Sunday, November 28, 2010

Mary and Joseph start their journey

It’s great to share in a baptism service with Carly and Ian and Mackenzie as little Jayden is baptised. It doesn’t seem like five years ago that we spent time together planning for a wedding and preparing for marriage, and then the special day. And then getting ready for Mackenzie’s baptism – and it was special sharing in that on Easter Sunday. And now it’s great to share in Jayden’s baptism on another special day for us, on Advent Sunday as we start the build up to Christmas.

We have got a theme for our services leading up to Christmas … The Christmas Journey. And we have an invitation to share – Journey with us at Highbury Church this Christmas. Christmas is all about journeys and travelling. There are those journeys people make to share in Christmas celebrations. But there were lots of journeys in the Christmas story.

Today we start with the journeys Mary and Joseph made, next Sunday we will journey with the Wise Men from the East – and we are going to have a focus on the Christmas charity we have chosen this year – CHIKS Children’s Homes in Kerala State, as Robin Radley the inspiration behind all that work joins us. And then Sue will be making the journey to Kerala in the New Year to spend time at some of those homes and take our love and greetings with her.

Then the following Sunday we will be journeying with the shepherds. And then we are going to put all those three stories together on 19th December in a chidlren’s nativity play.

Then we are going to do something different this Christmas. In the actual week leading up to Christmas we are going to lay out those three journeys for people to follow and reflect on in the quiet of this place. The church will be open from 10-00 to 11-00 and again from 6-00 to 7-00 and you will be invited to journey with Mary and Joseph, to journey with the Wise Men, to journey with the Shepherds. Then comes our Christmas day celebration – everyone coming together to celebrate with presents and toys to show, and fun to share.

The Christmas Journey begins today with Mary and Joseph, and their travels.

Mary’s travels begin as she makes the journey over to her cousin’s Elizabeth’s home where both of them compare notes because they are both expecting. Then it’s Mary and Joseph’s turn as they travel from their home in Nazareth to Bethlehem. Those aren’t long distances – a bit like from here to Warwick, or from here to Birmingham.

But then comes a darker journey as the powers that be seek to eliminate Jesus and destroy the newly born baby. They flee as refugees travelling much further to Egypt. And then when it’s safe to return the make the jouney back to Nazareth.

Not that their travels finish there. We pick them up on another journey when Jesus is 12 and he and his parents make the journey to Jerusalem from Nazareth when Jesus comes of age. Sometime between that point and the start of Jesus’ ministry, Joseph disappears from the scene. It looks very much as if he died. He was there with them at the beginning of it all – but not through to the end. We glimpse Mary travelling with Jesus. And sometimes Jesus does things that disturbs her. She doesn’t understand what he is about. And then she makes the journey with other women when he has to walk carrying a cross. Her travels take her to the cross – it is as if someone has driven a sword into her own side and pierced her – the pain, the grief is overwhelming. But that pain and that grief do not have the last word – she journeys through it and beyond it … to resurrection.

In a sense all of life’s journey is there in the travels Mary makes.

In her travels she journeys with Jesus. A special baby. A young boy growing up. But then someone who teaches a remarkable way of life for people to follow, a way that involves putting other people first and going out of your way to help one another. It involves love for God, love for your neighbour. It’s a remarkably caring life that he shares – always a look of forgiveness. It is a tragic life, and Mary shares that sadness. But it is a remarkable victory over death that he wins – and Mary as we see her at the finish of her travels senses something remarkable in the resurrection victory she too can share. And more than that it is through this Jesus that she senses there is a strength she can draw on that will be with her, the unseen yet real presence of the strength of God.

There is a real sense of journeying on. In those five or six years since starting to think of getting married – you have journeyed on. The prayer in that marriage, the prayer at Mackenzie’s baptism, the prayer today is that as you journey on and wherever life leads you you may sense you are not alone, but God is with you, Christ is there to guide you and there is a strength to draw on from outside yourselves.

And that’s something that goes for us all.

That leads me to the next thought.

Mary, and Joseph too, treasured everything about Jesus.

There’s a wonderful verse that tells us how she treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart. And you can see Joseph sharing in that as well.

Little ones are there to treasure. It’s great treasuring moments. It was good looking at that wedding album. Photos of the little ones when they were tiny. As they grow up. Little things you treasure. Grandparents treasuring those pictures.

Moments to treasure.

What did Mary treasure? The sense that God was with her. The sense that Jesus was to make such a difference to so many people. Were there moments of his teaching that she treasured? Were there moments of healing to treasure? Did she treasure that moment at the foot of the cross when in spite of all the pain he made sure his mother would be looked after by one of his close friends? Did she treasure the moment when she knew he was risen from the dead? Did she treasure that sense of a strength from beyond herself?

I hope there are things for us to treasure – not just in the album, not just in the little ones as they grow older. I hope that we can treasure that sense of something with us from beyond ourselves in God – and in Jesus Christ.

On the journey as they travelled in the bad times and the good times Mary and Joseph sensed God was with them in this Jesus who was so special.

They treasured so much about Jesus.

There’s one more thing that strikes me about Mary and Joseph. And it too begins with t r

They had something that made all the difference. I think it makes all the difference in all sorts of different ways, and in all sorts of different bits of their lives.

They had something called ‘trust’.

When you think of it, given the circumstances of the story it was a big ask. But Joseph and Mary had trust in each other.

That was something we explored in our conversations about marriage. It goes right to the heart of relationship building. Trust makes a relationship.

When a little one comes along they have that trust. There’s that wonderful moment when the little one with the tiniest of hands, puts that little hand into the great big hand of mum or dad. That moment of trust is so special.

Trust can be betrayed – in a relationship, by a parent. How important it is to build up that trust.

But there is another dimension to that trust that makes it so special.

Mary and Joseph had a trust in God.

There were moments when it felt as if everything was going wrong. Nothing went right. They had sadness in their family. It seemed everything was faling apart, going wrong.

But continually, they had trust in God.

Trust in God, that God will be with us, come what may. Difficult sometimes, but trust – keep on trusting, that nothing in life or death, in the present or the future, nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Travel – with God,

Treasure – the love of Christ

Trust – inside your relationship, inside your family, and above all trust in God. Hold on to that trust.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Cheltenham Street Pastors First Anniversary

A service commisioning twelve new Street Pastors and celebrating one year of Street Pators in Cheltenham at Cambray Baptist Church. A message shared by Richard Cleaves of Highbury.

Perfect Love Casts out Fear

It was 4-10 on a Saturday morning a month or so ago that I found myself in the company of four of our Street Pastors as we made our way back to the Salvation Army at the end of what I was told had been a quiet evening, but not an uneventful one.

It was one of our older Street Pastors who said something to me that has stayed with me ever since.

“I think quite differently about going out into Cheltenham in the evening now! I used to be fearful of all the young people. Now I realise they are with very few exceptions lovely people who are looking out for each other. I no longer feel such a fear about going into Cheltenham in the evening”

I used to be fearful … I no longer feel such a feel.

What she said registered with me because over the years I have sensed that people over a certain age, and I count myself among those who are over a certain age, find Cheltenham at night a scary place. Indeed I have sensed a very real ‘fear’ of the town centre after dark among many of an older generation. It is the kind of fear that has almost made the town centre after dark a no-go area for many.

It is a fear I have shared.

In catching the vision for Street Pastors the churches have Cheltenham have made it clear that that is a fear that we must not run away from and allow simply to take a hold of our town centre. It is rather a fear that needs to be faced, a fear that needs to be addressed.

Street Pastors addresses that fear in a number of ways.

First, groundless fears can be allayed.

What my friend was sharing with me I too had observed. Actually the great majority of young people who are out on a Friday night and Saturday night are looking out for each other, are simply there to have a good time, in just the way every generation has done. It’s no bad thing that our increasing number of Street Pastors can feed that kind of observation back into the thinking of people who have exaggerated fears of Cheltenham after dark.

But … and it is an important ‘but’. It is quite apparent from the police and from Accident and Emergency that things do happen that are pretty scary, fuelled as they are by our society’s current inability to respond appropriately to the alcohol crisis.

In that context fear is no bad thing, giving rise to a proper caution.

This is where the Street Pastor initiative really comes into its own. It seeks to add into the mix of the night time economy simply a presence that is there to help where help is needed. But in doing that it takes seriously the kind of fear that it is proper to have.

The Street Pastors organisation recognises that

Justifiable fears must be respected.

In doing that it takes a leaf out of Jesus’ book. When sending out his friends into what in its own way was an equally scary world, Jesus urged them to be

Wise as serpents and innocent as doves.

Yes, be gentle as a dove, but also as wise as a serpent.

It is simply the ‘presence’ of the Street Pastors in that ‘gentle way’ that can make all the difference. But that presence is also underpinned with the wisdom of a serpent. As those who are being commissioned tonight know only too well, however enthusiastic and keen, Street Pastors only go out once they have completed a rigorous training programme, that addresses issues around alcohol, drugs, violence and so much more.

Street Pastors only go out in pairs, and always with two lots of pairs keeping within sight of each other. One of the pair is in constant touch through an ear piece and microphone with the night-safe radio network that links all those involved in the clubs and in security with the police control room, while the other of the pair has a mobile phone linking them directly with the remaining pair of the team of six who are back at the base in the Salvation Army.

After an hour and a half with two pairs, I then stayed back for an hour and a half at the base.

We were listening into the radio channel. It wasn’t long before we heard one of our Street Pastors calling in to the Police control room. It looked as if a fight was about to start on the Strand. They requested the control room to turn the cameras in that direction. Within a couple of minutes a police officer had arrived. But only one. His presence was enough to stop the fight breaking out, but it was still ugly. Only a couple of minutes later we heard the Police Control room calling our Street Pastors. A young girl had all but passed out and police were in attendance at Boots Corner. Our Street Pastors walked over to Boots Corner and took over from the police. They talked gently with the young girl, shared water with her, got her back to her feet and at her request walked her home. Meanwhile the police were able to reinforce their colleague on the Strand.

The next day the Echo did not report a fight on the Strand, A & E did not have to cope with any injuries from what could have become an ugly incident and no ambulance was called out to the young girl. And none of those things got into any statistics because you cannot report what did not happen!

The presence of those Street Pastors made all the difference as they were as wise as serpents and as gentle as is a dove.

I sat in on the very start of the training of those who have been commissioned tonight. It was great to see the enthusiasm and the commitment of everyone there as people from their 20’s to their 70’s introduced themselves. Right at the outset one thing was made absolutely clear by the trainer.

Street Pastors is not about ‘evangelising’ or ‘proselytising’. It had hardly happened, the trainer said, but when it had arisen Street Pastors is absolutely clear – anyone using Street Pastors as a platform to evangelise will be asked to leave the organisation.

What motivates us all in Street Pastors, those in the management group, those behind the scenes, as much as those who go on the streets is our shared Christian commitment to the God who is described in that passage from 1 John 4. This is what motivates us.

Let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God, and knows God.

For us who are Street Pastors what counts is not so much the strength of our love for God, but rather the wonder of God’s love for us.

In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to the atoning sacrifice for our sins, the means by which our sins are forgiven.

God is love.

That’s what drives us. But what the Street Pastor does is not to evangelise with some kind of tract.

It is simply to be there to help, embodying that kind of love by sweeping up broken glass with a dustpan and brush, by handing out a pair of flip flops to a girl whose high heeled shoes have let her down and who is trying to get home in bare feet over pavements sometimes strewn with broken glass, it is handing out a simple bottle of water.

It is the gentleness of the loving presence that is all important and that makes all the difference.

It was in the third shift of that night that I found myself walking with those four street pastors past the Everyman Theatre up Regent’s Street towards Marks and Spencer.

Just ahead of us as the road narrows was a group of three or four thirty-something men. They were hurling abuse, nasty abuse, at a larger group who were facing down from the other end of what is quite a narrow stretch of road. It was ugly. The four street pastors knew what they were going to do; I wasn’t quite so sure. They had had the training. I hadn’t. What’s more they were wearing the Street Pstors uniform – I too was in uniform, but I felt as if I stuck out like a sore thumb in my white anorak with a yellow flurescent jacket over it. I felt that fear coming on.

I joined the other four in simply walking past the first group and towards the top of the head. We were walking in that slow pace I always associated with the opening credits of the Bill. The abuse was now going over our heads. But it was apparent that the ones behind us were now walking away towards the theatre. All but one of the gang ahead of us drifted away up the High Street.

But one remained. One of our team recognised him from his clothing. He had been thrown out of a couple of pubs and had been causing trouble through the evening.

He accosted us and asked us who we were and what we were doing. I guess from a distance the uniforms had clearly shown we were something ‘official’. As soon as he learned we were street pastors, he turned all his invective, abuse and wrath on God. By now a young couple of freshers had joined us, she with bare feet. One of our Street pastors turned to them. The boy wanted to join in the conversation. We were willing him just to take the girl away. Then very gently, one of the Street Pastors simply listened and shared his view of God and God’s love. Ten or fifteen minutes later, we had learned of a pretty horrible situation that young man was in. We had shared something with him at his instigation of that love of God that motivated us. And by that time the anger we had encountered twenty minutes before had gone. He went his way, no longer part of ‘a gang’.

Again, there were no broken windows or limbs for the Echo to report the next night

It was one of those many moments when we were simply living out that kind of love that John speaks of that goes to the heart of our Christian faith.

And with that kind of love something else happens. Something happens to that fear which we are so wanting to address.

God is love, John tells us. And those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the day of judgement, because as he is, so are we in this world.

Then comes the insight that is so vital.

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear …

Groundless fears can be allayed … but that is not enough!

Justifiable fears must be respected … but that is not enough!

Street Pastors offers something more … the conviction that

Perfect love casts out fear.

We are in the business of casting out fear.

We do that simply by embodying in simple acts of kindness and timely gestures of help, the love that is the very nature of God.

That’s what was so significant in what friend Kathleen had to say that evening

“I used to be fearful … I no longer feel such a fear”

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.

What is that holds us to that conviction?

What is it that makes us want to be in the business of driving out fear?

We love because he first loved us.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

What it takes to be disciples

It’s great to catch a glimpse of what our Open the Book team are doing as they take Bible stories into the assemblies at Oadwood School. And to think there are other such teams taking Bible Stories into many, many school assemblies throughout Gloucestershire and up and down the country.

I loved the way the story of Jesus’ Special Friends came to an end.

Jesus shook his head and smiled. “Don’t be scared,” he said. “God has given me a lot of work to do. And I need helpers Helpers like you and your friends. Once you weree fishermen. But from now on, you’ll be fishing for people. And helping me bring them to God.

Then Jesus stepped out of the boat and wawlked away, across the shore. “Come with me,” he called.

Peter and his friends watched him go. They looked at the fish. They looked at each other. Then they dropped their nets, left their boats behind, and raced off to follow Jesus.” [The Lion Storyteller Bible retold by Bob Holman (Lion, 1995)]

It’s one thing telling Bible stories for children and catching the fun and excitement as those special friends ‘raced off to follow Jesus’.

It’s worth re-visiting those stories, however, in an adult context. The stories we tell to children as children’s stories, are in fact about adults in an adult world. And the world they lived in was a world where it was not actually straightforward to ‘race off and follow Jesus’. It was in fact fraught with difficulties.

The task Jesus had come to do and the task he expected of those who would follow him is spelled out in quite some detail from chapter 9:35 through to chapter 10 in Matthew’s gospel.

As Jesus travels from village to village, from city to city he has a message to share that’s focused on the way God’s rule is all important in the home, the family and in the world at large.

On the one hand, his teaching in some strange way made sense and helped them make sense of their lives. It was always about God’s kingdom and it gave them that sense of purpose they longed for.

And on the other hand, with Jesus it wasn’t just words. What he did made a world of difference to people as he brought healing into hurting people’s lives.

Then as Matthew 10 opens, twelve of those special friends of Jesus are named and Jesus then commissions them. He passes on to them something of that sense of authority that he has.

And then he gives them two things to do. First they are to share the very same teaching – it’s the very thing that people need to make sense of their lives … and it’s something really worth passing on.

And then they too are to bring healing into hurting people’s lives and make a difference to other people.

That’s the task in a nutshell.

Stefan and Birgit were with us for three years about ten years ago as Stefan was studying for a doctorate at the University and undertaking a pastoral placement here.

We have supported them since as they have moved to Brazil to undertake Christian work. As a family they are among those we have a special partnership with in mission.

It was great to chat with Stefan and see the three children over Skype earlier this week. What they are doing over there in Londrinia in Brazil is exactly what is envisaged here in Matthew 9 and 10.

They share a teaching ministry. That’s primarily what Stefan is engaged in. He teaches in a large theological seminary which is one of the main protestant theological seminaries in Brazil. He teaches Old Testament and biblical studies. It is quite some accomplishment for a German who did his doctorate in English now to be teaching theology in Portuguese! He encapsulates that ‘teaching’ side of the work of mission. He is helping students to make sense of the Scriptures who will then go on in pastoral and teaching ministry to help people make sense of their lives through the Scriptures.

But while we were chatting Birgit was out. A physiotherapist, Birgit has become very involved in a drug rehabilitation project run in their locality. That’s the other side of that mission coin – the practical, helping service that brings healing to hurting people.

Such work has its difficulties and in our prayers and in our practical support we seek to be a support to Stefan and Birgit, and to Marit, Simeon and Jacob in their family life together.

Jesus too recognised the difficulties. A lot of what he shares with those ‘special friends’ in chapter 10 is about addressing the difficulties that are all too real. He recognises not all will be impressed. People will mock and taunt – there will be real persecution. Jesus shares words of wisdom about how to cope in that kind of situation, and emphasises the importance of actions rather than words.

Matthew 10:16-20 and 40-42

Following in the footsteps of Jesus can lead you into scary situations – be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. And even if it is just a cup of water … what a difference that can make!

It is a year since Street Pastors was launched in Cheltenham.

On Saturday night at Cambray at 7-30 that anniversary will be marked and the latest set of volunteers to join the scheme will be commissioned, bring the total number of Street Pastors in Cheltenham to 50. Though more are very much needed.

I’ve been asked to give the address on Saturday night and felt I couldn’t do that without getting a taste of the training they do and experiencing a night out on the streets.

It was an inspiration.

So it was I found myself just after 4-00 one Saturday morning walking back to the Salvation Army church which is used as a base with one of the older members of St Luke’s who I think will be in their seventies. What she had to say was an interesting.

“I think quite differently about going out into Cheltenham in the evening now! I used to be fearful of all the young people. Now I realise they are with very few exceptions lovely people who are looking out for each other. I no longer feel a fear about going into Cheltenham in the evening.”

Cheltenham at night on a Friday and a Saturday can be a scary place. In that context Jesus’ words of wisdom are to be wise as a serpent and gentle as a dove.

That sums up the approach of Street Pastors. The training is extensive. They are now an integral part of the town’s response to the Night Time economy. Dressed in a distinctive uniform they go out in pairs, always two pairs together. One person in each pair has an ear piece and microphone which links them into the Police Control room and enables them to hear conversations among all the security staff in all the clubs around the town.

In the middle part of the 6 hour shift I did that night I was back at base where we were chatting, and listening in to that radio chatter. I pricked my ears up as one of our Street Pastors radioed into the police control room to report a fight that was starting on the Strand. Within a couple of minutes a single police man arrived. Enough of a presence to calm the situation a little but not enough to stop it entirely. Within a couple of minutes the police control room were asking for some street pastors to attend a girl by Boots corner who was on her own and needing help. They moved over there where they found a police van with police officers helping that girl. They took over and the four of them were able to chat with her, share some water, some of those flip-fops which for girls with no shoes on make all the difference and walk her home. That freed up the police to join their colleague and nothing came of the fight.

The Street Pastors carry a dustpan and brush and it was surprising how much broken glass they swept up. And a dozen girls had flip flops.

A fight that didn’t happen doesn’t count on the statistics. Girls who don’t go to A and E with badly injured feet having walked over broken glass don’t count on the statistics.

Two things struck me about that night. First the whole approach takes those words of Jesus seriously. Be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. There was a wisdom in the rigorous training and strict approach to patrolling they took, linked with a gentle presence that made all the difference.

And the other thing was taking seriously what Jesus said about the cup of water. What a difference that makes too.

Practical help. But absolutely clear. It is not bound up with teaching. There’s no ‘evangelising’. Each of those involved in Street Pastors will no doubt have other settings in which they can share a faith that is definitely important to them. But Street Pastors is not the setting for that.

Mind you, it was fascinating to see how many conversations there were initiated by people asking questions, sometimes very big questions, as they faced real difficulties and major problems. Who knows how many of those conversations may have been a real help too.

I for one am with those ‘special friends of Jesus’ not just in the adult world as much as in the world of children’s bible story telling. That involves something in Christ’s teaching, and in the whole of his life, death and resurrection that for me helps make sense of a sometimes very troubling world. And at the same time it also involves bringing practical help real healing to people who are hurting in that very troubling world.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Remembrance - the Hard Questions

This Remembrance Sunday I want to ask three questions.

How do we remember?

What do we do with the difficult memories?

Why do we remember?

First, How do we remember?

In responding to those questions I want to draw on some of the words, thoughts and ideas that are in Hebrews 13.

Memory is a funny thing. I for one remember things in all sorts of different ways. I can sometimes remember things that have happened to me in such a real way it is as if I am re-living those events. I can see the sights, I can hear the sounds, I can smell and feel once more as if I was there. My memory can play back like a tape recorder, like a video recorder in my mind. I can see events unfolding before my eyes, I can hear once again words spoken to me.

I feel for those who have among their memories disturbing memories that play again in ways that are all too real. On Remembrance Sunday I feel for those who have had experiences in war that this day are real once again in memories that come flooding back.

But on this day I do not have such memories. My memory does not go back to the second world war, let alone the first world war.

How do I remember on this day?

Hebrews 13 verse 3 I find very helpful.

Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured as if you yourselves were being tortured.

Remember … as though.

Listen to the memories of those who were there. Listen through the words they have shared with us and passed on to us.

Picture yourself in the scene. See the sights they saw. Hear the voices they saw. And then remember as though you were there.

Someone from church has prompted me to do just that once again this Remembrance Sunday. In anticipation of today I have been re-visiting a family story of my own … and discovering a poem for which Judi Marsh won a runners’ up award at the Literature Festival.

The family story enables me to remember … as though I were there.

Ghost Voices, Judi’s remarkable poem is an exercise in ‘remembering … as though’. On the one hand she feels for those who do remember. AT the same time she thinks herself into the mind of one caught up in the horror of war. Judi invites us in the first part of the poem to see with the eyes of one who was there. And in the second part of the poem she invites us to hear with the ears of one who was there. She invites us to remember … as though we are there.

Ghost Voices by Judi Marsh

Sometimes, even now,
I see them – my comrades.
In my dreams they live again.
And always it is night.
Always it is that night.
And I see again,
Silhouetted against a smoky sky,
The ragged shapes of wooden posts
And barbed wire,
Broken and reaching out,
As strange and nameless trees
In the nightmare world of a wartime night.

Sometimes, even now,
I hear them – my comrades.
In my dreams they sing again.
And always it is night.
Always it is that night.
And I hear again,
Ghost voices singing ghost songs
In the grey night. Anthems from men
Who will not grow old, who will not come home.
They sing to me down the years
Living again in my memories, and
Dying again in my dreams.
They sing – this choir of lost souls –
And again I am haunted
By the nightmare world of a wartime night.

To remember as though is to risk the pain of the memory that troubles.

It is real people who live again in my memories,
They are real people dying again in my dreams
In the nightmare world of a wartime night.

What do we do with painful memories?

I want to draw on another insight from this passage in Hebrews 13.

These words contain a wonderful promise. It is the promise of the presence of God with us at moments of desperate need.

He has said, “I will never leave you or forsake you.”

So we can say with confidence,
The Lord is my helper,
I will not be afraid.
What can anyone do to me?

This is the promise to draw on in the face of the troubling memories.

I have seen John Simpson reporting for the BBC from many of the conflicts and wars that have been in the news in recent years. I had no inkling of his Christian commitment. It was moving to see him on Channel 4’s new version of Thought for Today, 4Thought, speaking of the difference his faith has made to him.

He spoke movingly of a tragic incident he had been involved in when some of the camera crew he was with were injured and a cameraman killed. The memory of that occasion disturbs deeply. John Simpson describes the strength his faith has been and then speaks of an occasion when he met with a vicar. He describes the way the vicar encouraged him to think that his friend was as much in the hands of God now as ever he had been.

A simple thought, yet a very profound one that had made a difference to John Simpson.

What do we do with disturbing memories? Hold on to the promise in these words: The God we believe in is the God who is with us in the middle of disturbing times, the God who promises,

I will never leaver you or forsake you.

So owe can say with confidence,
The Lord is my helper,
I will not be afraid.
What can anyone do to me?

One question remains.

3) Why do we remember?
When we moved to Cheltenham first we visited the Famous and had a conversation with Ross Cole. But not since.

And that is more years than I care to remember!

When telling the story on one occasion to Caroline and Chris Gregory Caroline took me to task. She had grown up with Ross Cole and she and Chris knew the family well. You must give him a ring, she said, insisting I make a note of the phone number. I noted the phone number back in the summer and made the call this week.

He described visiting with his wife Ploegsteert in search of the cemeteries. There were 14 of them. They had no way of finding the actual cemetery. Then he remembered his father, Reg Cole’s brother, describing a visit he and I think his father had made in search of the grave in the 1920’s or 1930’s. His father had found it and given a description of finding a particular shop, taking the second on the left and going up a lane.

Ross Cole and his wife shared those half remembered directions with a local who immediately pointed them up a country lane out into a wood, where the cemetery was. And threw was Private Reg Cole’s grave.

But most moving of all, as Ross Cole recalled, was the realisation that the cemetery was one of those cemeteries to contain British and German soldiers side by side.

How vital it is that we have come to the point through all the horrors of the twentieth century when we can be in friendship with Germany and the people of Germany.

Midlands Today told the story this week of an older man who had been caught in the air raids on Coventry that happened 70 years ago today. Ever since he had harboured a fear, if not a hatred for German people. Until this year. This year he had been on a visit to Dresden where he met German people the same age who had been in the air raids on Dresden. He found them to be people just like him. And he found it possible to consider them friends. How wonderful to hear of the way his experiences had changed and hatred given way to friendship even after 70 years.

What do we remember for? It is not to keep the hatred going. We remember to keep alive the memory of the commitment that was made by the peoples who had been at war not just to be buried side by side in a graveyard, but to live side by side in mutual respect and honour.

So I finish with the opening words of Hebrews 13 in response to this most pressing of questions … what do we remember for?

Let mutual love continue.

Then the writer suggests the importance of putting that love into practice, into action.

Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.

So much to pass on at Highbury

If you give a little love you can get a little love of your own

A blessing shared at Highbury

Now and the Future at Highbury

Dreaming Dreams Sharing Visions at Highbury

Dreaming Dreams Sharing Visions

Darkness into Light