Holy God, Creator of the hills and valleys, Mountains and oceans, Maker of all that is, Give strength in weariness, Confidence in uncertainty, Wisdom in the unexpected, Peace in the busyness. God I give this, and every day to you. Amen
Rev Dan shares a prayer form Remembrance Sunday, as we stand together in remembrance of our past and seek God’s hope for our future.
Life-giving God, Who breathed life into this world, and breathed the beauty of our diversity into humanity.
On this day of remembrance, we remember today, the perils of prejudice and violence, and the cost of war and conflict.
Peace-giving God, we remember Jesus, Who lived a life of peace and justice. Help us to live our lives as a reflection of the character of Jesus.
Hope-giving God, Help us learn from humanity’s past, Stir us to action to stand against injustice, to boldly strive for peace in our communities and our world. And show infinite love towards our neighbour. As we strive towards a world overflowing with justice, hope, peace and love.
I took a tumble this week. Walking home from school with my daughters I caught my foot in a ditch in the grass and twisted my ankle – resulting a sprain and chipped shard of bone.
Given so much of ministry is based at home at the moment it’s perhaps not been such a major issue, I can continue to work from office with my foot elevated, ice pack and painkillers. 12 months ago I’d have had a whole host of diary engagements to have to rearrange.
Things in life don’t always go to plan. Things are not always perfect or ideal. Life isn’t always without its pain and suffering and struggle.
As we’ve journeyed through the book of Colossians and dipped our toes into some of its riches, we’ve seen these last few weeks the fullness and joy and abundance that a life in Christ offers now, today, in the present.
Jesus, the gift we receive without catch or terms and conditions. Jesus is hope for today.
But yet, the letter recognises that even while Jesus is with us, giving joy and fulness and abundance in our lives today, life is still life, and things don’t always go to plan.
As we receive the gift of Jesus today, we not only have fullness and hope for today, there is a greater hope, a greater inheritance to come.
Whatever your task, put yourselves into it, as done for the Lord and not for your masters,since you know that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward; you serve the Lord Christ.
On receiving Jesus, not only are we offered fullness and hope and abundance of love and grace for today, there is an inheritance, a hope to come, where things do go to plan, where the abundance of God’s love and grace is made more fully known.
A transformation to come that we cannot fully comprehend, that will be even better, brighter, lighter. Receive Jesus today, hope for today, and a hope to come.
This month the Methodist communities I serve in Bognor Regis, Felpham and Westergate are going to be studying the letter to the Colossians, and my Sunday reflection videos are going to take a sneaky peak too.
This week we’re looking at Colossians 1:1-23, which forms something of the trailer for what’s to come in the rest of the letter. It sets the scene for us.
The Colossian Christian community have been coming under pressure. Colossae had been a busy riverside city, a centre of trade – but other cities had overtaken them and Colossae had become a bit of a has been place.
As a result, there was a lack of hope, there was uncertainty in the community. And pressure was building from many corners of their society. All vying for attention, cults presenting themselves as truth and hope and salvation.
Paul, who writes this letter from prison, and has never met the Colossian Christians face to face. He’s heard of their faith, and he writes to them. Much like me speaking to a camera right now, hoping that you who are watching will be encouraged in your faith, Paul wanted to encourage them.
And so he writes:
In our prayers for you we always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, for we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven.
Paul writes to encourage and affirm the Colossian Christians in the faith they have…
‘you’re doing good’
Keep at it…
Despite the pressures around you, keep at it.
Keep focused on Jesus.
There’s much more Paul wants to say about Jesus – and why keeping focused on Jesus gives hope – and we’ll come back to that more next week.
But this week – I want to encourage you.
Life is full of pressure and uncertainty right now.
And here in the UK we’re in a patchwork of restrictions across the country, there’s very live debate about whether the restrictions are going to far, or not far enough, what the scientific evidence is…
There’s so much vying for out attention.
Some much competition for truth.
Just as Paul encourages the Colossian Christian community to keep on keeping on, despite the pressure around them, my encouragement to you is to keep on keeping on.
If you a Christian – keep at your relationship with Jesus.
Paul goes on to celebrate the truth that the Colossian community’s faith is bearing fruit and growing among them (1:6).
Church – keep growing, keep praising, keep praying, keep encouraging one another in faith.
Keep asking questions and looking to God for answers.
If you’re not a Christian, then I want say to you – that despite all the noise around us, and around you, presenting itself as truth and hope – there is one true source of hope that will be faithful to you, and never leave you – Jesus.
Jesus is hope, and truth, and light.
Jesus has, and continues to make such a difference to my life.
Jesus is the one certainty, the one truth, we can hold onto.
We’ll look at more on how Paul presents the hope Jesus gives next week.
Where do we pin our hope in an age of fear? Fear can be both rational and irrational, it can make our world smaller and less hopeful. Fear can be a place where it is harder to dream big for the future, and can be harder to know where God is in the middle of it all.
And in the midst of global pandemic, fear is undoubtedly a part of human living for many of us at the moment. But what do we do with it? How do we fit the fear we feel within our Christian faith that speaks of freedom, healing, and transformation?
This is a book for anyone living with the realisation that the life is a little broken. For anyone wanting to resist the temptation to retreat into our armchairs and ignore the world.
This is a book that resists the culture of fear that can be seen to be growing in society, and growing among Christian communities.
This is a book that encourages us to discover and rediscover the mystery of hope, which will bring us face to face with the nature of God, character of Jesus and playfulness of the Holy Spirit.
Using the biblical story of the exile, Cox-Darling brings a prophetic voice for Christians to hear. During the exile, the absence of a place of worship was destabilising to sense of community. Yet the story of the exile can was a catalyst to God’s people discovering the true identity of God.
Through rich threads of biblical exploration. Joanne Cox-Darling is convinced hope can be a present reality for us, not just a distant future. That we can find hope in the Christian story, that the church is a window to a community of hope-filled rebels striving to seek first the kingdom of God.
Within these pages, be encouraged to look again at the Christian story as a place to discover a hope-filled resistance, reminded that at the heart of the gospel is the truth that death and despair are never the end.
Discover hope as a catalyst that believes the world can be different, that our living life can be different. That hope thrives in a community of broken people willing to live in brokenness.
Find a call to faithfully and hopefully respond to God who knows our struggle, can meet us in unknown places and offers us stability and constancy, and the hope that things can be better and brighter. God who is the source of all hope, who begins to restore the brokenness, makes a difference to our living, and help us glimpse the light of the kingdom of God.
I should have used my torch Or followed someone else, Or slowed down. Then I might have seen the ditch.
But I thought I knew best, My 15 year old self. Thought I would be ok.
Instead, I came away covered head to toe in mud, And one A&E trip later my broken wrist was in bright blue cast.
Grappling in the dark, I thought I was ok. Thought I could find the way on my own.
My pride, my foolishness, and subsequent fall and resulting pain, taught me that sometimes to find my way I need help. From other people, who can hold my hand in dark woodland. From other resources, like a torch to see pits and potholes before I fall.
In John’s gospel we read these words of Jesus.
“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life”.
Look to Jesus. The ultimate light. Be wise enough to keep close to Jesus, who will guide us, challenge us and change us by his unwavering love for us
Jesus helps us navigate the ditches and woodlands of life. No matter how dark things may feel, with Jesus the light will never fade.
Is there an episode from your life that taught you something about Jesus? Please share in the comments below, stories shared are often a great source of encouragement to others as we pursue faith together.
Sunday Reflections from Rev Dan: Sunday 5th July 2020.
Over the last fortnight…the same verse of the Bible has kept coming up all over the place for me.
Now when this happens for me, I always know God is saying something. The Bible is so huge – 66 books, 1189 chapters, over 31,000 verses. So, for the same little bit to keep popping up in the space of a fortnight…
That’s no coincidence – it’s a God-incidence.
Do not remember the former things or consider the things of old. 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.
I think there is something attractive and comforting about this verse because it can easily be seen to speak into our current living. The former ‘old normal’ that we remember cannot simply resume or return, and so we prepare for a new thing as we begin to embrace a ‘new normal’.
But that may be being slightly too simplistic. The journey from old normal to new normal is not a simple transaction. It is not a straight swap. It is not the same as my journey one day this week to change from one pair of shorts to another because the button popped off…
Embracing whatever this new normal will become is a journey in itself. And I think we are merely at the very beginning of new normal’s formation. It is going to take time to explore and experience. Some of us may be excited and desperate to step out, others may be taking very tentative steps, and others, not wanting to take a step at all.
When we look at the story behind those two verses in Isaiah 43, we see a similar journey. After being exiled and in Babylon for some time, the prospect of ‘returning’ to Israel was a scary and uncertain prospect. Many of those who were fit and young now would have been born in exile, so Babylon may well have felt like home, even though not their true home of course. To leave Babylon would break something of the limited security and familiarity they had.
For some of us, there may also be a sense of uncertainty about breaking security. As hard as it has been, living in lockdown and not leaving our homes except when essential, 100+ days on there is also a sense of coming to terms with it. Life has adjusted as we live in our own Babylon, and the idea of leaving the safety and security of home and entering what we may perceive as a dangerous wilderness where much is not as we remember it, may not feel as attractive to us as we wish it did.
For others of us, we may be really excited. We may see now as a time when there is potential for real change, where we can embrace new ideas and new ways of being, and really contribute towards the shape of our communities and their direction of travel. That through lockdown we will have been forced to learn new ways of being church, community and nation and we see real potential for this experience to transform the future.
Ok, so I’ve created an unfair contrast there. You may find it helpful, but I imagine at least some of us will identify with aspects of both of those characterisations but wouldn’t’ put ourselves in either. It may be more helpful to see these as points on a spectrum, a spectrum within which we swing our pendulum, feeling different about it all day by day.
But what this verse does remind us is that for those in exile, the memory of Israel was just that, a memory. What was had gone, their ancestors had died, they were the next generation and the former things were just that, former things. If unchecked, they could become an idealized world that overshadowed the reality of the present, and emerging future. A future within which God was doing a new thing that was already beginning to spring forth.
Hope was not just a possibility. It could be perceived, experienced and known.
It is that reality that we must hold on to. We must not let our memories of the old normal become an idealized past which holds us back from the future. A future in which God is already springing forth and making the way in the wilderness, even in the wilderness of risk assessments!
Today some churches will be opening their doors again, though many are not. Some of that is, I think out of fear. And some of that fear may be irrational, but much is totally rational. Coronavirus has not gone away.
Some of the ‘not yet’ is because of the practical fact that we have only had a week since the government guidance finally arrived and there is still time needed to process and implement it.
But some runs deeper. The reality of what is emerging as the ‘new normal’ means we have to carefully think through what the purpose of a church building is now. The church building was a key tool in facilitating gathering as community, worshiping together as one people, being united as the body of Christ. But it is just those things, when physically together to share fellowship, sing at the tops of our lungs and share stories with one another face to face, that coronavirus also seeks to exploit.
So just as the exiled were anxious, required God’s reassurance, and needed time to be ready for the next steps on the journey, so we need that time too. Time to work out who we are and what we are for. To ask God to aid us in working out how we use the resources we have to the best of our ability to continue to proclaim the gospel message of love and salvation. To continue being God’s chosen people in the emerging new normal.
I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
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.
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.
If you’ve watched the film Titanic, you will probably remember scene where Jack is handcuffed to a frame of the ship with water rising around him. The music builds, the water rises, and as hard as he tries Jack cannot get himself free and all hope appears to be lost…but then Rose appears, and despite the risk to her own survival as well as the survival of Jack, she will not give up. Axe in hand she aims, strikes and they are free. The danger is not over, but there is hope, they can now seek safety.
Ruth 2 opens with Ruth and Naomi without anyone to provide for them, so Ruth decides she must act. With Naomi’s permission she heads out to gather the leftover grain from the harvest fields.
And just by chance, just like in any good soap opera the newcomer turns out to be related to someone else, Ruth ends up gleaning in a field owned by Boaz, a relative of Elimelech – Naomi’s late husband. What are the chances!?!
Now we need to remember Ruth was a Moabite in an Israelite world. An outsider, foreigner, minority. She was vulnerable in so many ways. She had little status in the community, except perhaps that achieved through her relationship with Naomi. She had little right to be out gathering grain in the field, so she hangs behind the others in the fields, ensuring she takes nothing that others have the right and privilege to take.
Ruth may have taken action to seek survival, but she refrains from pushing the cultural boundary limits too far…
But Boaz, on learning Ruth is with Naomi, goes to Ruth and tells her – go nowhere else, you can gather in my fields. And don’t hang back, you can keep close to the others – and my men will leave you alone. (IE – they will not take advantage of your vulnerability, they will not molest or rape you). Let’s not beat around the bush – that’s the reality of just some of the vulnerabilities Ruth is facing.
Yet despite the vulnerabilities, she stepped out for survival, and Boaz welcomes her. And not only that, he tells her to drink from the water that is there for his staff. Not only does Boaz provide, he offers hospitality beyond expectation.
We live in a time where our own vulnerability has changed or has been intensified. We also live in a time when light is being shone on the systemic and institutional vulnerabilities society forces upon minorities, including black and minority ethnic people.
The vulnerability we see Ruth facing, and Boaz’s response, might offer us a challenge in how we approach issues of difference – be it race or ethnicity, or opinions and preferences.
In this episode of the story, we can see how God begins to provide not only means of survival, but hope and home for Ruth and Naomi. God puts Boaz in the right place at the right time to use his power and privilege, and working through Ruth’s own determination, brings provision for the future.
Ruth seeks survival, and Boaz sees Ruth. Not Ruth the Moabite, but Ruth the human being. Boaz makes space not simply for her survival, but gives her some sense of equality with his staff, his people. We might say, invites her to be part of the community – to begin to find a home. And in doing so, Ruth’s survival seeks, and finds, hope.
One of ways this chapter might speak to us today is to challenge us in recognising the potential of the power of God, and the power of God’s Spirit within us.
As we see in Ruth’s character, we have power to seek hope. God’s Spirit in us calls us to challenge cultural boundaries, to stand up against those things that oppress us and threaten our survival and identity as human beings.
As we see in the character of Boaz, we also possess power and privilege ourselves, and indeed responsibility as God’s people, filled with God’s Spirit, to contribute towards the survival and seeking of hope and home of our fellow human beings.
I encourage you to reflect this week…
How may God’s Spirit be challenging you to use your power or privilege? For self, for others, for God?
God Bless you all today with the power and hope God’s Spirit has already placed within you.