GETTING AWAY FROM IT ALL

“I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,

And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made:

Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey bee;

And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow…”

This is the opening of a poem by W.B. Yeats (1865-1939). I think the desire to leave the big city and reconnect with the natural world, the longing for peace and solitude, for simplicity, for useful manual activity, is something we can readily identify with.

And just think, Yeats wrote this long before the advent of consumerism, before the invention of television, computers, the internet and mobile phones, before the noise and stress of the M25, Facebook and twitter.

True, Yeats was a public figure and involved in Irish politics, so there was plenty of stress in his life too, but he expresses a general human need for a place of peace where we are in contact with what is really important.

It is difficult for us to simplify our outward lives, caught up as we are in “the system” and complicit with it. All the more important then that we cultivate an inner place of detachment, a solid centre, a place to stand, a place where we get in touch with ourselves and from which we see things in a truer light, if only so we can laugh at the sheer absurdity of much human activity.

This is one of the most important functions of prayer, meditation, sitting in silence, making ourselves open to God, call it what you will.

You can listen to a recording of Yeats reading the whole poem at: https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/lake-isle-innisfree

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Sunday 10th February 2019

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Prophecy can sound so strange: Isaiah hearing God is told to preach his heart out, exhorting Israel to listen and keep looking but they will take no notice and to preach so that the people’s minds become dull and they stop their ears and shut their eyes. Jesus uses this prophecy to speak of his own teaching as a preparation for the destruction of his body. In history, destruction came to Israel as Isaiah preached and the prophecy speaks of a green shoot sprouting from the hewn stump. From the destruction of the cross, victory was won as Jesus rose from the dead. What is this prophecy saying to us now?

To me it speaks of the unrelenting love of God and the fact that our response matters. Just as when a kindness is done to us we might receive it as patronising or as it was intended, affirming, we gather what we plant. Our attitude can cause death where life was intended.

It also, for me, illustrates that God speaks to the heart; the same words can bring joy or despair. The turning away of historical Israel from the ever-present word of God meant that they could not receive the unrelenting call of God to justice and mercy. Justice was served through their destruction, but God’s voice continued to call for mercy. In Jesus this word became flesh, and all was made well.

One of us this morning spoke of a time this week when she was walking out with a colleague and the clouds parted and revealed a beautiful sky. Her colleague looked up and said it was almost biblical. This totally unexpected comment was followed by a moment when the billowing clouds formed two straight lines and made a cross. The lady gasped and exclaimed how beautiful it was. Our friend was astonished and silenced and wonders where all this is leading in how she now relates to her colleague!

Constantine in ancient history witnessed a similar phenomenon before a battle and his heart said to follow the one whose symbol it represented. He was victorious in battle and Christianity enjoyed a period of peace, but “pagan” Christianity began: the message of peace through Christ becoming a battle cry used to bring the peace of the empire. One of our number had been translating an article on the True Cross that week, said to have been found by Constantine and his mother who added it to the relics that ensured the success of the Roman Emperor. What would Jesus say!

The message of the cross in the sky in Hertfordshire I hope has a deeper and more compelling significance.

The aroma of the Spirit in us will bring out the true significance of the message of the crucified Christ and our hearts will direct us to choose life. We can say with Paul that with the grace of Christ we are who we are and expect the word of the cross to be winsome. When Peter say the catch of fish Jesus had brought to him his reaction was not wow, but he recognised the holiness of God and asked Jesus to leave him as he was a sinful man. Jesus gave him a job instead and it wasn’t to be a relic hunter and carry a nail in his helmet and shield.

So much of what the church is today is not in accordance with scripture, and the way we behave conceals the message of the transforming work of the cross and God’s unrelenting reaching out to us in love. We need to be those who call out to God to be saved, not asking him to put a stamp of approval on our traditions and works and expect him to bring in the catch.

We heard a story of one of our friends going in to sing at a category A prison church. She felt welcomed and blessed. As she left, she noticed at the back of the chapel was a food bank point. The prisoners earn a little over £12 a week and yet their heart is to provide for the needy outside their prison gates. Some of them will never live again outside those gates, they have done dreadful things, but they feel compelled to share what they have of Christ for the good of others. Truly the Spirit is at work!

‘God of the day and of the night, in me there is darkness, but with you there is light. I am alone, but you will not leave me. I am weak, but you will come to my help. I am restless, but you are my peace. I am in haste, but you are the God of infinite patience. I am confused and lost, but you are eternal wisdom and you direct my path; now and forever.  Amen.’
(Dietrich Bonhoeffer, from https://www.biblesociety.org.uk/explore-the-bible/daily-reflection/prayer-alone/)

 

FIFTH SUNDAY AFTER THE EPIPHANY

Year C, Revised Common Lectionary

Isaiah 6:1-8, (9-13)

…The holy seed is its stump.

Psalm 138 

…The LORD will fulfil his purpose for me;

your steadfast love, O LORD, endures forever.

Do not forsake the work of your hands.

1 Corinthians 15:1-11

…For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received:

that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures

… by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me has not been in vain…

Luke 5:1-11

…But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken…

 

We meet at the chapel on a Wednesday evening at 8pm until 8-40pm for a period of prayer including 20 minutes silent prayer.

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Sunday 3rd February 2019

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Prayer is a call to be with God, to be in relationship with our Creator, to speak from the centre of our very being a heartfelt need to be rescued from the troubles of our own minds and the troubles of the day. We sin, and we are sinned against.

Jesus asks that we don’t pile up loads of words and reassures us that the Father knows our needs before they have reached our lips. Elsewhere he commends us to ask saying we don’t have because we don’t ask.

Maybe walking with God our companion is prayer that asks, maybe the walk is the prayer. Put simply prayer time is different, it is what comes before the conversation; the meditation, the seeking after the rule of God needs few words. There is a sitting, a standing and then a walking. It is in the walking we ask, having sat quietly with our maker.

Simeon was guided by the Spirit and Anna spent time fasting, worshipping and praying at the temple day and night. The baby Jesus was their reward; small and yet not insignificant.

I think in my busy world I know a lot and read a lot about prayer. I have all sorts of theories, but the reality is that in all, I am sadly seeking a practice rather than presence. The cry from the heart that says to the Father I need your help, come and rescue me is the simple call you need as one on their knees, maybe all the words needed, so that in the conversation with my Father that becomes my life, pools of water appear in the arid places, springs of refreshing, healing and sustenance.

In all the pomp and pride of our meetings, words and theories, we may not notice the birds nesting in the Holy of Holies. Not sure if I even want to be a doorkeeper, the sparrows seem to have found the best place and the swallow comes and goes as she pleases!

PRESENTATION OF THE LORD
Year C, Revised Common Lectionary

Psalm 84

How lovely is your dwelling place, O LORD of hosts! …

Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, at your altars, O LORD of hosts, my King and my God.

…O LORD of hosts, happy is everyone who trusts in you.

Hebrews 2:14-18

… he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested.

Luke 2:22-40

…Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; …There was also a prophet, Anna …She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day

 

We meet at the chapel on a Wednesday evening at 8pm until 8-40pm for a period of prayer including 20 minutes silent prayer.

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Sunday 27th January 2019

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When we gaze on nature do we only see a mass of measurable matter in a vast space? I am not sure. To me I see the chaos and the regularity, but I also sense the spiritual, the numinous. Creation lives and breathes and has its being in our Creator God.

From the beginning God speaks and forms and fills. To the ground he says produce vegetation, to the earth he says produce animals and they do. God who is Spirit works with matter and all things are formed as by his  word. Life becomes alive through the breath of God.

And with this foundation of faith we are called to pray: we are being called by faith into God. Our words and the meditations of our hearts matter.

Faith, like gravity is known by its effects. Faith sometimes heals and supercharges nature to do the unexpected which we call miracles. Jesus says time and again that faith heals and delivers. He points to the Father and says he is the way the truth and the life. Jesus shows us what it is to be fully human and engage with the power of faith.

To be fully human is to be creative, to see the good and to invest our hearts and minds in it; sometimes we are silenced, sometimes we speak words and sometimes the words make sense. Our groans speak and ask and our faith forms and fills creation as we participate in the divine. This is beyond arguments about power and love; faith is power acting through love. Works of power happen, healing happens, but we are caught up in the fact that we are accepted by God; we belong. When we speak about love it is more than what we read in scripture but not less; love is patient and kind and does not insist on its own way.

We can trust that God is doing the most loving thing and the most loving thing might be that we are called to have faith for the miraculous. The mystery is that we are forgiven and redeemed and that we are faithful to the call to love. Perfection is in hearing and acting from where we are. God is who he is and will be who he will be; he is our provider and healer – God is love. God works and faith works, and our work is to believe in the Father and to listen and act on what we hear. Just as Jesus sees and does what he sees the Father do, we are called into this relationship to be the eyes and ears, the hands and feet and the voice of God in our times, to do what we see Jesus doing.

As God sets in our hearts the needs of others and our own needs, we ask;  we allow the meditation of your hearts and minds to build faith and pray.

Speak out the goodness; Father your will be done on the Earth as it is in your good and perfect presence in heaven.

Psalm 19

The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork…

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.

1 Corinthians 12:12-31

…Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? But strive for the greater gifts.

Luke 4:14-21

Then Jesus, …unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”

And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him.

Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”


“Great is Thy faithfulness!” “Great is Thy faithfulness!“
Morning by morning new mercies I see;
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided—
“Great is Thy faithfulness,” Lord, unto me!

(From the hymn: Great is thy Faithfulness)


We meet at the chapel on a Wednesday evening at 8pm until 8-40pm for a period of prayer including 20 minutes silent prayer.


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Sunday 13th January 2019

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From a realisation that we are redeemed and known by name, formed and made to glorify God, we find strength. There is much to fear, from the randomness of events to the malice of the systems and  powers we find around us. If we focus on these and fail to lift our eyes to see the good and open our ears to hear the voice of God, we quickly sink.

Insecurity and shame dog our steps if we do not stop to contemplate that we are precious. From the God of blessing we receive reassurance and know love. We can see that the One Who Is, is the source of order and peace in the midst of the turmoil; the chaos causes us to be still and call out, “Glory!”

We are like grains of wheat on the threshing floor. At the right time, the thresher separates the wheat from its chaff. Both are thrown in the air. The wind blows away the chaff, the wheat falls to the floor. The chaff is gathered and burned leaving the wheat seed.

Each of us in this picture, is a grain of wheat; we are created precious. As we are made and formed, the chaff has protected us, but it is the seed that brings life. When the time of harvesting comes, at the right time, the seed is a source of nourishment, of new life.

God looks for this new life and through his grace and mercy, in the circumstances of our real life the thresher, the voice of Christ, separates the seed from its protective layer.

God calls out life and we find that all that is not there to nourish life, falls away. The breath of the Spirit blows it away, gathers it and burns. This is an experience of all enveloping breath and fire. This is not the judgement of separating people from people, as a grain of wheat is both seed and chaff. This is not the judgement of eternal fires of torment of some but of the fire of destruction of death; the chaff is not the living part of the grain of wheat. ( Was John the Baptist right about Jesus and judgement?).

The baptism of Jesus blows away all our pretensions and hypocrisy, all that protects us, and redeems the part that brings life.

BAPTISM OF THE LORD

Year C, Revised Common Lectionary

Isaiah 43:1-7 

…Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;

I have called you by name, you are mine…

Psalm 29

…The voice of the LORD is over the waters…

Acts 8:14-17

Luke 3:15-17, 21-22  

…He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.

His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

…”You are my Son, the Beloved;

with you I am well pleased.”

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