Thursday, December 27, 2012

One for the money....

There are many readings for the Sunday after Christmas which this year falls on 30th December. Readings for today can include: 1 Samuel 2:18-20, 26; Psalm 148;Colossians 3:12-17;Luke 2:41-52

You could take 10 minutes each day to read one of the passages and listen to the God who speaks to us through the scriptures
(some will appreciate the call to servanthood that is in the obscure picture!!!)
I hope you have been enjoying this rich time of year.
The Church's calendar invites us to keep this as a range of Festivals:
St John, The Holy Family, The Sunday after Christmas,...and of course we are thinking about the coming New Year!

All of these have about them the sense of new beginnings.
So we naturally are drawn to reflect on how we respond.
What might be our resolutions?
Most of us are not particularly good at keeping these,
so much so that they are often the cause for laughter.
What if we were to take our reading today from Colossians 3
and see that here there are a whole series of new beginnings being set our for us to act upon
As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.
Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.
Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.
And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body.
And be thankful.
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God.
And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

This agenda is almost as challenging as any world class summit
There is a range of things we could focus on as our resolutions
...not just for the New Year but for our Christian life.
clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.

Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other;

The image of putting on new clothing is a popular one that Paul uses.
It is about the outward appearance that we project to others
and also about the way we keep ourselves secure and intact!
Paul sees
  • kindness,
  • humility, gentleness
  • and patience
to be the hallmarks of the Christian.

I had a very intellectual friend once who was really too smart for his own good.
But he also had a great sense of priority
and he would say...if it was a choice between being intellectual and being kind
then being kind was the way to go
We often forget that.
We justify unkindness, impatience, intolerance
in all sorts of rationalistic ways 
but we hear the Gospel point us elsewhere.
This year can we we see that it is 
kindness, humility, and patiencethat are meant to draw us and lead us on

as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.
New beginning will also need to be about forgiveness
We all carry a burden of the unforgiving heart
of those who have hurt us recently or a long time ago,
the Gospel tells us that in order to be free ourselves
we need to forgive
where are you being called to forgive at this new beginning?
And will you do it?

Above all, clothe yourselves with love,

It comes as no suprise to us that the Gospel points us towards love as the key.
Not the mushy sort of slush,
or the sexy kind of imaginary stuff that is often exploitative
and may even steer us to sinfulness
but rather the self-giving love
of parents towards a child
of one who gives themself for another
We see in Jesus 
the ideal of love that we are called to.
it binds everything together in perfect harmony.

Finally Paul reminds us
that we are called to be in relationship with Christ.
The fruit of this will be peace, stability, harmony...who of us does not want this?
let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts,
and Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly;

Here Paul would appear to be talking both about that word that we read
which teaches and admonishes us in all wisdom;
and fills our hearts with praise

but it is also about whatever you do, in word or deed,
we are to do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus,
giving thanks to God the Father through him.
All this might seem a tall order
but it is the way of the true disciple
the way we are called to follow.
It is not so resolutions
as ongoing resolutions
The character of the life of faith
that we seek to form in ourselves and in each other.
  • kindness and humility
  • forgiveness
  • love and peace
  • relationship with Christ
A prayer for the New Year
In a stable in Bethlehem, 
Lord, you show us a humility that we find overwhelming and wonderful
In the gift and mystery of human life togetther, you show us kindness, love and peace
And you invite us to live creatively in harmony with you and with each other. 
Let this year be the year when we will dwell richly with Christ
and Christ will be born anew in our lives. Amen

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Hearing the baby

I seem to do a lot of talking about 
“God speaking to us”
I would say for example
“God is speaking to us
through the birth of Jesus”

What I find a little but more alarming
is that we seldom, if ever,
have the conversation
about what does it mean to say
“God is speaking to me”

We should know.

Some psychiatric books
would tell you for example
that “God speaking to you” 
is a sign that I am not a well person.

If we move this story away from the specific
(and whether you or I are mad)
we could ask how this story  in general
speaks to  the human condition.

We can see for example 
the idea that we know God
not by being rich or smart,
but by being vulnerable like a child.

Most of us find that idea fairly easy to grasp.

Archbishop Rowan Williams said as we think about this rather strange group of people ..shepherds, a young  woman and her older fiancé, astrologers and heaven knows who else

that the most unlikely people will find they are looking for the same thing and recognise each other instead 

That insight is quite worth having.

We can then say, now that we have got the idea

How then does this story about God’s life
speak to my life?

What’s happening to me now? And how does the birth of a baby speak to my situation?

This is not madness 
this is paying attention 
to how the Word is made flesh in my life.

We find that in our lives
the Baby of Bethlehem
as a child, as a man
speaks to us of forgiveness
vulnerability and forgiveness.

How is he speaking to you today?
And will you hear?

The most important thing

Christmas has become awfully tangled up for us.

It is too commercial, we say,
people no longer know the story of Jesus.
We should do more than just be nice to people  on one day a year

All that is true
And we we ourselves...can stop it being too commercial
can share the story of Jesus
and we can of course be nice to people any time we like 

We don't need to be surprised by any or all of this

Because when we are presented by the idea of
God becoming human
in the form of Jesus.
We have the idea that God is in the whole of life,
not just the nice bits.
or the proper bits.

He is in the commercialism,
and amidst the difficult relationships

God comes to us in human form
not just so that we might experience a sort of divine political correctness
Or get wrapped over the knuckles
because we've ben a bit naughty.

It is because we are in a mess
that God comes to stand alongside us.

Where is the mess in your life today
Where are things really going pear-shaped

The babe of Bethlehem
is God's sign that he is reaching out to us
where it matters.

Tonight in the quiet

you may invite him to speak with you

and just as we can seemingly recognise at Christmas that
our world is a bit too greedy
that the story of Jesus is too important to lose
and that we can improve our relationships.

What is Jesus saying to me?


Of course we may just then forget all about it
But God's purpose
as he comes to be with us.
Is that things might be rather different

Do we have the courage,
to listen and respond ?

Seems like an offer to good to refuse.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

What is it that you seek?

thoughts for Christmas  (Mach 1)...some readings  can be Isiaiah 9, Psalm 96-98, Titus 2 & 3, Luke 2 (you can use bible, to access these and other readings) 

Archbishop Rowan Williams told the story some years ago of being invited whilst in India
to bless the Christmas pudding mixture
as the staff of a local hotel prepare to make the first batch
which he does 
to the blaring sounds of Jingle Bells
We probably all have little stories to tell 
of strange Christmas  encounters.
  • People we only see once a year
  • Some people who we know will not be with us for another Christmas
  • Strange incidents that happen when we get together...sometimes for good and sometimes  for ill
Christmas is full of these and Rowan Williams says

that the most unlikely people will find they are looking for the same thing and recognise each other instead 

There is a group of shepherds, rough men who sleep out in the open.
Who have to drink to keep warm at night
Who see some blinding lights in the sky
and rush to witness
the birth of a baby.

There is the woman who gets pregnant before she is married
and her fiance who knows he is not the father.

There are three dignified (or perhaps weird) gentleman
who are dark and mysterious
who have come from a long way away
in search of something
and carrying rich treasure.

There is another king
who is so fearful
that, we are told, he orders the slaughter of many children
in order to try and prevent a rival claim to his throne.

What is it that they seek?
What, we might ask, do we seek at Christmas time?
It is, of course, God
We may not always name it as such.
But we seek that which will satisfy our deepest longings and needs.
It is unlikely therefore to be a new bicycle
a diamond ring, or even an iPad.
We all know
that as as desirable as these things are they are fleeting
and will always break, or wear out.
We can damage or lose them
just as easily as we get them.

We can have the biggest and best
and there can still be an empty void inside us.

We find it rather frightening
that we can have lots of stuff
and yet we are still not fulfilled.

Getting  and having, 
does not actually seem to satisfy our wanting

So at Christmas we see some pointers
Chiefly, we see a person Jesus Christ.
Our ultimate fulfilment will come about
when we know Jesus
as friend and brother.
As you come to receive Communion today
pray that you may know Jesus anew.

Chiefly we find Jesus revealed as a child
reminding us that for many, probably most of us
this grace will be experienced through our human relationships
and perhaps we need to note
that it is not the bitter and twisted relationships of the adult
that we sometimes presume to call sophisticated
but rather the open trusting relationship of the child
that better reveals how we might experience God.

Some of us find our family and human relationships really hard.
Christmas gives us an opportunity to begin again
to try a little harder
This doesn't so much make it easy
as make it possible to try again.
Don't miss the opportunity.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Full, and yet fuller, of grace

On being full of grace

The funeral service says (quoting the spirit of the psalm) "In the midst of life we are in death", i
Iff not 'death' then we have a fair bit of trouble and mess.
In all this comes a message 
that God deals graciously with us.

Some Readings for this fourth and last week of Advent...some readings are: Micah 5:2-5; Luke 2; Psalm 80:1-7; Hebrews 10:5-10; Luke 1:39-55 
For me this season, whilst not being easy.
is always one that is rich 
in experience
and encounters.
We often have to dialogue with 
diffiicult things
particularly death and dying;

we all have to engage with
the complexity of our human relationships;

and there is a richness of 
secular and religious imagery that abounds

Amidst all this there are the wonderful words, 
spoken and sung.
with which, after 60 years,
I am well-familiar. As we all are

This is necessary,
but not always positive;
some people (research tells us) find Christmas very stressful.

Moving on 
One of the recurring themes of Advent is GRACEThis is a "buzz word", of course,
and easily glossed over.
Grace is about the free gift of God
of life itself.
God gives himself, his life to us
in these and many other ways
all the time
powerfully, intimately, gently, abundantly.

The readings point us to a number of different aspects of this.
God gives his grace to the world
We live in a gift of a world.

As our eyes turn to Bethlehem
we are also reminded how human beings
sometimes are hell-bent [advised use of words!] on destroying the giftedness
we have received from God.
Pray for peace in Bethlehem
that they may know the peace that Jesus bring.

Not easy work

The writer of Hebrews reminds us
that the era of grace in which we now live
is a new era
In theological terms, 
we are in a new era
because the death and resurrection of Jesus
have put us in a new place.
What this might remind us of is that
grace does not just happen accidently
it is as a response of God's deliberate action
While God's grace is abundant and plentiful
It will not just overwhelm us in in our lives
we need to open ourselves to it
and also be responsive to it.
That is; Grace is given, freely given
do we accept this free gift of God's love.

As you reflect on these last 3 or 4 weeks 
and the richness of experience
what is God calling you to respond to.
Have you responded? 
Will you respond?

It is likely that we see the gracious gift of people.
Have we taken time to think on this?
How is God calling us to respond to those who he gives us.
Not always easy, 
but part of the way that we are called to grow into the personhood 
that God has in store for us.

The theme character for this week is MaryIt is interesting to hear the classical words
that often refer to her.
They are contained in the angel's greeting to her 
in that house in Nazareth
as she goes about her daily business.
"Hail Mary full of grace"
Don't let anti-Catholic prejudice blind us to the fact that these words come straight from the Bible themselves.
What the angel says to Mary, God says to all of us.
Hail full of grace!!
Each one of us has a life full of grace.

It is not the easy cheap grace that titillates us, 
or makes us feel tipsy
Sometimes it is deeply sad and confronting,
ALWAYS it is drawing us closer to God
and making us more fully human.

What has God been saying to you this season?
Where are you called to respond 
ever more and more freely to God's giftedness
is God saying, perhaps, 
....there is someone you need to forgive, 
or someone whose forgiveness you need to seek

Does God set before you a lonely person 
to whom you can be a grace?

Is there a situation that you need to resolve?
Is there a freedom that is summoning you?

Will you take this gift, this offer of freedom and embrace it?

As Mary is confronted by the Angel...Hail full of grace!
and as she responds...saying be it done to me according to your word

so the angel says to her this new promise, The Lord be with you
The gift, the grace, the promise of Christmas
as we open ourselves to the 

sometimes, often, 
maybe even usually difficult gift of grace
we encounter ImmanuelGod with us
The gift is here, accept it...full of grace
And May the Lord be with you.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

More thoughts before Christrmas

I have been faintly bemused in the last week  by how my Christmas doesn’t appear to be the same as what is going on around me.
The paper has a vox pop asking what the favourite carol was 
and the answers we got were Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, White Christmas and Jingle Bell Rock!   
Aren’t actually carols, there you go.
The Camera Shop is sending me special offers for the Twelve Days of Christmas
Trouble is Christmas hasn’t begun.

It is easy to bemoan this.
The world seems to no more about Fr Christmas than about Jesus.
Ho, Ho, Ho

Actually we are just about to begin a part of the season that shows we have got this the wrong way round.
Not Ho, Ho Ho at all

But O O O
Each day from tomorrow until Christmas a special song is sung
which begins with the exclamation Oh!
We know them because we sing them in that hymn O come, o come.
So on 24 December we sing
O of the great Christ words
The other are seductive .
Tomorrow O wisdom! God is the depth of Wisdom
O Lord...Adonai...God is the Lord of life
O root of Jesse- the God of our family, our history and our future & the Key to all that is to come
The sunrise and the Lord of the nations.

It’s a bit different from crackers and tinsel!

What do you want John asks the people who come, 
religious teachers
ordinary people, tax collectors and tough guys.
And they all want what we want
To be close to Godf.

He tells them
to pay attention to their lives
What’s happening where you are
Don’t cheat, don’t bully

The (perhaps fading) Christian message
is that God is with us
in the midst of what we do
our work, our family
the way we treat other people
It’s not Ho Ho Ho
It’s that it is about...forgiveness
O...seeing that God loves everyone
O...not trying to find over there...but rather to find God here in the midts.

To seek for Wisdom 
to let the light and life of God shine like the Sun

I suspect we are being  sold a pup 
by those who only want to sell us stuff

Even those who only want to laugh.

Jesus is God with us.

And we are being invited to find that

in our relationships
as we struggles, as we succeed

in our difficulties, 

to allow God to draw close 
and not just be satisfied with superficiality.

There is a big difference between Jingle Bells and O come all ye faithful 

Advent Calendar Day 12 - Good News travels fast

Then justice will dwell in the wilderness,
   and righteousness abide in the fruitful field. 
The effect of righteousness will be peace,
   and the result of righteousness, quietness and trust for ever. 
My people will abide in a peaceful habitation,
   in secure dwellings, and in quiet resting-places. 
Isaiah 32:16-18

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Advent Calendar Day 11- Wise people seek him still

Though the Lord may give you the bread of adversity
and the water of affliction,
yet your Teacher will not hide himself any more, 
but your eyes shall see your Teacher
Isaiah 30:20

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Advent Calendar Day 10 - Salvation is yours

Lord, you are my God;
   I will exalt you, I will praise your name;
for you have done wonderful things,
   plans formed of old, faithful and sure. 
Isaiah 25:1

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Advent Calendar - Day 9 -O Mary, O Joseph

Thought I'd try and be a bit lighter this week

All you inhabitants of the world,
   you who live on the earth,
when a signal is raised on the mountains, look!
   When a trumpet is blown, listen! 
Isaiah 18:3

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Look elsewhere

 for the Third Sunday of Advent, 16th December 2012: Zephaniah 3:14-20; Philippians 4:4-7; Luke 3:7-18

Some people rail against religious self-help groups.
I encourage people to be introspective 
but some I hear them say
"What are these people looking at? What are they trying to find?...Looking at themselves!! As far as I can see"
They may have a point.
Many of us religious people get sidetracked 
looking only at ourselves.
The genuine religious pursuit, 
when we encounter it, must inevitably turn us outwards.
I am struck, for example, 
by two or three great figures of the last 50 years
who have striven to encourage people to turn inward 
and learn to pray deeply and to teach others 
to be deep rather than shallow
Some such are Thomas Merton and Henri Nouwen
I think also of BonhoefferMother Teresa, and Jean Vanier.
There are many others 
who have perhaps not caught the public imagination in quite the same way.
All of these people advocate a strong internal, reflective life.
And yet all of them were pushed increasingly outside their cocoon towards an active, converting ministry which many people (myself included) find profoundly attractive.
Nouwen, for example, ( perhaps the most popular of these) 
gave the final years of his life to looking after a profoundly disabled man on a one to one basis.

Many thought this was a waste of a brilliant intellect and a gifted author.
Nouwen, however, saw it as the climax of his life in God, 
and you detect in his writing 
about this young man he cared for, Adam, 
a man who needed twenty four hour support
Nouwen displays a much profounder encounter with God 
and life than any of his other masterly writings were able to convey.

The movementThis is precisely the direction that we are moved in at this point in Advent.
not towards a fanciful introspection
or a sort of namby pamby Christmas card view of life
in which "God's in his heaven and all's right with the world" as Browning penned

Rather we hear Zephaniah
talking about the establishment of a real earthly kingdom 
in which the marginalised,
the poor, disabled, weak and outcast
will be cared for and will be secure (hardly a view of our present world)

We hear John the Baptist 
 inviting people to prepare for the coming of a Messiah
telling them that it is not just about a narrow religious practice
rather it is about practical expressions

        "What should we do?" they ask him

...We should share, we should be honest, we should not cheat

This is a far cry from the sort of introspection 
that the self righteous agnostics often quite rightly condemn, 
which is inward looking and self-obsessed

Likewise in one of the the purple passages we hear Paul saying to us that we need to orientate ourselves in the right way
and he uses the word rejoice to describe that orientation.
It is worth reflecting about the absolute nature of this practice of "rejoicing"
Rejoice in the Lord ALWAYS, in EVERYTHING by prayer and supplication
and the fruit of this is that Lord will become near
and we will discover this profound peace...which passes understanding...that we long for.

So, misericordiae mea
I have to admit that the angry old agnostics may have got it right.
They are right to rail about the self indulgent, inward looking 
that passes for "faith" today.
It is shallow, and to be despised.

But it is not what the Gospel advocates either!The true life of faith 
will indeed seek to pray seriously and carefully
But that commitment will orientate towards others in a spirit of compassion and hope.

This week in Advent
  1. Try to find a time to be quiet to God and make a commitment to try to pray better
  2. In that time look not only at how God leads you in, but also where God is drawing you out. What act of service, care of compassion (plenty of opportunity in this week prior to Christmas) is being set before you? Why not try to do it?
  3. In the spirit of Rejoicing! give thanks to God for anything that stands out as an opportunity for life rather than death.