The Parable of the Rich Fool.

19102014667On a very autumnal Sunday morning we met at the bandstand in the park to look at the Jesus’ parable of the Rich Fool from Luke’s Gospel chapter 12.

We read together Psalm 14 and the story of the Rich Fool from the Message and from the NIV, followed by a quote from Amy – Jill Levine:

“Down through the centuries, starting with the Gospel writers themselves, the parables have been allegorised, moralised and otherwise tamed into platitudes such as ‘God loves us’ or ‘be nice.’ If we stop with the easy lessons, good though they may be, we lose the way Jesus’ first followers would have heard the parables, and we lose the genius of Jesus’ teaching.

Too often we settle for the easy interpretations: We will be forgiven, as was the prodigal son; we should pray and not lose heart, like the widow with the judge. When we seek assurances from parables, a genre that is designed to surprise, challenge, indict & provoke is domesticated and their teaching limited.”

30102016703

Here are the various interpretations of the parable that we considered:

  1. “You can’t take it with you.” This was considered a good interpretation in the past, but it is largely discarded now.
  2. Warning against “greed.” The rich fool is portrayed as an example of greed. The Greek word for “greed” carries with it overtones of an insatiable desire for more and more, he’s rapacious; his desire for more and more can never be fulfilled. Apparently the verb form in the Greek is commonly used to describe the actions of those who try to take advantage of others and strive rapaciously for gain, and it describes someone who never has enough.
  3. Warning against “living as though God does not exist.” In the parable God calls the man a “fool”! Psalm 14 v1: The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” Here the Psalmist speaks about the “practical atheism” of those who live as though God does not exist – who live in contempt of God and the poor. A fool in the bible is someone whose words or actions deny the existence of God. The Greek verb translated –“eat drink and be merry” literally means “to make merry in a feast”, it is used to describe the decadent Dives who “feasted every day” while Lazarus starved at his gate. He is a total moral failure who disregards his social responsibilities.
  4. “We are blessed to bless others” and “are not to devote our lives solely to the accumulation of wealth.” This landowner was materially blessed by God; his land produced a bumper crop. Instead of using his blessing to further the will of God, all he was interested in was looking after himself and growing his wealth. We are not blessed by God to hoard our wealth just for ourselves. We are blessed to be a blessing to others, and we are blessed to build the kingdom of God.
  5. Warning against being “self-centred” and “self-obsessed”. The wealthy landowner’s thoughts (the dialogue he has with himself) are for Jesus an example of wrong thinking—the rich fool focuses entirely on himself. In just three verses he uses “I” 6 times and “my” 5 times.
  6. “Do not be controlled by wealth.” A literal translation from Greek is: “They are demanding your very life from you.” Who is “they?” in this context, the answer is, the things – all the “stuff”, all his possessions, all his wealth. And so, you could translate verse 20: “Fool! This night they shall require your very life from you; now who owns whom?” Jesus point is that all the “stuff” the rich man thought he owned actually owns him! It dominates his life. Jesus’ point is very clear: you were not made to “run on” wealth; you were made to “run on” God.
  7. Warning against an unwillingness to fulfil one’s “moral obligation to the poor”. Luke uses a Greek word that means more than just land, it means an extensive amount of land. The rich fool sees his prosperity as entitlement, Jesus’ audience would have been well aware that huge wealth was built on the backs of others. Large estates resulted from the expropriation of smallholders land through debt default. In Jesus’ view, there was a moral obligation for the rich fool to put his bumper crop onto the market at a fair price for the benefit of the poor of the land. But instead he stores the crop in order to drive up the price and so sell it later for an even bigger profit. His decision will have dire consequences for others; it will lead to starvation for many and death for the weakest and poorest. Hence, God’s judgement upon him.

We continued our worship by talking about three biblical heroes – Amos, Isaiah and Micah. We read Amos 2: 6-7, 8: 4-7, 5: 21-24.  Isaiah 1: 11-17, 21-23, 5:1-2, 7.  Micah 2: 1-3, 7: 1-3, 6: 6-8. Then considered the following Traidcraft campaign called Justice Matters:

Trade and business links us all with the rest of the world.

  • Nearly a third of FTSE 100 companies do business in developing countries.
  • UK foreign investment provides around £14 billion to developing countries each year – far more than we send in aid.

But justice matters in trade and business.

A few irresponsible British companies are abusing or exploiting people abroad – and getting away with it.

  • Destroying livelihoods through toxic pollution.
  • Forcing people out of their homes to make way for new mines or plantations.
  • Threatening violence if anyone questions what is going on.

People who work for or even just live near the operations of some British companies abroad are suffering. We wouldn’t find this acceptable – why should they?

At the moment, there’s a gap in British law which means that it’s almost impossible to prosecute big companies for causing serious harm abroad.

There have been 303 allegations of abuse by 127 British companies over the last ten years – but not one prosecution. That needs to change.

More than two-thirds of British business leaders agree that companies operating in developing countries should be accountable in the UK for any harm they cause there.

Traidcraft thinks justice matters in trade and business.

JUSTICE MATTERS case studies:

Magige’s story

Magige Ghati Kesabo from Tanzania lost his eldest son Emmanuel, who was shot and killed at a gold mine owned by a UK-based company.

‘My family depended on him so much’, he said, ‘He was going to look after me when I got old and now he is gone.’

Through a British solicitor who took up his case Magige was able to bring a claim in the English civil courts against the company, which resulted in an undisclosed out of court settlement. But no-one has ever been prosecuted for the death of his son.

 

Felix’s story

Felix and his daughter Bertha live close to a British owned copper smelting plant at Kankoyo in Zambia. Seven-year-old Bertha is badly affected by acid fumes emitted from the plant.

Felix explains: ‘She says: “I feel my chest – I can’t breathe, Dad”  It’s getting worse and worse. When she starts coughing, she can’t stop. She can’t play out with her friends because she’s so badly affected by the fumes.’

The company which owns the plant – listed on the London Stock Exchange – has never been held to account for the impact it is having on the local community.

Justice matters.

It’s why Traidcraft does business differently:

paying a fair price, there for the long term, helping businesses grow.

Justice matters.

It’s why Traidcraft supports small-scale farmers to produce more, so they can feed their families.

Justice matters.

It’s why Traidcraft campaigns for all trade and business to be fair, and it’s why we’re calling for British businesses to be prosecuted if they abuse or harm people abroad.

If justice matters to you, join with Traidcraft, and help us make a difference.

The Justice Matters petition

We the undersigned call on the British government to update the law so that large UK companies can be prosecuted for the most serious cases of causing harm abroad.

Sign online at:    www.traidcraft.co.uk 

“God is the lover of justice, one who protects and champions the oppressed: this is God’s nature. If this is the kind of God we have, then clearly God’s people have got to be the same.” JOHN STOTT.

 

We laid our prayers on the cross

We laid our prayers on the cross

Barbara began our prayer time by pointing out that the signs of autumn were all around us – the trees in beautiful autumn colours, leaves falling like confetti in the breeze. But also that autumn is the herald of winter, and for many people suffering now: the homeless, the refugee, the elderly, those who have to choose between eating and heating, those in war torn countries – winter will bring even greater hardship and suffering. We took fallen leaves and wrote on them the names of countries, situations and people  we wished to pray for, we then laid them on the cross at the centre of the bandstand.

 

We closed our worship by sharing bread and wine.

 

 

The Parable of the Talents

On Wednesday, 19th October we met at Holly House to discuss various interpretations of the parable of the talents, with help from Amy-Jill Levine’s book: Short Stories by Jesus – the enigmatic parables of a controversial rabbi. She writes: “Parables are Jesus’s way of teaching…………they continue to provoke, challenge, and inspire.”  “Jesus’s God is a generous God……the parables help us with their lessons about generosity: sharing joy, providing for others…….”   “His God wants us to be better than we are….those who pray, ‘Your kingdom come,’ might want to take some responsibility in the process, and so work in partnership with God.”   “This book is an act of listening anew, of imagining what the parables would have sounded like to people who have no idea that he will be proclaimed Son of God by millions, no idea that he will be crucified by Rome. What would they hear a Jewish storyteller telling them? And why, 2000 years later, are these questions not only relevant, but perhaps more pressing than ever?”

The parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30.) [also Luke 19:11-27, the parable of the Ten Minas.]

This story has been troubling for me for many years now. It appears to promote a master who is hardhearted, ruthless, greedy, predatory, rapacious, avaricious, etc. while at the same time treating the third servant very unjustly.

“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 silver 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).

Is the parable about gifts or economics?

Is it a parable about the Kingdom of God or the state of the world?

What is the master like? How does he represent Jesus?

The servants would probably have been slaves. In the ancient world (certainly in ancient Egypt and Rome) slaves could rise to running their master’s household, and were known as stewards. eg Joseph in the house of Potiphor.

What would have been the reaction of Jesus’ hearers to these huge sums handed out to slaves to invest?

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?  (See 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, such returns on investment (verse 20) 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”.                                     C. Myers & E. 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.”   C. Myers & E. Debode.

In the Jewish Law the fiftieth year was the year of Jubilee which celebrated seven Sabbatical years. i.e. 7 x 7 years. The Jubilee year involved a fourth big shake-up added to the debt cancellation, slaves released and land rested commands of the Sabbatical year. The land itself was to be returned to its original occupants. Leviticus 25:10. “Consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you; each one of you is to return to his family property and each to his own family.”

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. 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 is a whistle-blower on greed, corruption and exploitation. And like most, if not all whistle-blowers, having spoken the truth is totally vulnerable. Vilified. Shamed. Humiliated.”  Barbara Reid.

Is the slave about to meet the prophet’s fate? (see Luke 11:48-51)

Verse 30 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?

How could verses 28 and 29 possibly be anything to do with the Kingdom of God?  Aren’t they a description of the way the real 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 be a ruthless rich and powerful landowner, collaborating with the Roman occupation?  Who might he represent today?

Isn’t it interesting that Matthew places the story of the Sheep & the Goats in the same chapter as the “Talents”, and Luke places the meeting of Jesus with Zacchaeus in the same chapter as the “Ten Minas”?

“Justice was at the centre of Jesus’ spirituality.  It is when we have the courage to name exploitation for what it is that we can begin to re-imagine the world.”   Barbara Reid.

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?

“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.

If you had to rename the parable what would you call it?

I hope this post will help you to consider anew and to grapple with the enigmatic, challenging and provocative nature of Jesus’s parables.

 

From seeds to trees and non-trees!

wp_20161009_007This morning’s gathering was inspired by Fiona’s excellent input last Sunday, focusing on seeds and involving a beautiful walk in glorious autumn sunshine, our book that we are starting to study ‘Short stories by Jesus’ by Amy-Jill Levine and an article – worth googling – entitled ‘Trees have feeling too’ by Peter Wohlleben. I guess I was also influenced by my increasing love trees fostered by our meeting among them week on week.

We began reading literal translations of the 3 versions of the parable of the mustard seed (Matthew, Mark and Luke) noting that the seed was sown in the ground, by a person in his field, or cast by a man in his garden, where it became the greatest of vegetables – or a tree – and birds rested under its shadow – or in its branches.

We compared popular interpretations of the parable and why Levine dismisses these on the basis of misinformation of the context / Jewish law or the banality of a simplistic and non-challenging message. Parables are meant to challenge and provoke and unsettle… A suggested reading was as follows (acknowledging that these are not the only messages possible and that parables should speak to us in different ways in different circumstances just as Jesus would have used and adapted them…):

(i) Some things need to be left alone – the seed succeeds without our interfering! If we interfere it won’t succeed! Not everything or everyone needs our constant attention!
(ii) Sometimes we need to get out of the way! We are not always the focus. We are sometimes the facilitator for something bigger than ourselves but what’s sown and grows is much more important than the one who sowed it.
(iii) The setting is domestic – a field or a garden – the kingdom of God is to be found in our own backyard. Don’t ask when or where it might be. The when is its own good time and the where is that it is already present, inchoate, in the world. We might put it – find out what God’s doing – spot the kingdom! – and join in!

Taking the Trees article with us, we had 15 minutes or so to visit 3 different species of trees  – to take time to wonder and to address a question at each:

Tree 1. Is there anyone or anything that I need to leave alone? Can I trust God to take care of a situation that I can’t fix?

wp_20161009_003
Tree 2. Where do I need to get out of the way? Is there any situation where I need to step back? What might be important but doesn’t have to be about me?

wp_20161009_004
Tree 3. Where have I seen God’s kingdom in my own backyard recently? In the coming week, what little things could I do to join in and be part of it?

wp_20161009_005

We met up under the weeping beech to share prayer concerns and then bread and wine – using these brilliant words (which we aren’t sure the provenance of):

On this plate with the bread
We place, O Lord, our purposeful action:
Our aspirations, achievements, work,
Those who are closest to us,
Those whose lives are bound up with our personal lives,
Our neighbours and those with whom we work…

And with these, we unite those more distant to us:
The whole of anonymous mankind
Scattered in every corner of the globe;
Our distant brothers and sisters remembering you in bread and wine today
A multitude of people, each reflecting your image, each needing your grace…

And not only the living, but also the dead
We remember those who have inspired us and gone before us…

Into these cups we pour our sorrows
Our failings and pain,
Our joys and our successes.

May all life – past, present and future, near and far –
Now be elevated at this altar
In a glorious communion
And in the hope of your coming kingdom.

Amen.

We hope this might inspire some readers to find the article or to get out and visit a few remarkable trees and learn to be challenged by them!

 

Enigma

We gathered at the bandstand with the music (Nimrod (Enigma Variation 9) (Elgar 1889) playing.  

Jesus being one of our values we have decided over the coming weeks to look more closely at his words.

Who was Jesus? – Two-thousand years ago, a carpenter left his home to preach in ancient Israel. His message changed the world and has shaped every corner of the globe.

Meditation

We thought about who Jesus is to us while continuing to listen to the musicEnigma Variations music

Matthew 16:13-20 New International Version (NIV)

” 13 When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” 14 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” ”

win_20160925_12_15_19_pro

 

Enigma why enigma?

I have always considered Jesus as a bit of an enigma, some of his teachings and parables are hard to understand, are a puzzle, a conundrum or a paradox.

Sometimes the traditional teaching of the church is a bit unsatisfactory and it leaves you thinking what did Jesus really mean by that. For example is God really like the unjust judge (Luke 18: 1-8) and does Jesus really endorse fraud in the parable of the shrewd manager (Luke 16: 1-13)

Now in my musings I came across Amy – Jill Levine and her book “The Enigmatic Parables of a controversial Rabbi”. One of the things Amy Levine said was that parables being a rabbinic tradition would mean that Jesus like other rabbis would use stories more than once in different locations, with different audiences, and with small changes to suit the context to challenge or convict his audience.

I want to tell you how a very familiar parable hit me between the eyes and really challenged me following the Brexit vote.

I was very upset and angry about the result of the referendum and on one of the Sunday morning services following the vote I listened to this parable and a sermon about it.

READING – Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10: 25-37)

I had always taken this parable as a straight forward story encouraging us to make neighbours of those who society might reject and indeed the sermon preached on that Sunday morning was challenging peoples xenophobia and racism. At first I was thinking; “Yeah that’s right! We should always try to be accepting and not to be racist (and feeling a bit self righteous thinking that’s just what I try to do!)

It was then that I was struck, and I mean forcibly struck and deeply challenged about the anger and resentment I felt towards people who wanted out of Europe. I realised that they were my neighbours too and that whatever their reasons for voting out I had to accept that it was a majority vote. My response should be not be the anger or grief I was feeling but a willingness to work alongside all my neighbours to make the future work for us.

Allowing the parable to speak to me it changed it from a comfortable, well known story to one that challenged me to my very being and the change has lasted not just in my feelings towards those who thought differently about the referendum vote, but towards other people too.

It is hard to explain but just hearing the parable which I thought I understood anew and afresh had such a profound effect on my outlook and restored some of my commitment to follow Jesus with new determination.

This is what Jesus’ parables are meant to do and as we look at them in the coming weeks I hope they speak deeply to us and help us to become better disciples.

enigma-machine

The word enigma brings to mind the Enigma Code Machine used at Bletchley Park during the Second World War.

Can you crack this code?

c pgy eqoocpfogpv k ikxg vq aqw, vjcv aqw nqxg qpg cpqvjgt: lwuv cu k jcxg nqxgf aqw, aqw ctg cnuq vq nqxg qpg cpqvjgt. da vjku cnn rgqrng yknn mpqy vjcv aqw ctg oa fkuekrngu, kh aqw jcxg nqxg hqt qpg cpqvjgt.

There was a prize for the first one of us who managed it.

Harry’s baptism

Harry's baptism

 

What a joyful, joy-filled day! ThirdSpace’s first baptism: a momentous day for us all but particularly for Harry of course! Almost 30 of us met at the bandstand where we began with these words:
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’
in this space we call ‘here’
we worship you.
Make your presence felt among us.

Steve then reminded us of words spoken at Harry’s dedication some 18 years ago.

Looking at the fast-moving clouds and leaf-laden trees and listening to birdsong, we heard selected verses from The Message’s version of Psalm 104 before slow-walking to the weeping beech with words ringing in our ears ‘ What a wildly wonderful world, God! O my soul, bless God!’
There we looked up at the interwoven branches and listened to Steve’s words that we have used before – ‘Divine Entanglement’ – before Harry spoke of why he had chosen to be baptised at this time and what it had meant to him to belong to ThirdSpace, thanking fellow members and god-parents for their encouragement and inspiration over the years.

Christine led us in sharing bread and wine using our Companions liturgy which was followed by a reading from Luke 3 (The Message again) after which we walked across the river pondering on the following questions:

What is green and blossoming in your life at this time?
What needs to change?                                                                                                                                                                                                         To what might this passage be calling you to? To Jesus? To justice? To daughter-ship and son-ship in God?

At our next stop, above the river, we laid hands on Harry and prayed for him. Then it was down to the beech by the river. Steve, Keith and Harry waded in and in the name of God – Father Son and Holy Spirit – Harry was baptised.

Grayden finished proceedings with a blessing:

Harry, the blessing of the three-in-one God be yours.

May the Spirit bless you with hope poured out like water and flowing as the river.

May Jesus bless you with discomfort at injustice and oppression.

May the Creator who holds the Earth as an artist holds brush and palette fill your imagination so that you always find the world inspiring and wonderful.

May God in whose being beauty shines on you and journey with you.

God says to you, you are my beloved,

Be blessed this day and always.

 

A blessing for the community followed and then we were all off to Holly House for brunch – bacon rolls, hot pastries, slices of melon and pineapple, juice and tea and copious amounts of coffee but more specially, the sharing of much joy, fun, caught up conversations and appreciation of God-given friendship. Thanks from all the Kenyons to all who came to share in and make this day so special, for your kind words to Harry, thoughtful cards and gifts. We love you all!

Search YouTube for First River Baptism for Third Space

 

Book swap at Moca

Last night we had a good evening together swapping books or at least book titles that we have each discovered and thoroughly enjoyed. So these are the things that  we brought this time:

Robert Galbraith’s 3 ‘Whodunnits’ beginning with ‘The Cuckoo’s Calling’ – grizzly and captivating!
Victoria Hyslop’s ‘The Island’ – great story-telling and an extraordinary insight into a leper colony in Europe in such recent times.
Robin Schneider’s ‘Extraordinary Means’ – stories within a T.B. Sanatorium
Barbara Nadel’s ‘A Private Business’ – another cracking detective novel
Nicci French’s ‘Blue Monday’ and ensuing books following the days of the week
Tan Twan Eng’s ‘The Garden of Evening Mists’ – poetic and poignant
Claire Mackintosh’s ‘I let you go’ –easy holiday reading that you can’t put down
Sarah Winman’s ‘A year of Marvellous Ways’ – touching book about love and loss and death through magical realism.
Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s ‘Gift from the sea’ – which influenced Celtic prayers of the Northumbria Community – beautiful and deep
A DVD (!) the French film ‘Untouchable’ – along the lines of ‘Me before you’ – funny and sad and thought-provoking.

Eça de Queirós’ ‘The Crime of Father Amaro’ – in translation! A satire of the Church – thought-provoking and a favourite book.
Why not join us in giving someone else’s discovery a try?

Wake up and smell the….

If you had to lose one of your 5 senses which would you choose?

A couple of weeks ago, due to a rather nasty virus, I completely lost my sense of smell – something that apparently in rare cases can be knocked out permanently. For a couple of weeks, the prospect of never being able to smell fresh coffee, newly laundered sheets or the herb basil (my favourite smell of all) ever again, was a disheartening thought.

Smell – hardly one of the most dynamic senses; it just sort of ‘hangs around’…yet, it’s the sense that’s most strongly connected to memory and can have a profound effect on our emotions and actions. Folks this morning talked of childhood memories, anticipation and exhilaration – all triggered by different smells.

We went for a sensory walk and we breathed deep and slow allowing the sights, sounds and of course, the smells of creation, to speak to us of God’s Grace. After a shape-shifting torrid week of political change it was good to step out of the mayhem.

2 Corinthians 2 14-16 says: “Because of Christ, we give off a sweet scent rising to God, which is recognized by those on the way of salvation—an aroma redolent with life.”

Two people who have appeared in the newspapers seemed to me to be a perfect example of this. Jo Cox – the Labour MP recently murdered and Bob Holman – a Christian who, as a successful academic, left status and lifestyle to live among the severely disadvantaged in Glasgow.
“Enthusiasm, kindness, love of life, fierce advocacy in her work and unwavering belief in the goodness of everyone she met.”
“He would help to fill in benefit forms, speak on people’s behalf at tribunals, find money for a new washing machine, or accompany a youngster to court.”

That’s a scent to bottle.

Our prayers for reconciliation, healing and those who are in turmoil or suffering, drifted up on Frankincense incense sticks and we continued to carry them in our walk until we shared bread and wine where we said these words together:

In this God-breathed bread and wine
everyone can receive – no one is out – everyone is in
In this God-touched bread and wine
our bondage is broken and we are reconciled
In this God –blessed bread and wine
we have a symbol of hope and a foretaste of kingdom freedom
feel it
smell it
taste it
take it in
and know it does you good.

Do we bring ‘an aroma redolent with life’ to people? Perhaps it might not be anything more dramatic than the way smell seems to operate – by just hanging around – but what a profound effect that aroma can have.

The Shipping Forecast

We began our worship by reading some verses from Psalm 65:5-9

You answer us with awesome and righteous deeds,
God our Saviour,
the hope of all the ends of the earth
and of the farthest seas,

 who formed the mountains by your power,
having armed yourself with strength,

 who stilled the roaring of the seas,
the roaring of their waves,
and the turmoil of the nations.
The whole earth is filled with awe at your wonders;
where morning dawns, where evening fades,
you call forth songs of joy.

You care for the land and water it;
you enrich it abundantly.
The streams of God are filled with water
to provide the people with grain,
for so you have ordained it.

We focused on being in God’s presence and giving thanks for the gifts of this day. Simple things – the first cup of tea of the day; the smell of fresh coffee; a good night’s sleep; a good breakfast; a smile from friend or stranger; the beauty of the world around us. We thought of  these things as God’s gifts to us.

 

“Attention All Shipping.” I’ve always found this a very dramatic announcement. Even though I’m not involved in shipping I still listen, fascinated, intrigued.

I’ve been fascinated by the shipping forecast since I was a child. For me it conjures up images of ships on stormy seas. The shipping forecast has all the qualities of the sea itself –unfathomable, mysterious, fascinating, intriguing, even lulling.  It has a poetry all of its own. Carol Ann Duffy in her poem Prayer, wrote: “Darkness outside. Inside, the radio’s prayer – Rockall. Malin. Dogger. Finisterre.”  (Finisterre was renamed FitzRoy in 2002.)

Every day on LW we can hear the familiar liturgy of the names for each shipping area, with its weather information, announced in the same order with the same deliberate delivery – rhythmical, hypnotic, almost prayerful. There is on the one hand a loneliness and a bleakness about it, but it’s also reassuring and familiar – Rockall. Malin. Dogger. Fair Isle. Irish Sea.’

Amazingly it seems to hold our attention even if it doesn’t directly apply to us. So we keep listening to the soothingly monotonous delivery, perhaps engrossed and fascinated:  Moderate, occasionally slight later, showers or rain, good, occasionally moderate…………

Origin of the names of Shipping Forecast areas:

 

The story of the stilling of the storm was read from Mark 4:

35 That day when evening came, Jesus said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” 36 Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. 37 A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. 38 Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”

39 He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!”

Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.

40 He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

41 They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”

Mark’s gospel gives us a very graphic description of the storm, with the waves breaking over the boat so it began to fill with water, and the contrast between the calmness of Jesus and the terror of the disciples.

What’s the seas significance in Jewish though?
The Jews were not great seafarers and regarded the sea with fear, as it symbolised chaos and evil – that’s why in Rev 21 when the new heaven and earth are described v1 says “there was no longer any sea.” It does not mean there will be no sea in the new earth, but is picture language saying evil will not be present.

What’s the significance of the geography? The Sea of Galilee is 680 ft below sea level and therefore prone to sudden storms sweeping down off the surrounding hills. The storms could appear very quickly and cease just as quickly!

I have a problem with nature miracles – the stilling of the storm and walking on water. ‘Did they really happen? Some Christians understand them as the proof of Jesus’ divinity. From my understanding of the gospels Jesus did not perform miracles to prove his divinity or to cause people to be amazed at his actions. I think Jesus miracles were primarily acts of compassion towards those in need; and also signs of a new age breaking through, the coming of the Kingdom of God.

Perhaps the storm in Mark 4 was just a normal Sea of Galilee storm event which sprung up in just a few minutes and died down just as quickly.

What might my post-evangelical understanding of storms and earthquakes be?

I reject any idea that God sends storms or earthquakes. I also reject the idea that they are manifestations of evil – for me they are just how the world works. If the Earth wasn’t dynamic and ever changing then it would not be able to support life.

So where is God in the storms of life?
I believe God is present in every aspect of nature, in every aspect of life. God therefore is present with those who suffer; he is present even in deadly storms.

God is all and in all, not as cause but as presence.
 

The Shipping forecast and the Arts.

The forecast sounds poetic, it has a rhythm of its own, it’s eccentric, it’s unique, it’s mysterious and it’s very, very British. It is a litany of the sea; it somehow reinforces our sense of being islanders, and fires our imaginations.

The Shipping Forecast has a history of sparking the imagination and creativity in people – all kinds of music and poetry have been inspired by it.

From the poetry of Seamus Heaney, Sean Street and Carol Ann Duffy to the music of Radiohead, Blur, Jethro Tull, folk singer Lisa Knapp, and classical composer Cecilia McDowall the forecast has ignited their imaginations and inspired their creativity. They have used the Shipping Forecast’s natural rhythm to conjure up feelings of familiarity and strangeness, of safety and danger, of loneliness and mystery.

We then had a poetry and prayer activity around the park – we each had copies of Seamus Heaney’s and Sean Street’s poems on the Shipping Forecast to read and enjoy. We used them to encourage a sense of thanksgiving and prayer. Then we prayed for people whose lives are “all at sea”, particularly individuals known to us, the family of Jo Cox and refugees fleeing war and persecution.

On returning to the Bandstand we shared bread and wine with the following words:

Life giver, blame taker, scroll reader, truth wielder,

Temple clearer, mask exposer, sea calmer, crowd amazer,

Life enhancer, party prancer, drinker, dancer…..

Cross bearer, sight restorer, sin forgiver, wine renewer,

Story weaver, hurt healer, death drinker, God revealer….

Justice speaker, bondage breaker, bone straightener, peacemaker….

Death defeater, grace ladler, spirit breather, heart burner,

Tempest husher, bread breaker, wine sharer, table turner…..

tina hodgett

As usual we retired to Cool River for Fairtade coffee and much discussion.

Alfred the Great

On a beautiful, warm and sunny Sunday morning we met under the beech tree by the bend in the River Derwent in the park.  Our worship was inspired by a man who was perhaps the greatest Briton and who possessed a very real Christian faith.

Statue of Alfred the Great in Winchester

 

Michael Wood describes a man who was ‘not just the greatest Briton, but one of the greatest rulers of any time or any place’.

Neil Oliver describes someone who “brought in a new age of learning. This was more than just a love of learning, but the belief that leadership entails the responsibility to be mindful of the wellbeing of the people.”

Winston Churchill wrote of Alfred: ‘In war, resolute; in defeat, defiance; in victory, magnanimous; in peace, good will’.

Alfred the Great (871–899) is  the best-known Anglo-Saxon king. The son of King Aethelwulf of Wessex, Alfred succeeded his four older brothers to the throne in 871. At that time, Viking invaders had conquered much of England, and Alfred struggled to prevent Wessex from succumbing to the same fate. In January 878 as Wessex was being overrun by Viking invaders Alfred withdrew to the Somerset levels with  his royal bodyguard, a small army of thegns (the king’s followers).  From there he fights a desperate guerrilla war until his victory over the Vikings at the Battle of Edington in May 878.  After the  victory he offers Guthrun and his men mercy if they will convert to Christianity and then leave Wessex.

As part of our worship we meditated on Psalm 51 and had John’s Gospel ch1 read to us. These passages were chosen because they were often used in Anglo-Saxon Christian worship.

Alfred’s achievements and qualities as king were many:

Warrior, General & military tactician.

Pragmatic, willing to compromise and pay tribute when necessary.

Guerrilla leader

Devout Christian with a very real Christian faith.

He believes himself responsible for the secular and spiritual welfare of his people.

Willingness to show mercy and compassion.

Peacemaker – makes peace treaty with Guthrun.

Makes treaties with Welsh princes.

Skilled negotiator – gets Kent and west Mercia back under Saxon rule and negotiates a partition treaty – a frontier was drawn along the Roman Watling Street, with northern and eastern England under Viking control and southern and western England under Saxon control.

Reforms the coinage.

Revives learning and literacy and education.

Makes it obligatory for all nobles and their children to learn to read and write Anglo-Saxon.

Encourages noblewomen to learn to read and write and be educated.

Set up schools so that future generations of priests and secular administrators would be better trained and educated.

Education is in Anglo-Saxon and only those going forward into holy orders are required to learn Latin.

Set up a network of fortified towns – burghs – that were no more than 20-25 miles apart and constantly garrisoned.

Reformed the fyrd, the army, made it more organised and efficient and developed a navy, along with a programme of shipbuilding.

Lawmaker – reforms Anglo-Saxon laws to make them more just, issues new laws  and incorporates some laws from the Old  Testament.

Anxious to rule his people justly, thinks judicial fairness is important and so appoints people to be judges who will apply laws justly.

Encourages trade with other parts of the British Isles and with Flanders and France.

Politically shrewd – arranges for his daughter – Aethelflaed – to marry the Ealdorman of Mercia, she becomes the Lady of Mercia and is the real power in Mercia.

Generous to the Church.

Founds monasteries.

Appoints pious, learned and trustworthy bishops and abbots to oversee the spiritual revival of Wessex and Mercia.

Orders that important Latin works are translated into Anglo-Saxon.

Patron of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.

Scholar and linguist – learns Latin so that he can translate Pope Gregory’s “Pastoral Care” document from Latin into Anglo-Saxon. It instructs bishops on how to teach their priests to nurture their people in the Christian faith.

It is for his valiant defence of his kingdom against a stronger enemy, for securing peace with the Vikings and for his farsighted reforms in the reconstruction of Wessex and west Mercia, that Alfred is known as ‘the Great’.

King Alfred dies in 899 aged 50; he is an old man, worn out through fighting for over 30 years to defend Wessex from the Vikings.

Here are Alfred’s own words written in his last year of life:

‘What I set out to do was to virtuously and justly administer the authority given to me, and to do it with wisdom, for without wisdom nothing is worthwhile. It has always been my desire to live honourably, and after my death to leave my descendants my memory in good works, for each man according to his measure of intelligence must speak what he can speak and do what he can do.’

Do you find this statement impressive – especially considering the time of writing? (AD898)

What does it mean to live virtuously?  In Philippians 4:8  Paul writes: “Finally, brothers [and sisters], whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think on such things.“  With the implication in verse 9 to “put it into practice.”

What is wisdom?  Here are two dictionary definitions:  “The ability to discern or judge what is true and right.”  “To think and act using knowledge, experience, understanding, and common sense.”

Consider the statement you could write about your life?

We ended our worship by sharing bread and wine using some Anglo-Saxon liturgy: bread and wine

The Priest, Deacons and Sub-Deacons, standing abreast before the Altar then take THREE STEPS BACKWARD, then THREE STEPS FORWARD,  in remembrance of the sins of thought, word and deed and of the thoughts, words and deeds which return us to grace.

And to us sinners who are your servants, grant confidence in the multitude of your mercies, and some lot and part with your Holy Apostles, Saints and Martyrs;

Paul, Peter, Patrick, John, Stephen, Matthias, Barnabas, Ignatius, David, Columba, Cuthbert, Aidan, Swithun, Brendan ………..  

The invitation to receive bread and wine:

Come forth you blessed of my Father, Alleluia. 

Inherit the kingdom, prepared for you from the foundation of the world, Alleluia. 

Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost. 

Come forth and receive! 

As it was in the beginning is now and ever shall be world without end.  Amen.  Come forth and receive! 

Share bread and wine. 

The Blessing:

May the God of Alfred

enable us

to act justly,

love mercy

and walk humbly.

AMEN.

We then adjourned to Cool River Cafe for Fairtrade tea and coffee, it was such a beautiful morning that we sat outside in for our drinks.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Change and Continuity

WP_20160424_001

This morning was chilly but sunny and fresh green leaves are starting to emerge on some of the bare branches of the trees now. Our focus was on living in a world where everything changes and the good news that there is one on whom we can depend who is unchanging… Steve had written the following affirmation of faith for us:

God never changes…
The flowers of the field will fade, the grass will whither
BUT GOD NEVER CHANGES
The seasons will revolve, the years pass
BUT GOD NEVER CHANGES
From childhood to pensionhood
GOD NEVER CHANGES
From innocence to wisdom, from arrogance to humility
GOD NEVER CHANGES
In the midst of calm waters and in the storms
GOD CHANGES NOT
In trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword
GOD CHANGES NOT
When perplexed or dimly mirrored or when treasuring epiphany
GOD REALLY DOES NOT CHANGE
When we reach out and when we sulk
GOD REALLY DOES NOT CHANGE
His love is faithful, steadfast, constant
AND GOD DOES NOT CHANGE
And God has promised that no-one and nothing can separate us
AND GOD DOES NOT CHANGE. AMEN! AMEN! AMEN!

I think it is a post here from 2010 when I led a Palm Sunday session on all creation praising the Creator. I’d come across an article on the net about how scientists at Sheffield University believe they had recorded the Sun singing! They had shown that there are specific frequencies that resonate from the Sun’s atmosphere. The sun emits acoustic waves in exactly the same sense as a plucked guitar string. They went on to say that when the Sun sets off flares and such, there are even more sounds that are emitted. The frequency at which the Sun is “singing”, is too low for the human ear to hear. It has always intrigued me since then to think that the Sun is singing for its creator and no one else.
On top of that, in the last decade or so, scientists discovered that the earth gives off a relentless hum of countless notes completely imperceptible to the human ear, like a giant, exceptionally quiet symphony, whilst the origin of this sound remains a mystery. They also say that unexpected powerful tunes have been discovered in this hum. It is known as ‘Earth’s Hum’.

At this time of year, I can’t help but gaze at the trumpeting daffodils and imagine the unheard tunes they might be playing. In the lectionary, the psalm for today was Psalm 148 which is all about stars and earth and creation singing God’s praise. Could it be that this is not merely poetic but true?! We took 10 minutes to reflect on  the words of the psalm and to walk around the park to join with the river and trees and sky in worshipping our constant God.

We  prayed by name for those in the midst of change and shared bread and wine to these words:

Rock solid God, who is the same yesterday, today and forever, we give you thanks that in you we are secure and treasured. Your love is assured, your promises enduring; you will not fail.

God of wind who blows us from the known to the unknown , we give you thanks that the future in unwritten and that you invite us to be the change your kingdom demands.

We took copies of words of Teresa of Avila with us – to learn and to share with others

Let nothing disturb you

Let nothing frighten you

All things are passing

God never changes

Those who have God find they lack nothing

God alone suffices.

 

And we finished with this blessing, also written by Steve:

May blessings of the dynamically unchanging Trinity be ours! May the Father’s enduring love accompany us in our lives; may Jesus himself strengthen us to be co-builders of his kingdom; and may the Spirit indwell and inspire us on our journey. Amen.