”I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me.” John 17.6-8

 

I know it’s hard to believe now, but when I was 14 I was the fastest boy in our year at school over 100m.

In fact I was the fastest across all the schools of Cannock Chase all 8 or 9 of them.

I thought I was the bee’s knees, or, to be more precise at 13.1 seconds over 100m, a formula 1 grand prix car.

So I went on to the Staffordshire County Schools Athletics Championships.

I took time to warm up and looked around for those who I would leave in my tracks.

I kept looking at the older lads looking cool, relaxed and confident. They were from Wolverhampton & Bilston, Kidderminster and Stourbridge, towns with great athletics clubs. Their more mature stature intimidating. But those in my age group didn’t seem to turn up.

Where were they?

The minutes were ticking away.

The scheduled start time nearing.

Other age groups below me running their races.

Then it was our turn and I looked at the competition.

The apparently older lads were 14 too!

Oh my goodness – I wanted someone to check their birth certificates.

Some had moustaches for goodness sake.

Needless to say I was trounced and county champion remained a forlorn hope.

But then we came to the 4×100 relay.

Our squad practised and practised.

Working out the distance the previous runner would be before the next set off.

Placing a coin on the track so that when that runner reached it the next could spring away. The one with the baton would shout ‘now’ the moment they were in reach and the recipient would extend an arm and open hand behind them so that it would pass from left to right, right to left to optimise the timing. Passing the baton at full speed was the trick.

We breezed it.

It was clear that the other squads had not been taught the technicalities nor had they practised.

Knowledge and practise had overcome power.

But only when the baton was passed on effectively.

 

Today is the Sunday between Ascension and Pentecost.

Last Thursday the Church across the world remembered and celebrated the Ascension of Jesus.

Ascension is the occasion to recognise that earthly ministry of Jesus was at a close.

He had run the course, completed what he had to do and was raised to heaven.

But he made a promise to his bereft disciples.

Another would come to be of assistance and guidance.

Even though they felt alone, they would not be alone for long.

The Spirit would come upon them and they would do even greater things than he.

The baton would be passed on.

 

This Sunday is an in-between time.

We are between Ascension and Pentecost.

It can be a day we recognise our lone-ness in the world.

When we reflect on the distance that sometimes comes between us and God.

Jesus has risen but his Spirit has yet to lift us.

 

How many times now have we wondered about God’s love for us or questioned his presence in the world?

Natural disaster, war, persecution and personal issues in our lives can all bring us to appoint where we cry out to God:

God show yourself.

Reveal your purposes.

Fill me with reassurance and peace.

 

In the lonely night hours, at a hospital bedside or with the mourners our anxieties and aloneness may increase.

Our doubts assail us. Our fears multiply.

It is as if the baton is still being passed on – it has left the hand of God but has not quite rested firmly in our own.

 

I recall the moment David, our elder boy, was born.

I looked at him lying there, exhausted but determined after his somewhat lengthy arrival. Karen was pretty done in too.

I was overwhelmed with a sense of responsibility.

Here was a new generation before my very eyes.

Having never known my own Father, who never lived to see me born, this was a moment that deeply affected me.

Now I would have the opportunity and the responsibility for knowing my own son.

I actually felt that something of me was being passed on to him, as young and vulnerable he was.

The baton would indeed be passed on.

Not at that moment, for it would have been dropped, but the process leading to its final handover has got underway.

 

As the years progressed the baton is slowly moving ever closer to the hands of David and Robert, their grip of it strengthens as time goes by, one day they will take it from me forever.

When I see their achievements as young men I take pride in all they do.

There is a coming to terms with that moment when the job will have been done well, or not as the case may be.

 

One thing Jesus reinforced amongst his followers was the intimacy between God and his children.

While I was with them, I protected them in your name that you have given me. I guarded them.’ John 17.12

The bringing to birth, the nurturing, the forgiving, the protecting and the letting go that is all so natural in life.

 

I once read that true love is being close enough to touch and far enough away to allow for growth.

God is near but at times seems far from us.

 

In Jesus he has held the baton firmly and is now passing it on to us.

We are between Ascension and Pentecost, we have set off and not yet arrived.

 

This is so for the Church today.

Indeed one could say it was ever thus.

But this is our time.

This is the Church we know:

  • One that sometimes struggles to make an impact on the world.
  • It is misunderstood, pushed to one side in the great debates of our age.
  • We are concerned, and we are right to be concerned.

We have the baton in our hand – to whom will we pass it?

Well I have realised something in recent months.

Having spent much of my ministry trying to ‘grow the church’ God expects a different approach to living out our discipleship.

It’s not about saving the Church it’s all about loving our neighbour.

 

Standing here now and thinking back to the Staffordshire Schools Athletics Championship in Aldersley Stadium in the summer of ’74 I know much has changed.

The formula 1 grand prix car has, as you can see, given way to a family saloon.

I am now in a different world, physically for sure.

What drives me now is not what drove me 44 years ago.

We should never give up on changing with the times, adapting our approach to the world, refreshing our beliefs in ways that are real to those about us.

I have said recently that in a world of fake news the Good News has to stand up to scrutiny. It has to be authentic for its hearers.

There is as a saying that when we are born those around us are full of smiles, we should live our lives in such a way that when we die those around us cry.

I thought that was how it should be for many years.

But now I am not so sure.

You see having lost my father 7 months before I was born I don’t think I was born into a smiling home – I was probably born into a family of grief.

When I was born I think those around me must have been crying – I would like to live my life in such a way that when I die, those about me won’t be crying but smiling for what they have received. That would be the noble path.

It is a tall order – I have no idea if it can be achieved, probably not in my case, such is the complexity of life.

One thing is for sure, when I stand before my maker in judgment he won’t ask me what I did to save the Church.

He will ask what I did to love my neighbour.

 

In this in between time we call life may we dwell on the words of Jesus to love one another as he has loved us.

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Journeying toward Palm Sunday

Monday 19th March– Saturday 24th March

 

If you can light a candle then do so to remind you that God is present.

Be still.

Be quiet.

Listen.

Receive.

 

God of time and space,

at this point I focus on your presence here and now.

May this pause be a moment

to ponder your nearness

and your guidance.

Amen.

Let those who fear the Lord say, “His steadfast love endures forever.” Out of my distress I called on the Lord; the Lord answered me and set me in a broad place. With the Lord on my side I do not fear. What can mortals do to me? The Lord is on my side to help me; I shall look in triumph on those who hate me. It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to put confidence in mortals.

Psalm 118.4-8

 

Walking with God is easier said than done.

The walk is tougher than the talk: the sun beats down upon us, or the wind lashes at our face. At times the very thought of pressing on may seem too much for us.

We are tempted to abandon the journey; after all, pulling in for a break can surely do no harm. Surely we can pick up where we left off? On occasions we are lucky, we can catch up.  But sometimes we are left feeling that we have missed our chance.

Such is God’s enduring love for us that no one be left behind. God not only journeys with the pilgrim but restfully waits with the faithful.

 

I heard the voice of Jesus say:

Come unto me and rest;

Lay down O weary one, lay down

Your head upon my breast.

Horatius N. Bonar (1808-1889)

 

 

God of reassuring presence, God of exacting love,

God of knowing, God of patience,

You hear us and pull up alongside us,

waiting until we are ready to press on.

Help us to hold on,

to draw breath

and, if need be, to let others do the praying. Amen

Grains

Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.

John 12.24,25

To let go of something precious goes against common wisdom: it doesn’t seem natural. Our experience of life has led us to hold on to the things we value and love. After all, we may never know when we would get them back, if at all. So we cling tight.

The Gospel often contradicts the way things have become. To us it is shocking in its teaching and presents the possibility of radically changing our practices.

‘If you love something: set it free. If it comes back: it is yours. If it doesn’t: it never was.’ This modern proverb was sent to someone who had just experienced a relationship breakdown. To receive it was tough at the time. But as the months passed how true it became. The reality finally sank in.

 

In loss and gain, gain and loss,

Your love is unwavering.

In giving and receiving, receiving and giving,

Your provision is more than ample.

In living and dying, dying and living,

Your life endures. Amen.

 

 

 

If you can light a candle then do so to remind you that God is present.

Be still.

Be quiet.

Listen.

Receive.

 

God of time and space,

at this point I focus on your presence here and now.

May this pause be a moment

to ponder your nearness

and your guidance.

Amen.

 

But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more. Jeremiah 31.33,34

If you were to seek advice, to whom would you go? Someone who readily agrees with you? Or someone who would tell you straight? Consider taking advice from someone to whom you would not normally approach: what would you have to lose? Would your views be better informed? Might they gain something from your approach? Would the relationship change?

What is Church? A group of people in whom all have a very similar outlook on life? And agree on their faith? On their style of worship? Some of the most ‘successful’ churches are ‘club-like’. But the Church is not called to be ‘successful’; success is based on effort, stress even. However, the goal of the Church is to be effective, born in weakness, grounded in humility and ever open to the prophetic stranger.

Knowing God leads us to see God in others. Recognising God in our neighbour, especially the one with whom we are not familiar, broadens our vision and deepens our love.

 

Desmond Tutu spoke to a class of children. He told them that God had rescued us from slavery and as a consequence we should worship God and behave responsibly towards others. Asking the children what this meant one put his hand up and replied that God had said “I saved your bum, so now you go and behave.”

 

 

To those we overlook, may our eyes turn.

To those for whom we are deaf, may our ears open.

In those about us may we find God. Amen.

 

 

DSC_0174 

And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.

John 3.19-21

Populist politicians have again come to the fore in the Western World. They identify with the disenchantment of the electorate and appeal to emotions with quick and naïve ‘solutions’. This situation fills many with dread, especially those who have read and learnt from history. We might even claim there is a battle going on between light and dark.

The belief in something outside the earthly realm, yet One who is deeply committed to healing the world of its wounds, activates us. Our imagination is fuelled by the possibility of something better. No matter how tough the fight, no matter how long is the war to be waged, it is a battle worth committing to. We may not see the outcome of all our actions but we can be content in the knowledge that our contribution has been significant.

 

Eternal Light,

Paternal and Maternal,

having birthed our faith You inspire and nurture us,

You defend, with us, the causes that are right and just.

You fight alongside us, so that together,

we will defeat those who seek to destroy your sovereign rule.

Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

Journeying toward Lent 4

Monday 5th March– Saturday 10th March

 

 

If you can light a candle then do so to remind you that God is present.

Be still.

Be quiet.

Listen.

Receive.

 

God of time and space,

at this point I focus on your presence here and now.

May this pause be a moment

to ponder your nearness

and your guidance.

Amen.

 

From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom; but the people became impatient on the way. The people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we detest this miserable food.” Numbers 21.4,5

 

 

‘Eat your food! Stop complaining!’

How many of us grew up with these instructions?

‘Accept your lot. Things could be worse.’

It’s not always easy to hear such words. They may add to our woes and might feel justifiably more aggrieved.

What will you complain about today? Will you be justified? After all, there is a degree of discontentment about life, even for those who live in relative luxury.

We only seem to appreciate what we had when it’s taken from us. But we can’t go back. We are where we are.

Consider the God who provides sufficient for all our needs. Seek what blessings there are even in the midst of the grumbles.

 

I believe in the sun, even when it is not shining. I believe in love, even when I cannot feel it. I believe in God, even when he is silent.

Graffiti on the wall of a Cologne cellar

in which Jews had hidden during the Holocaust

 

From complacency – deliver us.

From the incessant carping – forgive us.

From that which diminishes us – lead us.

Amen.

20170604_120825

Temple Steps, Jerusalem

 

Lent 3 Sunday 4th March

When he was in Jerusalem during the Passover festival, many believed in his name because they saw the signs that he was doing. But Jesus on his part would not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to testify about anyone; for he himself knew what was in everyone. John 2.23-25

 

It’s easy to believe when there is ample evidence; or when there is plenty of razzmatazz; less so when all seems quiet. Yet the seed grows in the dark.

Jesus does not trust himself with those who look for a show, with those who base their faith on flamboyance. Impressive though his actions may be, impressive too the impact the faithful may have on the world, or even the patient, long-term commitment of the disciple, but the ones who base their convictions on certainty are soon disappointed.

It is mystery and uncertainty, wrestling with dilemma and doubt that transform the soul from self-interest to service, from pride to that open humility which is the most infectious.

 

You turn the tables of those who had missed the point.

In the loss of certainty and the ensuing chaos,

may we realise our errors and our need for something different;

so that we journey from the desire to know,

to a place of willing trust. Amen.

 

Journeying toward Lent 3

Monday 26th February – Saturday 3rd March

 

If you can light a candle then do so to remind you that God is present.

Be still.

Be quiet.

Listen.

Receive.

 

God of time and space,

at this point I focus on your presence here and now.

May this pause be a moment

to ponder your nearness

and your guidance.

Amen.

 

Then God spoke all these words: I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me.

Exodus 20.1-3

 

Recall an incident that turned out better than expected.

One that could have ended in disaster but didn’t. It had been fraught with danger. It may have been life-changing, or even life-threatening.

Maybe things weren’t so bad as they first seemed.

Or maybe they were….but somehow you got through.

You learned to live again. Perhaps in ways different to before. But you came to a place of refuge and rest. You breathed more freely. You felt at peace after the trauma of the experience. The sun shone, the birds sang and the scent of flowers lifted your spirits.

Give thanks to the One God who delivers us from evil.

 

‘Even the helpless victim of a hopeless situation, facing a fate he cannot change, may rise above himself, may grow beyond himself, and by so doing change himself. He may turn a personal tragedy into a triumph.’

Victor Frankl (Holocaust survivor), Man’s Search for Meaning

 

 

Protecting God,

When we fall, You quietly pick us up.

When we fear, You gently hold on to us.

When the future looks bleak, You nudge us onwards,

until at last we find ourselves

in the place you would have us be. Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

DSC_0175

Southwell Minster

 

Lent 2 Sunday 25th February

 

You who fear the Lord, praise him! All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him; stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel!

For he did not despise or abhor the affliction of the afflicted; he did not hide his face from me, but heard when I cried to him.

From you comes my praise in the great congregation; my vows I will pay before those who fear him.

The poor shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek him shall praise the Lord. May your hearts live forever!  

Psalm 22. 23-26

 

What troubles you? What keeps you awake at night and disturbs you in your waking hours? It is not wrong to feel anxious or afraid, however awful such moments are. It is not a sign of weakness but it may be a symptom of sensitivity. To paraphrase a saying: more change is wrought by insomniacs than this world dreams of.

The Psalm given to the voice of Jesus in his sense of abandonment on the cross (Psalm 22) ends in hope. God does not abandon even those who feel lost and all alone. The One to whom we look in times of distress for comfort and reassurance is also the One who knows how it is for us.

 

Reasssuring, Suffering God,

In our pain and dismay you weep with us.

In our fears you hold us.

In our longing you walk with us. Amen

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Journeying toward Lent 2

Monday 19th February – Saturday 24th February

 

If you can light a candle then do so to remind you that God is present.

Be still.

Be quiet.

Listen.

Receive.

 

God of time and space,

at this point I focus on your presence here and now.

May this pause be a moment

to ponder your nearness

and your guidance.

Amen.

 

Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” And they answered him, “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.” Mark 8.31-29

Being on the move from one place to another opens up new experiences and fresh opportunities.

Consider where you will travel today.

Who will you encounter?

What will you think of them? What will they think of you?

Will your frame of mind be challenged? Or your opinion of those you meet be changed? Or how you think of yourself?

 

 

‘To listen to enemies as well as friends is a rule which not only increases sense in common life, but is highly favourable to the increase of religious candour. You find that you are not so free from faults as your friends suppose, nor so full of faults as your enemies suppose.’

Sydney Smith (1771- 1845) in a sermon, The Rules of Christian Charity

 

Today opens up before us.

You will be with us, God.

In the conversations we hold and the exchange of ideas

may our words and thoughts be mindful of your Presence.

So that by end of day we will rest in our new insights. Amen.