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!


Thursday, 27 April 2017

17-2

Late on Monday night our eldest son arrived back at The Manse after ‘running the line’ at a local football match.  It was a game between Amersham Town and the local Tesco Team.  Apparently, the town won by 17 goals to 2! 

He told us that by the end of the second half Amersham players were pleading with him, as a linesman, not to call off side just so Tesco could score a goal or two!!  Even though I’m not the greatest football fan I would have loved to have been there!

The truth is I was slightly put off of sport at school when the rugby coach told my class: ‘The taller they are, the harder they fall’.  As the tallest in my year I was the player one every one ‘felled’ for the rest of my time there!

For all that I have huge respect for the teamwork and camaraderie of the ‘sporting kind’!  I see similar qualities in every choir I have ever sung in – although it has to be said we have usually only been in competition with ourselves.

Last Sunday Rachel went into London to watch a colleague run the Marathon.  So many keen and enthusiastic runners, all doing their best to raise money for various charities – surely a wonderful example of humanity at its very best.

I joined her later in the day – in time for Evensong at St Paul’s (typical of the fact that music always wins over sport with me) and to join many of the runners, now limping, on their way home via the Tube.

This week many churches who use the Lectionary will be taking readings from Acts and 1 Peter.  It’s really ‘Peter Sunday’ as we hear part of his sermon from Acts 2 and a passage in which he talks about having ‘affection towards your fellow Christians and loving one another wholeheartedly’ in the reading from 1 Peter.

Peter is such a unique individual.  A ‘big’ character in the New Testament.  Yet he seems to recognise that Christianity and faith is something we do ‘together’ – as a united and co-operative team, with affection for one another.

I think that’s a super picture of The Church – at times maybe it’s aspirational, but when we do experience that ‘togetherness’ in our fellowship and service I think we come a little closer to being The Body of Christ we are meant to be.

Oh – I almost forgot!  Apparently, everyone went home happy from Monday night’s football match because of the buffet enjoyed afterwards – provided, of course, by Tesco!!

Thursday, 20 April 2017

Brenda isn't impressed!

So, this week our Prime Minister has called a General Election and Brenda wasn’t happy!!

I’m not too sure who Brenda is exactly!  She is the Vox Pops contribution to Radio 4’s ‘PM’ programme and her reaction to the news of an early plebiscite was broadcast on Tuesday afternoon.  She was horrified, exclaiming ‘oh no, not again’!  Clearly last year’s EU Referendum and the 2015 General Election were still fresh memories for her and she can’t stand the thought of a further fifty days of electioneering.

I doubt if she is alone!  Yet I’ve been wondering why? 

Obviously to be involved in an election is to cast a vote, and to do that is to be in the business of making choices.  Is that the issue?  Perhaps people feel they have little choice or they made the ‘wrong’ one last time round. 

Yet life is constantly about decision making.  Everyday we’ll make loads of them; put them altogether in a lifetime and we make tens of thousands.

As I’ve been thinking of Brenda this week I’ve pondered the idea that much of our faith is about making that purposeful and committed choice to follow the message of God found in Jesus and choose the path of love.  It’s not a one off choice but is something we need to consciously ‘sign up’ to every single day.  Discipleship is often about what choices we make and what roads in life we follow.  And, unlike Brenda, the option of just saying ‘oh no, not again’, isn’t one that either honours God or the name ‘Christian’.

Sunday, 16 April 2017

Easter Day: Resurrection Encounter

We can experience Resurrection in so many ways - even through 'religious experience'!!

Oh I know they get a bad press: long sermons, stuffy services and overblown ritual.  Yet I still love coming to church! I still look forward to remembering through bread and wine.  I still cherish hymns of faith and prayers of hope.  And I do all of that because on hundreds of occasions as I’ve met with my sisters and brothers, and as we have covenanted together to be that Community of the Resurrection which is the hallmark of every church, I believe something of the life of God has touched my life and once again I’ve started to make those connections.

It happened that first Easter evening on the Road to Emmaus. 

A couple of deflated disciples were walking west towards the sunset and they were asking themselves big questions.  To their surprise their walking companion seemed to come up with some answers and their hearts burned within them.

Yet they made little real sense of it all until they invited him to share supper with them.  It was, we are told, as he said grace, as he broke the bread – that they recognised the risen Lord.

Through ritual, the breaking of bread, an action they must have experienced a thousand times before – at that moment they encountered the life of God.

That’s the definition of a sacrament:  An outward symbol that speaks of an inward grace.

Sacramental moments can be the deepest in life.  Prayers said by the bedside of a loved one, communion taken in church after a draining week, witnessing the baptism of a new life, singing Alleluia on Easter Morning in this Community of the Resurrection – all these can be moments when we encounter the living presence of God among us – and like those Emmaus disciples we too find our hearts strangely warmed.


In many ways today is a 'Defiant Day'.

This is the day when we say: Love Wins!

This is the day to believe in the power of hope and the supremacy of love which we find in the cross and empty tomb of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu goes some way in summing up Easter when he wrote:

Good is stronger than evil; love is stronger than hate; light is stronger than darkness and life is stronger than death.

And that, I believe, is the message of resurrection that we celebrate today with all our Alleluias.

May God's blessing of peace, hope and new life be yours this Easter Day and always.

Christ is Risen!
He is Risen indeed - Alleluia!!




Saturday, 15 April 2017

Holy Saturday: Maternal Womb

Maternal Womb: Sieger Koder
The thing about Mary, the Mother of Jesus, is that she stayed when others fled.

At his birth and death Mary was the constant in his life. 

In Koder’s painting Mary, hardly middle aged, cradles her son one last time – a painting which shows such touching love, lasting devotion and enduring affection.

Leaning against the cross with human skulls strewn upon the ground around her Mary’s presence brings warmth and humanity to a scene of carnage and brutality.

She caresses Jesus’ body which has been racked by pain and is now covered in blood.

There is surely an eternal truth in this poignant painting – that even in the toughest struggle love finds a way.

In the mystery of The Trinity – something of God finds a resting place within a mother’s arms as Mary lays her head upon Jesus one last time.

Love wins through not only at the empty tomb but also at the empty cross.

Maybe it has never been put better than in the words etched into the walls of a basement in Cologne during the Holocaust:

I believe in the sun
even when it isn't shining.
I believe in love
even when I am alone.
I believe in God
even when he is silent.


The body of our Lord will be taken down by Joseph of Arimathea and be buried before sundown with loving respect.

None of this negates or even reduces the sufferings of Jesus upon the cross.  Yet even in the face of such brutality love was not absent – a mother remains faithful and a friend offers a final resting place.

When suffering comes – to us, to those we love or those we hardly know yet with whom we share the common bond of humanity – there is surely just one response: love.  A love that never gives up.  Your love, my love, God’s love.

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 convin...