If you’re reading this blog post, you’re privileged. You’ve got an internet connection.
If you’ve food in a fridge, freezer or kitchen cupboard for the next few days, that’s privilege.
If you’ve got money in the bank, a pension or stable income, that’s privilege.
If you’re white, heterosexual or from an ethnic majority, you’ve got privilege.
This week we’ve been reminded yet again of injustice in our society, driven by inequality and division. Digital poverty is having a massive impact on schooling and the learning of young people at home.
Community larders and Foodbanks continue to see increasing demand. Some supermarkets have been reporting shortages of some food due to bulk buying , leaving others without.
In America we saw what’s been described by many media outlets as an attempted coup by white extremists. Many have rightly pointed out that only months ago black protestors in America were met with extreme force on their demonstrations – yet these extremists easily overcame the small group of officers on duty to maintain order.
All these, and many other injustices are present in our communities and societies and all to easily can be ignored or taken for granted. The pandemic has, helpfully, made these injustices and positions of privilege more obvious – if we’re willing to notice them.
But to do we notice? Do we even recognise our privilege? And more importantly, do we step out of our glass houses to stand with and alongside those without that privilege?
The prophet Amos was probably a farm hand, sent by God to call for social justice, and condemns those who’s power and privilege comes at the cost of others. The call is to step out of the glass house, and work for justice.
“I can’t stand your religious meetings. I’m fed up with your conferences and conventions. I want nothing to do with your religion projects, your pretentious slogans and goals. I’m sick of your fund-raising schemes, your public relations and image making. I’ve had all I can take of your noisy ego-music. When was the last time you sang to me? Do you know what I want? I want justice—oceans of it. I want fairness—rivers of it. That’s what I want. That’s all I want.
Amos 5:21-24, The Message
Oceans of Justice. that’s what I want.
Where there is water, life can be sustained. Where there are oceans of justice, life is sustained. Togetherness, community, equity and love grow and flourish.
Are you privileged? Are you suffering injustice? How can you work for justice?
The Joint Public Issues Team is a multi-denominational team who offer excellent analysis of current social issues and ways we can act at local, national and international level to use our privilege to stand for justice.
“I need a hero! I’m holding out for a hero to the end of the night!”[i]
Are you looking for a hero?
Yes? No? Not sure? I think, truthfully a lot of us are, though we may not always realise it, or coin it in that way.
Society loves a hero. Someone who will save us, a figurehead to give hope. Film and TV is full of hero’s we love – from Marvel to Harry Potter to Poldark to Doctor Who, We love a hero, and especially love a hero that appears an underdog, that rises up to save the day against the odds.
Even in the real world, away from sci-fi and fiction, we like to look for a hero. We’ve spent a significant part of 2020 putting a ‘protective shield around the NHS’, trying to maximise it’s potential to save life. But of course we have to also cope with the painful reality that life one earth cannot always be saved.
I wonder if sometimes we expect our politicians to be hero’s too. Decisions have to be made, based on the best knowledge they have to had, but there will always be alternative choices that could have been – and hindsight is a wonderful thing, but it can also be a curse.
I’m not wanting to defend all political choices here, but to remind us that we need be aware of our human propensity to create hero’s. Aware of who and where we place our hope. Remembering that we live in this world – not the world of sci-fi and fiction.
The letter to the Colossians is written to a group of Christians who are facing pressure. Pressure to put their trust, hope and faith in new ideas, alternative hero’s and unrealistic portrayals of salvation.
But here in Colossians we are reminded that there is someone who really did come to this world to save.
And now, just as you accepted Christ Jesus as your Lord, you must continue to follow him. Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness.Don’t let anyone capture you with empty philosophies and high-sounding nonsense that come from human thinking and from the spiritual powers of this world, rather than from Christ. For in Christ lives all the fullness of God in a human body.
Colossians 2:6-9, New Living Translation
If you know you’re looking for a hero – enjoy your sci-fi and fiction – I do – but look to Jesus. If you’re not sure if you’re looking for a hero – still look to Jesus. If you said you weren’t – still look to Jesus.
Jesus Christ was an underdog, and hung out with human beings like you and me. People with doubts and questions and uncertainties. People who were anxious and broken and unsure. People living with guilt and shame. People looking for truth, and disillusioned by the way of the world.
Jesus comes not to irradicate that. But to live in it. To experience it. To live with us. Jesus came to earth, living and walking in our shoes. Jesus understands what it is to be human.
These words from Colossians tell us Jesus wasn’t simply human, Jesus was the fullness of God in human form. Jesus is human, and Jesus is God.
I believe Jesus is our Saviour – who came to save the world, you and me, because of God’s love for the world, for you and me. And to point us to a way of living that is filled with hope and truth.
But – Jesus isn’t a hero who comes to save us because we’re helpless. He’s not that sort of hero. He’s the hero who knows who we are, knows our potential, and so wants us to grow and be built up. Need a hero? Let your roots grow in Jesus.
Throughout August I will be encouraging us to reflect on things we have learn and are learning through lockdown about self, God and being Christian community.
Who are you connected to?
At the start of lockdown, I spent a lot of time on the phone.
Many people in my churches have been shielding, or choosing to isolate, and lots are not on the internet, and so from the start I could see regular phone calls were going to be incredibly valuable during lockdown.
We reorganised the church pastoral system to ensure everyone would have at least 1 assigned regular contact and encouraged everyone to regularly call each other to share fellowship, friendship and maintain relationship.
The hands down thing that has I call people now, people say they have valued most is the phone calls they have been receiving from each other.
People have shared that lockdown has offered the opportunity to get know each other better.
People who live on their own have shared how the phone calls have helped break up their day and left them feeling less alone, that they feel valued, loved, thought about.
That it has not only helped maintain relationships, but that they have grown and deepened.
What has this meant I have learnt?
I think it has shown me just how essential relationships are for human well-being. We need one another. God has created us to be in relationship with one another. Human interaction is in our DNA.
But why has it taken lockdown to get to know each other better?
In Luke’s gospel we find a story of Jesus and his companions, visiting sisters Mary and Martha.
Mary sits as Jesus feet listening to all he has to say. Martha is busy doing – organising the hospitality necessary for Jesus and his companions, fretting that Mary is not helping her.
She stops, and says to Jesus – don’t you care that my sister is leaving me to do all the work on my own?
Jesus says to her, Martha my child, you are so distracted by many things, but there is only need for one thing.
Jesus doesn’t criticise Martha for wanting to be hospitable.
But he does suggest that Martha may be letting the doing get in the way of what really matters.
(To read the story in full, take a look at Luke chapter 10)
I wonder if the absence of meetings and events has meant that the distraction of doing has been removed, and suddenly we’ve discovered new ways of being with one another. Where we can be interested in one another without the distraction of the next task that needs doing or event that needs planning.
And I’ve heard testimony to the same with people’s relationships with God.
Not being busy doing has meant people have been able to spend more time focused on the one thing that matters – their relationship with God.
Now what might this mean we learn from lockdown?
The value and importance of relationship – with God and with one another.
What does that mean for the future as we begin to emerge from lockdown?
I’m not suggesting we shouldn’t have face-to-face activities and events.
But I do find God’s Spirit challenging me to reflect on what may need to change, what we may need to do differently, to keep relationship with God and one another as the one thing that matters.
What ways of being together can we discoverthat do not tie us up in so much doing that we can’t be?
Throughout August I will be encouraging us to reflect on things we have learn and are learning through lockdown about self, God and being Christian community.
These giraffes sit on my office windowsill, you might have seen them in previous videos. We bought them on a holiday in France in 2012 and they remind me of our holiday.
They sat on our mantel-piece in Cornwall, then went into storage while we were in Birmingham. When moved here Louise my wife thought we should get rid of them, I didn’t, so we found a compromise and they ended up in my office.
Now they not only remind me of our holiday, they also remind me that as human beings, include married couples, have differences of opinion.
Lockdown as a time to learn
I want to encourage us to reflect this month on what we may learn from lockdown, because I do not believe this is a time of life on pause that doesn’t matter. I don’t believe this is a time that God wants us to waste.
Just as the time the Israelites spent in the wilderness was formational for them, I believe our living in lockdown is a time that can be formational to us. Where God has and continues to speak to us, challenge us and change us.
For some of us, we may feel like lockdown is over, for others, we may still very much feel like we’re in lockdown, for others again, maybe we’re in the middle.
Wherever we stand on that spectrum, it doesn’t really matter, it just goes to prove one of the things that I’ve been increasingly conscious of over the last few months – just how diverse and different we all are.
Diversity & Difference
And that’s where this month of learning from lockdown reflections is going to begin.
In the book of 1 Corinthians we read:
For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.
1 Corinthians 12:12, NRSV
The body of Christ, the community of faith, is made of lots of different parts, we all look different, we think differently, respond to circumstances in life with the full colour pallet of human diversity.
I’ve seen the diversity and difference in so many ways through lockdown. Some people have seemed to thrive during lockdown, Energised by the new opportunties and environments and challenges others have really struggled, and others somewhere in between – with good days and some not so good days.
Christian faith is not about conformity – not about creating robots that think and speak the same. It’s about being a community of faith that can call itself a communtiy while celebrating the fact we’re different.
It’s about being people tuned into God’s Spirit, collectively discerning what Gods Spirit is saying to us as individuals and as a community of faith
As we’ve worshiped from our homes, I’ve found my role as minister being less of a leader of worship, and more of an enabler of worship – offering lots of different resources by post and online, seeking to resource the diverse people that make up the churches I serve. It’s been a joy to see diversity thriving, but a challenge at times to keep up!
So as I encourage us to reflect this month on what we may be learning from lockdown, I want to start from a recognition of the diversity and difference among us.
And I want to encourage you all, to think and pray and reflect for yourself… what would you say you’re learning, or have learnt during lockdown.
And try to be go a bit deeper and further than saying I’ve learnt to use zoom.As much of an achievement that may be! `
Where has God spoken to you, challenged you or encouraged you?
What is God’s Spirit saying?
Join the Conversation
Comment below with your own reflections on leanring from lockdown.
As part of Bible Month 2020 we are unpacking the short story of Ruth, a story of finding hope and finding home in the midst of vulnerability and loss. Find out more here.
Growing up one of my favourite films was Toy Story. I loved the idea that my toys lived in a world of their own every time I left the room.
In the first film, Buzz is a new toy who enters Andy’s toybox community as an outsider. Buzz believes he is a real space ranger, not a toy, and believes he can fly. Throughout the film Buzz is on a journey of discovering who he really is, while the rest of the toys are on their own journey of learning to welcome difference into their community.
In Ruth 3, we found Ruth visiting Boaz at night, hoping he would give her a home, long term security and survival for her and Naomi.
Naomi and Ruth had lost much, their husbands, their security, safety. They were grieving. They were struggling for hope. The nature of the culture of the day meant they were vulnerable to the nth degree.
But Boaz is not the immediate next-of-kin. There is someone else who is a closer kinsman, and in keeping with the culture, has first rights to act as next-of-kin to Naomi and Ruth.
At the start of Ruth 4, Boaz takes centre stage. It’s his turn to take action. He speaks to the closer next-of-kin who does have first rights to act.
Now Boaz, perhaps, pulls a bit of a sly move here. I think as readers of the story we’re encouraged to see Boaz in a positive light, but it could also be said he’s possibly a bit manipulative here, or self-seeking.
Maybe he really did like Ruth and wanted her to be his wife, and twisted things in his favour. Or maybe he saw an opportunity to obtain land and so did what he had to do to get it.
So Boaz meets this closer next-of-kin, at the city gates, in public, with 10 of the city elders with them. He says to this man, – “hey, you know Naomi, she’s back, and she’s selling the land that belonging to our kinsman, Elimelech. So, I thought I’d tell you about it here and now in front of all these witnesses. If you will redeem it, do, but if not, tell me and I will redeem it.“
The unexpected discovery that Naomi own’s some land is a surprise, it was Elimelech’s, perhaps left during the famine and never returned to. The fact she’s selling the land is probably a sign that Naomi has lost all other hope, and selling the land, that would, one would think, offer long-term fruitfulness, is the only way for her to survive in the short term.
The man says to Boaz “yes – I will redeem it”. Then Boaz goes on, and claims that by taking the land, he must also take Ruth, the Moabite, and maintain the dead man’s name. This would mean any children they had would be named for Ruth’s dead husband… and that they would, in the end, inherit the land.
The man says – “I can’t redeem, it will; damage my own inheritance. You redeem it.” Does Boaz use Ruth’s foreigner status to his advantage? Or does he use this to overcome the fact that there was a prohibition against marrying a foreigner – because by becoming next-of-kin he can legal marry Ruth despite that.
They have a son, Obed, who Naomi cares for – in some ways he becomes a son to Ruth, Boaz and Naomi – Obed becomes symbol of the restoration of hope – because there can now be descendants.
No longer is Ruth an outsider, she’s found hope. She’s found home. And not just with Boaz, but with the community.
Ruth and Boaz marry, all the people and elders are at the marriage, and bless Ruth – ‘may she build up the house of Israel’ they say (Ruth 4:11). Ruth is now seen as a member of the Israelite community.
And that’s where Buzz and Toy Story come in. In life we often encounter people who are strangers to us. People different from ourselves.
As Churches – Christian communities, I believe God call us to be a community that reaches out in love to all. To welcome in the name of Christ those we perceive to be, and not be, like us. Cowboys or Space Rangers. Slinky Dogs or Potato heads. Barbie dolls or dinosaurs.
To help each other discover who we are – made in the image of God – to work out if we are real or just a toy, if we can fly, or fall with style (if you don’t understand the references – do watch the film).
To make space for all people to find hope, through faith in the God who is a God for all.
To discover that the community of faith is the place in which all people, no matter background or belief or race or gender or sexuality or ethnicity or self-confidence – can find home and belong.
Church – God’s challenge to us, regardless of lockdown, regardless of what gathered community is going to look like in the coming weeks and months, is to make sure that this call from God is the reality found among us. A community of hope. A community that points to the home that can be found when we discover we belong to God. A community that reaches in love to all.
God works through the unexpected. God works through the stranger. We are never without Hope. In God, we find home.
For this week’s Testimony Thursday I think about Testimony as stories of God interacting in our lives, and share a glimpse of one of the places I see God at work in the lives of individuals and community during lockdown.
A big thumbs up – thank you to Bognor Methodist for allowing to space to be used, and all of you for the way you give, and pray for the work of Foodbank – and the many other groups and organisations, local and international, seeking to support the vulnerable and most in need at this time.
For me, these acts of co-operation, giving, sharing, supporting, shows that the church cares about our community, and the lives of those who live in it.
the church cares about our community, and the lives of those who live in it.
Even though lockdown has meant many of us are unable to get out at do much, we’ve still got opportunity to see God at work around us.
So what’s your story of God at work around you?
Comment below and share – I’d love to hear from you!
“I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”
There was once a young man who sneaked into church hoping nobody would notice him. The only reason he’d come was because he was keen on a girl who sang in the choir, and he hoped that if he was in the service he’d be able to see her at the end of the service and ask her out. He wasn’t quite sure what to do, but he saw people going in and sitting down, so he did the same. Just as the service was beginning, an usher came up to him.
‘Excuse me.’ he said. ‘The person who’s supposed to do the reading hasn’t turned up. Could you possibly do it?’
The young man was horrified for a moment, but then thought quickly. The girl he had his eye on was there, in the choir. She would be most impressed if she heard him reading in the service.
‘All right,’ he said. He took the Bible and looked through the reading the usher had showed him.
It came to the moment. He want up, opened the Bible, and began to read. It was from John’s gospel and he vaguely recognised it.
‘Anyone who doesn’t enter the sheepfold by the gate,’ he heard his own voice say, ‘but climbs in by another way, is a thief and a bandit.’
He was thunderstruck. This was what he’d done! He was standing here, pretending to be a regular bible-reader, when in fact he’d only come in to meet a girl. He forced himself to go on, aware of his heart beating loudly. If he was a bandit, coming in under false pretences, what was the alternative?
‘I am the gate for the sheep,’ said Jesus. ‘The bandit only comes to steal, kill and destroy. I came that they might have life, and have it full to overflowing.’
Suddenly, something happened inside the young man. He stopped thinking about himself. He stopped thinking about the girl, the congregation, about the fact that he’d just done a ridiculous and hypocritical thing. He thought about Jesus. Unaware of the chock he was causing, he swung round to the clergyman leading the service.
‘Is it true?’ he asked. ‘Did he really come so that we could have real life, full life like that?’
‘Of course it is,’ he replied, quite unfazed by this non-liturgical outburst. ‘That’s why we’re all here. Come and join in this next song and see what happens if you really mean it.
And the young man found himself swept off his feet by the presence and the love of Jesus, filling him, changing him, calling him to follow. He got more, much more than he had hoped for.
For those of us reading Acts (find out more), today we read Acts 3 and meet a man who also gets more than he hoped for. The Bible I usually use calls him a crippled beggar, but I wonder if we’d give him more dignity, and ourselves greater understanding, if we called him a vulnerable person?
Ignored and forgotten by the state; marginalised by society; discriminated against; someone who has not fit the criteria for support through the social care system?
Carried into the temple by some people who chose to help (or wanted to make themselves look good? – who knows!), this vulnerable man comes hoping someone will take pity on him, and give him a few coins, enough to keep him going another day.
He sees Peter and John. And they don’t give him what he’s hoping for, they give him something better. An encounter with Jesus the healer, the transformer, the Saviour. More than he expected or hoped for.
What are we expecting or hoping for today?
As we continue to look towards the easing of lockdown, what are you hoping this time will teach you, us, society?
How can you use your voice today to stand up for the marginalised and vulnerable?
I leave you with a short video a family member sent me, which I found help me think more carefully about the world we might hope 2020 will help us and all the world create.
Join the conversation
if you’ve got thoughts or something to share you can comment below and share them with us all – I’d love to hear from you, and I know others would too!
This week, in a slightly longer than ‘normal (!) vlog, I look at Luke 24 (the Road to Emmaus) and reflect on how our plate and cup are empty, waiting to be filled because as Methodist in Britain we are not practicing communion while we are physically distancing and unable to gather as worshipping community.
The text below the video is roughly the same as what’s in the video, but at the bottom of the blog post there’s an extra video, a downloadable version of the blog post for printing, and of course, opportunity for you to join your thoughts to the conversation!
In Luke’s gospel, after Jesus resurrection, we find the story of Cleopas and his travelling companion on the Emmaus road. I shared a reflection on the passage in last week’s Sunday reflections.
Cleopas and his companion are filled with grief and uncertainty after Jesus’ death and then a stranger joins them on their journey. And they hadn’t any clue who this stranger was.
“As they came near the village to which they were going, [the stranger] walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, ‘Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.’ So he went in to stay with them.
When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight.”
What I have found striking reading this over the last week is that it is in the breaking and sharing of bread that the true identity of Jesus is realised. As they sit together, in fellowship with one another, learning and discerning and questioning, eating and drinking, the bread is broken and Jesus is seen for who he is.
Breaking of bread is one of the many titles in Christian tradition we use for communion, Eucharist, the Lord’s supper. This week the Emmaus story has set me thinking about communion.
This is my home communion set. It was given to me by my placement church while I was training, a multi-cultural congregation in a deprived and diverse suburb of Birmingham. This reminds me of where I’ve come from, and how I’m part of the national and global church.
I use this set to take communion to people who are housebound. So it reminds me both of the local churches which I serve, but also of the homes to which I have visited and shared communion.
This set reminds me that the presence of God is everywhere; global, national, local and in our homes.
Communion is something may be important to our spirituality as individuals and as worshipping communities. It is a meal we share, through which we remember Jesus sharing a meal with his friends before his arrest and crucifixion. We take bread and wine, symbols of the body and blood of Christ, we bless them, break them and share them as we remember Christ and experience him present with us now. Where we are embraced by the unconditional love and unending grace of God, offered through Christ, made present by God’s Spirit.
But for the moment, the plate and cup are empty. We’re not sharing communion together. We are distanced from one another, unable to physically gather and share as a worshipping community.
At the moment, some churches have been practicing communion online, but as British Methodists, we are not. In 2018 our Methodist Conference considered virtual communion, albeit considered under very different circumstances to that which we find ourselves in today. Conference voted against the practice, and while given current circumstances I suspect the conversation and decision might go differently, for now we follow those decisions, leaving plate and cup empty, waiting for the day they can be filled again.
For me, I want to be honest with you, I’ve come to a point where I’m ok with that. It’s painful, not being able to share communion with those I know dearly wish to receive it. It’s painful not the able to gather at the table to share as a worshipping community.
Some of you may share my feeling ok, but I expect that for some of you, not receiving communion has been, or is continuing to be difficult right now. I want you to know I understand something of that struggle. But I also want to share with you a little bit about why, for me, I’ve come to a place where I feel ok for the moment, that the glasses and plate are empty and waiting, as I patiently wait for the time they can be filled again.
And in sharing, I hope that it may help you too.
At the beginning of this year, many Methodists prayed the covenant prayer, as a sign and renewing of our continuing commitment to living in relationship with God, knowing that God continues to be unconditionally committed to us by his love and grace.
Within the covenant prayer we say the words: ‘let me be full, let me be empty,’
I’ve found reflecting on those words in light of not receiving communion during this time helpful. The covenant prayer contrasts various ways of living, employed or laid aside, having all things or nothing, being full or being empty.
But whether employed or laid aside, having all things or nothing, full or empty, are all included as part of our living in relationship with God. There is never an absence of God.
For me, these words remind me that whether I have received communion or not, all of life is saturated in God, God is still present and part of my life and being. So I’ve felt God helping Me to this time, not as a case of communion being taken away from me, but a time where I consciously abstain, as part of my being emptied for God.
Yet, at the same time, I also see the empty plate and cup being just as presence filled by God’s Spirit as when they are filled with bread and wine.
Inclusion and exclusion
For me, another reason that I feel ok that we leave plate and cup empty is that, if did communion online, what about those who are offline? Who do not have internet access?
before lockdown, when communion was celebrated in our buildings there was inclusive intent within our liturgy and practice, and those that were housebound had the options of home or extended communion.
But today, those who would be excluded from online communion have no other way of receiving.
As part of communion we often share the peace, sometimes preluded by the words:
‘In the one Spirit we were all baptised into one body. Let us therefore keep the unity of Spirit in the bond of peace.’
For me, if I was able to share communion with some of you, I wonder if I would then risk breaking that unity of Spirit and bond of peace, through depriving and excluding some, from what I was offering to others.
To bring us back to Emmaus, in that resurrection story, as Cleopas and his companion offered hospitality to a stranger, it was in the distribution, the breaking and sharing, Jesus was made known.
This Emmaus encounter is not communion as we may have come to practice it. Here is a simple meal and a household who share hospitality with a stranger. In that act of sharing what they had, their guest shares with them everything he is.
We can only gather as households right now, but I can assure you that even though plate and cup are empty, Jesus is present with us, not a stranger but a friend, longing to be a guest at our tables.
It may not be how we’re used to it through communion, we still patiently wait for a time that we can once again physically gather together to worship and break bread together, but even while cup and plate are empty, if we allow our eyes to be opened to it;
God’s Spirit, the very presence of God, continues to bind us together; though distanced, we are united – one in Spirit.
God’s unconditional love and unending grace are overflowing for us as much now as they always have.
And whether we feel full or empty, Christ in his fullness is forever with us.
May the peace of the Risen Christ be with you.
Peace be with you
A video montage of over 100 people signing Peace be with you, put together by some friends based in Manchester. Look carefully and you may find 1 or 2 familiar little faces!
 See Share this Feast, Reflecting on Holy Communion, (Methodist Publishing, 2018), p6  See Share this Feast, Reflecting on Holy Communion, (Methodist Publishing, 2018), p4  Part of the Covenant Prayer, Methodist Worship Book, p290  Example of the Introduction to the peace, Methodist Worship Book, p189.  I must give some credit to a friend who sowed this seed in their blog post earlier this week – https://dbobstoner.com/jesus-on-a-boriswalk/
Join the conversation
if you’ve got thoughts or something to share after reading and reflecting on my thoughts, you can comment below and share them with us all – I’d love to hear from you.
Many in my churches will know that this year is a ‘Year of Testimony’ across the Methodist Connexion and we’ve been sharing stories of God at work among us in recent weeks.
I want to encourage us to continue to see and speak about where God is speaking and working among us now, during this time of distance and isolation, because even though we may be distant from each other, God is not distant from us.
Many in my churches will know that a sermon illustration from my garden is often not far away, and on Sunday afternoon, I took the plunge to dig the veggie patch. It was covered in weeds and very much not ready to do any planting! But I turned it, fork by fork, pulled the weeds out, moved any stones I found, and broken down the chunks of soil so that it is now ready for me to start some planting.
For me – God spoke to me through that process, about how church and ministry might look now.
For me, much that was familiar and growing has sadly gone, almost all the weekly routine I took for granted has been turned on it’s head. Yet I’ve had a really strong feeling that God has been saying there’s now potential for new ground to be tilled, new planting to be done and new growth to be seen.
I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.
This week God has been saying to me, reminding me, that while life and ministry feels like it has been turned on it’s head, while I miss seeing people and already long to be able to communicate without using phone, email or other technology, God has not turned on his head.
God is still as present as ever, and even in the chaos and uncertainty, is able to do new things, and will do new things in me, and I pray, in us as we journey through this together.
God is with us, and will make a way through the wilderness – do you perceive it?
Where has God been in your week? Comment below and share your stories of God with us, in us and among us.
Yesterday afternoon we gave into temptation in our house. I say we, I didn’t have a lot to do with it, except I had to pay for it. Getting an email saying ‘thank you for your purchase’ was a little disorienting when my initial though was – but I haven’t bought anything…. then I remembered Louise was logged into my account. What did we give in to? After Disney released Frozen 2 online early, we gave in and purchased it.
Many of you know, and I’m not ashamed to say it as a 28 year old man, I loved Frozen 2. Perhaps not for the same reasons as my girls, but I love the themes, the story, and the way various theological threads and themes can be woven into the narrative. Many of you know that because I’ve already used bits of Frozen in services, and shared our experience of the screen not working in my covenant sermon his year.
We’ve has the soundtrack playing in the car for many weeks, I can just about sing all the songs without thinking, but of course – I’ve only heard the story, the spoken word within it once.
Louise and the girls were part way through watching when I joined them, which meant to first lines I really heard were from Kristoff and Olaf the talking snowman, just after they have evacuated Arundelle from the storm that is engulfing the city.
Kristoff: Are you ok there Olaf?
Olaf: (playing with some children who are stuffing shards of ice into his chin) Oh yeah, we’re calling this controlling what you can when things feel our of control.
Louise and I just looked at each other. It was one of those profound moments where God spoke, challenged, encouraged and affirmed all at once.
To be honest, much of this week has felt to me, out of control. The pace of the government’s measures to tacking COVID-19 has been incredibly fast, and for me it is part of the pace of change that has made me feel even more out of control, not knowing what announcements or measures might be next. Anxious for me, my family, friends, and all of you as we all, together, yes distantly, respond & react to the conditions we now face.
I that moment, I was reminded (and believe that this was God’s Spirit’s prompting) of the Serenity prayer, which I imagine many of us will know, though maybe not the second part quite so well…
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.
Living one day at a time; enjoying one moment at a time; accepting hardships as the pathway to peace; taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it; trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to His Will; that I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with Him forever in the next. Amen.
Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971)
Some things are in our control. Some are not. I pray God helps me and us all to keep hold of a sense of perspective as much of what we know of life and church activity pauses, and we reimagine, rediscover, and reinvent what it means to be church, disciples and community.
These are different and therefore maybe difficult times for many of us, but I am also filled with hope. Hope because I have already heard testimony of how God is working in these days, how relationships are changing, growing and strengthening, how the absence of stuff to ‘do’ as church is enabling people to ‘be’ with each other in new, different and exciting ways. I am hopefully and excited (though also nervous about what may come!) that when we get to the other side of this period, God’s church has the opportunity to be stronger, wiser, closer to God and each other. I think we will appreciate and value gathered worship, meetings and events differently, and I suspect we may even find ourselves continuing to do and be church differently when we all this is over.
In these coming days, as we seek to make sense and become familiar with who we are and how we are in these strange times, having wisdom to know what is or isn’t in our power to change will be immensely helpful in our own navigation of these unchartered waters, as individuals, as families and as church community.
The full prayer then goes on to remind us to take each day as it comes, one moment at a time, as things are, not as we wish they were. Trusting that one day God will make all things right. There is much about our current situation we cannot change, but one thing that cannot change, is God’s constant love for us, God’s everlasting presence with us, God’s unending compassion and grace.
“But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.”
Psalm 86:15 New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised (NRSVA)
The Psalms are filled with the turbulence of human emotion, question and struggle and lament and thanksgiving. I encourage you, if you’re struggling to make sense of your emotions, or not sure you can find the words to pray at the moment, reading the Psalms may well be a helpful place to go.
I find this verse, which comes in various places throughout scripture, a rooting reminder, one that helps me refocus on what really matters that the character of God is constant and unchanging.
On this Mothering Sunday, as many of us do not see family as had been planned, nor gather with our church family for the first time of what is likely to be a number of weeks, I pray that we may all know for ourselves, in new and helpful and encouraging ways, the parenthood of God, who is love and mercy and grace and faithfulness in abundance. I pray as you experience the love and faithfulness of God to each of us, you are able to place your hope and trust in God in these uncertain and anxious times.
While much around us has changed, God has not. God is constant. God is everlasting. God is God.
I leave you, with a video of Rebekah I recorded earlier this week, who has totally on her own made up actions to this song which she has been playing constantly all week (I’m glad the office isn’t next to the lounge!). I think & hope her enthusiasm, energy and creativity will make you smile – it’s been one of the many ways the girls have kept me going this week.
The song ‘You never stop loving me’ is from a CD collection called You’re a star by Chris Harding, who goes to my Aunt’s church in Tavistock. If you’re interested, this google search will point you to various sources for download and/or purchase.
Join the conversation
if you’ve got thoughts or something to share after reading and reflecting on this, you can comment below and share them with us all – I’d love to hear from you.