Sunday, March 29, 2015

Do you love me?

I thought I had come to the end of our series on questions as now I plan to turn to Holy Week and Easter.

And then I listened to Thought for the Day on Friday morning.

It was the Chief Rabbi, Ephraim Mervitz, and he began like this …

“A Rabbi was once asked, Why do Jews always answer a question with a question?

He replied, “Well, why not?”

Mayoutics is the name given to learning through asking challenging questions: the term comes from the Greek meaning mid wife.

Socrates argued that enquiry is the greatest tool we have to give birth to knowledge.

The best selling author, Warren Berger in his latest book, Four Beautiful Questions, the power of enquiry to spark break-through ideas demonstrates that the most creative and successful people tended to be expert questioners.  By mastering the art of enquiry, they raise the questions no one else is asking and find the answers everyone else is seeking.

Next week Jewish families around the world will be celebrating the festival of Passover at home, sitting around a dining table at a wonderful service called a Seder, where we recount our miraculous exodus from slavery in Egypt some three thousand years ago.

The key participants at our Seder tables will be the children.

The Passover story is told in response to the questions we encourage our children to ask.

As a result Passover could be dubbed the Festival of Questions.

Our tradition considers it a sacred task to inspire children to ask, probe and explore.

We take their questions seriously.  We respond by drawing on the healthy debate of our sages over many centuries, vibrant arguments that continue to challenge our intellect.

To question is not a rejection.  Rather, it is seen by our intensely discursive tradition as a way of refining our understanding of the truth and the part we must play in the universe.

Successful entrepreneurs will tell you that companies in their infancy start out by asking lots of questions.  Unfortunately they ask fewer and fewer questions as time goes on.

To succeed we must keep thinking in an inquisitive and challenging way, through continuously seeing the everyday world around us through fresh eyes and curious minds,

Questions can challenge assumptions and become the starting point of breath-taking innovation.

Asking the right question can produce a life-changing moment.

For example, instead of asking a demoralising question such as ‘why does this always happen to me?’ one can ask an empowering question such as ‘how can I use this experience to contribute to the lives of others’

Insightful questions motivate us more than resolutions

If you understand how to ask the right question you are more than half way to the answer.

Sometimes the questioning runs out.

Stuff happens that makes it hard to find the will to ask the right kind of question.

Maybe it is at that moment that Jesus has just the right question to ask of us.

We cannot get to Easter and the joy of resurrection without walking through the pain of Holy Week.

I hope we can take the opportunity to make that journey this week.

Take time for quiet reflection, maybe as this service finishes and share in our outside experience of Easter.

Go to the garden and to the courtyard, to the cross and to the grave … and discover through the pain a pathway to the newness of life that Christ brings.

Come to one or other of our reflective services as we gather together on Maundy Thursday to reflect on a body broken and blood shed for  us.

Come to the foot of the cross on Good Friday morning and walk through the town centre from Mid day.

Join us at the Quarry Car Park as we go up Cleeve hill to mark the start of Easter Day at 8-00, join us for breakfast and for our services next Sudnay.

In your mind’s eye live the journey as it brings you to new life as well.

Is thee one question to ask that opens the way to something new for you?

Or is there a question Jesus might ask of you.

As I was reflecting on Holy Week and sharing in that walk from the Garden of Gethsemane to the courtyard, from the cross to resurrection, one element in the story came to my mind … that I felt was helpful and could be helpful to  us all.

I want us to walk that walk with Peter.

Not once, not twice, but three times in the Garden Jesus asked Peter and James and John to pray.

Not once, not twice, but three times they could not stay awake and watch and pray.

It seems so simple.

In so many instances in our lives, maybe facing difficult times, difficult choices, difficult circumstances, maybe facing unexpected illness, things that weigh us down or bring us low, we know there is a call to pray.

And yet we find we cannot.

The prayer won’t come.

Like Peter we fail.

In the  moment in the garden the failure isn’t resolved.

It’s left there.  Hanging.

But in spite of his failure Peter moves on.

We move to the Courtyard.

Not once, not twice, but three times,

Peter is recognised.

You also were with Jesus the Galilean.
This man was with Jesus of Nazareth
Certainly, you are one of them for your accent betrays you.

Not once, not twice, but three times

Peter is adamant

I do not know what you are talking about
I do not [expletive deleted] know the man
I do not [multiple expletives deleted] know the man.

Not once, not twice, but three times
A denial

And at that moment the cock growed.

Then Peter remembered what Jesus had said, “Before the cock crows, you will deny me three times.”  And he went out and wept bitterly.

Are there moments when we are not willing to own up to being followers of Jesus.

It’s easier to keep quiet.

We don’t want to get involved.

We don’t want to take a stand.

We don’t want to know him, Jesus our Lord.

We let God down, we let Jesus down, we let ourselves down …
And deep down we can feel the bitterness of the tears.

But in spite of his failures Peter moves on.

He’s there when news comes of the empty tomb.

He’s beaten in the chase by the younger John, but he sees for himself the tomb is empty.

And in that upper room, he sees for himself.

And knows, Jesus is risen, he is risen indeed.

And it is on his home stomping ground, around the fishing boats of his beloved Galilee he meets Jesus one more time.

Not once, not twice, but three times

Jesus asks a question.

Simon, Son of John, do you love me more than these?
Simon, Son of John, do you love me?
Simon, Son of John, do you love me?

Not once, not twice, but three times, Peter answers
Yes, Lord, you know that I love you
Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.
Lord, you know everything, you know that I love you.

That’s what Jesus asks of us.

Not perfection.

Not an ability to pray no matter the circumstances

Not a commitment that is flawless

That’s what Jesus asks of us

Do you love me?

It is as we reply not once, not twice but three times, and simply affirm our love for Jesus that somehow the failings in prayer, the failings in commitment are knocked on the head – and a way of following Jesus opens up for us.

But what thing more remains.

Not once, not twice, but three times
Jesus had something for Peter to do.

Feed my lambs
Tend my sheep
Feed my sheep

That’s it … that’s the task – to bring that kind of caring love to others – for in doing that we make Christ’s love come alive.

|It takes me back to those questions … and that thought for the day.

Asking the right question can produce a life-changing moment.

For example, instead of asking a demoralising question such as ‘why does this always happen to me?’ one can ask an empowering question such as ‘how can I use this experience to contribute to the lives of others’

Insightful questions motivate us more than resolutions

If you understand how to ask the right question you are more than half way to the answer.

Maybe that’s the most insightful question of all, how can I use this experience to contribute to the lives of others and feed those sheep?

Sunday, March 22, 2015

The wonder of the cross

I spotted it on Tuesday evening.  I have a weather app on my phone that told me there was to be a major magnetic storm, registering 7 on the kp index.  That’s high.   It’s usually 1,2, or 3 … I had never seen it so high.

I instantly went to another app from NASA called Space weather.  That enables you to access live pictures from the NASA telescopes that are trained on the sun.  You can then put pictures from the last 48 hours together into a mini video.  And there you could see it – massive prominences coming off the sun.

What did not occur to me was that there might be a stunning Aurora Borealis to be seen.  And there in the Echo a couple of days later was a spectacular photograph taken on Cleeve hill of the Northern Lights.

So near and yet so far.  I could have gone and had a look!

What a missed opportunity.

At least we caught the solar eclipse on Friday, projectred in the most wonderful of ways through a Colander that’s something of a family heirloom.

When Brian Cox tried to explain the Northern Lights in his book and TV programme the Wonders of the Solar System he found the scientific language inadequate to describe the wonders of what he saw.  He turned instead to ancient Nordic stories that told of dancing lights – because somehow it was through the imagination of the story-teller that the wonder was best communicated.

For me, something similar happens when we come to think of the cross of Christ.

Today, a fortnight before Easter, is  Passion Sunday, the Sunday when churches often focus on the story of the passion, the cross of Christ.  In this evening’s service we are going to do just that. 

We mark Passion Sunday today with a special service this evening that takes us on the journey Jesus made to Jerusalem, to his death and to his resurrection.  We are going to tell the story of that journey from Luke’s Gospel as we are reading through Luke’s gospel on Sunday evenings.  We are going to tell the story in words and music with readings shared by the choir.  Our service will be very much in the style of and in the spirit of the many services Diana has put together over the years for Passion tide.  Indeed, we shall be using prayers and readings that Diana has used at such services over the years.

It’s not inappropriate as Diana, her mother and her family placed the cross at the front of the church in memory of her father, Talvan Rees.

One approach to understanding the cross of Christ is to  use the language of doctrine with very precise meanings, almost a kind of scientific approach that spells out exactly what Jesus accomplished through his death.

I don’t find that helpful.

Indeed. I find it positively unhelpful.

In the cross of Christ, indeed in the life, the death and the resurrection of Christ something happens that is a mystery, it is a wonder, it is something at the very heart of the faith that cannot be defined in the quasi scientific language that traditional Christian doctrine sometimes uses.

I find sometimes that it is in story telling that something of the immensity of what happened is conveyed.  I love the story telling of C.S.Lewis in the Narnia Chronicles and especially in the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

Once C.S.Lewis was asked who Aslan was.  He gave a very indirect answer … but you cannot help but recognise so much of the story of Christ.  All sorts of things are there.

That wonderful feeling as Aslan is near.

The strength.

There is a battle and an apparent defeat.

Yet the victory finally is Aslan’s.

It’s as if on the cross the battle between good and evil, God and the reality of evil comes to its climax – at first it seems to be defeat – but then it becomes a great victory.

Thanks be to  God, says Paul at the end of 1 Corinthians 15 when he has explored the meaning of the life, death and resurrection of Christ, Thanks be to God who gives us the victory thourh our Lord Jesus Christ.

Talk of the cross of Chrsit as the moment of the victory of Christ over all that is evil was the way the cross was understood for a 1000 years.

It’s a powerful image.

But then … Aslan is slain on the stone table – there are echoes of sacrficice.  The Lion becomes a lamb in one of the later Narnia Chronicles and as John the Baptist says, Behold the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

There is a strong sense in the days of the bible that we live in a broken world – broken relationships, broken society, broken nations, a broken relationship with God.

To set things right people turned to sacrifice – in all sorts of different ways, to say thanks, to bring freedom in the Passover lamb, one of the common threads in the tradition of sacrifice is that it is about restoring broken relationships, and the brokenness of the relationship we have with  God.

That’s the sense you have as Aslan is slain … that in a perverse way, what happens sets things right, restores things that are broken.

Thinking of the death of Christ people speak of it as atonement, an old English word that really can be broken down into its constituent parts – at – one – ment

John pointed at Jesus and said, Behold the lamb of God.  Jesus broke bread and shared a cup around the time of the Passover and went to his death according to John’s gospel around the time the Passover lambs were sacrificed.

The focal point for the presence of God with his people was in the Temple – and in the holiest of holy places – that presence of God can only be accessed as animals were sacrificed.  Their screams would have filled the sky and the stench would have been awful.

At that point Jesus body is broken, his blood is shed.  And now there is no longer need for any more sacrifices because this is the once-and-for all sacrifice that means the relationship with God is restored, the veil of the temple is torn apart and we can enter into the very presence of God with the confidence of faith, the assurance of hope and a readiness to put our faith and hope into action in love.

We come to the foot of the cross and hear Jesus say to us even now, Father, forgive them … and we know that forgiveness is real.   This is love, as John said in 1 John 4, not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his son to be an atoning sacrifice for our sins, the means by which our sins are forgiven.

This is wonderful .. it’s a mystery.

And it is most wonderfully communicated in the story telling of the Narnia Chronicles and in The Lion, the witch and the wardrobe – do join us on Saturday afternoon if you can!

It’s a mystery
It’s beyond all our imagining.
It’s a life
It’s a death
It’s a resurrection
So come to Narnia
The magic world where
Aslan is king
And discover that that life,
That death, that resurrection
Changes everything.

But there is more to this life, death and resurrection than that

Someone has asked the question that we are considering today … When in his life did Jesus realise that he came to die as a sacrifice?

I’m not altogether sure he did.

I have a feeling that was one way, and only one way that people following in his footsteps saw what had happened.

There are others too.

Follow the story of Jesus in the Gospels and something else can be seen as well.

There comes a point in Luke’s telling of the story of Jesus when for the first time Jesus speaks about his impending death.  Luke’s not the first to notice that – Mark had done before him, and Matthew also tells the story in the same way.

It’s the climax to the first part of the story of Jesus.  He takes time out, as Mark and Matthew make clear, near the Herodian Roman city of  Caesarea Philippi to check how effectively his work of proclaiming the good news of the Kingdom of God and bringing healing to hurting people is going. 

‘Do the crowds get it?’ is the question he asks of the disciples.

Yes, indeed they do! 

The have come to see that Jesus has brought to fulfilment the whole  line of the prophets that stretches back to Elijah and beyond.  He has come to usher in God’s rule on earth just as God’s earth prevails on heaven.  

A prophet, he is yet more than a prophet.  He is the anointed one of God who is King in the Kingdom of God.

It’s at that point that Peter and the disciples are excited, expecting him to be an all-conquering hero Messiah.  But Jesus thinks differently and explains he is to be rejected, he is to suffer, he is to be killed … and on the third day rise again from the dead.

Three times Jesus describes his the climax to his life in terms of his suffering, his death and his resurrection.

It’s as if he is working out and bringing to fulfilment the role he had taken on from John the Baptist of the prophet.  That’s how he had described himself the very first time he taught in the synagogue in Nazareth.

As Jesus draws near to Jerusalem he has no doubt about what he is doing.  He is absolutely clear.  He is going head to head with the powers that be … challenging the very nature of the worldly understanding of power and offering a totally different way of understanding God’s rule in the world, God’s kingdom.
At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, ‘Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.’ He said to them, ‘Go and tell that fox for me, “Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed away from Jerusalem.”

Jesus thinks of his own impending death as something that fulfils all the prophets are about. 

Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.” ’

When Jesus rode into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey that was a massive prophetic act that said, God’s way of ruling is totally different from the world’s way of thinking.

When he turned the Herodian money changers out of the temple that was a massive prophetic act that said, God’s house should be a house of prayer, not the den of thieves the powers that be of his generation had turned it into.

He knew full well that going head to head with the powers that be would have one outcome.

And this is where Jesus, great prophet that he was, was more than a prophet.   Peter too had got it right when he had said, You are the Christ, the Messiah, the son of the living God.  But Jesus was not going to be the warrior messiah who would overthrow Rome by might of arms.  He would be the suffering servant messiah who would bring the kingdom of heaven down to earth and see that God’s will was done on earth as it is in heaven in a very different way.
This Jesus walks a walk of love and compassion that doesn’t make sense in the world’s terms, but is life-transforming for all those who take it seriously.

This Jesus walks a walk that takes him through the suffering of the valley of the shadow of death, that plumbs the depths of god-forsakenness … a walk that draws him to resurrection and the presence of God’s eternal love.

His life, his death and his resurrection open up for us the way into the presence of the God who is love – it’s a way that we can follow as we live a life of love for one another.

This is nothing other than the way of the cross.

Wow, it’s a mystery.

Maybe we can only sense it by telling the story

On Tuesday we are having Messy Church – a celebration for Easter.

It’s the first time we are going to have our Experience Easter outside to share.   Then from then through to the week after Easter we are going to have four places around the grounds of the church that simply invite us to re-live the story of the life of Jesus as it reaches its climax in death and resurrection.   They are, if you like, living pictures of the Easter story.

For it is as we put ourselves in the picture and re-live that story that the Cross of Christ becomes part of us and transforms our lives.

It’s a mystery
Beyond all our understanding
So look to some pictures,
Step into them
And discover a life, a death and
A resurrection that

Changes everything!

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

What do you say to unbelievers when asked those difficult questions like why does God allow murders to happen?

1 Cor 1 v20-31 Responding to Difficult Questions

In the next of our series responding to questions asked by our Congregation, Karen, our Discipleship Ministry leader took as her starting point 1 Corinthians 1:20-31

Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling-block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.

 Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God. He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, in order that, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.’

Two "Don't Worries"
On reading many of the Big Questions that were provided back in January, I found myself wanting to say two words - don't worry  - but especially with today's question:

What do I /should I say to non-believers when they ask difficult questions, like why does God let murder happen?

Firstly, I want to say don't worry through sympathy because I've been in plenty of situations where I've been asked difficult questions and haven't known what to say. It is often very difficult when put "on the spot" at work, with friends, neighbours or family members. However, being asked questions is a normal part of being a Christian in the world. In the 1 Corinthians v20-31 passage Paul says that

Jews look for signs and Greeks look for wisdom

implying that in his day, different groups of people were searching for answers in different ways too.
But secondly, I want to say don't worry because today's question includes the word should

What do I /should I say to non-believers when they ask difficult questions, like why does God let murder happen?

The word should implies that there is a standard, right and proper "good Christian" answer that we should be able to give whenever called upon to respond which inevitably leads to feelings of inadequacy and guilt because none of us can instantly give this perfect answer every time.

I'm not sure where the word should comes from but I suspect that our families, schools and society can put expectations on us growing up or we put other expectations on ourselves and somehow these get transferred into our beliefs about God and Christian faith. Paul says the direct opposite - he explicitly said that God chose the Christians in the Corinthian church because they weren't wise and didn't have all the answers themselves:

Consider your own call brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many of you were powerful, not many were of noble birth but God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to share the strong.

As in so many New Testament passages, Paul shows us that God knows we're not perfect but uses us nevertheless. God's kingdom is counter-cultural and upside-down. In God's kingdom's it's the ones who realise their lack of wisdom who God can use in a way that the self-assured and self-wise can't.
What do the un-wise have that the worldly wise don't? How can God use them? Paul says that as Christians

we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles

The un-wise realise their inadequacy and dependence on Christ. When we do that we shift the whole way we respond to others. We know longer think there's a right answer that we should provide but can learn to trust Jesus "in the moment".

Two Hierarchies

The question seems to imply a trickle down hierarchy of wisdom like that on the left, where answers flow from God to good church goers/Christian believers and on to unbelievers we might meet, with criminals at the bottom. Whereas I think Paul is teaching us that the real wisdom hierarchy is like the one on the right - us, the people we meet, criminals, whatever are all "in it together" like the hierarchy on the right. As human beings we all sin and need God's  grace and forgiveness whether we've broken the criminal law or not.

At communion we often say words which express our need of Christ

Come to this table, not because you must but because you may.
Come, not because you are strong, but because you are weak.
Come, not because any goodness of your own gives you a right to come but because you need mercy and help.
Come, because you love the Lord a little and would like to love him more.
Come, because he loved you and gave himself for you.
Come, when you are fearful, to be made new in love.
Come when you are doubtful, to be made strong in faith.
Come , when you are regretful, to be made whole.
Come, old and young, there is room for all at the Lord's table.

My Answer
It was some time after I'd chosen to preach on this question that I realised a particular significance for me. I have met some female murderers and those convicted of manslaughter and other crimes. They haven't got forked tails and horns but look just like us. And they ask difficult questions too and, perhaps more interesting, they can provide insights which can help us.
Journalists write clever slogans about murder and other crimes but often the story behind the headlines is much more complicated. When I led prison bible studies, the women liked a series about the story of Joseph best.  Joseph felt abandoned by God when he was in prison in Egypt and their instinct was the same. However, I don't think the feeling is restricted to those "on the inside".  When awful things happen and we hear about atrocities, we can feel a sense of abandonment too.
Joseph's case was complex, with many reasons why he was in prison:
·        jilted Potiphar's wife wanted revenge
·        Potiphar was too busy with his work and not attentive enough to his wife
·        human traffickers took Joseph into Egypt and sold him as a slave, but that was only after his jealous brothers nearly killed him
·        but Joseph must have been a terribly sibling himself, continually boasting about his superiority
·        and Jacob favoured one wife and her children over others which was always likely to cause trouble
·        Jacob's mother Rebecca deceived her husband Isaac and both their parents made mistakes too and so on and so on back to the beginning of the bible where Adam and Eve turn away from God and think they can do things better themselves on their own

So my personal answer to the question about murder is that God gives each one of us the freedom to make choices and make mistakes and each one of us is affected by the choices we make and the choices others make which affect us - for good and ill - including murderers, you and me. We all sin and are affected by sin and only Jesus, the sinless one, could break the cycle by coming to earth and absorbing the hurt on our behalf.

That's my answer to the difficult question about murder - a variation of Romans 3: 22 for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God - and it chimes with Jesus' response to the woman caught in adultery too when he told her to sin no more but also challenging her accusers about their own sin.

How I would respond
However, I wouldn't always respond to the question in the same way. Going back to the two wisdom hierarchies and realising our own limitations can stop us concentrating on our own predicament and leave us free me to think what the other person needs in a situations. There isn't a "one size fits all" answer for all circumstances.

There may be times when a pastoral response is appropriate and it's best to say nothing but show support or ask:
·        is there a particular situation that's on your mind?

or times when it's best to dampen conflict
·        shall we talk later when things are a bit calmer?
·        Do you really want to know what I think or are you just trying to have an argument?

And you can don't have to be personal, you can draw on other sources:
·        Jesus tells a story about a woman caught in adultery ...
·        The Question Course says that God knows what suffering is like, because he himself suffered loss

But sometimes you just have to be brave and open your mouth and give an answer that's honest and authentic for you at that particular time.
There are some practical tips:
·        read the bible, listen in church, try to understand the words of the hymns and these will come to mind  in different situations
·        pray that God will help you in that moment
·        keep conversations  grounded in Jesus rather than abstract philosophy about God
·        but mainly just open your mouth and trust that God will use you for his purposes and help you find helpful words as Jesus promises us.

Don't worry - God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise

Sunday, March 8, 2015

The God who cares

For the first Sunday Special of the year we planned to get people to think of all those questions that intrigue, perplex, interest you about faith, God and life itself.

Little did we think that 48 hours before atrocities would be committed in Paris that shocked the world.

No wonder that Sunday that people asked lots of difficult troubling questions about the troubled world we are all too conscious of.  Why is so much war and so much terror linked with religion, where is God in such a troubled world.  The questions came thick and fast.

And over the next two or three weeks those were the kinds of questions we addressed.  We went on to look at other troubling questions too.

In February’s Sunday Special we found ourselves reflecting on the way the Psalms touch our emotions not just with songs of praise but with poems of lament too.

It tied in with the program we have been following since last September.  We have been using a DVD and set of resources produced by Fischy Music Bring it All to Us.   They are a collection of songs for all ages based on emotions expressed in the psalms.

It’s good to give children access to this wonderful collection of prayers and songs in the Bible, not least because so many of them are laments.

In some ways it’s troubling to share difficult psalms of despair with children … but in other ways very timely and appropriate.   Our children live in the same world as we do … they have times of strain and stress as they are put under all sorts of pressures at school … and all of them will be alongside children in their schools with very troubling and difficult problems, often mental health problems.  It can be difficult for them as our adult world has chosen all too often not to address child mental health problems as child mental health services have taken a back seat when it comes to funding and general provision.
A fortnight and more ago Felicity, Andrea and I turned to making plans for today’s Sunday Special.

I for one have had enough of troubling questions.

I wanted to go for something that was calmer, quieter, something uplifting and positive.  Something in a word ‘nice’.

It’s all well and good being absorbed with the troubles of the world, but there is so much to celebrate and so much to rejoice in … let’s have that as our focus today.

And so we homed in on the song we sang earlier in the service.

It’s a lovely song that captures the warmth of a God who cares for us with a care and a love that will not let us down.

It’s a song that’s inspired by a set of Psalms that all use one particular image.

Psalms 57, 61, 63, 91

Psalm 57
In the shadow of your wings I find protection,
until the raging storms are over

Let me live in your sanctuary all my life
Let me find safety under your wings

As I lie in bed, I remember you;
All night long I think of you
Because you have always been my help
In teh shadow of your wings I sing for joy
I cling to you
And your hand keeps me safe

He will cover you with his wings
you will be safe in his care;
His faithfulness will protect and defend you.

Psalm 91
Whoever goes to the LORD for safety,
whoever remains under the protection of the Almighty,
2can say to him,
“You are my defender and protector.
You are my God; in you I trust.”
3He will keep you safe from all hidden dangers
and from all deadly diseases.
4He will cover you with his wings;
you will be safe in his care;
his faithfulness will protect and defend you.
God will put his angels in charge of you
to protect you wherever you go.
12They will hold you up with their hands
to keep you from hurting your feet on the stones.

It’s a  lovely image of God taking us under his wing.

And sometimes we need that image, that sense of the protection and the love of God.

And this has been just such a week.

We have been thinking of Dick since he was taken ill before Christmas.  Diana has worked her socks off to get Dick an appropriate place in a care home where he could be looked after and receive the care he needs.

On Monday morning I received a text to say an interview with Dick had been arranged for Wednesday morning and he would be admitted to the Grange on Pilley Lane on Thursday.
And then it came as a tremendous shock to hear on Tuesday morning that Diana had collapsed and died.

Our thoughts and prayers are very much with Dick and with Lesley and Wayne, Thomas and Samuel, and with Graham and Sheryl and Bethan too.

It felt touch and go for a while whether Dick would actually move … and then on Thursday afternoon Lesley and Graham were able to move their father into a room in the Grange.

Our hope and prayer is that Dick can settle there and be as well as he can be.

When it came to turning to prepare the service for this morning, our theme had already been chosen.

I turned up those readings … and somehow they seemed to speak very much of the care of God with us.

The song too had a sense somehow of speaking very much into all that we were as a church family feeling.

We your children
You are the one who will call us
You are the one who will draw us
You will always be for us
You are our God.

You are the one who will find us
You are the one who’s behind us
You will always remind us
You are our God.

We, your children, come to you
We, your children, run to you.

You are the one who will lift us
You are the one who forgives us
You will always be with us
You are our God.

You are the one who will call us
You are the one who will draw us
You will always be for us
You are our  God.

We, your children, come to you
We, your children, run to you.

The songs are interpreted in sign language – it’s been one of the wonderful developments of the way we sing in church.  A lot of the actions we put to the songs we sing now use sign language, often Makaton, and in this instance British Sign Language.  It’s a really good way of getting into our way of thinking signs that are full of deep meaning for people who use sign language.

Some of the songs we have sung on Sunday Speical Sundays have simply used the signs of the sign language as our ‘actions’.

Each song also has a video background that doesn’t use the sign language so much.

This was one of those songs where it seemed good to learn the signs for the simple chorus, but then sing the song through with the video background.

How appropriate it was to see all manner of people who can say ‘we, your children, come to you.

Many people come towards the light, and among them people using walking aids and people using wheel chairs.

I for one was not in a mood to be asking big and troubling questions … it’s one of those moments to sense the support of friends and family around, and one of those moments to sense the support of God, the God who takes us under his wing and cares for us with a care and a love that will not let us go.

The choice of that particular song then seemed doubly appropriate.  There was one other Psalm associated with the song … Psalm 23.

I come back to it time and again.

And this week I have come back to it again.

It’s a lovely Psalm as it prompts in our thoughts so many lovely images.

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures:
he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul:
he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil:
for thou art with me;
thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

Thou preparest a table before me
in the presence of mine enemies:
thou anointest my head with oil;
my cup runneth over.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life:
and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.

It’s a Psalm that for me goes to the heart of the faith that is so important.

There can be no escaping that dark valley – and sometimes it can be very dark indeed.

But there is the promises of a presence that remains with us as we walk THROUGH the darkness of that valley …

That’s the promise I want to hold to now of all times.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil:
for thou art with me;
thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

Where is God when I need him?

There with us through the deepest darkness.  Always at our side – even at those times when we don’t know it.

But one question remains that I had noted to address today …

Why does God look after us?

I simply want to return to those few words from 1 John 4.

This is very nature of the God we believe in.

For he is the God of love who cares for us come what may.

Dear friends, let us love one another, because love comes from God. Whoever loves is a child of God and knows God.8 Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.9 And God showed his love for us by sending his only Son into the world, so that we might have life through him.10 This is what love is: it is not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the means by which our sins are forgiven.11 Dear friends, if this is how God loved us, then we should love one another.

There is a wonder in nature with the rhythm of life.

How often in a family as one departs another arrives.

So it has been for us this week too.

As one departs, so one has arrived.

We have a grand daughter – with the arrival of Edith Marie to Phil and Lynsey.

A new life to celebrate even in the middle of a time of such sadness.

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