A New Frame of Mind – some sermon notes for Easter 5A

Keep calm 2

Sermon notes for Easter 5A for St Thomas’ Ellesmere Port & St Lawrence Stoak

We often hear the angels say “do not be afraid”. Jesus takes up their heavenly strain. He says “Do not let your hearts be troubled”. It’s as if the whole heavenly host are trying to strengthen us and encourage us.

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my father’s house are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?”

The many dwelling places are places made ready for us to live in, places for us to dwell, abiding places, where we may be where Jesus is.

It is such a well known passage that some of us might know it by heart (it’s certainly good that we should take it to heart). It’s a passage which is often used at funerals – and that has had the effect that apply the passage to our post-mortem state. But what if this isn’t about when we die but is more about where we live?

Jesus is on the way to Jerusalem, on the way to crucifixion and resurrection. That is the preparation of a place for us – and it’s a place which is opened up for us in life, not just in our death.

Suddenly we are given a choice. Jesus is saying to us “your place or mine?” – the choice is between the place in which our hearts are troubled, and the place opened up for us by Jesus where we can be where he is. There is another space, another place for us to live.

Have any of you seen the sculptures by Anthony Gormley at Crosby? It’s called Another Place. It is interesting how the mood of the sculptures changes with different circumstances. Here is the calm – a warm day, just right for a paddle. There are other days, when the tide is high, when the sea is stormy, when these sculptures look like they are drowning, clinging to life.

Put a fence in front of them and the mood becomes very sinister, particularly as the fence divides us from them. They look like prisoners. Are they enemies? Is there a reason we need to be kept safe from them?

My point here is that we have another place – a dwelling place which Jesus has prepared for us where we may be also, day to day in which our hearts would otherwise be troubled.

This has come home to me only recently. I was asked to do a funeral. The person who had died had a really difficult life in which he had suffered from severe mental illness from an early age but had hidden it from everyone except his closest family. His children had to keep the secret. Neither parent could work. They were too proud to claim their rightful benefits …. You can perhaps imagine the very mixed emotions of the family when he died.

They chose the passage we have read this morning for the funeral, presumably for the hope they had for their father. But what if Jesus hasn’t just prepared a place for those who have died, but also for those who grieve? And not just as a consolation in terms of “there is a place in heaven” but in the sense that a new space is opened for us to move into in which we find a more compassionate understanding, a kinder understanding, a gentler understanding, a place generous and forgiving in which we can see our troubles in a new light.

This is a space prepared for those whose hearts are troubled. Those not knowing how to make ends meet. Those who don’t know where to turn. Those who are overwhelmed. Those who know their need of God and a world of his making.

We have a choice. We can let our hearts be troubled, or we can accept Jesus’ invitation and the Spirit’s urging to that other space – the space prepared for us.

This is a space we move into in prayer, or retreat, or moments that just open up for us in which we experience the strengthening and encouragement of God. Prayer and discipleship is how we inhabit the space Jesus has prepared for us.

Our reading from Acts (Acts 7:55-60) describes the stoning of Stephen, the first Christian martyr.

StephenThe Tiffany window showing the Stoning of Stephen focuses on Stephen’s appearance. His face is shining. That is what those looking at Stephen noticed. “They saw that his face was like the face of an angel.” (Acts 6:15)

I would like us to take this in for a moment. This is what happens when we move away from the space that brings trouble to our hearts into that space where we see our troubles in a new light. One of our prayers this week was (the Collect for Julian of Norwich)

Most holy God, the ground of our beseeching, grant that as we are created in your nature and restored by your grace, our wills may be so made one with yours that we may come to see you face to face and gaze on you for ever.  Amen.

A person who survived Auschwitz, Viktor Frankl, has this to say:

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

He remembers: “We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread”. 

They made their choice in that misery, to not let their hearts become selfish, but to live charitably, even to their last piece of bread.

We also have a choice for the time being. We can choose one place or another. We can choose the place prepared for us by Jesus, or the place that is so troubling. It is the same life.  We don’t escape the troubles. After all, Stephen was stoned to death and Jesus suffered on the cross.

But there is a space that is opened for us to live with a different frame of mind, a different choice of attitude, that chooses to trust the one who doesn’t want our hearts to be troubled. It is on that that we need to dwell.

PS If you’ve read so far (thank you) you might be interested in this Blessing of Many Rooms by Jan Richardson

Opening Advent Doors

advent-door

Advent is a time for praying for the coming of Emmanuel, that God may be with us, and for each of the evenings of the week before Christmas there is an “O” antiphon. Each of the seven antiphons is prefaced by “O” and addressed to the Messiah according to the names for him found in Isaiah. The “O” expresses our longing. The seven antiphons are addressed to Wisdom, Lord, Root of Jesse, Key of David, Dayspring, King and Emmanuel.

Doors are very much a theme of Advent. Doors are both barriers and openings. We open a “door” a day on our Advent calendar to signify our willingness to open our hearts to the coming of Christ. Many decorate their front doors in a way that invites the stranger, in a way that begs to be opened (as in the door of one of our neighbours pictured above). Some doors are hard to shift and many are locked behind them.

Malcolm Guite has written a beautiful poem in response to the O Clavis antiphon (based on Isaiah 22:22):

O Key of David and sceptre of the House of Israel;
you open and no one can shut;
you shut and no one can open:
Come and lead the prisoners from the prison house,
those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.

This is Malcolm’s response (which is set in a beautiful image by Linda Richardson):

Even in the darkness where I sit
And huddle in the midst of misery
I can remember freedom, but forget
That every lock must answer to a key,
That each dark clasp, sharp and intricate,
Must find a counter-clasp to meet its guard,
Particular, exact and intimate,
The clutch and catch that meshes with its ward.
I cry out for the key I threw away
That turned and over turned with certain touch
And with the lovely lifting of a latch
Opened my darkness to the light of day.
O come again, come quickly, set me free
Cut to the quick to fit, the master key.

The poem senses despair but also senses freedom, if only we could find “the key  I threw away”, that “turned and over turned with certain touch and … opened my darkness to the light of day”. I love the sense of freedom because “every lock must answer to its key” and “each dark clasp … must find a counter-clasp to meet its guard”.

There are so many locks to spring. Back in the 14th century, Hafiz wrote about the sort of people who lock others up, and the sort of people who work in the darkness to set people free. They “drop keys all night long”:

The small person
builds cages for everyone
he
sees.

Instead, the sage,
who needs to duck his head,
when the moon is low
can be found dropping keys, all night long
for the beautiful
rowdy,
prisoners.

What are the cages, catches, vices, locks and blocks that bind us? What needs to be undone for peace to be declared on earth?

You may be interested in the Jesus Doors by Cheshire artist Ali Hutchison and the Advent Haikus Jim Bridgman has written for every day of Advent as part of his blog which is Really Nothing but which is in fact, quite something. You might also be interested in The Advent Door by Jan Richardson.

Holiday plans – some sermon notes for St Nicholas, Burton – Proper 11B/Ordinary 16B/Trinity 7

July 19th 2015  – some notes for sermon for St Nicholas, Burton

Proper 11B/Ordinary 16B/Trinity 7.

There is only one reading: Mark 6:30-34, 53-56 (In my mind is the verse from Psalm 127, Unless the LORD builds the house, They labor in vain who build it; Unless the LORD guards the city, The watchman keeps awake in vain.) The other readings which could have been used are about God’s building (he doesn’t want David to build him a house, he wants to do the building for David – and all his house)

I thought we would plan some holiday this morning.

The run for the sun has begun – I think most schools finished on Friday. I distracted a boy when I was walking our dog the other morning. The boy was riding his bike to school. His trousers caught in the chain. I noticed he’d ripped them and asked if he would be in trouble. He said “no, it’s only another 3 days”.

Muslims have been holidaying this weekend. The sighting of the new moon heralded EID, marking the end of Ramadan.

It is time to be thinking of holidays.

First Choice and Thomas Cook could have lifted a verse from today’s gospel to sell us their holidays. “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while”.

Do you ever catch yourself saying “I haven’t got time for this that or the other”? I suspect that as long as we are saying that we need to be hearing those words that Jesus spoke to his disciples – and what a week they’d had! EXPLAIN

We talk about “time poverty”, where we struggle to fit in all that we are committed to – work, family, interests – and with holidays we find time.

For the disciples, the rest time they are given is a gift of Jesus – it’s how God cares for his people, then (after all they had been doing) and now (with all our business).

“Come to me, all you who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”

Sabbath

For one rabbi (Heschel), the Bible is more concerned with time than with space (history more than geography. It’s the time of rest that is more important than the place of rest.

For this rabbi, the Sabbath is a spirit that is lonely and that comes looking for us.

Let it come, I say. It’s not so much that we long for rest, as rest longs for us.

Heschel writes

  • that unless we learn how to relish the taste of rest we will be unable to enjoy the taste of eternity in the world to come.
  • that the world’s survival depends on the holiness of the 7th day. The task is how to convert time into eternity, how to fill our time with spirit.
  • “Six days we wrestle with the world. ringing profit from the earth: on the Sabbath we especially care for the seed of eternity planted in the soul. The world has our hands, but our soul belongs to Someone Else.”
  • that the Sabbaths are our great cathedrals – time that is our own, for us to walk around in

….. days of rest that are holidays that can make holy days ….

Letting Go and Letting Come

I don’t know about you, but my best ideas happen when I’m not working. It’s when I’m in the shower, or out walking, or just waking, or suddenly hearing or seeing. It’s when I’m not trying – it’s when I’ve let all that busyness go. And isn’t that ironic? It’s when we let go of our work, when we put down our clever, when we are off guard – that suddenly we realise – and we use words like “the idea came to me” – we aren’t doing anything, and the idea just came to me. This is what I have to do. This is how I have to be. This is what life is all about – it’s just come to me.

We need to sleep on things.

We have to let go …… to let come

It’s at holiday that we let go, and that we let come those things which transform the way we look at life and the way we live our life.

And so we should pray for those on holiday, for those planning a holiday, that those things which come to them do transform their lives, and that when the holiday ends it’s not a case of busyness as usual.

And we should pray for those who aren’t able to holiday, who can’t see their way to having a holiday – because they don’t think they can afford one, either because they haven’t got the time, or because they haven’t got the money. What should we pray for them? That they do find rest, that they do know that God wants them to rest, that he wants them to have holy days to sanctify their other days.

There is a quote that I love to repeat:

The world longs for the generosity of a well rested people (Wayne Muller)

Things come to well rested people. If rest is the ministry of God to us, it is not much of a stretch to think that those things that come to well rested people are what Paul describes as the fruits of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self control (Gal 5:22f)

I dare say that they don’t come to those who don’t rest – because they haven’t let go to let come those gifts that so transform ourselves, relationships and society.

I also dare say that the contrasting works of the flesh (as listed by Paul – Gal 5) are seen as a result of an absence of rest. Check that out from your own experience and behaviour as I read through some from the list:  impurity, envy, drunkenness, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, factions.

I mentioned Ramadan earlier – I think it is worth us understanding more about Ramadan. Ramadan is a rest that Muslims plan for and look forward to – in spite of the rigorous disciplines that last for a month. Ramadan is a gift from God, a time of prayer, fasting and learning scripture. The intention is that they accept God’s gift, and that they learn and change as a result.

Our own gospel reading, inadvertently I think, gives us a clue about what rest does. It had been busy, and it goes on to be busy doesn’t it? They thought they’d escaped the crowds, but the crowds catch them up. But there is no compassion fatigue in Jesus. He doesn’t wince of flinch when he sees the great crowd. He has the generosity of a well rested man – who draws breath, who lets himself be wrapped in God’s sending love – of whom the evangelist is able to say “he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd: and he began to teach them many things.”

The world longs for the generosity of a well rested people.

How can we help ourselves to rest? How can we encourage each other to find the rest that we need, and that those around us need us to have? This is holiday planning.

In rest, we discover what God is building. It’s a rather different market place than the ones that have been constructed by ourselves – that are for those with money (look at London). In the gospel, the tables are turned – the sick are laid in the market place – the poor, the needy ……..

Blessing of Rest (this is how God cares for his people – “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.”

Curl this blessing
beneath your head
for a pillow.
Wrap it about yourself
for a blanket.
Lay it across your eyes
and for this moment
cease thinking about
what comes next,
what you will do
when you rise.

Let this blessing
gather itself to you
like the stillness
that descends
between your heartbeats,
the silence that comes
so briefly
but with a constancy
on which
your life depends.

Settle yourself
into the quiet
this blessing brings,
the hand it lays
upon your brow
the whispered word
it breathes into
your ear
telling you
all shall be well
all shall be well
and you can rest
now.

Jan Richardson: The Painted Prayerbook

Achers of space – sermon notes for Easter 2

Into the wound
Easter 2B – Bromborough
Text – John 20:19-31

Jesus said: “In my house there are many rooms” (John 14:2). That is a mark of his hospitality. It’s the sort of thing that any good host will say to his/her guest. “We’ve got loads of room. We can easily make up a bed.” Good hosts say these things because they want their guests to feel at home – they want their guests to stay with them – they look forward to their company.

As Christians we love what Jesus said. We draw strength from the generous hospitality which says “In my house there are many rooms” – we want to dwell in that house where there is so much room and where there are so many openings.

Today’s Easter gospel is set in one room in which there are an abundance of openings – too many for us to get our heads round.

There’s

  • The opening of the door
  • The opening of Jesus’ mouth
  • The opening of Jesus’ hands and side

Each of them begs for an opening up of ourselves.

In Jesus there is so much opportunity for openings and the resurrection begs of us a reformed hospitality within ourselves. An RSVP is called for from each of us.

A little about each of the openings – the openings could well be a whole sermon series – but today a little on each.

Opening the door

The opening of the door –  the disciples had locked themselves in because they were afraid. And Jesus stands amongst them. How did that happen? The open door is a powerful Christian image because of this resurrection appearance.

I have fought a couple of battles in parish ministry. One was about church keys (and who should hold them) and the other was about trying to keep the church open. Like the disciples in today’s gospel the two churches were afraid – they wanted to lock themselves in because they were afraid of their communities.

I don’t know whether you keep this church open. I hope you do. And if you don’t, I hope that you give it some thought allowing Jesus’ words to those first disciples to ring in your ears. “Do not be afraid.” Just imagine the signage – “this church is open” (and all the ambiguity of such a sign!)

There are many metaphorical rooms that we retreat to – in fear, in shame. This gospel story is told time and again to encourage us to open up, to not be so afraid, to not be so ashamed – to let the spaces we move in reverberate to the sound of Jesus’ words.

RSVP

And that takes us to another opening.

Opening his mouth

Jesus’s opening words were “Peace be with you” . Three times in this short passage Jesus greets the disciples with “Peace be with you”. To his anxious and frightened friends he says “peace be with you”. We repeat those words in our greetings in the Peace. “The peace of the Lord be always with you”. (Always try to exchange the peace with at least three people to remember this Easter exchange that we celebrate this morning).

John doesn’t just say that Jesus spoke to his friends. He also tells us that he breathed on them. When he breathed on them they received the Holy Spirit. “The Lord is here. His Spirit is with us.”

Some ancient liturgies included a mouth to mouth kiss as part of the Peace to pass the breath of the Spirit, the breath of the post-resurrection meeting room  – a recall of the intimacy of that meeting with the risen Jesus. (See here.)

And what does that make of our hospitality?

RSVP

The third opening is that demanded by Thomas, doubting Thomas, Thomas the scientist who wouldn’t believe without seeing the evidence. Thomas said “I won’t believe until I see the mark of the nails in his hands, put my finger in the mark of the nails, and my hand in his side.” And Jesus showed Thomas the nail wounds in his hands, and the spear wound in his side.

I have copied a picture of the wounded side (pictured above) by Jan Richardson from her Painted Prayerbook. It is called “Into the Wound” and I offer it as an invitation for your prayer and wonder. I see it as a tear, as an opening, as a doorway.

Medieval artists gave great attention to Jesus’ wounds. They were often the subject of their art. Such attention for us seems gruesome – but we might be missing an opening.

Eamon Duffy, writing in 15th/16th century England: “the wounds of Christ are the sufferings of the poor, the outcast, and the unfortunate” – according to which acts of charity (foodbanks, nursing, hospitality) become a tending of the living, wounded, corporate body of Christ.

The wound is on his side. Maybe those of us who are on his side can see our own wounds in the wound of Jesus (the ones we’ve inflicted and the ones inflicted on us). Is there an invitation on this door? Is Jesus inviting Thomas, the disciples and all those on his side into the wound, to feel around the space, to know the love, to know the other side?

And is there a reciprocal arrangement, whereby we don’t hide our wounds but invite others into our hurting world so that we might find wholeness and healing? Jesus stands at the door and knocks. If his wound is our way into him, are our wounds his doorway to us?

This is what Jan Richardson writes:

“In wearing his wounds—even in his resurrection—he confronts us with our own and calls us to move through them into new life.

The crucified Christ challenges us to discern how our wounds will serve as doorways that lead us through our own pain and into a deeper relationship with the wounded world and with the Christ who is about the business of resurrection, for whom the wounds did not have the final word.

As Thomas reaches toward Christ, as he places his hand within the wound that Christ still bears, he is not merely grasping for concrete proof of the resurrection. He is entering into the very mystery of Christ, crossing into a new world that even now he can hardly see yet dares to move toward with the courage he has previously displayed.”

Thomas’s RSVP was “My Lord and my God” – his mind blown open, he believed.

Belief in resurrection is often thought of as a rational process. That is how Thomas approached it. But belief isn’t only about our heads. Belief isn’t a rational response but an emotional one. Belief comes from the German word which gives us beloved. “Belief” is “belove” – a believing disciple is a beloving and beloved disciple. When Thomas believes he doesn’t just open his mind, he  opens his mouth (as RSVP), his heart and his very gut where all our anxiety and fear find their home.

Jesus opens the room, he opens his mouth, he opens his wounds. We are invited through these open doorways, into a new life that without this gospel would be unimaginable.

Please RSVP.

The image Into the Wound is copyrighted to Jan Richardson and is used with permission – www.janrichardson.com

In our all together

LondonClubDressCode bordercropped

What shall I wear?

It’s a question that never crossed my mind when I turned up to a fancy dress party in plain clothes. Embarassing. It seems to be a question that never crossed the mind of the guest who was caught out at the wedding (Matthew 22:1-14).

He could have argued back. Jesus had, after all, told people not to worry about what to wear (Matthew 6:31), but there he was just tipping his head towards Eden where the boy and girl were unashamed by being in the all-together (Genesis 2:25). At the other bookend (Revelation 21:2) we are shown what we’ll look like when all-together we are got ready by God. “And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride for her husband.”

There is a dressing down for those who worry about what they wear, and those who aren’t ready in time. Jesus reminds us that God clothes us. The guest who hadn’t dressed properly wasn’t clothed in righteousness.

There are various dressing prayers. David Adam has a dresing prayer based on St Patrick’s Breastplate. And Jan Richardson has this blessing in her Painted Prayerbook:

In your mercy
clothe me

in your protection
cloak me

in your care
enfold me

in your grace
array me.

With your justice
dress me

for your labor
garb me

by your love
envelop me

and fit me
for your work.

Photo by Paul Vlaar (http://www.neep.net/photo/london/show.php?12881) [CC-BY-SA-2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Love on the rocks

Heartwarming: Nice beach
Heartwarming on Nice beach

I couldn’t resist taking this photo when on Nice beach for St Valentine’s Day ’12. I don’t know the woman. She never noticed me taking the photo and my lovely wife was sunbathing further along the beach.

St Valentine’s Day was perhaps popularised by Geoffrey Chaucer in the late 14th century, though, according to this blog post, the Valentine’s Day may refer to May 3rd, the feast day of the wrong Valentine, Valentine of Genoa. Legend has it that Valentine, Bishop of Rome, was imprisoned and executed for performing weddings for soldiers (they were forbidden) and for ministering to Christians (they were persecuted). While in prison he is supposed to have healed the jailer’s daughter, and gave a letter to her on the day he was executed signed with “Your Valentine”. He is said to have given heart shapes cut from parchment to the soldiers to remind them of their loves and vows.

The heart is used as a measure for our dealings with one another. The measure isn’t beats per minute, but a blood-red thermometer with hard-heartedness being the coldest, and the soft-hearted being at the top of the human scale.

Many live with the dire consequences of hard-heartedness. There is an ancient promise for the sake of the loveless victims of hard-heartedness in which God promises a heart transplant. The people will have a change of heart when their heart of stone will be replaced by a “heart of flesh”. “A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” (Ezekiel 36:26)

Hearts of stone can never be broken. They have to be removed. The transplants don’t come with any guarantees. They are soft. They are made to be responsive to the feelings of others. They are made to be sensitive. They are made for moving. They are made for love. They are made to be broken. (There is a beautiful Blessing for the Broken-hearted by Jan Richardson)

Too many of us have been hurt, and too many of us have heeded the advice “don’t be soft”. We can become hard to know and we can be hard on others. Our responsiveness, flexibility and ability to change can be non-existent. We stop listening and we stop learning. Our cause isn’t lost in that condition. Many hearts have been changed though history by tender hearted care and by brave hearts such as Nelson Mandela. The sexualisation of Valentine’s Day may prevent us remembering all those people and moments that might have heartened us. But the extent to which we have been touched  and softened by them will affect our loveliness and our eagerness to be a true lover.

A friend who was a high school teacher was a real advocate of the “unlovely” young people. She said that they had been hardened into it, and that “they’d be lovely if they were loved”.

A resolution: notes for a sermon for the 2nd Sunday of Christmas

Notes for a sermon for January 5th 2014 at St Alban’s, OffertonJohn 1:1-18

Note: this is the first time some of the congregation will have seen each other this new year.
Ask about resolutions made? (And broken) Find some out.
And ask for people to pray for each other that they might keep their resolve.

Mine is to “notice more” and to “welcome each day”.

It’s never too late to make a resolution.
We don’t reserve resolutions for New Year’s Eve do we?
Making resolutions is an everyday activity. Each year has its critical moments during which we make resolutions. (And we should be helping each other to keep those resolutions for as long as they need to be kept).

I have been wondering what a congregational resolution might look like.

Many of our resolutions are money oriented aren’t they, like “making ends meet”. I am sure that many of you make such resolutions, and I am sure that many of your PCC resolutions are along those lines. You might also have resolutions in place regarding your GAP goals. And you need to help each other to keep those resolutions.

I am wondering whether we would like to make a fresh resolution in the light of this morning’s gospel. The resolution is “let’s see”. Can I explain?

John’s gospel begins in a way that none of the others do.

John doesn’t introduce the themes of his gospel with reference to the nativity of Jesus. Instead, John sets the scene (no pun) by referring to darkness and light.
His point is that the world and our times are overwhelmed in darkness and that Jesus is the light that shines in that darkness.
The light helps us to see even when we are living through dark times.
That’s how John sets the scene for his gospel.
The darkness is so dark that some can’t even see the darkness.
God causes his light to shine in that darkness. That’s the good news.

Having introduced that theme John then goes on to provide examples of specific instances when the light did shine in the darkness, when people saw and realised, when the penny dropped.

That’s why I suggest that a good resolution for you as a congregation is “LET’S SEE” – and I hope that you will pray for one another that you may keep that resolution and that you may help one another to see.

John’s gospel is littered with invitations to come and see.

He said to two of John the Baptist’s disciples, “Come and see”.
You can almost hear them talking to one another, “shall we?”, “shalln’t we?” finally resolving “yes, let’s see.” (1:39)

Philip found Nathanael and urged him to “come and see”.
“Come and see what we have found”. He had found him about whom Moses and the prophets wrote, Jesus, son of Joseph from Nazareth”. (1:46)

And then there was the woman Jesus met at the well at Samaria. She went to the city and called out “come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?” And they left the city with the resolution to go and see. (4:29)

The disciples that Jesus loves (the beloved disciples), according to John, are the ones who accept the invitation – the ones who come to see him as the light, the resurrection and the life.

Our gospel for this morning mentions “seeing”, or, “not seeing” – because of the darkness.

 The word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have beheld/seen his glory. (1:14)

 No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known. (1:18)

 No one had seen God. But Jesus has made him known. We can see God in and through Jesus because he is the very image of God – he is the spit of his father. In Jesus we have the opportunity to see God.

Do you fancy making a resolution this morning to go alongside those others you have made in your lives?
Do you want to see?
In dark times in your relationships, in dark times in your work, in dark times in your families, in dark times in your faith, in dark times as a congregation, in dark times in your health, do you want to see?
At times when you feel trapped, do you want to see a way forward?

We try to cover our darkness don’t we?
We make up a face that hides the cracks.
We give the impression that we know where we’re going.
We smile and present a brave face to the world.
We hide our dark thoughts.
We pretend we are all sunshine and light.

But this does not help us to SEE. We hide our darkness by using artificial light.

If we hide our darkness, if we pretend everything is hunky-dory we are not going to see the true light which God causes to shine among us, through Jesus, through his saints and through one another.
(If we think everything is hunky-dory, we see nothing. We are blind fools).
We have to be honest about our dark times and our dark thoughts.

A lady I know, Jan Richardson, has recently lost her husband.
He died after what should have been fairly routine surgery at the beginning of December.
She is an artist who keeps a blog called the Painted Prayerbook.
Most weeks she produces an image to accompany the Sunday readings and writes a blessing which she posts on her blog.

I’m going to read her latest blessing, written for Epiphany, written in the light (or, rather, the darkness) of her husband’s death, and written in the light of herself being blessed through those who shared their darkness “by entering into days of waiting and nights of long vigil.” It begins with the words that reflect that darkness. “This blessing hardly knows what to say …” It is called:

This Brightness That You Bear
A Blessing for My Family

This blessing
hardly knows what to say,
speechless as it is
not simply
from grief
but from the gratitude
that has come with it—

the thankfulness that sits
among the sorrow
and can barely begin
to tell you
what it means
not to be alone.

This blessing
knows the distances
you crossed
in person
in prayer
to enter into
days of waiting,
nights of long vigil.

It knows the paths
you traveled
to be here
in the dark.

Even in the shadows
this blessing
sees more than it can say
and has simply
come to show you
the light
that you have given

not to return it
to you
not to reflect it
back to you
but only to ask you
to open your eyes
and see
the grace of it,
the gift that shinesin this brightness
that you bear.

Let’s see.

Is that a resolution you want to make in the light of John’s gospel and in the light of Jesus?
Is that something you want to help others do?
Is that something you want to resolve to do as a church and congregation?
Is this a blessing you want to bear in your lives for those who share the darkness with us?

Shall we help one another to see? Is that a resolution worth keeping?

For those being ordained

Man on the beach head

I wanted to write a post for those who are being ordained at Chester Cathedral on Saturday. They are Avril Ravenscroft, Collette Jones, Grant Cohen, Heather Buckley, Heather Pang, Lorraine Reed, Nikki Eastwood, Patches Chabala, Paul Cumming, Rob Wardle, Sandra Langerhuizen, Stephen Callis, Steven Hildreth, Tim Watson and Trevor Legge. They will be preparing for this great event in God’s mission over the next few days. My own priesting was in Sheffield 38 years ago. I have to say that I am as enthralled today as I was then.

People are ordained as a response to vocation. This is a call for and in the church for the enabling of God’s mission. It is a call to the church that is heard within the church, and it is the church which tries to discern who is best to respond to that call and which then goes on to support and equip them. The discernment is concerned with whether the person has the gifts to minister to others given the needs of a situation in the capacity of an ordained minister or whether they are gifted for ministry in another form.

God’s call and his gifts are all God’s ministry to the world and his way of serving the needs of his creation. They are also God’s ministry to us personally. Ordination focuses on God’s ministry in and to his church, and on his ministry to and through us. The joy in this realisation is, for me, personified in the great laughter of Desmond Tutu.

Sadly, for all of us, the pressures and responsibilities can be overwhelming. Worldly pressures, anxiety and fear can be allowed to get the better of us. I joined this morning’s prayer of the church and read what Jesus said to his disciples. “Don’t worry about your life.” (Luke 12:22) I then joined the church’s response based on Psalm 73. “Lord, you will guide me with your counsel and afterwards receive me with glory. For I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand.” (That has to be the left hand for those who are left handed).

This hand in hand counselling reminded me of the consultancy model painted by Charles Margerison as “arm in arm consulting”. There is considerable responsibility in ministry, but that responsibility is not given to us to overwhelm us or weigh us down. It is given in love and for love. Those with heavy burdens are invited to yoke themselves to Christ to make light work, to lighten heavy hands and hearts and to be blessed and blessing. “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30). (Yoke and yoga have the same Sanskrit root denoting union).

Jan Richardson’s If the Yoke Fits would make a wonderful design for stoles or chasubles. The traditional yoked chasuble is a visual reminder of the light work of ordained ministry and God’s ministry to his ministers, ordained and lay.

Here’s the link to the Service of Ordination.

The photo is of one of Gormley’s figures in Another Place on Crosby beach. It is by Lou Murphy.

Lazarus Sunday

israel-125year-old-man-laughing
laughter of a 125 year old Israeli.
Source unknown.

Lazarus’s laughter brought a challenge to yesterday’s sermon (April 10th 2011). “Doesn’t God only laugh at the wicked?” was my tight-lipped challenger’s question.

According to the Lazarus’s post-mortem report I had picked up from Eugene O’Neill’s play, Lazarus LAUGHED. Lazarus had replied to his sisters’ question about what life was like after death by saying that God’s laughter resounded round heaven. Lazarus too in his post-mortem life could only laugh. That is how he came out of the tomb, with laughter welling up from his whole being.

I thought. Maybe God does laugh at the wicked (though I think he probably takes them more seriously than that), but I am sure he laughs along with the righteous (sorry, theological correction – those he has made righteous).

Two points intrigued me with the Lazarus’s story.

Firstly – it’s what’s in a name. Lazarus isn’t a name you hear much about – would his nickname be Laz-y (we often shorten names to the first syllable and then add a “y”). If we pronounce it Lazzy, his friends would be members of the Lazzy band. Lazarus means “God helps”. He’s from a village called Bethany. Bethany means “house of affliction”. So the story of “Lazarus in Bethany” is the story of “God helps in the house of affliction”.

Secondly, Lazarus stands for all of us. Laz ‘R’ Us. We can’t establish Lazarus’s cause of death for his post-mortem report from John’s gospel (11:1-45). But we know what causes ours – pick any from poverty, abuse, disease, anger, anxiety. We all get  bound up with these, with deadlines, with expectations of others. They all suck the life from us. When Jesus called “Lazarus, come out” he is calling us out of our bind, so that we can have post-mortem life. (How that phrase “coming out” has gained new liberative meaning in recent decades!) No longer bound by his ego, no longer with death on the horizon, Lazarus stands for all of us.

God helps Lazar/us in the house of affliction to laughter and life. When Lazarus laughs, he laughs with all who enjoy post-mortem life, whose date of death is not some time in the future, but a moment in the past.

I was struck by the beauty of this Lazarus blessing by Jan Richardson from her beautifully Painted Prayerbook.

The secret
of this blessing
is that it is written
on the back
of what binds you.

To read
this blessing,
you must take hold
of the end
of what
confines you,
must begin to tug
at the edge
of what wraps
you round.

It may take long
and long
for its length
to fall away,
for the words
of this blessing
to unwind
in folds
about your feet.

By then
you will no longer
need them.

By then this blessing
will have pressed itself
into your waking flesh,
will have passed
into your bones,
will have traveled
every vein

until it comes to rest
inside the chambers
of your heart
that beats to
the rhythm
of benediction

and the cadence
of release.

Thomas

Two of our children bear Thomas in their name. Their grandfather was called Thomas. Thomas is highlighted in our Gospel today. What was he doing on this first day of the week when the other disciples were locked in in fear of the people’s anger? Did he not share the anxiety of the other disciples? Did he have more confidence?

Kate Huey, in the linked article, quotes Michael Williams’s comment about Thomas which contrasts with how Thomas is so often portrayed. He writes: “the only one amonmg the disciples who was not do filled with fear that he was unwilling to leave the disciples’ hiding place.” (see this Sunday’s gospel) Kate quotes Gail O’Day’s observation that “one week after the disciples have been visited by the risen jesus and received Jesuis’ peace and the Holy Spirit, they have once again locked themselves away behind closed doors.” Even after seeing the risen Jesus they still don’t live as an Easter people.

So was Thomas the one didn’t want to be locked away? Was he the one who wasn’t frightened? Was he the free spirit? Have we lost the truth by caricaturing him falsely as “the doubter”? And if he is the odd one out of the twelve? What does he have to say about the rest of them, and the rest of us who are similarly inclined to lock ourselves away (metaphorically) because we fear the people. What was Thomas doing?

Jan Richardson in the Painted Prayerbook has a different take on the locked room – the “secret room” as she calls this painting, and she suggests that every pilgrim needs a secret room.

She quotes Phil Cousineau’s The Art of Pilgrimage who writes this:

“Everywhere you go, there is a secret room. To discover it, you must knock on walls, as the detective does in mystery houses, and listen for the echo that protends the secret passage. You must pull books off shelves to see if the library shelf swings open to reveal the hidden room. I’ll say it again, everywhere has a secret room. You must find your own, in a small chapel, a tiny cafe, a quiet park, the home of a new firend, the pew wehere the light strikes the rose window just so. As a pilgrim you must find it or you will never understand the hidden reasons why you really left home.”

Here is sanctuary and indicates the need we all have for “retreat” for all the times when we have a choice of fight or flight and when fighting seems so hopeless. And does Jesus condemn us for locking oursleves away and trying to save our own skin? It appears not. Because to those first Christians locked in fear Jesus came with nothing other than peace. There were no recriminations for them running away or for their betrayal of his trust. All he does when he gets through their defences – past the locked doors is to “offer them greeting and gift” (Kate Huey) – “Peace be with you”.