Tag Archives: Hope

Recommended read: ‘Finding God in a Culture of Fear’

Living in fear is when “day-to-day living becomes more about knowing how to survive rather than thrive”.[1]

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.

Hope that says ‘you ain’t seen nothing yet’. [2]


‘Finding God in a Culture of Fear ’ is published by Bible Reading Fellowship (BRF), written by Joanne Cox-Darling.

Purchase from your Local Christian Bookshop or visit the BRF online shop.


[1] Joanne Cox-Darling, Finding God in a Culture of Fear, (BRF, 2019), p27-8.

[2]Joanne Cox-Darling, Finding God in a Culture of Fear, (BRF, 2019), P.96.

Pride before a fall

I tripped
Running in the dark
Through the woods

Crash
Splash
Crunch
Ouch

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”.

John 8:12

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.

Downloadable Version

Sharing Together

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.

Emerging

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.

Isaiah 43:18-19

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?

Downloadable PDF Version for printing

Join the conversation

How are you feeling about the emerging ‘new normal’? confident? anxious?

How is God speaking to you about it?

Join the conversation and comment below, be part of the community as we continue to be physically distanced yet unwaveringly together.

Finding Home: Ruth 4

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.

Video: Ruth 4 – Finding Home

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.

Downloadable Version

Join the Conversation

How does Ruth 4 speak to you?
What is on your heart today?

How have you benefitted from Bible Month 2020?

You can share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Survival Seeking Hope: Ruth 2

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.

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Join the Conversation

How does Ruth 1 speak to you?
What is on your heart today?

You can share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Living in Loss: Ruth 1

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.

We’ve been enjoying the start of the growing season the last couple weeks, radishes, cucumbers, strawberries, raspberries are just beginning to ripen too…

The story of Ruth starts very differently, Ruth 1 opens with a famine. A loss of fruitfulness of the land in Bethlehem. So to survive Elimelech takes his wife, Naomi and their sons Mahlon and Chilion to another country Moab.

While in Moab, Elimelech dies, and Mahlon and Chilion marry women from Moab – Orpah and Ruth. Mahlon and Chilion also died, which leads Naomi as a foreigner in Moab, with two daughters in law, and no men to look after them in their patriarchal society. The security of family and hope was no longer stable.

The land lost its productivity, women lose their husbands, their well-being, their independence.

Naomi must have been at a low, struggling for hope, residing in a foreign land, amidst the layers of loss she’s experienced. Struggling to find hope.

Reflect: I wonder if you can relate to Naomi’s struggle?

Living in a coronavirus world, we’ve experienced loss in new and intensified ways. Loss of life, physical contact with others, freedom to spend time with friends and family, perhaps lost the ability to work or go to school. We’ve lost independence and certainty.  It can be hard to hold onto hope.

What does Naomi do? Well, she doesn’t give up. She doesn’t resign herself to be beaten. She doesn’t settle for the idea that she has to simply live with loss without a hope for the future. In struggle with loss, life can go on.

Naomi hears there’s food in Bethlehem, so she sets out for home. Ruth and Orpah are set to go with her, committed to their mother-in-law.

Naomi says to them, ‘go back to your mother, may God look after you there’. Initially they say no, we’ll stay with you, but Naomi insists, and in the end Orpah with weeping and heartache says farewell and heads on her way.

But Ruth holds onto her Mother-in-law:

“do not make me leave you,
where you go I will go,
where you stay I will stay,
your people will be my people,
your God will be my God.”

Ruth 1:16

Seeing Ruth’s determination, Naomi says no more.

We know little about the story of Ruth or Orpah up to this point, but just as Naomi experienced loss and was vulnerable, so were they.

Both lost their husbands, both would have had anxieties about their future security, stability and survival. Both make sacrifices on their journey for survival.

Orpah’s sacrifice is to let go of her new family and go back to her past.  

Ruth’s sacrifice is to hold on, to not go back to her past family, to travel with Naomi and become a foreigner herself, just as Naomi had been.

I wonder if in Naomi, Ruth saw in Naomi’s Israelite faith a glimmer of hope, hope that things could be different for her, by risking vulnerability to make that hope her own.

For all 3 widows, living in loss meant taking action, making choices and sacrifices, living in a way that helped them see possibilities of hope.

Today, we can have faith in God, who is stable and certain to be with us, love us and forgive us. The hope we have in God turns the uncertainties of our present into possibility for the future.

Opportunties for new, deeper, stronger relationships to bloom and grow. Opportunities to learn, be changed, challenged, transformed.

Despite our struggle in the chaos of uncertainty – the opening of this story shows us that in the midst of vulnerability and loss, hope always has the last word. God has the last word.

Despite our living in loss, life can go on, grow and flourish.

And as we unpack the story further we’ll discover more about how hope is kindled, finding hope and home in the midst of vulnerability and loss.

I pray you know the hope of God in your living today.


Downloadable Version

Join the Conversation

How does Ruth 1 speak to you?
What is on your heart today?

You can share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Not what he’d hoped for: The Vulnerable man

“I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”

John 10:10b

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.

‘The Great Realisation’, From Probably Tomfoolery.

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!


Downloadable Version


Acknowledgements

Story of the young man © Tom Wright from Acts for Everyone, (SPCK, 2008), p48-8.
Video from Probably Tomfoolery.

Rainbows, palms and hope

Some of you will see them by looking outside your windows or front door. For some of you, in just a short walk you’ll see them dotted in houses along the street. Others if you will have heard and seen them on TV. What am I taking about? I’m talking about the nations recent art-explosion of rainbows.

Rainbows

Along our street there are big ones & little ones, painted ones & coloured ones, all different, and unique, but all part of a bigger picture, a bigger message – that there is hope, that this time of distance will come to an end.

As we look at these rainbows, as pieces of art, we see the diversity of colour & design, the variety of materials used to make them.

The rainbow is perhaps most widely used today by the LGBT+ community which (to put a much longer, more complex history of the symbology into much briefer terms) has becomes as a symbol that offers a shared identity, a symbol offering a sense of unity to a diverse community.

Thinking about rainbows themselves in a more scientific way, when they appear in the sky they are caused by the reflections, refraction and dispersal of light…(and that’s where my scientific knowledge reaches its end!). As it happens, into the sky shines a spectrum of colour for all to see.

But before scientific understanding took place, before – perhaps – people could attempt to use rainbows in art, the rainbow as a symbol comes in biblical tradition as a sign of God’s covenant with Noah that floods will never again destroy the earth.

11 I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.’ 12 God said, ‘This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: 13 I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth.

Genesis 9:11-13

Millenia on, and the rainbow continues to be a sign of hope & promise. A reminder of God’s care for the world, for creation, for all living creatures, for all humankind made in God’s image.

Palms

Lent has somewhat been disrupted for us here in 2020, but today is Palm Sunday. The day in which we remember Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem.

As Matthew tells it, after weeks and months of ministry ‘on the road’ Jesus gives some of the disciples instructions, they get a colt, and Jesus rides into Jerusalem. Matthew makes the point, as Matthew often does, to point to Jewish scriptures – Christ as the promised one, the Messiah, the new king.

Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion!
    Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem!
Lo, your king comes to you;
    triumphant and victorious is he,
humble and riding on a donkey,
    on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

Zechariah 9:9, (cited in Matthew 21:5)

And as he approaches Jerusalem, a crowd gathers – they were not in the midst of a global pandemic! As the crowd does, they grab branches from the trees and wave them and cheer.

A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting,

‘Hosanna to the Son of David!
    Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!’

Matthew 21:8-9

Hope

There’s a parallel to Jesus’ lowly entry to Jerusalem, from the eastern side of the city. From the west, Pilate was entering Jerusalem in a military procession. As Borg and Crossan put it:

Jesus’ procession proclaimed the kingdom of God; Pilate’s proclaimed the power of empire. The two processions embody the central conflict of the week that led to Jesus’ crucifixion.

Borg and Crossan in ‘The Last Week’, p2.

For the crowds that gathered and waved their palms, Jesus was a symbol that life could be different. Jesus had become a symbol of hope that things could be better. Of course things didn’t go the way people expected, and it’s not long before a crowd gathers again, this time chanting ‘crucify him’.

As we sit in our homes, we too can know Jesus as a sign to us that life can be different. That there is hope that things will get better.

You’ll see a picture of our rainbow made by Rebekah and Lydia at the top of this post. Ironically, made with their very own palms (I didn’t think about this when we made it!). Just as the palm branches were what the people of Jesus’ day could find, we have rainbows displayed across the nation. Diverse and unique, yet holding a universal message of hope.

Rainbows as symbols of diversity and unity.
Rainbows as a reminder of God’s care for all creation.
Rainbows as a symbol of hope.

While we can’t gather as a crowd today and wave our palms, we can still know, live and even declare to our streets and communities the universal hope that Christ’s entry to Jerusalem declares. Things can be different. Things may get worse (we know Good Friday is coming), but they will one day get better (resurrection is coming).

I hope and pray that this Palm Sunday you will be able to celebrate Jesus as a sign of hope for you today. As Jesus enters our hearts and homes this week, and we journey with Jesus through his last week, may we and those around us know the hope that Jesus brings.

Image used under creative commons licence.

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Gifted Time, Patient Hope and the Resurrection to come

Have you all remembered to spring your clocks forwards this morning? On more than one occasion I’ve led worship on the last Sunday of March and towards the end of the service someone has turned up looking embarrassed, having forgotten to change the clocks and ending up running an hour behind the rest of the world.

There’s no chance of us turning up to church an hour late today though, and what we do and when is largely our own business at the moment. Many of us are spending our days differently to how we usually would as we embrace and settle into what our new and temporary ‘normal’ is going to be.

I’ve spent the week using technology differently to normal, done a shift at the foodbank for the first time, made lots of phone calls and have even managed to clear 1 of the many piles of ‘stuff’ that have been collecting in my office over the last 12 months.

How we spend our time can be important at the best of times. What we do impacts us and can impact others, positively or negatively. This week the question of ‘what does a minister do now?’ has not been far from my mind as I discern how best to minister in church and community when we are distant and isolated from one another. I am sure I am not alone as I grapple with that question of how best to use my time?

How best do we use our time today?

In today’s gospel reading (John 11:1-45), people don’t think Jesus gets his timing right. On day 1 of the story, Jesus gets the message that Lazarus is ill. Mary and Martha wanted Jesus to come to them, but Jesus doesn’t. He waits, continues in the place he was, doing whatever he had been doing. 2 days later, he says to his disciples, let’s go, let’s head to Bethany.

But to Martha at least, Jesus is late. He got his timing wrong, took too long dilly-dallying and now Lazarus is dead. Yet in the midst of the grief and emotion she was experiencing, Martha is faithful and hopeful:

Martha said to Jesus, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.’

John 11:21-22

As the story goes on, they head to the tomb, Mary joins them, and Jesus asks for the stone to be rolled away, and call’s to Lazarus ‘come out’, and out comes Lazarus.

Death leads to life.
Waiting leads to still holds possibility.
Hope leads to resurrection.

As ever with John’s gospel there is so much that could be said of this passage, but I wonder today, in this period of isolation and distance in our world, if we have something to gain from reflecting on Jesus’ use of time.

Jesus doesn’t rush to Lazarus, Martha and Mary – despite how deep John’s gospel portrays their friendship. He pauses, takes time and continues what he was doing. Only then, after he had taken time, did he go.

And by then all must have seemed lost to the community in Bethany, because Lazarus was no longer ill. He was dead, hope was gone, death had won. But then Jesus came. But then Resurrection came.

‘I am the resurrection and the life.’

(John 11:25)

We live, ‘normally’ in a fast paced society. Where waiting and patience are not always normative to us. Where we expect to find the food we want to buy on the shelves when we go shopping. When we sometimes expect leaders, medics and governments to have all the answers. When, as pragmatic people of faith who know faith necessities action, we want act, do and somehow respond with pace to make a difference in times of adversity and challenge.

But what I’m struck by is that Jesus doesn’t respond quickly. He continues what he was doing, and then, after time, heads to Bethany. By then, by all accounts all hope was lost – but it was only then, when death had seemingly won, that resurrection truly came, when hope became a true reality.

As we live in this period of distancing, waiting for the resurrection that will one day come, knowing the world is ill but being powerless to do anything about it except stay at home to protect the NHS and save lives, we have a gift of time.

We are in a time of waiting, this time will pass and resurrection will come, but this time is also a time in itself to use well. For ourselves, for others, for our relationship with God. An extended time of Sabbath Rest perhaps? So I encourage you, this week, to think about how you will use this time.

Take time to Pause
Take time to finish things.
Take time to spend with God as you need do
Take time to prepare for the resurrection to come

There’s a poem that was on a poster I had in my bedroom as a teenager. I can’t find it now, I guess it went in one of our house moves. There seem to be various versions of it online, and I can’t find it’s original author, but I leave it with you to read, reflect, pray through and allow the Spirit to guide you with, as we take this gift of time we have and seek to use it well, with patient hope, knowing resurrection is to come.

Take time to think:
it is the source of power.

Take time to read;
it is the foundation of wisdom.

Take time to play;
it is the secret of staying young.

Take time to be quiet;
it is the opportunity to see God.

Take time to be aware;
it is the opportunity to help others.

Take time to love and be loved;
it is God’s greatest gift.

Take time to laugh;
it is the music of the soul.

Take time to be friendly;
it is the road to happiness.

Take time to dream;
it is what the future is made of.

Take time to pray;
it is the greatest power on earth.

Author Unknown

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.