Sunday, 29 November 2015

Advent 1: The Fig Tree

This Sunday’s painting is a Byzantine Icon – the sort often used in Orthodox worship.  It’s said that you don’t look at an Icon, you read it!

This is an Icon showing Jesus and the Fig Tree which is our gospel reading for today from Luke 21.25-36.

Jesus is wearing both blue and red – Icon painters used those colours to symbolise both his human and divine nature – he’s surrounded by a yellowish gold representing the light of God.

And there’s the fig tree – blossoming – yet there is still room on its branches for more.  This tree shows potential – but isn’t yet at its full glory.

Jesus seems to be saying to us the blossom stands for God’s activity among us – signs of his presence.  And maybe we also see in this teaching that we too can be a sign of God’s activity as our lives produce the fruit of the Spirit.

How does this week's paintings – based on the stories of Jesus – speak to us in these opening days of Advent?


Prayer:

Loving and Life Giving God,
Your life is seen all around us in the life of your
Kingdom of justice and joy
May we bear your fruit of love in our lives and
May our world blossom with your life.
Help us this Advent to rejoice in all the ways
You come to us each day:
In the smile of a friend
The challenge of a task
in The comfort of scripture
The silence of prayer.
Come, Lord Jesus, and open our eyes to the signs of your Kingdom
Amen.


Art in Advent

This year at AFC we are journeying through Advent using a painting a week to help us on the way. 

The little group who’ve planned this journey for us have produced a leaflet that both contains each painting and a bit of background material to help us appreciate these works of art even more.

They have also selected some other Advent and Christmas paintings and they are being displayed in the Art in the Corridor space.

This week – just to get us in the mood – the vestibule monitor has been showing us Brueghel’s ‘Census at Bethlehem’ – maybe to British eyes it looks a little like a Lowry painting.

So much is going on in this painting – maybe a market day – ordinary people living an ordinary day in an ordinary town.  And into the hustle and bustle – perhaps with no one caring overmuch, comes Mary and Joseph – and it is the preamble to Christmas.

The essence of the Incarnation – of God amongst us – is that his presence is sometimes hardly noticed, is mediated through the ordinary – yet however he comes – he comes in love to bless us.


Friday, 20 November 2015

Prayer without Words

The Paris bombings have brought us once more to a place of shock and sadness as we witness the futility of 'man's inhumanity to man'.

Such astonishment and disbelief isn't limited to 'Christian' communities.  My church has been pleased to host a couple of gatherings recently attended by folk of various religious traditions and none and I know our Muslim friends from the Chesham Mosque are equally shocked by the evil carried out by organisations such as Islamic State.

How we respond and acknowledge these atrocities in church is a question I never feel properly prepared for.  Do we depart from the planned order of service, say something at the beginning of worship or the end? So I was grateful to a couple of members of my congregation for their guidance and contribution last Sunday.
One of our choir members asked if we might just have a moment of silence before the Call to Worship.  I'd already prepared a short prayer but hadn't anticipated a shared silence.  But we did as suggested and so many people afterwards thanked me for doing something that was, in fact, another person's suggestion. I'm really grateful for that sort of collaboration.

The other helpful 'contribution' came from the person who looks after our display monitors.  We have all been so impressed by his wonderful 'creativity' in making upcoming events and notices look so attractive over recent months!  Well on Sunday he uploaded the image on this page.  On the monitor it is actually an animated candle gently burning with a superimposed image of the Eiffel Tower.  As he showed it to me before the service he said - 'I didn't think it needed words'.  How true he was.  I felt the image was a real gift to our church community - in fact we've displayed it all week so that our user groups can see it to.  For me it is both an appropriate gesture of solidarity with our French cousins and a prayer in itself - that God's light will continue to shine through the darkness of tragedy eventually bring hope and new life - a beautiful and  heartfelt 'prayer without words'.

Best wishes,

Ian.

Friday, 13 November 2015

'Talking Jesus'

An article in last week's Church Times caught my eye under the headline 'Survey brings good and bad news for faith sharers'.  It detailed some of the results from a report entitles Talking Jesus commissioned by the Church of England, the Evangelical Alliance and Hope UK and is all about how Christians might share faith and the reactions people have to such conversations.  Perhaps the most significant line was this one:

...after a conversation with a Christian about his or her faith, 42 per cent of non-Christians said that they felt glad not to share the faith; and 30 per cent said that they felt more negatively about Jesus'.

This is a well researched and well balanced report that just highlights how difficult it can be to talk about faith with our friends and colleagues.

Ever since I've been in the ministry I've been conscious of a certain 'activist' mindset among both leaders and members of churches that lays guilt on us by saying mission is essentially about 'getting out there and telling people about Jesus'.  I've always been suspicious that if it was simply that easy why didn't it work whenever I've tried it!

I've often talked to family and friends about faith and by and large the response has generally been the same -  we have agreed to differ.

Words, I would suggest, are not enough.  So many other factors are also important such as the person's background, current situation or experience of local churches.  No ones pilgrimage is ever the same because don't we believe that God can communicate his love and light to us in all sorts of ways: through kindness, unexpected companionship, nature, struggle or simply a eureka moment!  When preachers tell us to 'get out there and share our faith' they are, perhaps, not being overly mindful of the contexts and stories of the people 'out there' to whom we are being sent.

I know none of this is easy.  I'm deeply grateful for people who find it natural to talk about faith and invite friends to church.  Yet I'm equally grateful for fellow pilgrims, perhaps introverts like me, who quietly yet faithfully seek to 'live out' faith among their families and friends.

I'm sure this report isn't intended to stop us talking about faith, rather it just recognises that 'mission' is so much bigger than simply 'one beggar telling another beggar where to buy bread'.  Faith sharing is surely living ones life alongside others in such a way that the presence that hopefully energises and motivates me becomes an integral part of my character and may, or may not, 'touch' others around me.  Surely it's not enough to simply 'gossip the gospel' - instead shouldn't we be striving to 'live the gospel'.

Best wishes,

Ian

Friday, 6 November 2015

I'm forever blowing bubbles.....

Yesterday I called in at the Sycamore Club - a group held at our church but 'staffed' by a collection wonderful ecumenical volunteers. This group has been running since 1978 and here's how it described on our website:

The aim of the Sycamore Club is twofold:
1. To aid older people with mental health problems by providing genuine care and stimulating activities one day per week
2. To offer relief to the families and neighbours who care for these individuals in the community

Well I was so inspired and impressed by what I saw yesterday.  I entered a room of 'members and volunteers just about to do some armchair arobics - of course I was invited to join in!  There was so much laughter as we did our exercises and even more when this activity was followed up by twenty minutes of singing.  The lady next to me was so enthusiastic as we sang 'Oh I do like to be beside the seaside' - it was lovely to sit next to her and just sense how much she was enjoying the company and stimulation of this weekly gathering.  One very moving moment was as we sang 'I'm forever blowing bubbles' - as two helpers went around the room gently blowing bubbles on those of us who were seated.  As these beautiful shiny spheres fell to the ground people smiled as we all tried to catch one.

The Sycamore Club is surely a double blessing in that it not only provides a day of companionship and activity for older folk who are now struggling mentally - but in doing so it also gives their faithful carers some free time - time to rest, shop or meet with others - precious time to recharge their batteries ready to receive their loved one back home at the end of the day.

Yesterday it was humbling to see the willingness of the volunteers who do so much to make the Sycamore Club such a positive place to be - their gentle care and compassion is exemplary - and it's wonderful that this is offered by a real mix of people from different churches in Amersham

There are times as a minister when I feel my church 'teaches' me valuable lessons and yesterday was such a day as I saw Christian love in action and thanked God that I belong to such a caring and compassionate community.

With best wishes,


Ian






Sunday, 1 November 2015

For all the Saints

Happy All Saints Day!  Or as Shakespeare would have possibly called it 'Hallowmass'

As it was November 1st we sang W.W.How's hymn 'For All The Saints' in church this morning to what has been described as one of the finest hymn tunes of the 20th century, Sine Nomine by Vaughan Williams.

This festival helps us make that connection between the Church Militant (us here on earth) and the Church Triumphant (those already in God's nearer presence).

Having taken the funeral of a dear friend just last Monday in Malvern I couldn't help but think of him as we sang this morning.

Today - on one of the warmest and sunniest November days ever recorded it feels right, as we enter the year's end, to remember folk we have loved who are no longer with us.

Yet in a sense they do stay with us - in our hearts and minds and in our gratitude.

I recall with particular affection my maternal grandmother.  On the very last time I saw her just hours before she died, she looked me in the eyes and managed to mouth the words 'Thank You' to me - that sad yet immensely beautiful encounter remains one of my most precious memories.

I confess I love How's hymn - he originally wrote no less that eleven verses - most hymn books cut it down to seven at most.  Here are three of them:

O blest communion, fellowship divine,
we feebly struggle, they in glory shine,
yet all are yours and all in praise combine.
Alleluia

The golden evening brightens in the west:
soon, soon to faithful warriers comes their rest,
the peaceful calm of paradise the blessed.
Alleluia

From earth's wide bounds, from dawn to setting sun,
through heaven's gates to God the three in one
they come, to sing the song on earth begun.
Alleluia


So may memories of the saints make your heart glad during this season of All Hallows.



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