Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Holy Week Reflection: Choices

This week I've made so many choices - and so, probably, have you.  We make them all the time without even realising and from time to time we have to make really big ones.

The narrative of Good Friday is a story full of choices.

Jesus chooses to remain silent when accused.  He seems to embrace the cross rather than argue pedantics with Pilate.  It's not easy to know when to speak and when to refrain from speaking.  But there are moments when lifestyle, acts of compassion and justice, or even just an encouraging smile are worth a thousand words filling up a heated debate in which no one is listening.

Pilate chooses to probe and then pass the buck.  Is he a crowd pleaser?  Maybe he is just doing the obvious political thing, getting the job done by upsetting as few a people as possible.  To even begin to square a circle and attempt the seemingly impossible - find justice and truth even when a baying crowd is in the forecourt - would have taken enormous courage and leadership.

And the crowd chooses - Barabbas over Jesus, the obvious over the nuanced, the easy answer rather than the difficult question - but that, I suppose, is generally the nature of crowds and peer group pressure.

I, of course, also have a choice.

I can choose to:
...come to faith as a Seeker after Truth, open to change, willing to move on and to greet each new day with its joys and challenges as a fresh expression of truth and exploration.

I'm in the crowd today.

I can call for Barabbas - for the spectacular choice.
I can pass the buck and say it's always down to someone else.

Or I can:
...grasp the complexity of life lived faithfully with pain
...battle on with the confusion and lack of answers that faith sometimes brings
...feel with heartfelt passion what is just and hopeful and live out that passion in my actions
...walk with faith, make the road of faith, live a life of faith - and in the doing learn what it means to be a person of faith.

I could call for Barabbas or...
I can call for Jesus.

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

What kind of King...?

Tomorrow, at Leicester Cathedral, a King will be laid to rest.  Richard III has had something of a dubious reputation up to now but over recent months this seems to have been somewhat reassessed.

It's been remarkable to see just how many people have turned out to 'honour' this King on his last journey to the cathedral.  His death at Bosworth  in 1485 not only signalled the end of the House of York but effectively brought to an end the Battle of the Roses. Five hundred and thirty years is a long time to wait for a proper burial.

This re-appraisal of Richard III's life will, we are told, be further enhanced tomorrow as an appreciative message from the Queen is read out at his funeral.

I wonder what kind of King he really was?  'History', my teacher used to say, 'is always written by the victors', so in a sense we never really know the true nature of the characters who fill the narrative of our nation's story.

Palm Sunday, just a few days away, poses a similar question: What kind of King was Jesus?

As he rides into Jerusalem he seems to be greeted by an enthusiasm that all but evaporates by Good Friday. To many of his day, and perhaps even in ours, Jesus was a King who disappointed.  He embraced his death with dignity rather than retaliation and violence.

Our Lent journey is ending but our questions continue as to who this Jesus really was and what kind of King would suffer as his did upon a cross?

One bible commentator I read this week puts it like this: 'The failure of Jesus is his success' - I think I need another Lent to think that one through!

Best wishes,

Ian

Friday, 20 March 2015

He played the commas!

Having flown into Heathrow last night after attending a week long conference in Bangkok, Thailand I had intended to have a blog holiday this week - but something has changed all that.

Whilst away I heard the sad news that Eric, AFC's organist for the last twenty five years (and Kenton URC's organist for twenty five years before that) has died.  Our loving thoughts and prayers go out to Eric's family.

Eric was such a big part of our life together at Amersham and every service owed so much to him with his choice of music and the empathetic way he played the hymns.  I have a private little benchmark in my mind when it comes to organists - and if they play the commas - that is make a short break in the music at that point, then I know they are reading the words as well as playing the notes - and it makes a world of difference.  Eric was a comma reader!

So often his voluntaries would suit the mood of the day.  When I preached 'with a view' he played 'Nearer my God to thee' because it was the centenary that Sunday of the sinking of the Titanic!  When a friend of mine from Florida was visiting he weaved in the American National Anthem throughout the offering!

Eric was one of the best 'friends' that AFC or any church could have wished for and he was such a humble, co-operative and gifted organists to have around - we have been so very fortunate!

He last played for us on Christmas Day morning.

I visited him just days before flying off to Thailand and it was clear he was very poorly.  This Sunday Sara Autton, who worked alongside him for so many years as choir mistress will say a few words and we'll place a red rose on the organ console - in memory of the man who played the commas because for him playing the organ was his way of worshipping God.

Eric, our much loved friend - may you rest in peace and rise in glory and may the music of heaven be greatly enhanced by your presence amongst the angels.

All good wishes,

Ian


Thursday, 12 March 2015

Commonwealth Observance

On Monday it was my privilege to accompany our outgoing Church Secretary to the Commonwealth Observance at Westminster Abbey.  Norma is a big supporter of the Commonwealth and it was a real joy to share this annual event with her.

The Observance brings together people from the fifty three member states - people of all faiths and none under one roof (a rather spectacular one at that!) for an afternoon of celebration.

It was moving to see young people carry in the flags and inspiring to sense the atmosphere of mutual respect and co-operation that seemed almost tangible in the Abbey on Monday afternoon.

Of course there were moments of pomp and pageantry - how could there not have been with no less than six members of the Royal Family in attendance!  Yet there were also impassioned addresses from the speakers and vibrant dancing in the nave.

Afterwards as we left the Abbey it was great to see people from all four corners of the world chatting with each other whilst giving a hug or taking a photo.  In a day and age when so many radical groups would seek to set people against each other Monday afternoon was a real tonic proclaiming mutuality.

At the end of the service both Norma and I commented on just how helpful we had found the prayer offered up by the Muslim cleric during the intercessions. It went like this:

O Lord! You are Peace, from you is peace; you are blessed, O Sustainer!  You are Most High, O One of majesty and nobility!  You created us from one man and one woman.  Had it been your will, you would have made us all the same, but you made us into nations and tribes so that we may know each other.  O magnificent Creator!  Enable us to respect the diversity you have created.  Join together our hearts, free us from fear, hunger, disease, and war.  O loving Creator!  We ask you to answer our prayer through your grace and your mercy.  

And both of us felt we could say a heartfelt 'Amen' to that!

With best wishes,

Ian
ps Blog holiday next week!

Thursday, 5 March 2015

Ingredients of a Retreat

Last weekend I joined a Lent Retreat held at Holland House in Worcestershire hosted by The Baptist Union Retreat Group and it's got me thinking - what are the ingredients necessary for a good retreat?!

Well, I'm sure people come to retreats with vastly different expectations and from very different contexts - so perhaps no single retreat could possibly offer all the essential ingredients - in fact the truth is it's not only what's on 'offer' that's important but what bring ourselves.

That said, last weekend did, in my view, offer all of us who attended some very precious ingredients.  So I have a little list and here it is:

A Snappy Title:  Always a winner - it gets you interested (well interested enough to book a place anyway!) and sets the theme to be explored.  This retreat was called 'Praying Our Goodbyes'.

A warm welcome:  That was offered to us by Holland House.  It's a charming old building full of character but more than that the staff are constantly gracious and helpful.  In addition there is the physical context of a comfortable sitting room, well stocked library, quiet chapel and a walk down to the river.  Add the provision of three delicious meals a day and who wouldn't want to go on retreat!

An engaging leader:  We were fortunate to have a former President of The Baptist Union The Revd John Rackley to guide us.  John provided just the right amount of engaging and stimulating introduction.  He then left us to do the work of thinking it through and applying it to our lives.  There's a great art in that - say too much and it all becomes an indulgent lecture, offer too little and folks are left adrift.  John also made himself available for any private conversation if folks had any issue they would like to discuss  - and, as someone who took him up on that, I want to say how much I appreciated both his time and counsel.

The gift of silence:  We offered that to each other at various points of the weekend.  Sharing a meal in silence is actually a very companionable thing to do because you discover there are so many ways to communicate without using words!  To be honest I was very hesitant about last weekend's silence for some reason - I entered it with a grudging resentment!  Yet by the end I was reluctant to come out of it!  You somehow need to let the silence settle - and then it seems to do its own work and in that space I think God can speak more clearly to us.

A Journey:  Every retreat is a sort of journey and I regularly come away from them astonished at the paths taken.  It's also true that in a collective way we gather on the Friday evening as 'strangers' yet by Sunday lunchtime we are saying our goodbyes as 'friends' - and it's that sense of 'sharing' a retreat which makes it both a personal and group experience.

I think as I look back on Lent 2015 this last weekend at Holland House will have been a very important stage on the road to Easter.

With best wishes,
Ian





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