Monday, May 27, 2013

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Uncovering the mystery

Readings for the feast of the Holy Trinity May 26 2013 can include Proverbs 8:1-4,22-31, Psalm 8, Romans 5:1-5; John 16:12-15
I could sing you more than a couple of hymns or songs, some ancient some modern, that praise the Trinity.
The reasons why songs, hymns and poems might be a launching point, is because we are trying to come to grips with something that is essentially unfathomable.
And the depths of intellects, our hearts and our spirits
are more readily tapped
by poetry than by scientific analysis, or even logical deduction.

God is without bounds (infinite)
God is outside our understanding (unknowable)
God is deep within (the ground of our being)

And yet the Christian experience is
that God limited himself to bodily form in Jesus
that we can know God by relationship as Father, friend and brother,
and that the Spirit of God dwells deep within us.

The words themselves begin to blow our minds
we can’t always get our heads around this

The writer of Proverbs is telling us what is often repeated in the Bible
that God was there before anything
St Paul is telling us that we are in relationship with God, through Jesus.
That this is unlocked through the way we live our life, in suffering and in joy
Building character through endurance and filling us with hope.
A hope that builds up in us through the outpouring of God’s Spirit .
The Love of God poured into us through the Holy Spirit of God.
It sounds good doesn’t it!
Give thanks for the great glory of God who is our Creator!

Pray for the growth that comes through allowing God to use my suffering .

Ask for a new sense of hope and renewal from the Spirit of God

Yet it’s a bit difficult to take in
So let’s just focus on three key elements to pray to God for
1. That we ask God to give us a sense of awe and wonder about what it means to approach God closely (Holy, holy, holy)

2. That we ask Jesus to show us how to live as he lived. In the midst of a real life, with real suffering.    This, I suggest simply means using our prayer-imagination to talk about what is happening in our life today.   What is this character, this endurance, that God might be building in me. Am I cooperating  or do I simply not care?

3. To pray to the Spirit of God to be filled with the great sense of hope that flows from all this. That we might love unconditionally and well

These three things are not unrelated.
To do less is not to do quite enough.
Praise of the God of majesty
Closeness to the God of life
Love at the very depth of our being

For thought and prayer and action
Give thanks for the great glory of God who is our Creator! 
Pray for the growth that comes through allowing God to use my suffering .  
Ask for a new sense of hope and renewal from the Spirit of God

Repaying a compliment

John 16:12-15

16:12 Jesus said to his disciples "I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.
16:13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.
16:14 He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you.
16:15 All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.

It is sometimes said that according to Genesis 

"God created man in his own image 
and then humanity duly repaid the compliment 
and did likewise!"

There is more than a grain of truth in this!

Archbishop William Temple suggested 

that we need a doctrine of the Holy Trinity
-that God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit-
because otherwise our doctrine of God would be too small.
At its very crudest 

our God is idolatrously small!
We create an image, an idea or a program and call it God.
But that "image" can be an idea, or a philosophy
or a conception
 (eg....that God is simply a powerful example of a superman)
and is deceptively simplistic.
Even our ideas of Jesus 
can get fundamentally distorted.
We often seem to talk 
as if Jesus is only a pretend human
that he just seems human, 
but is really God disguised.
Or that he is pretend God,
he is really just a man 
who gets as close to being Godly as you can.
Both of these ideas are inadequate,
they do not agree with what Jesus says about himself
or with what the Scriptures say.

We need to take care 
that we are not just fitting God 
into our own little box
and making God 
what we want God to be
rather than seeking 
to encounter God as God really is.

There would seem to be little point in doing anything less.
This week reflect on: 
What do I think of God? 
What is my experience of God? 
Do the two match up?
In what ways is my idea of God too small? 
Ask the Holy Spirit to deepen your understanding of God

Monday, May 20, 2013

Ken Halstead- my bikie friend

I will leave it up to Heather to tell you why she married a bikie!
But we can see from the pictures on our sheets today
that he was something of a catch
there is no doubt that Heather was too!
When I came to this parish ...17 years ago
I was glad to be met by a Churchwarden
who was excited that I was an ethnic Cumbrian
as he was!
Ken was born 40 miles from where I was born
and knew the town I grew up in.
To us, the Lake District, was not a tourist destination
it was where we lived.
We both went to one of the fine Cumbrian County Grammar Schools
Ken to Carlisle
and me to Whitehaven.
We rejoiced in this shared life.
[I would speak Cumbrian to you now
but you are too ignorant to understand its beauty
and the only other person here who understands
is in the coffin
Like all Cumbrians
we know we are right!]

What we also rejoiced in was our shared life as members of this parish.
He was, by and large, respectful
but also opinionated and sometimes wrong!
(Despite the fact that Cumbrians are always right...
Father knows best!)
He didn't always get it.
And often he just went on and on!

He said to me once after one of these talks
at a funeral about a fellow parishioner
"I wonder what you will say about me?"

I don't think he was worried
But the thought often stayed with me.
And he had noted enough to observe that I tried to say
what was important about this person's life.
This is really what a funeral might be about
We try to say what electrified them about life.

He had a terrifying sense of duty was often couched in the language...You should do this and you should do that
He wasn't always right.
Though I would venture to say
He understood the basic guts of what it meant to be a Christian man.
That above all you have to love each other,
that loving each other means you have to know how to forgive and accept.
That some times those who love you will hurt you
and you will hurt the ones you love.

I want to say this, particularly to his lovely and fine wife Heather,
to all you his children
and particularly to you his grandchildren
...and all those who have been dragged in to that circle
He loved you, was proud of you, thought the best of you
and hoped for the very best outcomes .

You have not disappointed him
(though sometimes he may have wanted to 'advise' you otherwise).
Can you forgive him for sometimes being cranky, difficult, and obstinate?

He loved...or wanted to Jesus loved
without condition
with an open heart.

He was not without fault
but he was a man of love.

And we, his friends should know that his Christian conviction
wanted that for you and me too.

Thanks be to God for this man.
Ken Halstead, our husband, our father, our grandfather and friend.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

A Prayer for Pentecost

Dream in me today

my heartfelt lover;

should less than highest height

or ocean’s depths

be found

then dream in me
a  little more today
May 2013

Monday, May 13, 2013

Getting off your backside what the Spirit helps us do!

The story of Pentecost is in Acts 2 but there are many readings which help us reflect on the Spirit's place in our lives. Sunday 19 May -Pentecost (Whitsunday)...reading are here

We are not very good at accurately stating the way Father, Son and Holy Spirit relate to each other
And it is fraught with doctrinal minefields.
But we can note a couple of things.

First it is about 

Although it would be innacurate to say that God is only Father, Son and/or Holy Spirit
These words do highlight that we use the language of relating 

to talk about God, and not just the language of function.
If we are to understand what God is like, 

then he is like a Father, he is like a Son.
This language is rich and powerful and meets us more than half way in understanding.
But it is not the only language.
We also use the word Spirit...when we talk about the Spirit of a relationship
or understanding the Spirit of an idea, person or thing;
this also meets us half way.
It is about what is at the core.
What is important, what is essential.

We could (and should) also note that God is not 
just these things.
There is, for example, and in particular a whole stream of feminine imagery

which is missing in the male-oriented language of history.
Mother, Wisdom, Birthgiver
these and more are  used in the Bible
to help us understand what God is like.
These are also relational words.

Our God is a God who relates.

Perhaps we are best helped to understand this by the title that is sometimes given
to God's Holy Spirit in the New Testament:
where the Spirit is referred to as
The Spirit of Jesus.
We will encounter this Spirit

  • in the person of Jesus himself
  • as we exercise the gifts that God gives us
  • as we encounter Christ in the community of the Body of Christ.
The Spirit enables us to discern Christ in the lives of others,
Jesus himself points out that 

when we see in the poor and weak
those who should be served 

we are encountering Christ himself.

Like a relationship 

this is not just a static one-off experience
but rather a growing emerging encounter.

The Spirit 

draws us into this relationship
in order that we may encounter 

the risen Christ
in our lives
in others
in the world and in the Church

The risen Christ 
opens up to us
the life of God our Father and Mother
This too is a gift of the Spirit.
This week

  • Where do I see Christ in my life today?

  • What is the Spirit inviting me to understand about God through the relationships in which I see Christ?
  • Pray for renewal in my life through these dynamic encounters with God.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Doing the Gospel today

Some thoughts for the Sunday of the Ascension (Easter 7) May 12 2013

Let’s not make evangelisation too hard!
In this Ascension period, Jesus tells the disciples that we must now be the ones
who take responsibility
for telling other people about
God’s Good News.

I often get a sense
when we I talk this way
that people nod sagely
but that there is an undercurrent going on which is saying
that is for someone else other than me to do.

We don’t actually get that what is required is simply to help people connect the dots
So let’s not be surprised
if our world seems to be losing the Christian story
or if we have a sense of being overtaken
by an atheism which is stridently
proclaiming there is no good
or by an Islam which is taking its proclamation of faith
way more seriously than we seem to.

A couple of mistakes
The first mistake is that we may make it too hard.
In sharing Christianity
we may think that this means we have to understand everything about, the Bible, theology, Church History, spirituality and prayer.
And we don’t…At least I don’t

And as we look at the curious group of people that Jesus chose
we saw that not many of them were learned, bookish or scholarly
What they did have was a belief that when God said
I am giving you something to share (The Good News of love, forgiveness, healing, salvation)
That they had indeed been given something
and that they had the means to do it

A big stick
What God did not give us was a big stick.
We sometimes tell the Gospel very negatively
“If you are not good, then you will be punished”
Doesn’t actually sound like GOOD news!

What we are being asked to do is to share what God has done for us.
This is much easier to grasp.
And we might add the word….What has God done for us  lately?
This way we are likely to relate the positive,
and get in touch with what is meaningful.

We need to take time to do this
We should not keep silent
Don’t make the mistake of thinking you have to have a university degree to do this.
And if you are tempted to express this negatively…then think again
What am I trying to say which sets people free….
rather than how can I control and manipulate others

For thought and prayer and action

What has God been doing in my life lately?
 Is there someone who would find this interesting or uplifting
 Can I get someone to behave better by telling them my story…then forget it…we are not to wield the big stick!

Even as you wave goodbye

An Ascensiontide poem

Even as you wave goodbye


On a mountain somewhere,
lifted up for all to see
you went
Just when we were beginning to have fun.
So, as if to comfort me,
a little while
you promised to be with me
not just now but always.

How could I have believed you
(fool that I am)
“I’ll be with you always”
as you waved goodbye.

Now on that same mountain
years later,
and then a little while,
why do I stand looking up
wishing, waiting, wanting
your return.

My soul longs for you.
And as I stand there gazing
I look sideways,
left and right,
and backwards
and see you standing here with me.

While that for which I am least grateful
tries to tell me
you deserted me
That for which I am most grateful
reminds me
that you enlivened me
you thrilled me
summoned me.

Not to float away
but to remember
that with you
a promise is a promise
even as you wave goodbye.

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Thinking about the Ascension

Thursday May 9 2013 is the Feast of the Ascension

It isn't easy to understand how hard it is for a preacher to sit and listen to someone else preach.
Though it is good for us to do so
because then we may be more sympathetic
to those who have to listen to us.

Some times it's a delight
other times it is painful

 I struggle to be temperate
and humble in the face of the preaching of others...

Again, it is a good reminder:
in the face of the mysteries of God
like the Ascension
you have to be be temperate and humble.
I am so often not good at either of these of things

To be temperate 
and realise that sometimes things need time to sink in
or you need to try and understand the place of such thinking
in the scheme of the preacher's life , experience and history
This is not always immediately obvious
a preacher is neither preaching out of a vacuum
nor into a vacuum

It is partly the nature of the Ascension.
We just don't seem to get it.
And preaching doesn't always help.
So in the face of a story which talks about holy Jesus
being taken up on a cloud into heaven
maybe in trying to explain or interpret

we begin to make stuff up!
In wanting to believe everything the Scripture might be saying
we twist and we turn
in order to fit the text into our distorted view of God's reality.

Bishop Tom Wright makes the point that the one thing the Ascension story is not saying
is that Jesus is trail-blazing
and inviting us to find our own lift into heaven.
He notes that if we read the Acts of the Apostles
we struggle to find a view of the Christian life
which says:
If you keep on plugging at it then you will finally get your heavenly reward

he says, rather, that the early Church discovered
that Jesus was showing the world that
the kingdom of heaven was in our midst
it is not something that is to be discovered
it is 
here and now.

The New Testament community rather than being devastated
by the death of Jesus
discovered that far from Jesus being taken away from them
his life, his love, his community
was found in a deeper and profounder way.

Wright's message?
Let's not replace the vibrancy of the Spirit-filled New Testament Church
with the wishful thinking that if we hang on for long-enough
then everything will be fulfilled.
It IS here and now.

see Tom Wright's homily here: 
on Resurrection and Ascension here by Bishop Tom Wright of Durham in which he speaks powerfully of the importance of the Ascension for the modern Christian)

Archbishop Rowan Williams, formerly Archbishop of Canterbury, says:
… the idea of ‘the Christian religion’ is a late and weak formulation: what first exists is the Assembly, to give the literal meaning of the Greek word for ‘Church’, as a fresh configuring of the whole of experienced reality – a new set of human relations, a new horizon for what human beings are capable of, a new understanding of the material world and its capacities. The Christian involved in the celebration of the Eucharist is not affirming a set of propositions with the help of an audio-visual programme, but inhabiting, in speech and action, a drama which purports to ‘re-locate’ him or her in the space occupied by Jesus Christ in his eternal relationship with the Father, a relocation which is enabled by his sacrificial death and his rising from the grave and ascension into heaven.