Thursday, 30 November 2017

An Alternative Advent Blessing

I met two groups of people yesterday and, on both occasions, we ended up talking (and despairing) about the challenges of the next four weeks and the fraught planning of our family Christmas arrangements.

Don’t get me wrong, we normally have a really good time when it arrives, it’s the ‘build up’ that freaks me out.  I find it so oppressive.

In that respect I love the balance that a Church Advent brings.  We don’t sing carols until the week before Christmas and we linger with the rather stern lectionary themes rather than rushing into Christmas four weeks early.

So here’s an alternative Advent Blessing for those of us who find this one of the most challenging seasons of the year:

May God go with you as we enter into the craziness of these next four weeks.

May he gives us wisdom as we try to please too many friends and relatives as we make our arrangements.

May he stop us from being grumpy whenever we hear the song: It’s the most wonderful time of the year!

May he grant us the grace to be thankful for the twentieth mince pie and may we eat it as if it was our first and we actually liked them!

May he enter into this Advent so that we think deeply about its themes of judgement, the prophets, John the Baptist and Mary.

May we catch a glimpse of the wonder of light piercing the darkness and reflect on that message of hope that truly brings transformation into our lives.

May God turn our Advent from a shopping fest into a prayerful fast – as we spend more time contemplating and sitting still rather than rushing around doing too much, and doing it badly.

And when all our good intentions get swallowed up in other people’s agendas – may we still be surprised by the touch of God upon our lives during the next four weeks.

And remind us, O Lord, that it wasn’t so very different the first time round: relations who couldn’t give Joseph a bed for the night, a town as crowded as Oxford Street with census visitors, and plans that  went so wrong that come the moment it was an emergency delivery in a stable.

So, perhaps the madness of this season isn’t so far from the truth of it all anyway!


Friday, 24 November 2017

The Poetry of Prayer

I think ‘prayer’ is a beautiful mystery. 

Over the last few weeks in Amersham we have been planning a Week of Accompanied Prayer for next spring.  It will be an opportunity for folk to have the ‘gift’ of a week prayerfully looking at scripture ‘alongside’ a guide and companion.

On Wednesday this week a number of friends gathered at AFC, from various churches in our district, who lead services week by week.  We explored together the constituent parts of our weekly worship and everyone was asked to name the three most important aspects of a service for them.  Time and again folk spoke of the importance of thoughtful led prayer.

Every week we print some Prayer Meditations on the back of our notice sheet and a recent one came from the pen of Jane Upchurch – here is part of it:

Believing in God is not
wearing rose-tinted glasses;
an easy option;
a certainty to silence questions;
a way of avoiding pain.

Believing in God is
recognising horror and choosing to forgive;
facing the music and choosing to dance;
feeling hurt and choosing to love;
being uncertain and choosing to trust;
knowing the downside and choosing life.

Now, as the person who often preaches the sermon, I have to say that sometimes the most important message I get from the service comes from these prayers on the weekly sheet (and not through my sermons!!) – and surely Jane Upchurch’s words are profoundly challenging and encouraging.

Once, when we were having a bit of a tricky health issue in our family, a lady at church passed me in the corridor, smiled and said: Just want you to know we are praying for you. 

I cannot tell you how much that meant to me and the difference it made to my day.

I thank God for both the mystery and poetry of prayer.

Saturday, 18 November 2017

Laying foundations

I’ve spent part of this week in Devon, just outside Torquay, at Brunel Manor attending the annual Convocation of The Order of Baptist Ministry to which I belong.

This splendid manor house in which we stayed was designed by that great and prolific Victorian engineer, Isambard Kingdom Brunel.  It was to be his family home; a wonderful gothic pile perched majestically above Torquay.

Yet he lived only long enough to see the foundations laid before dying, leaving the final construction to others.

That all felt rather poignant on Thursday as we gathered for Morning Prayer and as a group tried out a new liturgy for the season of All Saints.  During the prayer time we were invited to name out loud someone from our past who helped lay the foundations of our faith.  I named Donald MacKenzie, my senior minister from the church in which as I served as assistant minister, he was a great mentor during those first five years after ordination.

That moment, hearing nothing but names, yet recognising that to everyone who spoke them these names meant the world, was deeply touching.

Tomorrow at Amersham we’ll be commissioning our Junior Church Teachers for another year of Christian service and I’m sure part of their ministry is to help lay a foundation for our children upon which faith can be built.  It’s an important task and we give thanks to God for those who have done it in our own lives.

Wednesday, 8 November 2017

Who is up there?!

We were in Lisbon over half term and enjoyed glorious sunny days throughout our visit.

The city has many squares, almost all with statues in the centre.  One, particularly caught my eye, opposite the railway station.

It was a bit like Trafalgar Square with a huge column at its centre and upon the top, so the inscription said below, was King Pedro IV of Portugal. Or is it?!

The story goes that at the time this column was being erected, a bronze cast of Maximillian of Mexico, by a French sculptor, was in Lisbon en route to South America.  This brief sojourn in its passage happened at exactly the moment when, back home, Maximillian was overthrown and instantly the cast, of the now deposed King, was redundant.

The shrewd city fathers of Lisbon saw an opportunity here.  They cancelled the order for a cast of Pedro IV, bought the one of Maximillian and put that on top of the column instead.  Their rationale?  They thought the two looked rather similar, it would cost less, and hey, only the pigeons would spot the difference!!!

Who knows if this is anything other than a good story – but I love it anyway!

All of us, I suspect, have occasional admired someone a little too much, put them on a pedestal they didn’t deserve and then later we have discovered their ‘feet of clay’.

This weekend, as we recall the horror of war and all that has taken us there in days gone by, many of the reasons behind conflict has been the willingness of large numbers of people to follow and give credence to the wrong leaders.

Human nature seems to crave heroes – just a walk around central London shows us how much we also love immortalising them in statues. 

Maximillian or Pedro?  Just a reminder to us of the danger of putting the wrong people on pedestals.



Thursday, 2 November 2017

Mind the gap!

Last week we spent half term in Portugal where the summer seems to be going on forever!  It was 30 degrees in Lisbon when we left on Saturday, 12 degrees here when we got off the plane at Luton!!

Somewhere, as we flew across France, we were ‘in transition’!

It feels a bit like that every time I walk out the door.  The apples are now all off the trees in the front garden and the acer leaves round the back have now turned golden or red.  There is a definite smell of autumn in the air because during these early November days nature is in transition too, moving us on to a new season.

Yet it feels a bit like we are still ‘in between’.  Some days the sun is strong and I wondered why I put on such a thick coat.  Yet earlier this week I was thankful for the gloves I found in my pocket and put them on for the first time since last April!

We all have to live the ‘gaps’ between things.

This weekend the lectionary readings include the Beatitudes and those words about the gentle inheriting the earth or the hungry being satisfied come across as ‘aspirational’.  It’s a new way of seeing things and it belongs to God’s Kingdom.  We live in days when the merciful are not always shown mercy and when a bereaved person may not feel fully comforted. 

We live in the gap between life as it is and life as it will be.

Yet, the gap is a good place to be!  It helps us cope with the here and now because we have a hope and a sense of goodness that is still before us.  We are not people who believe we are walking towards desolation.  Something of the ‘coming kingdom’ breaks into our present reality and gives us the ‘blessedness’ of which Matthew 5 speaks.

Rather than ‘minding the gap', I believe we can rejoice in it!

O Magnum Mysterium - and no, it's not an ice-cream!

An old hymn we sometimes sing in church has the line, ‘tis mystery all…’  I wonder if that really describes faith? For me, much of Chris...