Sunday, January 17, 2016

The true meaning of life is to plant trees

You might have thought it was easy enough to make
good sense of the Bible … and on many, many
occasions it is. But there will always be bits of the
Bible that prove difficult to make sense of at all! It’s
so easy to give up on reading the Bible when you
come across those bits! And yet often it’s the bits you
have to wrestle with that can become most rewarding.
Starting this Tuesday we are running a course over six
sessions, with a break in the middle. Called ‘Making Good Sense of
the Bible Together’ it seeks to do what it says. On Tuesday evenings
at Explore we will explore different ways of making good sense of the
Bible. Doing that together means that we will be able to learn from
each other. That’s one of the wonderful things about the Bible – it’s
not just down to those you might think of as ‘experts’. Actually we
each have something we can share and we each have so much to
learn from one another. Do come along and join us on Tuesday
evening from 7-15 for coffee and cakes and then a 7-45 start to our
evening. This week’s text for the week is Philippians 2:13. As we
begin a couple of weeks looking at Philippians and the real people at
the heart of the Christian faith these words we can all take to heart:
“God is always at work in you to make you willing and able to obey
his own purpose.” What a wonderful thought!

A seed hidden in the heart of an apple is an orchard invisible A Welsh Proverb.

Our National Trust cards and handbook and magazine arrived in the post not so long ago – one of the things I’ll b looking out for this year is Capability Brown’s 300th birthday.   Quite some celebration in store. Croome Court just the other side of Upton on Severn is one of our closest national Trust properties and I have to say has come to be quite a favourite.  We have watched it develop since the National Trust acquired it about 20 years ago.  Croome Court was the very first of Capability Brown’s projects.  It was a revolution in garden design.  He did away with the formal gardens near the house, and for good measure moved a village and demolished a church.  He created remarkable illusions in the landscape:  a river that almost replicates the Severn!  It all looks so natural … and yet it is  wonderfully crafted to lead the eye to the distant horizon whichever way you look.  And to add to it all he had a big hand in designing the new house and its interiors.  Thirty three years after he began work on the project he died, prompting a memorial to be placed next to the lake that looked so like a river

To the Memory of Lancelot Brown
Who by the powers of his inimitable and creative genius
formed this garden scene out of a morass

In 1801, seventeen years after his death the the Annals of Agriculture described Croome as “second only to Kew” for its botanical diversity.” accessed 17/1/2016

One sentence on the website caught my eye.

“The planting carried out at Croome was extensive and many of the trees planted by Brown still survive in the park today including Planes, Cedars and Oaks”
I don’t know much about trees.  But I know enough to think that in the thirty three years between starting work on his project and Capability Brown’s death those Planes and Cedars and Oaks would not have looked the way they do now!  They would still have been very young.

That’s the exciting thing about the vision of Capability Brown and indeed any who deal in planting trees.

You don’t live to see your plans come fully to fruition.  It’s long term garden design!

He who plants a tree
Plants a hope.
~Lucy Larcom, “Plant a Tree”

The true meaning of life is to plant trees, under whose shade you do not expect to sit. ~Nelson Henderson

One way to read the Bible is to read it as simply words on a page.  The words begin to come to life as we think of them as words passed on down through the ages by real people living in the real world.  In some ways the world they lived in is very different from the world we live in.  And yet at the same time there is a familiarity about the world they diescribe.

Sometimes that familiarity is disturbing.

There is something chilling about the opening words of Jeremiah 32.

The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord in the tenth year of King Zedekiah of Judah, which was the eighteenth year of Nebuchadrezzar. 2At that time the army of the king of Babylon was besieging Jerusalem, and the prophet Jeremiah was confined in the court of the guard that was in the palace of the king of Judah, 3where King Zedekiah of Judah had confined him.

I had never really listened to Shostakovich’s Seventh Symphony before.  Over the New Year weekend we stumbled across a programme telling its story.  It was the kind of programme I didn’t want to watch but I felt compelled to see it through to the end.

The programme told the harrowing story of the memories of people who had been caught up in the siege of Leningrad during the war.  Shostakovich wrote his symphony as a protest against the siege and it was performed in the city by musicians in the extreme stages of starvation.

What made the programme so harrowing was the news coming out of Syria of whole towns that were besieged.  The descriptions we have been watching on the news do not bear thinking about.

This was what Jeremiah faced.  We skirt over the words.  But this is the experience of the horror of the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonian world empire.

In the face of the siege Jeremiah on the one hand could see that there would be devastation for a generation and more.  “A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping. Rachel is weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are no more.” Jeremiah 31:15.  But at the same time he had a hope.

And here in Jeremiah 32 he expresses that hope in the most wonderful of ways.

He buys a field.

And I bought the field at Anathoth from my cousin Hanamel, and weighed out the money to him, seventeen shekels of silver. 10I signed the deed, sealed it, got witnesses, and weighed the money on scales. 11Then I took the sealed deed of purchase, containing the terms and conditions, and the open copy; 12and I gave the deed of purchase to Baruch son of Neriah son of Mahseiah, in the presence of my cousin Hanamel, in the presence of the witnesses who signed the deed of purchase, and in the presence of all the Judeans who were sitting in the court of the guard. 13In their presence I charged Baruch, saying, 14Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Take these deeds, both this sealed deed of purchase and this open deed, and put them in an earthenware jar, in order that they may last for a long time. 15For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land.

For Jeremiah the true meaning of life was not so much to plant trees, under whose shade you do not expect to sit, but rather to buy a field whose green pastures you will never enjoy.

And his confidence was rooted in that sense of the presence of God with him that was so dear to his heart.

The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 32It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord. 33But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, ‘Know the Lord’, for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.

These are words that can fill us with hope because they come out of the middle of the awfulness of a siege that tore Jeremiah’s life apart and tore apart the lives of so many.

It was into the world of Rachel’s lamentation, Rachel’s weeping over children that Jesus came and we have marked his coming in our services over Christmas and the New Year.  It was the presence of Jesus alongside people who themselves experienced devastation that gave hope to those who followed him.

And among those who followed him and discovered this hope was Paul. These words from Philippians 1 are not simply words on a page.  They give a glimpse of a real person in a real world who was up against it and yet had hope.

They had tried to silence Jesus only to find his spirit let loose in the world at resurrection.

And now they were trying to silence Paul only to find that his voice was heard all the more.

I want you to know, beloved, that what has happened to me has actually helped to spread the gospel, 13so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to everyone else that my imprisonment is for Christ; 14and most of the brothers and sisters, having been made confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, dare to speak the word with greater boldness and without fear.

I get emails regularly from Middle East Concern – they invite prayer for people who are facing situations beyond our imagining around the Middle East.   And yet with those harrowing emails comes also a sense of hope.  Hope that is rooted in the presence of God with us.  There may be fearful situations we too face closer to home.  It is this hope that we are to hold on to.  It is a hope to inspire us, a hope to keep us going.  A hope we may not see come to fruition, but a hope to underpin all we do.

 It is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be put to shame in any way, but that by my speaking with all boldness, Christ will be exalted now as always in my body, whether by life or by death. 21For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain.

In the face of things that devastate – let’s plant a tree even though we know we won’t sit under its shade.  Let’s purchase a field though we won’t enjoy its green pastures.  For me there is one tree in particular I would turn to in order to find meaning in life at times of great distress.  The tree on which Christ Jesus was crucified.

To turn to him and discover his transforming resurrection power let loose in our lives is to find hope a hope that will not let us down.  It’s the hope that will prompt us to plant those trees, purchase those fields and be defiant in the face of despair.

Psalm 48

this is God,
our God for ever and ever.
   He will be our guide for ever.

Great is the Lord and greatly to be praised
   in the city of our God.
His holy mountain, beautiful in elevation,
   is the joy of all the earth,
Mount Zion, in the far north,
   the city of the great King.
Within its citadels God
   has shown himself a sure defence.

this is God,
our God for ever and ever.
   He will be our guide for ever.

Then the kings assembled,
   they came on together.
As soon as they saw it, they were astounded;
   they were in panic, they took to flight;
trembling took hold of them there,
   pains as of a woman in labour,
as when an east wind shatters
   the ships of Tarshish.
As we have heard, so have we seen
   in the city of the Lord of hosts,
in the city of our God,
   which God establishes for ever.

this is God,
our God for ever and ever.
   He will be our guide for ever.

We ponder your steadfast love, O God,
   in the midst of your temple.
Your name, O God, like your praise,
   reaches to the ends of the earth.
Your right hand is filled with victory.
   Let Mount Zion be glad,
let the towns of Judah rejoice
   because of your judgements.

this is God,
our God for ever and ever.
   He will be our guide for ever.

Walk about Zion, go all around it,
   count its towers,
consider well its ramparts;
   go through its citadels,
that you may tell the next generation

this is God,
our God for ever and ever.
   He will be our guide for ever.

Lord Jesus Christ, the way, the truth, the life
Guide us in the way that lies ahead
Guide us towards the truth of the God who is love
Guide us to the life that can be lived to the full
That we may pass on to the next generation
The Good news that the God who is love
Will be our guide for ever.

God is always at work in you!

God is always at work in you to make you willing and able to obey his own purpose
They were an interesting mix of people.  And quite some mix!  Lydia had built up quite a business for herself, travelling extensively, dealing in one of the most sought after commodities in the really Roman bits of the Roman Empire.  And Philippi was one of those really, really Roman bits of the Roman Empire.  A hundred years before it had been the site of a battle that paved the way for the creation of the Roman Empire itself.  The first Emperor gave it a very special status … Roman soldiers when they came to the end of a life time of service would find a home there and live in the kind of luxury they might have expected in Rome itself.  Even the language they spoke was different from the local language too.

Her name was Lydia.  She and other women had become fascinated about a God that gave them a sense of meaning in their lives, a God they could pray to, a God they could worship.  And so long as they kept outside the city itself, they were free to worship him as much as they liked.

When Paul, Timothy and Silas  arrived and began to tell the story of Jesus, the one who in a sense put a human face on this God, it made sense of all they had come to believe – their prayers became more real, their worship more alive, their lives were different.  And they began to meet with different people too.  There was the girl who had been treated so harshly as a slave who would speak of the way she had been set free by this Jesus.  And they weren’t just women meeting together any more either.  There was the gaoler and his family.  They had their moments but as they gathered in Lydia’s house something very special was in the air.

Time passed, the years rolled on and then they heard some pretty tough news.  It shocked them when they heard it.  They wondered what they should do.  Paul had been imprisoned.  Paul of all people.  They had every hope he would get out and carry on his miniostry.  But they couldn’t be sure.   What could they do?  He had helped them.  They decided they would send one of their own – his name was Epaphroditus.  They hoped he would be a practical help to Paul and they also sent money and other things to help Paul to make sure he was all right.

Word had come to them that Epaphroditus had made it to Rome and had handed over the gifts but he had been taken ill.  They wondered what news there could be.  And then one day out of the blue they received a letter.  They gathered around to read it … and somehow it was very special.

It was From Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus — To all God's people in Philippi who are in union with Christ Jesus, including the church leaders and helpers:
2 May God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you grace and peace.

It was wonderful to hear from Paul and Timothy and the others.  It brought back wonderful memories.

3 I thank my God for you every time I think of you;
4 and every time I pray for you all, I pray with joy
5 because of the way in which you have helped me in the work of the gospel from the very first day until now.
6 And so I am sure that God, who began this good work in you, will carry it on until it is finished on the Day of Christ Jesus.
7 You are always in my heart! And so it is only right for me to feel as I do about you. For you have all shared with me in this privilege that God has given me, both now that I am in prison and also while I was free to defend the gospel and establish it firmly.

It had worried them to think Paul was in prison.  It still worried them.  But wonderful to know he had not forgotten them.  Wonderful to know Paul was thinking of them.  But worrying to think what might lie in store for him.

8 God is my witness that I am telling the truth when I say that my deep feeling for you all comes from the heart of Christ Jesus himself.
9 I pray that your love will keep on growing more and more, together with true knowledge and perfect judgement,
10 so that you will be able to choose what is best. Then you will be free from all impurity and blame on the Day of Christ.
11 Your lives will be filled with the truly good qualities which only Jesus Christ can produce, for the glory and praise of God.
It’s a letter to real people in a real place at a real time long ago.  But in some ways it could be written to us.  We too need to keep going in our faith.  And sometimes we are conscious of setbacks.  We hear of people imprisoned for their faith – churches facing persecution.  Troubles that come to people we had high regard for in the faith. Surely that couldn’t happen to someone of such strong faith … but things go wrong for everyone.

In a perverse way adversity can sometimes be a source of strength.

12 I want you to know, my brothers and sisters, that the things that have happened to me have really helped the progress of the gospel.
13 As a result, the whole palace guard and all the others here know that I am in prison because I am a servant of Christ.
14 And my being in prison has given most of the brothers and sisters more confidence in the Lord, so that they grow bolder all the time to preach the message fearlessly.
15 Of course some of them preach Christ because they are jealous and quarrelsome, but others from genuine goodwill.

You can almost hear the smile and the chortles from those people gathered together in Lydia’s house.  They knew what it was like to fall out with each other.

16 These do so from love, because they know that God has given me the work of defending the gospel.
17 The others do not proclaim Christ sincerely, but from a spirit of selfish ambition; they think that they will make more trouble for me while I am in prison.
18 It does not matter! I am happy about it — so long as Christ is preached in every way possible, whether from wrong or right motives. And I will continue to be happy,
19 because I know that by means of your prayers and the help which comes from the Spirit of Jesus Christ I shall be set free.
20 My deep desire and hope is that I shall never fail in my duty, but that at all times, and especially just now, I shall be full of courage, so that with my whole being I shall bring honour to Christ, whether I live or die.

Talk of living and dying makes you think.  Sometimes things happen that make you think what is the purpose of it all. What is the point?

21 For what is life? To me, it is Christ. Death, then, will bring more.
22 But if by continuing to live I can do more worthwhile work, then I am not sure which I should choose.
23 I am pulled in two directions. I want very much to leave this life and be with Christ, which is a far better thing;
24 but for your sake it is much more important that I remain alive.
25 I am sure of this, and so I know that I will stay. I will stay on with you all, to add to your progress and joy in the faith,
26 so that when I am with you again, you will have even more reason to be proud of me in your life in union with Christ Jesus.

Words worth remembering – there is still more work to be done.  More to do now and here … wherever we are.

27 Now, the important thing is that your way of life should be as the gospel of Christ requires, so that, whether or not I am able to go and see you, I will hear that you are standing firm with one common purpose and that with only one desire you are fighting together for the faith of the gospel.
28 Don't be afraid of your enemies; always be courageous, and this will prove to them that they will lose and that you will win, because it is God who gives you the victory.
29 For you have been given the privilege of serving Christ, not only by believing in him, but also by suffering for him.
30 Now you can take part with me in the battle. It is the same battle you saw me fighting in the past, and as you hear, the one I am fighting still.

Stirring words from Paul and Timothy.  Words for us to take to hear too.  We need to keep at it.  Persevere in the faith.  Continue in what we are called to do.
How would you sum up what it takes to be part of this movement.  To be the people of Christ in what can sometimes feel like a hostile world.  What are the values that are important in the living of our lives?  How would you sum them up?

Pause to share with someone beside you – important values for us as followers of Christ.

 Your life in Christ makes you strong, and his love comforts you. You have fellowship with the Spirit, and you have kindness and compassion for one another.2 I urge you, then, to make me completely happy by having the same thoughts, sharing the same love, and being one in soul and mind.3 Don't do anything from selfish ambition or from a cheap desire to boast, but be humble towards one another, always considering others better than yourselves.4 And look out for one another's interests, not just for your own.5 The attitude you should have is the one that Christ Jesus had:

Maybe we can all join together in reading the next words … they focus us on Jesus …

Christ Jesus always had the nature of God,
but he did not think that by force
he should try to remain equal with God.
7 Instead of this, of his own free will he gave up all he had,
and took the nature of a servant.
He became like a human being and appeared in human likeness.
 8 He was humble and walked the path of obedience
all the way to death — his death on the cross.

9 For this reason God raised him to the highest place above
and gave him the name that is greater than any other name.
 10 And so, in honour of the name of Jesus all beings in heaven,
on earth, and in the world below
will fall on their knees,
11 and all will openly proclaim that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

What’s important is that we who are part of Christ’s body should shine as lights in the world making Christ’s presence real in the lives of many people.

So then, dear friends, as you always obeyed me when I was with you, it is even more important that you obey me now while I am away from you. Keep on working with fear and trembling to complete your salvation,
13 because God is always at work in you to make you willing and able to obey his own purpose.
14 Do everything without complaining or arguing,
15 so that you may be innocent and pure as God's perfect children, who live in a world of corrupt and sinful people. You must shine among them like stars lighting up the sky,
16 as you offer them the message of life. If you do so, I shall have reason to be proud of you on the Day of Christ, because it will show that all my effort and work have not been wasted.
17 Perhaps my life's blood is to be poured out like an offering on the sacrifice that your faith offers to God. If that is so, I am glad and share my joy with you all.
18 In the same way, you too must be glad and share your joy with me.

Wonderful words of confident hope – how do we shine as stars in a dark night sky?

We too need support.

Those people in Philippi were pleased to hear that they were not alone – Paul was thinking of them, and Paul was sending them a couple of people to help …

19 If it is the Lord's will, I hope that I will be able to send Timothy to you soon, so that I may be encouraged by news about you.
20 He is the only one who shares my feelings and who really cares about you.
21 All the others are concerned only with their own affairs, not with the cause of Jesus Christ.
22 And you yourselves know how he has proved his worth, how he and I, like a son and his father, have worked together for the sake of the gospel.
23 So I hope to send him to you as soon as I know how things are going to turn out for me.
24 And I trust in the Lord that I myself will be able to come to you soon.

They looked forward to seeing Paul … but Epaphroditus was actually there in front of their eyes – he was the one bringing the letter to them.  He had returned.  He had been the Philippians’ messenger, their angel in all the help he had given to Paul.

25 I have thought it necessary to send you our brother Epaphroditus, who has worked and fought by my side and who has served as your messenger in helping me.
26 He is anxious to see you all and is very upset because you had heard that he was ill.
27 Indeed he was ill and almost died. But God had pity on him, and not only on him but on me, too, and spared me an even greater sorrow.
28 I am all the more eager, then, to send him to you, so that you will be glad again when you see him, and my own sorrow will disappear.
29 Receive him, then, with joy, as a brother in the Lord. Show respect to all such people as he,
30 because he risked his life and nearly died for the sake of the work of Christ, in order to give me the help that you yourselves could not give.

And in all that we share one thing to take away today.

 You can’t do it alone – you can’t do it in your own strength.

Take heart.  Philippians 2:13

God is always at work in you to make you willing and able to obey his own purpose

God is always at work in you.

What a wonderful verse to take with us into the week that lies ahead.

Return to those words from Philippians this week – and take them to heart.

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