Sunday, July 28, 2013

Four Shafts of Light Woven into Prayer

Four Shafts of Light Woven into Prayer
2 Corinthians 3:17 – 4:15
For Alan and Muriel
28th July 2013

The year we moved to Cheltenham and the South West Midlands Area of the Congregational Federation was the year Alan and Muriel Proctor moved to North Wraxall and our Area.  Over the years it has been good to share in fellowship and a very real sense of support in the ups and downs of ministry.  Today it was a very real privilege to be invited to preach at a service marking Alan's retirement from Ministry and to share that service with Barbara Bridges, Minister of our Moreton in Marsh Congregational Church and until recently our Area  Churches' Support Worker.   Sad to say North Wraxall Church is almost literally in the middle of nowhere surrounded as it is by fields.  They have taken the decision to close and so this service not only marked the retirement of Alan and Muriel but also the closure of the Church.  There were very many mixed feelings as we celebrated the past and the present and put the future very much into God's hands.

I didn’t know what reading to choose.  Barbara needed to know.  My mind was a blank.  And then on Wednesday evening Felicity and I went to a service that was welcoming what seemed a very young man as an Associate Minister in Cheltenham’s central Anglican churches – the Minster and St Matthew’s and St Luke’s.  The Bishop of Gloucester began his sermon by saying that for fear at such services he would simply preach on his favourite passages of the Bible he had chosen the readings for the next Day, Thursday, the Feast of St James.

First thing Thursday morning I turned to the book of devotions that I am using this year, a lovely pattern of daily prayer by Angela Ashwin with a title I want to come back to, Woven into Prayer.  And the verse the morning’s prayers began with was 2 Corinthians 3:17-18

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.  And we all, with unveiled faces beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into his likeness from one degree to another; this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

What a wonderful text for today.  I looked up the passage and felt what a wonderful passage to weave into our thoughts in such a different place at such a different time and yet a service that has the same presence, the same Spirit at its heart and I believe the same blessing too.

I have in the past done some weaving on a table loom with four shafts.

There are four thoughts I want to weave into our minds and into our prayers today an d hold on to for the future – I’ld like to think of them as Four Shafts of Light Woven into Prayer.

And the first Shaft of Light is in that verse.   All of us are changing.  That young associate vicar will change as his young family grows older – our lives are constantly changing – it seems but yesterday that Alan and Muriel arrived here just as we were arriving in Cheltenham.  Great moments we have shared, exploring faith, journeying in faith, in Tiley Towers, around the fire in the Manse – occasional meetings, but meetings rich with blessing.  Then my youngsters were 5 and 8, now Felicity and I are grandparents.  It was great sharing in that Golden Wedding celebration – we have been together 58 years.  Change happens.  In those changes a wonderful thought, a wonderful promise that we are all in the process of being transformed into the likeness of Christ – the Lord is the Spirit and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.

Something follows from that as chapter 4 opens … and it brings me to the second shaft of light as we weave our thoughts together into prayer today.

Therefore, since it is by God’s mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart.

That’s a wonderful thought to hold on to – we’ve not met up that often, but when we have we have shared ups and downs of faith together.  Alan and Muriel share with us all a wisdom in ministry, a love and a rich musical gifting as well.  I think these next few verses sum up the kind of ministry that  Alan and Muriel have shared together over the years and in this place.

 We have renounced the shameful things that one hides; we refuse to practise cunning or to falsify God’s word; but by the open statement of the truth we commend ourselves to the conscience of everyone in the sight of God.

A living faith is a faith that grapples with the world, that grapples with the word of God – and it’s a living faith we share – one that invites questioning that’s hones – that seeks the truth and touches the conscience.

And what is at the heart of this faith that’s so precious we celebrate today?

As we celebrate Alan and Muriel’s ministry Paul’s words are so true …

For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake.
We have had a lot of fun at meetings we have shared.  Alan was President of our Area for some years and would have words of encouragement always with a smile.

For it is the God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness’, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

How wonderful this is in a day when we can celebrate that ministry.

But … and there is always a ‘but’ – and the but can sometimes be brutal.

But … there’s an elephant in the room.  Our thoughts and prayers are very much with Alan and Muriel for their health – times of uncertainty and difficulty – coming to the point at which this place closes.

I think what Paul goes on to reflect on is so important for us to take to heart today as well.  It reminds us of the realities, the stark realities that we all have to face.

But, says Paul, we have this treasure in clay jars,

And clay jars don’t last forever.  We don’t last forever.  Our bodies let us down.  Church buildlings don’t last for ever – they have their time.  A stark reality.

And in the face of that reality a wonderful insight from Paul …

we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies. For while we live, we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you.

This is the faith to hold on to – this is the faith professed starting out in ministry, this is the faith professed this day no less …

But just as we have the same spirit of faith that is in accordance with scripture—‘I believed, and so I spoke’—we also believe, and so we speak, because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus, and will bring us with you into his presence. Yes, everything is for your sake, so that grace, as it extends to more and more people, may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.

A table loom with four shafts is capable of weaving cloth in the most beautiful of patterns – Four Shafts of Light Woven into Prayer…

  1. The first Shaft of Light woven into prayer  is that we are all being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another

  1. The second Shaft of Light is that we do not proclaim ourselves, but we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.

  1. The third Shaft of Light Woven into prayer  is that we have this treasure in clay jars so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God.

And one shaft of light remains.

So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.

That’s the vision to hold on to.

When you weave those four shafts are raised and lowered and the shuttle flies to and fro and the pattern forms in the cloth … but then it disappears.  As you wind the cloth on the roller it disappears from sight.   The full splendour of the pattern you have planned is not apparent until you come to the end of your cloth – you hem the ends and you have to cut it off from the loom – only then is the pattern apparent.

Not till the loom of time is silent
And the shuttles cease to fly
Will God unroll the canvas
And explain the reason why
The dark threads are as needful
In the Weaver’s skilful hand
As the threads of gold and silver
In the pattern he has planned.

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