Saturday, 16 April 2022

Easter Day: April 17th 2022: Luke 24.1-12: Pauline West

 


I am quite sure if I had been around that first Easter Day listening to the local news I would have dismissed the story of the resurrection as a crack pot fantasy, someone having a joke or a misguided illusion. It just does not happen: the dead brutally and publically killed being alive again after three days – NO; what was the person on who reported that!


The persons reporting this extraordinary event were a group of grieving women doing their duty in caring for the body of someone they loved dearly. Well there you have it of course. They were women; they were emotionally very upset; they had been through a traumatic event; they could imagine anything; probably got the wrong tomb anyway as it was empty.

Suddenly they had company; they were not alone in the empty tomb, two personages appeared that looked like men, but were they men? The women were frightened and their instinct was to pay homage to these beings. For the women their mission of compassion and love was turning into a nightmare; first the tomb was empty and there was no body, and then two strange people appeared. 

These people spoke and explained why the   tomb was empty and what had happened to the body. As they listened the women heard the voice of Jesus telling them again of what was to happen to him. Jesus was alive and they knew he was alive. Their knowledge came from their memories and from the instinctive trust of the beings that spoke to them; a trust born of the work of the Holy Spirit.

The women, full of the life that comes from knowing Jesus is alive, returned to the eleven and all those with them and told their story; to them it was an amazing wonderful story; Jesus had risen as he said he would. But their listeners thought it was nonsense; grief, trauma had turned their minds; the women were deluded.

We do not know how the women reacted to the dismissal of their story, how they might have argued and shouted at the unbelieving, cloth ears in front of them, but Peter was curious enough to go and see for himself. No celestial beings, no words for him just the empty tomb and the discarded linen cloths. He looked and wondered; hearing again the story told by the women; hearing again the words spoken by Jesus when he was with them. He wondered; what had happened in that tomb?

Isn’t that all we have to do – wonder? And allow wondering to give birth to faith and faith to belief leading us to hear the risen Jesus say “I told you so, you of little faith.”

 

Pauline West

Easter 2022

Friday, 8 April 2022

Palm Sunday: April 10th 2022: Luke 22.24-27: Tim Mountain

 

True Greatness (Luke 22:24-27)

T S Eliot once said, “Most of the trouble in the world is caused by people wanting to be important”. It might be a President or Prime Minister, you or me. Or the disciples at a Passover meal arguing about who is the greatest among them. 

I wonder how we recognise ‘greatness’ in a person? Who comes to mind from recent history? Mother Teresa? Mahatma Gandhi? Martin Luther King? Queen Elizabeth? A leader in a church you have belonged to? A friend? An employer? Perhaps our reasons for admiring and respecting them are along the lines of: they didn’t ‘lord it over’; they didn’t abuse their position, power or authority; they showed humility; they looked for advice and sought the wisdom of others as if they were still youngsters learning the ropes; their desire was to seek the best interests and well being of people; they saw themselves as working on behalf of others, whether nations, companies, or churches.

On Palm Sunday God’s Messiah, Jesus, entered Jerusalem, the great seat and symbol of political and religious power. On a donkey. Astride a lowly beast of burden, not a majestic horse as might befit his true identity. The disciples didn’t understand at first, John tells us in his account. And they still didn’t understand at the last supper when they started to argue and to jockey for position. Jesus had to teach them that “the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. I am among you as one who serves”.  One scholar wistfully noted about their bickering, “It is sad that, with Jesus so close to the cross, His most intimate disciples were so far from His spirit”. The penny only started to drop after his death and resurrection. The penny that, in God’s eyes, greatness is measured in terms of servanthood. How do we treat others? How do we show that we value them? How do we look not only to our own interests but also to theirs? 

True greatness is seen in service, not status. In his meditation for the beginning of Lent, Ian reminded us that “servant leadership … reflects the leadership of Jesus”. Or, in the words of Graham Kendrick, “This is our God, the Servant King. He calls us now to follow him.” Perhaps we might consider how, in our relationships with others, we can think and act like Jesus. He who took the role of a servant, humbling himself, “becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross”.

Prayer: Lord, rather than us aspiring to greatness, teach and grant us courage to be lovingly servant-hearted.

Friday, 1 April 2022

Lent 5: April 3rd 2022: John 12.1-8: Heather Andrews

 

Contemplative imagination:


Mary reflects:

A celebration supper!  A THANKYOU to Jesus - though that word can never be enough!  He gave us back our dear brother… stood outside the tomb and, harnessing into himself all the unimaginable power of God SUMMONED Lazarus back from the grip of death… brought him home…a dead man, walking back to LIFE!!

We shuddered and retched as the foul air, foul spirits, foul stench of death flowed from the cave’s mouth like a belch from the bowels of the earth.  We couldn’t bear to look as Jesus, his face wet with tears, challenged hell itself.

He returned his loved friend to mend the hole torn in our family.  And to show God’s power and glory!  Still people come to stare, and ask, and touch, and wonder.  Many are here this evening - they wonder who?  How?  And then when words fail, they worship in wonder at God’s grace…   So this party is for Him, for Jesus.

It’s bitter sweet, though… we should be so full of joy, and we are, but with undertones of fear.  Tears of joy, tears of grief, remembering our shattering loss and our new hope, but knowing loss will come again.  We know death will one day again claim Lazarus, and each of us, in the natural course of things.  But we also know that Jesus too will be taken from us.  The days are short before the festival begins, the climax of Jesus’ hopes and fears.  Our dear, most loved friend, Master, Rabbi, Messiah, brother-of-our-hearts has set his face on the road to Jerusalem only pausing here, to show the true signs of God’s power, and to tell us that He, so full of life and love and joy and grace, has DECIDED.  To fulfil his life’s mission where the prophets go – into the hotbed of hate - Jerusalem.

So we look back to grief and forward to grief, balancing tonight on that tipping point of our present joy… tears and shadows, tears of gratitude, tears and fear so deep they hollow out my insides and leave me chasmed.

Can I show him?  I take from my dowry chest the precious alabaster jar, the ointment worth so very much.  Precious perfumed oil that speaks of love, and grief, and relinquishing.  I kneel quietly beside his feet, hoping they won’t notice, and my tears bathe his feet, my hands gently smooth the dirt of the world from them, feel the shape of him, cradle his feet as I sob into my hair, and gently, so gently, wrap them dry…   The perfume, of course, gives me away…

I am done.  I am disgraced.  I have given my best, and I’m met with rejection and censure as men surround me… and I don’t care… yet, yes I do care… everything I know and love is unravelling… life-changing, heart-breaking…

Yet He…     Jesus…  He laid his hand on my head, and let me hold him…  He stands up for me, says ‘Leave her alone, she’s done a lovely thing for me’. 

He knows I prepare him for his death, pouring out my unspoken love… and holding in my heart remembrance of what he has done for me, for my family, a sign, surely, that there is life still to come… hope beyond the heartbreak…

Now I reflect:  Two pictures:  Our lady of Kyiv and Ukranian Mother and child in the underground

                   




How can I show Him such love?  In this Lenten journey how can I ‘go public’ with my love for Jesus?  (apart from being a Pastor!)?  When all around is ‘War in Europe’?  

I shed my own tears in vicarious mourning for their loss.…  glimpse love in the tears on the faces we see in the news.  Elderly women, shepherding grandchildren out of harms way… hobbling beneath the loads they bear.  Disabled people pushed along in barrows, clutching a bundle and a cat.  Love in the palms pressed to windows of a train as women and children leave to an unknown future while their men battle for their homeland.  In the courage of the men’s words ‘We can fight better if we know you are somewhere safe’… Women cradling babies, lost and adrift in an ocean of strangers…Tears gathered into the folds of old scarves and borrowed blankets…Russian and Ukranian women grieving for sons, husbands, fathers.

Glimpses of love as people travel across Europe with lorries full of goods so kindly meant, distributing them amidst rubble and chaos…and as people in countries far away open their homes to unknown refugees…willing to embrace them, offer them a room and a shower, a home-away-from-home, comfort and shelter…

Grief is the price we pay for love…And hope – in the Risen Lord, in the Grace of God, in the Holy Spirit’s unimaginable power - is the promise to which we, as Christians, both here, and there, cling. 




And here is a little precious offering we ourselves can make…      Pray for Ukraine.  

                           






Friday, 25 March 2022

Lent 4: March 27th 2022: Luke 15.1-3, 11b-32: Ian Green

 

Last summer we were walking through the long grass along a winding farm track with high hedges either side and, as from nowhere, an unattended yet happy dog scampers up to us and then goes further down the lane following the scent he’s picked up from his twitching nose.  Two minutes later along came a determined looking owner who we greeted with the words – ‘you dog went that a way!’  Round the bend and five minutes on and we encounter dog number two off the lead – but unlike our first four legged friend this one was frantic, tearing up and down the lane at full pelt, desperately seeking its owner, and doing so not by standing still but by running in every direction it could, double backing on itself and then sprinting off into the distance.

We shall never know if all three – two dogs and one owner - were ever reunited.

That afternoon gave us our own parable of what it can mean to feel lost.  The first dog seemed to take it in his stride - even enjoying going off piste!  The owner seemed anxious that the afternoon walk had gone wrong, eager to have her two canine friends alongside once again.  The second dog seemed totally thrown by the experience of being lost and was expending all its energy in trying to get home but not knowing quite how to do it.

Replace a terrier and a spaniel with a son and we are in Luke’s territory and this passage from chapter 15: The Parable of The Lost Son.

Feeling ‘lost’ is an experience common to most of us on this journey we call life.

Perhaps bereavement is the most obvious time when we feel cut adrift and all at sea.  The world carries on, people catch buses and do the shopping, phones ring and meals are served – yet in those early days when someone we love has died none of these routines matter or are even noticed by us.  Our world stands still with emptiness – we feel lost, disconnected, frozen in a sense of aloneness which disorientates us so we hardly know where to turn and what to do next.

 Sometimes people talk about ‘losing faith’.  Maybe we used to say our prayers every night as a child asking God to protect the people we love.  Yet they weren’t kept safe – they grew old and infirm, they had accidents or just moved away. Perhaps we hid our confusion about the meaning of prayer for years until later in adult life we just couldn’t square the circle anymore and rather than carrying on praying for friends who didn’t recover or situations that didn’t resolve – we lost the desire to pray or the will to believe.

On other occasions we talk about losing ourselves.  Pressure at work builds up and we fail to find the resources deep within to cope.  Or we take one risk too many and loose our bearings on what is right and wrong and we become a stranger even to ourselves.

Yet ‘lost’ need never be a final word – if it was it would surely be one of the saddest words in the English language. 

For in a sense the stories in Luke 15 are about a found sheep, a found coin and a found son. 

In the Church some of our most joy-filled moments are encapsulated in liturgies of welcome, of ‘returning’ home and experiencing the welcome of God and of others.  In short, the joy of being ‘found’.

The Baptist Union Retreat Group Committee used to visit Burford Priory, a Benedictine House, in the Cotswolds most years around January.  It was the coldest of places with the warmest of welcomes.  A favourite time in the chapel for me was Compline – night prayer – the last office of the day sung in candlelight with the frost on the lawn outside.  Regularly at the end of Compline the community would bid farewell to one of their members who was leaving the house for a holiday, to visit family or do a job elsewhere for a few days.  It was a touching service with the brother or sister kneeling surrounded in a circle by the other members of the community who sang and prayed over them – seeking God’s blessing and praying for their safe return.  Such a touching moment that made me realise a religious community of monks and nuns really is a family.

And when they returned – a similar service – but this time of welcome – was held at Compline also.  The community was reunited and the prayers and songs reflected their joy at being back together again.

We thank God for all our many ‘home comings’ and that today’s story from Luke is just as much about being found as it ever was about being lost.

Friday, 18 March 2022

Lent 3: March 20th 2022: Luke 13.1-9: Gill Roberts

 

Repent or Perish

Then Jesus told this parable: “A man had a fig tree growing in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it but did not find any. So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?’

“‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.’”

My lavenders are looking the worse for wear!  I suppose they do at this time of year.  It’s not their fault but they aren’t enhancing the look of the front border.

I told a friend, “I think I’ll dig them out and start again.

She replied, “No! don’t dig them up.  Give them another year!”

I smiled because I’d just been reading this passage about the fig tree.  She sounded just like the gardener – the same plea for mercy!

In the previous chapter, Jesus had been talking about the future and the coming kingdom and – with it - a time of judgment.  The Jews believed that God would judge other nations by one standard and themselves by another; that the very fact that a man was a Jew would be enough to absolve him…but Jesus has warned them to be ready to meet their God – to make peace with Him.

This fig tree parable followed the grim description of Pilate’s barbaric treatment of the Galilean worshippers.  Strange where Jesus places His focus.  Does He condemn Pilate’s action?  Does He maintain the prevailing view that good people do not suffer – that they must have been guilty in some way?

He evens mentions the accident when others were killed when a tower collapsed.  Do bad things and accidents only happen to people who deserve them?

From Jesus comes a resounding, “No!”

But He goes on to remind them that repentance is important for everyone.  Death is a fact of life for us all, no matter how it happens.  That’s where our focus should be.  There is an echo of John the Baptist telling the people they need to prepare for the coming Kingdom.  Repentance is an unfamiliar word to us these days.  It’s not something we like to think about.  People don’t even like to say sorry these days – certainly not people in power.  To admit you are wrong is a weakness they think.  Yet how much strength it takes to admit you were wrong or made a mistake.  People talk of face-saving compromises. 

It’s Lent.  Did you enjoy your pancakes on Shrove Tuesday?  There was lots of discussion about what fillings to have – savoury or sweet?  Maple syrup, fruit and ice cream or trad sugar and lemon?  It’s amazing how long we can talk about it.  I wonder whether you really did use up those lovely ingredients completely and are going without them now?  Really?

Yet, did you hear mention of going to be shriven?  We can take the pleasant parts of Lent and forget the less pleasant ones!  Being shriven.  Not very Baptist is it?!  Yet this is about repentance.  Maybe your church is better at this sort of thing that ours.  Are we really serious about it?  Somehow there can be the sense that, because we’ve repented once and been forgiven, life is plain sailing.  We can take the same view as the rest of the world that I’m not really bad, in fact I’m quite a good person. 

Last week I took part in an Open the Book assembly to act out the account of Zacchaeus.  It was great!  Zacchaeus was sorry, made recompense and everyone was surprised and happy.  Was that it?  Was Z ever tempted to take a little extra again?  Was he occasionally irritated that he’d made that commitment?  Yet God is always ready to give a second - another – or even a first chance!

What of my lavenders?  Well, for the moment they still stand, looking sad.  I am not as forgiving as God.  I will vacillate between speaking to them nicely and encouraging them and threatening them.  They won’t know where they are!  At the end of the day, I shall probably dig them up, knowing that it was not they who didn’t make the grade but I who hadn’t cared for them in the first place AND lost patience.  I guess I need to repent.

Friday, 11 March 2022

Lent 2: March 13th 2022: Luke 13.13-35: Christine Hutt

 

FOX and HEN

Pharisees came to Jesus and said ‘Leave this place...Herod wants to kill you.’ He replied ‘Go tell that fox, I will drive out demons and heal people today and tomorrow and on the third day I will reach my goal…..surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem! O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!....’

Fox and hen – this sounds like one of Aesop’s fables – but the picture by Stanley Spencer shows Jesus observing the natural world! The image of a fox is of a cunning and wily animal, ready to pounce, but the image of a hen with her chicks is a picture of protection and safety, one of relationship and attachment. Hens gather their chicks under their wings to protect them from harm. But Jesus is lamenting and sorrowful over Jerusalem as the ‘children’ were not willing to be gathered together. This image is of a mother bereft and in mourning, a picture of vulnerability. We catch a glimpse here of the divine desperation, deepest sorrow and heart-aching grief that compassionate love must bear.  We have also seen this in Ukraine with the bombing of the maternity hospital, seeing pregnant mothers leaving, and children being carried out on stretchers.  

The theme of vulnerability actively relates with the work of the theologian, Dorothee Solle. Vulnerability actively places God on the side of the victims, sharing in their suffering, in a morally acceptable way, so that God genuinely suffers yet always as a result of divine freedom.

Jesus didn’t heed the warning about Herod, who he called ‘that fox’, as he had work to do and a goal to reach. He knew that the end point for him was to die in Jerusalem as had happened to many prophets before him.

The story is told of a henhouse that was struck by lightning and burned down. Later the farmer poked through the ashes and found the charred body of a hen, but underneath the hen’s body there were six chicks that had survived the fire. This is a picture of Jesus’ love for us – he died that we might live!

Friday, 4 March 2022

Lent 1: March 6th 2022: Luke 4.1-13: Ian Green

 

Welcome to Lent, and even in these anxious days as we seem to be emerging from one crisis simply to arrive at another, may we all know God's companionship and blessing as we walk the road to Easter.

Traditionally on the First Sunday of Lent we find ourselves back in The Wilderness with Jesus.  He was led there by The Spirit, we are told, and that surely hints that Wilderness was, and might still be, a helpful place in which to spend some time.  In ancient tradition Wilderness was the place where leaders 'found' themselves.

Time and again during those forty days Jesus had to address one question about himself.  What sort of leader did he want to become?  Related to this is the question of how he was going to use his 'power'.

That question never goes away and the way we use the power we have says so much about our identity and belief.

Jesus in The Wilderness chooses the way of servanthood, always referencing himself alongside scripture and in relationship with God.  He simply rejects power if the sole outcome is to glorify himself.  He always wants to honour his Father and do everything to proclaim the Peaceable Kingdom.

There is no getting away from the fact that our world sees the same old mistakes being made one generation afer another.  This weekend we view one style of leadership in Moscow with dread and apprehension, and we pray for President Putin.  We view the other style of leadership in Kiev with admiration and apprehension, and we pray for Presdient Zelenskyy.

I was struck last month, on Accession Day, as the Queen sent out a press release marking her 70th year.  It was, as we've come to expect, impressively printed under the Royal Coat of Alms.  What was significantly different about this release is that the Queen had signed it off in her own hand with these words:  Your servant, Elizabeth R.

Servant leadership always and everywhere reflects the leadership of Jesus.  It is a blessing.