Friday, 25 September 2015

All good gifts around us...

I guess like many churches we are celebrating Harvest this weekend.  As I left the building this morning folks were bringing in flowers and foliage to decorate the Sanctuary - creating a bit of the countryside in our worship space.

Amersham blends town and country rather well.  As a 'townie' I enjoy living here - a compact community at the end of a London Tube line!  Yet drive just a couple of miles outside of town and you are immediately in the rural context of 'leafy Bucks'.  I realised that more than ever on the Churches on the Hill walk one Sunday evening over the summer - we wandered through fields full of corn and it was simply beautiful!

Although I enjoy the countryside I'm not really sure that the quietness of a village would be my cup of tea.  That said I'm transfixed by Thomas Hardy's accounts of rural Dorset life in the middle of the 19th century.  He paints both the charm and the challenge of living at that pre-industrialised moment in history.

One of our folk at AFC has given me their own version of the Harvest hymn, We plough the fields and scatter - or at least verse one - and it goes like this:


Our food is grown by farmers
Who harvest all the crops
And most of us do little more
Than buy it in the shops
We take it all for granted
And rarely pause for thought
How seeds which have been planted
Become the food we've brought


Behind the humour there is the truth that most of us are quite divorced from how a harvest actually comes about.

This festival throws up many issues.

The Psalms often extol a Creator God as in Psalm 8.  And to many people they do feel 'closer to God in a garden than anywhere else on earth'.  Yet it's also true that the natural world is  'red in tooth and claw' and not always the calm idly we pretend.  In fact sometimes the sheer force and seeming brutality of the natural order hardly seems to point to a benevolent God at all.

These are complex issues.  This week a quietly spoken Pope reminded a powerful President of the need for wise and careful stewardship of the planet.  And the unfolding human drama of the refugees isn't one with an easy or straightforward solution even if it is an issue that should begin with a spirit of compassion and generosity of spirit.

At this Harvest time it seems to me that we not only celebrate an abundant and beautiful world around us but we commit ourselves to sharing with God in its stewardship - even its 'recreation'.

All good wishes,


Ian


Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Carpe Diem

On Saturday evening we enjoyed a concert of Baroque music at St Martin in the Fields.  The programme included Pachelbel's Canon, Bach's Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring and Vivaldi's Four Seasons.  As well as being struck by the beauty of the music I was also intrigued by the biographical notes alongside each composer's name - in particular (for some reason that now escapes me!) how old, or young they were when they died.  It's hard to believe that Mozart - who seems to have composed a billion masterpieces - died aged 35. Pachelbel at 53, Vivaldi reaching 63 and Bach making it till 65.  None of them making the bible's 'three score years and ten' let along today's expectations of living well into our eighties and even nineties.

What really struck me - especially about Mozart - was just how much they achieved in so short a time frame.

I suspect my mood might also have been influenced by the knowledge that this Saturday I'm preaching at the Memorial Service for a dear friend, The Revd Dr John Tattersall who was my 'mentor' whilst I was at Spurgeon's College and who died a few months ago out in the USA aged just 70.

None of us in our house speak Latin but we often use the aphorism from that language which goes Carpe Diem - Seize the Day!  We usually shout it trying to get the boys out of bed!

Although Woody Allen tried to make us all laugh by saying of his death that he'd prefer not to be there when it happened - the truth is we all have a finite amount of time and making the most of it - by seizing the day - seems to me to be a very positive way of approaching the days and hopefully years that are left to us - and also one that honours God who has given us this gift in the first place.

Life is precious - so Carpe Diem!

With best wishes,

Ian

Thursday, 10 September 2015

Amazing Grace

We've spent part of the summer this year in The United States.  Firstly in Princeton - a small New Jersey township dominated by its prestigious Ivy League university.  There are lots of Presbyterians in Princeton!  In fact we were amazed at how full the Presbyterian church was on the Sunday we worshipped with this friendly and vibrant congregation on Nassau Street.

The last five days of the holiday saw us move up to New York and it's difficult to imagine a greater contrast with sleepy Princeton.  If Mum and Dad rather preferred the township our two sons reveled in the city!

On our last evening our youngest son treated us to a surprise - planned and paid for by him. We had no idea what was in store for us as we left our hotel off Broadway and walked up to Times Square.  Eventually we arrived outside the Nederlander Theatre - he had tickets for us to see a new show called 'Amazing Grace' - a musical about the life of the hymn writer John Newton!

Ever since I learnt about this Buckinghamshire cleric, Newton, in Sunday School as I was growing up he's been a hero of mine.  I love his story of being press ganged into the navy, living for a time as a slave himself before actually becoming a slave ship captain, of his 'encounter' with God in a fierce ocean storm, his time as tide-surveyor in Liverpool and then his two parishes as an Anglican priest, firstly in Olney alongside the English hymnwriter William Cowper and then opposite the Bank of England at St Mary's Woolnorth where he befriended the abolitionist Wilberforce.  Newton's was such a dramatic life and we are all the richer for having his hymns - such as Glorious things, and How sweet the name of Jesus sounds as well as Amazing Grace, in our books today.

The Nederlander Theatre on Broadway has a reputation for taking historical figures and working them into a musical.  The Wall Street Journal gave the thumbs up to this production saying it was 'One of the best looking musicals to reach New York in recent seasons'!

I loved it too - although I do recognise there was a certain amount of dramatic license with the plot!!

I loved the fact that in the middle of this most cosmopolitan of cities we were listening to songs and dialogue charting the life of a man who experienced the touch of God in his life so much that he turned full circle from slave ship captain to abolitionist.

There were some great songs in the show we saw but if the standing ovation at the end was anything to go by it was the last number that did it for most of us.  It started quietly with a lone African girl singing the first verse of Amazing Grace and one by one members of the cast joined her on stage until, by the time of the last verse, everyone was present singing the old sea captain's song about the love and grace of God that blesses and dignifies every human life on the planet.

It was a great message - with not a dry eye in the house!

best wishes,

Ian



Speaking of Sin

Tomorrow I’m attending a Ministers’ Book Discussion Group in Luton. We meet up three or four times a year over a packed lunch to discuss a...