Advent 2 – Stars in the heavens – Wednesday 6th December – Luke 21:34-38

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And all the people would get up early in the morning to listen to him in the temple. v38

It’s hard being a disciple. There are days when we want to do our own thing; maybe we feel rebellious, grumpy, and the last thing we want to hear is about thinking of others, when all we want is to think about ourselves!

Yet breathing spaces occur in the most unexpected places, to make us realise the importance of being a follower of Jesus. It could be a word, a sensation or a phone call, where we stop, think and allow  Jesus to soothe our selfishness souls, and return to the Holy Habits of discipleship. For me, that breathing space is every morning, when I hear the birdsong calling me to wake to a new day. What’s yours?

Lord, thank you for many ways you show your Love for us, in birdsong, in tender moments, and in the cry of a newborn Infant. Amen 

 

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Body Theology….Evidence of a life lived.

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If I wanted to describe my outlook on life, I would use a phrase … I celebrate life in all its fullness’. I know it’s a strange phrase, as most of us would reply ‘and so say all of us’. But what does that mean for us as Christians …when we follow a God whose body was mutilated and tortured on a cross through the death of Jesus., Some people may look at their own bodies and feel shame, disgust, and revulsion.

We need to reflect and reclaim what that means for us in the light of ‘Body Theology’.

Our bodies are how we live and move within God’s world. As St Teresa of Avila clams … God has no body but ours, no feet but ours, no hands but ours, ours is the body with which Christ moves.

So what will Christ feel and see if he moves about in my Body!

Well after three hip operations, two children, a life of enjoying good company, friendships, food and fellowship, pneumonia and various illnesses …this very rounded body is holding out!  Nevertheless, my Body is sacred … with its scars and cellulite, and spots and menopausal symptoms.

My body tells a story of life that I have lived in all of its fullness… some have been painful memories which i would want to forget, where ‘abuse’ has tortured my inner being, yet I want to celebrate God dwelling in me  .

I have loved passionately and deeply, with all of my being, and some scars are deeply hidden, but to love and trust someone, to give one’s Body over to someone else to care for whether friend , relative or lover is incredibility humbling….. God delights in Love

I have played energetically, seeing the sights and sounds of different cultures, different traditions, and different relationships, all have enriched me in many surprising ways, pushing my Body to its limit( for me ) ! … God delights in my Playfulness

I have lived rejoicing in my womanhood, experiencing  being a single mother, breast feeding my children, the menopausal symptoms which can overtake my Body, forgoing food to feed my then two young children; snacking and not eating properly is still a habit I have not relinquished. … God delights in my Faithfulness

I have worked hard, as a nurse, teacher, friend, colleague, and now a minister, and have given 150%, which yes has taken a toll on my Body, through tiredness and exhaustion… God delights in my commitment.

Yet, my Body is a place where God has delighted in all my experiences, and still delights. My Body is still the place of discovery, still the place where God chooses to dwell, and be with me as I explore the world around me.

So… I am not thin , so…. I don’t exercise , yes have yo- yo dieted for most of my life, but God’s Spirit dwells in me and delights in my Body that brings fullness into my life.

I have LGBT and disabled friends who have over the years helped me reflect on my Body, when some have had gender reassignment, some in wheelchairs and to them I will be forever grateful. Body Theology speaks to the deep inner self within us. It bubbles with excitement as we push our boundaries of discovery.

My physical, psychological and sexuality are how I live my life in all of its fullness, and I give glory to God for my experiences so far, and for ones that I have yet to encounter.

What will Christ feel and see in your Body ?

Glorious God

Our bodies have been changed

over the years through disease and injury,

Yet you choose to lovingly dwell within us.

Help us to Love our Bodies that tell the story of the life we have lived

To sense the delight you have when we discover new experiences

And when our Bodies give up on us

Journey with us until we become a new creation.

Amen

I am grateful for the beautiful images of the’ abundant Goddess’ which have helped me explore my own Body Theology.

‘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

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

Walking on the edge

walking on the edge

Every year, ministers in the United Reformed Church attend a Spring/ Summer school. This year is an opportunity to consider with colleagues what is means to be part of the ‘Leadership team’ in URC churches in the 21st century. .

The speaker‘s opening words caught my attention, ‘Leadership ..  is a risky place to be ,for  if you are too near the edge you can fall off into chaos, and if you are not on the edge you solidify and become stagnant’.

In past years, church members have been associated with the Church from cradle to grave ( many  over 60 and 70 years),  absorbed faith knowledge and then repeated it. Hence the phrase, it’s always worked, it was fine for me, so why change ? Change can mean uncertainty and anxiety, but if we are to be on the edge, then change must happen. By that I mean not just about Church buildings, but about a change of heart and understanding of what it means to be a disciple and be a relevant church in today’s society.

The question was posed that being ‘church on the edge’, means that we must appreciate that society has changed. In the last 40yrs, Medical knowledge has increased, so too has Technology, Engineering and of course  Theology. We live in an age where we have a choice, and vital to our choosing is discussion and discernment. Alongside that is journeying with people, who are trying to find out what God means to them, through discussion not blind acceptance.

Its seems to me that being in ‘Shared Leadership in Churches (and by that I just don’t just mean  the minister but the whole appointed Eldership as well) can easy be perceived as ‘Management’, however management is about problem solving. Leadership asks the question .. why are we doing this and is it the right thing to further the Kingdom of God..

For the church to have a viable future, the Gospel must not just be spoken about , but to be lived out, where forgiveness and inclusivity changes lives, and so transformation to hope and wholeness can be visibly seen.

I have no answers, save that I know that I believe the people of God need to know they are beloved and treasured by God, and that the rebuilding of trust, restoring confidence and renewing of hope must happen. I am grateful for David Grosch Miller for his thoughtful reflections, however he left a challenging call to all of us … we are called to be, not just pastors…. but prophets. I am grateful he used Moses in Exodus as an example of Leadership, with all his faults, flawed humanity and hesitations, he trusted God.

God who led your people out of slavery to a land flowing with milk and honey,

We pray that you would lead us to the edge,

Not so we can fall into chaos, but we can see the true landscape ahead of us

Be in our minds that we may reflect on issues of faith with clarity

Be in our mouths that we may speak words that bring wholeness

Be in our steps , so we may walk alongside the edge with confidence knowing you are there to hold us and guide us.

We ask this in Jesus name

Amen

Learning from Hildegard

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Yet again, immediately after Easter, I am drawn the Spiritual mystics that have gone before me, people who have wrestled to find God in their own context, and again I am drawn to Hildegard of Bingen, a woman who was ahead of her time. Although the exact date of her birth is unknown, it is approx. 1098 and she died 1179 She was born in the middle ages, when men ruled areas of finance, politics, and the church. She broke new grounds for women, as she wrote theological, botanical, and medical books, as well as letters, music and panting.

She was visionary, who at the age of three believed that God communicated visions to her. Being a woman, many dismissed it as nonsense, however she rose to become an influential person, and many requests an audience with her, in her role as abbess to ask for advice on many issues .

Why am I returning to this woman? What would she make of the world we inhabit?

Well she believed that we experience God through our senses. . sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch, and as we continue our journey as Easter people of faith, we must be aware of the diversity of God’s world; the richness in creation and the variety of life that it sustains alongside the polarity of wealth and poor as the rich seem to be getting the richer and the poor seem to be squeezed harder with more financial restraints.

I have no mystical answers to the chaotic world we live in, apart from the knowledge that Hildegard addressed issues of her time, in her own way…. and so should we. We need to be assured that God is with us just as God was with Hildegard,, and that we like her will utter words which would change hearts.

Just as a mirror, which reflects all things, is set in its own container,

so too the rational soul is placed in the fragile container of the body.

In this way, the body is governed in its earthly life by the soul,

and the soul contemplates heavenly things through faith.

HILDEGARD OF BINDEN, letter to the Monk Guibert, 1175

Life is like music

I love the thought of the created world living in harmony with each other … yet at times we want to go it alone. As Passion Week approaches, the crowds are rich in song and praise, yet all too quickly Jesus will be alone.

When life is joyous and fulfilled, it is as though we are one with our Creator God, when the orchestra of life is rich, a full bodied tone reaches out and fills our soul … yet there are other times when our life is like a solo oboe player, playing a soulful tune…waiting for the instruments of life to re-join the music.

I wrote this prayer a number of years ago to remind me of the joyous praises as Jesus enters Jerusalem, the loneliness as the week progresses, then returning to the hope and euphoria of the resurrection.

O God,

You made the world.

In creation we see the wonder of your handiwork… the animals, and rolling hills.

In our humanity we see, we feel , we sense your presence

Surrounding us, embracing us, and sustaining us.

In this creative atmosphere,

An artistic process occurs.

You call us…A Voice …a melody …a song .

You become the conductor to a wonderful symphony .

The sweet solo song of the Lark ascending from earth to sky.

The musical notes of our conversation with each other.

The excited and enthusiastic melodies of the ultimate joy

In knowing you are near and guiding us.

Creation and humankind come together in harmony,

To sing a chorale of unity and wholeness.

Where our song is sweet and our spirits soar at the very sound of you.

You are the conductor, the composer …of all that is.

However, Lord

There have been times

When we want to go it alone.

When we think we can create and compose

A sweeter and more distinctive sound.

We have listened to our own voice.

Clashing noises have been heard.

Our pride and self-centredness create disharmony,

And we find ourselves alone.

The grand symphony has gone

And the loneliness of individuals hearts wander aimlessly,

Longing to be re-united,

with the harmony of creation , humankind and you.

O God

Forgive us our arrogance

Forgive us our pride

Forgive us for destroying the harmony of others.

In the silence, let us ask for forgiveness.

Lord,

Thank you for your forgiveness and

healing our wounded spirits

Thank you for enabling us to join the orchestra of your creation.

Where voices, hearts and spirits can mingle together

Until we become a permanent member of your eternal musical creation…. Amen