures, we say Shalom – Shalom!

To each other, companions on the journey, holding the hand of Christ, we say Shalom – Shalom!

To those who have gone before us, those who have pointed the way, interceded for us, we say Shalom – Shalom!

To our three-in-one God with whom we have communed, through whom we are blessed, we say Shalom – SHALOM!

God is not like that!

We met in the park on a dull but warm summer’s morning accompanied by beautiful bird song.

Our began worship with:

We gather this morning in the name of the Creator,

who creates time and space,

galaxies and stars and planets.

In the name of Jesus Christ, born on planet Earth,

and in the name of the Spirit who fills Earth with his presence.

Creator God,

in this time we call “now”

and in this space we call “here”

we worship you.

Make you presence felt among us.

We then read the following parables, which I renamed for a bit of fun!

Matthew 25: The Parable of the Bags of Gold.

14 “Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them. 15 To one he gave five bags of gold, to another two bags, and to another one bag, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. 16 The man who had received five bags of gold went at once and put his money to work and gained five bags more. 17 So also, the one with two bags of gold gained two more. 18 But the man who had received one bag went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.

19 “After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. 20 The man who had received five bags of gold brought the other five. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five bags of gold. See, I have gained five more.’

21 “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’

22 “The man with two bags of gold also came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with two bags of gold; see, I have gained two more.’

23 “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’

24 “Then the man who had received one bag of gold came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. 25 So I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground. Here take back what belongs to you.’

26 “His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? 27 Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.

28 “‘So take the bag of gold from him and give it to the one who has ten bags. 29 For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. 30 And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

 

Luke 19:  The Parable of the Ten Bags of Silver.

12 Jesus told them this story: “A man of noble birth went to a distant country to have himself appointed king and then to return. 13 So he called ten of his servants and gave them ten bags of silver. ‘Put this money to work,’ he said, ‘until I come back.’

14 “But his subjects hated him and sent a delegation after him to say, ‘We don’t want this man to be our king.’

15 “He was made king, however, and returned home. Then he sent for the servants to whom he had given the silver, in order to find out what they had gained with it.

16 “The first one came and said, ‘Sir, your silver has earned ten more.’

17 “‘Well done, my good servant!’ his master replied. ‘Because you have been trustworthy in a very small matter, take charge of ten cities.’

18 “The second came and said, ‘Sir, your silver has earned five more.’

19 “His master answered, ‘You take charge of five cities.’

20 “Then another servant came and said, ‘Sir, here is your bag of silver; I have kept it laid away in a piece of cloth. 21 I was afraid of you, because you are a hard man. You take out what you did not put in and reap what you did not sow.’

22 “His master replied, ‘I will judge you by your own words, you wicked servant! You knew, did you, that I am a hard man, taking out what I did not put in, and reaping what I did not sow? 23 Why then didn’t you put my money on deposit, so that when I came back, I could have collected it with interest?’

24 “Then he said to those standing by, ‘Take his bag of silver away from him and give it to the one who has ten bags.’

25 “‘Sir,’ they said, ‘he already has ten!’

26 “He replied, ‘I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but as for the one who has nothing, even what they have will be taken away. 27 But those enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them—bring them here and kill them in front of me.’”

 

The Parable of the Talents (or Bags of Gold) (Matthew 25:14-30) and

The Parable of the Ten Minas (or Ten Bags of Silver) (Luke 19:11-27).

I must have heard these passages preached on at least a dozen times and always from the traditional interpretation,  which appears to promote a master who is hardhearted, ruthless, greedy, avaricious and violent and who treats the third servant/slave very unjustly. It seems to me that the traditional interpretation is used to justify ideas that are contrary to Jesus’ teachings. I want to protest that God is not like that! I am convinced we have been reading the parable “upside down”, or the “round way round”.

Matthew 25:14 in the KJV reads:  “For the Kingdom of Heaven is as a man travelling into a far country……” The KJV translators added “For the Kingdom of Heaven is..”, they are not original, Jesus did not say these words. So these parables are not parables of the Kingdom, but parables about the state of the world.

“There is an old saying in Biblical studies that a text without a context is just a pretext for making it say anything one wants.” Amy-Jill Levine.

“If we get the context wrong, we’ll get Jesus wrong as well.” Amy-Jill Levine.

What would the crowd listening to Jesus have understood by the word Talent?

In a biblical context a “Talent” is coinage with one of the largest monetary values in the ancient world of the eastern Mediterranean and Middle East.  It is a colossal sum, equal to 6,000 denarii – a day labourer’s wages for about 20 years!  The lowest guesstimate for the current value of a Talent is about £500,000.   (A Minas has a current value of about £60,000).

Here Jesus is using hyperbole to make a point – the amounts are breathtaking and would probably have produced a reaction of utter astonishment from the crowds.

The returns on the investments are huge.  Could they have been achieved by just and legal means?  Or would they have required usury, fraud, exploitation and extortion?  (Exodus 22:25, Leviticus 25:35-37, Isaiah 5:8, Micah 2:1-2). What would have been the reaction of Jesus’ audience to these returns?

“For those listening to Jesus as he gave the parable(s), such returns on investment would have been deplored because it could only have occurred through the most predatory of means: extortion, fraud, tax-collecting, and lending money at illegal rates of interest”.  Chad Myers & Eric Debode.

“Large landowners often made loans to peasant farmers based on speculations of future crops. With high interest rates and vulnerability to poor crops and lean years, peasant farmers were unable to make their payments, and faced foreclosure. After gaining control of the land, the new owner could continue to make a killing by hiring the landless peasants as day labourers to farm his cash crops.” Chad Myers & Eric Debode.

“Whereas a modern, Western audience would applaud the first two slaves for trading and investing well, an ancient audience would have approved of the third slave’s behaviour and condemned that of the first two slaves because they profited at the expense of others.

In ancient Mediterranean cultures, seeking “more” was considered morally wrong. Because the pie was “limited” and already all distributed, anyone getting “more” meant someone else got less. Thus honourable people did not try to get more than was fair, and those who did were automatically considered thieves: To have gained, to have accumulated more than one started with, is to have taken the share of someone else. The scenario played out in the Talents’ parable of a master leaving his property in control of his slaves – was not uncommon. In the ancient world, greedy people who did not want to get accused of profiting at someone else’s expense, which was considered shameful, would delegate their business to slaves, who were held to a different standard. Shameful, even greedy, behaviour could be condoned in slaves because slaves had no honour nor any expectation of it.

Accordingly, in the Talents’ parable, the master leaves his money with his slaves in the hope that they will exploit the system and increase his riches. The first two slaves do just this, but the third honourably refrains from taking anything that belongs to the share of another.

This slave also does not invest his money at the bank, through which he would have earned interest. The master further reprimands the slave for not doing this, seeking interest from another Israelite was forbidden by the Torah (Deuteronomy 23:19–20), and, elsewhere in Luke, Jesus says that we should lend ‘expecting nothing in return’ (Luke 6:35).

Should then the actions of the third slave be condemned or lauded? Reading the Talents/Minas parables with ancient eyes suggests that the third slave is the only one who behaved honourably.”  Richard Rohrbaugh.

In the version presented in Luke we have a harsh and violent nobleman who travels to a distant land to be made king [presumably by the emperor], but whose citizens also send a delegation to ask that he not be made king because of his cruelty. Is this a reference to Herod Archelaus who was appointed king by Augustus, but was removed by Augustus in 6AD because of his cruelty and brutality.

What is the ruler like? How can he possibly represent Jesus or God?

“Why are we so keen to equate the rich man with God? What does it say about our theology if we assume that a rich, greedy, violent and tyrannical figure must represent God?”  Symon Hill.

At the “accounting” does the third slave “speak truth to power”? Is he a “whistle-blower” who exposes the fact that the master’s wealth is entirely derived from the exploitation of others? By burying the money could he have been taking it out of circulation so that it could not be used to dispossess more peasant families?  (see Isaiah 5:8).

I love the slave’s comment at the end of verse 25 in the Parable of the Talents. Some translations read: “Here, take back what is yours!”  It is interesting that the master does not refute the slave’s analysis of his world, nor does he refute the slave’s description of him as being hardhearted, greedy, and ruthless.

“The third slave names what he is asked to do as exploitation and will not participate in it. He is a whistle-blower on greed, corruption and exploitation against the abuse of power over the powerless – the poor. And like most, if not all whistle-blowers, having spoken the truth is totally vulnerable. Vilified. Shamed. Humiliated.”  Barbara Reid.

Verse 30 in the Talents’ parable is usually interpreted as the slave being banished to hell.  Is that the correct interpretation of the verse?  Or could it mean banished to hell on earth – dispossessed, and thrown out on the streets – homeless and destitute?

What is your reaction to the third slave? Could he be the hero of the parable by not taking part in the master’s world of usury and greed? Could it be that he doesn’t invest the money because that would involve him in usury?

“Interestingly enough, Jesus seems to be saying it is when we have the courage to name exploitation for what it is, rather than to seek the reward, we are re-imagining the world, as is the realm of God imagined.  Hearing the story this way can make the powerful angry and defensive, and the powerless empowered!” Barbara Reid.

How could verses 28 and 29 in the Talents’ parable possibly be anything to do with the Kingdom of God?  Aren’t they a description of the way the world works, both then and now?

Amy-Jill Levine says we have “domesticated” the parables of Jesus. Is that in order to make them palatable to the rich and powerful?

Do you think the master could represent a ruthless rich and powerful landowner, collaborating with the Roman occupation?

Isn’t it interesting that Matthew places the story of the Sheep & the Goats immediately after the “Talents”, and Luke places the meeting of Jesus with Zacchaeus immediately before the “Ten Minas”?

“Justice was at the centre of Jesus’ spirituality And he did this by inviting people to re-imagine the world to regain control over their lives and their livelihoods.  It is a conceit of conservative Western middle-class Christianity and politics “that Jesus… limited himself to spiritual matters”. Barbara Reid.

“So what if we are instead supposed to read this story as a negative contrast with the kingdom of God? What if the ruler is actually cast in opposition to the values of Christ’s kingdom? In this reading the “hero” is the “lazy” servant who refused to take part in an unjust system – who dared to defy the evil king by refusing to break God’s law. Perhaps this is why in Matthew’s gospel he follows up his version of the story with Christ’s parable of the sheep and the goats and his command to take care of the “least of these” (i.e. the hungry, the poor, the sick, and the oppressed). At any rate, it is a whole new way of looking at this passage and yet one that seems to deeply resonate with a gospel of love and justice.” Mike Clawson.

Isn’t this a cautionary tale about the world and not a parable of the Kingdom?

Do you think an alternative understanding of the parable makes more sense in the light of the whole message and life of Jesus?  Doesn’t it also fit in better with the “call for justice” found throughout the Old Testament and in the synoptic gospels?

“These parables are surely a warning to the rich to stop exploiting the poor and to encourage poor people to take measures that expose such greed for the sin that it is”.  Barbara Reid.

“Understanding Jesus as a person involved in conflict with other movements of his day leads to a picture of him as deeply concerned  to transform the historical existence of his people so that it embodied the compassion of God, a passionate concern grounded in his own experience of God as the embracing Compassionate One.”  Marcus Borg.

“Christians find a basis for justice-making in their understanding of God: To know God is to do justice.” (see Jeremiah 22:16) Dorothy Yoder Nyce.

After a time of prayer – remembering those in need before God, we shared bread and wine using the following liturgy:

It would not have been God’s table.

On their own the bread and wine are nothing.

To become a foretaste and a promise of love made real,

of the Kingdom in its fullness and the world made whole,

they need a story and a people who believe…..

It would not have been God’s table if they hadn’t all been gathered around it:

the traitor and the denier,

the betrayer and the friend,

the fickle and the faithful,

the power-hungry and the justice seeker.

When Jesus poured the wine and broke the bread:

when everyone could eat –

the outcast and the beloved,

the arrogant and the gracious,

the wrong doer and the wronged –

the table became a foretaste of love made real,

of the Kingdom in its fullness and the world made whole.

And the promise is that when we are together,

when we tell the story, when we break the bread and pour the wine,

we will discover a foretaste of love made real,

of the Kingdom in its fullness and the world made whole!

Cheryl Lawrie.

Learning to see at the bandstand

Apologies for the many words used here – sift your way through for any you find useful. Steve and I were just back from a week in the Southern Lakes and this morning was a series of snapshots from our visit to Cartmel Priory, prayers from a new David Adam book from there – ‘Fire from the north’ – The life of St Cuthbert’, and visits to Blackwell – and Arts and Crafts house and John Ruskin’s house Brantwood.

We began with a prayer from David Adam:

Lord, let not the clouds hide your Glory.
Glory at the heart of Creation
Glory at the centre of the Universe
Glory in the deepest depths of matter
Glory in each of the elements
Glory in each strand of the web of life
Glory in each connection, though it be
As thin as gossamer thread
Or thick as a rope of iron.
Glory in the very depth of our being.
Lord, let not the clouds hide your Glory.
You are there waiting to be revealed.
Glory in each object and each creature
Glory in each life and every encounter
Glory in our past and waiting in our future.
Make us sensitive to your presence and your call.
Lord, let not the clouds hide your Glory.

This was followed by reflection on our lack of seeing and words from Ruskin:

Sculptor of landscapes
Soft wind shapes the hardest stone.
What need of iron tools?
Quietness and time prevail
As cold hearts to gentleness.

Steve wrote about the huge window in Cartmel Priory and read to us:

Light flooding in a traditionally dark place, light often obscured by thickly, dustily stained glass – released, light without the accretion of ages, light without the mediating interpretation of tradition, light transforming, light allowing fractured images of the outside in, pure light without colour, glassy, translucent, semi-transparent, diaphanous, gossamer thin strands of light, opaquely revealing. Light.

We then walked with the following words and the task to gaze on beauty that is necessary and to find God in it:

The greatest thing a human soul ever does in this world is to see something and to tell what it saw in a plain way. Hundreds of people can talk for one who can think, but thousands can think for one who can see.
To see clearly is poetry, prophecy and religion – all In one.

Unto this last.
As the art of life is learned
It will be found at last
that all lovely things are also necessary
the wild flowers by the wayside
as well as the tended corn
and the wild birds and creatures of the forest
as well as the tended cattle;
because man doth not live by bread only
but also by the desert manna;
by every wondrous word and unknowable work of God.
Happy in that he knew them not
nor did his fathers know
and that round about him reaches yet into the infinite
the amazement of his existence.                                                          John Ruskin.

Jesus says:
“I am the light that is over all. I am the All. The All came forth out of me. And to me the All has come.”
“Split a piece of wood — I am there.
Lift the stone, and you will find me there. The Gospel of Thomas

Back to the bandstand to pray for the nation and for those we knew who need Jesus now using more words from David Adam:

Lighten our darkness
We beseech you O Lord.

Lord, open our eyes
That we may see your Glory.

Lord, open our ears
That we may hear your call.

Lord, open our minds
That we may know your mysteries.

Lord, open our hearts
That they may vibrate with your love.

Lord, make us alert to you
That we may discover your presence.

Lord, make us sensitive to you
That we may learn your purpose.

Lighten our darkness
We beseech you, O Lord.

Using an image exhibited at Blackwell (sadly copyright) we reflected on the art work ‘The initial And of Mark XV 42 by Eric Gill and the words it was based on:

42 And now when the even was come, because it was the preparation, that is, the day before the sabbath, 43 Joseph of Arimathaea, an honourable counsellor, which also waited for the kingdom of God, came, and went in boldly unto Pilate, and craved the body of Jesus.

Then recollecting Jesus’ words we read the following from Ruskin and shared bread and wine:

Drink from this cup, it is warm and worn
Listen to these words, they honour you
What use a shrine if we do not remember?

Finally we commissioned ourselves with more words from David Adam:

In you I live and move
And have my well-being:
God in my thinking
God in my working
God in my sharing
God in my caring
God in my deepmost soul.

In you I live and move
And have my well-being:
God in each meeting
God in each greeting
God in each turning
God in each learning
God in my deepmost soul.

In you I live and move
And have my well-being.