Lent 2015 …. Day 30…. Scattering Seeds of Faith

Birdseed-Wreath-2-4785In my garden I have four bird hangers; three are suet balls in a holder and one is a heart shaper seed hanger, full of tightly packed nuts. Over that last few months I have been watching the birds come and feed from them, as I have rested in my room. This morning, as I looked out, the hearts shaped bird hanger was quite disintegrated, and it looked as though a bird had a real feast of the seeds. As I looked closely I saw the seeds had fallen and scattered all over the soil in my garden.

My garden is slowly showing signs of spring, with new shoots sprouting up, do I really want those pesky seeds to sprout and spoil my lovely display of flowers and bushes?!

As I was considering my plan of action, some birds came and explored the bounty in soil. They pecked and took it away, and after a few minutes as if by magic, variety of other birds had appeared. It’s as though the news has spread pretty quickly in bird language, to let others know of the feast which lay in our garden.

Jesus ministry is a little like the birds in my garden, people heard about Jesus and the good things he was doing, and his personality, then they flocked like birds to feast on his presence and word.

Sometimes I wish that good news would spread just as quickly on the media, for it seems to be full of doom and gloom, if only we did not relish hearing it. Just imagine the difference if the news was filled with good news all the time, the world would be a positive and uplifting place.

Let’s do our bit, to spread a little good news and kindness for the rest of  Lent, you never know where a seed of hope and kindness will land , and flourish into faith !

……………………………….

Lord of the seeds,

Blow your seeds of Love and Hope

Whirl them around by your Holy Spirit

And as the seeds land, bless them

And bless those who will pick them up

Amen

RD

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Lent 2015 … Day 27 .. Faith and Green Olives

olivesIn my office, I have a little packet of Green Olives. They just sit there looking at me, seeing how long I can resist the temptation to gobble the whole packet. It’s strange but at one time in my life, I hated olives with its rubbery texture, and its unusual taste, but now I could eat a whole jar!

The Bible is a bit like the olives , some Scripture stories are easily read and accepted yet others, for example the Rape of Tamar (2 Samuel 13: 1-14 ) are more difficult to digest and can leave a bitter taste in your mouth.

Yet as I get older and maybe a little wiser, I come to read the more difficult Biblical passages with a greater sense of understanding. The Biblical world and the world we now inhabit are not so different, as rape, abuse and violence are present, and also situations where we see courage, love and strength.

We live in a world of paradox and inconsistency, where the ‘good and gracious’ sits alongside the ‘despair and desolation’, and it is up to the Holy Spirt to nudge and provoke a reaction, Instead of turning away and ignoring the unpalatable areas of our Life , maybe the Spirit is encouraging us to look and digest, and to face our demons, our prejudices, our fears.

We never embark on this venture alone for we have the Love of Christ to guide us and point the way ahead.

My Olives will one day be eaten, and I shall relish them, just as I relish the diversity, the paradox, the mystery, the pain and the grace of God.

God of the Paradox

We are a people of ordinary substance

Never wanting to rock the boat

To keep things on an even keel,

…………………………..

But your world does have

The delights and the desperate

The have and have-nots

The pain and pleasure

……………………………….

Bless those who suffer in silence

Bless those who are persecuted

Bless those who are oppressed by power

WE ask this is Jesus name

Amen

‘All Saints day’ with our inclusive God

communion of saints

 

For those who have visited my blog previously .. It is a called ‘a saint in the making’. It is a concept that I hold dear to my heart. Let me explain … All Saints’ Day is one of my favourite celebrations in the whole liturgical year. It ranks right up there with Advent, Christmas Eve and Easter in my spirituality and I treasure marking its observance. It also invites us to quietly and prayerfully recall the blessings of God shared with us through the communion of saints – that great cloud of witnesses as the book of Hebrews puts it – who form a celestial crowd too huge to number from every nation, tribe and race – who are gathered in love before the presence of the Lord to sing praise to God and bring us encouragement and blessing until we are reunited with them in the realm that has no end. It is one of our most exquisite celebrations – and sadly, most of us in the Reformed tradition don’t really know what to make of this incredible feast day.
Saints are people who are ‘windows in this world’.  The light of God shines through them so brightly that people say they have seen salvation in them, and in the household of their lives.  A remarkable thing about them is that many were scapegoats early in their lives, bullied and called contemptible by folks around them.   To mention a few:

St. Francis of Assisi’s father dragged him into court in the town square, enraged because his son had secretly arranged to steal his father’s valuable assets, and given them to monks to sell for support of the poor.  He was found guilty.  Then, as a monk himself, he angered the local bishops by saying Mass without being ordained, creating his own liturgies, including animals in his congregation.

St. Teresa of Avila was considered a nut and way too outspoken for a woman, and shocking in her opinions.

Julian of Norwich lost her entire family to the plague, and had visions so extraordinary no one knew what to make of them.

Mother Teresa expressed her strong doubts about God, in writing.  And became a nun to escape life in her small town in Italy, where she was very unhappy.

Oskar Schindler, who saved Jews from death in World War II Germany, was a Nazi, womanizer and a drunk, who used his popular and deserved reputation as a scoundrel as a cover for what he was doing.

Nelson Mandela was considered a public enemy by the government of South Africa, which put him in jail for 27 years, during all of which he was a beacon of hope for black South Africans.

These saints, and so many others, flouted public conventions in ways that were painful for them, but also allowed them to let God’s light into this world.

So let’s take the first insight…..In our tradition, most of us aren’t aware that the celebration of All Saints’ Day is almost as old as Christmas. Scholars are certain that believers have been returning thanks to God for their martyred dead since 359 CE in Edessa, Turkey and 411 C in Eastern Syria. And by the 7th century the feast had come to include the faithful non-martyrs, too. That means that the celebration of All Saints Day has been going on for 1300 years.
There are at least three ways of categorizing saints.

1.We might even want to expand the New Testament and call all people saints since all, not just Christians, are children of the inclusive, all-embracing God.

2. Another category of saints is that of those special people from ages past who are placed on the calendar of saints and are held up for the world to emulate, like the people I have just mentioned earlier.  But let us not forget that each and every one of us here this morning are called to be extraordinary even if history does not remember us.  We can be extraordinary mothers, astonishing farmers, amazing nurses, outstanding grocery clerks, exceptional bankers, stupendous bakers, just plain amazing people aside from our jobs.

3.Thirdly, there are saints not yet born, those still to come.  God is not bound by our time sequence issues.  Right now God is gracing these people not yet born into sainthood, into holiness, into blessedness, into happiness. All three together, those from the past, those of us alive now, and those yet to come, we call the communion of saints

 

So what does it mean to honour the saints and mark this day reverently? What’s more, what is the spiritual wisdom of All Saints’ Day all about and why does it matter for you and me?

One clue comes in the very word saint… Literally the Greek word we translate as saint – hagios – means the ‘holy ones’: those who have dedicated themselves to God – those who are set apart from what is ordinary – those who have claimed God’s blessings in a deep and profound way. That means that the saints are not only those who gave up their lives for the love of God as martyrs, and this is the crucial point…..but those who lived their ordinary lives with an extraordinary awareness of God’s grace.
So the first truth is that Saints are not just ancient souls who have made something of God’s light visible in the darkness, they are also those we have known in our own time who have been open and alive to making God’s love real.

Saints are those who have been blessed by God, to be blessed by God, seems to me, is to be opened to grace and to respond by giving shape and form to the way of God in our ordinary lives. This is what saints do – and saints are you and you and you and you and all of us.
Yes , being a saint IS too hard, too demanding, too high – that’s why Jesus told us we cannot become saints – or disciples – or people of faith all by ourselves. We have to open our hearts to God when we are empty. We have name and own our sin or selfish traits and ask for forgiveness over and over again. And we have to trust that God is God…… and loves us with a love that never gives up.

And that is why trusting the ‘communion of saints’ – opening our hearts to their constant prayers for us when we have only sighs too deep for human words – can be so healing. We don’t have to do it all – that great cloud of witnesses is praying for us and encouraging the Lord to meet us where we need God the most.
That is what we claim by faith on All Saints’ Day: that God is with us in love in ways that we cannot comprehend.

 

Prayer

 

Lord as we gather on this special all Saints Day.

we ask that you would bless us as your saints of today

Enable us to show the Light of Christ,

and may our lives be windows to world of your love, grace

and wisdom

This we pray, through Christ Jesus

Amen

Straddling the sacred and the secular

thomas merton

We are living in a world absolutely transparent, and God is shining through all the time’ Thomas Merton 

 I love this quote from Thomas Merton…the thought of God’s piercing light radiating in our world … shining in places and people, where hurt and fear prevail. Straddling the spiritual and the physical realm can be a difficult achievement. Yet one man in the 20th century has shown us the way.

Out of all the 20th century mystic spiritual writers, the most influential is Thomas Merton. His early life was a tumultuous one, and he became a Roman Catholic through the influence of a Zen Buddhist master. He affirms that ‘contemplation’ is the gift that God gives us…and through contemplation our Love for God increases. However, he warns that contemplation will not be given to those who willfully remain at a distance from God. His story is one that touches the hearts of most people, as he brings all of his life’s experiences to God and is rewarded by being one of the most prophetic voices in the 20th century.

Thomas Merton was born in 1915 in France, and was educated In France, America and England. He grew up in the 1920s and 1930s and tried his hand at many pastimes. While in England he attended Cambridge University and his peers often called a womanizer and philander, enjoying company in the clubs.( he is supposed to have fathered a child at this time ). For a short time he embraced communism, yet it was Catholicism which in turn catapulted him to a strictly cloistered life in a rural Kentucky monastery.

The writings that flowed from his monastic cell over the next 27 years examined spirituality (of the west and east), the Cold War, the civil rights movement and the challenges for the individual in the post-modern world. In short, Merton’s writing took on many of the struggles of the 20th and 21st century. And it is for this reason that many people turn to him for guidance and inspiration.

Thomas Merton died by accidental electrocution while traveling in Asia but remains one of the most widely read and written about spiritual figures of the modern era. On a personal note, I find the spirituality of Thomas Merton refreshing. He does attempt to straddle the sacred with the secular, and in doing so he enables us to see the radiance of God’s Love in the most unexpected places.

Radiating God,

In the times when we falter, steady us

In the times when we doubt, inspire us

In the times when we feel disappointed, embrace us

Radiate your love in the shadow places of our lives.

So all may witness your glory

As we turn radiate your love to others.

Amen

Ecology for the Soul

songofsongs_lrg

I have been sorting out my office and found this little gem in a file. I must have kept it for some reason…. maybe it was a reminder for myself, or to give someone. I can’t remember. But I like the title …Ecology for the soul

What will it matter?

Ready or not, someday it will all come to an end

There will be no more sunrises,

No minutes, hours or days.

All the things you collected, whether treasured or forgotten,

will pass to someone else

Your wealth, fame and temporal power,

will shrivel to irrelevance

It will not matter what you owned or what you were owed.

Your grudges, resentments and frustrations

will finally disappear

So to your hopes, ambitions and plans to do

will expire.

The wins and losses that once seemed so important

will fade away

It won’t matter where you came from

Or what side of the fence you lived at the end

It won’t matter whether you were beautiful or brilliant

Even your gender and skin colour will be irrelevant.

 

SO WHAT WILL MATTER?……How will the value of your days be measured?

What will matter is not what you bought…

but what you built

Not what you got……

but what you gave

What will matter is not your success……

but your significance

What will matter is not what you learned…

but what you taught

What will matter is not your competence …

but your character

What will matter is not how many people you knew…

but how many will feel a lasting loss when you are gone

What will matter is not your memories …

but the memories that lie in those who love you

What will matter is how long you will be remembered,

by whom and for what

What will matter is every act of integrity, compassion, courage or sacrifice that enriched, empowered or encouraged others, to emulate your example

Living a life that matters doesn’t happen by accident

It is not a matter of circumstance…..but by choice

So choose to live a life that matters

Author Michael Josephson, by permission of the Josephson Institute of Ethics( 2006)

Prayer

God in whom I live and move and have my being,

Help me to see the world through your eyes.

Not to be focussed on self,

but on you

Not to be focused on how others see me

But if I am focused on what you would me to do

Not to think … what can they do for me

But     what I can do for them

Bless me with your Abundant Spirit

So I may tread softly on the earth

And preserve what you have made.

Amen

O God ..I’m stressed!!

sunsets

As I have been preparing my sermon … stress seems to be uppermost in my mind. The stress of a daughter preparing and surviving a wedding, the stress of a family whose family member is in prison, the stress of growing old, the stress of meeting deadlines, the stress of being a Mum, daughter, sister, friend, confidante, grandma .. and of course minister !!

However as I ponder on this subject, I realise that I am not alone … I am surrounded by ‘stressful’ people. The knack is to recognise the stress, and ask for help … asking for help is not a sign of weakness but a sign of strength… and know that we are surrounded by ‘angels’ who will ‘pick up’ on our stresses and help us to relieve them. That is not to say they will take them or even make them go away, but by compassion, gentleness and tenderness they help us know we are not alone… then we can face to new dawn.

Jesus was surrounded by his friends who sometimes did not recognise that he was stressed, but Jesus did say that we must be a  ‘neighbour’ to those in need… that means being ‘nosey’ and keep alert if there are problems with those around us…..then one day …they maybe able to be there for us…..

Prayer

God who understand our stresses and strains

Be with as we go about our daily responsibilities.

Enable us to see the bigger picture.

And when situations arise-

where we are confronted

with putting the values of faith, or values of self first

remind us that Jesus also experienced this balancing act

which causes Stress for him

When division erupts,

Bring your healing light to bathe wounds

Bring your calming wisdom to speak words with integrity

Bring your inner peace to soothe troubled spirits.

May we always be aware of Stress, division and conflict that surrounds us

And through your grace

May we always be peacemakers…

Through the Christ

Who felt the stress of life as he walked this earth

Through the Spirit who strengthened and supported him

Amen

Julian of Norwich and the ‘three windows’

julian of nowich

A little known fact about Julian of Norwich is that she was the first woman to write a book in English. Again I am astounded how a woman, an anchoress could influence the community and the world she lived in, especially in a male dominated society….. when she was incarcerated in a ‘cell’.

In her ‘cell’, or stone room,  she had three windows where she encountered God.

The first window was where she received the sacraments, as the window looked directly into the church. The priest would visit her with the ‘daily office’, and she could observe the church in worship.

The second window was where she received Food and Water to maintain her existence and also where the carers removed her waste. She kept in fairly good health throughout her time in the cell .

The third window was where people from the local community came to seek her advice on matters which concerned them. She chatted to them and formed deep relationships with individuals. Her fame spread and was visited by many wealthy and poor people.

Remembering that this was the Middle ages , where the plague had ravaged families and death and disease were rife , Julian maintained that God was with them  in there suffering . It was in this world of chaos, that she utters the words .. All shall be well, and all shall be … and all manner of things shall be well. This is in direct opposition to what the male priests were telling the parishioners; she stood her ground, as she had gained respect being an anchoress. The thought of God being close to people was a new concept, and Julian encouraged this as she shared her Theology , as God as Father, God as Mother , God as Creator and God  Suffering  just has she witnessed God’s people suffering.

This is even more remarkable, as although little is known about Julian (this is not her true name, but the name she took from the Church she attended ) she could have been a nun or a laywoman , maybe a widow who lost her child and husband to the Plague. She was extremely ill when she was 30yrs old, and it was when she recovered she wrote her book ‘Revelations of Divine Love’ , but her faith in God never wavered . She instilled Hope to people where suffering and pain was their constant companion.

Learning about Julian’s life again, has helped me reflect on ‘the windows’ I use to encounter God . The church to which I belong, the people care for me and support me, the friends and strangers I meet along life’s diverse path, the joys and sorrows that Life brings.

I hope I am bold enough to speak with authority about my faith as Julian did … to articulate my faith to encourage ,to challenge , to boldly go where many fear to tread .. and with God’s spirit as my companion.. all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well.

Prayer

Let our God of Goodness be enough for you.

Ask for nothing less,

for if you ask for less than God

you will always be left wanting.

In God:

All shall be well

and all shall be well

and all manner of things shall be well.

(Julian: Revelations         of Love)

Closeness of God … Come down O Love divine by Fernando Ortega

I have just returned for a short break … hence the lack of posts!!. No holiday for me, however my eldest daughter got married, and it was a wonderful occasion. As a single parent, I remember wondering how my daughters would ‘turn out’ as they are both very different in looks and character. As a young Mum, I can recall standing in the front room of dingy flat and shouting and being frustrated with God, wanting to God to sort everything out!! Yet, looking back I was never without a job, and always had food on the table. Now watching my eldest daughter walk down the aisle, and being asked to preach at her wedding …was a great privilege…. So Thank you Katharine.

She had wanted to walk down the aisle herself, and we had discussed it at length, and she … being a fiercely independent woman…. wanted it to be done her way. I felt as a Mum, a little put out with her decision, , but seeing her simple white dress, and string of pearls, coming through the chapel door, I had done my job , as a parent , confidante and friend . As she slowly walked, I sense she was struggling , being overcome with emotion, so when she had walked half way …..her fiancé put his book down and walked to her, steadying her, as they walked up the aisle together.

There is something profoundly theological about this, for she had been searching for God, wanting to be close to God… and I recalled many deep theological conversations we had till 3am over a bottle of wine … Yet in this man she had found the heart of God, a companion, a friend, a lover …someone who has shown her what Love and being Loved  is all about.

It was right that he walked her up the aisle … not me. I had done my part, as a mother  I had nurtured her , and asked God to help me in caring for her , now God was bringing another dimension of Love for her to experience.

I still pray for her to experience the closeness of God, and for the Holy Spirit to reveal herself in new and creative ways to the both, as they journey together in this life.

This Fernando Ortego song is for them, words by Bianco of Sienna in the 15th century and music by Ralph Vaughan Williams.

Holiness

holiness

‘Holiness’ cannot be defined and can never be adequately described, as holiness means that God is present. In exploring the meaning of ‘holiness’ we are not only searching for God, but also the meaning and value of our lives. In coming to know God, we find ourselves, because it is in God that we live and move and have our being. Gerard Hughes book ‘God in all things’, gives indications to our own personal journey and spirituality to seek God and to find holiness.

  • Hunger for Knowledge and Truth is a sign of our holiness, as God beckons us into a deeper communion with him.
  • The gift of awe and wonder, enabling us to sense the sacredness of a particular place, or  glimpse the of depth in another person is also a sign of holiness.
  • Laughter as a sign of holiness is the ability to laugh at ourselves, and see the comedy of a situation. A spirit of joy and merriment has been one of the special hallmarks of those who are declared saints!!
  • Human Love and desire as a sign of holiness. Love can take us out of ourselves, but there is always a part of us where no person, no created thing can satisfy our inner hunger. Loving another person releases us from our self-centredness and draws us into the service of others.

My blog has a sub title … my long struggle to attain holiness…It is a subject  which draws me nearer to understanding God.

Holiness is cultivated, nurtured and emerges , as the more we recognise God’s presence in our lives….. the more our Holiness develops.

 

Holy God ,

May each day bring a new experience

where we can recognise your Love.

May each day bring a new joy

where we can recognise your grace.

May each day bring a new opportunity

where we can claim you as our God.

 

Amen

Touched by the Spirit

pentecost

Growing up in Blackpool, I miss many things; the Pleasure Beach and walking home with hot doughnuts, the Trams taking me to and back from school, the Sand at St Anne’s and taking my children for picnics on the beach. And finally … the wind. It really does blow a lot in Blackpool.

Sometimes it was a breeze, sometimes it was a gale. Yet the wind to me is fascinating a movement that sweeps over the sea and beyond. Every time walked on the prom, I felt the wind close around me .. it was almost as though the wind was caressing me, I would close my eyes, take a some deep breaths, and feel energized, revived and renewed. I miss the sea air and that feeling of being wrapped and held by the bracing sea breeze. As a new Christian, I remember thinking, I know God is everywhere, and sometimes I would never feel Gods presence. Yet walking in Blackpool and along its coastline, I felt the caress of God.

It’s the wind you see,….  that for me… is a great illustration of the Holy Spirit, the wind blows everywhere.

Christians throughout the ages have found the idea of the Holy Spirit curiously hard to pin down. The word ‘spirit’, when it applies to God is a metaphor. In Hebrew it translates to ruach, a ‘feminine’ word which means breath or wind; and it is a picture of air in movement. Since moving air is invisible it evokes the anonymous nature of the Spirit.

In a book called ‘Participating in God’, written by Baptist Paul Fiddes, he  describes ‘the gentle breath of God moves deep within our being, the Spirit within, and the Spirit beyond us. Both aspects mysterious, for this breath is not under our control, it is inseparable from God’.

This image of how the Spirit affects us, within and us and beyond ….is the God who touches us, intimately. When the Spirit is moving in our life and is creative, a reaction is evoked. The disciples certainly had a reaction when the flames at Pentecost descended on them. I don’t know whether actual flames appeared, but the image of being touched by flames would indeed instigate a reaction of some sort. !!

If God wanted an image to instigate a reaction in someone, well flames are just the right illustration. When I was growing up we had a coal fire, and as a young girl used to stare in the fire and see the flames dance and flicker, jumping about the fire. Imagine if you were touched by a flame, the reaction would be intense, your emotions high, you would feel a physical urge to respond. That is what God’s wants from us, a Physical urge to respond to his call, and the initiator, the encourager in this process is the Holy Spirit.

In Acts2 we hear that the disciples need a kick-start, and the Holy Spirit affected them collectively them and were renewed, the effect of this was the birth of the church. … I think we all need that gentle nudge from the Holy Spirit to kick start us into action, for the Spirit keeps on working, God still keeps on moving us onwards and forwards, it is never static.

The Spirit brings vision; it is how God speaks to us sometimes, with words of wisdom. As Christians we need to channel the visions and dreams into our ministries. It is only then that we will encounter the mysterious God who is ever within us, yet ever beyond us, and alongside us, who is on a costly voyage of bringing love into the world.

We all can lean on the wind, and be carried in the heart of God and be revived, and we can also be carried on the wind, into the future, renewed and energized.

Prayer

As disciples we need to accept the Spirit,

the Paraclete,

the one who will stand alongside us with of Jesus

the challenges she may bring us,

the movement she creates ,

the wisdom she instills , and

the opportunities she generates

to be alongside us… in Spirit and in Truth .

Amen