St Peter’s Day

This weekend, and last, would have seen many celebrations in churches and cathedrals across the land. St Peter, being the rock on which Christ founded his church, has a whole ‘tide’ of celebrations rather than just one day, and is the time of year in which ordinations are held. My own ordination as a deacon took place on the last weekend of June and my ordination to the priesthood on the 1st in July.

For the last 11 years I have lived next door to a church named after Peter, and served its community. We have celebrated our patron saint with a church and village fete on the Glebe field which the church towers over. We have shared breakfast together on the ‘shore’ of the small stream that runs alongside the field, and celebrated Holy Communion together as a family and community in the sunshine, sat on hay bales!

This year our celebrations are much more low key (excuse the pun), and a prayer card has been hand delivered to each household in our parish.

Our church has many symbols attributed to St Peter. The most surprising being an upside down cross, a symbol used in occult practises. It can be found in connection with Peter, as when his time came to be crucified, he did not feel worthy to be die in the same way that Jesus had so asked to be crucified upside down! There are also many images of keys in the ironwork and on the kneelers, and today’s passage helps to explain why.

One day, Jesus takes his disciples far away from the political and religious centres of Israel, and in very careful language asks them how he is being identified. The disciples shuffle their feet a little and look at each other. This is dangerous territory. Jesus asked who ‘people’ think he might be, so they respond that some see him as a prophet, and name famous prophets from history and more recent times, all now dead.

And then Jesus asks them personally who they think he is. This is a much more dangerous question. We can practically hear the tumble weed roll by in the silence that follows, then Peter responds,

You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.

Matthew 16: 16

Jewish prophecies had been predicting a Messiah for generations, but no-body quite knew what a Messiah would look like. For some the Messiah would be a warrior king, and under his reign pagan hordes would be defeated and Israel’s freedom from oppression would be secured. Others looked for a Messiah who would purge the Temple and establish true worship. In this first century, there had already been many would-be messiah’s who had gathered a following, but when their leader came to a sticky end, the following dispersed. Just as was happening for Jesus, ‘messiahs’ attracted unwanted and very often hostile attention from the authorities. No wonder the disciples were cautious about answering Jesus.

Their answers reveal something of Jesus’ true identity which has been somewhat whitewashed by the image of ‘gentle Jesus meek and mild’. The type of prophet Jesus was identified with was somewhat wild, very much unlike our stained glass images. ..

A wild prophet…who had stood up and spoken God’s word fearlessly against wicked and rebellious kings…God’s mouthpiece against injustice and wickedness in high places.

Tom wright.

Peter, the disciples who would throw himself right into the heart of things, who spoke and often acted without taking time to think, was willing to speak up, but what did he understand by the words he had spoken? The title ‘Son of God’ didn’t have the same meaning that we understand now, there was no doctrine of the Holy Trinity The Son of God was a scriptural phrase understood to mean a king chosen by God and adopted as his representative. When Peter acknowledged Jesus as the Messiah, he did not, yet, comprehend that Jesus was the Son of God as we do now.

Jesus looks at Peter, and the courage it has taken for him to formulate this reply and speak it out loud, and gives Peter his new name; just as Abram and Sarai the patriarch and matriarch at the beginning of the Jewish faith were given new names. Abram became Abraham and Sarai, Sarah, God added a new syllable, the sound of breath and life itself. Peter had been named Simon, but this new name is more than a nickname, it indicates that he is to begin the Christian faith, The Way. Peter means rock, or stone, a foundation stone, and Jesus gives to him the keys to the kingdom of heaven.

There are many jokes about St Peter and the Pearly Gates, but Peter’s role is even more exciting than this. His life will be one of adventure and daring, and joy,

as chief missionary of the Easter message it will be Peter’s joyful task to lead many into the kingdom.

Douglas R A Hare

It was just before Easter that we entered into lockdown due to Covid 19. Due to lockdown I found myself shouting my alleluias from The Rectory doorstep, a whole new missionary adventure was beginning. Perhaps you first began to follow these blog pages during lockdown? Perhaps you tuned into prayer and worship as church moved on-line, and found yourself connecting with Jesus in a deeper and more thoughtful way than ever before. Perhaps St Peter is inviting you into the kingdom of heaven.

As our churches slowly begin to re-open, will you accept that invitation? Will you find within yourselves the words to acknowledge that Jesus truly is the Son of God, the Messiah, the resurrected God?

In the beginning… Rachel

It was love at first sight. Rachel was the younger of the two sisters, and not expected to marry until Leah had first been matched off, instead, Rachel was tasked with taking cafe of the flocks. Rachel was too young to be looking at men, even though her work often brought them together. To her they were just her father’s ‘men’, she hadn’t even considered the grown up world of marriage. Until she watched the handsome young man roll away the stone from the well, so that her sheep could be watered… and he impudently kissed her!

The man, Jacob, was kin, and a good match. He wooed her father, worked hard for him, and eventually marriage was mentioned. It was a long courtship, seven years until the wedding day, but eventually everything was ready and Jacob and Rachel were as giddy as could be. At last they could be together, not just as shepherds, but as man and wife, as lovers.

Except that her wretched sister, still wasn’t married. It wasn’t done for a younger sister to be married before the elder, it wasn’t right for her to be left an unwanted sister. All of a sudden everything was turned upside down: it was Leah who was dressed in the wedding finery, Leah who was covered in the heavy wedding veil, Leah who was escorted by their father to Jacob’s tent, and it was Leah who was made love to. Not Rachel.

Rachel cried through the night; her only solace was the horror of her lover when he discovered he had been deceived, and his anger, and his determination to marry Rachel. Jacob and Leah spent another week together, consummating their marriage whilst Rachel tried not to go near their tent, tried not to hear, not to imagine. Then finally she too was married to Jacob. She was his first love and should have been his first wife, his only wife. Their marriage should have been a joy, but it was a struggle.

Rachel knew that it was her that Jacob truly loved, but that didn’t stop her husband from having sex with his first wife, her big sister. Rachel knew that Jacob loved her, but it didn’t stop her from becoming an aunt time and again, but never a mother.

Desperate to compete with her sister, to be viewed as a valued wife, to be a mum, Rachel gave her maid to Jacob to sleep with, and she bore her two sons; but then her sister, fearing that her age now had the better of her gave her maid to Jacob and two more sons were born. Jacob and his tribe were expanding, but Rachel was diminishing. She tried everything, she begged she pleaded, she used every trick known to womankind, but to no avail. Her stomach never grew round as the women around her did.

Then Reuben, her eldest nephew, found some mandrakes during the harvest and brought them home to his mother. Firm mandrakes, ripe with fertility. Rachel had to have some, this may be her final chance, but her sister too was beginning to feel her time running out, and would only trade them with extra time in the marital bed. Once more Rachel watched her sister bloom and grow, a son, and another, and finally a daughter.

The mandrakes had not worked for Rachel, but when she had run out of ideas and plans on how to manipulate her painful situation, God stepped in, healing her and enabling her to bear a son, ‘Joseph’.

Joseph was her beloved son, at last a child that she had borne to her husband, her love; and Jacob loved Joseph more than any of his other children. Rachel was a mother at last, vindicated amongst the other women, once more equal with her sister, no longer looked down upon by their maids. With the birth of his son Jacob was finally inspired to cut loose from his father in law. The journey to Jacob’s home was full of adventure, and full of loving touches that reminded Rachel that she had been Jacob’s first choice, she had been his true love, and still was. Jacob always made sure that she and Joseph were looked after, that they were placed in the safest position in their travelling convoys.

And then, without even trying, Rachel fell again. The journeying had been eventful, there had been grief, and there had been more wrestling with God; and then her time had come, and this child was proving difficult to give birth to. Rachel’s nurse had died, her sister hated her, the maids kept their distance, and as she cried out in pain from the long and painful labour, Rachel felt all alone. Another son, a brother for Joseph, and another apple for Jacob’s eye, but she would never live to hold her treasured child, she would never tell her handsome firstborn how she treasured him, and she would never again feel the arms of her beloved husband around her. With her last breath Rachel named her final son Ben-oni, Son of my sorrow.

Rachel’s husband took the child in his arms and renamed him, Benjamin, Son of my right hand; the last of his children.

You can read Rachel’s story here.

The End of the World is Nigh (or is it?).

At the beginning of Lockdown, when the pandemic was at its worst and people were most scared, there were rumours of end times, and today’s Bible passage is one of those which people point to whenever there is a world wide crisis, whenever armageddon seems close at hand.

As we begin to move out of Lockdown and the ‘R rate’ drops we collectively breathe a sigh of relief, ‘not this time’. Of course for many the pandemic has indeed brought about a personal armageddon; loved ones have died, jobs have been lost, education has been scuppered, important occasions cancelled. But the world is still turning.

If we look at the passage more carefully, Jesus’ warning can be split into two separate warnings, the first can be found in the very last verse of today’s passage,

Where the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.

Luke 17:37

The word ‘vulture’ actually refers to eagles. In Jesus time there was only one word to describe both birds, and people believed that vultures were a specie of eagle. The eagle of course was the Roman insignia. In AD70 the Roman legions did indeed invade, and of those who hadn’t fled for their lives, some were ‘snatched’, captured, whilst others were ‘left behind’.

The second warning is more spiritual and comes earlier in the passage,

The kingdom of God is among you.

Luke 17:21

This, perhaps is the prophecy that has most come to light during these months of lockdown. The phrase translated ‘among you’ could, perhaps more accurately, also be translated as ‘within your grasp’. During this time, like no other, (at least in my memory) has ‘the church’, ‘worship’, ‘prayer’ become so prevalent.

The most searched for word on Google at one point was ‘prayer’. The churches were closed and yet people were grasping for God in ways not thought of before, and finding Jesus within reach. We have discovered as we have prayed and hoped and lamented on-line, that God indeed is within our grasp.

The Pharisees had expected a laid out plan of events leading up to the coming of the Kingdom of God. Although they were well versed in the scriptures and words of the prophet, most, when they came into contact with Jesus did not recognise him for who he truly is. Just as then, there have been no steps laid out for us to tick off, and indeed for many clergy this has put us into a headspin as we have tried to respond to the rapid changes in society. Yet we have done so, and people have recognised God in their midst and been able to connect with the spiritual.

As we come out of Lockdown we face many new challenges, and especially spiritually. Will we continue to grasp for Jesus as we return to work and school, as other social venues open up? Will churches continue to connect on-line with parishioners, or will we open up shop as before, but expecting different results? There is much to be considered.

As Lockdown is lifted we have to make fresh choices as to how we live our lives. If we are not careful we will go back to the same old, same old, without re-evaluating. The warning for us is to be careful not to release that grasp we have on Jesus but to continue to live within the Kingdom of God.

Read more here.

Finding God in the Night

Internet worship has been an interesting experience. Preparing uploads for YouTube (which often have taken many, many hours to be uploaded in time for Sunday), has brought involvement from dogs, chickens, and even arguments with the family (one of which accidentally got uploaded!). Livestreaming has been interrupted by cats jumping up to join in, and the mini-tripod I use to hold my phone collapsing mid sentence. A sudden loss of internet connection has left people hanging, and unexpected choking fits have left everyone gasping for breath (but fear not, just a dislodged crumb rather than a symptom of Corona Virus).

When stats have been available, it has been fascinating to see who is joining in and when. Most of those stats are nameless, but others do have a face and it has been a joy to see you each evening for compline. Some tune in at the same time as going live and we have an immediate connection, others watch later.

It feels as though people are finding safety and security to try something new. People who would not normally have entered into a church building in broad daylight are happy to explore from the secret places of their homes, a bit like Nicodemus, the Pharisee who came to Jesus by night, not wanting to be seen, but desperate to meet this teacher. This week’s gospel reading speaks of the hidden places of the dark, of the fear of following Jesus openly, and what other people might say or do.

For a Pharisee to follow Jesus was a dangerous thing to do. As we know many of the Pharisees and especially those in positions of authority were against Jesus and sought to bring about his death, and the death of all his followers too. It was a brave thing to do even under the cover of night.

Jesus knows that even those disciples who bravely follow him now, will one day go into hiding, and so he tells hem here that all that they discover in the dark will one day need to be shared in the light.

I wonder if you feel like Nicodemus, wanting more and gladly entering into a new relationship with Jesus from the safety of your home? I wonder if you have felt able to share this with anyone, I wonder if, once churches are open for worship you will remain in hiding with the new truth you have found, or venture out to join with others to share in the daylight?

It can be fearful, but Jesus also tells his disciples, tells us, just how much he loves us. To put his love into perspective, Jesus talks about the tiniest of birds, a sparrow, worth less than a penny, and yet as precious beyond gold or silver to God.

As we come out of Lockdown, there will be challenges. We will be challenged about the changes we may want to make in our lives, whether that is working shorter hours, commuting less, reconsidering how we spend our money, how far we travel… and how we live lives engaged with the God we have (re)discovered during this period of lockdown.

This passage begins and ends with the dame phrase from Jesus

Have no fear

Matthew 10:26

From our hidden place, watching and praying via YouTube or Facebook, you may feel all alone, and it may indeed be fearful to express what you have discovered during this time of reflection and drawing closer to God; if we believe the statistics though, you most certainly are not. Out there, in homes and hidden places, connected only by the internet, is a whole cathedral full of people worshipping God, and truly discovering the depth of Jesus’ love for them. For you.

But what about Nicodemus? From his secret night-time encounter with Jesus Nicodemus grew in faith. When the other religious leaders were accusing Jesus and falsely trying him, it was Nicodemus who spoke out against the other Pharisees and reminded them that they were abusing their own religious laws. When Jesus had been crucified it was Nicodemus along with Joseph of Arimathea, who courageously approached Pilate to ask for Jesus’ body. It was Nicodemus who humbled himself to take on the woman’s role of anointing Jesus’ body for burial.

How often do we think of the darkness as being a fearful place, when really it is a place of nurture and growth. In the darkness we sleep and are restored, in the darkness we have our dreams and visions. In the darkness of the soil the roots and shoots grow. The darkness is a safe place, but it is the light that the fruit grows, the flowers blossom, and likewise our faith and relationship with Jesus takes on a whole new dimension.

Read more here.

Re-opening our churches?

A few months ago, towards the beginning of the lockdown period, a cartoon travelled across Facebook depicting Satan gloating that he had closed all of the churches, and God replying that to the contrary, he had placed churches in every home.

Image may contain: text that says "With COVID 19 I have closed your churches! On the contrary! I have opened one in every home FraSe"

This week’s passage from the gospel of Luke has been entitled ‘Jesus and Beelzebub. Jesus has been casting out demons and healing the sick, as you would expect many people are amazed at what he is able to do, others less so and accuse Jesus of being in league with the devil.

‘Preposterous’ he replies, ‘If I was in league with Satan why would I be weakening his position and dividing his armies?’ It’s a fair point.

We have spent the bulk of this year not being able to enter our church buildings, we have not been able to sing praises, or pray, or celebrate Holy Communions. We have not filled our ancient buildings for the festivals of Easter and Pentecost. We have felt lost…

And yet, many more people have been able to worship than ever before. Those who would usually be on shift work, or training youth football teams, or physically unable to get to church, have had their spiritual horizons opened during this time. As I write I am thinking of two wonderful women, one who in her later years is not able to get to church for a Sunday Morning, but is able to engage from home. Another works shifts in a hospital and is able to worship at a time that suits, and joins compline every day before bedtime.

Ironically with our buildings closed our church has become more open than ever before. Praise the Lord!

So, as a vicar, I am beginning to be concerned about the rush to re-open our churches. It is wonderful that people may be able to come and sit and find sanctuary in personal prayer, but if we return to the old ways of conducting Sunday services, then we will be once more excluding many from the worshipping presence of the people of God. Many of our churches, if we are honest, were cold, without adequate facilities, and serving only a minority of the faithful.

I am excited to see what new things God has in store for us. Not that I want to throw the baby out with the bathwater, but we need to consider what we may have we prevented God from doing by stubbornly clinging to the old, or lacking the imagination and courage to do things differently.

Today’s passage ends with a stern warning to Jesus’ onlookers,

Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.

Luke 11:23

For me, this new period of lockdown comes with new and exciting challenges, will you join me as we help to build on holy foundations, something new and exciting for the post-covid generations?

Read the full passage here.

In the beginning….Rebekah

Rebekah was a young bride, which was pretty much the norm for her culture.

Abraham was coming to the end of his long life and he needed to ensure that the family line would be carried on under the blessing of God; so he sent his servant to find a bride for his son. The bride should be wise and generous and of their kin. She would also need to have the same spirit of adventure and faithfulness that his own wife, Sarah, had, and be willing to respond to God’s call, wherever that would take Isaac.

Rebekah’s courting is undertaken by a trusted servant of Abraham, who returns to Abraham’s homeland. Pausing at a well at the end of the day, a time when he knew women would be coming to fill their water jars, he prayed. The prayer was that the girl he asked to draw him some water, would also offer to water his camels. This was a big ask! The servant had brought 10 camels with him, and they could drink plenty; and yet Rebekah indeed does make this offer! Rebekah shows her strength and willingness to toil, her generosity of spirit, and her sense of hospitality so important in Middle Eastern Culture. The prayer has been answered.

The servant rewards Rebekah with jewellery, golden jewellery, and asks if the hospitality she has shown him that day could be extended for the night. So begins the love story…. The servant makes the proposal by proxy, and Rebekah returns with him to meet her husband to be. And Isaac loves her.

Marriage was a blessing to both Isaac and Rebekah, but motherhood was more of a challenge. Just like her mother-in-law, Rebekah struggled to conceive, but eventually after much prayer and a difficult pregnancy she gives birth to twins: Esau and Jacob. Just as the children battled in her womb, their childhood and adolescence reveals the brothers to be at odds with each other, one having a heart for hunting, the other for homemaking, one had the brawn, the other the brains, and their parents each favoured one over the other. Rebekah favours her home loving son, and when it becomes time for her husband to bestow his blessing upon the eldest son, she helps Jacob to deceive his father and outwit his big brother. The result is that Jacob flees home fearful of Esau’s anger at having been cheated out of his inheritance, and Rebekah never sees her favoured son again.

Rebekah has grown from being a trusting and willing ‘servant’, to an over-doting mother who pits one son against the other; and yet, Rebekah has favoured the child who God also favours. The line of descent will not follow Esau who has no real care for his birthright as elder son until it is taken away from him (previously he had bartered it for a bowl of stew made by Jacob). Esau also made the line of God’s blessing impossible when he married outside of the tribe, a match that made life bitter for Isaac and Rebekah. Perhaps Rebekah knew both her sons well, and wasn’t simply favouring one over the other, but discerning which of her sons would be called by God to continue the journey begun by her father-in-law and continued by her husband. Perhaps even in what seems to be the most dysfunctional of family moments, God is at work, and Rebekah is continuing to fulfil her calling as a servant of God?

Read more of Rebekah’s story here.

One for All and All for One: Trinity Sunday

One of my guilty pleasures in recent history has been to watch the Musketeers on a Sunday evening. Aired between 2014 and 2016 but still available on Netflix, this ‘ thrilling world of action, adventure and romance’ was based upon Dumas’ famous characters, whose dedication and commitment to serving the king, were only surpassed by their devotion to each other.

Originally, it was the Three Muskateers with D’Artagnan coming in as an apprentice. Porthos, Athos and Aramis had grown together through armed service, and although their individual characters and back stories couldn’t be more different, it is their unity which draws us to them (and of course their swashbuckling prowess!). Together they are so much more than the sum of their parts.

One for all, and all for one!

As an analogy for the Holy Trinity, this image excites me. It is full of character, unlike water which can turn to ice or steam, or the three leafed shamrock. It is full of vitality, and power, and is a strong reminder that God is mighty and majestic, yet loving and compassionate. There are faults of course, as there are with any attempt to describe the Holy Trinity. A lack of femininity jumps out at me to begin with. And of course we have to stretch the analogy to include saints and disciples if we consider the other Musketeers… but it will do for now.

The Holy Trinity, as opposed to the Three Musketeers, is the way in which we mere mortals try to comprehend the ‘monotheism’ (singularity) of God, alongside the different ‘persons’ of God.

Three in One and One in Three!

In the beginning, as Creation was taking place, God speaks about making humankind ‘in our image’. Even before the birth of Jesus, even before Pentecost, there was a plurality to the singular God. Not just the ‘us’ and ‘our’ in Genesis 1: 26, but we also see the Holy Spirit (NRSV ‘wind from God’) sweep over the face of the waters’ Genesis 1: 2 (NIV, KJV) ‘Spirit of God’).

Of course we become more aware of God’s distinguishing features as we move through the books of the Bible and especially the New Testament. In the very first book, the first Gospel Account (Matthew’s), we discover that Mary is pregnant with God’s child, ‘to be with child from the Holy Spirit.’ (Matthew 1:18)

We have been taught to think of the Holy Trinity as consisting of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; and we have been taught to refer to them all in the masculine. Of course God is beyond gender, and as humankind both male and female (and everyone in between) were made in God’s image, there has to be female within the Trinity. The Old Testament book of Proverbs, speaks of the Holy Spirit as Wisdom, and always in the feminine. Labelling and naming God has always been problematic: how can we pin down the all seeing, all power, to a single name and gender. We can’t.

‘God’ is most commonly referred to as Father, yet Mother or Parent, do just as much justice to God’s character. In a patriarchal society such as we still see in much of the middle and near east, Father has a different connotation as head of the household, as protector, as provider, which is not necessarily relevant to other parts of the world, or at least not as exclusive. These are the traits we want to experience in God, not God’s maleness and authority. When Moses asked God for a name, the answer was ‘I AM’. In the Old Testament God is referred to as Yahweh

We are, perhaps, on steadier ground when we think of the Son. We know historically that Jesus was born male, that he undertook all the rites and rituals of a Jewish boy of his time, and indeed wouldn’t have had the freedom to teach and preach in the ways recorded in the gospels, had he not been male. So many times, though, he broke male expectations in the way that he respected and included women. How Jesus came to be ‘God’s Son’ is a different question: if they are part of the same being and not just sharing the same genes in the way that any father and son / mother and daughter might do, how did this happen? Is the Son element figurative? How did the Trinity choose which one of them should become a helpless fetus and planted in Mary’s womb? Why was Jesus, the one to become a heavenly satellite on earth?

Answers for these questions may only be found once we have entered eternity with Christ! We do now know that it is possible for a fetus to be implanted in a womb and for a child to grow and be born ‘naturally’. Jesus, there at creation, made himself subject to the act of creation himself.

The Holy Spirit, only ever seems to be referred to by a job role rather than by name: the Advocate, the Helper, the Comforter….my favourite of these terms is Paraclete, from the ancient Greek meaning to come alongside. All these have been referred to in the masculine as well, and when spoken of in the third person, is almost always done as ‘He’. The Old Testament term ‘Wisdom’, Sophia in Greek, is feminine in both Greek and Hebrew. Let’s stop referring to the Holy Spirit in purely masculine terms.

Referring only to God in male terms is damaging and unhelpful. It excludes women from being made in God’s image, which is clearly a heresy.

When we begin to comprehend God in these relational ways it perhaps becomes a little bit easier to understand. The Trinity is difficult to comprehend because God is God and we are mere human beings trying to understand God’s nature and pinning God down in words that help us to understand, and yet minimise God’s own identity.

When one of the Musketeers went absent during the course of their adventures, and from time to time one of them did become disillusioned and hung up their musket, something integral was missing. The relationship between the three key characters, become diminished. We spend so much time trying to describe God, trying to describe the unique characteristics, taking God apart, that we miss the point. The point being that God exists in the relationship between each ‘person’ of the trinity, the space in between. It is what they share, how they respond, how they interact, that makes God God. Indeed it is what makes any relationship.

When humankind was made in God’s image, it was in that sense of relationship, of being more together than we are apart.

This Trinity Sunday comes in the wake of an horrific murder of a black man in America, and the following protests. The shock and horror has been so deep that the world has been united in an outrage that has overthrown our fear of Covid. One person, made in the image of God was de-humanised because of the colour of his skin. The relationship between humanity was broken. Throughout the Covid pandemic the phrase #inthistogether has abounded, and yet last weekend we discovered that not to be the case, not always.

If Yahweh, Jesus, Paracletia, had deliberately chosen to hurt, betray, desert the Trinity, the Trinity would have been broken, God would have been broken. When we hurt another member of the human race we are all hurt. When we choose by our actions (and inaction) to hurt a whole group of people simply because of the colour of their skin, or any other way in which they are different, we are breaking humankind, we are no longer living in the image of God.

The Holy Trinity, complicated beyond measure to try and understand, gives us a framework with which to view the whole of humanity. We are all made in the image of God, the question is whether or not we are all able to act in the image of God.

Yahweh teaches us to protect and provide for others, Jesus teaches us to value each other and to love sacrificially, Paracletia shows us what it means to walk alongside others. This Trinity Sunday let us learn from them, let us fulfil our calling as human beings, made in the image of God, and be kind.

Learning to speak a new language.

This Sunday is Pentecost Sunday (Whitsunday in old money). It is the Sunday on which whoever has been gifted the role of reading the lesson in church is often awarded with a round of applause, or at least sympathetic looks. The passage contains a long list of different countries, each of them more difficult to pronounce than the one before. It fascinates me, the wide range of dialects, let alone languages, that can be heard in one city at any one time, now or then.

It is said that only 10% of language is verbal, the other 90% of communication comes through facial gestures, intonation, body language. I put this to the test many years ago when I worked in tourism, and was sent to a travel trade fair in Germany. My A level German was rather rusty, and I had always been better at speaking than listening (not sure what that tells you about me); when I struggled in my comprehension I would smile and try to match facial expressions. This worked well most of the time, and was certainly all the communication I needed when a rather elderly man in lederhosen tried to describe to me the various accoutrements that hung from his leather dungarees. All went well, until the representative from the Dutch stand next door, suddenly asked mid question why I was laughing at him! I thought I was laughing with him. Turns out he was asking whereabouts in England was the best place to set up an ice-cream parlour! A more fluent colleague came to my rescue, and I realised that the pages of Vokab I had committed to memory concerning the German political system weren’t necessarily the most practical. Wiedervereinigung, however, still remains one of my favourite German words.

When Jesus births his church following his return to heaven, he takes no chances. The Holy Spirit gives the disciples courage to speak out in a public place, and gifts them with the language to do so. Each person present will be able to hear the gospel message in their own mother tongue. They may be confused at being addressed in this way and surprised at not having to decode everything they hear; but the message is not complicated by faltering translations, the surprise is that each individual is being addressed personally by God.

Perhaps over the years the church has lost some of this freedom of speech? With a history of Latin only services, dated English, and holy jargon, buildings that are no longer fit for purpose in so many ways, and worship offered at times that no longer are accessible to many, has the church become elite?

One of the benefits of this period of ‘lockdown’ has been that church has had to adapt. Church attendance had dwindled, but now it has soared. What had been assumed as a disinterest in God, has been revealed as an inability to connect: the language of worship had been too difficult to translate.

As we celebrate Pentecost in our homes and online, may we all hear afresh, in our own ‘mother tongue’ the truth of the gospel: that each and every one of us is loved by God, valued and treasured, a welcome member of Jesus’ church.

Read more here.

Get down on your knees!

Jesus has gone, no, really this time; returned to heaven from whence he came. The disciples witnessed Jesus go and received messages from angels telling them, in essence, to get on with it. The problem is, they didn’t quite know what ‘it’ is.

Jesus had promised them a baptism in the Holy Spirit, but what that would actually mean to them was still unknown. So they returned to Jerusalem, taking a day to do so on foot (plenty of thinking and discussion time), and together with the female disciples, including Jesus’ mother, ‘devoted themselves to prayer.’

Just like those first disciples we live in uncertain times. We don’t know what is going to happen next with regards to just about anything. We can’t even get into our church buildings. We are in a time of waiting, just as the disciples were.

What the disciples did next, and we can quite often forget about this time, sandwiched as it is between the two great festivals of Ascension Day and Pentecost Sunday, is they prayed. Indeed they ‘devoted themselves to prayer.’

So the question for us all this Sunday between Ascension Day and Pentecost Sunday, how is your prayer life?

There has been a marked trend towards more people praying than ever before. Faithful ‘prayer warriors’ have upped their game, those whose prayer lives are more stable than ‘on fire’ may have found themselves praying more regularly, or with a deeper sense of passion. Others of course may find themselves struggling in their relationship with God, the absence of the rituals of the church building creating a spiritual absence too.

Others have found themselves diving headfirst into a world of prayer that they had never experienced before, something deep within their soul opening up for the first time, and discovering the reality of a relationship with Jesus.

I wonder where you fit into this?

These nine days between Ascension Day and Pentecost are a time when we are all called upon to deepen our prayer life. If we don’t know where to begin, Jesus has already given us the key: The Lord’s Prayer.

Our Father, whoart in heaven, hallowed be thy name,

Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.

Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil, for thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, forever and ever.

Amen

We can repeat this calmly and meditatively to create a sense of peace and still our hearts; we can say it (twice) as we wash our hands, cleansing hearts and hands together.

We can take it apart, and allow each couplet to prompt us into praying for others.

we can set timers to remind us to pray, wear wrist bands.

We can write poetry and word art, we can draw, paint, garden, bake…

The only way to build a relationship with someone is to speak with them, and if we want a really strong relationship, to listen attentively.

Before the disciples were baptised in the Holy Spirit, before they were able to build the church, they prayed. They prayed, and they prayed.

The church is going through a time of change now. We are going through a time of change. In these days of waiting it is time to pray.

Read more here.

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