Thursday, 22 June 2017

Parable of The Loving Father

A ‘Father’s Day’ Monologue I composed and used in church last week:

Dairy entry: 18th June
Place: Capernaum by the shore of Lake Galilee

Yesterday will go down as one of the happiest days of my life.

I’m the father of two boys and, to be honest, one of them, the youngest, broke my heart six months ago.  He left home after one of those bright ideas of his.  He’s always been headstrong; well that’s what I call it, but his older brother dismisses him as arrogant!

But leaving our farm, where he had a solid future, wasn’t really the worst of it.  He came up with the idea of an early inheritance to fund this trip of a lifetime.  After I gave him the money my wife cried herself to sleep that night saying Reuben was treating us as if we were dead.

But I felt he needed his freedom and if I said ‘no’ he would have felt a prisoner here.

The morning I left I told him I loved him and asked him to stay in touch – but he never did.

We missed him at every meal.  Esther, my wife, even laid a place for him at table a couple of times.

Jacob, our eldest, isn’t much of a talker.  Reuben was the conversationalist, so mealtimes were now very quiet.

Reuben wanted to travel to Syria and we dealt with merchants there – they came and visited the farm about once a month.  They watched out for him.

The first few months we heard good reports, but recently it’s only ever been bad news.  I sent him messages, telling him we thought of him every day and he’d always be welcome back – but I never got a response.

Last month was the worst.  The Syrian corn merchant told us Reuben had obviously run out of money because he was working for a pig farmer.  He’d sunk as low as he could and his dream trip had turned into a nightmare.

I’ve developed a daily routine after supper.  I leave Ester and Jacob in the house and I go and sit on the rooftop watching the sunset – longing for my boy.

And then yesterday it happened!

As the sun was finally dipping behind the olive grove a mile away, sending out its mellow, warm, golden rays.  I made out a figure in silhouette, limping down the lane.

I couldn’t take my eyes off this approaching stranger, walking head down, clutching a stick, limping, slowly and painfully along the path that led nowhere but to the gates of our farm.

As he approached I felt I knew the gait of his walk.  I thought, I hardly dare thought, could it be, could this really be Reuben?

My heart began to beat faster as the figure before me grew larger – until at last he lifted his face and looked for a brief moment at the house.  It was my son!!! And I burst into tears.

I got myself in check and went downstairs.  I told Esther and Jacob I’d seen Reuben heading down the lane.  Jacob froze, Esther, like me seconds earlier, wept with joy.

I left the house with the biggest smile that has ever visited my face.  I walked at first, but ended up running – well, with my age that’s more like jogging, down the road.

Reuben seemed rooted to the spot.  I could see the sorrow, confusion and apprehension on his face.

I ran up to him with open arms and hugged him. ‘My son, my son’ I said, and we both wept as we hugged each other.

My son, my lively, irrepressible, headstrong son had come home.  Esther and I welcomed him with a party – Jacob was not so happy.

Dear Diary – I wonder where this sort of love comes from?  Perhaps it’s but a reflection of the way God loves us.  A Loving Father, a Generous Parent.  All I know is – it’s real, it’s beautiful and it’s the most import thing in life.

Happy Father’s Day!

Thursday, 15 June 2017

Made in the Image of God?

It's the season of Pentecost in which we rejoice that God’s love and compassion can be ministered by ordinary people.

We’ve seen that this week in North Kensington,  as, indeed, we saw it on the evenings of both the London Bridge and Manchester Arena attacks.

However, someone asked me this week:  'Are we really made in the image of God?'  I understood where they were coming from. 

Yet even after so much sadness during these early summer days I still want to say ‘yes’.

I say ‘yes’ as I hear stories of taxi drivers going back to the attack site to see if they can help.

I say ‘yes’ when I read of people around Southwalk opening up their homes and taking frightened strangers in for the night.

I say ‘yes’ as I hear the public of Kensington dropping off food and clothing at church and community halls as their way of standing alongside bereaved and homeless fellow citizens.

I say ‘yes’ when I hear of doctors and nurses saving lives and emergency personnel alongside policemen and women risking their lives because deep down we know the value of a human life. 

These are ordinary people who have blessed our communities in extra-ordinary ways and by living with such courage, decency and compassion I believe they have have shown us what it really means to live in the image of God.

Thursday, 8 June 2017

Free Church Liberals?

The Revd Dr John Clifford of Paddington
‘And so the conclusion is irresistible that, in this conflict, all the hopes of the Free Churches and, we believe, of the nation as a whole, are bound up with the triumphant return to power of the Liberal Party.’

So wrote the editor of the Baptist Times in his newspaper on the occasion of the second election held in 1910.  It is, perhaps, unthinkable, a hundred and seven years later, that a denominational publication would offer up such partisan instructions today!

Archbishop Desmond Tutu is fond of saying that ‘whoever thinks politics and faith don’t mix has never read the bible’.  That’s a sentiment that The Revd Dr John Clifford, minister of the Baptist congregation in Paddington in 1910 certainly believed. He considered that something of the essence of the Kingdom of God, its compassion and equality, was actively being advanced by the reforming legislation of Asquith’s Liberal government in the form of: Old Age Pensions, National Insurance and the fight against privilege being waged with The House of Lords.

On Election Day 2017 I like to cast a nod back through history to John Clifford and his belief in democracy – along with his view that all Free Church people should vote Liberal!!!

Yet I also wonder if, at this current time, we don’t put too heavy a burden of expectation on our politicians.

I spoke to our local Member of Parliament as she was ‘out and about’, on the streets of Amersham, a few weeks ago.  I enjoyed our encounter.  She listened respectfully as I raised a few issues.  I know too that she is a woman of principle, even resigning her Cabinet position because of a local issue upon which she felt she needed to make a stand.

Yet no one who walks through No.10 tomorrow, no Cabinet sitting around that famous table and no Parliament gathering together at Westminster has all the answers, and indeed none have claimed a magic wand in their manifestos.

That’s why I am sometimes frustrated by the somewhat self-righteous tone of many political commentators and interviewers, giving the impression that our politicians have missed the comfortable and obvious answers to the problems of our age, because surely there simply are no easy answers.

I think we need to put ourselves back in the picture.  WE THE PEOPLE, to coin a phrase from a well-known political document across The Pond, can be part of the answer.

The communities we build in our families, localities, workplaces and churches can be part of the solution to our world’s problems too.

Surely it’s not just down to the politicians, for although we expect a great deal from them, they can often only ‘manage’ events rather than generate all-encompassing solutions.

As we approach Trinity Sunday this weekend we are reminded that at the heart of God is the idea of ‘community’, within the Godhead mysteriously expressed as Father, Son and Spirit.

Politicians, families, businesses, churches, schools and individuals all have a part to play in community and WE THE PEOPLE, individually and together, have the gifts, talents and insights to make a positive difference, and we might start by talking a little less about ‘them’ and more about ‘us’!

Happy Election Day!  Anyone staying up all night?!

Thursday, 25 May 2017

'Circle the City' - we did it!!!

On Sunday a dozen of us from Amersham Free Church caught the tube after morning service and joined five hundred other sponsored walkers in circling the city for Christian Aid.  It was a wonderfully inspiring event and I was very proud of our group!

We walked from one city church to another – collecting ‘stamps’ on our programme en-route.  The fellowship and spirit of togetherness amongst us and the other walkers was tangible.

The thing that struck me time and time again was just how tiny these Wren churches appeared next to the towering sky scrapers like the Gurkin or Cheese Grater!  London is building higher and higher and it looks, at times, both intimidating and impersonal.  Yet these Wren churches stand their ground at the base of these huge financial tower blocks.  I liked their ‘smallness’ and humanity.  It felt comfortable and re-assuring walking into these places of worship and prayer and being enveloped by a deep sense of integrity and ‘connectedness’. 

In a world which at times seems so threatening – nowhere more so than in Manchester on Monday night – it’s good that small but vital beacons of love, community and hope, like these city churches in London, keep their doors open and try to welcome all who cross their threshold with the love and compassion of God.

Ian
ps I got it wrong – it’s Blog holiday next week!!

Friday, 19 May 2017

Nazareth Manifesto

This has been a week of manifestos.  The great unveiling of plans, ambitions and intentions by our political parties as they try to convince us that they deserve our vote.

Way back in 1983, when the wonderfully eccentric, yet deeply principled Michael Foot led the Labour Party, their manifesto for that election was called, by political commentators, ‘the longest suicide note in history’!  I suspect many essays have been written by students of politics as to why that may, or may not, have been true.

In Luke’s Gospel we have that pivotal moment in Jesus’ life as, one Saturday morning, he returns to his home synagogue and preaches.  Being handed the scroll he read words from Isaiah, all about: announcing good news, proclaiming release for the captives, recovery of sight for the blind and proclaiming the year of the Lord’s favour.  Then Jesus says: Today in your hearing this text has come true.  It didn’t go down too well and I think he never got a preaching fee!!

I’m an incurable devotee of that one time American TV political drama ‘The West Wing’.  We’ve watched it right through, series after series, probably seven times now – I think we need therapy!!  The programme covers three Presidential elections and they always begin with the candidates usually returning to their home town where an inquisitive crowd has gathered outside the schoolhouse or town hall to hear the one time ‘local’ utter those wonderfully aspirational words: ‘And so today I declare my intention to run for the office of President of these United States’.

Luke, millennia before The West Wing, has Jesus do something similar! He places this ‘declaration of intent’ right at the start of Jesus’ ministry, just after The Temptations.  This was the moment in Nazareth, Luke is saying to us, when Jesus launched his manifesto and told us how he saw the future.

The next five years will reveal if the party given the keys to No.10 keep their manifesto promises.

Jesus gave his life keeping his.

(Blog holiday next week!)

Thursday, 11 May 2017

Induction Dynamics

Montacute Baptist Church - scene of last Saturday's Induction
Churches usually welcome a new pastor/priest/minister with an Induction Service followed by a large tea!  Well, I not only attended one last Saturday down in Somerset, I also had the privilege of preaching at it.  I think in thirty years I’ve only done this a couple of times (preached at an Induction) so I’m still a bit of a novice in trying to pass on any ‘wisdom’ to a colleague about to start a new Pastorate.

However, I’ve had five Inductions myself and I remember every one with surprising clarity!

The strange, yet wonderful, thing about them is the opportunity to invite and greet people from different ‘phases’ of the past.  It’s odd seeing friends from Pastorate No.2 sitting alongside friends from Pastorate No.4! (I wouldn’t want to push this comparison too far but maybe it feels a bit like attending one’s own funeral!)

I have to say on Saturday we were all very much alive!  Just under a hundred of us gathered in this country chapel and the singing was inspirational!  Stories were told, vows made and partnerships re-affirmed.  It had all the ingredients of a good and blessed beginning.

Years ago I had to write a piece for College on the significance of Induction Services; so, I deconstructed the liturgy, analysed the vows and generally ‘pulled’ the service apart!

I’m sure it was a helpful experience and gave me a greater awareness of what was going on.  I was particularly struck when interviewing one lady about the forthcoming Induction of her minister.  As it was scheduled for early September (a popular Induction ‘season’!) she couldn’t attend, having already booked a holiday.  ‘He’ll keep’ she said!  And I suppose there was a lot of truth in that!

All I can say about Saturday’s Induction is that it just seemed so ‘right’.  It was a time of natural and unforced ‘joy’.  In short there was a sense that we were all standing on ‘holy ground’ and God was in this place.

So, my prayer for this new partnership between pastor and people is that something of the joy and hope-filled trust at the centre of Saturday’s service will characterise the days that lay ahead.

God bless you Pastor Heather and the good folk of Montacute Baptist Church.

Ian

Thursday, 4 May 2017

Puppy Sitting

I had a phone call this week from a friend who’d been called away on an overnight course desperately asking if we might ‘puppy sit’ for his Jack Russell, Jessie.

Now the closest the Green family have ever had to pets were hamsters and gold fish so having a puppy in the house for twenty-four hours was a novel, and as it turned out, very enjoyable experience!

There was a meeting – with fellow ministers – that I simply had to be at yesterday, and this took place before anyone in our house had returned home from work, so the puppy came too – a bit of a mistake!  It was all delightful until her excitement got the better of her and she left two damp patches on the Church Office floor!

After an evening of fun, taking her for a walk in the park and playing tug of war, I confess I was slightly relieved to hand her back this morning!

But the truth is in just that short period of time a certain bond of trust and loyalty grew up between us.  She was remarkably relaxed and happy to be around us all and seemed more than happy to trust me as her main ‘carer’ for twenty-four hours.

This reminded me of the film that our Lent Course group watched last week at an end of course ‘party’: A Street Cat named Bob.  This was all about the way an adopted cat helped a drug addict get his life back.

Someone in our group said afterwards as we were discussing the film that it always feels a great privilege whenever an animal willingly lets you into its life – be it a cat or dog, or that robin sitting watching you dig the garden in mid-winter!

Trust and loyalty are such wonderful qualities to encounter, whether between a dog and its owner or between two friends.  Trust and loyalty are at the centre of all relationships.  Trust and loyalty have a great deal to say in our journey of faith and our appreciation of God and concept of discipleship.

Oh, my friend has just phoned asking where Jessie’s lead is?  I promise I did take it back – but I now have a mental picture in my mind of him running after her in the park trying to keep up!  I think puppy sitting must be a little like being a grandparent – it’s nice to give them back!


Parable of The Loving Father

A ‘Father’s Day’ Monologue I composed and used in church last week: Dairy entry: 18 th June Place: Capernaum by the shore of Lake Gal...