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.
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?
In this week’s reflections (available in audio and text), I think about a time I felt vulnerable and our own being faced with vulnerability as Covid-19 continues to present such a real threat to humanity.
Around this time of year 14 years ago, aged 14 I got gastroenteritis and stayed of school for a week. it was the first time in my life I’d missed school for so long, and it happened that it meant I missed the long awaited auditions for the School’s next show.
In November 2006, the school was to perform Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat. Having not been in any previous shows, I was hoping I might get a part, and was disappointed I was too ill to audition. The next week, I went back to school and had settled that I’d miss out but to my surprise, despite missing auditions, the drama teachers allowed me to audition late, and by the end of the week I had not only got a part… I’d got the main part. I was going to play Joseph. My friends joked saying it was because I was the only year 10 who could still hit high notes.
We began rehearsals, had the summer holidays and then got back to it as term recommenced in September, and so did costume making. I’d not given costume any thought until suddenly I was presented with a gold belt and a white piece of fabric, about a foot deep and 4 feet long and told here’s your costume.
To this now just turned 15 year old, who had only just hit puberty, wasn’t the fittest, wasn’t the most attractive, and was a regular target for bullying – this was not just some costume. This was going to be brutal. I was being asked to stand on stage in front of my classmates (and those at the time I definitely wouldn’t call mates), in the equivalent of a white mini-skirt with a golden belt, and nothing else on.
Alas, I didn’t get as much bullying as I’d expected I might, but stepping out on stage the first time I felt incredibly vulnerable, conscious I was stood wearing, what felt like almost nothing, in front of my peers and teachers, and aware that I would have 6 performances to go, including performing in front of Sir Tim Rice when he came to open the school’s new music block that month.
As performance week loomed I then discovered not only did I need to come to terms with such a scantily clad costume, I also needed to be caked in makeup from head to waist. Each evening as we prepared for the show, some of my friends had the honourable responsibility of helping me ‘orange-up’ ready for performances.
Vulnerability was somewhat thrust upon me. Part of it was rational, perhaps part not. Some of it was through the behaviour of others, some was through my own fear. Some was simply part of being human. Some was my struggle with my own self-image.
My biggest regret of that time is that I don’t have a recording of the show. I never had a chance to watch myself back, and years later would love to be able to watch and remind myself of what I achieved as I embraced the vulnerability required of my 14 and 15yr old self.
In Acts 9, for Saul as he travels on the road, free and powerful, on a mission to ‘take down’ the followers of The Way, he is blinded and can go on no longer without the help of others. Suddenly, Saul’s life changes as he has to suddenly come to terms with his new found vulnerability.
I know from many conversations that in the last 2 months, in different and varied ways, many of us have needed to come to terms with our vulnerability. Whether or not our age or health increases our vulnerability, all humanity is vulnerable right now. We have all had to face that vulnerability, changing the way we live, asking others to help us, to care for ourselves and our communities.
This is not easy. Much like Saul, we live in relative freedom, used to being able to do and go where we want when. Ongoing suffering, grief and struggle is part of the vulnerable reality this pandemic forces humanity as a whole to hold and bear.
But to become vulnerable does not mean all is lost. In the midst of our vulnerability, it can be hard to see how we can get out, but just as I look back and reflect on what I achieved, as we read on in Acts we’ll discover how much Saul achieves through his own vulnerability. I pray now that we, as individuals, communities and humanity, will allow ourselves to become vulnerable, and make space for God’s power and grace to transform us and all the world.
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