‘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

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A summer Christmas

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Had a wonderful service this week … the theme was …a summer Christmas !.

Let me explain …we hear the Christmas story in December , and how God came to dwell with us , God Immanuel , God and the Incarnation , however I think during the year, we need reminding about the fact that God IS STILL and ALWAYS with us .

So on a hot summer Sunday morning, in the church service, we heard  the Christmas stories , the Angels and the young Mum , the journey from Bethlehem to Beacon Hill, and the travellers, visitors and gifts.( with slight amendments )

I always marvel how God uses many people to bring this Christmas story to life.

We heard about the’ angel ‘and the young Mum , which as particularly poignant as we have a nursery based in our church ; we then heard about the journey that people take to get their destination, and it was great surprise to have one of our young people back .. if only for a week , to tell us about his experiences , before he goes on his gap year, the people he met , the friends he made , and also the modern day ‘Herods’ that is the people to avoid !!

Then we focused on gifts, the gift of ourselves to other people, and my grandson , who I have mentioned before on here, performed a front roll down the centre of the church. We all smiled, and cheered …. And as we did this….we sensed the delight around the congregation, delight that God is present , delight that even in the messy world we live in , there are glimpses of the Spirit lifting our tensions and burdens .

In summer, children gather to build sandcastles ….. let’s celebrate a summer Christmas , and build a nativity in the sand,( the above picture is  a sand sculpture in Jesolo) let children come and tell the story of when God came on earth to dwell… and let us as parents and fellow’ travellers’ remind them, that he is STILL AND ALWAYS will be here.

Prayer

God who breaks through the Christmas stories,

In the summer sunshine

help us recognise the voice of an angel

help us to give and receive the gift of friendship with those we meet

Help us to ‘gossip the gospel’

So all may know you as ‘God Immanuel ‘

God who lives and dwells with us … not just on a cold winters night ,

But in the sunshine of a summer day

Amen

‘God-centered’ Families

the beauty of sand

Family trees…… more to the point tracing family trees. Who has traced their family tree?. There are even books and leaflets you can get on how to do it properly. The TV schedules have really gone to town on this; many celebrities have traced their families. The newsreader Moira Stuart, and David Tenant otherwise known as Dr who, Deidre Barlow from Coronation street to name but three… and we also have Long Lost Families, where individuals attempt to find long lost relatives.

My cousin traced my grandma’s family back about 4 generations, and found out we came from Gloucester.We put such importance on our names. It gives us our identity, our heritage, our individuality, or uniqueness.Another example is …..family doctors . How is it that some families have a series of doctors, vicars, or plumbers  in past generations?

Having an identity, a base, a family is vitally important.

But in our society  there are people who are struggling with identity; with where they come from and …who is their family

  • Homelessness where many thousands of people whom roam the pavements and seek to find shelter from the harsh realities of our world .
  • Leprosy where who have been alienated from society, rejected by family members because of a skin disease and the effects of that disease of their bodies
  • Refugees and asylum seekers where those speaking out against injustice, conflict and people who have been displaced particularly those is war-torn countries who have lost their family roots.

Families and particular ‘identity’ is important to us, for they tell us and those around us who we are.

Many people use a wonderful image to describe our ‘church family’… a dysfunctional family !… We have many relationships to consider, some positive and affirming, others can be very challenging and destructive.

Like the sand in the picture above, each particle of sand is unique and beautiful , yet different and distinctive. It can be risky living next to a particle of sand that has very sharp edges !!

We may speak the words of a Christian, but do we really open up and live a risky Christian life, where our words and actions are spoken in love… knowing that in doing so, our reputation will be judged and opinions formed for we are adhering the sacredness of God.

Living our lives in love… is risky; it means that we can never said we have got it right.

It means that love is source of strength and our life…or as a wise woman said to me a long time ago, love is the currency of eternity.

Love is the essential ingredient of our behaviour, but as I mentioned earlier it has a cost. The cost is that we must be vulnerable, exposed , not allowing the abrasive elements of our characteristics come to the fore but to allow God to speak for us

Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord.’ Now I have put my words in your mouth. See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.’

We may feel that we are not mature enough to speak for God, by the very nature of plucking, building and planting it means challenge and change, but God recognizes our fear and promises us to be with us as we step out in faith to obey.

Family trees…..whatever your surname, …..however you trace back your family, …remember that  we are all in the family of God, and being part of that family means that we live our lives in tension with the secular and the sacred world.

Next time you speak, next time you utter any words, ask yourself are they the sacred words of love from God.

Prayer

Lord like the grain of sand that is washed repeatedly on the shore .

Wash me in the waters of Love ,

That I may seek to do your will

That I may strive to walk the extra mile

That I may speak words of love as the ‘currency’ of a Christian.

Amen

Tent people or Temple people

5_tent-church

The other day I was visiting a parish in Madras. After the service I was talking with the elders. I asked them ‘What function does this church perform?’ They were a bit embarrassed. Then one of them said, ‘It caters for the needs of its members. I said, “Then it should be disbanded.'” (Bishop) Lesslie Newbigin, 1974.

This quote certainly makes you think about the purpose of the church in today’s context. However unfortunately, many people still think the church is a club for ‘do-gooders’, and a place where we can just care for each other inside the four secure (or maybe crumbling ) walls.

This quote from Leslie Newbiggin , addresses the fact that the Church is not about looking after the people who attend this so called ‘exclusive club’… but the primary function of the church is to walk with those who are outside the church, to address injustice, and to reach out to the unlovely.

Whether we like it or not, many Christian churches have developed into  ‘Temple People’, putting their efforts into maintaining buildings, looking inward when we should be looking outward. One church I know removed some beautiful stained glass windows and replaced them with plain glass … so they could see the world buzzing about outside the church building during their Sunday service.

The early Church in the New Testament focussed their energy in gathering, praying and discerning, a ‘Tent People’ looking outside as to where to pitch our so called ‘Tent’. Some Churches can be excellent at addressing the needs of people outside the church … they are very switched on and aware of what needs to be done, nevertheless, ‘Tent people’ are not just about doing the caring and serving; Tent people need to be with God , listen to what God is calling them to be, and be flexible and be open enough to move with the times.

‘Tent people’ are nomadic, as they sometimes can be seen as doing things a little differently, nevertheless the words from Newbiggin area real challenge to all of us, … not to be complacent, not to assume we have the right answers, but to listen to the guidance of God’s Spirit that moves deep within us.

God of the Tent and Temple

Help us to be aware of the needs of your world

to Listen , and not to assume we know best.

to Encourage , and not to assume we can do better,

to Love, and not to state conditions .

What a privilege !

flower_of_life_crop_circle

I am always humbled when I conduct a funeral. I think it is such an honour to be there with relatives and friends as they ‘hand over’ the person that they have loved and cherished over many years to God.

However, it does need reinforcing that God never leaves us, and ‘Time’ as we understand it, is all too precious. However in God’s ‘Time’, life and death merge into a cyclical time, not linear. God is present with us in this life and also continues to cherish us through into the phase of our journey… the circle of existence. We are all part of the essence of God, so when we journey through to the next part of our existence that we call heaven, I like to think that the Spirit of God that dwells within us, merges with the perfect essence of God, which we call Love, and therefore we become a new creation.

We are changed and transformed into something that radiates God’s love even brighter than before. I am not so bold as to think that I know what heaven is like, however as I Christian, I believe and have hope,  that we have a new beginning surrounded by the Grace and Love of God; that I am reunited with all my friends and relatives, whatever their colour, gender, race or creed. ‘For there is nothing in this world or the next that can ever separate us from the Love of God’. What a privilege to have faith!!

God who is Love,

Enable us to recognise your Spirit within others

So we may look into their eyes

and see your love radiate back to us

So we may feel the pain,

and hold your hand

So we may speak word of comfort

And show you that we care

What a privilege and blessing it is

to have you in our lives

Amen   

Tough Love

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As I write this I am filled with joy as it is Mothering Sunday, the day when we acknowledge and are aware of God’s nurturing, comforting and all-embracing love  for us. It is a day to remember the women and men who have cared for us.

In a box at home I have kept the cards that my children made for Mother’s Day when they were at school. They are a lot older now 33 and 29. Yet it does not seem that long ago since they were small, and running to give me the card made from feathers and cotton wool at the school gate.

Yet I am also aware that 1in 10 people in Britain have experienced a degree of child abuse in the name of parental love; I am also aware that for some people motherhood and memories of mothers maybe tinged with sadness, regret and pain.

Being a parent does brings its highs and lows, ranging from the terrible twos and trusting threes to the turbulent teenage years. However you don’t have to be a parent though to forge meaningful relationships with children. Relationships vary whether you are a mother, father, grandparent or someone who has never had children of their own. What binds them all together is love.

Love is preached on many times, however I would like to focus on one particular type of love …tough love.

Love is a gift from God, not the fragile, vulnerable, ‘here- today- gone- tomorrow’ love, but a love forged with strength, courage and ‘stickability’.

It is by God’s grace that we can love; it is that same love, that are the cords that bind us together with God and the world ;it is that same love which Anna and Simeon felt when saw the infant Jesus,and recognised the pain that would eventually come to him and it is that same love which enables each one of us to take a step each day into the unknown day ahead.

Whether we like it or not loving is tough

Firstly, let us think for a moment about Gods love. God understood the need to let go …the stories of Adam and Eve are surely stories that echo our experience as children. Eager to try the forbidden, eager to taste new experiences and explore beyond the bounds that our parents have drawn for us.

Secondly, a mother’s Love. Mary is often portrayed as a Jesus mother an idyllic picture of family life, round the manger, the time when Jesus stayed in the synagogue and Mary could not find him and at wedding at Cana. However the story of her at the cross is often missed. Yet here she reveals a love, which is unique.

A tough love…

Loving to the uttermost.Loving when it hurts.Loving to the bitter end. She watched her son, beaten, taunted, shamed, and hung on a cross. Yet in this moment, his greatest moment, Mary was still there loving him.

Finally, the tough love of Christ on the cross. The cross truly is a place, where humanities brokenness meets Christ’s brokenness. Not just the physical, but spiritual brokenness. A place where many fear to go … however if we venture to the cross, we will be in good company. We will be alongside other people whose love has been strengthened, and forged in the cross.

One the wisest statements given to me, was by my father about my children. he said, there would come a time when I will have to drop the reins, and let them go it alone.

If you hold on too tight that’s possessive love, and they will run away. But if you gently drop the reins, they will want to come back in your arms.Wise words…. yet when the moment came for me to drop the reins … it was tough, and painful, knowing what lay ahead could be danger.

Yes, tough love is necessary for certain situations, but remember you are in good company for our love comes direct from God. A God who loves is so immense, that he can cradle all of humanity in the crook of his arm. A God who knows what is like to experience pain and nurse us back with tenderness.

Gracious God,

Whose Loving Spirit knows no bounds,

We ask that you would help us into being open to your Love

a Love that knows no limits

a Love to care for others

a Love to journey with us on a voyage of self-discovery

Enable us to see more clearly,

and so to love you more dearly, day by day

Amen

Growing in Grace

ImageOne of the most wonderful, comical and I think realistic observations of teenagers growing up are in the Harry Enfield TV shows and the sketches of Kevin and Perry. Teenagers at their worst, speaking in monosyllables, teenage babble, and Kevin has a total disrespect for his parents. I can recall this programme vividly as I had a teenager at that time….who had adopted some , although not all I am glad to say traits of Kevin and his friend Perry.

Everything was an effort.. to communicate … to learn… to generally be sociable and polite.. and as for Church.. well I think it was fair to say .. it was not high on their agendas….. and being connected and having a relationship with God was like speaking another language to them

Did you know that the Bible only gives us one story and one comment on the life of Jesus from the time he was approaching the teenage years until he’s a thirty-something starting his ministry?.. Luke 2 : 41-52

He is twelve years old.. on the verge of adolescence, and he has a mind of his own… and to a young man who has his mind set on learning about God and growing in grace , he cannot see why Mary has panicked so much !!

I remember experiencing the terrible possibility of losing my grandson William… It was a couple of years ago, granted a lot younger than Jesus is supposed to have been … but I had been walking with my mum at the Lowry centre.. He was with me on moment.. then gone from my side the next.. my heart sank , then panic , then fear , then how do I explain it  to his Mum. We found him a minute later sat on a step, watching the rays of the sun through his fingers !

Teachers tell us that Children are a joy to teach , yet they also tell us of children who disturb others , and that all too often they come from Dysfunctional families … indeed the Christian church is often referred to as a dysfunctional family… with petulant teenagers, rival siblings, anxious Mum’s and judgemental Grandfathers and Grandmothers

However the key ingredients for families… is to be nurtured in God’s grace .. to be immersed in the grace that God Gives us… not the Cheap Grace that Dietrich Bonhoffer speaks about, that is  Grace which ignores discipleship, Grace that ignores the cross and Grace that does not require repentance.

To Grow in Grace means to aware of God’s goodness , to be aware of the bountiful gifts God wants to give us .. Jesus recognised this as he sat in the synagogue as a young man, he recognized God and wanted to Grow in maturity, wisdom and stature.

At the start of the New Year, and as 2013 progresses, I pray that all people grow in wisdom , surrounded by God’s Grace… what a world that would be !!

Clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.  Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 

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