From the Minister
Prayer for July
Thank You for all You have given us to enjoy. Every season brings its joys and its challenges in many different forms. In summer we have days of sunshine and warmth and we can share together in enjoying these. They can also bring frustrations as crowds fill busy roads and pavements. Help us to remember that all are individuals, and that includes us. We can control how we behave.
We live in a world of great joy and great sadness. When we see people enjoying success, help us to be excited for them. They may have passed an exam, found a new home, got a new job. We may not actually know what somebody is feeling good about, so help us to give thanks in our ignorance - to give thanks for all that is good.
When we see news stories of distant wars and distant poverty, give us the strength of will to focus energies and resources to help overcome these. Wherever there is need, You are needed. Help us to bring You to those around us, both nearby and far away. Give us the imagination to stand out.
When we see people in need, help us to "put ourselves in their shoes".
May the work of Christians Against Poverty be blessed in all that they do, supporting people facing seemingly insoluble problems. Help us to support this work with our prayers and abilities.
When the Haven Project supports those struggling on our streets, give all involved the strength and the skills and the confidence to help build a positive future. Help all involved feel gifts being shared.
All around the world people need You. Whether their troubles are mental, financial, psychological, whatever they may be, help us to "put ourselves in their shoes". Those in trouble may feel they have no "shoes", whether mental, financial, psychological or physical. Give us the imagination to feel.
In our own lives we face challenges. You know what they are and You support us in our struggles. Thank You. Help us to share this news with all of the world in what we do and say. Help us to share this news in the way we listen and feel. Help us to imagine how good things can be.
With You, all is possible.
“Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.”
~ Matthew 4:19
This week I grabbed myself a bargain, I bought a second-hand beach fishing rod and reel at a very reasonable price. Living and working by the sea it seems the natural thing to do. The prospect of taking in the sea air along with quiet reflection to the sound of the waves is very alluring.
It all sounds perfectly idyllic, however I have no idea how to beach fish. Growing up some 75 miles from the coast, beach fishing wasn’t something we did when younger. Sure I’ve done some coarse fishing but beach fishing is so very different, the tackle is different, the baits are different, the techniques are different. It appears learning to beach fish is a case of taking what I know and adapting it, learning new ways of doing things, new approaches.
In calling Peter and Andrew Jesus said, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” Peter and Andrew had grown up in a fishing community and were probably experienced fishermen by the time they encountered Jesus yet the call from Jesus was a much greater change than my modest switch from coarse fishing to beach fishing.
It was as if their skills would be used in a new way to serve Christ. They too would learn new ways of doing things and new approaches so that they can be the disciples and evangelists Christ called them to be.
It is of course a calling that applies to us as individual disciples and as Jesus’ church. As his church we are called to be fishers of people, to reach out to those who don’t have Jesus in their lives. To grow his church and his Kingdom.
It has been said that fishing is a mixture of adaptability and God’s providence. Adapting to the location, the time of year, the local conditions. There is a great deal of resonance with our calling as a church to be fishers of people.
To be effective as a church we must be adaptable, not discarding our old ways but be willing to enhance them with new ways of doing things and new approaches that are appropriate to the prevailing tide of our times, which are relevant to the community around us. That may express itself in exploring new ways of worshipping, new approaches to mission and new forms of fellowship.
Like the disciples beside the Galilean lake we are called to follow Christ, to become fishers of people, to utilise our traditions augmented with new skills and methods so that we too might reap Christ’s harvest from the sea of humanity. Amen.
Recently I came across some weird and wonderful job titles that had been used to advertise well known roles. They included the following:
- Media distribution officer: better known to us as a paper boy
- Colour distribution technician: which we might know better as a painter and decorator
And the wonderfully titled
- Education centre nourishment consultant: which is of course a dinner lady
It is clear that whoever dreamt up those job titles didn't share the desire for plain speaking that the Jews in John 10: 24 had when they say to Jesus "If you are the Messiah tell us plainly". With the European in/out referendum looming I'm sure we could all use a bit of plain speaking by both sides of the campaign.
Our desire for plain speaking is all well and good until that is the subject that is so inherently complex that it is beyond our comprehension. Then plain speaking runs the risk of being misleading to the listener or demeaning the subject. The trouble with speaking plainly about the things of God is the things of God are anything with plain.
We can speak with absolute certainty about the things our minds can grasp, but God isn't one of those things. We don't grasp God, God grasps us. Faith needs to be experienced rather than dissected.
Jesus replies to those who demand "If you are the Messiah tell us plainly" that he has already made plain what they need to know, that he has shown them by his deeds, his miracles and his healing rather than words or defined job title.
Jesus' role and identity cannot be reduced to some fancy job title like an education centre nourishment consultant, rather than his role and identity is to be experienced.
To make that point Jesus uses an analogy of him as the shepherd and his followers as sheep. Sheep don't think about the shepherd, they don't need to see his cv and qualifications, or even to know he has the job title of shepherd, although the shepherd's crook might give it away.
The point is that the sheep have experienced the shepherd's care for them, that he leads them to fresh pasture, tends them. They experience who and what he is and they follow. Through his love and blessings we too have witnessed the love of the risen Christ. We know we are his sheep and he the shepherd that leads us and bids us follow as his people of the way. Like the care of the shepherd may his love be always upon us and may we always be in his fold.
Rethinking "Giving Up" for Lent
With Easter early this year we will soon be heading into the season of Lent, a season of reflection and preparation before the celebrations of Easter.
Rhik Samadder writing about Lent in the Guardian suggests the Christian festival of self-denial is weirdly popular in our secular age. His article is a light hearted swipe at those in the secular world who give up things in Lent for the sake of vanity. Samadder wryly suggests that they only have things to give up at Lent because they failed so miserably with their New Year resolutions. He suggests that they indulge their vanity in a festival of self-denial so they can proudly declare to their friends the list of things that they are abstaining from to appear self-denying and strong willed to their friends.
Whilst his article is largely aimed at what we might call the secular world it has echoes of Jesus' words in Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21.
Jesus warns people not to put on an act for those around them. He encourages them to give alms in secret and with a delightful turn of phrase, not look dismal like the hypocrites, the false fasters. Jesus' point is simple. Piety and righteousness isn't for public consumption, God sees the real in us.
So those of us who might be considering giving up cake or chocolate for Lent might wish to consider what else we might give up.
Could we give up a reliance on buying unethically sourced clothing produced by workers in unsafe conditions? In this country, can we resist the culture of exploitation or zero hours contracts? Can we favour companies that pay the living wage, not the minimum wage? Can we preserve God's creation by reducing our consumption?
It is a message that isn't just about giving up. It is also about giving. Can we give more through charitable giving, through volunteering, through prayer for the oppressed and exploited?
Can we embrace a way of living that is God's way. A way that does not store up earthly treasures that are fragile and perishable. But a way of giving that stores up lasting treasures in heaven, a way of discipleship that fosters righteousness in the sight of God not others.
So as we head into the season of Lent, may we give up things for the right reason, to draw closure to Jesus in remembering his forty days of temptation in the wilderness. Alongside our giving up, may we remember the call for us to give so that through our living, we may give our lives in discipleship to Jesus.
The dark mornings and earlier nights herald the shortening of daylight as we enter into the long winter months of November, December and January.
November is a month of remembrance as the nation remembers its war dead and reflects on the need to ensure such losses are not to be repeated. Remembrance Day also seems to signal the start of the long run into Christmas.
The time of Advent is one of waiting and contemplation in the darkness of winter for the celebration of the birth of our saviour. On a more practical level the time will also involve much planning and no doubt shopping for the Christmas holidays.
I am sure that our televisions will be showing the traditional favourites over the Christmas holidays. In amongst films such as the ubiquitous Sound of Music there is sure to be an adaptation of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.
It is the story of a mean-hearted miserly businessman called Ebenezer Scrooge who is transformed into a caring generous man who embraces philanthropy and helping the poor.
Whilst written in 1843 the tale conjures up images that are as pertinent today as they were then. Before his transformation Scrooge is the embodiment of winter. He reflects the themes of cold, darkness and despair. As we head towards the festive season, looking forward to time spent with family and friends, with gifts exchanged and feasts on the table it is right for us to consider others. Those for whom Christmas holds little cheer. Those in our community who struggle to heat their homes against the cold of winter. Those who face suffering from illness to themselves our loved ones that curtail their Christmas celebrations. Those that this Christmas is the first following the loss of a loved one and those whose Christmas meal will come from the Foodbank.
Further afield we remember those driven from their homes by war and natural disasters. Whilst we celebrate Christ’s birth we remember our brothers and sisters in Christ around the world who must celebrate in secret through the fear of persecution. We remember them all in our prayers this Christmas.
Yet in the transformation of Scrooge, Dickens’ tale also features light and joy, a time of compassion and of giving, a time for us to show our care for those less fortunate. It is also a time of celebration, a time to celebrate the greatest gift of all. The birth of our saviour Jesus Christ. We celebrate the arrival of the infant Jesus who grew to manhood, exercised his ministry among humanity and suffered on the cross for our salvation.
Dickens uses the contrasting themes of darkness and light. So as we celebrate Christmas this year may we remember that it is in Christ Jesus that our lives are transformed from darkness into light. As we head into the New Year may the light of Christ light our path as we journey with him in discipleship.
"He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics."
~Mark 6: 7-9
Whilst Jesus sent the disciples out without money, no bag and no extra shirt the modern reality of a minister moving is somewhat different. Kathy and I have finished unpacking the furniture and some 50 or 60 packing boxes that we brought from Cambridge. Despite having “downsized” twice in four years the removals lorry was still rather full.
Whilst it may seem that we brought a lot it was considerably less than it might have been. Much of our time packing was spent taking items we never use or simply don’t need to the charity shops.
This decluttering of the unnecessary prompted me to reflect on the verses from Mark’s Gospel. To consider the things we carry with us that encumber us, not on journeys such as ours to Whitstable but our journey with Christ.
Many of us will undertake journeys this summer. It may be a well-deserved holiday, visits to friends and family or trips out on a staycation. All such journeys provide an opportune time to reflect on some of the excess baggage that we carry through life, the things that we hold in our hearts and minds that hinder our journey with Christ.
The disciples had no need of a bag, money or extra tunic because they had faith in Jesus and he had faith in them. They were empowered by Jesus to serve and proclaim. Christ himself has called us to him, like the disciples he has empowered us to serve and proclaim as we journey with him as his disciples.
So as we tread a new stage in our journey with Christ as congregation and new Minister and new pastorate may we travel light, free from the unnecessary burdens we cling to that hold us back in our discipleship so that our focus is on Jesus and our service in his glorious name.
PS: Kathy and I would like to extend a big thank you for the generous support and warm welcome we have received. We are very much excited by the next step of our discipleship and I look forward to working with all of you to the glory of God in Whitstable.
"This Changes Everything"
This Changes Everything is the title of a book By Naomi Klein.
A long read and a detailed one, but one that made me feel page after page that this was a most important book. What is the “this” that changes everything? Not the gospel of Christ that for 2000 years Christians have hoped would change everything. Nor is it the in-breaking of God’s Kingdom that surely would change everything.
Published last September, this book lifts the veil on what is actually happening in the world as the world tries to curb global warming. It is not about the science but about the way governments and corporations are undermining international agreements and their commitments to reduce their carbon emissions.
Hence its subtitle, “Capitalism vs the Climate”. Capitalism is about making profits and if big profits can be made by finding those little things known as ‘loopholes’, then it is not surprising but very depressing to read how often businesses use them rather than abide by the spirit of regulations. All the more so because the increase in carbon emissions shows no sign of slowing in time to avoid the ‘tipping point’ when global warming will really take off.
There are about 30 years left in which to row back against the current before we enter the rapids of runaway climate change. Extreme weather, droughts, floods and storms, the retreat of glaciers that feed life-giving rivers, rising sea levels that drown low-lying coastal areas and islands will be enough to change life for us all. “We are all in this together” may not hold true in the context of economic austerity, but the effects of climate change will affect everyone.
Market mechanisms alone will not save us is the message. Politicians are shown to be often influenced by industrial lobbyists when drafting legislation, and even some green organizations have compromised – one even owning an oil well.
Yet the book is not wholly pessimistic. Renewable sources of energy are growing. There are examples of local people taking responsibility for what goes on in their own locality that give grounds for hope that grass roots democracy may be able to halt the powerful corporations. Think of Balcombe, Quadrilla and fracking. Indigenous peoples have had successes and won legal battles against the odds. We edge closer daily to the tipping point and this book is a wake-up call for change while there is still time.
The United Reformed Church has climate change on its agenda as have other Churches, Christian Aid and Global Justice (formerly the World Development Movement). Later on in the year on May 31st the Revd Alex Mabbs will be coming to Whitstable URC in connection with Earthyear 2015, which is an initiative of Brighthelm URC, a church in our Southern Synod.
Rodney Wood (Interim Moderator for WURC)