Tag Archives: Prayer

Salt and Light

You are the salt of the earth... the light of the world

You are the salt of the earth… the light of the world

A fifth Sunday at St James, West End provided the opportunity to come together for evening worship in the style of Taizé. Prayer and silence are at the heart of Taizé worship along with the singing of repeated prayer chants, often highlighting simple phrases from the Psalms or other pieces of scripture, which are designed to help meditation and prayer.

A  candlelit San Damiano Cross, a large Romanesque rood cross, is usually the central focal point and is the cross that St. Francis of Assisi was praying before when he is said to have received the a divine commission to rebuild the Church. St James is lucky enough to have its own copy and was placed in the centre of the chancel steps for our service

Focusing on the San Damiano Cross

Focusing on the San Damiano Cross

What follows is excerpts from the evening service, including a meditation on Salt and Light.

Opening prayer (said together):

God our Father, be with us in our time of worship. When we pray, help us to concentrate our thoughts on you; when we listen to the reading of the Bible, help us to understand it; when we sing your praise help us to sing because we really love you: help us to worship you in spirit and in truth, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.  

Opening Chant:
Confitemini Domino quoniam bonus.
Confitemini Domino. Alleluia!
(Give thanks to the Lord for he is good).

Psalm 27:1-6, 13-14 was read, with a special emphasis on verse 14

Wait for the Lordbe strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!

Before the next chant:

Wait for the Lord, his day is near. Wait for the Lord: be strong, take heart!

Our reading Matthew 4:23 – 5:16 then led us into our meditation, that was in two parts. Firstly concerning salt

13 ‘You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled underfoot.

 ‘You are the salt of the earth!’

Salt, that precious commodity that purifies, preserves and penetrates;
and we are called to be as salt into the world of human society
to purify, preserve, and penetrate that society for the kingdom of God

Who hasn’t felt the tiny flecks of salt on their skin when next to the ocean?
Or maybe you remember the jars packed with salt and green beans at harvest time
to provide a delicious treat in the depths of winter;
or licked your lips and tasted the saltiness after physical exertion?

Silence

Salt – as precious as gold
It paid the Roman soldier his salarium
and indicated your standing in society
as to whether you sat above or below the salt.

Salt – to purify and to heal
A gargle for sore throat, a soother of stings and burns,
a pain reliever for toothache and sore gums
a natural ‘miracle’ medicine

Salt – to preserve and penetrate
Adding flavour and preventing food from spoiling
and saving people from starvation
A symbol of fellowship and the common meal

Yet salt can become contaminated,
often burnt in ovens to increase the heat,
then no longer useful it is thrown out onto the ground
and mixes with the dirt and gets trampled underfoot

Silence

Therefore, God calls us, his precious creation,
to be like salt, to penetrate society
and show in our lives and our dealings with others
how in living differently and seeking purity
that we can bring healing and hope,
both now and for the future through Christ;
and to avoid those things that would contaminate us,
and seek ways of making life liveable, healthy and good

Silence

Taste and see...

Taste and see…

We are also blessed with special receptors on our tongues that can detect saltiness and know when things are good;
so take your pinch of salt, and if you want dip your finger in and taste and see that the Lord is good [small glasses with a pinch of salt had been given out to everyone at the beginning]

Our service continued by singing, as a chant, the chorus from the beautiful anthem ‘Taste and See the Goodness of the Lord’ by James Moore Jr. I am sure we didn’t do it as much justice as the soloist at the Washington National Cathedral*, but it provided a special moment in the midst of our worship.

Taste and see, taste and see the goodness of the Lord.
O taste and see, taste and see the goodness of the Lord, of the Lord.

Then concerning light:

14‘You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

‘You are the light of the world’

Light is vital to enable us to see in the darkness
and to help us to avoid stumbling.
Light is also an expression of inner beauty,
truth and the goodness of God.

Who hasn’t stood under the night sky and gazed up at the infinity of space
and seen the pin pricks of light of a million stars?
Or been awakened by the sunlight creeping in through their curtains;
or come home on a winter’s evening to a darkened house and been grateful to flick on the light?

The psalmists tell us that ‘In [God’s] light we see light’ (Psalm 36:9) and that
‘[His] word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path’ (Psalm 119:105)
Through God’s grace our darkness is illumined and banished
and we are filled with spiritual light, joy and peace.

Silence

Light dispels the darkness and nothing can be hidden;
From others, from ourselves, from God
Everything is known to God, who sees all.
Yet there is great freedom and joy for those
who live in God’s light and who seek his truth.

As believers that light shines in our hearts
and we are called to act as light-bearers of Christ
so that others may see the truth of the gospel
and be set free from those things that blind them

Silence

We should seek to show light and healing in every part of our lives
to every relationship, every activity, every word;
to bring Christ’s light and hope, joy and peace
to those who need it the most;
as well as discovering God’s light shining in unexpected places
revealing his glory.

Silence

glory of god blogSo let us light our candles and place them at the foot of the cross
to better illuminate that glory.

During the following chant, we were invited light a candle and place it in the bowl of sand at the foot of the Taizé cross.

The Lord is my light, my light and salvation: in God I trust, in God I trust

There followed five minutes of silence, introduced by saying together:
Lord, you are living water, You are light and fire, You are love.
Come, O Holy Spirit! Come, O Holy Spirit

Our service concluded with intercessions and a final chant:

Within our darkest night, you kindle the fire that never dies away, that never dies away. (repeat)

 and a final prayer:

Be with us Lord as we go out into the world. May our lips that have sung your praises always speak the truth; may our ears which have heard your word listen only to what is good, and may our lives as well as our worship be always pleasing in your sight, for the glory of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.  

Before we departed, having said the Grace.

There are not many fifth Sundays during the year, so it was nice to be able to be part of something special , something that was beautiful as well as uplifting, exactly what worship should be like.

Salt and light reveal the glory of the Lord

Salt and light revealing the glory of the Lord

*YouTube link to a soloist singing Taste and See The Goodness of the Lord at the Washington National Cathedral © James Moore Jr.  

The Service was put together by David Forster and Linda Galvin using both resources from the Taizé community and original material.

As Our Prayers Rise Before You

As our prayers rise before you

The smoke of the burning incense went up with the prayers of God’s people – Revelation 8:4

Prayer is a powerful tool; it’s a tool that enables us to communicate with God either directly or through the advocacy of Christ, more often than not in the power of the Holy Spirit. If you were to dip your hand into your prayer toolbox you should not be surprised that at different times and in different circumstances you would find a diverse range of tools that you could draw out; yet each one of them would fit your purpose.

Throughout my training I have had opportunities to experience different forms of prayer; from the strict, traditional Prayer Book style to free-flowing extemporary prayer. However, the one constant is the discipline of saying Morning, Evening  and Night Prayer (Compline), although I have to confess that  the first of these has been more faithfully undertaken as against the occasional imperceptible mutterings as I drift off to sleep.

Morning Prayer, like most church liturgy changes with the seasons. There are moments throughout the year when certain phrases cause one to catch your breath or make your heart sing; in fact in Epiphany season I been known to break into song when reading the Jubilate – A Song of Joy; but just about all of them are preceded by an opening prayer that sets the right tone for the day ahead:

The night has passed, and the day lies open before us;
let us pray with one heart and mind.

Silence is kept.

As we rejoice in the gift of this new day,
so may the light of your presence, O God,
set our hearts on fire with love for you;
Amen

prayersrising2 blog

… so may the light of your presence…

Each morning and evening we are also given one or more of the Psalms to read. However, these too are prayers and throughout the Psalms, David and the other writers poured out their hearts to God in prayer, expressing honest feelings of anguish and desperate pleas for protection. They grieved painful confessions of sin, confidently expressed their hope and trust in God, and joyfully lifted praises to God.

In the same way they enable us to give voice to our feelings, whether of despair when we are at a low point in our lives or sheer exuberance at the scope and majesty of creation. They bring us into contact with the ancient people and places of our history – some long-lost civilizations; but they can also speak into current situations.

I suspect that we all have our favourites but for me Psalm 104 ranks high on my list as it sweeps through the beauty of creation; from the heavens spread out like a curtain to the deeps in which the Leviathan play; the springs and brooks that quench the thirst of the wild donkeys to the cypress trees where storks dwell and the conies and wild goats taking refuge on the stony cliffs. How food is brought forth from the earth with wine to gladden hearts, oil to soothe and bread for strength. A true prayer of thanksgiving!

May God hold you in the palm of his hand

Christ, as a light illume and guide me

Sometimes though prayer can be difficult; when we are tempted to ask, ‘Why me?’ So often we seek responses to our prayers in very exact ways, and when they don’t appear to be answered ‘just so’ we may become disillusioned and distrusting. As part of a sermon recently we were asked to look at it in a slightly different way. Instead of asking. ‘Why has this happened to me?’ try removing the ‘Why’. Suddenly it becomes, ‘This has happened to me.’ Now our prayer can be for strength and guidance on how we are going to deal with the situation and thus be able to move forward, even if we need to take it day by day.

Which leads us to the evening of the day, when with that same one heart and mind that we started the day with we ask that the end of the day may be holy, good and peaceful, as our prayers rise before God; before finally, looking for a quiet night and perfect end to our day in a responsory prayer:

In peace we will lie down and sleep:
for you alone, Lord, make us dwell in safety.
Abide with us, Lord Jesus,
for the night is at hand and the day is now past.
As the night watch looks for the morning,
so do we look for you, O Christ.
The Lord bless us and watch over us;
the Lord make his face shine upon us and be gracious to us;
the Lord look kindly on us and give us peace
Amen

 

Heights & Depths blog

And for those who are still out there seeking, this beautiful prayer is taken from Celtic Daily Prayer, Morning Prayer from the Northumbrian Community:

May the peace of the Lord Christ go with you,
wherever He may send you.
May He guide you through the wilderness,
protect you through the storm.
May He bring you home rejoicing
at the wonder He has shown you.
May He bring you home rejoicing
once again into our doors.

Prayer, as I said at the beginning is as different and individual as we are, and whether our prayers are whispered in the dark or shouted from the rooftops, whether they come in fancy words or stuttering sobs, know that each and every one of them is heard. So never feel that your prayer time is wasted or that you don’t have time to pray. Those few precious moments could make all the difference to your day. Amen

Prayers have been reproduced from Daily Prayer ©The Archbishops’ Council 2005 and Celtic Daily Prayer ©2000, 2005 The Northumbria Community Trust

Prayers for Passiontide

They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and after twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on his head

They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and after twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on his head

A weekend away at college brings lots of new insights and learning, and it also gives us time for reflection. In the midst of all the talk about mission and preparing for ministry we entered Holy Week with a day of silence which was to include an area set aside for prayer and contemplation. Several people brought with them some resources to set up separate prayer stations but it is amazing that what might be disjointed individual activities often come together beautifully to make a whole spiritual space. Here are just a few highlights and the ideas behind them.

Making Palm Crosses

They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting, “Hosanna!”  “Blessed is he who comes  in the name of the Lord!” John 12:13

They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting, “Hosanna!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” John 12:13

Making palm crosses is not necessarily easy at the best of times but to have to give instructions without speaking  makes it even more interesting. These were used for the Palm Sunday procession later on in the morning

The station reminded us that Jesus knew he was on his way to the cross when he entered Jerusalem on that first Palm Sunday. Many of those who had been with him and who cheered him that day were soon to fall away, unable to follow his instructions.  Matthew 16:24-25 reminds us that if we want to become followers of Jesus that we are required to deny ourselves and to take up our crosses. We were therefore asked to think whether we were willing to do so.

Kneeling at the foot of the Cross

When I survey the wondrous cross

When I survey the wondrous cross

Kneeling down and looking up at the cross is a powerful image. It was an opportunity to lay down all the things that we had got wrong  and for which we asked forgiveness for.

Before the cross as we thought of these things we could write or draw them in the sand. As the prayer told us:

Know that God forgives you…
Forgive yourself

PS Foot of the Cross Sand Blog

Now smooth out the sand… You are forgiven

 Now smooth out the sand…
You are forgiven

The Stones Cry Out

if these were silent,  the very stones  would cry out.” Luke 19:40

if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.” Luke 19:40

The cheering that accompanied Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem was upsetting the Pharisees and they ordered him to tell his disciples to keep quiet. His response that even if they were silent then the very stones that lined the roadside would cry out

A reminder that we can not keep silent about injustices, and we were invited to think and pray about all those who are suffering at this moment in time and then to place a stone before the cross

The Crown of Thorns

I can do all things through him who strengthens me. Philippians 4:13

I can do all things through him who strengthens me. Philippians 4:13

At the hands of Pilate’s soldiers, Jesus was mocked, spat upon and struck. People of faith often suffer this humiliation at the hands and voices of those who do not understand, who belittle their beliefs and who do so out of hatred; the answer being to respond with love. Jesus predicted that this would happen (Matthew 10:22) but there was reassurance that God would provide the strength necessary to endure this. Lighting a candle was a way of giving thanks for this

I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
Philippians 4:13

 Consider the Lilies

Consider the Lilies - Stanley Spencer

Consider the Lilies – Stanley Spencer

A chance to contemplate one of Stanley Spencer’s beautiful painting that was produced as part of a series entitled Christ in the Wilderness (1939-54). Here we see Christ contemplating not the grand lilies but the humble daisy, whose faces are turned toward the absorbed attention of their creator. The reference is to Matthew 6:25-34 with its reminder of the futility of worrying. (Concept – Jenny Tebboth)

PS consider the lilies + flowers blog

 The Unity Cross and the Tree of Life

PS Unity Cross blog

The Unity Cross

Other things to contemplate were the Unity Cross and the Lindisfarne Scriptorium, Tree of Life. The cross had been especially commissioned  for our opening worship when as individuals we had each taken one of the small piece of coloured glass that were scattered on a table and placed them within the cross to symbolise our unity in Christ. (Concept Jenny Tebboth)

Likewise the drawing of the Tree of Life with Christ at the centre was used as an example of a powerful image for mission in one of the lectures

PS Unity Cross and Tree of Life blog

 Peg Prayers

Pegging out our prayers

Pegging out our prayers

Our own prayers were important as well and we pegged them knowing that God has promised to hear our prayers when we pray to him in faith

Other Prayer Activities

PS Prayer Activities

Also included were other prayer activities which included clockwise from top left above:

  • Poetry Corner – a chance to read and write our own poetry
  • Meditating on Christ on the cross
  • Tasting Scriptures
  • ‘Love Bade Me Welcome’ with its imagery of the Eucharist
  • Lectio Divina
  • Praying for the Nations
  • Stations of the Cross (not pictured)
  • The Potter and the Clay based on Jeremiah 18 (not pictured)

All in all a veritable plethora of activities and images to not only provide breathing spaces in a day of quiet contemplation but to help make us more imaginative in our prayer lives for the future

 And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.”
Matthew 21:22

 

Righteous Anger – A Necessary Emotion

The righteous anger of Jesus, Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Washington DC

Mosaic of Christ in Majesty, Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Washington DC. Often known as ‘The Angry Jesus’

The third Sunday of Lent sees Jesus clearing the temple in Jerusalem. It is one of the few times that we see him displaying such raw emotion as he angrily removes the ‘thieves‘ from his Father’s ‘house of prayerMatthew 21:13. Often we consider anger as a negative emotion but there are undoubtedly times when it is right to be angry. It is how we use that feeling and who we direct that anger to that can be important.

The sermon I delivered this morning reflect some of the nuances that I had heard in an Oxcept Lecture by Diocesan Canon Angela Tilby entitled ‘Fragile Selves: Shame and Healing in an Age of Envy‘ and an informal talk given by Reverend Joseph John from St John’s Cathedral in Peshawar, Pakistan

May I speak and may you hear through the grace of our Lord; Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen

Let’s imagine I am driving down one of the side streets in Hedge End. There is a long row of parked cars on my side of the road, so glancing ahead, as it’s all clear, I pull over onto the other side of the road and start to overtake them. About fifty yards down the road another driver suddenly decides to pull out of their driveway and turn towards me. I can see they are determined to have their right of way. They gesticulate repeatedly that I should reverse back down the road, the whole fifty yards. I in turn glare and gesticulate that it would be easier for them to simply reverse back up their drive, but they are having none of it and start to shout something, which luckily is unheard through the windscreen; and which is also lucky because they can’t hear the words coming from my car either! Eventually, after what seems like several minutes of stalemate, I decide it is easier to simply reverse, and do so rather slowly and erratically as I can feel my heart beating rapidly and tears pricking at the corner of my eyes. The final hand gesture as the other car whooshes past, its driver’s eyes fixed straight ahead, was I feel unnecessary and I have to sit there for a few minutes to regain my composure and let the angry feelings subside.

I knew I’d ‘lost it’, rather like a toddler, kicking and screaming on a supermarket floor, and the whole incident served no real purpose other than to raise my blood pressure and make me feel slightly ashamed. The trouble is that when we ‘lose it’ then our anger, as an emotion, is selfish, destructive, and amoral… However, as Paul tells us in his letter to the Ephesians ‘Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger’, which tells us that anger in itself is not an emotion we should avoid altogether

Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger
Ephesians 4:26

This morning we heard of Jesus’ very vivid and public display of anger and it comes as something of a shock… although not as much of a shock as it must have been for the animal traders and money changers. We much prefer to think of Jesus as meek and mild, gentle and loving, but as with all of his actions, his anger had a purpose.

And it wasn’t the first time he had displayed this emotion. In Capernaum, with the Pharisees waiting to accuse him of breaking the Sabbath by healing the man with a withered hand, ‘He looked around at them with anger; deeply grieved at their hardness of hearts’. Even his own disciples came in for a tongue-lashing occasionally. When Peter rebukes him for foretelling his death and resurrection, Jesus then rebukes Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things’; hardly said with a mild sigh of, ‘Oh Peter, Peter, Peter. Let me explain it one more time’

Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things
Matthew 16:23

When Jesus gets angry he is angry for the right reasons. It is not a selfish anger but focussed on the behaviour and injustice involved. He is not angry about the ‘weaknesses’ of others, but arises out of his concern for their spiritual well-being; they are defiling God’s holiness and in the case of the temple, God’s worship. It does not involve hatred or ill will. He is also fully in control and knew that when he had achieved the desired result of accomplishing God’s will that there was no need to become bitter or to hold grudges

Sometimes we need to become angry about things that are happening around us and in the wider world, at the injustices we see being inflicted on innocent victims, the abuse of children and violence against those who are defenceless, but we need to do so for the same reasons and in the same manner that Jesus has demonstrated. We need to make our voices heard in certain situations where no other voices are speaking up, in other words we need to raise awareness of situations. People are very quick to complain about the church and Christians in general when they ‘poke their noses’ into social situations, but at least it shows we care enough to state an opinion that might upset someone! And we shouldn’t underestimate the effect that holding regular prayer vigils, such the monthly ecumenical world-wide prayers for the Middle East or the annual Women’s World of Prayer can have on bringing issues to a wider audience.

However, should we not be in a position to interact with the public sphere then taking our concerns to God in private can create a safe space in which to express our anger about a situation. As the psalmist points out, ‘With my voice I cry to the Lord; with my voice I make supplication to the Lord. I pour out my complaint before him; I tell my trouble before him’. So there are occasions when we are justified in being angry and there are some things we are justified in being angry about. But what about when we are angry with God? What should we do then?

With my voice I cry to the Lord; with my voice I make supplication to the Lord.
I pour out my complaint before him; I tell my trouble before him
Psalm 142:1-2

Maybe we have to ask ourselves why we are angry with God. We often live our lives believing that life is supposed to be easy and that God should prevent tragedies from happening. When he doesn’t, we get angry with him. Sometimes we forget human involvement, with all its flaws and weaknesses and instead think that God has lost control of his creation and consequently our lives, so we blame God. It’s then that we realise our inability or unwillingness to acknowledge that in fact we are not always in control and that when things happen, it is then we have to trust that God understands the reason and that he will give us his peace and strength to get through any difficult situation. Trusting him in this way is an incredibly hard thing to do… but God is a God of compassion and hope, as well as being full of grace and love.

And God does understand when we get angry through frustration and disappointment. He knows our hearts and he knows how difficult and painful life can be in this world. Perhaps instead of being angry with God, we should pour out our hearts in prayer, and trust that he really is in control and that he already knows how these things fit into his ultimate plan for the world

Recently it was brought home to me how this trusting was more powerful than any acts of anger or retaliation could ever be. The Reverend Joseph John is currently on sabbatical at Cuddesdon College. He is a cathedral vicar at St John’s Cathedral in Peshawar, Pakistan. When Pakistan achieved independence in 1947 a lot of its schools and hospitals were Christian institutions and even after 1956 when it was declared an Islamic Republic, the Christian communities, which now make up only 3% of the population, were successfully integrated as freedom of religion and equal citizenship was guaranteed to all citizens.

However, on the 22nd September 2013 two Taliban suicide bombers killed over 147 of the congregation at All Saints Church, Peshawar; among several of Joseph John’s close relatives. There was a lot to be angry about

Nearly two years later, whilst still seeking justice from the government, the Christians there have a wish is to be recognised and supported as the church that God called them to be. They know that they cannot simply expect God to produce peace, but must pray and work for it. This means listening deeply and trying to understand people who are different and also seeking to resolve differences without conflict and violence. The work that the church undertakes is not exclusively with Christians, in fact 95 percent of those benefitting from their education, development work and health care are Muslims.

They know that it requires courage and humility, and that it often requires sacrifice; but they continue to serve their neighbours, as Joseph John puts it, ‘by washing their wounds’. Their anger has been channelled into seeking justice and continuing to act faithfully because they trust that God is with them in this work and has a plan for all the people of Pakistan, even if they don’t know exactly what it is at this moment in time.

When Jesus speaks of the temple being destroyed and rebuilt in 3 days, those with him are also unable to see the connections to the bigger picture until it is revealed through Christ’s resurrection; then the pieces fell into place. Their knowledge and wisdom is limited to what the human mind tells them is logical. So are we foolish to proclaim Christ crucified, in order to save all who would believe its message? Human wisdom appears weak because it requires proof and concrete knowledge, but God’s wisdom and power dwarfs our understanding and therefore we just have to hand over ourselves to him and trust that eventually that wider vision will be revealed in all its glory. Amen

Concrete things as against those only glimpsed dimly

Concrete things as against those only glimpsed dimly

Trust in the Lord with all your heart;
don’t rely on your own intelligence.
Proverbs 3:5

Running The Race

Run in such a way that you may win the prize

Run in such a way that you may win the prize

Sometimes phrases just seem to get stuck in your head for no apparent reason. Over the last few days it has been a quote from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians:

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run,
but only one receives the prize?
So run that you may obtain it.
1 Corinthians 9:24

For those whose know me well, they would agree that I have a very competitive streak – I play to win. Whether it is board games or quizzes I will look for strategies that will give me an advantage; but that doesn’t mean I cheat. On the contrary, I’m the one checking the rules to ensure that we are playing the game fairly. I suspect that can make me a bit of a pain to those who simply want to play the game for a bit of fun and even worse when I come up against another person whose aim is to do exactly the same. Self-control can sometimes go out of the window and the sulks can follow it!

The fact is that I was brought up to make sure that whatever I chose to do, it should be given the same amount of care and attention, so that you always do it to the best of your ability. As my father used to say, ‘If a thing’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well

The same should be true of our faith life. Over the last few weeks I have been learning and putting into practice new techniques for Christian meditation. I have been learning to control my breathing so that it falls into rhythm with a prayer mantra – Maranatha, Come Lord Jesus – at the same time trying to lay aside the thoughts that immediately fill your mind and run parallel to the prayer, such as ‘I don’t think I’m doing this right, because I’m thinking about the fact that I’m not doing this right!’. It has got better as I’ve practised more, but the problem is not the technique, it’s the discipline to make sure I do it at least once a day that is the hard part and ultimately the most important.

A person can’t watch the Olympics on television and suddenly get up and run a marathon in record-breaking time – It’s more likely that they’ll break themselves. Athletes require discipline to train their bodies so that they can achieve their personal best. In the same way we have to train our hearts and minds to have the strength and control to stay faithful to our beliefs – whether it’s in prayer, meditation, reading the bible or the way we live our everyday lives according to the rules

Being constant and always striving to do your best is never going to be easy, and there will be days when we just want to collapse in a heap by the side of the road and say ‘I give up,’ but failure is not falling down, but staying down. By keeping the prize in mind and reaching for our goals we can force ourselves to get up and carry on so that we might be the eventual winner of the race we have been set.

Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.
1 Corinthians 9:25-27

In the meantime, anyone for a game of Monopoly… but be aware I will be going for hotels on Mayfair and Park Lane!

Competitiveness in a box

Competitiveness in a box

Let’s Talk About Money

Generous Giving

Generous Giving

I was recently asked to preach a sermon on giving. Not that our giving isn’t already generous in so many ways, but from time to time it’s useful to be reminded not only why we need to give as a response to a generous God, but also how we need to respond to requests to review our level of giving. This topic can be quite a tricky one for lots of churches and so I thought it would be good to share a slightly adapted version. The readings that informed these ideas were Deuteronomy 15:1-11; 2 Corinthians 8:1-3, 9:6-12 and Matthew 6:19-34.

May I speak and may you hear through the grace of our Lord; Father, Son and Holy Spirit

Today, on Bible Sunday, as on any day really, we are asked to think carefully about how important the bible is in helping to bring us closer to and to know God better; about his plans for us and for his world and just what our part in those plans might be, as followers of Christ… and it’s important to remember that ALL of us have a part to play.

The passages above all have a common theme running through them – they speak of the generosity of a God who knows no limit to his blessings for us, and they help us see the response that is expected on our part… to be equally generous in our giving, both of ourselves physically and our prosperity materially. So, I could say that I’m not going to ask you to give serious thought as to what and how you give – but quite honestly that would be as blatant a lie as those telephone calls you get from time to time….

‘Hello madam. How are you today…. now don’t worry, I’m not trying to sell you anything…..’

Now perhaps, like me, you occasionally want to slam the phone down immediately, because you know that that’s exactly what they do want to do, and it’s annoying that they don’t just say straight out what they want from you; so perhaps you will choose to stop reading at this point and click off of the page. But what I am asking you to do… in fact what I’d rather you did, is to carry on and discover some of the reasons, all revealed and supported within the bible, as to how and why each of us needs to be as generous as we are able, and afterwards to spend some time reflecting and praying about your levels of giving and what you might do about that.

We hate talking openly about money, it makes us feel uncomfortable, sometimes we feel a sense of indignation or even guilt but that doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be talked about. As church members it can seem that the Church is always asking for more… more of our time, more of our money… so that we’re never left in peace. There’s always some job that needs paying for; the parish share to be met, the books to be balanced. So why then should we give?

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also – Matthew 6:21

If we drive a car we know that we have to pay out to maintain it, if we don’t then eventually the car will stop working and it will be very expensive to repair or replace. If we have a hobby we have to invest a bit of money setting ourselves up with materials and equipment and as we get more proficient at it we may have to spent a bit more on different tools. The buildings in which we sit for church, have been dedicated and sanctified as a place where Christians can gather. If they fell down around our ears we could still gather there, because they’re not just buildings. They also aren’t buildings that should be preserved as pristine museums, so that people can drop in and visit it and say how wonderful it must have been to worship there; so it seems sensible that we try and ensure that we and future generations at least have a roof over our heads.

Therefore, our giving enables worship – whether we are giving of our time on Sunday to be with God, sing his praise, hear his word, share his sacraments, which is the first part of our giving. Or the second part, that our giving of money helps maintain the holy place where we worship, a place of history, a place of beauty, a place of peace and challenge, a place to glorify God.

Our giving of money also helps provide wages and resources for those who minister to us, who lead us in worship, for our music and others who enrich our worship. We need people leading us who are trained and knowledgeable and dedicated to helping us grow in our knowledge of Christ both in word and deed. If we are to sustain and enable that leadership we have to understand that it costs. The early church often paid its leaders in kind – in Matthew’s gospel for example:

Go and preach, ‘The Kingdom of heaven is near!’ … Do not carry any gold, silver, or copper money in your pockets; do not carry a beggar’s bag for the trip or an extra shirt or shoes or a walking stick. Workers should be given what they need – Matthew 10:7, 9-10

Likewise, the medieval church, who asked for donations of bread, wheat, mead and vegetables; although we’ve moved on from that now and use money instead, which is much better because quite frankly I don’t think our ministers or anyone else we have to support could cope with vast quantities of eggs and butter and pots of jam landing on their doorsteps and I’m pretty certain the gas board or the petrol station or the local council wouldn’t understand either when they tried a bit of bartering for their bills.

Our giving enables discipleship – Our giving of time and talent can help children and young people grow in the Christian faith and help those who study together to understand the gospel more fully, so that all can learn how to live faithfully. But it is our giving of money that can help provide resources for this learning, both in our own congregation and throughout our dioceses.

I wonder though how many of us use our own money to provide resources for the church? We think we are being generous… and we are, but we’re actually hiding the true cost of discipleship. We should be coming to the church and our treasurer and saying in order to do this it’s going to cost this, please can you reimburse me. Of course it may be that after having received the money you decide to offer it back as a donation, and you can say that that’s a load of faff, but it’s more valuable that we do realise the true cost. However, we don’t have a bottomless pit of money, but if we all become more aware then we can make sure that we can all contribute to that.

Our giving enables service – our giving of time and talent can assist our congregation in its service to the community, caring for some of those who are most vulnerable in our society. Every single church member can say that they give to the church, in so many different and diverse ways, you serve at his altar, you sing in the choir, you make cups of tea, you comfort the sick, the lonely and the bereaved, you clean, you organise, you lead, you turn up each week; and that’s absolutely wonderful and very sacrificial, but that can’t be treated wholly as a substitute for financial giving

One of the hardest passages in the bible to read is that of the young man who wants to follow Jesus, he knows exactly how he should behave and treat others, he does all those things that we can all do it without dipping our hands into our pockets, but Jesus says it’s not enough, you have to shed your reluctance and reliance on making sure that your nest egg is large enough and instead trust God that he will provide for you.

Therefore do not worry, saying, “What will we eat?” or “What will we drink?” or “What will we wear … your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well – Matthew 6:31-33

I can almost hear you thinking, ‘Yes, but it would be super if we actually got to use the money that we give, on things that we want to happen and support,’ and it’s true that over the last few years I’ve got tired of thinking that every penny we give is often not quite sufficient to meet the demands of the diocesan Parish Share and has to be topped up by such hard work by the fundraising and social committees.

However, giving to an overarching hierarchy is nothing new either – the early churches were doing it when collecting for the church in Jerusalem, and they appears to do it with a spirit of generosity like the churches in Macedonia; but I believe things will change, particularly in the Winchester Diocese over the next few years, and that hopefully we might be in the more joyful position of deciding exactly what we want to spend our money on with the Parish Share review; which doesn’t mean that we have less to raise but it does mean that we can really get stuck into thinking of way in which the Good news can be brought to more people.

And there’s the nub… Our giving reflects our faith. We could say ‘why can’t the church do less, cut its cloth according to its means, and be content with what we already do, with what we already give’. Well, I suppose that’s one way to go – we could become more inclusive, look after our church; our people, but that would be like ‘storing up for ourselves, ‘treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal -Matthew 6:20

Surely, we have to realised what the real treasure is – that God has given us life and love, that he has shown us the extent of this love in the life and death of Jesus and that he has promised us new life through Jesus’ resurrection. Right now we can hear the good news of the gospel… and it certainly is good news for ourselves; it’s good news to know that we have personal salvation, it’s such good news that we almost what to hug it and keep it close to us. Yet, if it’s such good news for us why aren’t we bursting to share it with other – the gospel that we proclaim by word and example is a gospel for the world, a gospel for everyone. As Jesus said to his first disciples:

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age – Matthew 28:19-20

I think sometimes we forget that each us of is individually called to proclaim the Gospel, not just a special few, but everyone. So our giving enables mission – our giving of time and talents assists in providing outreach to the community, providing a Christian presence in every part of life, while our giving of money helps to fund projects to bring the gospel to those who have yet to be challenged by it, and enabling the wider Church to comment on the social, moral and political issues of our time.

How more effective it is, when the world takes notice because it sees a group of people who are willing to make generous investment of their time, energy, gifts and money to share and spread the gospel…

The Widow's Mite by James C. Christensen

The Widow’s Mite by James C. Christensen

God calls us to be infinitely generous, like the widow and her mite in Luke’s gospel:

For the others offered their gifts from what they had to spare of their riches; but she, poor as she is, gave all she had to live on – Luke 21:4

That’s a really hard message to hear and live out, but what about making a start by at least considering what we have to spare…maybe we’re still reluctant sometimes to increase our giving because we honestly don’t think we have any money to spare

A Hotey Money Box

A Hotey Money Box

I actually surprised myself the other day when I looked at my ‘hotey’ money box. ‘Hotey’ – as in Don Quixote? Yes, I know he’s lost an ear, but it steadfastly refuses to stick back on… We made these at the beginning of Lent. So every time I come back from the shops and have those small coins that make your purse or wallet bulge I pop them in the box, and I also help my husband David prevent himself from wearing holes in his trouser pockets by relieving him of his pocket shrapnel as well…

As you can see it’s pretty full now, and looking at it I think there’s at least £50 in there – just made up of the small amounts of money that was spare and that we haven’t really missed – on average £3 a week … and it doesn’t have to be saved up to be given as a one off gift. Those are great for specific purposes, but it’s much more valuable knowing as a church that you are receiving a regular income, so that you can plan and budget for all the things you want to do and support. That’s not to say that we all have a lot to spare, all of our circumstances are different, but it was interesting to realise that perhaps if we do have some spare capacity to consider what we could do with it. Just imagine if everyone only had a spare 50p a week to increase their regular giving – an average congregation of 70 people could be equally sharing an increase of £1820 per year – a £1 would double that to £3640.

At the beginning, I said that I wanted this to be an opportunity to hear how and why each of us needs to be as generous as we are able, using the bible as our guide. It was not my aim to make anyone feel angry or guilty, but for you to go away prepared to review and reflect, and to then come to a decision, so that the next time you are approached to consider increasing your giving you know what your answer will be. At the end of the day, as Paul said to the Corinthians:

Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver – 2 Corinthians 9:7

Our giving of time, talent and money is a giving for the Gospel… for the Good News, and this fact was brought home to me the other day when I was privileged to be able to look through and choose some books that Sheila and Gordon Rose’s family had passed on to the church; among them were several bibles, and in many of them were personal greetings. One that stood out for me was this one in the front of  a Good News bible.

Gordon had written ‘To Sheila, hoping that it will always be “Good News”’

However on this Bible Sunday, I’m going to let Sheila have the last word, with a prayer that she had written and that was tucked into the front of her bible

A Prayer on Opening My Bible
As I settle for this time of quiet, O God, hush my heart and quicken my understanding.
I bless you for scribes, scholars and translators who have served your holy will.
I bless you for the great Bible Societies that have made this book available in my language.
I pray for a living expectancy, as I wait to learn what you will say to me as I read.
I pray for courage to face new challenges and to embrace new truth
For Christ’s son
Amen

Sermon delivered on Bible Sunday, 26th October 2014

Thoughts of a Christian Aid Collector

Christian Aid Week 2014

Christian Aid Week 2014

We have just come to the end of the annual Christian Aid week, and all over the country collectors will be tearing open red envelopes, spilling out coins and plucking out paper money, counting it and sending off their collections to Christian Aid. Those same people will have been tramping the streets in all kinds of weather, opening and closing millions of front gates and greeting their neighbours and mostly strangers with the oft repeated greeting “I’m here to collect the Christian Aid envelope” all the while flashing their collectors badge just to show that they really are official volunteers. I love being a Christian Aid collector, but this year, for various reasons, I was unable to do so… and I’ve missed it.

 What I haven’t missed is the variety of postures you have to adopt to initially post the envelope through people’s letterboxes; or the people who swear that they never received an envelope when you both know darn well that (a) you put one through their door two days ago and (b) that they’ve probably recycled it into the waste bin…still smile! Or others who tell you to hold on, fetch the envelope and then hand it back to you… empty….. keep smiling!

I quite happily accept the “No thank yous” or “We already give to other charities” because I never feel that anyone should be under any compulsion to give to any charity they don’t or can’t support or to feel obliged to just because you’re standing there expectantly right in front of them on their threshold with your bright red collectors bag.

However, it’s great when their donation is there, ready and waiting to be dropped into the bag. or they pick up the envelope with profuse apologies for not having prepared it, then dash off to find their purses and wallets, while you often have to try and make small talk with their young children or pets on the doorstep; till they return with the envelope, which they are desperately trying to seal (I believe that the sealing of a Christian Aid envelope is one of the harder challenges in life) before handing it over with a huge smile. After all, God loves a cheerful giver!

Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver (2 Corinthians 9:7)

I even like the bulging envelopes, which you know are filled with pennies emptied out from various jars and pots, handed over apologetically because they think that it’s not very much but that you know will still make a difference; despite the fact that by the end of your collection round you know you’re going to need muscles like Channing Tatum!

But best of all, I love the fact that at least once a year Christians get out there, around the streets and homes in their neighbourhood, and become the human face of the Church. Door to door collections are very rare nowadays in an age when it’s probably easier and more economic to let your fundraising be done through the internet. An impersonal click of a button and an automatic email to acknowledge your donation is still valuable but showing people that you care enough about the work that is being done by Christian Aid to spend a few hours doing the legwork can be even more valuable.

So well done to all of you who did just that this year, your efforts will be greatly appreciated by the charity and by all of the projects that it supports – and well done to everyone who donated generously. I only hope that I can be part of it again next year.

In the meantime if you want to find out more about the work that your money and efforts could be involved in have a look on the Christian Aid website 

Donate to Christian Aid

Donate to Christian Aid